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Bill Belichick, Patriots always held Chuck Noll in high esteem

06.14.14 at 6:00 am ET
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Former Steelers head coach Chuck Noll passed away at the age of 82 on Friday.

Noll, who guided Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl titles, always had the respect of the Patriots franchise, including New England coach Bill Belichick. Belichick spoke of Noll fondly on several occasions — the last time publicly came in October 2013, when Belichick reflected on the possibility of passing Noll for seventh place on the list of most career wins for a head coach.

“I have tremendous respect for Coach Noll. Yeah — he was one of the great coaches when I came into the league in ‘€™75, and for the next 15 years. I had the opportunity to coach with several coaches who were at Pittsburgh with Coach Noll. Some of the things that I learned from them, or about him through them, whatever you want to call it, and of course competing against him,” Belichick said.

“I have tremendous respect for Coach Noll and his whole program there. They were an excellent team and they were a good, sound team — a team that you always, as a coach outside of Pittsburgh, always tried to look at what they were doing and learn from it: their fundamentals, their technique, their scheme — which wasn’€™t overly complicated, but it was very sound.

“I think that their program, what they did there schematically and all was very, very good. Coach Noll and his approach to the game, his consistency, his level demeanor and the consistency that they had, I thought was always exemplary, right at the top of coaches that I tried to learn from and take things from them,” Belichick added. “Going against him every year, as a defensive coach against their offense, when I was with the Giants through all those years in the ‘€˜80s was also always a good, it was a great experience because they were so well balanced, they threw the ball down the field, they ran the ball, they had a good balanced attacked.

“I think I learned a lot from the outside, looking at that program that Coach Noll ran. Bill [Cowher] really kind of had somewhat of a continuation of that, even though they changed defensively to his blitz-zone package but a lot of the things that they did fundamentally there, especially on the offensive side of the ball, with Dick Hoak there in the running game and all that, it was a couple decades of stuff really that was a carryover from Coach Noll and the consistency that they had all the way up into this century, the 2000s.”

Prior to Super Bowl XLVI — when the Patriots and Belichick were going for their fourth Super Bowl title — Belichick was asked about the chance to tie Noll’s record for Super Bowl wins.

“It would make me feel pretty good,” Belichick said at the time. “It’s a great honor to be mentioned in the same conversation with Chuck. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Chuck and the job he did with his team and the organization.

“It’s very flattering to be mentioned in the same sentence with Chuck Noll.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chuck Noll,

For Stanford double-major Cameron Fleming, learning Patriots playbook shouldn’t be difficult

06.13.14 at 11:10 am ET
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For rookies — all new players, really — learning the Patriots playbook is a bit of a challenge with the numerous schemes and many new concepts. But for rookie right tackle Cameron Fleming, the X’€™s and O’€™s will be nothing compared to what he went through during his four years in the classroom at Stanford.

Fleming double-majored in aeronautics and astronautics, so he is no stranger to foreign concepts and challenging his brain.

“He’€™s designed planes in class and stuff like that,” Stanford offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren said in a phone interview. “He knows that is what he wants to do after football, and so not only is he your typical Stanford kid, but he’s one that majored in that. He’€™s absolutely brilliant.”

Last year as a senior Fleming needed to schedule special meetings with Bloomgren to go over game plans, as Fleming was in class when the rest of the team had meetings. Over lunch each day the pair would go over what Fleming missed, becoming very close to one another over the course of the season.

Bloomgren coached in the NFL, serving as an offensive assistant with the Jets for four seasons before joining Stanford in 2011. With that NFL experience, he knows what the playbooks look like and installed a similar philosophy at Stanford with multiple plays being called in the huddle, many audibles, etc. He said it will be a seamless transition for Fleming to the pro game.

“Absolutely, especially in a system like ours and one like the New England system,” Bloomgren said. “The little that I know about it, it certainly requires you to be a thinking man. A guy that can go to a second play and have the quarterback come to the line and audible, do whatever he tells you to do, and Cameron is that guy. He’€™s a guy that can certainly adjust on the run, and that is nothing new for him to go to the line of scrimmage with two or three plays called in the huddle and he’€™s told which one to run.”

On the field Fleming is a monster. He stands 6-foot-5, 323 pounds. As a sophomore he started 11 games and protected Andrew Luck while the quarterback threw a school-record 37 touchdown passes. As a junior Fleming started 14 games at right tackle and was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention. As a senior he started all 14 games and took home numerous awards, including All-Pac-12 second team, Sporting News All-Pac-12 and Athlon Sports All-Pac-12 second team.

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Cameron Fleming, Mike Bloomgren, Patriots

After meeting with Patriots, free agent Kevin Williams signs with Seahawks

06.13.14 at 6:00 am ET
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Free agent defensive lineman Kevin Williams, who recently met with the Patriots, has agreed to a new deal with the Seahawks, it was announced on Thursday.

The six-time Pro Bowler, who will turn 34 next month, has spent 11 years in the NFL, all with the Vikings. The 6-foot-5, 311-pounder has been pretty durable over the course of his career, as he’€™s only missed five regular-season games since entering the league in 2003. Williams has 60.5 career sacks, including 8.5 in 2008.

Williams told Sirius XM earlier this week that he had a good meeting with New England coach Bill Belichick, who laid out what his role would be in a Patriots defense. That sit-down came in the wake of an interview where Williams told a reporter the Patriots should “look me up.”

“He went through the roster and basically explained where I could fit in with those guys,” Williams said of his talk with Belichick. “They had a lot of injuries and they have some veteran guys coming off of injuries that play tackle, and I would have a chance to compete for a position there. Either way, we’d have a good rotation, and have a chance to win some games.”

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AFC East becoming fast, furious offensive division

06.13.14 at 12:07 am ET
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Looking for fast football? Then the AFC East may be your cup of tea in 2014.

The Dolphins are making a lot of noise this season about pushing the pace for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they have imported Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor as their new offensive coordinator. And given the fact that Lazor was with Chip Kelly and the record-setting Philadelphia offense in 2013, there are bound to be comparisons to what Kelly and Philly did.

“€It’€™s reminiscent of Chip Kelly’€™s offense in Philadelphia, with the tempo and style,”€ said one Dolphins player who asked not to be named when he was quizzed about the look of Miami’€™s offense this spring. “There are some West Coast offense concepts. … Some shotgun, some under center. They’€™ve discussed having both no-huddle and huddle. It’€™s fast tempo.”

For what it’€™s worth, Miami has been a little quicker than the average NFL team over the last two years under Joe Philbin. Measured using situation-neutral offensive pace — a formula from the site Football Outsiders that eliminates things like two-minute drills and late-game clock-killing situations to get a truer idea of the offense’€™s intentions when it comes to offensive pace — the 2012 Dolphins were ninth overall at one play every 29.23 seconds, and last year, on average, they ran one play every 30.08 seconds, 14th quickest in the NFL.

But a Kelly-style overhaul would certainly take things to the next level, and could jump start a Miami offense that had been bogged down at times the last few seasons under former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

“€Bill has done an excellent job,”€ Philbin said of Lazor’€™s work in a radio interview in April. “We’€™re going to be stressing the tempo of our offense, the play speed.”

Of course, when it comes to the AFC East, fast football is certainly nothing new, and more often than not the uptempo approach starts with New England. While last year’€™s Patriots eased off the uptempo style that helped to define them offensively over the previous two seasons, New England still was faster than most of the rest of the league in 2013. Using situation-neutral offensive pace, the Patriots ran one play every 26.59 seconds last season, the third-highest rate in the NFL. Only Philadelphia (23.88) and Buffalo (24.92) were faster.
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Read More: Bill Lazor, Chan Gailey, Chip Kelly, Doug Marrone

Sebastian Vollmer taking it ‘step by step’ in his return to the field

06.12.14 at 10:01 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Sebastian Vollmer is ready to put 2013 behind him. As a matter of fact, he admitted Thursday he’d rather not think about how it ended at all.

Who could blame him?

Anyone watching the Patriots and Dolphins on Oct. 27, 2013 on TV certainly will never forget how his season ended. The Patriots right tackle was moving outside to run block for Stevan Ridley when Dolphins nose tackle Randy Starks rolled up on his right leg. Sideline microphones picked up the yells of the 6-foot-8, 320-pound beast of a lineman who had just suffered a gruesome broken leg.

During Thursday’s OTAs, Vollmer returned and was moving freely with the first team offensive line, looking like a man ready to put the past in the past and leave it there. He even joked about being yelled at by coaches, a sign that he was indeed back and ready to put on the pads next week in mini-camp.

Whether he’ll be ready to take on the full load of a full training camp and be ready for the season opener against Starks and the Dolphins in Miami on Sept. 7 is another matter. And he’s more than ready to accept the reality of that deliberate pace.

“Let’€™s take it day by day,” Vollmer cautioned. “You work on some stuff every day in the training room, the rehab room, you know, on the field. You’€™re always working on something so you’€™re never there.

“Anytime you get hurt it’€™s not a good thing. You don’€™t really know what’€™s happening to yourself and take it step by step. You take it inside, talk to doctors and do what’€™s necessary and just work your way. It’€™s a strain. Every day you do rehab, you get better, you get stronger and all that stuff, looking forward. I’€™m back out here now and it’€™s a good moment for me.”

Vollmer felt from the moment he began to recover from surgery and begin his rehab program that he would be back on the field this summer, all along never doubting himself.

“No. I don’€™t think you should have that,” Vollmer said of skepticism and worry. “I trust our medical staff and rehab guys and we know we’€™re in good hands. You just have to do what they tell you to do. You have to work hard and I think that’€™s kind of what it comes down to.”

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Read More: Broken leg, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, nfl

Cover me: LB James Anderson could bring new dimension to Patriots defense

06.12.14 at 5:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — James Anderson — who was acquired as a free agent earlier this month by the Patriots — was given No. 55.

Digits aren’€™t usually that big a deal in the New England locker room. But it is worth mentioning that the guy who wore No. 55 the last four years — linebacker Brandon Spikes — had a trademark freewheeling style (both on and off the field) that’€™s hard to replicate. However, Spikes departed as a free agent this offseason, taking his electric playing style (and always interesting Twitter feed) to Buffalo.

And while Anderson has only been around Foxboro for a week, it’€™s clear the Patriots have decided to go in a completely different direction.

Both Anderson and Spikes middle/inside linebackers, but that’€™s where the similarities end. Anderson has only missed five regular-season games the last four years. Anderson carved out a niche as a relatively quiet and respected veteran who has worked as a mentor for several young players over the years with the Panthers and Bears. And he’€™s established a rep as a coverage linebacker who still has the wheels to keep up with a tight end or running back in the passing game.

The 30-year-old, who will be heading into his ninth season in the NFL, has played in 110 NFL games with 69 starts and has registered 556 total tackles, 12 sacks, three interceptions, 23 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries. Last season in Chicago, he started all 16 games and finished with 102 total tackles and four sacks.

Still, he acknowledges he’€™s starting from scratch in New England.

“€œEverything is still new — still learning the defense, still learning about the guys around me,”€ Anderson said after Thursday’€™s OTA session outside Gillette Stadium. “Trying to work in as much as I can so when the season comes, wherever they tell me I need to be, I’€™ll give it everything I have.

“€œI feel like I’€™m picking it up pretty good. The coaches have done a great job of breaking things down and explaining it to me. I’€™m just taking it day-by-day.”€

The Patriots have been lacking a coverage linebacker the last few seasons, and if he’€™s able to pick up the scheme, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Anderson could fill that role, working alongside a cadre of linebackers that includes Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins and Dont’€™a Hightower.

“€œAs you know, looking at my size, I’€™m a little bit smaller than most of the other guys around here,”€ Anderson said Thursday. “€œSo to make up for that, I’€™m pretty fast, and have to recover.”

Football has changed dramatically over the last decade or so — the evolution of the passing game has forced teams to invest more in defensive backs in hopes of slowing down elite quarterbacks and receivers. As a result, true coverage linebackers have become few and far between.

But Anderson doesn’€™t believe working as a coverage linebacker has become a dying art.

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Read More: Brandon Spikes, James Anderson,

Mike Petraglia, Chris Price on return of Vince Wilfork, Sebastian Vollmer and end of OTAs

06.12.14 at 5:15 pm ET
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FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price talk about the return of defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and the conclusion of Patriots OTAs on Thursday outside Gillette Stadium.

Read More: Chris Price, Jason Anderson, Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots
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