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Some initial thoughts on the release of the Patriots’ regular-season schedule

04.17.12 at 7:51 pm ET
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Some initial thoughts on the Patriots’ 2012 regular-season schedule, which was unveiled Tuesday night:

‘€¢For a team that went to the Super Bowl, the Patriots are playing an awful lot of games that kick off Sunday at 1 p.m. Perhaps that’s indicative of the overall strength of schedule (based on 2011 records, New England has the easiest schedule in the league), but to see so many games that start Sunday at 1 p.m. is a little jarring. Right now, the Patriots have nine games that are set to start Sunday at 1 p.m., including home dates against Arizona, Buffalo, Indianapolis and Miami, as well as road games against Buffalo, St. Louis (in London), Miami and Jacksonville. Those games could always be flexed out, but at this point, nine early games is a lot.

‘€¢This is part of playing the annual game in England (Week 8, against St. Louis), but New England’s bye comes the following week, roughly the midway point of the regular season. As wide receiver Donte Stallworth tweeted Tuesday night, it’s the perfect time of the season to have a bye week — the middle of the schedule.

‘€¢Thanksgiving night against the Jets shapes up to be one of the must-watch games of the year. The Patriots are 2-2 all-time on thanksgiving, with their last outing on Turkey Day coming in 2010 when they beat the Lions in Detroit, 45-24.

‘€¢The Patriots start their season with three road games in their first four contests, including a rematch of the AFC championship game on Sunday, Sept. 23 against the Ravens in Baltimore and road games at Tennessee (to open the year on Sept. 9) and at Buffalo (to open the divisional schedule on Sept. 30). Including the preseason (where New England closes with a pair of road games), that’ll make five out of six games away from Gillette Stadium, with the most difficult game coming against Baltimore. The flip side to that is that the Patriots will finish the regular-season with three of their final four games at home, including a pair of what shape up to be toughies: against Houston and against San Francisco. (There’s also a road game against Jacksonville and a home game to close out the season against Miami.)

‘€¢The toughest overall stretch might be the four-game series that starts on Oct. 7 with a home date against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The Patriots will follow that up with am Oct. 14 game at Seattle (never an easy road trip, regardless of what sort of talent the Seahawks might have), home the next week against the Jets, and then to London to meet the Rams. On paper, it doesn’t look that daunting, but that’s a lot of miles to cover in 21 days. The second-toughest test for the Patriots is likely the back-to-back games they have against Houston (Monday, Dec. 10) and San Francisco (Dec. 16). Playing a pair of quality opponents on back-to-back on a short week is tough, even if you have to do it at home.

‘€¢For New England’s detailed schedule, click through to HERE.

NFL mock draft roundup: Experts say Patriots will likely get defensive

04.17.12 at 3:40 pm ET
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With the the 2012 NFL Draft ready to kick-off a week from Thursday, media outlets across the country are putting the finishing touches on their mock drafts and projections for who each team will pick. Here’s an overview of some of the media’s prominent mock drafts and who they have the Patriots drafting in the first round, along with some second-round projections.

Rob Rang: CBS Sports

Round 1, Pick 27 – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor:

Rang notes that the Patriots have shored up their receiving corps with the signing of Donte Stallworth, Anthony Gonzalez and, most importantly, Brandon Lloyd. However, he has Belichick picking up the burner out of Baylor to be the long-awaited receiver that can ‘€œstretch the defense’€ while also being effective out of the slot, calling saying he could have ‘€œtoo much value to bypass.’€

Round 1, Pick 31 – Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse:

Rang has the Patriots going after a top pass-rusher with their second pick, calling Jones a ‘€œnatural replacement candidate’€ for the roles that were filled by Mark Anderson and pre-quad injury Andre Carter. This pick assumes that the Patriots expect to retain their 4-3 look defensively for next season. Jones projects well to play with his hand on the ground as opposed to a Courtney Upshaw from Alabama, who Rang still had on the board at 31.

Round 2, Pick 16 – Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall:

The Patriots use two straight selections on edge rushers in this mock, a move that would appease many fans, and lead to a young, athletic rotation at defensive end, similar to the way the New York Giants continually roll their rushers in and out.

Round 2, Pick 31 – Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama:

A year after taking Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett in the third round, Rang has the Patriots going after what may be this year’€™s version of baggage-ridden prospect in Jenkins, in continuation of Belichick’€™s to take chances on such players, While there is no question about Jenkins’€™ talent (not many mocks have Jenkins falling out of the first round), he must overcome question marks over his maturity.

Mel Kiper: ESPN

Round 1, Pick 27 – Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise St:

More of a tweener, McClellin played defensive end at Boise State, but projects well as a 3-4 outside linebacker, leaving him as a versatile piece for Belichick to utilize in his defense. McClellin can pressure the pocket, but receives higher grades from his lofty football IQ, strength and ability to play his assignment, particularly in the run game.

Round 1, Pick 31 – Derek Wolfe, DL, Cincinnati:

At 6-foot-5, 295, Wolfe is a load on the defensive line and, according to Kiper, projects as a 3-4 defensive lineman. Kiper notes that the lesser-known Cincinatti prospects isn’€™t quite the ‘€œexplosive’€ player that a lot of fans are looking for, but plays with good leverage and could be a good fit up front.

Todd McShay: ESPN

Round 1, Pick 27 – Nick Perry, DE, USC:

McShay has the Patriots going for a pass-rusher at No. 27, with Perry being the best one available in terms of what the Patriots are looking for. With a similar frame and skillset, Belichick could select Perry with the intention of having him make up for the loss of Anderson.

Round 1, Pick 31 – Jerel Worthy, DL, Michigan St:

Worthy is a powerful, disruptive force on the defensive line, particularly as a penetrating 3-technique in a 4-3 defense. The questions with Worthy, though, lie in his consistency and ability to maintain a strong bull rush and a high motor on every play. At his peak, Worthy could be demon on the Pats‘€™ interior like Albert Haynesworth in his prime. If he lacks consistency, he could flounder, like Albert Haynesworth past his prime.

Don Banks:

Round 1, Pick 27 – Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse:

Jones once again goes to this Patriots in this mock, but at their first selection. However, Banks does have many of the draft’€™s top pass rushers coming off of the board quickly. If there is a similar run on April 26th, the Patriots would likely wait and see who falls to them rather than trade up. In this case, they land Jones.

Round 1, Pick 31 – Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan St:

Another analyst expecting the Patriots to take the All-American, Banks calls Worthy an excellent value at the 31st overall pick, provided Belichick actually holds onto the selection, of course.

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Four more names pop up on the pre-draft radar for the Patriots

04.17.12 at 3:32 pm ET
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Four more names have been linked to the Patriots as part of the pre-draft process in the last few days. Here’s a quick thumbnail sketch of each one of them and what they could possibly bring to New England:

USC DE/OLB Nick Perry: The 6-foot-3, 271-pounder is considered by most to be a mid- to late-first round possibility, which would certainly mesh with the Patriots, who have No. 27 and No. 31 overall and recently had him in for a pre-draft visit, according to Aaron Wilson of Perry said at the combine in February that while he had positional versatility to play both the OLB in the 3-4 and DE in a 4-3, he prefers the 4-3 with his hand on the ground. A potential replacement for Mark Anderson (and possibly Andre Carter if the latter doesn’€™t return), Perry recorded 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery as a junior in 2011. (We profiled him here as part of our “Potential Patriots” series.)

Vanderbilt CB Casey Hayward: Projected as a late first-round or early second-round possibility (Mike Lombardi of the NFL Network thinks that he’€™s a Top 25 pick), the 5-foot-11, 192-pounder has put together two very impressive seasons the last two years in the SEC: Last season, he had 62 tackles, a career-high seven interceptions and 10 pass deflections, and was named second-team All-SEC for the second straight year. As a junior, he finished with 70 tackles, six interceptions, 11 pass deflections and one forced fumble. In all, he finished his collegiate career with 15 interceptions. He also had a 3-cone drill time of 6.76, and we all know how much the Patriots love a good 3-cone drill time. (According to Wilson, he had a pre-draft visit with New England, and has also previously had a visit with the Titans and private workouts with the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings.)
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Read More: Casey Hayward, Nick Perry, Noah Keller, Ron Brooks

Jerod Mayo on returning to work, getting over the Super Bowl loss and acting for the Farrelly Brothers

04.17.12 at 1:46 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo just wrapped up a quick conversation with the media here at Gillette Stadium in between workouts. Here are a few highlights of his Q&A:

Thoughts on being back: “I’ve been good. Just happy to be back. I really didn’t go anywhere, so I’ve just been working out by myself. It’s good to get the coaches — well, the strength coaches — back working with us.”

How much time have you had to rest? “A couple weeks. I love working out and just getting ready for the next season, especially ending a disappointing season like that in the Super Bowl. You always want to get back to work and try to get better for next year.”

Is this week about moving on? “I think so, just getting the guys back together, seeing all the new faces, kind of seeing how the team is going to gel together, just building that camaraderie with these workouts.”

Any connection with the new guys? “[Donte] Stallworth is a Tennessee Vol, but not too many of the other guys. But we’re working out now, and I’m getting to know each and every one of them.”

On Trevor Scott: “He’s been around. he’s a good dude, working hard. I’m not really into taking attendance because everyone works out at different times. I’ll take attendance next time we do this. I’ll let you know who is there.”

Have you watched the Super Bowl? “I have watched it a couple times.”
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Source confirms Love has signed ERFA tender with Patriots

04.17.12 at 9:52 am ET
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A league source has confirmed the report that Patriots defensive tackle Kyle Love has signed his one-year, exclusive rights free agent tender with the team, and was present for the start of New England’s offseason program on Monday. The 25-year-old Love, a 6-foot-1, 310-pounder out of Mississippi State, started 13 games last season for the Patriots and had 33 tackles (20 solo) and three sacks. The Boston Globe was the first to report the news.

Read More: Kyle Love,

Six who are in uncertain situations as we near the halfway point of the NFL offseason

04.16.12 at 10:03 pm ET
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Despite the fact that the bulk of free agency is done, there are some veterans who are still in an uncertain position. Here are six Patriots (some free agents) who still face uncertain situations (for various reasons) as we close in on the halfway point of the NFL offseason:

Andre Carter: Carter’€™s status remains up in the air — his calf surgery and subsequent rehab have reportedly gone well. However, it’€™s likely that both sides want to wait a while longer to get a handle on Carter’€™s health before they make any final decisions. If he doesn’€™t return? Expect the Patriots to rely on newly acquired Trevor Scott, as well as put more on the shoulders of Rob Ninkovich. New England could also put more of a priority on finding a pass rusher in the draft if it knows Carter won’t be back.

Brian Waters: He has one more year left on his contract, but he openly discussed the idea of retirement after the Super Bowl. Like Carter, a great veteran acquisition who was right at home in his first season New England, so much so that it probably wouldn’€™t take much to lure him back for one more year. If he doesn’€™t return? Expect young interior linemen like Ryan Wendell and Donald Thomas to get the bulk of the snaps. (The guard spot will be a fluid position, especially if Waters does decide to retire and Logan Mankins is sidelined for the start of the year because of offseason ACL surgery.)

Matt Light: Like Waters, he’€™s floated the idea of retirement. One of the only remaining links to Super Bowl XXXVI, Light had one of the best seasons of his career last year, and based on that, he could ultimately return for one more season. If he doesn’€™t return? While there is some question about the guard spot if Waters retires, the Patriots appear set at tackle with Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder.

Kevin Faulk: Thanks to a knee injury he suffered at the start of the 2010 season, the veteran has struggled the last two years. However, the veteran running back has already stated the fact that he’€™d like to return for 2012. (If he doesn’€™t get that phone call, he said he’€™ll retire.) For what it’€™s worth, it’€™s my belief that Faulk, Tedy Bruschi and Troy Brown are the only three guys who have played for Bill Belichick who have earned the right — in the coaches eyes — to go out on their own terms. If he doesn’€™t return? Look for Danny Woodhead to move into the full-time role of third-down/changeup back, a job that he maintained for most of the last two years when Faulk has been on the shelf.

James Ihedigbo: Even before the draft, the safety will face some positional versatility going into the 2012 season. Devin McCourty spent a lot of time at the free safety spot late in the year and into the position, and the signing of Steve Gregory could have some impact on where Ihedigbo is in 2012. However, he does have special-teams experience, and he could also benefit from the fact that he has a year in the system and the safety market (both in the draft and in free agency) is pretty poor. If he doesn’€™t return? Presumably Gregory and McCourty would pick up some of the snaps, as well as others like Sergio Brown, the versatile Sterling Moore (who went back and forth between safety and corner last year) and whomever New England might add in the draft.

Gerard Warren: Like many others on this list, the veteran defensive lineman is a free agent who might ultimately decide to call it a career if he finds he’€™s not a fit with the Patriots for the 2012 season. But then again, this is nothing new for ‘€œBig Money,’€ who was in a similar situation last season, only to be brought back by Belichick and the Patriots before the start of the year. If he doesn’€™t return? Expect more to fall on the shoulders of young interior defensive linemen like Kyle Love.

Read More: Andre Carter, Brian Waters, Gerard Warren, James Ihedigbo

What the return of Dan Koppen means for the Patriots offensive line

04.13.12 at 12:33 pm ET
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With the news that veteran Dan Koppen has agreed to a two-year contract to return to the Patriots, it creates an interesting dynamic along New England’s veteran offensive line.

The 32-year-old Koppen, who was out for the bulk of the 2011 season with a fractured ankle, now faces a strong positional battle from Dan Connolly, who started in his place last year and has moved from versatile backup to important cog in New England’s offensive line. Earlier this offseason, Connolly signed a three-year deal worth more than $9 million, suggesting that he would now assume the role of primary starter and Koppen would be free to look elsewhere for work. (Koppen did reportedly have one free-agent visit with Tennessee.)

However, Koppen has been a steady and dependable presence up from since he was a rookie — a 2003 fifth-round pick out of Boston College, has started 120 of 121 games over nine seasons with the Patriots, and went to the Pro Bowl in 2007. When it comes to winning his spot back on a permanent basis, Koppen can lean on a lot of things in his favor, most notably the fact that he is close friends with quarterback Tom Brady.

If Koppen is at 100 percent — as many believe he is — that would free up Connolly to serve as either a stopgap for left guard Logan Mankins if Mankins is forced to sit for a stretch because of ACL surgery the Fresno State product underwent following an injury in the Super Bowl. Connolly could also provide support at the other guard position, as it remains unclear as to whether or not starting veteran Brian Waters will be back for a second season with the Patriots.

This move also means that Ryan Wendell returns to his role as a primary backup among the interior offensive linemen, leading a group that includes Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas.

Read More: Brian Waters, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Donald Thomas
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