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Raymond Clayborn on Hall call: ‘Why did it take so long?’ 04.16.14 at 9:36 pm ET
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Raymond Clayborn was a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Patriots. (Photo courtesy New England Patriots)

Raymond Clayborn was a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Patriots. (Photo courtesy New England Patriots)

Raymond Clayborn isn’t much for small talk.

Asked on Wednesday for his reaction to the news that he had been nominated as a finalist for the Patriots Hall of Fame, the former New England cornerback didn’t mince words.

“Why did it take so long?” he replied.

Clayborn could very well have a point. The three-time Pro Bowler played with the Patriots from 1977 through 1989. The first-round pick out of Texas finished his career with a franchise-leading 36 interceptions (tied with Ty Law) for 555 yards for a 15.4 yard per interception average. Clayborn also returned 57 kickoffs for 1,538 yards and three touchdowns — as a rookie in 1977, Clayborn returned 28 kickoffs for 869 yards and led the NFL with a 31.0-yard return average and returned three kicks for touchdowns, both of which remain franchise records.

Clayborn, Law and Bill Parcells are this year’s three finalists for the Hall of Fame. (Fans can vote on the finalists for the next month at Patriots.com.)

“I’€™m really honored with the people that I’€™m a finalist with, the two other gentlemen — Bill Parcells and Ty Law,” Clayborn said. “Bill’€™s already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I believe Ty will definitely get there one day himself.”

Clayborn and Law are often linked as the two best corners in franchise history, and are tied atop the franchise list for most career interceptions. While he remains competitive, Clayborn acknowledges Law would likely sit in first place alone if he hadn’t missed the bulk of the 2004 season because of injury.

“Realistically looking at it, Ty got hurt and he did it. I think it was the (fifth) game of the season or something and the next year, he wasn’€™t with the team,” Clayborn said. “So quite frankly speaking, Ty would have broken the record if he hadn’€™t been injured and to hold the record with him is an honor. I really truly believe he’€™s one of the better cornerbacks to play during his time.”

Here are some highlights from the rest of his Q&A with the media:
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Ty Law: Hall induction would be ‘icing on the cake’ as far as career with Patriots 04.16.14 at 7:24 pm ET
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Ty Law was a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots. (AP)

Ty Law was a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots. (AP)

For Ty Law, it’€™s the chance to bring a legendary career full circle.

The cornerback, who is one of three finalists for the Patriots Hall of Fame, admitted Wednesday that when it came to how things ended with the franchise, it was a less than ideal scenario.

After playing 10 years with New England, he left as a free agent following the 2004 season. He ended his career with brief stints with the Jets, Chiefs and Broncos (and retired following the 2009 season), but it was a bittersweet final act for one of the best defensive backs of his era.

“€œI’€™d be the first one to admit now, I’€™m older, wiser, more mature, that if I could have done something all over again, I would have tried my damnedest to stay in New England and finish my career,” he said on a conference call with New England media.

“€œNot that I have any regrets about the teams that took me in as far as the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs — I’€™m thankful for the opportunity. I think I said this early in my career; I would have loved to start and finish my career with the Patriots. Unfortunately that didn’€™t happen, but if I had to do it all over again, I would have made more effort to stay a Patriot.”

Now, Law has the opportunity for a final farewell. It was revealed Wednesday that he’€™s one of three finalists for the Hall of Fame, a class that includes cornerback Raymond Clayborn and former coach Bill Parcells. (Fans can vote on the finalists for the next month at Patriots.com.)

Law was a three-time Super Bowl Champion (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX), a four-time Pro Bowl player (1998, 2001, 2002, 2003) and a two-time All-Pro (1998, 2003) during his tenure with the Patriots. Law tied Clayborn’€™s career franchise-record with 36 interceptions and finished with the most interception-return yards in team history with 583

Law, who said he was “€œspeechless”€ when he was informed that he was a finalist, said, ‘€œit would mean a lot’€ if he gets the nod.

“€œIt will put the icing on the cake, as far as my playing career with the Patriots, and give some validation to me that I’€™m appreciated by the fans, they still care for me and they show me that with my business on and off the field and it just puts a stamp of approval [from] Patriot Nation,”€ he said. “€œI’€™m really humbled by that to even be considered with the great Bill Parcells and Raymond Clayborn, who was such a great player and spent so much time in New England. I’€™m honored just to be considered and on the list with those two guys.”
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What does history tell us about Patriots and pre-draft contact with elite prospects? 04.16.14 at 3:14 pm ET
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Tackle Nate Solder had a pre-draft visit to Foxboro scrubbed at the last minute, but the Patriots still made him a first-round pick. (AP)

Tackle Nate Solder had a pre-draft visit to Foxboro scrubbed at the last minute, but the Patriots still made him a first-round pick. (AP)

With the pre-draft process longer now than it’s been in year’s past, there’s more time for speculation, and official visits, workouts and attendance at Pro Days are all ways fans and the media try and gauge a team’s interest in a prospect. Some of the pre-draft work can be a smokescreen, some of it can be done for intel down the road and some of can be for practical scouting purposes. With that in mind, here’s a look at the pre-draft connections the Patriots have made with some of their top draft picks over the last few years.

Linebacker Jamie Collins (taken with New England’s first pick in 2013, a second-round selection at No. 52 overall): Bill Belichick flew South to work out Collins before the draft, but the linebacker later indicated that he did not have much pre-draft contact with New England when compared to other teams.

Defensive end Chandler Jones (first-round pick 2012, 21st overall): Jones recalled a conversation with the Patriots at the combine in Indy the year he was drafted. “I talked to the Patriots — I talked with them at the combine,” he said. “That was the most formal thing we did. That’s basically it — we talked at the combine.”

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (first-round pick 2012, 25th overall): He didn’t work out for Patriots, but he said he “had a small (idea)” the Patriots were interested. “I met with those guys at the combine and I met them at one of the Pro Days,” Hightower recalled, “so I knew that they were kind of interested in some of the defensive players that we had at Alabama.”

Tackle Nate Solder (first-round pick 2011, 17th overall): Solder had what he called “fairly limited contact” with the Patriots throughout the pre-draft process. He met with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia the Monday before the draft in Colorado, but also had a scheduled visit to Foxboro cancelled at the last minute. “I don’t know exactly what happened,” Solder later explained. “I was scheduled to visit (but) the minute before I left it was cancelled. That’s all I know.”

Defensive back Devin McCourty (first-round pick 2010, 27th overall): McCourty met with Belichick prior to the draft, where the two had a film session on campus at Rutgers. “Bill Belichick had come to my school for a coaches’ clinic, and he was going to fly right out after the clinic to see his son play in a lacrosse game,” McCourty recalled. “But we had an hour, we watched some film and we spoke for a little while. We had a real generic conversation, but he showed me some things on film, just watching and helping me out as far as being a player.”

Linebacker Jerod Mayo (first-round pick, 2008, 10th overall): Mayo had 11 visits with teams during the pre-draft process, and remembers his visit to Foxboro fondly. “I had a great visit when I came down there,” he said. “The coaches and I sat down and talked football for a long time. Like I said, I just had a great visit and I felt like we clicked.”

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Reports: Patriots have Wednesday meetings with C.J. Fiedorowicz, Deone Bucannon 04.16.14 at 7:00 am ET
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Deone Bucannon (AP)

Deone Bucannon reportedly will meet with the Patriots. (AP)

The Patriots have pre-draft meetings set up with Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and University of Washington safety Deone Bucannon on Wednesday, according to reports.

Fiedorowicz is a 6-foot-5, 265 pounder who is considered to be a second-round pick. He has a couple of New England connections already: one, Iowa’€™€™s offensive line coach the past two seasons was Brian Ferentz, who spent the previous season as the Patriots tight end coach, working with both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And two, D.J. Hernandez — Aaron’s brother — was a graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes last year.

Fiedorowicz had 75 catches the last two seasons at Iowa, including 30 catches for 299 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. He said he spent plenty of time watching Gronkowski while in college.

“I was watching him on film. I always used to watch him in games, but when you see it break down as film it’€™€™s even more impressive,” Fiedorowicz said at the combine. “He plays hard every down, every play. He finishes guys. He uses his body in the passing game. He’€™€™s just an impressive guy. It’€™€™s the way he plays the game.”

News of his visit was first reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

As for Bucannon, he’s a relatively oversized safety in the mold of the Seahawks‘ secondary. Considered a Day 2 pick, the 6-foot-1, 211-pounder is a three-time captain who led the Pac-12 with 109 tackles during the 2013 season, to go along with six interceptions.

For more on Bucannon, our pre-draft capsule on him can be read here. Aaron Wilson of National Football Post first reported the Bucannon news.

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Report: Patriots show interest in Michael Sam during pre-draft process 04.15.14 at 11:23 pm ET
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Michael Sam has reportedly drawn the interest of the Patriots. AP)

Michael Sam reportedly has drawn the interest of the Patriots. (AP)

The Patriots are one of six teams that have shown the most interest in linebacker Michael Sam throughout the pre-draft process, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.

Sam, the SEC’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year, announced he was gay in February. As a senior at Mizzou in 2013, Sam had 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss while being named a first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC selection. He is expected to be a mid- to late-round selection in next month’s draft.

Sam has apparently also drawn the interest of the Ravens, Falcons, Colts, Browns and Jets, according to Wilson, quoting a league source.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick issued a statement when Sam made his announcement in February, saying that Sam will be evaluated like any other potential draft prospect.

“We evaluate all the players, including Michael Sam, based on the totality of who they are and who can best contribute to our team and organization, regardless of the matters being discussed today. They all have strengths, they all have weaknesses and no two human beings are identical. Our scouting staff has performed extensive work on Michael, both this season and going back throughout his career. That work will continue through the draft process this spring.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Tom Brady going to the Derby, Devin McCourty goes back to Rutgers and Patriots kicking tires on college wide receivers 04.14.14 at 12:29 pm ET
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1. Tom Brady is going back to the Kentucky Derby. According to this report, the quarterback is expected to make the trek to Churchill Downs this year, along with current teammate Vince Wilfork, ex-Patriot Wes Welker and a boatload of celebs. This year’s Derby takes place on May 2 and 3, so expect more of these pictures sooner rather than later.

2. According to our pal Dan Duggan, Devin McCourty was back in New Jersey over the weekend to watch the Rutgers spring game, and it’s clear that he continues to have a major impact on the Scarlet Knights. Some current Rutgers defensive backs talked about the impact that McCourty, as well as several other former Rutgers guys who play for the Patriots

“When I really started getting deep into my recruiting process and really starting to narrow down where I want to go, I started paying attention to what position I wanted to play and I started realizing Rutgers put a lot of defensive guys in the league, especially in the secondary,” current Rutgers DB Nadir Barnwell. “I definitely want to go to the next level, so this is definitely a good place to be. They’ll definitely take my game to the next level.”

“I still don’t get why they don’t get some of the best defensive backs every year, just if you watch what they’ve been able to do and what guys have done throughout the league,” McCourty said. “We definitely take pride in it. We have a lot of guys that play in the secondary in the NFL and hopefully it continues.”

3. More pre-draft receiver buzz around the Patriots: South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington has drawn interest from multiple teams around the league — according to Mike Garafalo of Fox Sports, that includes New England. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, he’s already had a workout with the Patriots. The 5-foot-9, 196-pounder had 49 catches for 775 yards and eight touchdowns last season with the Gamecocks. Ellington, who also started as a point guard with the USC basketball team, projects as a slot receiver with great speed at the next level. (He’s also the cousin of Cardinals running back Andre Ellington.) Here’s some video on him:

In addition, the Patriots have already had a follow-up visit with University of Washington wide receiver Kevin Smith. The 5-foot-11, 214-pound Smith, who suffered a torn ACL in December 2011, became a huge part of the UW offense last season,, finishing with 50 catches for 765 yards and four touchdowns. Known for his sure hands and positive locker room influence, Smith is a former high school basketball standout who also has special teams value as a kick returner.

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Sunday NFL Notes: For Patriots, it’s a roster-building tradition unlike any other 04.13.14 at 12:48 am ET
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Veteran Will Smith could still join the Patriots. (AP)

Veteran Will Smith could still join the Patriots. (AP)

1. Roughly one month into free agency, the Patriots are still reportedly in the mix for veteran defensive end Will Smith. Cut loose in the great New Orleans salary purge of 2014, the 32-year-old veteran isn’€™t the overwhelming defensive presence he used to be — he’€™s coming off a torn ACL that sidelined him for the bulk of the 2013 season. But with 67.5 career sacks, he still has an impressive resume, and if he’€™s healthy, he could be the latest in a long line of veteran defensive linemen who have found their way to Foxboro at the end of their careers in hopes of finding some gold at the end of the rainbow. Over the last decade-plus, the Patriots have made an offseason habit of identifying a veteran defensive linemen and hoping to squeeze another year or two out them at the end of their careers. In the past, that’€™s a group that’€™s included Keith Traylor, Ted Washington and Anthony Pleasant, and over the last five years, Tommy Kelly (2013), Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and Shaun Ellis (2011), Gerard Warren (2010) and Derrick Burgess (2009) have all been veteran additions to the defensive line. As for Smith, he presents himself as an intriguing prospect for New England on a number of levels, including the fact that he passes the Rosevelt Colvin test — Bill Belichick has been effusive of his praise of Smith in the past with relatively no provocation. “€œI think Will Smith could fit any defense,”€ Belichick said of Smith in 2009 when asked about what he thought about Smith coming out of college. “€œI can’€™t imagine there being a defense that he wouldn’€™t be able to help. He’€™s certainly a guy that we had a lot of interest in. (He’€™s) a big guy that can run, rush the passer, pursue well, strong play at the point of attack, athletic, plays on his feet. He’€™s got a good group of skills. (He) plays hard. He’€™s been productive. I think he’€™s been about the player, where he was drafted, and what people thought he would be, including us.”

2. By this time last offseason, tight end Rob Gronkowski had undergone three surgeries on his left forearm in the span of five months — two in the immediate aftermath of breaks in November and January and another to clear up an infection that had developed in the wake of the surgery. (Eventually, he would undergo another surgery in May on the arm, as well as a procedure on his back in the spring.) However, this offseason had been much better for the big fella — there’€™s only been rehab from one injury, a season-ending knee injury he suffered in a Week 14 win against the Browns. That surgery took place Jan. 9, and while we’€™ve heard from Gronk (and seen him) occasionally over the course of the offseason, our pal Albert Breer of NFL Media reported Friday that Gronkowski is “€œright where he should be”€ when it comes to his rehab, which means he’€™ll start running soon. It remains to be seen where that would put him when it comes to a timetable for a return to action, but would almost certainly rule him out when it comes to the offseason conditioning program this spring. Regardless, he’s certainly in a better spot than he was at this time last year, which should be good news for Patriots fans.

3. With the release of the 2014 NFL preseason schedule this past week, several folks asked about the state of the 2014 regular season schedule. While some notable info has already been unveiled — the defending champion Seahawks will open at home on Sept. 4, while the dates and teams for the three International games have also been revealed — there is no firm date yet for the announcement of the regular-season slate. By way of comparison, here’€™s a look at the dates of the schedule announcements for the last four years.

2013: Thursday, April 18
2012: Tuesday, April 17
2011: Tuesday, April 19
2010: Tuesday, April 20

One thing that could ultimately push the schedule release back is the fact that the league has always been mindful of doling out offseason news on a steady basis, and with the fact that the draft has been pushed back from mid April to early May this year, the league could be interested in drawing out the news cycle just so to keep the steady stream flowing from the league offices. From this viewpoint, our guess is that we’€™ll see it released some time in the next two weeks — either April 22 or April 24, or April 29 or May 1.

4. There are several teams in this year’€™s draft that have a colossal decision to make when it comes to whether or not they should take a chance on one of the several quarterbacks who will be available, and it’€™s not a stretch to say that the success of the franchise for the next decade can depend on which signal caller a team settles on. The correlation between successful, steady and consistent quarterback play and the success of a franchise is an easy one to make, but it was really hammered home this week when a graphic popped up on Reddit that showed the total number of starting quarterbacks each team had since 1999 through last year. The Patriots topped the list with three different starters (Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady, Matt Cassel), while the Colts, Giants and Packers were all second with five different starters. In addition, the Chargers (seven) and Steelers and Saints (eight each) rounded out the list of the top seven teams. That group accounts for 10 of the 15 Super Bowl titles in that stretch. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, the bottom five teams were the Vikings (16), Raiders and Bears (17), Dolphins (18) and Browns (20). Among that group, there are exactly 13 playoff wins between them since 1999, with Minnesota and Oakland accounting for four each.

5. While the Patriots could end up picking up a Florida product or two in this year’€™s draft (defensive lineman Dominique Easley is a name that has come up time and again when it comes to potential Patriots), at least for now, they have moved on from the Gainesville-to-Foxboro pipeline. However, it’€™s clear the relationship between Belichick and former Florida coach Urban Meyer still resonates. Meyer, who is set to enter his third year in charge at Ohio State, was profiled this week by SI.com, and passed on a few things in relation to Belichick and his coaching style we found interesting. First, Meyer references “€œThe Process,”€ a behavioral culture passed down from Belichick to friends Meyer and Nick Saban. In addition, Meyer references a quote from Belichick when it comes to the practical nature of defense. “€œMeyer worries his coaches committed too many resources to stopping the run and not enough to stopping the pass,”€ writes Andy Staples of SI.com. “€œMeyer recalled a conversation with New England Patriots coach Belichick in which Belichick said he was willing to give up a little in the run game if it meant being more sound in the pass game.”€ Later, Meyer provides some of Belichick’€™s insight when it comes to hiring coaches, specifically as it relates to Meyer’€™s decision to hire Chris Ash away from Arkansas to coordinate the Buckeyes’€™ pass defense. “To hire Ash — who worked for Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Arkansas — Meyer had to extend a branch into another coaching tree. In his early years as a head coach, Meyer tried to hire mostly coaches who, like him, had come from the Lou Holtz, Bob Davie or Earle Bruce trees. This is another trait Meyer picked up from Belichick. ‘€˜When coaches leave, you don’€™t want to adapt to their culture,’€™ Meyer said. ‘€˜They have to adapt to yours. That’€™s why (Belichick) is very particular about who he invites into the family.’€™ ”
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