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Seven Patriots who have exceeded expectations in 2013

12.26.13 at 11:54 am ET

While the 2013 Patriots have gotten an extraordinary hand from players like Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Aqib Talib and Devin McCourty, one of the defining characteristics of this team might be the contributions it has received from several players who were not ticketed for such a sizable role. In no particular order, here are seven Patriots who have exceeded expectations in 2013.

James Develin — The fullback has stepped nicely into a versatile role working as a blocker and offensive option — he’s caught four passes for 62 yards, and added three carries for six yards and a touchdown. He’s also done a nice job working with Michael Hoomanawanui filling in as an extra body when the Patriots need to go big with an extra tight end or fullback, as was the case Sunday against the Ravens when he provided a dose of physicality up front with his 23 snaps. The 6-foot-3, 251-pounder out of Brown will never be an every-down player in the Patriots offense, but his dependability and toughness have made him important to the success of New England in 2013.

Bill Belichick on Develin: “He’s done a good job of executing his role, whether it’€™s been offensively or in the kicking game or even as it relates to the scout team in practice and things like that, helping the defense get ready. As far as what he’€™s been called on to do offensively and in the kicking game, he knows what his job is, he works hard to do it well, as well as he possibly can. It’€™s actually expanded a little bit. I don’€™t think he’€™s ever going to be out there for every play offensively, that’€™s not his role, but when we do have him out there or when we have him out there in the kicking game, he works hard at what he’€™s asked to do and he’€™s been a good contributor for the team. He’€™s smart, he’€™s tough, he works hard, he’€™s a very dependable guy and there’€™s an awful lot to be said for that.”

Julian Edelman — The wide receiver had an extensive resume with New England prior to this season — including 37 catches as a rookie in 2009 — but his 96 catches, 991 yards and six touchdowns have been one of the league’s biggest surprises this year. Edelman rushed into the offensive void created by the loss of Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead (as well as the injuries to Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski), and has proven himself to be utterly dependable. That, as well as his value as a punt returner, undoubtedly will make him one of the most interesting free agents on the market this offseason.

Belichick on Edelman: “There are a lot of things to like about Julian: his toughness, his speed, his quickness, his ability to run with the ball after he catches it and break tackles and be elusive and have good run skills in the secondary. He’€™s a tough kid who can come in and block. He’€™s smart, he’€™s got versatility. I think the big thing with Julian was just his ability to stay on the field, and this year he’€™s been out there on a consistent basis. That not only has obviously helped his production, but it’€™s led to more consistency with his timing and execution, because you’€™re able to build on it week after week, or day after day for that matter, instead of kind of the way some of his career has been where it goes along and it’€™s good and then he misses some time and then there’€™s natural kind of backslide and rebuilding to where it was.”

Chris Jones — The rookie defensive lineman, who was released by the Texans before finding a home with New England, has become a key defensive part after Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly went down with season-ending injuries. In 12 games, the 23-year-old out of Bowling Green has five sacks, more than bigger names like Arizona’s Darnell Dockett, Cleveland’s Paul Kruger, Miami’s Jared Odrick and Detroit’s Nick Fairley. He certainly hasn’t re-invented the position, but he’s done enough to warrant becoming a piece of the puzzle in 2014 when (presumably) Wilfork and Kelly return.

Belichick on Jones: “He’€™s got good size, he’€™s athletic, he’€™s got some quickness, he’€™s a smart player, he’€™s got a good motor, plays hard. You know, he’€™s made a lot of, as we’€™ve already seen, he’€™s made some hustle, chase kind of plays on screens and pursuit plays on the other side of the field. He runs well and he plays with a good motor and a good effort. It’€™s the same thing he did in college. He’€™s worked really hard since he’€™s been here. Obviously he missed all of training camp, but when he came in — without all those training camp practice sessions it’€™s sort of hard to catch up on where everybody else is, but he’€™s worked really hard to do that, both in the playbook and from a technique standpoint. I think some of the things that we do probably are definitely different from the way he was coached to do them at Houston, or in Tampa for that matter, for the time he was there. So he’€™s had to adapt to some different technique things and probably a little bit different scheme-wise as well, his responsibilities. But he’€™s worked hard to learn that. I would say in a short amount of time he’€™s become a pretty dependable guy for us.”

Joe Vellano: Like Jones, Vellano was tossed into the action relatively early in his career and has done as well as could be expected. However, he’s seen his playing time take a serious dip over the last month, as Sealver Siliga has taken many of his reps at the defensive tackle position. Vellano likely will serve in more of a backup capacity going forward for the rest of 2013. But the 6-foot-2, 285-pounder out of Maryland has done enough to be considered part of the picture at defensive tackle in 2014.

Jerod Mayo on Vellano and Chris Jones: “Those guys practice hard, they’€™re always in the film room, the coaches always have them ready to go. I think that’€™s what it’€™s all about — preparation during the week — and those guys prepare well.”

Sealver Siliga — Siliga is another young defensive tackle who was integrated into the mix relatively later in the season, taking over when veteran Isaac Sopoaga appeared to struggle. The 23-year-old, who bounced the from the 49ers to the Broncos and Seahawks, agreed to join the New England practice squad on Oct. 23. He was added to the active roster on Nov. 27 and first saw time in Week 13 against the Texans when he had 15 snaps. Since then, he’s seed a fairly steady increase in playing time — last Sunday against the Ravens, he was on the field for 57 of a possible 77 defensive snaps. The 6-foot-2, 325-pounder out of Utah who has played in four games (and started three) undoubtedly will be a serious part of the defensive rotation down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on Siliga: “He’€™s a real quiet guy but an extremely hard-worker. He sits in the classroom and gets all the information and asks good questions, then obviously goes out on the practice field and tries to execute the things that we’€™re talking about. But he’€™s a strong guy, he’€™s a big guy, he’€™s got good size about him, so [he’€™s] somebody that we try to get in the game to hold the point and be strong at the line of scrimmage and play with good technique, and he’€™s trying to really improve that. I mean, obviously we’€™ve got a long way to go and we’€™re only a couple of weeks into it, but he’€™s certainly trying to improve that, and just trying to get him to play with some consistency in the technique and some of the fundamentals that we’€™re asking him to do. Definitely he’€™s a hard-working guy, quiet guy, but professional in his approach and is simply trying to learn the techniques and fundamentals that we’€™re teaching him and try to apply them on the field, which is good to see.”

Logan Ryan — The third-round pick out of Rutgers started the summer as part of a muddled picture in the secondary, but he flashed positively toward the end of camp, and with a recent run of injuries at defensive back, he has been tossed into the mix. Ryan has shown excellent ball skills — he had two interceptions Sunday against the Ravens, and his five picks are best on the team and lead all rookie cornerbacks. The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder now is solidified as the first corner off the bench behind Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington, and certainly will be part of any nickel or dime coverage down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Belichick on Ryan: “He’€™s got good ball skills and good hands. I don’€™t think that’€™s ever been a question. But I think it’€™s that awareness and instinctiveness that’€™s obviously so hard to teach, but it’€™s something that he just naturally does. I’€™m sure he was trained well at Rutgers, as was Duron [Harmon], as was Devin [McCourty], but he has that instinctiveness and awareness.”

LeGarrette Blount — Blount had an impressive resume prior to arriving in New England this past spring — he ran for 1,788 yards in his first two seasons with the Bucs — but like Edelman, he did an excellent job taking advantage of the opportunities that were presented to him this season. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Blount stepped in nicely after Stevan Ridley‘s issues with ball security became a problem, and he’s proven himself to be consistent. He’s been used judiciously — he has 129 carries through 15 games, an average of 8.6 carries per game. But with Blount this season, it’s not about sheer numbers, but consistency and usage — he’s averaged 4.52 yards per carry this season, and he’s only been under four yards per carry once all season. (When it comes to yards per carry, he’s 10th among all players with at least 120 carries.) And on the year, he has nine negative runs, a low number for someone with at least 100 carries. Sunday marked the high-water mark of the year for Blount. His season high for carries (16), rushing yards (76) and touchdowns (two) came against the Ravens.

Belichick on Blount: “He has, I would say, rare quickness and athleticism for that size as well as power. We’€™ve seen him run through plenty of tackles, but he’€™s also nifty and quick enough in the open field that he certainly doesn’€™t look like a fullback running the ball. There’€™s a difference when Develin carries it and LeGarrette carries it. We all see that style difference. He’€™s got a pretty unique skill set that way. To be that big and have that kind of quickness and movement skills, relative to the Christian Okoyes or Brandon Jacobs, those guys who, they’€™re downhill runners, but I’€™d say LeGarrette has more quickness and more wiggle than some guys like that that come to mind. He’€™s got a good running skill set, very good.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chris Jones, James Develin, Joe Vellano



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