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Four thoughts on Michael Sam and whether or not he’d fit with Patriots 02.10.14 at 4:41 pm ET
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Four thoughts on Michael Sam from a Patriots perspective:

1. The Patriots have always been all about football. That much was clear this past season, as they had to deal with several potential distractions but a strong culture of leadership in the locker room helped keep the roster focused. On the surface, it would appear New England would be better prepared to deal with the increased media presence and scrutiny that would come with having Sam on their roster than some other teams. (CNN carried Bill Belichick‘s press conference live after Tim Tebow was signed by the Patriots.) There’s also the matter of having a steady and consistent coaching staff and front office that would be able to deal with any sort of locker room issues — and questions from players — that would arise because of Sam’s presence. You also would need a coaching staff, front office and ownership group that would be on the same page when it came to making the move, a group that’s consistent in its approach and tone. That would certainly appear to be the case in New England. (Just ask owner Robert Kraft.) On the surface, other teams that stand out in this regard include (but are not limited to) Pittsburgh, Seattle, San Francisco and Green Bay.

2. From a pure football perspective, Sam is an intriguing prospect. At 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, he’s an undersized edge rusher who some have compared favorably to Elvis Dumervil. While he’s shown an ability to get after the quarterback over the last year-plus while he was at Missouri, history tells us that the Patriots prefer their edge rushers to be longer and leaner — think Chandler Jones and Willie McGinest as opposed to Dumervil or James Harrison. That being said, if he goes to the combine and shows an ability to play in space (that is to say, flash the sort of ability needed to make a transition from college defensive end to outside linebacker at the NFL level) that changes things. At that spot, he would need to be able to display versatility, which would include dropping into coverage as well as rushing the passer. If he can do that, he will increase in value when it comes to the Patriots. Two other things worth noting when it comes to evaluating Sam as a potential Patriot: One, if he’s able to show special teams value, that would likely increase the possibility of him being drafted by New England. And two, if he could show flexibility needed to become an inside linebacker, that could work.)

3. When it comes to approaching the draft, the Patriots have single picks in the first, second, third and fourth rounds. They don’t have a fifth-round pick (dealt to Philly as part of the Isaac Sopoaga trade), but have two sixths and one in the seventh. That’s seven choices, plus any possible compensatory picks. From a practical perspective, the Patriots have a handful of areas they would like to address in this draft — most notably, tight end and the interior of their defensive line. There’s also the possibility of them adding depth at wide receiver and in the secondary. While Sam is technically listed as a lineman, he’s likely too undersized to be considered an interior lineman. Instead, he’d be a defensive end/outside linebacker (Belichick has called them end-of-the-line players), and would be in a fight for playing time behind Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones — a group that currently includes Jake Bequette, Michael Buchanan and Andre Carter, although Carter is a free agent. It’s a fairly deep spot for New England, and one that could be addressed in free agency.

4. When it comes to New England’s assessment of Sam, the combine interview likely will play a huge role. Presumably, that will be the first opportunity for several members of the Patriots coaching staff and front office to get a chance to sit down with Sam. In the past, Patriots personnel chief Nick Caserio has said the combine interview is a large part of the process and can be a determining factor in whether or not they target a prospect in the draft.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Michael Sam, Nick Caserio, Robert Kraft
Robert Kraft: Patriots would welcome gay player at 3:49 pm ET
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Robert Kraft said Monday he would welcome an openly gay player on the Patriots roster, saying it was “about winning.”

Echoing statements he made last May when he was asked about Jason Collins, the New England owner said in an interview with the Boston Herald that “if they can help us win, and they’€™re about team first, then I’€™m happy to have him here.”

“We’€™re about winning,”€ Kraft said when asked about draft prospect Michael Sam, who announced Sunday night that he is gay. “And anyone who can come in here and help us win, I personally don’€™t care what their ethnic background is, their racial background, the gender preference. If they can help us win, and they’€™re about team first, then I’€™m happy to have him here.”

Kraft said he had not spoken with coach Bill Belichick about Sam, but the coach knows where the owner stands on the issue of gay players.

“He knows that I would encourage him if [Sam] can help us win,”€ Kraft said. “€œHe and I have discussed this in the past. Anyone who can help us win.

“€œIf a player were gay and came into this locker room, it would be the most supportive system,”€ he said. “€œHe’€™d gain strength by being in here. And it wouldn’€™t be divisive and he’€™d make friends for life and they could help him win.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Jason Collins, Michael Sam, Robert Kraft
Tom Brady’s approach shot sets up nifty eagle at Pebble Beach 02.09.14 at 11:11 am ET
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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have spent the week at Pebble Beach playing golf, and the quarterback was able to connect with a nice approach shot the other day to set up an eagle.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, welcome to the offseason,
As expected, new Texans coaching staff has heavy New England influence 02.05.14 at 5:39 pm ET
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The Texans and new head coach Bill O’Brien announced Houston’s new coaching staff on Wednesday, and it’s hardly a surprise that it has a heavy New England influence.

Joining O’Brien — who spent five seasons on Bill Belichick‘s staff with the Patriots — will be Romeo Crennel (former New England defensive coordinator who will also serve as DC in Houston) and George Godsey (who was the Patriots’ tight ends coach, but will be quarterbacks coach with the Texans). In addition, Patriots players Mike Vrabel (linebackers) and Anthony Pleasant (assistant strength and conditioning) will join O’Brien’s staff as assistants.

‘€œWe’€™ve put together a great staff of enthusiastic and passionate coaches with good character who have successful backgrounds in coaching,’€ O’€™Brien said in a statement issued by the team. ‘€œIt was important to put together a group who will be great teachers and I’€™m excited to begin our preparations for the 2014 season.’€

The following is a portion of the press release issued by the team:

Crennel comes to Houston following a three-year stint with the Kanas City Chiefs (2010-12) where he served as defensive coordinator (2010-11), interim head coach (2011) and head coach (2012). Prior to Kansas City, Crennel spent four seasons as head coach of the Cleveland Browns (2005-08) following a highly successful stretch as defensive coordinator with the Patriots from 2001-04, where he helped the team win three Super Bowl titles. His first role as a defensive coordinator came in 2000 with Cleveland after stints with the New York Jets (1997-99), New England (1993-96) and New York Giants (1981-92).

Godsey joins the Texans after three years with the Patriots, first as offensive assistant in 2011 and then as tight ends coach the past two seasons. Prior to joining the Patriots, Godsey spent the previous seven seasons (2004-10) at Central Florida under head coach George O’€™Leary, who O’€™Brien coached with at Georgia Tech from 1995-01. Godsey played quarterback at Georgia Tech from 1998-01, where he first crossed paths with O’€™Brien, the running backs coach from 1998-00 and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2001.

Pleasant was the defensive line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2010-13 after working with the team as part of the NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship in 2009. The former defensive lineman played 14 seasons in the NFL, including separate stints under Crennel’€™s guidance with the New York Jets (1998-99) and Patriots (2001-03)

Vrabel served as defensive line coach at Ohio State for the 2012-13 seasons after starting his coaching career as the linebackers coach for the Buckeyes in 2011. A former NFL linebacker for the Patriots, Vrabel was a part of three Super Bowl victories (2001, 2003, 2004) in his 14-year NFL career.

Read More: Anthony Pleasant, Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, George Godsey
Pepper Johnson wanted to get out ‘from under the shadows’ of Bill Belichick 02.04.14 at 11:42 pm ET
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Pepper Johnson said the reason he decided to leave the Patriots and take a new job with the Bills was because he was interested in “getting up from under the shadows of coach [Bill] Belichick.”

In an interview with Buffalo’s WGR 550, Johnson — who left the Patriots the week after New England’s loss in the AFC title game to the Broncos — talked about the chance he was given to become the defensive line coach of the Bills.

“My legs are still shaking a little bit. But I’m excited. I’m so excited,” Johnson told WGR 550, via the Bills website. “I always have been a fan of Doug [Marrone] and the Buffalo Bills [and it’s] just getting the opportunity to spread my wings and getting up from under the shadows of coach Belichick. So it’s a good thing and a good opportunity.”

Johnson joined the Patriots as assistant linebackers coach in 2000. He was the team’€™€™s inside linebackers coach from 2001-03, the defensive line coach from 2004-11 and the linebackers coach the past two seasons. However, one day after New England lost to the Broncos in the AFC title game, he announced he was leaving the organization, saying he was going to “embrace this new chapter in my life.”

It was believed one of the reasons Johnson left New England was because he was passed over for the defensive coordinator position when it was open following Dean Pees‘ departure following the 2009 season. Instead, the job went to Matt Patricia.

“I would love to [be a defensive coordinator],” Johnson said. “In a sense, those 13 years that I played in the NFL, I graduated to calling a lot of the defenses and having the responsibility of running our defense and being an extension of the coach from the sideline. It’s a dream of mine, a goal of mine.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Pepper Johnson,
Peyton Manning, Luke Kuechly, Eddie Lacy among year-end award winners 02.01.14 at 8:24 pm ET
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When it comes to a complete list of the NFL’s year-end honors, here’s a rundown of who won what Saturday night:

Coach of the Year: Carolina’s Ron Rivera finished first, KC’s Andy Reid second and Bill Belichick was third. (For more on that voting. check out our story here.)

Most Valuable Player: Peyton Manning won his fifth MVP award, reportedly garnering 49 of the 50 votes. Tom Brady got the other one.

Offensive Player of the Year: Manning received 33 of the 50 votes cast for the award. Philly’s LeSean McCoy finished second with 10 votes.

Defensive Player of the Year: Former BC linebacker Luke Kuechly, who now toils for Carolina, took home the honor with 19 votes, besting Indy All-Pro linebacker Robert Mathis, who got 11½ votes.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy won, the time a member of the Packers took him the award since 1971.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson barely edged Buffalo linebacker Kiko Alonso for the DROY honors, 23 votes to 19 votes.

Comeback Player of the Year: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers took the award.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Eddie Lacy, Luke Kuechly, Peyton Manning
Bill Belichick finishes third in AP Coach of Year voting at 7:18 pm ET
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Bill Belichick finished third in AP Coach of the Year voting, trailing Carolina’s Ron Rivera (who finished first) and Kansas City’s Andy Reid, it was announced Saturday night.

Rivera won the award for the first time after leading the 12-4 Panthers to the NFC South title. He’s the second Carolina coach to win the award — Dom Capers won it in 1996, leading the Panthers to a 12-4 mark in their second year of existence.

Rivera received 21½ votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. That was enough to beat out Reid, who got 13½ votes. Belichick got seven votes for third place, while Philly’s Chip Kelly got four votes for fourth. Seattle’s Pete Carroll and Arizona’s Bruce Arians got two votes each to round out the group.

Belichick has won three Coach of the Year Awards, taking home the hardware in 2003, 2007 and 2010. (He only trails Don Shula, who has won the award four times.)

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Read More: Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, Ron Rivera,
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