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A quick primer on the incredible story of new Patriots receiver Jesse Holley

06.11.12 at 6:01 pm ET
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Last season, the NFL Network put together an impressive story on Jesse Holley, the wide receiver who was signed by the Patriots on Monday. Check it out:

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Catching up with … the Texans

06.11.12 at 5:13 pm ET
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Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’€™ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’€™ve already looked at the JetsRavens, Steelers and Broncos. Now, it’€™s the Texans:

The Texans had the best season in franchise history, winning the AFC South with a 10-6 record (good for the third seed in the AFC) and beating the Bengals in a wild-card matchup at home. (They lost at Baltimore, 20-13, in the divisional round of the playoffs.) Houston suffered some serious injuries along the way, but a young and aggressive defense that evolved into one of the best in the league under coordinator Wade Phillips kept them playing into mid-January. Ultimately, it was a very a successful year for Houston.

Who they added: Even though they technically didn’€™t add him, it’€™s important to note that they avoided a holdout with All-World running back Arian Foster, signing him to a long-term deal. In the draft, they picked up defensive end Whitney Mercilus (16 sacks and nine forced fumbles as a junior) with their first-round pick out of Illinois.

Who’€™s gone: Houston arguably suffered more significant free-agent losses than anyone in the league: on defense, outside linebacker Mario Williams and cornerback Jason Allen departed, and on offense, right guard Mike Brisiel and right tackle Eric Winston also left. And inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans was traded to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick.

Analysis: When healthy, the Houston offense — led by Foster, quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Adrian Johnson — is among the best in the league. In addition, despite the losses, there are a lot of choice elements remaining on the defensive side of the ball, including defensive lineman J.J. Watt, linebacker Brian Cushing and cornerback Johnathan Joseph. In 2011, they took advantage of a down year for the AFC South (no Manning in Indy, while the Titans weren’€™t quite there yet and the Jags were, well, the Jags), and put together an impressive season. However, every year there seems to be one playoff team who ends up coming back to the pack the following season, and with the sheer talent and veteran leadership that departed Houston in the offseason, one has to wonder if the Texans will be that team in 2012.

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Checking in with the five Patriots’ UFA’s who are still on the open market

06.11.12 at 1:46 pm ET
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The Patriots began the offseason with 17 unrestricted free agents. Eight of the, re-signed with the Patriots (Deion Branch, Matt Slater, Wes Welker, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Gerard Warren, Niko Koutouvides and Tracy White) while four others have signed elsewhere (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mark Anderson, Gary Guyton and Antuwan Molden). Five remain. Here’€™s an update on those UFA’€™s who played in New England in 2012 who are still on the open market:

Running back Kevin Faulk: The veteran is hoping to get a chance to return, and has said as much on several occasions this offseason. ‘€œI am training to come back and play. But it’€™s not up to me. It’€™s up to the team and everything. But I am planning on coming back, so we’€™ll see what happens,’€ said Faulk, who turned 36 earlier this month. ‘€œI’€™m just hoping. I’€™m just praying. A phone call will come, but it’€™s not up to me to contact them.’€

Defensive end Andre Carter: The veteran defensive end, who played so well for the Patriots in his only season in New England, has been seen around the facility at Gillette on several occasions. His agent expressed optimism that Carter would return for at least one more season with the Patriots, and it certainly seems likely that New England would be the only team that the 33-year-old would return to the game for.

Defensive end Shaun Ellis: Has yet to sign, and while nothing is certain, it seems as if Ellis — who will turn 35 later this month — might be at the end of the road. He struggled in his only season with the Patriots, as he lost his job early in the 2011 season, had injury problems and never really seemed to get in a groove with New England.

Cornerback Nate Jones: While he was a quality backup for portions of the 2011 season, it appears that the Patriots are in no rush to retain his services in 2012, preferring to see what youngsters like Ras-I Dowling (and possibly Tavon Wilson) can do at defensive back going forward. If he doesn’€™t get picked up this offseason, Jones, who turns 30 later this week, could be a midseason pickup in New England if younger players struggle or there are injuries, there’€™s a chance he could return because of his overall knowledge of the system.

Safety James Ihedigbo: The 28-year-old UMass product has kind of dropped off the radar this offseason. He remains on the open market — perhaps because of the shoulder woes that he suffered last season. (It’€™s worth mentioning that Ihedigbo’€™s snaps decreased when Devin McCourty spent more time at deep safety in the regular-season finale and into the playoffs.) But if there are problems in the New England secondary in 2012 and another team doesn’€™t pick him up, Ihedigbo could also be a ‘€œbreak-glass-in-case-of-emergency’€ defensive back that makes a return to Foxboro if there are breakdowns somewhere along the way.

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Dan Connolly got paid like a starter, but he’s still looking for a full-time gig

06.11.12 at 12:13 pm ET
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There are parts of the Patriots offensive line that are in a state of flux (or soon will be), but even though he’€™s not locked in on one position, you have to figure that Dan Connolly is going to be part of the mix in some form or fashion.

Connolly, who will turn 30 in September, started 11 games at center last year when Dan Koppen went down in the regular-season opener against the Dolphins with a season-ending injury. But even if Koppen returns to the position in 2012, Connolly will likely figure into the mix at one of the guard spots (presumably backing up either Logan Mankins at left guard or Brian Waters — if he does return — at right guard) he has plenty of experience there as well, with many of his 17 regular-season starts in 2009 and 2010 at guard as well.

Connolly said he doesn’t care where he’€™ll line up in 2012.

‘€œI don’€™t know if I have a preference,’€ said Connolly, who played 986 offensive snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus. ‘€œI’€™ve been playing them all and I enjoy whatever I play when I’€™m playing it. So whatever it is, that’€™s what it is.’€

Even if he doesn’€™t open the year as a starter, he’€™s certainly getting paid like one. In the offseason, the 6-foot-4, 313-pounder signed a three-year deal with the Patriots that includes base salaries of $1.25 million (2012), $2.25 million (2013) and $3 million (2014). That’€™s starter money. But at the same time, Connolly isn’€™t going to assume anything just because he landed a big payday.

‘€œNo, I don’€™t look at it that way,’€ he said when asked about his new deal and whether that improves his chances of landing a starting job. ‘€œI’€™m looking at it as earning a spot on the team every year and just competing. The money is something completely separate.

‘€œI don’€™t know where I’€™m gong to be as far as position-wise,’€ he added. ‘€œI’€™m just out here competing, and I’€™ll fit into the spot that’€™s best for me and best for the team.’€

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Where will Chad Ochocinco end up?

06.10.12 at 7:41 pm ET
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It’s been three days since we were all sucked into the Chad Ochocinco Nexus for a breathless eight hours or so. (Is he staying? Was he cut? How did his eye appointment end up?) Since he said goodbye to Foxboro, reports say he’s secured a tryout with the Dolphins for this week — which, if he lands on South Beach, would certainly make this year’s “Hard Knocks” more interesting.

In addition, our friends at Bovada have put together odds on his potential landing spots, with the Dolphins the favorites at 3/1. Here are the rest of the odds:

Cowboys: 4/1
Jaguars: 11/2
Rams: 11/2
Eagles: 13/2
Bills: 7/1
Ravens: 8/1
Texans: 8/1
Not On Roster Week 1: 5/1

For what it’s worth, six of the eight teams on this list play the Patriots in 2012, so oddsmakers believe there’s more than a passing chance that Ochocinco will face his old mates this upcoming season.

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Joe Andruzzi likes the look of the Patriots’ offensive line

06.10.12 at 2:33 pm ET
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Late last week, I had the opportunity to talk with former Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi about his post-football life, which includes heading up the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, as well as working as a part-time strength and conditioning coach with the Patriots.

Andruzzi, the starting left guard on all three Super Bowl-winning teams, was a regular presence on the field during the most recent round of OTA’€™s, and said so far, he likes what he sees, despite the fact that there are a lot of new faces.

‘€œNot just on the offensive line, but there are a lot of new faces everywhere in the locker room,’€ he said. ‘€œThat being said, the aura around the offensive line is still there. These guys still know that regardless of whether you’€™re a veteran or a guy just getting here off the street, that this is a football team where you’€™re held accountable for everything you do, on and off the field. You always have to worry about doing your job and getting it right.

‘€œI think across the board, these guys are hungry. A lot of the younger guys just want a chance, and they’€™ll do everything they can to make the most of that chance,’€ he added. ‘€œSpecifically, in regards to the offensive linemen, it’€™s a group of real hardworking guys. They’€™ve all been consistent through the offseason program. They’€™ve done a great job of sticking together — the guys usually stick together by position, and they all try and push each other. This is a group of real competitors.’€

The offensive line is in a bit of a state of flux, with starting left tackle Matt Light now retired, starting left guard Logan Mankins coming off a serious knee injury and starting right guard Brian Waters hinting at retirement. New faces include veteran Robert Gallery, as well as younger guys like Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon and Donald Thomas, all of whom are ready to assume larger roles in 2012.

Andruzzi isn’€™t worried about any sort of breakdown in continuity — not as long as Dante Scarnecchia is in charge.

‘€œDante is by far one of the best coaches in that staff,’€ Andruzzi said of Scarnecchia, who will be entering his31st season in the league and his 13th straight year as New England’€™s offensive line coach. ‘€œYou can give him five guys off the street and he’€™ll get them ready to play at a high level.’€

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Catching up with … the Broncos

06.10.12 at 12:11 pm ET
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Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’€™ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’€™ve already looked at the JetsRavens and Steelers. Now, we turn our attention to the Broncos:

The last time we saw the Broncos, they were getting curb-stomped by the Patriots in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs at Gillette Stadium, 45-10. That being said, it was a tremendous run for Denver in 2011 — buoyed by a great run from the defense, some clutch work from its special teamers and a little magic from the quarterback, they finished 8-8 and upset the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs.

Who they added: Peyton. The Broncos artfully extracted themselves from the Tim Tebow situation by dealing for Manning and signing him to a five-year, $96 million deal. Denver also augmented an already above-average group of pass catchers by adding tight ends Jacob Tamme (Indianapolis) and Joel Dreessen (Houston) as well as wide receiver Andre Caldwell (Cincinnati). In the draft, the Broncos didn’€™t have a first-round selection, but added defensive tackle Derek Wolfe (Cincinnati) and quarterback Brock Osweiler (Arizona State) with their two second-round picks.

Who’€™s gone: Tebow was shipped to the Jets for a fourth-round pick. And  defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley signed a five-year, $25 million contract with New Orleans, while cornerback Andre Goodman was released in April.

What do they think of the Patriots? ‘€œManning all day. What do you expect me to say? He’€™s my teammate.’€ —Current Denver (and former New England) defensive lineman Ty Warren on who he thinks is the better quarterback, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning

Analysis: Even though it was just a change at quarterback, no 2011 AFC playoff team heads into 2012 with more of a different look — at least offensively — than the Broncos. The Tebow-for-Manning switch means Denver will make wholesale changes to their offensive game plan, going from the triple option they used with Tebow to a full-on passing attack under Manning. At the same time, there have to be questions to whether or not Manning is fully recovered from four neck surgeries in two years. If he’€™s healthy, look for Denver to be the class of the AFC West. If not, expect the Broncos to rely on a young and aggressive defense (as was the case in 2011) to get them back to the postseason. Either way, Denver will be a fascinating team to watch in 2012.

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