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With LeGarrette Blount gone, do Patriots need to add backfield depth? 03.28.14 at 9:30 pm ET
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Expect Stevan Ridley's workload to increase in 2014. (AP)

Expect Stevan Ridley’s workload to increase in 2014. (AP)

The departure of LeGarrette Blount to the Steelers means there will be more on the plate of Stevan Ridley in 2014, who now appears likely to return to his role as the closest thing the New England offense has to a featured back. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen figures to work in a change up role as the third down option and pass catcher out of the backfield, and Brandon Bolden will stick in his role as all-purpose backup.

But is there a need to bring in another body for depth? While running back isn’t considered an overwhelming priority for the Patriots (there are other greater areas of need, at least at this stage of the team-building process), it wouldn’t be a surprise for them to address it with a mid-round pickup in the draft, especially considering the fact that the bargain basement has been pretty much picked over, at least at this point. (The best options right now are probably Andre Brown, Michael Bush and Justin Forsett, as well as broken-down editions of Felix Jones, Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee.)

With the understanding that the Patriots would be targeting a guy like that no earlier than the third day of the draft because of other areas of greater need, here are three backs who might be available to the Patriots this year as mid- to late-round possibilities:

a) Storm Johnson, Central Florida – A multidimensional back who has already drawn the attention of the Patriots — the 6-foot, 209-pounder was one of a handful of players who went through a workout for the Patriots’ brain trust when they were in Florida this past week for the league meetings — last season he had 1,139 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 30 catches for 260 yards and three receiving touchdowns.

b) Andre Williams, Boston College Remarkably, the 5-foot-11, 230-pounder led the nation in rushing last year for the Eagles, ending up with 2,177 rushing yards and becoming a Heisman finalist as a result. At the combine, he fully acknowledged the fact that he needs to improve when it comes to his work in pass protection as well as a receiver out of the backfield, but his colossal yardage total from last year will almost certainly make him attractive to someone.

c) Bishop Sankey, Washington – A little on the smaller side, like Johnson, this 5-foot-9, 209-pounder offers value in the passing game as well as the running game. Last season, he ran for 1,870 yards for a 5.7 average and 20 touchdowns to go along with 28 catches for 304 yards and one touchdown.

Of course, this doesn’t begin to take into account what the Patriots do at the kick return spot in 2014. Blount’s departure could open the door for any number of possibilities on special teams, including Josh Boyce, Devin McCourty or collegian Jeremy Gallon, who had a private workout for New England special teams coach Scotty O’Brien earlier this week in Ann Arbor. While the different looks that the three backs present should be enough to keep opposing defensive coordinators on their toes in 2014, it’s clear the Patriots do need to address the position going forward, especially considering the fact that Vereen and Ridley are heading into the final year of their rookie deals. Certainly a spot to watch going forward this offseason for New England.

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Resetting Patriots depth chart in secondary 03.18.14 at 1:42 pm ET
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Devin McCourty was a key defensive piece of the puzzle for the Patriots in 2013. (AP)

Devin McCourty figures to be the leader of the New England secondary in 2014. (AP)

To this point in the offseason, no position in New England has undergone more of a change than the secondary. The Patriots have lost cornerback Aqib Talib and strong safety Steve Gregory, but they’ve added Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Here’s a look at New England’€™s current depth in the secondary.

Cornerback
Darrelle Revis: The veteran corner, signed earlier this month, figures to fundamentally step into Talib’s old spot as the No. 1 corner who will face off against the lead pass catcher on the other side of the ball. If Revis is that guy, he will face an impressive roster of receivers over the course of the 2014 season, including Mike Wallace (Miami), Reggie Wayne (Indy), Keenan Allen (San Diego), A.J. Green (Cincy), Demaryius Thomas (Denver) and Brandon Marshall (Chicago).

Brandon Browner: As of this point, the veteran figures to be in the mix for the No. 2 cornerback spot. Because of suspensions and health problems, he’€™s only played 20 games the last two seasons, and so he could be a little rusty out of the gate, especially considering that he’€™ll be getting adjusted to a new team, as well as the fact that he’€™ll sidelined the first four games of the 2014 season because of a ban for violating the league policy on PEDs. However, providing he stays healthy, there’€™s no reason to think he shouldn’t be a part of the rotation by the midway point of the season.

Alfonzo Dennard: He’s currently in the home stretch of his jail term in Nebraska, and his future when it comes to playing time could be fluid, with much of it tied to Browner’€™s situation. With Browner out for the first four games, however, he figures to be the No. 2 corner, at least for the short term.

Kyle Arrington: Many of his critics were hopeful that with the acquisition of Browner and Revis, the Patriots were going to get rid of Arrington. No dice — he remains one of the better slot corners in the game, and the pickup of Revis allows him to stay in the slot, a position he’€™s become suited to over the years. Barring injury, look for him there again in 2014.

Logan Ryan: For the most part, the Rutgers product had a very good rookie season, finishing with five picks (best on the team) and looking very comfortable over the course of the year. (He was overwhelmed a bit in the AFC title game against the Broncos, but even with his maturation, was probably playing a little over his head in that contest anyway.) With Revis and Browner in the picture, he figures to get most of his work as the nickel back and in sub packages, at least early on. The good thing is that the Patriots spent the majority of the season with five defensive backs on the field, so he should still get some significant snaps, even if he is bumped down the depth chart.
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Read More: Adrian Wilson, Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Brandon Browner Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Cornerback Alterraun Verner: Patriots ‘definitely a possibility’ 03.10.14 at 9:13 pm ET
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Alterraun Verner

Alterraun Verner

Cornerback Alterraun Verner said Monday he’s heard from Devin McCourty, who has apparently been making a pitch for Verner to come to New England.

Verner, who has played alongside McCourty’s brother Jason the last four years in Tennessee, told Sirius XM’s Mad Dog Radio on Monday that Devin has been trying to get him to sign with the Patriots.

“œ(New England) is definitely a possibility,”€ Verner said. “Jason’€™s brother has been lobbying for me (to join the Patriots).”

It’s presumed Verner will make it to free agency, where he will be regarded as one of the best cornerbacks available. According to multiple reports, he’s drawn interested from the Rams, Redskins, Steelers and Vikings, Lions. It remains to be seen what sort of financial commitment the Patriots would — or could — make if they wanted to land Verner, but he seemed to indicate Monday that money wasn’t the most important thing on his mind.

“I would feel more obliged to go to a team that paid me $6 or $7 million and made me one of the highest-paid players on the team, than go to a team that paid me $8 or $9 million and I wasn’t one of the highest-paid players on the team,” he said.

The 5-foot-10, 187-pound Verner has played in 64 regular-season games the last four years, and has 50 passes defensed and 11 picks over the course of his career. His best season came in 2013, when he had 57 tackles (49 solo), 22 passes defensed and five interceptions.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Tuesday’s NFL combine schedule 02.25.14 at 6:30 am ET
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Here’€™€™€™€™s what’€™€™€™€™s on tap Tuesday at the combine:

– Media availability is completed for players, coaches and GMs.

– Workouts for defensive backs highlight the last day of the combine. Nationally, the big names worth keeping an eye on are Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard (the cousin of New England cornerback Alfonzo) and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, as well as safeties Calvin Pryor (Louisville) and Ha-Ha Clinton Dix (Alabama). It’s not expected that the Patriots will invest heavily in a defensive back in the draft, but from a New England perspective, the biggest drill we’ll be keeping an eye on is the 3-cone, a workout that measures agility and quickness. The Patriots have often shown an affinity for defensive back prospects who pop in the 3-cone — Devin McCourty, Nate Ebner and Logan Ryan have all done well in the drill the last few years.

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Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Safety 02.07.14 at 11:22 pm ET
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Devin McCourty was a key defensive piece of the puzzle for the Patriots in 2013. (AP)

Devin McCourty was a key defensive piece of the puzzle for the Patriots in 2013. (AP)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’€™ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We’€™ve focused on special teams, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and cornerbacks. Now, we finish with the safeties.

Roster (stats taken from coaches film review): Devin McCourty (75 tackles, 1 interception, 8 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery), Steve Gregory (90 tackles, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hits, 2 passes defensed), Duron Harmon (30 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 passes defensed), Tavon Wilson (2 tackles, 1 interception, 1 touchdown, 1 pass defensed), Kanorris Davis, Nate Ebner.

Overview: While so much of the 2013 New England defense was defined by injury, the safety spot was the one area that stayed relatively healthy over the course of the season. Of course, Gregory missed two games because of a finger injury and McCourty missed one because of a concussion scare at the of the season, but when stacked up against the rest of the defense, the safeties look like iron men when compared to the rest of the group. (According to Pro Football Focus, McCourty was third on the team in defensive snaps with 1,039, while Gregory was sixth with 849.) They are not classic thumpers that many of their critics hope they would be — you can’€™t help but wonder what sort of role the super-sized Adrian Wilson might have had on the 2013 team — but for what they are asked to do in the context of the New England defense, they do it well.

While so many of the Patriots elite defenders went down over the course of the season, it was players like McCourty who stepped them games up and helped provide leadership and consistency, helping the New England defense through some of the roughest times. For his efforts, McCourty was named an All-Pro, and after four years, has the unique honor of reaching All-Pro status at two different positions. McCourty has been the leader of not just the safeties, but the secondary. Ultimately, his off-the-charts football IQ, skill set and attitude all represent a great asset for the Patriots, and it wouldn’€™t be a surprise to see the team sign him to an extension before his deal was up at the end of the 2014 season.

Gregory had a mixed bag — there were a handful of bad angles that continue to stand out on film, a baffling sight given the fact that he’€™s one of the more cerebral players to put on a New England uniform over the last 5-10 seasons. But given the benefit of hindsight, there was more good than bad. Rookie Harmon had his occasional struggles, but he had matured to a point late in the season where he had moved ahead of Wilson and Ebner on the depth chart. And while they’€™re more special teamers than safeties, it’€™s worth mentioning that both Ebner and Davis appeared to throw their bodies around with a near-reckless abandon when working on kick and punt coverage, with Ebner continuing to have a good nose for the ball.

Ultimately, though, McCourty leads this group. For the last few seasons, the assumption was that as Vince Wilfork continued to get older, there would be a time when Jerod Mayo would assume the role of de factor leader on that side of the ball — the heart of the New England defense. If we learned anything about the Patriots’€™ defense in 2013, it’€™s that McCourty has the potential to have just a big a role leading the group going forward into the future.

Best moment: From an aesthetic standpoint, it’€™s hard not to single out the tipped ball play deftly executed by McCourty and cornerback Marquice Cole along the sidelines in a home win over the Dolphins. On a deep ball from Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill intended for wide receiver Mike Wallace, McCourty made a great read on the play — while he was falling out of bounds, he broke up the pass, tipping the ball to Cole, who managed to stay inbounds and come away with the pick.

Worst moment: Much of it came back to team defense, but the loss against the Broncos in the AFC title game represented a low-water mark for not just the safeties, but the defense as a group.

By the numbers: 80 percent. McCourty, who is going into the final year of his rookie deal, earned a $3 million contract bump for the final year because he played 80 percent of his snaps through each of his first four seasons.

Money quote: ‘€œDevin is a great player. ‘€¦ I see that every day in practice. You really have to look Devin off. He’€™s really smart — he sees combinations, and sometimes you try to look him off and he knows you’€™re trying to look him off so he doesn’€™t take it. There are other times he gets great jumps on the ball. The longer he’€™s been at safety, the better he’€™s done. He’€™s really been a consistent player for our team. He knocks balls away, covers guys in man coverage and then has that range in the deep part of the field where he truly plays like a safety.’€ — quarterback Tom Brady on McCourty, Oct. 30

Read More: Adrian Wilson, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Kanorris Davis Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Patriots players discuss pick plays, season coming to an end 01.20.14 at 3:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The day after the Patriots fell to the Broncos 26-16 in the AFC championship game it was a somber locker room at Gillette Stadium, where the players cleaned out their lockers and many said goodbye to teammates, some of whom likely will not be teammates again because of free agency and the general nature of the NFL.

A few players spoke with the media reflecting on both the season and Sunday’s game, with pick plays in the league being a main focus.

Here are a few quotes:

Devin McCourty

On the season coming to an end: “It’€™s always tough when your season ends in the playoffs, it just ends so fast.”

On the Broncos and their pick plays: “Each team is different, but they run that a lot and do a good job doing that.”

Steve Gregory

On what the the defense could have done better in the loss: “I wish we could’ve gotten off the field a little bit. Third downs we weren’t able to get off the field, they kind of pretty much moved the ball and chewed up a lot of clock. We would’ve liked to have gotten a turnover or two and given the ball back to our offense in good field position, even just forcing a punt. We weren’t able to, they were clicking. Peyton [Manning] was on his game. They are a good football team. It’€™s going to be a good game.”

Overall thoughts on the season: “At the end of the season there is only one team that is going to be happy. Every other team is going to go home and wonder what they could’ve done more of to accomplish their goals. I am proud of this group of guys. They played hard all year long. We had so much adversity that we overcame. By no means was it a bad season, we made it to the AFC championship and played a great team in the Denver Broncos and yesterday they were just a little bit better than we were. They made more plays than we did and they deserved it. At the end of the day we can hold our heads high. We played a heck of a year, the guys fought hard, you just have to learn from it, move on.”

On pick plays and what they’ve become: “The game has evolved to that with bunches and stacks with guys trying to create separation especially in man coverage and things like that. Receivers try and rub routes with picks like that, pick plays is what they are called — trying to create separation for guys so the quarterback can get the ball in there. It’€™s kind of become part of the game. To what extent it’€™s a flag or a penalty, I don’€™t know. It’€™s something you have to deal with and work through.”

Andre Carter

On pick plays in the NFL: “It’€™s football. It’€™s part of the offensive scheme, we understand that. Sometimes for defensive linemen like myself, the crack-toss play, it happens. You just have to prepare for it. Sometimes you get caught in the wrong place, but like I said it’s football. The league will review it and see what they can do to protect players.”

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Andre Carter on Wes Welker’s hit on Aqib Talib: ‘It was a nasty play’ at 1:21 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Much of the talk the day after the Patriots’€™ 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game has been surrounding the apparent pick play across the middle of the field early in the second quarter when Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker ran into Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, forcing him from the game with a knee injury.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave his thoughts on the play, calling it “one of the worst plays I’ve seen” in his press conference Monday morning.

Defensive end Andre Carter, a 12-year veteran, echoed his coach’€™s comments, speaking as the Patriots cleaned out their lockers at Gillette Stadium.

“When I saw it, as a play in general, Wes, was he doing his job? He was to a certain degree,” Carter said. “Do I think the hit could’ve been cleaner? Yes. I’ve been around a lot of football to see that. At the end the end of the day it was a nasty play, but we’€™ll see what happens and what the league does.”

Talib was not spotted in the locker room during the media availability period.

Other members of the Patriots defense didn’t have much to say on the play as they haven’€™t had a chance to see it on film.

“I haven’t seen it yet. I just remember being on the field and the collision happening,”€ safety Steve Gregory said. “I haven’€™t seen the replay or anything like that.”

Defensive captain and safety Devin McCourty also didn’t see the hit, but noted he’€™d probably go along with what Belichick said.

“€œHe’€™s seen a lot of football, so I’€™d probably go with what he says, I don’€™t know,”€ McCourty said. “I haven’€™t gotten a chance to watch it and a chance to look at it.”

McCourty noted it’€™s hard to say a player would deliberately hit another player with the intent to injure, but winning the game is always the ultimate goal.

“That’€™s tough to say someone would do that, but I think all of us out there would do anything to try and win that game,” he said.

Read More: Andre Carter, Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty, Patriots Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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