|NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Texas S Kenny Vaccaro||03.18.13 at 2:03 pm ET|
WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that might be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2013 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’s time for the Patriots to make a selection.
Weight: 214 pounds
Achievements: 2012, 2011 All-Big 12 first team (coaches), 2012 Pro Football Weekly All-America first team, team captain
What he brings: The best safety in the 2013 draft is exactly what the Patriots need. A strong, athletic playmaker, he was asked to spend much of his time near the line of scrimmage, but he has the versatility to excel wherever teams need him to play. For the Patriots, that’s a safety who can come down and play in the box while also showing strong zone skills when asked to play a deep zone.
More importantly in the Patriots’ case, Vaccaro is a load in the defensive backfield who can deliver a blow to the ball-carrier — something many critics believe the Patriots have lacked in recent years — while retaining solid pass-coverage skills. Not a pure strong safety by trade, Vaccaro still fits the mold better than any current Patriot and excels in all other areas to make such a transition work.
Vaccaro’s man coverage skills and athleticism are reminiscent of former Patriot Brandon Meriweather, as his hitting ability. On the flip side, Vaccaro has displayed a tendency to be aggressive against the run and in pass coverage and has the potential to have his hand caught in the cookie jar too often against NFL offenses and engaged in an on-field fight in college. Again, qualities he shares with Meriweather.
The comparisons, though, aren’t perfect. Vaccaro is a superior prospect who, unlike the freelancing Miami product, was the quarterback of the Texas secondary during his time as a starter and has displayed strong leadership qualities as a team captain, something that Bill Belichick also views as a positive when making selections.
Although he’s athletic with solid range, Vaccaro’s ball skills aren’t elite, and his college numbers are evidence of that. While his 231 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 19 pass deflections over four seasons are indicative of an elite college safety, his five career picks are not. Keep in mind, though, defensive stats aren’t the best measuring stick for defensive performance, as Vaccaro’s draft stock indicates. They are, however, a factor.
Where the Patriots could get him: Round 1 (likely via a trade to move up)
Notes: In the past, there was a possibility that a versatile safety like Vaccaro could slip down toward the end of the first round. However, NFL teams have placed great value in larger defensive backs to take on some of the larger physical freaks that offenses are unleashing these days, particularly the tight ends. Last year’s selection of Alabama’s Mark Barron at No. 7 overall by Tampa Bay was evidence was this trend. If the Patriots are to have a shot at the Texas safety, they’ll likely have to make a move.
Vaccaro has an unorthodox combination of a solid reputation as a locker room leader with some character questions. As referenced earlier, Vaccaro punched an opposing player during the 2012 Alamo Bowl, although he was not ejected. He also was arrested after a fight with a fellow student in 2009 and for failing to comply with a police officer while waiting for pizza last May. These concerns will all be addressed during draft process interviews, although it’s unlikely to have a significant impact on his draft stock.
Related articles: SB Nation: A tribute to Texas Longhorns DB Kenny Vaccaro
Video: Here’s a package of Vaccaro highlights from the 2012 season.
|Ex-Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather suffers season-ending injury||11.19.12 at 6:08 pm ET|
Former Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather, a two-time Pro Bowler, suffered a season-ending tear of the ACL in his right knee in his first and only game of the 2012 season for the Washington Redskins. Meriweather, who signed with Washington as a free agent this spring, had missed all of the Redskins season until Sunday due to a pair of left knee ligament sprains suffered in training camp. He reinjured the knee twice — including once in warmups before he was to be activated in Week 4 — before finally getting on the field in Washington’s 31-6 win over the Eagles on Sunday. Meriweather was a force, with an interception and seven tackles, but he blew out his knee without contact early in the third quarter.
Per the AP story:
“I want to start off by saying I’m sorry to all the redskins fan. Y’all are the best,” Meriweather posted on Twitter shortly after receiving the diagnosis. “But this was a bad season for me.”
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|Five thoughts on Day 3 of NFL free agency and how it has impacted the Patriots||03.15.12 at 4:01 pm ET|
Here are five thoughts on Day 3 of NFL free agency and how it has impacted the Patriots to this point:
1. Danny Amendola, a slot receiver who recently found a niche with the Rams, has suddenly become a hot name on the free agent market. Looked at by some as an eventual heir to Wes Welker — the 5-foot-11, 188-pound Amendola is also a Texas Tech guy who was an undrafted free agent, and struggled before finding a home — we asked our pal Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus about the comparisons between Amendola and Welker. He said they share a lot in common:
“The year to look at is 2010, when Amendola had 85 receptions from 114 targets. Like Welker, he worked almost exclusively in the slot and underneath,” Monson wrote. “102 of those targets were from the slot, and Sam Bradford was able to rely on Amendola’s quickness and smarts in between zones to move the chains and keep the offense going.
“Essentially he was Welker-lite at the time, and I think he sparked a trend in the league of teams trying to find their own version of Welker. Amendola is a very similar type of player, and he may even have slightly better hands. But I think he’s a little less impressive an athlete. Welker has quicks that nobody can stick with if he’s given long enough to make a move. Amendola relies more on exploiting holes in zones and being in the right spot, but he can be covered with top players. But in terms of price and age, he’s a natural heir apparent to Welker.”
2. We’ve written and talked about this already, but the fact that the safety market is one of the weakest it’s been in years (both in free agency and in the draft) was driven home when Brandon Meriweather ended up signing with the Redskins on Thursday after taking a couple of visits. While he was never a viable option to return to New England, it takes another available name off the board in what is a rapidly deteriorating group of available bodies. If the Patriots are still looking to find a safety in free agency, there’s LaRon Landry and his giant arms. (Landry will apparently visit New England — is he going to be allowed to bring those biceps on the plane, or will they make him drive to Foxboro?) We have also speculated about the idea of the Patriots going after someone like Jim Leonhard, a veteran who has been banged up the last few seasons but is still regarded as a well-respected presence across the NFL.
3. One of the safeties the Patriots have also kicked the tires on is Steve Gregory, an intriguing prospect who has some positional versatility. We’re finding out more and more about him — he was a corner and a wide receiver at Syracuse, and caught 38 balls for 420 yards as a junior (included in those numbers is a three-catch, 53-yard contest against Boston College). It doesn’t mean that he will be asked to flip to the offensive side of the ball if he signs with the Patriots, but that’s the sort of positional versatility they like in Foxboro. In addition, as Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston has already noted, he was part of a Syracuse team that also had Matt Patricia as an offensive grad assistant — the same Matt Patricia who is now the Patriots’ de facto defensive coordinator.
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|Patrick Chung brings a sense of stability back to Patriots secondary||01.19.12 at 7:37 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s no coincidence that since safety Patrick Chung returned to the starting lineup, the Patriots defense has strung together seven of its most consistent quarters of the season.
Chung, who was sidelined for seven games with a foot injury he suffered in a Nov. 6 loss to the Giants, made his way back for the regular-season finale against the Bills on Jan. 1. And since the end of the first quarter of the win over Buffalo through the divisional playoffs last week against Denver, the New England defense has yielded one touchdown and 10 total points. Against the Broncos, the Patriots allowed 252 net yards, their lowest total allowed on the season.
During a year in which New England discarded veteran safeties like Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, when he’s been healthy, the 5-foot-11, 212-pound Chung has been a steady, stabilizing presence in the secondary, providing support for the Patriots’ back line. For the season, the 24-year-old Chung was sixth on the team with 67 tackles (39 solo), to go along with one sack, two quarterback hits, one interception and four passes defensed.
“Patrick brings a good level of experience. He’s been through a lot in terms of all our calls and adjustments,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Patrick is a smart guy. He understands concepts, he’s well prepared and he had a good level of experience. He’s been out there in all situations: first down, second down, third down, fourth down. He takes that experience to all those situations and he’s got good confidence.”
“It means a lot [to get him back],” linebacker Jerod Mayo said of Chung’s return. “We had a lot of different guys back there, and any time you can get consistency anywhere on the defensive side of the football, you’ll have a better defense. So it’s good to get him back, it’s good to get [Brandon] Spikes back and hopefully we continue to improve.”
|Devin McCourty talks about all the change in the Patriots secondary||11.03.11 at 8:34 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Almost overnight, the 24-year-old Devin McCourty — with just 23 NFL starts under his belt — has become the senior cornerback in the Patriots’ system. No current member of the Patriots secondary has more starts under his belt in New England than the Rutgers product.
The Patriots have had several shifting parts at corner over the last year, with the departures of Leigh Bodden and Darius Butler and the additions of Antuwan Molden and Phillip Adams. And while Kyle Arrington and Pat Chung have played more games as a pro, it’s McCourty who has the most experience as a starter of any defensive back in the New England system.
But it’s not like McCourty sits around pining for the days when he was part of a group that included Bodden and Butler, as well as safeties Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, both of whom were released before the start of the season.
“I mean, I still talk to those guys so I know where they are,” he said Thursday when asked about his former teammates. “I think our focus right now is just getting better and at times we’re making strides in that and at times we’re falling a little short. I think our goal is to keep getting better and be more consistent.”
After all the moves, McCourty said the defensive backs that remain have learned to manage all the change that’s taken place.
“You just keep playing,” he said. “You have to really value those reps when you’re out there on the practice field. When we’re in the meeting rooms, we’re communicating with guys and that’s where you build that trust and communication on the field — you build it in meeting rooms and walkthroughs. We really just emphasize communicating in the walkthroughs and meetings.”
The Patriots’ appeared to struggle in pass defense Sunday against the Steelers, yielding 365 yards to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. New England is last in the league against the pass, allowing an average of 323.1 yards per game. But for his part, McCourty remains optimistic about the rest of the season.
“I think our outlook is really that we’re going to get better,” he said. “We really don’t worry about what everybody else says. We’re just trying to get better and we’re trying to do it as soon as possible. When we go out there today we’re going to have that urgency at practice to get better. [We’re] trying to make sure it keeps coming over on Sundays, not just for a week, not for two weeks but that we can be consistent stringing each game together.”
|Bye-Week Breakdown: Defensive backs||10.24.11 at 10:56 am ET|
With the Patriots off this week, we’ve got our Bye-Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots at the six-week mark. We’ve already examined every one of the offensive positions so far, as well as the defensive line and linebackers. Now, we take a look at the defensive backs.
Depth chart: Devin McCourty, Leigh Bodden, Kyle Arrington, Antuwan Molden, Ras-I Dowling, Patrick Chung, James Ihedigbo, Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown. (In addition, Phillip Adams and Ross Ventrone have been on and off the roster from the practice squad.)
Overview: The secondary has had lots of movement since the start of camp — notables like Darius Butler, James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather are gone, and as the new faces have played together there have been plenty of rough patches. However, it appears that the Patriots have played more zone coverage the last couple of weeks, which may be the reason we’ve seen more improvement in the secondary.
After a stellar rookie season, McCourty has been targeted a lot through the first six weeks of his second season (check out the stats below) and while he has been physical and competitive on most occasions, he’s clearly not ready to take that next step into elite status just yet. While Bodden and Dowling have been hampered by injury and Molden remains a part-time player, the real find this season has been Arrington. The Hofstra product had always been a quality nickel corner with good physical skills, but he’s made a big leap forward this year, so much so he was leading the league in picks through six weeks with four.
At safety, Chung remains a stable and reliable presence. However, the Patriots are still seeking consistency opposite him. Barrett and Brown have struggled, but Ihedigbo has played well the last two weeks. Against the Jets and Cowboys, Ihedigbo has been slotted next to Chung (the UMass product has missed only five snaps the last two games) and appeared to mostly hold his own. It remains a question as to whether or not he’s a long-term answer at the spot, but he appears to be the safest bet at the position in the coming weeks.
Best moment: Arrington had a pair of picks in the loss to Buffalo, probably the finest moment of the season for an occasionally group of beleaguered defensive backs.
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|Peter King on M&M: Peyton Manning’s career not in jeopardy||09.09.11 at 1:17 pm ET|
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King made his weekly appearance on Mut & Merloni Friday morning to discuss issues around the NFL as teams prepare for their season-openers this weekend. One of the topics King talked about was the status of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and his injured neck.
King said he talked to a spine expert on Thursday and was told that the expected recovery period for Manning from spinal fusion surgery will be 2-3 months and that he may play again this year, considering Manning’s physical health and drive.
“His career absolutely isn’t in jeopardy,” King said, based on the discussion with the spine expert. “Most people live very, very normal lives, even athletes, after having this surgery.”
King also spoke with Colts vice chairman Bill Polian, who told King that Manning’s prognosis is still unknown. That includes whether Manning will be able to play against the Patriots when Indianapolis visits New England on Dec. 4.
“Even though this is probably a very selfish question for all Patriots fans, the thing I’m sure a lot of people in New England are concerned about is: OK, the Colts come in here on Dec. 4, is there any chance that Manning could be ready to play that day? I wouldn’t rule it out,” King said. “I don’t think he’ll be able to do anything of great activity at least until six or eight weeks out, like running or starting to throw or getting back into shape.
“I think it’s unlikely [that he faces New England], because that’s right at the beginning of this three-month period. … I just think so much depends on how he reacts and how the Colts are playing at the time.”
2013 PATRIOTS DRAFT PICKS
2013 NFL DRAFT
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