|10 most intriguing veterans on Patriots roster||05.07.13 at 12:43 pm ET|
This spring, there are several notable names on the Patriots roster who are starting an important period in their careers for one of four reasons. One, because they might be on the hot seat this year as part of a looming positional battle. Two, they’ve been on the shelf for an extended stretch and are a question mark when it comes to how much they might be able to contribute. Three, they have yet to take a snap in the Patriots system, which makes it difficult when it comes to gauging how they might fit in Foxboro. And four, they are entering a contract year and could have their fortunes down the road tied to their performance in 2013.
With that in mind, here’s our list of this spring’s 10 most intriguing veterans on the New England roster.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Talib, who was acquired from the Bucs in a November trade, wasn’t an elite corner by any stretch, but his presence allowed the Patriots to move Devin McCourty to safety and install Kyle Arrington in the slot. With that personnel combination in the secondary, the Patriots pass defense had great improvement across the board. (The continuity of having the same five guys at the same spots in the defensive backfield also helped, and with his return, should help going forward.) Despite some injury issues — his departure in the AFC title game, combined with New England’s lack of a coverage linebacker, left the Patriots struggling to defend against Joe Flacco — Talib became a key part of the defense. He re-signed with the Patriots on a low-cost, one-year “prove it” deal that creates incentives for both him and the team. If he has a terrific year, he gets to return to the open market with a chance to really cash in, and the team gets a top-level corner for a year at relatively low cost.
Tight end Jake Ballard: The former Giant was plucked off the New York roster last June and spent the entire 2012 season on the shelf after suffering a knee injury in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots. A 6-foot-6, 275-pounder, he was undrafted out of Ohio State in 2010 but turned himself into an effective downfield threat in 2011 with New York (38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns). Ballard is intriguing for a couple of reasons. One, he hasn’t been on the field for a year, and remains a bit of an unknown commodity because of his inactivity. And two, if Rob Gronkowski is on the shelf for any amount of time, Ballard (provided he’s healthy) should see an increase in reps, as his game has some elements of Gronkowski.
Defensive lineman Armond Armstead: One of the most intriguing veteran prospects the Patriots have brought in this spring, this CFL import — who stands 6-foot-5, 300 pounds — could provide a boost to the New England pass rush. The 22-year-old, a USC product, was a three-year star for the Trojans in college. After a junior year spent at defensive end — where he had 43 tackles, six of which were for a loss (three sacks) — he was set to open his senior year at defensive tackle but suffered a heart attack before his senior season and never was cleared to practice. As a result, he went undrafted last spring and ended up with Toronto of the Canadian Football League, where he led the team with 44 tackles and six sacks to help the Argonauts to a Grey Cup championship. (Armstead and Jason Vega are the two CFL imports who joined the New England roster this offseason.)
(When it comes to making the transition from the CFL to the NFL, Marc Trestman — a former CFL coach who was named coach of the Bears this offseason — thinks it can be done. “There are some players up there certainly that have shown they can play in the NFL, that’s been proven over time. There haven’t been many, but the guys who have shown up down here did a pretty good job of fitting in,” he said. “Players up there are very similar to the guys down here in terms of their character. They want to master their craft, they want to be the best they can be, and some of them have had the opportunity south of the border and have done well. These guys love football up there and have dreams of wanting to do it down here, and those who can, will give it a try. Those who can’t have experienced a lot of exciting football up there.”)
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|The Patriots and their continuing search for coverage linebackers||04.09.13 at 1:37 pm ET|
The Patriots have been looking for coverage linebackers for the last year-plus. Veteran Bobby Carpenter had a brief audition last season but didn’t click. Jeff Tarpinian has been on and off the roster the last couple of years, and while Rob Ninkovich can still drop into coverage — he has four career picks — he’s transitioned more into a pass-rusher at this point in his career.
While Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower have shown an ability to run with tight ends and running backs in coverage the last few years, the Patriots still could use a linebacker who could work in coverage in space, specifically in nickel packages on passing downs. (Going back and rewatching the AFC title game, while the injury to cornerback Aqib Talib affected New England’s pass defense, it’s clear the Patriots also struggled to defend the middle of the field against the Ravens passing game.)
As prep work for the 2013 season begins this month, here are four possibilities for the Patriots to keep in mind when it comes to coverage linebackers.
1. One player who wasn’t available in 2012 but could provide a boost in 2013 is Dane Fletcher. The 6-foot-2, 242-pound linebacker went down with a season-ending knee injury in August, but in the past he has shown an occasional ability to be someone who could contribute on passing downs. At the end of the 2011, he fundamentally took over the coverage job that was held for a few seasons by Gary Guyton — he averaged more than half the defensive snaps played over the final four games of the 2011 regular season — and while he didn’t reinvent the position, he certainly showed enough to be considered when you’re talking about coverage linebackers in New England in 2013.
2. For what it’s worth, Spikes did improve over the course of the season — remarkably, he finished with seven passes defensed, although that could be because opposing offenses threw in his direction so much because they believed he was a liability in coverage. Regardless, seven passes defensed is pretty impressive, particularly when you consider the fact that he was tied for third on the team with starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. He is never going to be confused with Ty Law when it comes to working in pass defense, but if he continues to show improvement, he could become a legitimate three-down linebacker in 2013.
(One other thing to remember about Spikes — the linebacker is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and if he continues to trend upward — particularly when it comes to working in coverage — and stay healthy, he could end up costing the Patriots more money than they may have initially anticipated.)
While Mayo has consistently shown an ability to work well in coverage over the course of his career (he had three passes defensed and a pick in 2012), the one to really watch this year could be Hightower. Although he had his rookie moments, he did show enough over the course of his first season in the NFL that could lead you to believe that he can contribute on a regular basis. To that point, Pro Football Focus had him at +3.1 in pass coverage as a rookie — that was second-best among all New England linebackers in 2012, trailing only Mayo’s +5.6.
|Linebacker Dane Fletcher signs one-year deal with Patriots||01.31.13 at 3:33 pm ET|
Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher has resigned with the Patriots, inking a one-year deal to remain with the team.
The 26-year-old Montana State product, who was an rookie free agent, has done a very nice job providing depth at the inside/middle linebacker spot the last two seasons, as well as working as an occasional special teamer. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder, who was slated to become a restricted free agent, has 55 tackles (36 solo), with two sacks and a pair of passes defensed in 23 career games with New England.
He spent the entire 2012 season on the shelf after suffering a torn left ACL in New England’s preseason opener.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|Four forgotten players who could have a sizable role in 2013 for Patriots||01.22.13 at 1:05 pm ET|
Like every team, the Patriots suffered their share of injuries over the course of the 2012 season. Here’s a look at four guys who went down relatively early, and who could play a sizable role in the fortunes of the 2013 team:
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: The 26-year-old inside linebacker was an undrafted free agent who made the 53-man roster out of Montana State in 2010. The 6-foot-2, 244-pounder, who was a defensive end in college was able to carve out on impressive career for himself in his first two seasons in the league, moving from core special teamer to backup linebacker in relatively short order. But a thumb injury slowed him in 2011, and he tore the ACL in his left knee in an August preseason game against the Saints. The knee injury left him on injured reserve for the season, but as long as he recovers, he should be expected to be in the mix as an inside linebacker and special teamer in 2013.
Kick returner/running back Jeff Demps: The former Olympic sprinter showed up relatively late this summer, and left the Patriots with an interesting personnel decision — place him on IR (with the possibility he could return, thanks to the new DFR roster loophole) or have him occupy a roster spot until he was ready to go. The Patriots chose the former, and ended up putting tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on IR (designated for return) while leaving the 23-year-old Demps on the sidelines for the year. That’s a decision the Patriots would probably like to have back, as the team used the DFR-IR designation on Shiancoe before cutting him loose late in the season. (In that same stretch, the Patriots continued to struggle to find consistency in the return game.) Meanwhile, the 5-foot-7. 175-pound Demps got time to get up to speed in the New England system, essentially taking a redshirt season while learning about life in the NFL. Look for him to play a major role on special teams next season, as well as a possible dynamic new wrinkle at running back.
Tight end Jake Ballard: Hey, another tight end. Why not? The 25-year-old Ballard, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots while playing for New York, was acquired this past summer by the Patriots (he was signed off waivers from the Giants, much to the consternation of New York coach Tom Coughlin). Undrafted out of Ohio State in 2010, he turned himself into a effective downfield threat in 2011 with the Giants (38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns), and could provide the same sort of presence in 2013 with the Patriots. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Ballard compares with Rob Gronkowski in his bulk and his overall playing style, and the idea of deploying a three-tight end set with Ballard, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez would be an intriguing matchup problem for opposing defensive coordinators. Figures to weigh heavily in the Patriots’ plans for 2013.
Cornerback Ras-I Dowling: Dowling, who was the 33rd overall pick of the 2011 daft, has seen his two-year career with the Patriots has been marked by injury. After a strong opening to his rookie year in 2011 where he started his first two games as a professional, he landed on season-ending injured reserve on Oct. 29 because he needed hip surgery. And 2012 started poorly when he suffered a hamstring injury early in camp and missed nearly three weeks. As a result, he slipped down the depth chart, and began the season as a nickel back. This past season, he made it all the way to late October before suffering a thigh injury in an overtime win over the Jets, which sent him to IR again. When he’s been healthy, the 24-year-old has been an intriguing physical presence in the secondary — at 6-foot-1 and 210-pounds, he brings a size that New England had been lacking in the defensive backfield for several years, at least until Aqib Talib came along. But Dowling, who had struggled with injury in college, has to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season before the Patriots start to lean on him seriously. This will be a key offseason for the youngster out of Virginia.
|Dane Fletcher still coming to Patriots team meetings because he ‘digs’ football||08.31.12 at 4:28 pm ET|
FOXBORO — In basketball, players who hang around the gym all the time are called “gym rats.”
The Patriots have the equivalent. His name is Dane Fletcher.
The linebacker and special teams player said Friday that he will have surgery on his injured left knee next week. The linebacker tore his ACL during the team’s preseason opener on Aug. 9 against the Saints during punt coverage. Fletcher was immediately placed on injury waivers by the team and cleared before the team claimed him back 24 hours later and placed him on injured reserve.
Still, he wants to be around the team in the days before and after his surgery to prove a point. He loves the game and is appreciative that the Patriots placed him on injured reserve after waiving him.
“I’m still waiting to have surgery,” said Fletcher, who is in the final year of his three-year, $1.225 million deal. “I’m coming along good, as good as you can so far. We’ll see. You just don’t know. It doesn’t ever to make a lot of sense for another team – in my circumstance – to pick me up. This is my last year of my contract and whatnot. I understand why the Patriots did it. After you tear your ACL and be on waivers for 24 hours, I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t nervous for 24 hours just for the fact you might have to pick up and move. That’d be a tough transition in that kind of situation.”
Fletcher was in the Patriots locker room with a black wrap around the injured knee and said he is getting treatment in advance of the procedure next week.
“Not even being able to get out there with your guys in the regular season, it hurts but I look at everything positive,” Fletcher said. “At least it kind of happened early in the year so I have a full year to recover and be back for next year. That’s the way I look at it.”
Fletcher can remember the punt coverage play distinctly. It was a punt, as it turned out, that didn’t even count in the box score because of a procedure penalty on the Saints. Fletcher was flying down as a gunner when he got nudged from behind by Johnny Patrick of the Saints.
“When you’re running down, you’re breaking down to make the tackle and it threw me off,” Fletcher said. “Maybe he nudged me a little from the side or from the back. He threw me off, my center of gravity. You can only look into it so much and [realize] it happened.” Read the rest of this entry »
|10 things we learned Monday from Patriots training camp||08.13.12 at 9:35 pm ET|
FOXBORO – It was another hot day Monday on the practice fields outside Gillette Stadium, ideal for training camp conditioning. Bill Belichick, linebackers coach Pepper Johnson, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and special teams coach Scott O’Brien all took their opportunity to scream words of encouragement during the practice that lasted over two hours.
With Monday’s reported waiving of Dane Fletcher and Britt Davis, the active roster stands at 88 players.
Among the remaining players, 12 were not seen on Monday, and they include fullback Eric Kettani, safety Malcolm Williams, safety James Ihedigbo, fullback Spencer Larsen, linebacker Tracy White, offensive lineman Matt Kopa, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, tight ends Daniel Fells and Jake Ballard, and defensive linemen Myron Pryor, Gerard Warren and Jonathan Fanene.
The bigger news came with the roll call of players in shorts, including Rob Gronkowski for a second straight day. Joining Gronk were tight end Aaron Hernandez, receiver Brandon Lloyd, defensive back Alfonzo Dennard, offensive tackle Markus Zusevics, and offensive linemen Kyle Hix and Sebastian Vollmer.
Here are nine other things we learned from camp on Monday.
MANKINS MAKES STRIDES
Logan Mankins was in shorts and shells again on Monday, and again he was sporting a big black brace on his right knee. While only going through moderate drills on Sunday evening, Mankins joined in with the first team offensive line at left guard and began taking snaps with Tom Brady. Mankins lined up between left tackle Nate Solder and center Dan Koppen, who returned to the first unit rotation. Mankins was given time to recuperate in the middle of practice as the offensive line was going through intense 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills. If all goes well, Mankins is expected to be in full pads on Tuesday for the first time since being taken off PUP on Sunday.
ALL ABOUT TEMPO
After admitting that his offense “has a long ways to go” on Sunday following a 10-punt, two turnover performance in the preseason opener, Bill Belichick had the offensive pick up the pace on Sunday during 11-on-11 drills. Tom Brady opened up in the hurry-up offense, going 3-for-4 with a TD toss to Deion Branch. Included in the hurry-up were six running plays from Stevan Ridley for a total of 10 snaps. Brady would’ve been perfect except for a drop from Julian Edelman. Ryan Mallett was not as effective as he was just 2-for-4 with four runs from Shane Vereen. Brady returned for the conventional huddle in 11-on-11 situational football, going 3-for-4, with the highlight coming on a fantastic over the shoulder grab from Alex Silvestro, getting more time with both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski sitting out Monday’s practice.
SOMETHING YOU DON’T OFTEN SEE
During a second round of 11-on-11 drills, Brady came on and actually quarterbacked the scout team against the first-team defense. Moments later, with Brian Hoyer calling signals, he and Ridley fumbled an exchange and both had to run a lap from goal post to goal post.
Rookie Chandler Jones continues to impress, as he tipped a pair of passes, including one by Tom Brady during 11-on-11 snaps. Jones also narrowly missed blocking a field goal by Chris Koepplin at the end of practice, an attempt that was blocked by an interior lineman. Also getting his hand up was Vince Wilfork during a red area 11-on-11 set run by Brian Hoyer. Jermaine Cunningham came over and gave Wilfork an enthusiastic congratulatory slap for his efforts. Read the rest of this entry »
FOXBORO — After watching his offensive line have moments of disarray in attempting to protect Tom Brady Thursday night, it must have made Bill Belichick smile when the training staff cleared Logan Mankins for practice Sunday morning.
The four-time Pro Bowl left guard was cleared to rejoin the team on the field and taken off the physically unable to perform list, meaning he will be eligible to start the season, that is if his surgically repaired right knee allows. Mankins will be in shells again on Monday and then, if he feels ready, Mankins will get in full pads on Tuesday and see how the knee responds.
“It’s the same rule for everybody, so two days of shells and then pads,” Belichick said.
All of this is fairly impressive considering he played with a torn ACL in Super Bowl XLVI in the first weekend of February.
“He’s worked hard,” Belichick said. “Nobody has worked harder than Logan. He comes in early, stays late, works hard. We know he’s a really tough, dependable guy and he’s put a lot into it. He’s worked as hard as anybody can.”
Mankins also played the Super Bowl with a sore left knee, an injury suffered when he played left tackle for the first time in his career on Christmas Eve in a win over the Dolphins.
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