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Jabaal Sheard: Familiarity with Patriots, Mike Lombardi made it easy to settle on New England as free agent 03.20.15 at 3:45 pm ET
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Pass rusher Jabaal Sheard joins the Patriots via Cleveland. (Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

Pass rusher Jabaal Sheard joins the Patriots via Cleveland. (Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

He signed as a free agent with the Patriots last week, but Jabaal Sheard has been on New England’s radar for a long time.

The Patriots’ interest in the edge rusher dates back to 2011 when he was coming out of college. That’s when he took a visit with New England, and in that time, he was struck by how the Patriots handled their business.

“It was real business-like, real focused; you could tell that it was going to be all business once you get there,” he said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “I mean, it was a bit nerve-wrecking, I can’t lie. I was a bit nervous.”

That previous visit — combined with Sheard’s background with former Browns GM Mike Lombardi, who is now with the Patriots — set the stage nicely for him signing with New England earlier this month as a free agent.

Sheard, who also drew interest from Seattle and Tampa Bay, said his stint with Lombardi “definitely” play a role in his new deal with the Patriots.

“I think that was huge. I think that’s what got New England interested in me right away,” Sheard said. “Obviously, he believed in me coming out as a rookie into the league and seeing what I could do. I think that’s going to translate to this year.”

One thing the Patriots hope translates is an ability to consistently get after the quarterback. Sheard’s pass rush numbers have dipped every year he’s been in the league, going from 8.5 sacks as a rookie in 2011 to two last year. Sheard pulled no punches when asked to assess his game the last few years: It wasn’t a switch in Cleveland’s scheme or injury, but his own level of execution.

“It was just me not executing, me not sticking to the game plan,” he said. “But I’m more focused; I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been. Like I said, I look forward to getting with these coaches and learning new things. Pass rushing is about learning new things, getting comfortable and coaches helping you out along the way. I just can’t wait to get started.”

The 25-year-old Sheard has played both outside linebacker and defensive end, and said Friday he feels like he “can play anywhere up front.”

He added: “I think my main strength is knocking guys back and creating penetration in the line of scrimmage, ultimately stopping the run and being a big factor there and getting after the quarterback or dropping, whatever else may come with it. Ultimately my strength, personally I think, is knocking guys back and creating penetration.”

Sheard is also looking forward to enjoying a level of consistency in New England that wasn’t necessarily there in Cleveland.

“I envision that they have some great plan for me, just knowing the system that they run,” he said of the Patriots coaching staff. “I’ve been around three different systems in my last three years so I’m ready for whatever. I’m always ready to embrace something new and something different and I’m up for the challenge, whatever it is.”

“I definitely look forward to working with Chandler [Jones] and Rob [Ninkovich]. Those guys are definitely excited, just talking to them a little bit. I think we’ll make a nice three-[man] tandem. We’ll get after guys and create a lot of [havoc] in the backfield and on quarterbacks.”

Read More: chandler jones, Jabaal Sheard, Mike Lombardi, Rob Ninkovich
A brief history of Patriots and their pre-draft contact with recent top picks 03.16.15 at 1:50 pm ET
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Before he was drafted by the Patriots last spring, Dominque Easley had an inkling New England was interested in his service. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Before he was drafted by the Patriots last spring, Dominque Easley had an inkling New England was interested in his service. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With the pre-draft process now in full swing — and private workouts and visits looming for each team starting later this month — fans and media alike will undoubtedly try and gauge the level of the Patriots’ interest in a player through visits, contact and workout sessions. With the understanding that some of the pre-draft conversations can be a smokescreen, some of it can be done for intel down the road and some of can be for practical scouting purposes, here’s a look at the pre-draft connections New England has made with some of their top draft picks over the last seven years.

Defensive lineman Dominique Easley (taken with New England’s first pick in 2014, 29th overall): Easley was brought in to Foxboro for a pre-draft visit with the Patriots. He later recalled that Bill Belichick showed up at his pro day, and they “talked a whole lot and got to know each other,” according to the Florida product.

Linebacker Jamie Collins (taken with New England’s first pick in 2013, a second-round selection at No. 52 overall): Belichick flew South to work out Collins before the draft, but the linebacker later indicated he didn’t talk much with the Patriots throughout the pre-draft process, at least when compared to other teams.

Defensive end Chandler Jones (first-round pick 2012, 21st overall): Jones said the only substantive contact he had with New England prior to being drafted was a conversation at the combine that winter in Indy. “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, he indicated following the draft. “I met with those guys at the combine and I met them at one of the pro days,” Hightower recalled, “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 “fairly limited contact” with the Patriots throughout the pre-draft process. He met with former 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 as he was preparing to leave for New England. “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 after the draft. “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.”

Read More: 2015 NFL Draft, chandler jones, Devin McCourty, Dominique Easley
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Defensive line 02.17.15 at 8:00 am ET
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Bill Belichick, Vince Wilfork and Matt Patricia celebrate at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick, Vince Wilfork and Matt Patricia celebrate at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We’ve looked at special teams, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, quarterback, offensive line, safety and cornerback and linebacker. Now, we wrap it up with defensive line:

Depth chart (regular-season stats via coaches film review): Chandler Jones (43 tackles, 6 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, 2 passes defensed), Alan Branch (14 tackles, 2 quarterback hits, 1 pass defensed), Sealver Siliga (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 quarterback hits), Vince Wilfork (47 tackles, 1 quarterback hit, 1 INT, 2 passes defensed), Chris Jones (27 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 quarterback hits), Rob Ninkovich (56 tackles, 8 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 1 INT, 2 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery), Joe Vellano (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 quarterback hit), Zach Moore (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery), Michael Buchanan (1 tackle), Dominique Easley (9 tackles, 1 sack, 3 quarterback hits) and Akeem Ayers (15 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 1 INT, 1 pass defensed). Jake Bequette remains on the practice squad.

Overview: The heart of the New England defense, the line was able to hold strong after a sluggish start and really one together nicely as the year developed and into the playoffs. At the center of it all was a resurgent Wilfork. The veteran had to knock a little rust off at the start of the season, but he was a huge part of the defensive success enjoyed by the Patriots over the course of the 2014 season, not only from an on-field perspective but as a leader and mentor to a group of younger defensive linemen. Along the interior, Wilfork was ably backed by youngsters Siliga and Jones, who returned to their roles as mostly complementary players.

On the edge, Ninkovich and Chandler Jones weren’t an overwhelming pass rush duo, but Ninkovich became the first member of the Pats to register three straight seasons of at least eight sacks since Hall of Famer Andre Tippett. Jones struggled with a hip injury and missed roughly two full months in the middle of the year, but Ayers — acquired from Tennessee in October — was able to provide relief as a pass rusher while holding up relatively well against the run. And Branch, who was plucked off the street in October, managed to find a role as a run-stopper and steadying part of the rotation up front.

Ultimately, it wasn’t an overwhelming defensive front, but in the spirit of good complementary football, it was more than enough to lift the Patriots over the top: In six of their final 11 games (including the playoffs), the Patriots held opposing teams under 100 yards rushing, and finished ninth in the league in rush defense (104.3 yards per game allowed).

Going forward, one of the offseason storylines worth monitoring will be what happens with Wilfork and his contractual situation. The veteran could be one of several players who might be asked to have his deal restructured in hopes of creating more financial flexibility. At the same time, most of the rest of the key parts are under contract for 2015, including 2014’s first-round selection Dominique Easley, who had recurring knee issues through the year and ended the season on injured reserve. Count on him to be a major part of New England’s defensive plans in 2015.

Best moment: Lots of moments to choose from here, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the work that the defensive front did over the course of the six-game gauntlet against (mostly) division leaders that would come to define the Patriots as the physical bunch they turned out to be. In that series, New England yielded an average of 81 rushing yards per game and just one rushing touchdown.

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Read More: Alan Branch, chandler jones, Dominique Easley, New England Patriots
Chandler Jones wants to fight brother, UFC lightweight champion, Jon ‘Bones’ Jones for charity 02.12.15 at 8:36 am ET
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Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones

There aren’t many families as athletic as the Jones family — Chandler is a defensive end for the Patriots, Arthur plays on the defensive line for the Colts, and Jon “Bones” Jones is a UFC fighter.

Chandler, the youngest child, says he wants to fight Jon, the middle child, for charity.

“Me and my brother used to fight all the time when we were young … and I’m pretty sure I can take him down now. I am way bigger than he is,” Chandler said to TMZ Sports.

Chandler said he wouldn’t want a full length fight, just one round for charity.

“It will be fun if we actually did a one-round match for charity … that would be fun,” he said. “If I win, he would have to donate to the charity of my choice and vice versa.”

Even if Jon agreed to the fight, it doesn’t seem like it would happen, as Chandler plays for Bill Belichick, who would likely not be in favor of his defensive end fighting a UFC lightweight champ during the offseason.

“I don’t know how my coach would feel about it. I don’t think it would fly,” Chandler said.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: chandler jones, Jon Jones,
Chandler Jones calls Vince Wilfork a ‘brother': ‘Having a guy like him in the locker room, words can’t explain’ 01.28.15 at 3:18 pm ET
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Chandler Jones is anxious and excited for his first Super Bowl. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Chandler Jones is anxious and excited for his first Super Bowl. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

CHANDLER, Ariz. — Chandler Jones is one of 36 players on the Patriots who will be playing in their first Super Bowl on Sunday against the Seahawks, and obviously there is a lot going through his mind.

“Those two words are very good words to use: excited and anxious,” Jones said. “But within that, ultimately there’€™s one task at hand, and it’€™s to win. The biggest thing is just being calm throughout it all, all the interviews, all the media, all the people asking for tickets. Just being calm and levelheaded through it all.”

Fortunately for Jones and the rest of the Patriots defense, they have a leader like Vince Wilfork who has played in three previous Super Bowls and has won one as well. He’s preparing the players as best he can for the game.

“He’€™s just like having another brother, actually,” said Jones. “Like I said in the previous interview, his leadership is one thing that stands out to me the most. You could talk to him about anything, about being on the field, off the field, personal life, anything. Having a guy like him in the locker room, words can’€™t explain.

“Everything he does. Even on the field or off the field, or like I said, even in the film room, there will be times where Vince will say, ‘€˜Hey, watch out,’€™ something a coach might not see, but Vince will,” he added. “He’€™s almost like having another coach in the film room.”

Jones played in 10 games this season, as he missed six with a hip injury, but finished with six sacks. One of his biggest tasks on Sunday will be controlling Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

“He’€™s a tremendous quarterback. He’€™s a really good quarterback,” said Jones. “I wouldn’€™t call him unusual. He came in the NFL with me, actually, in the same draft class. He was actually one of the lower quarterbacks picked. ESPN always talks about it. But I feel like if everyone just contains and if everyone is in their spot, that zone read offense, you catch your guy outside their spot, it could hurt you and could gash you.  If everyone’€™s in the right spot, then we should be fine.”

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Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, chandler jones, Super Bowl XLIX,
Chandler Jones on MFB: ‘I really don’t care’ about Deflategate 01.26.15 at 2:33 pm ET
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Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones

Patriots defensive lineman Chandler Jones joined Middays with MFB on Monday to discuss the Super Bowl and Deflategate. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Jones discussed preparing for the Super Bowl with the Deflategate controversy dominating the media.

“During a week like this I try to just avoid it all,” Jones said. “I really, honestly, I really don’t care, I just want to play. I’m really focused on Seattle, I’m focused on my matchups, who I’m going against.”

Added Jones: “That just goes back to ignoring the noise. … At the end of the day, we all have a job and we have to do it.”

Jones had high praise for Seattle’s two biggest offensive weapons, running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson.

Marshawn Lynch is a guy that, I mean, if you let him he can run over your whole defense,” Jones said. “And then you have a guy like Russell Wilson and if you let him, he can juke out your whole defense and make big plays. So it’s our job as a defense to hopefully contain those guys.”

Jones added: “This is a quarterback-driven team, this is a quarterback-driven league, obviously. If you can contain the quarterback you can hopefully contain the scoreboard.”

Jones likely will spend much of the Super Bowl lined up against Seahawks tackle Russell Okung.

“I had a little success against him my rookie year and hopefully I can again on Sunday,” Jones said, adding “He’s a guy that’s very strong. He’s very strong on the running game. He has very strong hands, and he’s also a guy that’s long. When you have a guy that’s kind of a long and athletic body type, it’s kind of harder to get around.”

Added Jones: “For this week, we’re just kind of working hard and trying to polish up things so hopefully we can be successful on Sunday.”

For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

Read More: chandler jones, Deflategate, Patriots,
Julian Edelman on MFB: ‘We just so happened to do a lot of things right’ vs. Colts 01.19.15 at 12:59 pm ET
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Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman and defensive end Chandler Jones joined Middays with MFB on Monday to discuss Sunday’s rout of the Colts in the AFC championship game. To hear the interviews, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Patriots had their way with Indianapolis on both sides of the football Sunday night.

“They’re a good team. We just so happened to do a lot of things right,” Edelman said. “We played a complementary football game. … We were just able to execute at a high level last night. Hopefully that goes on to two weeks.”

Said Jones: “It’s good for the coaches to give out a game plan, but at the end of the day it’s up to the players to execute and buy into what the coaches are coaching. I feel like our players did a good job of buying into the coaches’ game plan, and we outexecuted the other team and it definitely showed on the scoreboard at the end of the game.”

Jones credited fellow defensive end Rob Ninkovich with having a standout game.

Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones

“I want to personally take the time to point out Rob Ninkovich‘s game that he had last night,” Jones said. “I just finished watching him. Rob had a tremendous game. It might not show on the stat sheet, but he did a really good job of pressuring Andrew Luck. Like I said, I want to shout him out. That was a great game by Rob Ninkovich.”

Edelman said he knew nothing about the controversy regarding allegedly underinflated footballs.

“I’m not even getting involved in this one,” Edelman said. “Ask coach Bill Belichick on all situations.”

Added Edelman: “Those guys [on the sideline] didn’t do anything. They’re probably just overreacting on something. It’s ridiculous, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We’re going to just try to get better for Seattle.”

Offensive lineman Nate Solder scored a touchdown in the third quarter, catching a short pass from Tom Brady and running into the end zone. Edelman said he was happy to share the spotlight with his underappreciated teammate.

“Those big dogs, they do all the grinding work each and every week. They don’t ever get the credit they deserve,” Edelman said. “To see one of your big dogs get a touchdown, especially in such an important game, it’s always awesome. You get to see those guys, they light up like a Christmas tree. It was awesome to see that.”

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Read More: chandler jones, Julian Edelman, Rob Ninkovich,
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