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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 years 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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Patrick Chung: Chance to return to Patriots ‘like a blessing’ 04.04.14 at 12:10 am ET
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Patrick Chung returns to the Patriots. (AP)

Patrick Chung returns to the Patriots. (AP)

One year later, veteran safety Patrick Chung is set to return to the Patriots.

Chung, who was signed as a free agent by the Eagles last season after four seasons in New England, was re-signed by the Patriots on Thursday. The 26-year-old, who was a second-round pick of New England in 2009, said the chance to get back to Foxboro “was like a blessing.”

“I’€™m glad to be back,” he said Thursday on a conference call with the media. “It’€™s like family here. It feels like home. I’€™m glad to be back. I love the fans, love the coaches, love the environment, love the city.”

Chung’s finest season with the Patriots came in 2010 when he played in 14 games (13 starts) and finished the year with 96 tackles (72 solo), nine passes defensed and three interceptions, all career-highs. Following the 2012 season, he ended up signing a three-year, $10 million free agent deal with the Eagles. In Philly last year, he played in 12 games and ended with 59 tackles, but struggled at times playing for his old college coach Chip Kelly with the Eagles.

New England figured to be in the market for some safety help when Steve Gregory was cut loose earlier this offseason, and while he won’t be guaranteed his old roster spot, Chung could provide some depth for the Patriots secondary.

“I don’€™t feel I’€™m any different,” Chung said. “I’€™m just going to continue to keep working, keep getting better, whatever I can do to help the team, whatever role I might have to play. I feel I’€™m the same. The scheme, I guess, would fit a lot better. I’€™ve had a lot of conversations so I just feel like this would be the best fit right now. Plus, I’€™m really glad to be back too. I’€™ve missed you guys.

“I don’€™t have any expectations,” he added. “Whatever Bill [Belichick] need me to do, this team, I’€™m going to do it. Regardless if it’€™s special team or it’€™s defense, whatever my role is here, I’€™m OK with that. This is where I want to be, so that’€™s good for me. I’€™m not worried about all the distractions, ‘€˜Am I going to be playing, am I going to be doing this?’€™ Whatever I can do to help the team win, then I’€™m good.”

Here are more highlights of Chung’s Thursday afternoon Q&A with the media.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Trying to figure out why Patriots would meet with Johnny Manziel 04.01.14 at 8:10 pm ET
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Johnny Manziel reportedly has a pre-draft meeting with the Patriots. (AP)

Johnny Manziel reportedly has a pre-draft meeting with the Patriots. (AP)

So why would Johnny Manziel meet with the Patriots?

While it’s unlikely the Patriots are in the market for a quarterback — and it’s also unlikely that Manziel would last until New England was on the clock at No. 29 — if there is a meeting set for Wednesday, it could mean one of four things:

1. Bill Belichick has often used his pre-draft visits on a player he knew he wasn’t going to be able to draft, but instead took advantage of the opportunity to use the sit-down as sort of an scouting report — a chance to get inside the head of a youngster who he’ll be facing down the road. (To that end, the Patriots will play four the teams who pick in the top 10 of the 2014 draft — Detroit, Buffalo, Minnesota and Oakland — which means there’s at least a decent chance they could see him in 2014.) As Nick Underhill of Masslive.com notes, they did the same thing with pass rusher Dion Jordan last year.

2. The Patriots are famous for the phrase “due diligence,” and that could certainly be the case here. There’s the real possibility that they want to take a look at him and kick the tires on someone who has become one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft.

3. Smokescreen. While Manziel doesn’t necessarily need any more buzz around him, the fact that the Patriots have displayed some interest in him would certainly resonate around the league.

4. As ridiculous as it sounds, and that’s why we’re listing it as the last reason here, the Patriots have always made a habit of drafting a quarterback ever year, regardless of Tom Brady‘s status. Not saying they’d push all of their chips to the middle of the table to try and chase after Manziel, but if something unforeseen happens, the New England braintrust wants to make absolutely sure it has all the info they need before making a decision.

When it comes to Manziel and the Patriots, it is worth mentioning that there’s one notable connection — he’s leaned on Brady throughout part of the pre-draft process.

“For him to reach back out to me after I extended a text message to him was extremely cool,”€ Manziel said at the combine when asked about his communication with Brady. “(It was) kind of a really funny conversation at first and worked our way into a little more serious conversation. It was really nice, and very thankful for him to be able to extend a hand out to me in the situation that I’€™m in.”

As far as the advice, Manziel said Brady kept it simple.

“€œBig thing was just enjoy the process,” Manziel said. “He kind of gave me a little joke — if I can teach him how to run like I can, he’€™ll do anything in the world for me. It was pretty funny hearing it from him.”

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Scouting reports on new Patriots Brandon LaFell, Brandon Browner from their old coaches 03.26.14 at 1:57 pm ET
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Seattle's Pete Carroll talks at the NFC coaches breakfast on Wednesday. (AP)

Seattle’s Pete Carroll talks at the NFC coaches breakfast on Wednesday. (AP)

ORLANDO to BOSTON — The NFL meetings wrapped up Wednesday in Central Florida, but not without a few interesting notes worth passing along:

1. Panthers coach Ron Rivera was asked about wide receiver Brandon LaFell. The Patriots signed LaFell to a free agent deal earlier this month after the LSU produce spent four years with Carolina. Rivera was effusive in his praise of LaFell, who can apparently play multiple spots.

“[The Patriots are] getting a steady player, very smart, headsy guy. A very intelligent football player,” Rivera said of LaFell, who had 49 catches for 627 yards and five touchdowns last season for the Panthers. “He’ll know all the wide receiver positions. He played all of our wide receiver positions, plus he knew the tight end position as well. … I love his tenacity. He’s a willing blocker. He’s a want-to blocker. He wants to block. He won’t block because he has to. He’ll block because he has to. He’ll block because he wants to. And I think that’s impressive. And he’s a solid person. He’s a good person.”

“One thing he isn’t, he isn’t a fast, quick-twitch elusive guy,” Rivera added. “But he presents a good target. And they’ll probably play him as a Z in their base personnel group, or if they do use him as a slot they’ll motion him down in and use him to crack as far as the running game’s concerned. And I think they’ll be pleased with him.”

2. In that same vein, Seattle coach Pete Carroll was asked by New England reporters about what sort of player the Patriots are getting in Brandon Browner. The 6-foot-4, 221-pound cornerback was acquired by New England as a free agent after spending the last three seasons with the Seahawks.

“He’€™s a fantastic football player. He’€™s a great competitor. He has great depth of understanding of the position,” Carroll told reporters Tuesday morning. “He played bump-and-run, press technique since he was a freshman in college back at Oregon State. He was a fantastic player in college. Went to Canada, was a fantastic player in Canada. By the time we got him, he was so savvy in playing the position. I think he really blossomed again, took a step forward. … He’€™s a fantastic player.

“I was kind of envious,” Carroll said of the Patriots and Bill Belichick. “[Browner is] a great baller. He’€™s going to get a real special guy.”

3. The four rules changes that the Patriots proposed met with mixed results:

The league approved the idea of extended the goalposts, moving them from a height of 30 feet to 35 feet. Belichick spoke on the idea at the AFC coaches breakfast on Wednesday.

“Certainly, the goal posts are outdated,” he said. “Virtually every kicker at the combine can kick them over the top of the goal posts [and] some of those guys aren’t even going to be in the league. I’€™d say every kicker can do that.”

The league tabled a proposal from Belichick and the Patriots that would add extra cameras along the boundaries of the field and at the end zone to better determine when a player has gone out of bounds, or when a ball has broken the plane of the goal line.

Belichick is an advocate of making the extra point a more competitive play, and he proposed moving the one of scrimmage for extra points back to the 25. The idea didn’t pass, but the league was intrigued enough to move the line of scrimmage for extra points to the 20-yard line for two weeks in the preseason as an experiment.

The league rejected the proposal that every non-scoring play should be reviewable. Belichick was  pretty passionate about this at the coaches breakfast on Tuesday morning — for more on his take, check out our story here. But in the end, Jeff Fisher, the co-chairman of the influential competition committee, said that fewer than half the teams approved the idea, which means that it gets a thumbs-down, at least for now.

3. In pre-draft news, it appears the Patriots have been taking advantage of the fact that they’ve in Florida for the league meetings. Several reports indicated that the New England brain trust — specifically Belichick and personnel chief Nick Caserio — spent Tuesday working out prospects at Central Florida. In addition, a Wednesday morning tweet from Gil Brandt of NFL.com indicated that Belichick and six members of the New England coaching staff spent last Friday at Florida State working out wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin is a flat-out physical freak, a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder who caught 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns last season for the national champions. Considered a late first-round/early second-round possibility, he presents himself as an intriguing prospect for the New England offense.

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Updates on Patriots rules proposals, Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon working out for New England and other notes from league meetings 03.25.14 at 2:57 pm ET
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It looks like Bill Belichick's proposal to extend the goal posts is going to pass. (AP)

It looks like Bill Belichick‘s proposal to extend the goal posts is going to pass. (AP)

ORLANDO — A few picked-up pieces to report from the NFL’s annual meetings in Central Florida:

1. The proposal to extend the goal posts by an extra five feet “seems likely to pass” when voted on Wednesday, according to Judy Battista of NFL.com. An initiative sponsored by Bill Belichick and the Patriots, the coach said Tuesday that the idea of doing it certainly seems like a no-brainer. “Virtually every kicker at the combine can kick them over the top of the goal posts [and] some of those guys aren’€™t even going to be in the league,” Belichick said Tuesday morning when asked about the idea. “I’€™d say every kicker can do that.” In addition, the other three proposals proposed by the Patriots are also scheduled to be voted on by the owners Wednesday.

2. In other end-zone related news, the league announced Tuesday it will penalize players who dunk on the goal posts in 2014. In the past, the league has cracked down on group celebrations, as well as using the football as a prop, so it would appear that this is the next step in the process. In addition, it was announced Tuesday that the NFL officiating department will help referees rule on instant replay reviews starting next season. Referees will now be allowed to consult with director of officiating Dean Blandino and his staff — who will be monitoring games from the league offices in New York — to help determine whether a call should be upheld or overturned.

3. This doesn’t have anything to do with the goings on in Florida, but according to a league source, wide receiver and special teams coaches from New England were in Ann Arbor on Tuesday to work out wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. The 5-foot-8, 187-pound Gallon has put up impressive numbers over the last two years with the Wolverines, including 89 catches for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013. He also posted good numbers as a return man, compiling 589 yards on 27 kick returns in 2010, and 192 yards on 31 punt returns in 2011.

4. Broncos coach John Fox was asked about the courtship process that brought former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib to Denver, as well as comment on his thoughts on Talib as a player.

“œWe had an offer on the table to [Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie]. They were working through it. I don’€™t get involved in this stuff’€”this is agents and [Director of Football Administration] Mike Sullivan. It’€™s scholarships with price tags,” Fox said. “We obviously are an appealing place but the reality is it comes down to the contract, usually. We were all over that and then it flipped and we were very pleased to get Aqib.”

On Talib as a player: “€œHe’€™s long, he’€™s fast, he’€™s quick, he’€™s tough. The only real negative is he had some off-the-field issues early in his career. I knew him even when I was in Carolina and he was in Tampa. I knew their coaches there pretty well. You get a pretty good feedback on players when you’€™re in the division’€”even on other teams. I knew how he grew, got married, started a family and matured.”

5. Reports continue to link running back Maurice Jones-Drew to the Patriots, with one story saying that Jones-Drew was going meet with the Patriots, Steelers, Dolphins and Jets this week in Orlando. (Jones-Drew has already apparently met with Pittsburgh, but has not received an offer from the Steelers.) It remains to be seen how all of this will play out — given the Patriots depth at running back, as well as the current state of the market, you would have to think they’d be more inclined to bring back LeGarrette Blount at a cut rate price instead of likely investing more in Jones-Drew. (Jones-Drew could also sit out until the summer to see if the market shifts and he’s able to play one team against each other in hopes of reaching the reported $3 million annually he’s seeking.) But it’s certainly a situation that bears watching going forward for Patriots fans — even if he doesn’t land in New England, two of the three other teams reportedly in the hunt for the diminutive back are in the division.

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Bill Belichick: ‘I don’t agree’ with assessment Patriots falsify injury reports at 11:08 am ET
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ORLANDO — Patriots coach Bill Belichick refuted the idea Tuesday that the Patriots have acted inappropriately when it comes to injury reports.

After they signed elsewhere as free agents this month, former Patriots Aqib Talib and Brandon Spikes both hinted that New England can play fast and loose with injury information. Spikes said the Patriots decision to put him on injured reserve at the end of the 2013 season was a ‘€œfalse report,’€ and added ‘€œthat’€™s just how things go’€ in Foxboro when it comes to injuries.

As for Talib, he said he was listed with a hip injury, but in truth, it was a quad issue.

‘€œThe Patriots have their way of reporting stuff, but I haven’€™t had a hip problem since Tampa,”€ Talib said after signing with the Broncos. ‘€œThe injury I had was actually a quad injury. It was reported as a hip injury … but that’€™s how [the Patriots] do things.”

Asked Tuesday morning at the league meetings if the Patriots falsified injury reports, Belichick quickly replied.

“€œI don’€™t agree with that,” Belichick said. “No. Never.”

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Bill Belichick breaks down reasoning behind his 4 proposed rule changes at 10:16 am ET
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ORLANDO — Patriots coach Bill Belichick made some news this week at the league meetings with four proposed rules changes, and he talked about all four Tuesday morning during the AFC coaches breakfast.

“All four things are things that I’€™ve brought up to the competition committee in previous years, [but they've] never been put in front of the membership,” he said. “This year, it’€™s been put in front of the membership and we’€™ll see how they feel about those things, and whatever the league and the membership decides to do, obviously we’€™ll do. … I think a lot of the things that we’€™ve proposed are concepts — not married to a specific proposal per se, [but] could definitely be amended.”

– Moving the line of scrimmage for point-after attempts out to the 25-yard line.

“€œI think there are other people that voiced a similar opinion to mine, but again, there was no proposal from the Competition Committee for years. I mean, it’€™s been two decades, and the extra point conversion percentage is over 98 percent. Six of the last nine years, it’€™s been over 99 percent. In the last decade, there hasn’€™t been a field goal under 20 yards that’€™s been missed in 10 years. So, when the extra point was part of the game originally, we had players in other positions who were kicking, surfaces were a lot less ideal than what they are now. It was a tougher play. Now, we’€™ve made it a non-play, and I don’€™t think non-plays are good for the game. Just like I don’€™t think putting the ball on the 40-yard line and kicking into the end zone, or even putting on the 35, and having over 50 percent touchback rate. I don’€™t think that’€™s an exciting play. I can’€™t imagine the fans waiting to see a 99 percent extra point, and then an over 50 percent touchback play. Personally, I don’€™t think that’€™s great for the game.”

– The extension of the goal posts.

“Certainly, the goal posts are outdated. Virtually every kicker at the combine can kick them over the top of the goal posts [and] some of those guys aren’€™t even going to be in the league. I’€™d say every kicker can do that.”

– Make every play — except scoring plays — reviewable.

“I’€™m not proposing more challenges. All I’€™m saying is, as a coach, if you want to challenge a play, I think you should be able to challenge it. And why does it have to be limited to, I don’€™t know, there’€™s four or five pages in the rules book of plays that can be challenged, and now this year there are more proposals to amend that probably because of one or two plays that happened in the league last year. I think eventually, each year, there’€™s going to be some other circumstance, situation that comes up and we’€™re gonna want to add that. I mean it’€™s four to five pages of plays that challenge procedure. Every year it gets amended and it’€™s hard to keep it straight. I can’€™t get it right. We have a coach that’€™s responsible for that on game day to know exactly … I don’€™t know how the fans could possibly get it right if the coaches can’€™t get it right. For the officials themselves, it’€™s challenging. I think it simplifies it. And I understand it’€™s a judgment call. So, if I throw a challenge on an offensive holding play and they look at it, and they don’€™t think it’€™s holding, I lose the challenge. But if it’€™s an egregious play, I don’€™t see why it should not be allowed to be challenged when it affects the outcome of the game. I think we can find multiple, multiple examples of plays for example where the offense isn’€™t set, that if the officials could look at it, it’€™s very clear that they’€™re not set, that would nullify what subsequently happened. I can think of many situations where that would have affected the outcome of the game. So, why plays like that can’€™t be challenged, why other plays can’€™t be challenged, I think is … if we fundamentally want to try to get the games right and the plays right, then I don’€™t see why they should be excluded. Even though they’€™re judgment calls, but if you’€™re willing to use a timeout on that, I think you should be able to do that. It’€™s not going to slow the game down. It’€™s no different than if you challenged another play. So, I’€™m not looking for more challenges or anything else, just if you think it was a call that was missed, that you should have the opportunity to have the officials review it. That’€™s all. I don’€™t know if anybody agrees with that or not, but that’€™s the proposal.”

– The addition of cameras near the end zone to better determine whether or not the ball has crossed the plane of the end zone.

“The camera idea we’€™ve been talking about for years, but that’€™s never been formally discussed by the membership. … We just spent, whatever it was, how many millions of dollars on the replay system. I mean, there’€™s a thousand cameras in every stadium, so that if somebody spills a beer on somebody, we have it on record, right? Maybe we could have a bake sale. Raise some money for the cameras. Do a car wash.”

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