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Where does the Patriots’ ground attack go from here without BenJarvus Green-Ellis?

03.21.12 at 4:32 pm ET
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The departure of running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis — who agreed a three-year deal with the Bengals on Wednesday — likely means the focus of the Patriots’ running game will shift to the young running back duo of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in 2012.

The ultra-reliable Green-Ellis has been new England’s primary ground gainer the last two seasons, but the duo of Ridley and Vereen showed an occasional flash last season, with Ridley having the better 2011. The LSU product had 87 carries for 441 yards (an impressive 5.1 yards per carry average) and one touchdown as a rookie. However, he had fumbles in back-to-back games late in the year, and those ball-security issues likely led to the fact that he was a healthy scratch in the AFC championship game against Baltimore.

As for Vereen, he struggled with a hamstring injury at the start of the season and never really managed to get on track. In the end, he was limited to 26 snaps (according to Pro Football Focus) and finished the season with 15 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown.

When it comes to the rest of the running backs, the Patriots will bring back Danny Woodhead, who is considered more of a third-down back in the mold of Kevin Faulk. Then, there’s also the possibility that Faulk returns — the veteran running back has floated the idea of retirement, but that’s still up in the air at this point. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see New England perhaps kick the tires on a veteran free agent between now and the start of camp.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen

Thoughts on the Patriots’ loss of DE Mark Anderson and the addition of CB Will Allen

03.21.12 at 2:46 pm ET
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Catching up on a couple of Patriots personnel moves from Wednesday:

‘€¢The Patriots have lost defensive end Mark Anderson to the Bills, who signed the 28-year-old to a four-year deal and figure to use him as a pure pass-rusher. Anderson was able to parlay a big season with New England into a four-year deal with Buffalo worth $27.5 million, including $8 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Anderson, who was signed to a one-year deal before the start of the 2011 season, finished the year with 10 sacks (plus 2.5 more in the postseason), two forced fumbles and 14 quarterback hits. (Overall, Pro Football Focus had Anderson as the Patriots’€™ best pass rusher, grading him at +13.2. Andre Carter was second at 5.1.)

The Patriots seemingly started preparing for life without Anderson last week with the acquisition of Trevor Scott from the Raiders. Now, Scott figures to have more of an important role with New England going forward. It also appears likely the Patriots will lean on a return of fellow defensive end Andre Carter, who has expressed an interest in returning to the Patriots, even after he suffered a season-ending calf injury in a December win over the Broncos. New England also has Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham as defensive end/outside linebacker types, as well as Markell Carter, who spent the 2011 season on the practice squad.

‘€¢According to Mac’s Football Blog, the Patriots have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with cornerback Will Allen. The 33-year-old, who was a first-round pick of the Giants out of Syracuse in 2001, has 527 tackles, five sacks, 15 interceptions and 109 passes defensed during his 11-year career. Allen, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee that sidelined him for much of the 2009 and the entire 2010 season, had his best year in 2008 when he started 16 games for Miami and finished with 50 tackles (42 solo) and three interceptions for the Dolphins.

Despite his age — he’ll be 34 by the time the 2012 season begins — Allen had very good numbers as a slot corner last season with Miami. According to Pro Football Focus, he was in the slot for 419 snaps last season (tops in the league) and he yielded 0.81 yards per coverage snap for 3rd best in the league.In addition, he allowed a catch once every 11.6 coverage snaps, a rate that was sixth best in the league.

Read More: adam schefter, Andre Carter, Jermaine Cunningham, Mark Anderson

Five Thoughts on the Jets, Tim Tebow, Sean Payton and the Saints

03.21.12 at 2:15 pm ET
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Five thoughts on an absolutely crazy afternoon in the NFL:

1. From a football perspective, the Jets’ decision to acquire Tim Tebow makes very little sense. (In truth, it’s one borne out of a desperate front office, hoping to retake the back pages of the New York tabloids after seeing the crosstown Giants win two Super Bowls in five years.) The Jets recently gave starting quarterback Mark Sanchez a three-year extension after losing out on Peyton Manning, a move designed to provide Sanchez with some sort of comfort — a confidence booster designed to tell the world that come hell or high water, No. 6 was their man. And they follow it up by creating an absolutely no-win situation for him — the first time Sanchez stumbles, the cries for Tebow will start. The Jets have guaranteed themselves a quarterback controversy even before training camp starts.

2. So you have Tim Tebow — what exactly do you do with him? New Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano was the man who helped bring the Wildcat to South Florida when he was head coach of the Dolphins, and you have to figure that’s what he has in store with the acquisition of Tebow. It’s also not like the Jets and Rex Ryan aren’t familiar with the Wildcat package, as they used it extensively in 2010 with Brad Smith. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith was the best Wildcat quarterback in the NFL that year, as Smith ran the ball from the wildcat 30 times for 212 yards and a touchdown, an average of 7.1 yards per run. (Half the time he handed the ball off, and the Jets other rushers had 4.0 yards per carry and a touchdown.) Per PFF, in Week 17 of the 2010 season against the Bills, when the Jets had their playoff spot secured, they used him at QB 13 times, and in those plays he managed runs of 20 and 40 yards.

3. What does this mean for the Patriots? Wildcat package or not, with the exception of one quarter — the first quarter of the regular-season game where Tebow and the Broncos ran up 224 yards and 16 points the first three times they had the ball — the Patriots have done a very good job of defending Tebow over the course of his relatively brief professional career. In two games against New England (one regular-season start and one playoff start, both last year), Tebow is 20-for-48 for 338 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. In addition, he has 17 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns. As for big picture analysis on what this might mean for the Jets’ offense as a whole, while they will still throw the ball with regularity, expect New York to use more gadget plays on the ground, and that includes the Wildcat. (One think to remember — the Patriots were occasionally vulnerable to gadget plays last season, as both the Broncos and Redskins used them against New England, with varied levels of success.)

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Read More: Bob Dylan, Brad Smith, Gregg Williams, Mark Sanchez

Joe Theismann on D&C: Peyton Manning ‘the right move’ for Broncos

03.21.12 at 12:09 pm ET
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Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Joe Theismann joined the Dennis & Callahan show Wednesday to discuss, among other things, the Broncos’ signing of Peyton Manning and what may become of Tim Tebow‘s future in the wake of Manning’s arrival.

When asked if the Broncos made the most sense of the teams that Manning was considering, a final list that reportedly also included the Titans and 49ers, Theismann said that while we may never know what the main deciding factors were in Manning’s decision, he feels that Manning was heavily influenced by the presence of Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway.

‘€œWell, it depends upon what Peyton wanted and what Peyton saw,” Theismann said. “We can prognosticate about a lot of different things — what he might have wanted, what he thought about things — [but] he’€™s the only one that really looked at the organizations and said, ‘€˜This is the best chance for me to do what I want to do at the end of my career.’€™ I think he connected with John Elway. You’€™re talking about two of the greatest players that ever played the game getting on the same page, having a vision.’€

With Manning now in the fold for the Broncos, Theismann said the team is unquestionably better with its high-profile addition at quarterback.

“Everyone in the organization is going to be better because of Peyton Manning,” Theismann said. “Last year in Denver, you have to understand, you had Tim Tebow learning how to play professional football. He still has to learn to be more accurate throwing the football if he wants to have a career in this league.

“So you had him learning, you had [Eric] Decker learning, you had Demaryius Thomas learning, you had John Fox learning. Now you have someone that brings a lot of experience, and I think it’€™s the right move for the Denver Broncos.’€

Manning’s arrival in Denver casts immediate doubt over Tebow’s future as the Broncos quarterback. It has been widely speculated and reported that Tebow is likely to be traded. Theismann said that Tebow, despite the success he has experienced thus far in his career, still has a long way to go before becoming a standout NFL quarterback.

‘€œHe’€™s going to have to be a more accurate thrower of the football,” Theismann said. “If Tim Tebow can approach 58-60 percent throwing the football, I think he can be a great asset to any football team, but that’€™s a big if. I think that’€™s a bigger if than Peyton Manning’€™s health is an if.’€

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Read More: Brett Favre, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Joe Theismann

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Notre Dame S Harrison Smith

03.21.12 at 11:21 am ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2012 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

HARRISON SMITH

Position: Safety

School: Notre Dame

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 213 pounds

Achievements: 2011 Thorpe Award preseason watch list (2011), Nagurski Trophy preseason watch list (2011), Notre Dame Nick Pietrosante Award winner (2011)

What he brings: In a weak draft for safeties, Smith is an imperfect but talented prospect who certainly looks the part, bringing prototypical size and solid speed to the position. After spending some time at linebacker early in his career at Notre Dame, Smith made the full-time move to safety during his junior season and has thrived ever since. The former team captain has built a reputation as an instinctive player with solid football intelligence that was a key part of Notre Dame’€™s overhaul of its defense over the past few seasons.

As would be expected, the former linebacker is solid in run support, whether it’€™s from a deep safety position, from up in the box or when he’€™s asked to blitz from the edge on the line of scrimmage. Smith is known to lay the hammer on defenders and take on blockers well, especially for a safety, showing an ability to take on and discard blocks rather than go around them and catch up in pursuit.

When he is in coverage, Smith is aggressive, working well out of zone coverage with a keen ability to read to quarterback, diagnose the play and use his instincts to jump the route. More fast than fluid and quick, Smith is great when asked to drop back and anticipate the play rather than playing man-to-man, where he’€™s been known to struggle against quick receivers.

Where the Patriots could get him: Rounds 1-2

Notes: Smith is best when he’€™s attacking downhill from the safety spot, where his aggressiveness and power best suit him. He can handle tight ends well in man-to-man coverage, in which he can counter against players that try to box out defenders with their size. However, against a spread offense where he’€™ll be asked to run with flexed-out Aaron Hernandez-type tight ends and Wes Welker-type slot receivers, Smith’€™s aggression and lack of fluidity will be tested early and often by opposing offenses.

Smith has seen his stock consistently rising as of late, with draftniks such as ESPN’s Mel Kiper having him off the board as early as the late first round. Outside of Alabama’€™s Mark Barron, Smith is mostly competing with a weak draft class, where his aggressive upside shines more brightly against a cast of weaker-than-usual prospects. Smith could come off the board earlier than expected if a team with a need at safety misses out on Barron and feels desperate.

Related articles:

The Observer: Harrison Smith honored as lone captain

Chicago Tribune: Smith finds his voice

Knoxnews.com: Ex-Catholic star Harrison Smith has been a leader at Notre Dame

Video: Here’€™s a highlight package showing Smith’€™s abilities in run support as well as a solid helping of his seven interceptions as a junior.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Potential Patriots, Harrison Smith, Notre Dame

Examining the growing market for Mark Anderson and what it means for the Patriots

03.20.12 at 10:19 pm ET
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Defensive end Mark Anderson continued his tour of the AFC on Tuesday, as the Bills announced that the 28-year-old was going to visit with Bills’ staff on Tuesday night and would also pay a visit to the team facilities on Wednesday. It marks the fourth team Anderson has visited with since free agency began a week ago — he’s also spent time with officials in Miami, Tennessee and Baltimore.

Anderson is one of the most intriguing unrestricted free agents on the Patriots’ roster. The 6-foot-4, 255-pounder was a pure pass rusher at the start of the season, but morphed into more of an every-down presence as the season went on for several reasons, not the least of which included an injury to Andre Carter. Anderson, who was signed to a one-year deal before the start of the 2011 season, finished the year with 10 sacks (plus 2.5 more in the postseason), two forced fumbles and 14 quarterback hits. (Overall, Pro Football Focus had Anderson as the Patriots’ best pass rusher, grading him at +13.2. Carter was second at 5.1.)

On the surface, Anderson doesn’t project as a premiere pass rusher, but consider the numbers — he’s under 30, is coming off a 10-sack season for a team that made it to the Super Bowl XLVI, has good playoff experience (he’s been to two Super Bowls) and is now had two seasons where he’s finished with 10 sacks or more. While he won’t command a huge deal, this offseason represents an excellent opportunity for him to land the biggest contract of his career.

While it now appears the Titans would be out of the mix with their recent acquisition of Kamerion Wimbley, the addition of Anderson to an already imposing defensive front in Buffalo that recently signed Mario Williams would certainly be an unappetizing premise for the New England offensive line in 2012. Miami has the needed cap space to give Anderson a big deal, while the Ravens would love the chance to add a pass rusher at the expense of an AFC rival.

While league sources indicate the Patriots have expressed interest in Anderson’s return, it certainly appears they now have some competition for his services if they want to retain him for 2012 and possibly beyond.

Read More: 2012 NFL Free Agency, Andre Carter, Kamerion Wimbley, Mario Williams

Tom Brady: ‘It will be fun to compete against’ Peyton when the Patriots play the Broncos

03.20.12 at 5:41 pm ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady chimed in on Peyton Manning‘s move from Indianapolis to Denver on his Facebook page. Writing on Tuesday afternoon, Brady wished Manning well.

“I have a lot of respect for Peyton Manning as a person and as a player. He is a great role model and always puts the team first,” Brady writes. “And he is a great leader and representative for the NFL. Like always, it will be fun to compete against him this year when the New England Patriots play the Denver Broncos.”

Manning signed a five-year, $96 million deal with the Broncos on Tuesday.

Read More: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady,
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