|Fab Five: The most underrated Patriots||12.04.12 at 5:51 pm ET|
While the Patriots have their share of high-profile superstars, each man in the locker room will tell you that it takes 53 players — and sometimes more, when you add in the practice squadders — to make a team. To that end, here’s our pick for the five most underrated Patriots — the unheralded guys who don’t get the headlines like some of their counterparts, but who are just as integral to the success of the franchise on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.
Tight end Daniel Fells: The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder has assumed the same role that Alge Crumpler had in 2010 — an older tight end who has served as something of a steadying, veteran presence for younger Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And while he hasn’t had much of a statistical impact (he has three catches on nine targets for 77 yards this season), with the recent injury to Gronkowski, he has seen a sizable uptick in his playing time. He was on the field for 103 of a possible 151 snaps over the last two weeks, and while he didn’t have the same impact that Gronkowski has, he was essentially doing his job as an end of the line blocker. Most importantly, he was a consistent presence on the field during New England’s 16-play series in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins, the best offensive sequence of the season for the Patriots.
Running back Danny Woodhead: Woodhead appears so often on these types of underrated lists, he might actually be perfectly rated, but there are few more versatile options in the New England offense. He’s the only guy on the team with at least 25 carries and 25 receptions — he has 58 rushes and 26 catches through 12 games. (The last Patriots player to go over 25/25 in the same year was Kevin Faulk in 2009 — he finished that year with 62 carries and 37 receptions.) He’s also the most dependable receiver on the team — he has 26 catches on 32 targets, and his 81 percent reception rate is the best on the team among pass catchers with at least 10 receptions. He’s seen a recent downturn in snaps (particularly with the recent emergence of Shane Vereen as an option in the passing game), but he remains a steady third-down option. In the wake of the injury to Julian Edelman, the 5-foot-8, 200-pounder could see more action as the regular-season comes to a close.
Center Ryan Wendell: A part-time interior offensive lineman over the course of his first three seasons with the Patriots, the undrafted free agent out of Fresno State stepped into a starting role for the first time this year and has become one of New England’s most dependable offensive linemen. Taking over for veteran Dan Koppen (who was released shortly before the start of the regular season), Wendell has been the centerpiece of one of the best offensive lines in football. Pro Football Focus says the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder is one of the best centers in the league — his grade of +16.2 when it comes to run blocking is best in the league, and his overall grade of +14.4 through the first 12 games of the season is third on the New England offense (he trails only Tom Brady and Gronkowski). In addition, on an offensive line that’s seen it’s share of injury, Wendell has held up very nicely. His 924 offensive snaps this season is second on the offense to left tackle Nate Solder (927).
|Josh McDaniels on return of Aaron Hernandez: ‘It was certainly good to get Aaron back’||11.23.12 at 5:59 pm ET|
The Patriots were able to get an important offensive option back in the fold Thursday night when Aaron Hernandez returned to the lineup for the first time in a month. The tight end, who has been hobbled by injury since going down with an ankle issue in a Week 2 loss to the Cardinals, did come back for a couple of games last month, but appeared to suffer a setback and was shelved again until Thursday night.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hernandez played 57 of the Patriots’ 70 offensive snaps on Thursday, and finished the game with two catches for 36 yards.
“It was certainly good to have Aaron back, and I was pleased with the amount of snaps he was able to play,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on a conference call with reporters Friday. “I thought what was interesting was that for being off for such an extended period, I thought he hung in there and tried to fight through it and give us everything he could give us.
“It’s great to have a guy like that back. It’s a guy who can do a lot of things with the ball. He made some key plays for us last night and hopefully we can build on that as we go down the stretch here with Aaron as he plays more and more each week. I thought that was good.”
With Rob Gronkowski expected to be sidelined for the next month or so with a broken arm, all of the tight ends will see an uptick in playing time. That includes veteran Daniel Fells, who has been on and off the field over the course of the last month or so. Against the Jets, he also played 57 of the Patriots’ 70 offensive snaps. And while he didn’t show up all that much in the box score (one catch on two targets for 24 yards), McDaniels also lauded Fells’ performance.
“Daniel definitely did a nice job of his role in the game plan,” McDaniels said. “We asked a lot of different things of Daniel last night. Asked him to do some different things in the running game. Asked him to pass protect at times and made a big catch there for a big chunk gain there in the third quarter, I believe.
“We have a lot of tight ends that are capable of doing different things. The way we played them last night, we had two of them on the field, predominantly, most of the game. I thought those guys gave us some protection and allowed us to play the game we wanted to play.”
Here are a few other highlights from McDaniels Q&A with the media on Friday:
FOXBORO — Patriots coach Bill Belichick knew this week would be a challenge. A late afternoon game on Sunday against the upstart Colts and Andrew Luck followed by a night game four days later against their AFC East rival that pushed them to OT in October.
Well, 108 points later, the Patriots went from 6-3 to 8-3 and in complete control of the AFC East, all but assuring their 10th division title in 12 seasons. In the afterglow of Thursday’s 49-19 feast on the Jets at MetLife Stadium, Belichick gave credit to his players for their work on a tight schedule.
“As we talked about [Thursday] night, I think after going through the film that it was really apparent that the preparation that our players put into this game certainly helped us with our overall execution,” Belichick said in a Friday afternoon conference call. ” I thought we had a real good three days, four days of preparation for the game – a lot of concentration, focus, attentiveness, attention to detail and all those things came out in different aspects of the game. So, I’ll give credit to the players, the way they prepared and performed. I thought we had good energy last night.
“Obviously the big plays in the game really tilted the game strongly in our favor so that was important. We’ll try to take the next day or so to kind of get caught up and get re-organized. We never even had a chance to spend much time at all on the Indianapolis game so we’ll need to catch up a little bit on that and of course the Jet game from last night, as quickly as possible and put that behind us and turn the page onto Miami. It’s good to get a couple wins over the Jets and certainly it was good to get the bonus points from the turnovers on defense and the kicking game, not only turnovers but to end up with significant points on the board. Those plays are always especially good to see because it’s hard to count on them. When you get them, it really shifts the game quickly.”
Belichick’s sign of gratitude was to give the players three days off, in essence giving them a second bye weekend in four weeks. The players don’t have to report to Foxboro until midday Monday to get ready for the Dolphins in South Florida on Dec. 2.
“It was good to see us respond very positively to the challenge of going down and playing the Jets on Thanksgiving night. But there’s a new challenge every week,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to respond to future challenges in the same positive way, by using the same methods: working hard, being attentive, putting extra things into it; doing extra things at this time of year can really pay off and make a difference.
“I hope that we can all see the benefit of doing that, in terms of what the results were and hopefully going forward we can build on this and get that same type of preparation and attention to the little things that will make a difference for us. I hope this will be a good…we always talk about it, it isn’t like we don’t ever do it, I just thought this was doing everything [with] the timeframe and all that we were working with, that it was a very good effort by the players to respond. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it again.”
Here is the remainder of Belichick’s Q and A with reporters on Friday afternoon: Read the rest of this entry »
|Countdown to Patriots Camp: Tight end||07.24.12 at 12:26 am ET|
In the days leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we’ll take a quick look at how each position shakes out. We broke down quarterback and running back. Now, we take a look at the tight end position.
Roster (2011 stats): Rob Gronkowski (90 catches, 1,327 yards, 17 receiving touchdowns), Aaron Hernandez (79 catches, 910 receiving yards, seven receiving touchdowns), Daniel Fells (19 catches, 256 receiving yards, three receiving touchdowns for Denver), Jake Ballard (38 catches, 604 receiving yards, four touchdowns with the Giants), rookie Tyler Urban.
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
The Patriots have the best tight end combo in the league. Duh. The Gronkowski/Hernandez duo creates matchup nightmares for opposing defenses, and only figure to get better as they spend more time in the league. (It’s hard to believe that even after two years in the NFL, Hernandez is still one of the younger players on the roster — he’s almost nine months younger than rookie defensive lineman Jake Bequette).
Coming off ankle surgery, Gronkowski will take it slow at the start of camp. It’s worth noting that when the list of players that will start camp on the active/PUP list was released Monday, Gronkowski wasn’t on it. That’s a good sign for a player who didn’t participate in any of the on-field drills throughout the spring, instead working off to the side as the ankle healed. He won’t be going half-speed out there, but his health will be monitored very closely throughout the summer.
When it comes to defending Gronkowski, teams might follow Oakland’s lead. One interesting breakdown on how teams might be able to contain the big fella comes from our pals at Pro Football Focus, who looked at the job the Raiders did on Gronk early in the 2011 season. A great read, and one other clubs on the Patriots’ 2012 schedule might want to consider.
1. Will the Patriots utilize a third tight end? While it’s unlikely Ballard plays this season (he had offseason knee surgery for an injury he suffered in the Super Bowl), New England has been active on the free agent market this offseason. They signed Fells and kicked the tires on Visanthe Shiancoe. (They even had Bo Scaife in for a quick visit.) It’s not realistic that any of them will have a serious statistical impact on what New England does, but would likely mean that the days of the occasional rep at tight end for Nate Solder could be coming to a close. (On Fells, it’s also worth mentioning that he learned what it takes to be a mentor from Alge Crumpler when the two were together in Atlanta, and talked about the Crump HERE. Crumpler, who took the two young tight ends under his wing when they were rookies, could help continue the maturation process this year.)
2. Will there be any hangover from the Summer of Gronk? He was America’s Guest all offseason, engaging in a rollicking, Zubaz-clad ride from one event to another, punctuated by the news that he had signed an eight-year, $55.23 million contract with $13.17 million guaranteed. We know he’s already received at least one reminder that it’s time to put his focus back to football, and past history tells us that the franchise usually has a pretty good track record when it comes to making sure stars are able to keep their eyes on the prize. (It’s also worth mentioning that he’ll almost certainly be reminded on a daily basis about his offseason fun by his teammates, but to his credit, he was never photographed holding a goat.)
3. What else can you do with Hernandez? The Florida product was used as an offensive chess piece by the Patriots last season: He was split wide, in the slot, flush against a tackle and in the backfield. The only thing you probably can’t have him doing on a regular basis is work as a blocker. Not many places left on the field for him to line up, but you never know.
By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez each caught 40-plus passes in each of the past two seasons. They are only the second pair of tight ends since 1958 to do that in consecutive seasons. The other? San Diego’s Eric Sievers and Pete Holohan in 1984-1985. They had this Kellen Winslow guy too, but he only managed 25 catches in 1985 or the Chargers would have had THREE tight ends with 40-plus catches in both of those seasons.
The skinny: What more can you say? While some around the league will argue the merits of Gronkowski vs. Jimmy Graham, there’s no denying the fact that the Patriots have the best young tight end duo in the league. Barring injury — or if some opposing defensive coordinator finds some sort of kryptonite for one or both of them — there’s no reason to think that these two shouldn’t again be dominant.
|Report: Patriots work out tight end Bo Scaife||05.30.12 at 12:01 pm ET|
The Patriots had tight end Bo Scaife in for a workout, according to Aaron Wilson of Scout.com and the Carroll County Times. The 31-year-old Scaife is a 6-foot-3, 249-pounder who has played in the league for seven years, including six in Tennessee, posting a career-high 58 catches for 561 yards and two touchdowns with the Titans in 2008.
While the workout likely represents due diligence more than anything, the Patriots are continuing to round out their tight end group, at least throughout the offseason, as they were looking for extra bodies at last week’s OTA session (Rob Gronkowski and Daniel Fells did not practice). They had defensive end Alex Silvestro taking reps at tight end in that OTA practice, and signed undrafted free agent Nick Melillo on Tuesday.
|Trying to figure out why the Patriots would kick the tires on veteran tight end Dallas Clark||05.18.12 at 1:14 pm ET|
The Patriots had tight end Dallas Clark visit Foxboro on Tuesday, according to Shalise Manza-Young of the Boston Globe. Clark, who will turn 33 next month, has impeccable credentials — the former All-Pro has 427 catches in nine years in the NFL, including a whopping 100 in 2009. As the old core continues to be dismantled in Indy, it appears that the free agent will be the next to officially leave the Colts.
Despite Clark’s resume, on the surface, it appears to be a puzzling move — New England has two premiere young tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and they added a veteran in Daniel Fells over the course of the offseason. But one thing worth noting is that the 6-foot-3, 252-pounder is represented by agent Neil Cornrich, who has worked very closely with Belichick in the past. How closely? Cornrich has worked as Belichick’s lawyer in the past, and has steered some relatively under-the-radar players in Belichick’s direction before, including Stephen Neal (after the former college wrestling champion was looking for a place to play professional football) and Mike Vrabel, who was working as a backup linebacker in Pittsburgh before he signed with the Patriots prior to the 2001 season.
Whether it’s Belichick doing a favor for a friend or genuine interest on the part of New England, it’s not a big surprise that the Patriots would at least bring him to kick the tires and see what he has left. If he can still play and the money is right, New England would find a spot for him. The Patriots have added wide receivers at a dizzying pace this offseason — why not an extra tight end or two? After all, Clark passes what we call the Rosevelt Colvin test: Belichick has raved about him over the years, often unprovoked. Check out this quote from Belichick on Clark from 2009:
“He’s a terrific player, very hard to defend,” Belichick said of Clark. “He pretty much can do everything that you would ask a tight end to do. He’s a great vertical receiver. He can get open on the short and intermediate routes. He’s a good possession receiver on third down and in the red area. He’s good after the catch. He does a good job blocking.”
|The second time around, it all worked for Daniel Fells and the Patriots||05.08.12 at 5:46 pm ET|
FOXBORO — For Daniel Fells and the Patriots, the second time was the charm.
The tight end nearly signed with New England in 2010 — he was “real close, real close” — to joining the Patriots, but ultimately passed in favor of Denver. That experience helped him get a sense of how they do things in New England, and so when the free agent opportunity came around again this past offseason, he jumped at the chance.
“I was able to come out here and just meet with the coaches and talk with the guys and see if it was a fit. It ultimately boiled down to a business thing. I let my agent handle things like that,” Fells said Tuesday during a break from workouts at Gillette Stadium. “All things happen for a reason and it didn’t work out then, but things came full circle and it worked out for us this year.”
He signed early in the free-agent process this year, and is happy to be with the Patriots. The 6-foot-4, 252-pounder has played five seasons in the league — three with St. Louis, one with Atlanta and one with Denver. Last season with the Broncos, he had 19 catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns, a year after a 41-catch effort with the Rams.
Despite those numbers, the former college wide receiver understands that with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez on the roster, he may not get the same sort of chances in the passing game he had the last few seasons. That being said, when it comes to spreading the ball around, he knows Tom Brady is an equal-opportunity quarterback.
“They’re both real good tight ends. They went out there and they produce. They’re two of the top guys in the league,” Fells said of Gronkowski and Hernandez. “But, traditionally, just looking at this offense, Tom’s going to find the open man, and that’s something that appeals to everybody.
“I’m excited about that one. That’s pretty much the best way to say that: It’s Tom Brady. One of the greatest guys out there. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to be out there on the field with him.”
Fells will be joining his sixth team, and he’s learned a lot along the way. Some of those lessons were learned in Atlanta working with Alge Crumpler. Crumpler, who played one season in New England (2010), served as a valuable mentor to then-rookies Hernandez and Gronkowski. He did the same with Fells when they were together on the Falcons.
“He was like my big brother. A great guy. A true professional. I learned a lot from him,” Fells said. “Alge welcomed everybody with open arms.
“He’s the type of guy who had me over to his house for Thanksgiving. He had his family in town and I didn’t have any family in Atlanta and I wasn’t going home. He invited me over to his house and fed me. He made the Pro Bowl that year and took all his tight ends out to Hawaii with him. Paid for the flight and everything. That’s just the type of person that he was. Very giving and very humble about all his blessings. I just learned a lot from him.”
It’s reasonable to assume that, in the spirit of Crumpler, the 28-year-old Fells could still manage to impart some of the wisdom he’s accrued to the Gronkowski and Hernandez, both of who are still just 22. For what it’s worth, he’s well aware of how both young tight ends roll, saying with a laugh, “I’m a little bit older. I’ve been around the block. I was young once myself, but now I’m married and have a son. Things change. Times change. They’ll grow up. They’re enjoying their youth right now.”
For now, Fells knows that he’s got to worry about his own situation.
“I can just go out here and be me. That’s the only thing and just be me,” he said. “That’s what’s gotten me around the league. That’s what’s gotten me to the point of being able to play for seven years is just going out and being myself, being professional. Just doing my job.
“As far as guiding those two? Like I said, they are two great athletes, two great competitors. I don’t really need to guide them in that sense. I’m just going to go out here and try and fill in where I can.”
Here are a few more highlights from his Q&A Thursday at Gillette Stadium:
Read the rest of this entry »
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