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3 Friday morning thoughts from combine

02.21.14 at 10:50 am ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Three Friday morning thoughts from the combine:

1. I’m a big believer in the idea that no matter who your quarterback is, you always need to grab a signal-caller every spring — as a late-round pickup or as an undrafted free agent — every year. The Patriots are obviously in a different situation than most, but even if he ends up being nothing more than an extra arm in camp to cut down on Tom Brady‘s pitch count, it’s always important to get someone every year. The Patriots have always managed to bring in one extra quarterback every spring with the understanding that even if you’€™re not grooming the next Brady, you always have a chance to upgrade your backup position. With that in mind — and the fact that backup Ryan Mallett is entering the last year of his contract — there are a few intriguing late-round possibilities for the Patriots to consider this year. For a good list of late-round possibilities, check this link.

2. The elite-level quarterbacks aren’t on New England’s radar, but they measured in as a group Friday morning in advance of their session with the media Friday afternoon (and their workouts on Sunday). Johnny Manziel drew some attention for the fact that he’s under six feet (5-foot-11 3/4, to be specific), but he has some relatively big hands for a quarterback at 9 7/8-inches. Louisville‘s Teddy Bridgewater is 6-foot-2 1/8, 214 pounds with hands at 9 1/4-inches. Central Florida’€™s Blake Bortles is 6-foot-5, 232 pounds with 9 3/8-inch hands. In addition, Alabama’€™s A.J. McCarron is 6-foot-3 1/4 and 220 pounds.

3. You always have to be aware of the Patriots-Rutgers connections, and so that will cause us to keep a close eye on Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman, the only Scarlet Knight invited to the combine this year — he’s supposed to speak with the media on Friday, and will work out with the receivers on Sunday. The 6-foot-6 Coleman finished his collegiate career with 20 touchdowns, tied for first in Rutgers’€™ history. In 39 career games (27 starts) at wide receiver, he had 94 receptions for 1,808 yards and averaged 19.2 yards per reception in his career. At this point, Coleman is projected as a mid-round prospect.

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Friday’s NFL combine schedule

02.21.14 at 8:00 am ET
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Here’s what’s on tap for Friday at the combine:

— Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are scheduled to speak with the media. From a national perspective, the combination of Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles should draw a big crowd.

— The following coaches and GMs are also scheduled to speak.

10 am: Mike McCarthy, Packers Head Coach
10:15 am: Bruce Arians, Cardinals Head Coach
10:30 am: Trent Baalke, 49ers General Manager
10:45 am: Ted Thompson, Packers Executive Vice President, General Manager & Director of Football Operations
11 am: Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons General Manager
11:15 am: Mike Zimmer, Vikings Head Coach
11:30 am: Martin Mayhew, Lions Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager
11:45 am: Marvin Lewis, Bengals Head Coach
Noon: Gus Bradley, Jaguars Head Coach
12:15 pm: Bill O’€™Brien, Texans Head Coach
12:30 pm: Rick Smith, Texans Executive Vice President/General Manager
12:45 pm: Tom Coughlin, Giants Head Coach
1 pm: Les Snead, Rams General Manager
1:15 pm: John Dorsey, Chiefs General Manager
1:30 pm: Ryan Grigson, Colts General Manager
1:45 pm: Chuck Pagano, Colts Head Coach
2 pm: Jeff Fisher, Rams Head Coach
2:30 pm: Ron Rivera, Panthers Head Coach
3:15 pm: Jay Gruden, Redskins Head Coach
4 pm: John Elway, Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager

— Workouts are not scheduled to start until Saturday.

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Video: ‘4th & Goal’ takes a look at 4 potential free agent targets for Patriots

02.21.14 at 6:45 am ET
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WEEI.com’s Chris Price takes a look at four potential free agent targets for Patriots fans to keep their eye on when free agency opens in March.

 

Logan Mankins, Rob Gronkowski providing blueprint for new generation of college prospects

02.20.14 at 10:41 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Two members of the Patriots who have managed to carve out impressive careers over the last few seasons are offensive lineman Logan Mankins and tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Their work hasn’t gone unnoticed by the next generation of college prospects. UCLA offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo name-checked Mankins on Thursday at the combine, calling Mankins a “bad-ass” who provides a perfect blueprint for any aspiring offensive lineman.

“I watch a lot of Logan Mankins, left guard from the New England Patriots. I think Logan, he was a high draft pick, but he’€™s physical. He’€™s a bad-ass,’€ Su’€™a-Filo said when asked if there was anyone he models his game after. ‘€œHe started from Day 1 in New England, and I love how nasty he is — something about his game that I really try to implement.’€

Mankins is a good model for the 6-foot-3, 304-pound Su’a-Filo for a couple of reasons. One, Mankins has established himself as one of the best offensive linemen in the league because of his longevity, technique and all-around bad-assery. And two, Su’a-Filo started his college career as a tackle, has moved to guard, a position he’€™ll have to master at the NFL level. Mankins was a tackle in college, but has made his bones as an elite-level guard in the NFL.

“You know, it wasn’€™t too bad,” Su’a-Filo said of the transition he’€™s already undergone. “My offensive line coach, with our young offensive line, he had me take a lot of reps just to stay fresh. When I was a true freshman in 2009, I started at left tackle. So it wasn’t real foreign to me. After a little while of not playing it, all it took was a few extra reps in practice for me to feel comfortable there again, and I think it felt good playing both positions.”

As for Gronkowski, he’€™s served as a model for Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, a 6-foot-5, 265-pounder who had 75 catches the last two seasons with the Hawkeyes. Fiedorowicz has a couple of New England connections working for him: one, Iowa’€™s offensive line coach the past two seasons was Brian Ferentz, who spent the previous season as the Patriots tight end coach, working with both Gronkowski and Hernandez. And two, D.J. Hernandez — the brother of ex-Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez — was a graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes last year.

Fiedorowicz said Thursday he’€™s watched a lot of tape of Gronkowski and Hernandez.

“I like watching Rob Gronkowski, someone I look up to. He can dominate both the line of scrimmage and down the field. That’s who I kind of want to be like,” Fiedorowicz said of Gronkowski. “I was watching him on film. I always used to watch him in games, but when you see it break down as film it’€™s even more impressive.

“He plays hard every down, every play. He finishes guys. He uses his body in the passing game. He’s just an impressive guy. It’€™s the way he plays the game,” he added. “That’s what I’€™m shooting out to be. I proved it a little bit in the Senior Bowl and some of my times — maybe Saturday, I can show them my speed.”

Read More: 2014 combine, Aaron Hernandez, Brian Ferentz, C.J. Fiedorowicz

Buffalo’s Doug Marrone on ex-Pats coach Pepper Johnson: ‘I think he brings a lot to our organization’

02.20.14 at 9:35 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — As far as Bills coach Doug Marrone was concerned, it was a no-brainer.

When Pepper Johnson left the Patriots shortly after the end of the 2013 season, Marrone saw the opportunity to add someone with an impressive resume to his coaching staff — as well as weaken a division rival. So it wasn’t a surprise when Johnson joined the Buffalo staff as the linebackers coach last month.

“When we played New England and Pepper was the defensive line coach, I thought those guys did a great job up front,” Marrone said Thursday at the combine when asked about Johnson, who spent 26 years working with Bill Belichick as a player and then an assistant. “Obviously, we know a lot about him as a player. I think he brings a lot to our organization, someone that’s obviously been a part of five Super Bowls, someone that has a great intensity about himself.

“He was a great pro. I think he’ll bring a lot to our football team not only in the classroom, but some of the stuff on the field and off the field as our team continues to grow.”

Read More: 2014 combine, Bill Belichick, Doug Marrone, Pepper Johnson

Bill Belichick on changes to coaching staff, 3-cone drills and addition of Mike Lombardi

02.20.14 at 5:31 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Here’s a complete look at the Q&A Bill Belichick had Thursday afternoon at the NFL combine:

“I was walking over here this afternoon and thinking about how far the whole combine has come. That’€™s probably my 30th year. The first one I was at was the second one at Arizona State –€” obviously held outdoors. One of the days ended, not in total darkness, but certainly past dusk. I still have the image of Refrigerator Perry doing the vertical jump out there on the Vertex in the middle of the Arizona State field. In almost total darkness. Now we have the banners on the streets. We have NFL Network and this is a huge media event. And fan event. It started in … for me about 30 years, ago, 1985 was my first year. It’€™s really come a long way.

“Obviously a great opportunity for our organization to see the players, 300 and however many it is, from a medical standpoint. It’€™s probably the biggest thing we get out of this is to have the physical examinations and have them all done at one time and I know we have the re-checks here later on in the spring. Just to be able to get through all the physicals and not have to fly guys back and forth like we had to do a couple of decades ago and give them 20 MRIs on their shoulder in every different city. The medical part of it’€™s huge. Having some interaction with the players personally is good, certainly good for me, because I’€™ve had almost zero over the course of the year. because of the demands of our season. Just being able to see them in person, even though the drills, they’€™re workout drills, they’€™re not really football drills. But there’€™s certainly something to be said for being able to line up the guys all together and watch them compete with each other and go through it all. It’€™s a great, great opportunity to see all that and as I said, the tremendous growth of this event. The whole scouting nature of the National Football League and how it’€™s progressed throughout the years.

“That’€™s kind of where I am today. It’€™s just getting started. It’€™s interesting this morning to see, almost the entire Tennessee offensive line there –€” I guess [Alex] Bullard wasn’€™t there. But he could have been invited. We could have had him too. Then we would have had the whole five offensive linemen from Tennessee. It’€™s pretty unusual to see five guys from one school in that group. But obviously a pretty good looking group of players. We’€™ve got a long way to go in the evaluation. I’€™m nowhere close to being able to give you any type of analysis or evaluation of what this draft is or isn’€™t. I’€™ve spent only the time since the end of the season –€” the Senior Bowl and film and now that it’€™s started here. But it certainly looks like there will be a lot of interesting players and certainly a lot of guys we have to do work on. This is the heaviest underclass group that’€™s come out. So a lot of those players weren’€™t surprises obviously. But because of the large numbers of them, plenty of them were. So there will be a lot of catching up to do in that area. And that’€™s pretty much what I’€™ve got.”

On the changes to the Patriots coaching staff this offseason:

“I think our coaching staff is pretty well set right now. So we’€™ll go forward with it. I’€™m glad to have the people that we have. We’€™ll just see how it all comes together.”

On Mike Lombardi’s role in the organization:
Read the rest of this entry »

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Patriots confirm addition of Michael Lombardi

02.20.14 at 1:48 pm ET
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The Patriots on Thursday announced the hiring of Michael Lombardi as an assistant to the coaching staff.

Lombardi, who was fired by the Browns last week after spending one year as the team’s general manager, has had a long relationship with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, including working together with the Browns in the early 1990s.

Lombardi also has worked in the front office for the 49ers, Eagles and Raiders, and he was an analyst for the NFL Network and NFL.com.

Read More: Michael Lombardi,
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