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Dowling’s status raises some interesting questions about Patriots’ cornerback situation

02.27.12 at 4:56 pm ET
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With the news that cornerback Ras-I Dowling is progressing well from his offseason hip surgery, it opens some intriguing questions about the Patriots’€™ cornerbacks going forward.

While there’s some talk about New England using one of their first four picks on a corner — Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick or Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama are two first-round possibilities, while Montana’s Trumaine Johnson is a second-round candidate — if the team decides Dowling is healthy enough to start the 2012 season, the Patriots might not be so inclined to pursue a cornerback in this year’s draft, at least not early on.

Dowling is an intriguing defender. Taken with the first pick of the second round in 2011, the 6-foot-1, 198-pounder started at corner in the regular-season opener against the Dolphins before getting hurt in Week 2.

‘€œHe’€™s a great guy and a wonderful person,’€ said Virginia cornerback Chase Minnifield, a college teammate of Dowling’€™s. ‘€œHe cares about his teammates. I think he’€™s going to be a great player. I think he’€™s going to surprise a lot of people next year, for sure.’€

If he was back at corner in 2012, Dowling would join a group that includes Sterling Moore and Kyle Arrington. In addition, Nate Jones and Antuwan Molden (two unrestricted free agents) remain candidates to return in 2012 for the Patriots at the position.

Dowling will also join Devin McCourty in the secondary, but the question remains: Where should McCourty play? After a Pro Bowl season as a rookie, he appeared to regress in 2011 at corner, and was moved to safety late in the season in New England’€™s sub packages. He certainly did not appear to be overwhelmed at free safety when he was there down the stretch and into the playoffs.

‘€œI think they have to make a decision on McCourty,’€ said Greg Cosell, an NFL Films producer who breaks down game film on a weekly basis. ‘€œBecause after his rookie year, you thought he might be on his way to being a top five or six corner. This was his second year, and it obviously didn’€™t work out that way to the point where he got moved to safety.

‘€œI think they’€™re going to have to find a slot corner. Because obviously we know they played [Julian] Edelman there on the way up to the Super Bowl. They put Arrington there. They put Molden on the outside. At the end of the day, they’€™re still going to need a corner because I’€™m not sure they can consistently line up with those three as their corners if he still wants McCourty to be a safety in the sub packages. I think that would need an improvement.’€

While McCourty struggled at corner at the start of the season, his former college coach believes he’€™ll make the adjustments necessary to succeed long-term.

‘€œHe’€™ll be back. There’€™s no doubt about it,’€ former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said when asked about McCourty at the NFL scouting combine. ‘€œI know he got bumped up a little bit. He’€™s been fortunate that that hasn’€™t happened to him very much in his career.

‘€œI know one thing,’€ Schiano added. ‘€œIf he didn’€™t play at the level that he did the year before, it had something to do with it, because he’€™s as committed a football player in his preparation and the way he takes care of himself physically that I’€™ve been around. So he’€™ll be back.’€

Read More: Antuwan Molden, Chase Minnifield, Devin McCourty, Dre Kirkpatrick

Greg Cosell: Ben Jones could be the answer for the interior of the Patriots’ offensive line

02.27.12 at 12:19 pm ET
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With Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly apparently poised to enter free agency and Brian Waters still reportedly contemplating retirement, it should come as no surprise if the Patriots try and shore up the interior of their offensive line. Greg Cosell, a senior producer for NFL Films for the last 33 years, watches more game film than just about anyone, and believes that the interior of the Patriots’€™ offensive line could be in a state of flux.

‘€œI think they feel that they’€™re set at tackle, and they are,’€ said Cosell, who also serves as the producer of ESPN’s NFL Matchup. ‘€œBecause I think Nate Solder was drafted to play left tackle because of his athleticism. And obviously, with a year under his belt where he played both left and right, and was used in a variety of ways as well, as a sixth offensive lineman in tight end-type of situations — they’€™ll expect him to play left tackle next year. [Sebastian] Vollmer, when healthy, is a very solid right tackle. So you can argue that they are set at the tackle positions.

‘€œLogan Mankins isn’€™t going anywhere. Now … I think Mankins hasn’€™t been as consistent a player. He wasn’€™t as consistent at times this year as he has been in the past. He’€™s not done. He’€™s not a stiff. You don’€™t need to replace him. But I don’€™t think he was quite the same player.’€

Cosell buys into the theory that the slippage in Mankins’€™ play last season was due in part to having had to work with four different centers over the course of the season. Koppen and Connolly were injured for some or part of the year, causing the Patriots to rotate Ryan Wendell and Nick McDonald at times through the 2011 season.

‘€œI talked to someone well connected in the league who said that the Patriots o-line is the most cohesive and best-coached unit in the NFL. And now that you just said that, it would make perfect sense, in that Mankins is playing with a different guy on his right throughout the season, that will have a meaningful impact on both his play and the lines play.

‘€œI don’€™t think Mankins makes a lot of mental mistakes. But if you pair him with a center, and there’€™s no unit on the field that has to work together more than the o-line, and particularly when a quarterback sets the protection and there’€™s 15 seconds left on the play clock … I think that’€™s a very fair statement.’€

As for the other guard spot, Cosell said that Brian Waters had a great season, but it might be too much to expect another similar season from the veteran.

‘€œHe had a really good year,’€ Cosell said. ‘€œBut I think you have to look … I’€™m not saying he’€™s not coming to camp and starts as the starter and all that, but at some point, there will be a dropoff. It’€™s natural. It’€™s not a knock on Brian Waters. Its just age.’€

As for the man in the middle, Cosell loves what Koppen brings to the field, but refuses to make any predictions about his future because of Bill Belichick‘€™s track record.

‘€œI don’€™t think they’€™re going to give him a big, big contract,’€ Cosell said of Koppen, who has been New England’€™s regular center since his 2003. ‘€œI don’€™t know … Bill’€™s the toughest guy in the league for me to figure out. Because it just seems like there’€™s no rhyme or reason to what he does. Bill’€™s the kind of guy, he could put you at safety next year if he thought it would work. That’€™s just the way he is.

‘€œHe could think, ‘€˜You know what? I could draft this center out of Georgia named Ben Jones.’ I’€™ve ended up watching three Georgia games because of the teams they’€™ve played, and Georgia is the team I’€™ve watched the most on tape leading up to this. I love that kid. I think Belichick would love him. I think Dante Scarnecchia would love the kid. Maybe he thinks, ‘€˜We could draft that kid and he’€™ll play center.’€™ I don’€™t know how Bill thinks.

‘€œBut my point is that the position is important the way they play because a lot of stuff is done at the line of scrimmage. So it’€™s not just taking a good athlete and putting him in. It’€™s an important position mentally.’€

Read More: Ben Jones, Bill Belichick, Brian Waters, Dan Connolly

Why Luke Kuechly won’t fall far in the NFL draft

02.26.12 at 9:03 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly was asked 20 questions by reporters Sunday, not counting how to pronounce his name and how tall he was.

Four of those questions were about Philadelphia, and how it seemed he was destined to be selected by the Eagles in the first round of April’s draft. The Eagles could use help at inside linebacker, they’re picking 15th overall and Kuechly is one of the best defensive prospects. To those asking the questions, it makes sense.

Yet the idea that the BC star is headed to Philadelphia at No. 15 might suggest that people have got Kuechly all wrong. It suggests they’ve got elite inside linebackers all wrong.

Players expected to go at the top of the draft fall every year — even star quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers plummeting to the 24th pick in 2005 is probably the best example). Yet in recent years, it seems that the one player guaranteed to not slip is a star inside linebacker.

And that, from all indications, is what Kuechly is. An incredibly instinctive player who’s far more athletic than he’s given credit for, Kuechly has been compared to former Dolphins great Zach Thomas. If teams like him for what he is, he won’t fall.

Take a look at the recent years in which there’s been a star inside linebacker among the best players in the draft. There was Miami’s Jonathan Vilma in 2004, who didn’t get past the Jets at 12th overall. In 2007, Patrick Willis was held in a similarly high regard as Kuechly, and he went 11th overall. Since then, he’s been the best inside linebacker in the league. Jerod Mayo went 10th overall to the Patriots in 2008. The Raiders are known for being a little crazy with their first-round picks, but when they saw Rolando McClain as a top talent in the middle, they didn’t let him get past the eighth overall pick.

Sure, Derrick Johnson went 15th overall in 2005, but that was as an outside linebacker before the Chiefs eventually moved him inside in the 3-4. And DeMeco Ryans wasn’t considered an elite, sure-fire first-round middle linebacker in 2006, but after he went with the first pick of the second round, he proved that he should have received better consideration.

The moral of the story: If you’re an elite inside linebacker, you’ll go right around that Top 10 area. This year, a likely suitor for Kuechly is the Chiefs who pick at 11th overall. They could grab Kuechly and stick him next to Johnson. Or maybe another team will move up to secure his services, but based on recent history, one shouldn’t expect him to be available when the Eagles pick at No. 15.

“I try not to look at that stuff,” Kuechly said of the mock drafts. “I’ve heard it from different people, friends and family and other people who have been looking at that stuff, but for me, the primary concern for me right now is doing well here and taking care of business here before I can even look at that stuff.”

As for Kuechly’s resume as one of those top-tier inside linebackers, everything is there. He won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker, joining the likes of outside backer Von Miller (2011), McClain (2009) and Willis (2006), among others. Analysts rave about his football smarts, but his instincts by no means are supplement for any lack of athleticism. He also came into Indianapolis with better size than he played in at BC — Kuechly measured in at 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds after playing at 235 last season as a junior.

Kuechly has everything to make him a blue-chip inside linebacker prospect. History shows that position to be one that doesn’t generally fall in the draft, so don’t expect his wait to be long come April 26.

Read More: 2012 combine, 2012 NFL Draft, Jerod Mayo, Luke Kuechly

Dre Kirkpatrick has allowed one touchdown in his entire life

02.26.12 at 4:19 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — These Alabama defenders sure have been entertaining at the scouting combine.

A day after Crimson Tide linebacker Courtney Upshaw dissed the Patriots, it was Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick who had the reporters chuckling on Sunday.

Kirkpatrick was asked whether he had given up any touchdowns last season as a junior.

“Yes sir, I did,” he replied. “Florida game. My only one. First ever.”

Later, the very serious Kirkpatrick clarified his answer by saying calling the touchdown he allowed the “first ever in my life.”

Kirkpatrick said his lifelong streak of having never allowed a touchdown dated back to when he started playing football in eighth grade. Then came the first play of Alabama’s Oct. 1 meeting with Florida.

“I don’t know the receiver name, but he ran a fade route on me,” Kirkpatrick said. “I was just playing over aggressive, too hyped up on the first play of the game and just misread my steps.”

He admitted he didn’t want to know the receiver’s name, but it was Florida sophomore Andre Dobose. Kirkpatrick didn’t have a single interception as a junior, but when you never allow touchdowns, you don’t get thrown on much.

As an Alabama product, there’s the Patriots connection given that Kirkpatrick played under Nick Saban. Kirkpatrick said he played mostly man coverage, but Saban has prepared him be good in zone as well.

“With Coach Saban, we play a lot of both,” he said. “A lot of man, a lot of zone, a lot of off. It’s pretty much everything. The main thing we really play is man, bump and run, but I feel like I’m very happy where I’m at with [my zone skills].”

Read More: 2012 combine, 2012 NFL Draft, Dre Kirkpatrick,

Could Mohamed Sanu become the latest Rutgers product to join the Patriots?

02.26.12 at 3:52 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to finding players, Rutgers has been a pretty dependable spot for the Patriots the last few years. And with New England looking to get younger at the wide receiver spot this offseason, Bill Belichick could find himself another Scarlet Knight in this year’€™s draft with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver, who had 115 catches for 1,206 yards this past season with Rutgers. He’€™s projected to be a late first-round, early second-round pick, and could be there for New England at either No. 27 or No. 31 overall. (The Patriots also pick at No. 48 and No. 63 overall in the second round.)

‘€œI’€™m very, very fond of Mohamed as a person. He’€™s a tremendous guy and he’€™s a special football player,’€ said Greg Schiano, who coached Sanu at Rutgers before taking over in Tampa Bay this offseason. ‘€œHe singlehandedly won games for us — heck, that one catch he makes against South Florida, on his back, one hand, tips it to himself. Not a lot of guys I’€™ve seen do that.

‘€œThere’€™s going to be a team that’€™s very, very fortunate to get Mohamed with their club, because he is not only a great player in the field, he’€™s great in the locker room. A great person.’€

Sanu, who ran a 4.67 40 at the combine on Sunday, said he’€™s already spoken with some of his former college teammates like Devin McCourty and Tiquan Underwood about the transition from college to the NFL and what to expect along the way.

‘€œI talk to a few guys,’€ Sanu said when asked about a possible Patriots connection. ‘€œI talk to Devin McCourty and Tiquan, and they told me everything I needed to hear and gave me some great advice. Those are great guys and I really appreciate their time and efforts informing me of everything I need to know.’€

Sanu said he has also spoken briefly with Belichick over the last couple of years.

‘€œI saw him a few times at some of our games. We didn’€™t talk much, just a few times,’€ he said. ‘€œI know his son — he played on the team. So I know coach Belichick.’€

The knock on Sanu is that he fails to get separation from defenders, but Schiano said he believes the receiver can answer ‘€œa lot of those questions’€ over the course of the week in Indianapolis, and has full faith that Sanu will be a special player at the next level.

‘€œYou have to be a complete receiver,’€ Sanu said. ‘€œYou have to be able to block, run great routes, catch the ball, do all that a wide receiver does. You can’€™t be a guy who can just catch the ball and takes run plays off, because it’€™s the other plays that are designed for the running backs so he gets his chance to shine and you have to make sure you do your job for him because when you’€™re running your route he’€™s back there pass protecting for you. So I just feel I’€™m going to do my job, my 1/11th and the team is successful.’€

Read More: 2012 combine, Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty, Greg Schiano

A look at receivers’ 40 times and what they mean for the Patriots

02.26.12 at 2:50 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — The wide receivers are done running at the NFL combine. Here’s a quick look at some of the official times of receivers in whom the Pats could be interested.

Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech: 4.36
Chris Givens, Wake Forest: 4.41
Kashif Moore, UConn: 4.42
Marv Jones, California: 4.46
Michael Floyd, Notre Dame: 4.47
Rueben Randle, LSU: 4.55
Kendall Wright, Baylor: 4.61
Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers : 4.67

A few notes:

– That’s a dreadful 40 time for Wright, but he has a reputation for his speed working in his favor. He’ll run again at his Pro Day. Remember, Florida cornerback Joe Haden walked the 40 in 2010 (4.60) before posting a better time at his Pro Day and still went seventh overall and has been a productive player for the Browns.

– South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery did not run, which is a huge disappointment to any draftnik out there. One of the biggest question we hoped to see answered at the combine was whether Jeffery was big and slow or big and fast. As it turned out, he had lost weight, weighing in at 216 pounds and measuring in between 6-foot-2 4/8 and 6-foot-3. If he can run the 40-yard dash in the low 4.5s or better, he’ll be golden. We’ll just have to wait until his Pro Day on March 28.

– That isn’t a bad time at all for Randle. In fact, it’s right around what was expected of him. For a lot of these receivers — especially the bigger ones, the 40 yard dash can be more about proving you aren’t slow than proving you’re fast.

– Of the receivers in this draft, Hill sure is intriguing for the Pats. Given that he comes from Georgia Tech’s option offense, he’s a good blocker, but he hasn’t produced much. Drops are a concern, but he’s got a good frame and blazing speed. We like him as a second-round pick for New England.

Read More: 2012 combine, 2012 NFL combine, Kendall Wright, Michael Floyd

Romeo Crennel: Just because someone succeeds with Patriots doesn’t mean we’d be interested in him for the Chiefs

02.26.12 at 2:10 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Pioli is getting the band back together.

Well, maybe not the entire band. But the combination of Romeo Crennel as head coach and Brian Daboll as the offensive coordinator — not to mention the fact that Matt Cassel is still very much in the mix as the Kansas City quarterback battle — certainly gives the Chiefs a familiar look.

That’€™s why it’€™s been no surprise the Chiefs have been linked to running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, an impending free agent who has rushed for 1,675 yards the last two seasons for the Patriots. While not addressing Green-Ellis’€™ situation directly, Crennel said that just because a free agent flourished in New England, that doesn’€™t necessarily mean he’€™d achieve success with the Chiefs.

‘€œThe schemes are not necessarily the same. They are different. Schemes change over time,’€ he said. ‘€œEach year, coaches make adjustments. That’€™s what we do. We adjust to our personnel. We adjust to the opponents. We study ourselves and try to figure out what’€™s good and what’€™s bad and try to keep the good things in and get rid of some of the bad things so systems change.

‘€œSome of the terminology might be the same and all that, but that doesn’€™t mean every free agent New England has I want automatically say, ‘€˜Hey, he needs to be on my team.’€™ That’€™s not the case. We have to look at every person and every player individually and try to figure out how they fit on this team and how we can use them and if they can help us. Then you make a decision on a player. So whether it’€™s a guy from New England, from Chicago or wherever, that’€™s the process you have to go through.’€

And then, there’€™s the addition of Daboll, who was the offensive coordinator last year in Miami but made his bones as an assistant in New England — he was the defensive coaching assistant in 2000 and 2001, and later moved on to become the wide receivers coach from 2002 through 2006.

‘€œI’€™ve worked with him before and I know what he’€™s about,’€ Crennel said of Daboll, who was quarterbacks coach with the Jets and OC in Cleveland before joining Miami prior to the start of last season. ‘€œI know how hard he works. I know how thoughtful he is. Then what he was able to do with Miami and how particularly toward the end of the year how that offense did was helpful in making me decide he was the guy.

‘€œThe thing about Brian is I’€™ve seen his career grow from the time we were in New England when he was just a young whippersnapper and then he got to receivers and moved on to quarterbacks and became an offensive coordinator, so I’€™ve seen his growth and development, and thought he was on a good track and thought he would be good for the Chiefs.’€

Read More: 2012 combine, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Matt Cassel, Romeo Crennel
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