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Tavon Wilson introduced at Foxboro

04.28.12 at 7:39 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When Tavon Wilson met the New England media for the first time on Saturday, he looked the part, sporting a Patriots draft day cap along with a Boston sweatshirt he’€™d picked up to deal with the chilly weather.

Since coming from his native D.C. to New England following his selection by the Patriots, Wilson has gone through the whirlwind of introductions that comes with being a high draft pick.

‘€œIt’€™s been crazy, but it’€™s been everything I could ever want. I’€™m with a great organization,’€ Wilson said. ‘€œI got here this morning, just meeting with the coaching staff and getting to know people within the organization.’€

Like most of the other players selected by the Patriots, Wilson showed great positional versatility while at Illinois. As a captain on the Illini, Wilson lined up at both safety and cornerback and was also a welcome participant on special teams.

‘€œThe more you can do, the better you’€™re going to be. I’€™m just going to come in, play special teams and be the best whatever position they play me as,’€ Wilson said.

The second-round selection was impressed by the Patriots facility in Foxboro and talked about how much he respected the organization and the way it has operated.

‘€œWhen you look at the players here, you can tell that they’€™re a great organization, how they stick together,’€ Wilson said. ‘€œYou can just tell when you watch Patriot football that it’€™s Patriot football. It’€™s just a great opportunity for me and I’€™m just excited to be a part of this organization.

‘€œIt’€™s been great,’€ Wilson added. ‘€œYou can tell they’€™re successful here and I’€™m just looking forward to contributing any way I can, hit the ground running and do whatever I’€™m asked to do.’€

When Wilson was drafted, most were aware that he’d been raised by his grandmother after losing his parents. However, Wilson also revealed that he has a 112-year-old great-great-grandmother who is alive in Washington D.C. and is still a spry woman.

“She can walk around and stuff and talk and all that. It’€™s fun to be around her,” Wilson said. “She’€™s a funny woman.”

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, Tavon Wilson,

Nate Ebner’s Q&A with the New England media on Saturday afternoon

04.28.12 at 7:28 pm ET
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Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here’s the complete Q&A with Patriots’ sixth-round pick Nate Ebner shortly after he was taken by New England:

I read a story from this week where you said you had no expectations of getting drafted. Take us through how that thought process has evolved up until now? “I didn’€™t want to expect anything and I didn’€™t want to get overly excited. I hoped I would get a chance to get on a team and especially the Patriots, words can’€™t describe how happy I am to be a part of this organization. The fact that I got drafted just makes me so happy and my family is happy. I’€™m just so excited about the opportunity. I’€™m really at a loss for words about the whole thing.”

When did you think you might get a chance to compete for an NFL job or get an invitation to an NFL team? “After my Pro Day I had spoken with a couple teams and had figured I might get a shot here or there with some talk with some scouts. I thought I might get a chance to get a job with a team and that’€™s all I wanted. I just wanted a shot to prove myself and just get a chance really.”

Why did you decide to start playing football? “That was a long, drawn-out process. I was playing rugby and especially age-grade stuff and I was done with World Cups and I had been in college and I couldn’€™t do the professional rugby and college at the same time. I wanted to play football my senior year in high school and I didn’€™t and I just decided I would go out for Ohio State. What better college program would you want to be a part of than Ohio State ‘€“ especially every kid growing up in Columbus? I did it and it worked out pretty well.”

Just to clarify, I saw a story that said you did not play high school football. Did you play in high school? “No, I did not. I didn’€™t play a down of football in high school.”

What experience do you have in the secondary? “I came into Ohio State, I was a safety; practiced with them a lot. I got a couple plays in a game at nickelback, played some nickelback. My role at Ohio State, they wanted me to play special teams and that’€™s what I did. The coaches wanted that and I gave everything I had into that. That pretty much was my role. I backed up Tyler Moeller at nickelback last year and obviously some safety stuff; just did what the coaches needed of me.”

Was there any specific special teams unit you enjoyed the most? “I would have to say kickoff probably because I don’€™t know why. I don’€™t know. I just enjoy running down as fast as you can and you know, it’€™s just mayhem, it’€™s exciting, it’€™s crazy, it’€™s such a rush, I don’€™t even know what to say about it. It happens so fast, it’€™s just one big blur and then it’€™s over. I just love it for some reason ‘€“ I don’€™t know, maybe I’€™ve got a screw loose.”

What was your contact with the Patriots like? Were they at your Pro Day? Did they work you out at all? “I had spoken with the Patriots the day prior to my Pro Day and I spoke with them a little bit afterwards. Just kept in contact on the phone a little bit here and there and then I talked to them a lot today. I didn’€™t work out with them or fly out to New England or anything, but I had spoken to them a couple times.”
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Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, Nate Ebner,

A closer look at the Patriots’ seventh-round draft pick, Alfonzo Dennard

04.28.12 at 7:13 pm ET
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FOXBORO — More often than not, when a team usually drafts in the seventh round, they’re looking for developmental players — projects who can be stashed on the practice squad or allowed to take what amounts to a redshirt year. That doesn’t figure to be the case with Alfonzo Dennard, who was taken 224th overall by the Patriots on Saturday.

The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder comes with plenty of baggage — there are multiple red flags with the Nebraska product, including an ejection from the Capital One Bowl this year and an arrest for allegedly punching a police officer earlier this month — but has certainly impressed on the field. He’s was a first-team All-Big Ten corner as a senior, and came away with 97 tackles (69 solo) and 21 pass breakups over the course of his college career.

In a New England secondary that has some shifting parts, Dennard could get an opportunity to see significant minutes sooner rather than later, particularly if he has a solid offseason. He joins a group at corner that includes Ras-I Dowling, Sterling Moore, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Will Allen and Marquice Cole, although Moore and McCourty have experience at safety (and could be shuffled back there if need be in 2012) and Dowling is coming off a rookie season where he spent most of the year on injured reserve.

For more on Dennard, check out our pre-draft scouting report on him here, or check out this video:

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, Alfonzo Dennard,

Taking a closer look at the Patriots’ sixth-round pick Nate Ebner

04.28.12 at 5:39 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The pick of Nate Ebner in the sixth round out of Ohio State is an intriguing one, and brings to mind New England’s decision to utilize former collegiate wrestler Stephen Neal as an offensive lineman.

The Patriots have always managed to think outside the box when it comes to finding talent (they also brought in former college lacrosse star Will Yeatman in last year), and the pursuit of the 6-foot, 205-pound Ebner could be another instance of that. He did not play a single down of high school football, and started his collegiate career as a member of the Ohio State rugby team, eventually walking on to the Buckeyes’ team (he eventually earned a scholarship) and becoming an important part of the OSU special teams’ unit. He finished with 12 tackles in 2010.

Ebner impressed scouts at his Pro Day, running a 4.48 40-yard dash and also notching an impressive three-cone drill time, finishing with a time of 6.59 seconds. (We’ve noted the Patriots affinity for players who post good 3-cone times before.) He certainly projects as a special teams possibility with New England in 2012.

Here’s more on Ebner and his amazing backstory:

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, Nate Ebner, Stephen Neal, Will Yeatman

Leadership and character matter to Bill Belichick

04.28.12 at 2:44 pm ET
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FOXBORO — More than a few eyebrows were raised when the Patriots used what would be their only second-round pick on Illinois safety Tavon Wilson.

Moments after the team selected Jake Bequette but just before it went public, the Patriots tweeted that the “mystery” pick was a co-captain on defense in 2011.

Dont’a Hightower was considered so valuable by Bill Belichick that he and Nick Caserio traded up from 31 to 25 and took the linebacker who was on the field in almost every single down-and-distance situation for the best defense in college football and a defense that shut out LSU, 21-0 in the BCS championship game in early January.

What do Hightower, Bequette and Wilson – three of the top four Patriots picks this year – all have in common?

They were captains on their defense.

“I guess it’€™s a piece of the jigsaw puzzle,” Belichick said. “So if you have a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, then captain is maybe one or two pieces in there somewhere. There are a million other things that go into it. Of course, leadership and character and the guy’€™s relationship with his teammates and his team and the respect that comes with ‘€“ somehow or another that’€™s all interrelated. I don’€™t know exactly how. I don’€™t think it’€™s a negative thing. That’€™s certainly not the criteria for selecting a player either.”

Belichick likes leaders. He also values young players who get leadership at a young ago. Jerod Mayo is clear and obvious evidence in making that case. He was voted captain on the Patriots defense in 2010, just his third season in the NFL. Wilson is someone who appreciates that.

“Most definitely,” Wilson said. “The Patriots are a great organization; there are a lot of great leaders over there. They’€™re looking to bring good people into their organization. They do their background information [checks] on everyone. Yes, I think that was a factor. I always put my team above myself. Coach [Ron] Zook always told me that was going to help me out in the long run.

In Wilson’s case, character was especially exceptional.

He lost his mother and father at a young age and was raised by his grandmother before matriculating onto Illinois.

“It was rough,” Wilson said. “My hat goes off to my grandmother because she’€™s a very strong woman to take me and my sister in ‘€“ just raise us the best way she can to try to give us everything she possibly could. I’€™m glad that I’€™m able to give her some of those same things she gave me.”

Will that experience and some of the rough times you had as a child will help at the NFL level in terms of mental toughness?

“Most definitely. Everybody has to overcome adversity,” Wilson said. “I overcame a lot of things in my life. That’€™s the reason I’€™m here today and the reason why I’€™m the person I am today. I never get too high or too low, I just keep working all the time. I just take everything one day at a time. Hats go off to my grandmother for that. She’€™s a very strong woman.”

And Belichick is looking for a few strong men as leaders on his defense.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, New England Patriots, NFL Draft 2012, Tavon Wilson

The SEC pipeline continues to feed Bill Belichick and the Patriots

04.28.12 at 1:17 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick knows a good thing when he sees it.

Judging by the his draft picks of recent years, it’s pretty safe to say that he believes Southeastern Conference football is a very, very good thing in terms of providing a productive pipeline of NFL talent.

In the first two days, the Patriots had four picks. Half of those came from the SEC. Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower is one of the most heralded and talented linebackers and he was taken with the 25th pick overall in the first round. Friday, the Patriots traded down to the third round with their second second-round pick and took Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette with the 90th pick overall.

Before Thursday, he and the Patriots had drafted player after player from the SEC. There was running back Stevan Ridley from LSU in 2011. There was linebacker Jerod Mayo from Tennessee in 2008. In 2010, Florida was well represented as Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes and Aaron Hernandez were all taken from the Gators. in 2009, there was a break from the norm as only Kentucky’s DT Myron Pryor was selected by the Patriots from the conference and that was in the sixth round.

It doesn’t always work out. In 2006, Belichick took two Gators – receiver Chad Jackson in the second round and defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey. In 2008, Belichick took a chance on defensive back Jonathan Wilhite from Auburn.

Why so many SEC players. Well, one big reason are the coaches who have built monstrously successful big-time programs. Like friends Nick Saban at Alabama and Urban Meyer (formerly at Florida). There Les Miles at LSU.

So, does the competition mean that much to Belichick?

“Level of competition is important,” Belichick said. “You can definitely see a guy like Jake [Bequette] over the last few years go against the Mississippi tackle, [Derek] Sherrod last year at Mississippi State, the Florida tackle last year, [James] Carpenter last year from Alabama, the big tackle, [Rokevious] Watkins from South Carolina. Over the last couple years, you can see him rushing against NFL players, either that are coming out in this year’€™s draft or that were in last year’€™s draft.

“Not to mention, [DeMarcus] Love who he worked against in practice on a regular basis for three years down there at Arkansas. I think that’€™s definitely part of the evaluation. It’€™s certainly helpful to see players work against other competitive players, whether it’€™s in their conference or an all-star game, Senior Bowl, East-West Game, things like that, you get that, certainly a higher level generally.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, Alabama, Arkansas, Dont'a Hightower

Winners, losers of Day 2 of NFL draft

04.28.12 at 1:18 am ET
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The first two days of the NFL draft have come and gone, which means that there’€™s two more rounds of transactions to sort through. Now that the dust has settled, we take a look at the winners and losers of Day 2.


Small school prospects: The trend of small-school prospects getting their names called started right away Friday, as St. Louis took FCS Appalachian St. receiver Brian Quick over higher profile receiving prospects. This pick was followed up shortly by two Division II players: North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Midwestern St. guard Amini Silatolu. Yes, Jenkins was a Florida transfer, but he still has the boom-bust risk of any small-school selection. The third round was just as productive for smaller programs, with FCS Montana cornerback Trumaine Johnson selected with the second pick of the day. Then, with their first pick of the draft, the Saints picked up defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, out of Regina, a Canadian college program, at No. 89 overall.

Baltimore Ravens: The Patriots may have snatched linebacker Dont’a Hightower from them by trading up to No. 25, but the Ravens got another quality Alabama linebacker — Courtney Upshaw — to fall into their laps in the second round. One of the surprise fallers of Day 1, Upshaw didn’€™t have to wait too long in the New York green room on Day 2. He comes into a perfect situation for the Ravens, who were in dire need of an outside linebacker. He could work his way into a starting job very quickly.

Bryan Anger, P, Jacksonville Jaguars: Anger’€™s selection was a major shakeup, as its been some time since a punter was drafted this high. The last punter to be drafted in the third round was Dustin Colquitt at No. 99 out of Tennessee. However, at No. 70 overall, Anger is the highest drafted punter overall since Todd Sauerbrun went 56th overall to the Bears in 1995.

Mohamed Sanu, WR, Bengals: Sanu thought he was drafted by the Bengals with the 27th overall pick Thursday night. However, the phone call from the ‘€œBengals’€ turned out to be a New Jersey prankster who happened to get Sanu’€™s number. Fortunately for Sanu, the actual Bengals eventually came calling on Day 2, drafting the Big East all-time receptions leader with the 20th pick of the third round.

Rams: In a continuation of their ability to pick up second round picks yesterday, the Rams addressed three of their major needs on Day 2. The Rams needed a receiver and got a potentially dynamic one in Quick. They also needed help in the secondary, taking a risk on a first round talent in Jenkins in the mid-second round and getting a good value with Johnson in round three to help solidify the secondary. Finally, the Rams needed an insurance policy for their quickly-aging workhorse, Steven Jackson, and got first pick on backs on Day 2: Cincinnati’€™s Isaiah Pead.

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Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, Mark Sanchez, Tavon Wilson,
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