|Bill Belichick speaks about wide receivers, roster moves at coaches breakfast||03.27.12 at 11:37 am ET|
Patriots coach Bill Belichick‘s notoriously terse relationship with the media has been well-documented, so it was not much of a surprise when last year he was a no-show for the coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meetings. This year, however, the breakfast seemed to be more his cup of tea, as Belichick made an appearance and fielded questions from the media for about 45 minutes. Still, Belichick spoke mostly in generalities during his session with reporters.
Belichick refused to get specific when talking about expectations for wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who reportedly restructured his contract so that he will earn $1 million in 2012 rather than $3 million.
“I think I have the same expectations for all our players, it doesn’t make a difference who they are or what year they are in — come in, work hard, be prepared, go out there and compete on the field,” Belichick told the assembled media. “There is no difference for any player ‘ first year, second year, 10th year.”
Ochocinco recorded 15 catches for 276 yards and a touchdown in his first season with New England. Those totals were the lowest by any of the team’s regular receivers, and the Patriots largely targeted receivers other than Ochocinco in most games. In the offseason, New England appears to have continued to look away from Ochocinco, as it signed receivers Brandon Lloyd, Donte’ Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez in addition to re-signing Deion Branch for another year.
“You always try to have competition at every position,” Belichick said. “We’ve always had about that many receivers going to camp — 10, 11, somewhere in there — [and] we’ll see what the roster limit ends up being this year.”
Belichick had no update on the status of Wes Welker, whom the Patriots used a franchise tag on but have yet to negotiate a contract with. Belichick said he did not know if Welker will participate in offseason activities.
When asked about the potential for offensive linesman Matt Light‘s retirement, Belichick refused to speculate.
“If we have any announcements to make on any players, we’ll make them when appropriate,” Belichick said.
Belichick offered a brief glimpse into his thoughts on the league’s suspension of Saints coach Sean Payton. Patriots beat writer Ian Rapoport tweeted: Bill Belichick called the situation surrounding Sean Payton “unfortunate” and said the league “did what it did.”
Belichick also flashed his sense of humor. According to the Patriots Twitter account, when a reporter began a question about character by asking “How much do you weigh,” Belichick quickly responded by saying “too much.”
|What’s with all the fullbacks?||03.26.12 at 3:51 pm ET|
The Patriots have already added one fullback this offseason in Spencer Larsen, and on Monday, they reportedly agreed to a deal with Tony Fiammetta. They already have one on the roster in Lousaka Polite, and could have a fourth in Eric Kettani, who was recently activated off the reserve/military list.
So what’s with all the fullbacks?
In the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots have occasionally employed a regular fullback, but they’ve never had this many on the roster at one time. Polite, who signed at the end of the regular season, was the first regular fullback New England utilized since Heath Evans departed following the 2008 season. (Patrick Pass had the longest career of any fullback with the Patriots under Belichick, playing in New England from 2000 until 2006.)
If you’re putting together a depth chart at this point, Polite is probably the No. 1 back, based on talent level and basic knowledge of the system. He’d be followed by Larsen, who also has extensive special teams value (as well as on defense). Fiammetta is still an unknown quantity at this point, but on paper, appears to be more of a traditional blocking fullback. Kettani remains a question mark — he’s been around the franchise since he was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, but has little on-field action.
Some of it could be due to the fact that the Patriots have lost veteran back BenJarvus Green-Ellis in free agency, with the understanding that the two young running backs — Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen — might fare better with a lead blocker in front of them. It’s a theory that analyst Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus agrees with.
‘If I was guessing, I’d say they want to use more of a fullback next season,’ Monson wrote in an e-mail to WEEI.com, ‘perhaps figuring the current running back stable would run better with a lead-blocker than BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and are loading up on guys to pick from when they get into the analysis of the roster.’
During the 2011 season, much was made about the Patriots’ apparent decision to move from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. With the acquisition of veteran defensive linemen like Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and Albert Haynesworth — all defenders who appeared to be a better fit in a 4-3 — it certainly appeared Bill Belichick was making a seismic shift in defensive sensibility.
But it turns out that the idea of 4-3 vs. 3-4 scheme in New England wasn’t as simple as having someone on the edge put their hand on the ground instead of stand up. Greg Cosell of NFL Films, who serves as the executive producer of ESPN’s ‘NFL Matchup,’ said that when it comes to the Patriots, the differences between a three-man front and a four-man front are more complex than you’d think.
‘You have to understand one thing — fronts are not determined by who’s in a three-point stance and who is in a two-point stance. Fronts are determined by gap concepts,’ Cosell said. ‘And I guarantee if you look at a lot of the Patriots’ ‘three-man fronts’ in the past where there’s actually two linebackers standing up on the outside, you’ll see that they’re actually in four-man front principles.’
‘With the Patriots, it’s complicated. You’ll see a three-technique. You’ll see a nose shade, not a nose tackle. Sure, there were snaps where they played a true 3-4 with a true nose tackle or a zero technique and two ends who are five techniques. But just because you have three down linemen, it doesn’t mean you are playing a 3-4.’
With the Patriots cutting Haynesworth and losing Anderson in free agency to Buffalo and the future of Carter uncertain because of injury, Cosell believes the Patriots won’t necessarily brand themselves a 3-4 or 4-3 team going forward, no matter who they might draft (or otherwise acquire), saying there’s ‘no need for them to make a delineation between 3-4 and 4-3. You don’t need to do that.’
Instead, look for them to continue to add versatile linemen and keep people guessing.
‘In Houston, Wade Phillips‘ defense is not a 3-4. It’s a 4-3. It just has the weak side defensive end — which was DeMarcus Ware in Dallas and was Mario Williams in Houston — stand up in a two-point stance. But every gap tells you it’s a 4-3,’ Cosell said. ‘People immediately assume because you see three down linemen and you see two outside linebackers standing up, that’s a 3-4. No. Belichick is smarter than that.’
|A closer look at the Patriots’ decision to sign OL Robert Gallery||03.19.12 at 3:59 pm ET|
The addition of Robert Gallery to the Patriots’ offensive line gives New England a veteran presence up front, as well as some positional versatility going forward.
Gallery, a 31-year-old who has been in the league for eight seasons (seven with the Raiders and one with the Seahawks), was the second overall pick in the 2004 draft out of Iowa. The 6-foot-7, 325-pounder has played both tackle and guard over the course of his career — some believe he’s actually a better fit at guard — and gives the Patriots’ some positional versatility.
Two things stand out to be about this move: First, with the exception of Brian Waters, who was added to the mix prior to the start of last season and had a dynamite year, the Patriots prefer to draft their offensive linemen, building that position from within as opposed to adding in free agency. Second, it’s likely Bill Belichick consulted with pal Kirk Ferentz before making the move. Belichick and Ferentz go way back (Ferentz was an assistant to Belichick in Cleveland), and Gallery played for Ferentz when he was at Iowa.
(In that same vein, we were reminded by ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss of Belichick’s 2004 pre-draft press conference. When he was asked who he would take if he had the No. 1 overall pick, he said Gallery.)
It’s going to be interesting to see how all this shakes out once players filter back to Foxboro for offseason workouts. Waters and left tackle Matt Light have both floated the idea of retirement, and if they do decide to hang them up, Gallery could see a dramatically increased role with New England in 2012 if he does stick with the team.
|Five thoughts on the second day of NFL free agency and how it all relates to the Patriots||03.14.12 at 2:44 pm ET|
Here are five thoughts on what’s gone on during Day 2 of NFL free agency and how it relates to the Patriots:
1. Per a league source, the Patriots will host safety Steve Gregory on a visit Wednesday afternoon. Gregory is a 29-year-old undrafted free agent out of Syracuse who has spent six years in the NFL, all with the Chargers. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder does have some positional versatility — he has worked as a safety, and also spent time in the slot and on special teams. Hard-nosed and versatile, Gregory (who was suspended for PEDs in 2010) had 67 tackles and one interception in 2011. As some have already noted, there’s a belief that Gregory was out of position playing alongside free safety Eric Weddle in San Diego, and could be better suited playing more of a free safety role next to someone like Patrick Chung. (It tells you something about the state of the safety position that Gregory is starting to develop a following — a league source indicates that Gregory has at least four other teams who are interested in his services, including the Broncos and Panthers, with a few more teams poised to inquire about him by the end of the day.)
2. In addition, the Patriots have reportedly expressed interest in safety LaRon Landy, late of the Redskins. The five-year veteran was plagued with injuries last season, including an Achilles tendon problem that forced him to injured reserve in mid-December. The 6-foot, 220-pound Landry is a really interesting case — he has some working knowledge of a Bill Belichick-type of system, as he played in college for Nick Saban when Saban was at LSU. Because he’s coming off an injury, he’s likely to come at a discounted price. And with the depressed safety market, he could be the best value out there, especially when you consider the fact that he played very well over the first three years of his career (including a 90-tackle season in 2009). But the 27-year-old has had major injury problems over the last two years — he’s played in just 17 games the last two seasons, and fair or not, there are concerns about him being able to stay on the field. (According to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports, the Jets, Eagles, Lions and Bears have also apparently expressed interest in Landry.) And I’m not even sure what to make of his arms.
3. BenJarvus Green-Ellis continues to be the biggest name available among current Patriots’ free agents. The running back, who was attached to two “unknown teams” on Wednesday at a price of roughly $3 million to $4 million a year, will reportedly take a visit with Cincinnati, according to Cole. (It’s not known if the Bengals were one of those two teams that were previously listed on Tuesday.) Cincinnati would be a good landing spot for Green-Ellis — the Bengals have a lot of room under the cap, and the running back would give a playoff team a positive, dependable presence in the backfield. It’s also interesting to see the feedback from Patriots’ fan on Twitter regarding Green-Ellis’ situation. When faced with the prospect of losing Green-Ellis to a bigger deal somewhere else, almost everyone has wished him well. Speaks to his likeability among the New England fan base.
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|The 10 biggest questions entering NFL free agency||03.13.12 at 12:57 am ET|
With free agency set to start at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, here’s a look at the 10 most important questions, with an eye toward what the Patriots might do:
1. Where’s Peyton going to end up? The quarterback is the biggest name in the free agent class, and will almost certainly command the biggest deal on the open market. Manning and agent Tom Condon are playing their cards close to the vest to this point, but it sounds like Arizona, Miami, Denver and Seattle are in the mix to this point. In addition, Tennessee is also reportedly poised to make a full-court press for Manning’s services.
2. What sort of impact is Peyton going to have on the rest of the free agent market? A lot of his former Indianapolis teammates are also now available, including wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, running back Joseph Addai and tight end Dallas Clark. Chances are good that whoever will land Manning probably has a very good shot at landing at least one of his former mates, and subsequently, revamping a sizable portion of their offensive scheme.
3. How will Peyton affect the market for quarterbacks? It’s not just the free agent signal callers like Matt Flynn who stand to be affected by Manning’s decision. Incumbents like Kevin Kolb (Arizona) and Tim Tebow (Denver) could find themselves on the street if Manning ends up in their respective area codes. That could ultimately create a secondary series of ripples for a handful of quarterbacks.
4. What’s going to be the course of action for the Patriots? In New England last year, it was either a boom-or-bust with last year’s free agents: the big names (Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco) were busts, while the middle of the road guys (Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and Brian Waters) were some of the best free-agent signings of the Bill Belichick Era. This year? There are some intriguing fits for this team that wouldn’t break the bank, including Brandon Lloyd and Richard Marshall, while Mike Wallace remains a big-ticket possibility that would also cost them a draft pick.
5. Who will the Patriots lose? New England isn’t necessarily on danger of losing any of its elite players, but there are some intriguing UFA’s on the roster, including wide receiver Deion Branch, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, offensive linemen Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly and Anderson and Carter, all of whom have been important pieces of the puzzle over the last few seasons with the Patriots. Anderson figures to be a sought-after commodity: a 28-year-old who finished with 10 sacks, he could be in line for a decent-sized payday.
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|Free agent WR Brandon Lloyd remains ‘very interested’ in Patriots||03.09.12 at 10:13 am ET|
Free agent wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who last month expressed an interest in reuniting with Josh McDaniels in New England, again discussed his admiration for the Patriots and said he was “very interested” in talking about joining the team.
“Like I said earlier, I admire coach Bill [Belichick], I admire Tom Brady, I admire how they run things over there,” Lloyd told CSNNE’s Tom Curran Thursday. “For any receiver to be considered to come in and play on the New England Patriots is going to be excited just because of the history of success.”
Lloyd, who played for McDaniels with the Broncos and Rams before McDaniels agreed to return to New England as offensive coordinator, said money will not be the only factor in his decision to sign with a team.
“Winning is definitely the highest priority,” he said. “I’ve been in the league for 10 years now and I don’t look at the NFL as a place where I can horde money and get as much as I can because it’s the end of the world.”