|12.09.11 at 12:02 pm ET|
In this excellent column, Chris Price explores the many events that led to the Patriots being able to draft tight end Rob Gronkowski — as impactful a tight end as there is in the NFL right now — in the second round of the 2010 draft.
There are a number of striking details in the process that led Gronkowski to the Pats with the No. 42 pick of the 2010 draft, but among them, one stands out as particularly fascinating. To wit:
“It all began in 2009, when New England had the 23rd pick, and ended up trading down and out of the first round, shipping the pick to Baltimore and moving down three spots while picking up the Ravens’ fifth-round selection. The Patriots then dealt themselves out of the first round altogether, sending that 26th pick and the fifth-round selection from the Ravens to the Packers for a second-round pick (No. 41) and a pair of third-rounders (No. 73 and No. 83 overall).
“Green Bay used the pick to select Clay Matthews, and New England fans watched as Matthews finished his rookie year with 10 sacks, while the Patriots only had one player finish with more than five, and ended up with 31 as a team.”
So, the Patriots gave up their shot at Packers linebacker Clay Matthews in order to draft Gronkowski. Both are among the best in the game at their respective positions. That, in turn, lends itself to our poll question:
|12.09.11 at 11:41 am ET|
Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo and cornerback Patrick Chung made their weekly appearances on the Mut & Merloni show Friday morning, as the Patriots prepare for Sunday’s game against the 4-8 Redskins. To hear the interviews, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
“We’re going in with the mindset that this is a great offense, a great team, they have a great defense,” Mayo said. “We’re going in with that mindset. We don’t want to change the way we play based on who we play.”
Added Mayo: “It all starts with [Rex] Grossman, keeping him in the pocket. Anytime he gets out of the pocket, he’s very accurate on the run.”
Asked how he’s progressing from the foot injury that has kept him out of game action the past month, Chung said: “I feel good. I’m just working, working to get back out there. I’m still working hard.”
Chung said he’s not intentionally taking extra time to heal because the Patriots are in a softer part of their schedule.
“No, you can never think like that,” he said. “Records don’t mean anything. That’s what we preach over here. Records don’t mean anything. Guys can come in here and be ready to play. Any team can beat any team at any given moment. We don’t think like that. If you can play, you can play. If you can’t, you can’t.”
Mayo had his first career interception Sunday vs. the Colts, and he joked that he’ll be playing receiver this week following the move of some offensive players to defense. But then he clarified: “I don’t want to get into the switching sides thing. I like giving out the hits, not taking them.”
|12.09.11 at 9:31 am ET|
NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning to talk about the Patriots and league news.
The Patriots visit Washington Sunday. The Redskins are only 4-8, but Lombardi said there are some concerns.
“Defensively, they’re a really good team,” he said. “They’re two outside rushers, Ryan Kerrigan, the rookie, and Brian Orakpo, they can put pressure on the quarterback. They do a wonderful job of tipping passes. They’re inside, Barry Cofield, has tipped seven passes, which is a lot. Some defensive backs don’t tip seven passes all season. So, they’re great at being able to tip the ball, they can put a lot of pressure on you, and they’re scheme is a little bit more complex than some of the schemes the Patriots have seen the last two weeks. They strength of this team is defensively, and they’re really good in the red zone. Once the Patriots move the ball — which they will move the ball effectively — they’ve got to score touchdowns.
“Offensively, it’s a work in progress. Rex Grossman makes too many mistakes. If he gets pressure up the middle he throws off his back foot. Never going to be good. Santana Moss is their best skill player. Anthony Armstrong has great vertical speed but he’s not a consistent player. I think he’s got six catches, two of them for touchdowns. So, he can make some plays.
“I think for the Patriots, they’ve got to handle the beginning of the game, the Mike Shanahan script, get through that. And then they’ve got to be able to build a lead and make Rex Grossman become desperate. If they let this running game have some balance and become effective with Roy Helu then I think it’s going to be a little bit of a tougher game. This offensive line, especially losing Trent Williams, is the weakest part of the team.”
The Patriots have turned heads by inserting offensive players into key roles in the defensive backfield. But Lombardi said the key for the defense starts up front.
“I think their defensive line has to play a lot better,” he said. “I think if you look at what happened in the fourth quarter of the Colts game, 16 first downs, obviously giving up all those points is something that probably [Bill] Belichick has driven his message home to the players all week long. I think the defensive line was disappointing in not being able to rush and put more pressure on [Dan] Orlovsky and make him get rid of the ball quicker.
“I think obviously they need Patrick Chung back. I think they need to get healthy in their secondary. They need Dane Fletcher back. They need more speed on defense. And I think as they get through this patchwork area of their team, they’ve got to get these other players back. Those are the ones they’re counting on — [Brandon] Spikes, they need Fletcher back, they need Chung back, and they need to get healthier as a full football team.”
|12.08.11 at 2:07 pm ET|
FOXBORO — James Ihedigbo is one happy and proud man.
The Patriots safety is in position to watch his college alma mater play football in his own office.
That’s because the UMass Minutemen will start playing their home games at Gillette Stadium in 2012 and they’ll have a new head coach, to boot.
After Thursday’s introductory news conference for new head coach Charley Molnar, the UMass program will hit the streets looking to position itself as New England’s third major college football program, behind Boston College and Connecticut.
“Them being able to play here and use that a marketing tool to recruit and get students to come here is huge,” Ihedigbo said. “It’s an opportunity for the players you can only dream of. You’re going to a great school to get a great education and you’re also going to be playing for a premier football team and a premier program. I look for only big things from here on out.”
Ihedigbo played for UMass from 2003-06, redshirting his freshman year in 2002. Now, assuming he’s on the Patriots in 2012, he’ll be able to leave a Saturday walkthrough at Gillette and go right down the tunnel to a UMass game.
“I’ll be able to sit right here on a Saturday and walk right out this locker room and watch them play, which will be great,” he said.
These are indeed heady days for the Minutemen. They have hired a head coach from a big time program, as Molnar was the offensive coordinator under Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, and previously the Cincinnati Bearcats.
They are joining the Mid-American Conference, a conference that has produced such Patriots as Julian Edelman (Kent State) and Taylor Price (Ohio). When Ihedigbo was there, he played two years for Mark Whipple before he left for the Steelers and Don Brown. Ihedigbo said Thursday that today is another big step in the process of moving to big-time college football. Read the rest of this entry »
|12.08.11 at 1:47 pm ET|
Every week over the course of the 2011 NFL season, we’ll present a list of the Patriots’ ‘offensive touches,’ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Twelve games into the season, here’s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2011:
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 162 (156 carries, six receptions) seven touchdowns ‘ 11 negative plays
Wes Welker: 96 (3 carries, 93 receptions) eight touchdowns ‘ two negative plays
Danny Woodhead: 71 (57 carries, 14 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘ two negative plays
Rob Gronkowski: 66 (1 carry, 65 receptions), 14 touchdowns
Aaron Hernandez: 55 (1 carry, 54 receptions), five touchdowns ‘ two negative plays
Stevan Ridley: 51 (48 carries, 3 receptions), one touchdown ‘ five negative plays
Deion Branch: 48 (0 carries, 48 receptions), four touchdowns
Tom Brady: 24 (24 carries, 0 receptions) 30 passing touchdowns, zero rushing touchdowns ‘ 20 negative plays, all sacks. (Brady took a zero-yard sack Sunday against Indy.)
Kevin Faulk: 19 (13 carries, 6 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘ two negative plays
Shane Vereen: 15 (15 carries, 0 receptions) ‘ two negative plays
Chad Ochocinco: 12 (0 carries, 12 receptions), zero touchdowns
Julian Edelman: 6 (3 carries, 3 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘ two negative plays, both runs
Tiquan Underwood: 1 (0 carries, 1 reception), zero touchdowns
Matthew Slater: 1 (0 carries, 1 reception), zero touchdowns
TOTAL: 627 touches (321 carries, 306 receptions) ‘ 47 negative plays (excluding kneeldowns)
|12.08.11 at 12:53 pm ET|
FOXBORO — You don’t have to be an NFL scout to notice something very significant about Tom Brady this year.
He is getting rid of the ball faster and faster with every passing game.
There are a number of reasons for this.
The Patriots offensive line has been in flux all season, with injuries to Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer and Ryan Wendell, two rookies in Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon and opponents ganging up on Logan Mankins with occasional success.
Then, there’s the lack of a deep true deep threat downfield. With Wes Welker (team-leading 93 catches) and Deion Branch (48) getting open underneath, there has been little reason or motivation for Brady to look deep that often. The struggles of Chad Ochocinco and Taylor Price (now with the Jaguars) haven’t helped either, as both haven’t been able to consistently strike fear into opposing secondaries.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski is having a Hall of Fame and NFL record-setting season for the position, with 65 catches and 13 receiving touchdowns already.
Does Gronkowski get into his routes more quickly than a wide receiver does? Does that have anything to do with being able to get rid of the ball quickly? Let Professor Brady answer.
“Well, there’s more versatility in the inside part of the field because they can go in any direction,” Brady said. “If you’re an outside receiver and you’re split outside the numbers, there’re not many places you can go, so it usually takes a little more time to get in your route. When you’re an inside receiver, you have every direction available. So that’s why those guys typically have more catches probably for less yards because they have to deal with more people inside, but they also can catch the ball quick, short, intermediate, as well as down the field. So, there is just more route versatility within what they’re doing.” Read the rest of this entry »
|12.08.11 at 12:41 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Nate Jones has finally allowed himself to take a breath.
The defensive back was signed by the Patriots on Nov. 30, and four days later, he was on the field with New England, playing 70 of a possible 74 defensive snaps in Sunday’s win over the Colts. He finished with nine tackles (six solo) and a pass defensed in his first action with the Patriots.
Now, with just over a week in the system, he’s just starting to get his bearings when it comes to life in Foxboro.
‘I’m settled down now,’ he said before practice on Thursday. ‘It’s life in the NFL — things happen fast, on the field and off the field. Wherever you are, you’ve got to be ready. I’m good now. Getting settled, learning the schedule, learning my way around. It’s not bad.’
The 29-year-old Jones, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound defensive back out of Rutgers, was drafted in the seventh round by the Cowboys in 2004, and played four seasons with Dallas before making stopovers in Miami and Denver. His finest season came in 2009 with the Dolphins, when he played in 16 games (making four starts) and made 54 tackles (45 solo) with 10 passes defensed and two interceptions. He was cut by the Dolphins on Oct. 5, and signed by New England late last month.
Against the Colts, the Patriots used a lot of nickel coverage, and utilized Jones as a slot corner for much of the afternoon.
‘I thought Nate did a good job,’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. ‘I mean, he wasn’t even familiar with what we were doing, so he had a steeper learning curve, but he’s a more experienced player, so there’s a tradeoff there. I thought Nate did a pretty good job for us. [He] played the defenses pretty well, was good in communication, got his hands on a couple balls, made a few plays. It was far from perfect, but I thought he did a good job.’
According to Jones, the assimilation process has been relatively easy.
‘I think just playing football, you recognize certain things, certain concepts, certain techniques. But no scheme is going to be identical. It’s hard to really compare schemes. But just being a football player, you understand certain concepts of the game, no matter what team you’re on.’