|01.11.12 at 3:23 pm ET|
FOXBORO — When you look around the Patriots offensive line, the veteran names pop out immediately.
Then there’s Nate Solder, in his first.
But what makes Solder so remarkable is the load he’s carried on the unit that protects the well-being of the franchise – Tom Brady.
Solder came out of Colorado and played in all 16 games in his rookie season, starting 13.
Waters – a Pro Bowler again in 2011 – can’t get over how much Solder has accomplished in his first NFL season.
“He’s as good as any young player that I’ve ever played with,” Waters said. “He’s got an immense amount of talent and he does a great job of working hard and getting on the details. He’s never comfortable. He’s always trying, week by week, to get better. He’s always asking questions. He’s a good young football player, who has plenty of room to grow, who can turn into a really great one eventually.”
That’s mighty high praise from an offensive lineman who has earned six Pro Bowl berths.
Light has played opposite Solder several times this season and has watched as Solder has even filled in as a tackle-eligible for a “super-sized” look on the line, in max-protection and short yardage power rushing formations.
“I think, No. 1, he’s just very talented athletically,” Light said. “He gets it and with enormous size. I mean, the guy’s 6-foot-100, I don’t really know. He’s a rather large human being and he can move really well. And he really wants to finish each and every play. He wants to get better.
“He’s taken a lot of the coaching from, obviously, [offensive line coach] Dante [Dante Scarnecchia], but also a lot of the guys around him. I think having a guy like Brian playing next to him [when at right tackle], has really done a lot to give him the confidence and the ability to go out there and see things a little bit — maybe easier than it would have been having another guy next to him. Brian’s like an encyclopedia of this league, and what guys do up front. It’s been a great guy to have as a wing man for Nate.”
|01.11.12 at 1:10 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots defense has received a lot of negative attention this season for spending most of it ranked dead last in the NFL in yards allowed.
But there’s another area the Patriots would desperately like to improve, starting Saturday night in their first playoff game.
Only three teams were ranked lower in average kickoff returns over 2011 than the 21.43 yards per return of the Patriots. All three – Chiefs, Eagles and Colts – missed the playoffs.
The numbers are not pretty.
The Patriots returned 46 kicks for 986 yards and no touchdowns. Their longest was 37 yards, provided by Julian Edelman way back in the season opener in Miami on Sept. 12. The team had only three kickoff returns of over 30 yards all season.
“Definitely not satisfied with our production,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said Thursday. “It’s been too inconsistent. But we can learn from that and, in the postseason, we still believe in the guys back there and we still believe in our scheme and we feel like we have a chance to make some plays to help this team down the stretch.”
The punt return team was slightly better, with again Edelman providing the highlight with his 72-yard TD return against the Chiefs on Monday night, Nov. 21 at Gillette Stadium. The 10.34 yards per return on 38 chances – including 13 fair catches – put them right in the middle of the NFL pack at 16th.
“We can’t get frustrated,” Slater said. “We just have to stay with it, keep practicing. But obviously, we’re not satisfied [given] the standard we’ve set here in the past with what we’ve done this year. But here’s a chance for us to get better in the postseason.”
|01.11.12 at 10:58 am ET|
FOXBORO — You would think All-Pro Rob Gronkowski would be concerned about the departure of his current offensive coordinator and the return of Josh McDaniels as an offensive assistant in the week leading up to the Patriots most important playoff game since Super Bowl XLII.
You would think wrong.
‘That’s the last thing I’m worried about,” Gronkowski said of Bill O’Brien leaving for Penn State after the season. “He’s here, he’s a great coach and I’ll listen to whatever coaching tips he has this week just like any other week. We’ll listen to whatever the game plan is and we’ll go out there and whatever it is, listen to the coaches, the players, and that’s all we’re focused on [is] the Broncos this week and the big game Saturday.’
Tuesday was the first day Gronkowski was on the practice field with McDaniels. Gronk said he’s all ears.
‘Whatever coaches tell me to do, that’s what I’m doing,” Gronkowski said. “We’ve got great coaches here and everything and great veteran players that help me out every single day and whatever I’m told at practice I’m going to go out and apply and everything. That’s all.’
Gronkowski did admit to being excited to return after a bye week of rest and healing his bumps and bruises.
‘Yes, definitely excited,” he said. “It’s always fun getting back together with your teammates [when] you’ve had a couple days off from them and everything. Seeing them again is exciting and [you] get to go out and practice again and playing football is always exciting, practice time or game time, so just glad to be here.
‘I just relaxed, worked out around here and everything. Just getting myself ready so I’m healthy for this whole week, practice week, and everything, so when it comes down to game time I’m ready. I mean you get some of your strength back lifting and everything. Your bumps and bruises and all go away and everything, if you take care of them. So I’m feeling good, my body’s feeling good, and I’m ready for a good practice week.’
Oh, and one more thing – don’t mention the Jan. 2011 playoff loss to the Jets, his only previous taste of NFL playoff action.
‘I’m not even going to bring that up,” Gronkowski said. “That was a year ago and all. It’s a whole new year this year and just preparing hard like any other week now, so just practicing hard and hopefully we’re 100 percent ready to go Saturday night.’
|01.10.12 at 11:10 pm ET|
When Josh McDaniels returns to the role of offensive coordinator with the Patriots in 2012, he will come back to a far different passing game than the one he left following the 2008 season.
Under McDaniels, the Patriots were loaded with several elite receivers at the top of their game, including Randy Moss and Wes Welker, as well as several excellent complimentary pieces at the position, including Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney. Meanwhile, the Patriots were getting serviceable play out of their tight ends, a collection that included Benjamin Watson, Kyle Brady and David Thomas. The trio did good work, but certainly not the sort of pass catchers you want to build your offense around.
As a result, the New England offense leaned heavily on three-receiver sets, looking to utilize premiere playmakers like Moss and Welker in the passing game. In 2008, Welker (111 receptions) and Moss (69 receptions) combined for 180 catches, more than half of the 339 passes that were completed by quarterback Matt Cassel.
In 2009 (Bill O’Brien‘s first season as the de facto offensive coordinator), it was status quo, as Moss and Welker were the primary targets for Tom Brady (they had 206 of the 390 completions from the quarterback), while Watson and Chris Baker were complimentary parts of the New England offense.
But in 2010 — as we wrote here — the passing game began to evolve from to one that incorporated young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The arrival of the talented young rookies, combined with the early season trade of Moss (and reacquisition of Deion Branch) altered the look of the New England passing game. Instead of the three-wides, it was more and more two-tight end sets, using dynamic young playmakers like Gronkowski and Hernandez in an attempt to try and diversify the Patriots’ passing attack.
That trend continued in 2011, O’Brien’s first season with the title of New England’s offensive coordinator, and that was reflected in the overall amount of targets. In 2009, the Patriots’ tight ends had 43 catches on 60 targets, and finished with a combined 546 yards and seven touchdowns. This past season, it was 169 catches on 237 targets — almost four times as many targets and catches. In that same span, the wide receivers went from 273 catches on 423 targets in 2009 to 196 catches on 309 targets in 2011.
So what sort of offense does McDaniels inherit? Read the rest of this entry »
|01.10.12 at 7:36 pm ET|
The Patriots announced Tuesday that while 84 percent of the season tickets will remain the same price, there will be some increases at the midfield sections on the lower and upper levels for the 2012 season. This is just the third price adjustment made since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002.
The Patriots season ticket prices for 2012 are listed below:
Lower-level midfield: $185
Lower-level sideline: $169
Lower/Mezzanine Level Corner/End Zone: $117
Upper-level midfield: $99
Upper-level sideline: $89
Upper-level corner (rows 8-26): $65
|01.10.12 at 6:52 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Denver coach John Fox wasn’t going to bite.
One day after addressing the matter with Denver reporters, Fox was asked on a conference call with New England reporters Tuesday afternoon if he was worried about former Denver coach Josh McDaniels — who was officially hired on Sunday by the Patriots as an offensive assistant — giving way organizational secrets to New England.
‘Not really. Every organization has a building full of pro scouts, scouting departments, our write-ups are fairly big on every player on both teams as it is. It’s really going to come down to Broncos and Patriots,’ he said. ‘You know, we change players with teams all throughout the year.
‘It’s kind of a lot about nothing.’
Asked if they were ‘scrambling’ to try and change the play calls, Fox responded quickly.
‘No, because he doesn’t even know our offense. Our offense is completely different,’ Fox said. ‘I know Josh a little bit and it’s always better to be employed as a coach than unemployed. We change personnel in this league quite a bit. Coaches change cities and players change cities ‘ it’s kind of what we sign up for.’
McDaniels, who was at Patriots’ practice for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, was the head coach in Denver for the 2009 season and most of 2010. In that time, he traded up to draft Tim Tebow, and the two enjoyed a unique player-coach relationship when the two were together.
Tebow said Tuesday that there will inevitably be some overlap from McDaniels’ system with things like audibles, line calls and things like that, but he doesn’t see that as a big problem come Saturday.
‘I think (offensive coordinator Mike) McCoy has done a really good job of implementing what he does. Are there some things that overlap? Absolutely,’ Tebow said. ‘A lot coach McCoy has implemented from his background, where he came from and he’s done a great job. We’re not necessarily too worried about that. Coach McDaniels is a great coach and he’ll do a good job, but I’m confident in our coaches and their knowledge and I’m very proud of everything they’ve done this season.’
For his part, Tebow said Tuesday that he’s ‘happy’ for McDaniels and his new situation, and he wishes him ‘nothing but the best.’
‘I want to congratulate him,’ he said. ‘(But) it’s not about that. It’s about the Broncos versus the Patriots, and it’s about us going into a hostile environment and trying to play a good game and playing a great team and playing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick ‘ one of the teams that I watched over the last 12 years growing up.
‘It’s exciting, it’s exciting for me because it’s the next round of the playoffs, it’s a big game, it’s playing one of the best quarterbacks of all-time, one of the best coaches of all-time and playing in a big game. It’s very exciting.’
|01.10.12 at 5:49 pm ET|
Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here’s the complete transcript of the Q&A between the New England media and Denver quarterback Tim Tebow:
Q: Can you talk about the fact that you guys played four weeks ago? What does that game mean, what did you learn from it and how do you carry that into this week’s game?
TT: I feel like it was a good learning experience. I think it’s a privilege for us to play again, the New England Patriots and [Bill] Belichick and [Tom] Brady. We’re very excited about that. We’re very excited about being able to move onto the next round in the playoffs and play a team like this in the playoffs. I think there’s a lot that we can learn from our first matchup ‘ different things that we did well, different things that we didn’t do so well and ways that we can improve. I think that there are a lot of things that we can learn and improve on and hopefully just do a little bit better this time around.
Q: How much, if at all, has this New England defense changed since you saw them the first time around?
TT: I feel like they’re a very good defense. I feel like they’re coached well. I feel like every game they go into they have a different game plan. There are different things they’re trying to accomplish and maybe they’re trying to get to certain things in a different way. I think they’re overall coached very well; they have a lot of great players there up front and in the secondary. They make a lot of plays. I think for us, we just have to be very sound and execute. I’m sure our coaches will have a great game plan and we have to execute and probably make great sideline adjustments.
Q: Did you guys feel like it was much your fault that you guys lost that game as it was the Patriots winning? I’m not asking you to downgrade what the Patriots did, but it seemed like you guys had a hand in the loss.
TT: I think we did some things well and then I think we definitely made some mistakes that made it a little bit easier as far as the three turnovers. I think we have to correct on that. You have to give them a lot of credit, they came and they played well. We have to definitely minimize the turnovers, convert better on third downs and when we get in the red zone, try to punch it in. You have to give them credit; they’re a very good team as well.
Q: How did you celebrate on Sunday night?
TT: Honestly, just when we left the stadium, just went home and hung out with my close family, a few friends and my brothers and sisters and brothers-in-law. Just hung out at the house and played with my nieces and nephews and had a good time.
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