|06.04.12 at 1:17 pm ET|
First in a continuing series this offseason that takes a look at some of the Patriots’ biggest competition in the AFC. We start our series with the Jets.
The last time we saw the Jets, they were finishing up a rather underwhelming 8-8 season, five games behind the Patriots in the AFC East. For a team that was coming off back-to-back appearances in the AFC championship game, a .500 season that ended without a playoff berth was humbling for Rex Ryan and friends.
Who they added: The Jets acquired a backup quarterback — maybe you’ve heard of him? Tim Tebow? (He was last seen getting flattened by the Patriots in the postseason.) They also added safety LaRon Landry and his giant arms in free agency. New York also picked up a few intriguing names in the draft in defensive end Quinton Coples (first round out of North Carolina), wide receiver Stephen Hill (second round out of Georgia Tech) and linebacker Demario Davis (third round out of Arkansas State). The Jets are hoping that Coples can provide a boost for a pass rush that had problems toward the end of the 2011 season. Hill is a physical freak who just tore up the combine. And Ryan has already compared Davis to Bart Scott and Ray Lewis, so, you know, no pressure there.
Who’s gone: Two big names that were only peripherally involved in the offense at the end of the season in wide receiver Plaxico Burress and running back LaDainian Tomlinson are still free agents after not re-signing with New York.
How they feel about the Patriots: ‘This is a team we have to beat, clearly. The three years I have been here, they have won our division all three years. That’s something we want to do, so there is a chess match going on. Would our team look differently if ‘¦ would we put so much of our resources, as some people would call them, into a corner if we weren’t playing the New England Patriots? I don’t know. We always look at what they are doing, but the main thing is building our team. We have a vision for our team, we’ve got to stay the course, we’ve got to do what we do best, and I think that’s our main focus.’ — Rex Ryan on the Patriots
Analysis: Three things stick out about the Jets this offseason: One, a clearly chastened Ryan (who also has lost a ton of weight) promised this year at the combine that he wasn’t going to be making any Super Bowl predictions, saying the guarantee had a bad effect on his team. We’ll see how long that holds. Two, while the Jets did address the defensive side of the ball, there are still questions about the state of the offensive line. And three, the Tebow thing is just nuts. The dynamic between Ryan, Tebow and Mark Sanchez will be fascinating to watch if/when Sanchez struggles.
|06.04.12 at 11:57 am ET|
The Patriots continued to be a very visible presence at Celtics games this year with a strong and steady group at the Garden during Sunday’s Game 4. Head coach Bill Belichick, tight end Rob Gronkowski, linebacker Jerod Mayo, wide receiver Wes Welker (who has been a big advocate of his hometown Oklahoma City Thunder during the postseason), running back Kevin Faulk, wide receivers Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman and Donte Stallworth and defensive backs Sterling Moore and Ras-I Dowling were ail in attendance.
A freshly-shorn Gronkowski got the crowd going late in Sunday’s game when he was seen on the Jumbotron waving a towel and leading cheers.
The Wilfork family has been big fans of the Celtics for a long time, and Vince spoke last week about his admiration for the team, saying they have ‘a lot of heart,’ and adding, ‘I’m a big fan and they have a bunch of fans in my household.’ Because of that, don’t even think of intimating that he’s jumped on the Celtics bandwagon.
‘Another win for my Celtics!! Nothing like being there to cheer them on!! [I] grew up a Celtics fan, dont get it twisted. [This] isn’t [some] bandwagon [expletive] they’ve always been my team,’ he said Sunday night. ‘I went [to] college [in Miami] but the Celtics [are] my team.’
|06.03.12 at 2:38 pm ET|
As we have already mentioned, the bulk of the team-building process (two-plus months of free agency as well as the draft) is already been completed, and it’s unlikely that the Patriots would make any major moves between now and the start of training camp at the end of July. However, there are several interesting free agent options still on the market. Evan Silva of Pro Football Talk put together a list of the Top 10 remaining free agents, and a couple of them could be attractive to the Patriots.
At least on the surface, the No. 1 (running back Cedric Benson) and No. 2 (tackle Marcus McNeill) options don’t appear to be fits with New England, as Benson appears to be on the downside of his career and McNeill has had serious back problems over the last few years.
‘¢Third on Silva’s list is defensive end Matt Roth. We’ve been an advocate of Roth to the Patriots for some time now, and New England worked him out last summer right off the lockout. However, he ended up signing a one-year deal with Jacksonville. The fact that he could still be out there could have something to do with concussion issues — he missed the last five games of the season in 2011 because of concussion problems. When he’s been healthy, he’s shown positional flexibility and has been productive: he can play linebacker and end and has 11 sacks in his last 27 games.
‘¢Fourth on the list is defensive end Andre Carter, who put together a tremendous 2011 season in his first year in New England, but suffered a season-ending quad injury in a win over the Broncos in Denver. Carter’s agent Carl Poston has indicated that the defensive end would certainly be open to a return to the Patriots, and like the inevitably that surrounded Brandon Lloyd‘s eventual signing in New England, it appears that Carter will come back to the Patriots at some point in 2012, even on a limited basis. (One source says that Carter would return to New England in October.)
Some other interesting names on Silva’s list including wide receiver Braylon Edwards at No. 5, safety O.J. Atogwe at No. 8 and cornerback Drew Coleman (No. 10), who is best known around Foxboro as the guy who laid the hit on running back Kevin Faulk that ended the veterans’ 2011 season.
|06.01.12 at 9:40 pm ET|
ALLSTON — Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hosted his annual touch football game at Harvard Stadium on Friday night, and managed to get a sizable number of his teammates to take part. Brian Hoyer, Julian Edelman, Jerod Mayo, Nate Solder, Nick MacDonald, Zoltan Mesko, Dan Koppen and Rob Gronkowski were among those in attendance as part of a weekend that benefits Brady’s “Best Buddies” charity.. Here are a few highlights of the Q&A the media had with Brady, Solder and Koppen:
Brady on the game after two quarters: ‘It’s nice having a lot of my teammates out here, supporting it. There are a lot of great teammates of mine that do a lot of things for the community and spend a lot of their time over the course of the year to put events on like this. It’s nice when they show up to your event. Jerod and Zoltan and Nate and [Koppen] and Brian Hoyer and Julian and Nick MacDonald, we’ve got a great group. Hopefully, next year, it’s even a bigger event and we grows and we raise more money and awareness for all these wonderful buddies, like my pal here, Katie.’
Why is [Best Buddies] so special to you? ‘Well, I came here 11 years ago. We didn’t have the game then, but I went for the ride, and felt the commitment that the parents make and the buddies make and that Anthony [Shriver] has made to the community and this particular organization, I felt like I wanted to be a part of it for a long time. I’ve made a lot of great friends. It’s a great group that puts this on every year, and I’m happy to play a real small part.’
Good to see teammates out here as well. Looked like Julian [Edelman] was taking it pretty seriously: ‘Yeah, Julian is always taking it so serious. There’s not a sport where Julian is not competitive. He’s a lot faster than Brian [Hoyer]. Thank God he’s faster than Brian.’
On working in the community: ‘Well, it’s really stressed by our ownership, and I think the players really enjoy it and they take part in special nights like this. Zoltan is having ‘Zolioke’ in a few weeks, taking over for Larry [Izzo], and Jerod has his ‘Mayo Bowl,’ which is a lot of fun. There are a lot of guys, Joe Andruzzi does a lot for this community. It’s important. We have an opportunity to make a difference, and a lot of guys take that opportunity and do some great things with it.’
Do you have a message for the Celtics tonight? ‘You’ve got to win this one. I hope they do. Their backs are against the wall and they have a great opportunity at home. I’m rooting for them.’
|05.31.12 at 11:53 pm ET|
FOXBORO — While the return of Josh McDaniels to the New England offense has looked relatively seamless from the outside in the two OTA sessions the media has had access to, Patriots players say both sides are still going through a getting-to-know-you process.
‘There’s always getting up to speed when certain things have changed — what he’s done the last three or four years and certainly things we’ve changed,’ acknowledged Patriots quarterback Tom Brady following Thursday’s OTA session. ‘But [McDaniels’] competitiveness is still there, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win is still there and he loves football. I think that’s why we get along so well.’
McDaniels was in the New England system from 2001 through 2008, working as the quarterbacks coach from 2004 through 2008, and adding offensive coordinator to his title those final three seasons. He left the Patriots following the 2008 season to become the head coach in Denver and spent nearly two seasons in charge of the Broncos. Last year, he was the offensive coordinator in St. Louis before returning to the Patriots staff at the end of last season.
According to wide receiver Deion Branch — who says that McDaniels ‘has thrown a lot of different wrinkles at us’ during the OTAs — it’s clear that the experiences McDaniels had while he was away from New England have shaped his coaching style in his second tour with the Patriots.
‘You can look at it and say that,’ Branch said. ‘The thing is, I had him as an offensive coordinator, so now that he’s been through the transition of being a head coach and back as an offensive coordinator, it’s totally different. [But] him being a players’ coach, for one, is always a plus.’
|05.31.12 at 7:44 pm ET|
So, Wednesday night’s loss hurt him just like everyone else in Boston. He was able to put that in the past Thursday morning on the practice fields as Patriots OTAs continued outside Gillette Stadium.
“Absolutely I watched it,” the veteran nose tackle said. “I couldn’t believe we blew a 15-point lead. That’s heartbreaking, but they’re fighting hard. They’re fighting really hard, I still have faith and hopefully we can pull two away at home and get it back to even. [I’m] a big fan and I’m pulling for them.”
“Oh man, that’s a fine. Out here that’s a fine,” Wilfork said, half tongue-in-cheek. “I wish them all the luck in the world. They’ve fought through a lot of battles and I’m pretty sure character is going to play a lot going into these next couple of games and how well they can play as a team. [It’s] the same thing we do, how well we play as a team, I think you perform better [when] you trust teammates. I’m pulling for them.”
But besides just cheering for them, Wilfork can’t help but see some admirable qualities in their playoff approach, qualities he likes to think his own team has.
“A lot of heart,” Wilfork said. “We play with a lot of heart and they play with a lot of heart. It’s a tough football team and a tough basketball team but when you surround yourself with good people, good athletes and a good organization, people seem to flock to you. People want to come there and be a part of something that’s good and they have something that’s special. A lot of people wrote them off a long time ago and we’ve been written off around here a lot also, so it really doesn’t matter what people say, it’s all about that locker room.
“That’s what it comes down to ‘ in that locker room, playing for one another and for the team. Hopefully they can get it done. I’ll be there. I’m pulling. I’m a big fan and they have a bunch of fans in my household. Hopefully they can get it done.”
Four months removed from losing the Super Bowl and coming that close in the last two minutes, Wilfork was asked about the effect it has on him, individually, and what kind of effect does it have on the team.
“No effect,” Wilfork said, almost defiantly. “It has no effect on me. You start back from where you started before, from zero. That’s where I’m at now. You really can’t dwell over spoiled milk. Last year was last year, that’s how you have to look at it and keep rolling. You have to be a professional. When it comes down to it you have to be a professional about everything and that plays a big part now. We have to be able to move forward.
“I’ve moved forward and I’m excited to play football. This is my life and this is what I dreamed of doing. I’m back at it, we’re back it and we’re having fun doing it. [I’ve] been running a couple of routes and look good out there. Tom [Brady] gave me a couple of balls, looked pretty good out there.” Read the rest of this entry »
|05.31.12 at 4:55 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Deion Branch isn’t the receiver he used to be, but that doesn’t mean he’s about to shy away from what’s looking like a tremendous positional battle at the wide receiver spot this year.
Branch is one of 11 receivers currently on the Patriots’ roster, and while the 32-year-old (he’ll turn 33 before the start of training camp) doesn’t have the same quicks he used to possess earlier in his career, he’s had no problem transitioning to the next phase of his career: savvy veteran.
‘I’m enjoying it. I love it each and every day I’m out there with the guys,’ Branch said Thursday after the latest OTA session on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. ‘I’m still running around and having fun, daily. They make me feel young — you know what I’m saying?’
Truth be told, the bulk of the New England receiving corps is in the same boat. Branch (32), Wes Welker (31), Donte Stallworth (31), Jabar Gaffney (31) and Chad Ochocinco (34) are all on the plus-side of 30 — even heralded newcomer Brandon Lloyd will turn 31 in July.
It’s not exactly the cast of ‘Cocoon,’ but the veteran group has already developed a good rapport with each other, one fueled in one instance by a familiarity that dates all the way back to college: Branch, Gaffney and Stallworth were all members of the 2002 draft class. Branch calls the chance to finally play together ‘great.’
‘We’re always competing — we go through the bag drill, and we’re always competing,’ said Branch, who had 51 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns last season. ‘First of all, we’re teammates; we have one goal. We’re all on the same side of the ball. We’re all trying to make plays. They’re going to give everybody the opportunity to make plays. Now it’s just time to cash in.
‘It’s always good. It’s a lot of fun too — a lot of fun. We’re having a lot of fun,’ he added. ‘We’re enjoying it.’
Of the new wide receivers, the one who made the biggest splash this offseason was Lloyd. Lloyd, who was acquired via free agency after a stint with the Rams, has impressed through the early stages of the offseason workout program and recent round of OTA’s.
‘The guy is everything I thought he was,’ Branch said of Lloyd, who has averaged 74 catches a season the last two years. ‘I [saw] him on film, Played against him. Played against him in college. He’s pretty much the player I always thought he was. It’s just good to have him over here with us.’