|In Focus: Examining Patriots swap of Jeff Demps for LeGarrette Blount||04.27.13 at 4:39 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots brought the Jeff Demps era to an unceremonious end on Saturday, shipping the Olympic silver medalist and a seventh-round pick to Tampa Bay for running back LeGarrette Blount.
The 5-foot-7, 175-pound Demps, who was signed late last summer by the Patriots but suffered a (ahem) season-ending injury that caused him to spend the year on injured reserve, made noise recently about possibly splitting time between track and football. This likely didn’t go over well in New England — last month, Demps explained what he would say to Bill Belichick if the Patriots’ coach asked him about doing both football and track.
“Listen coach, I want to do both, but in order for me to get to where I want to be on the track and field side, it’ll take a full year of preparation,” Demps told Sports Talk Florida. “And after the season, if you guys are willing to let me come back — you know, probably midseason — and work out and train and get ready for the season, I’ll be able to do that. If not, then I guess I’ll just focus on running.”
With that — in addition to the recent pickup of veteran man Leon Washington — it’s hardly a surprise that the Patriots decided to make the deal they did. It’s also not a surprise that New England dealt him to Tampa Bay: Greg Schiano has been in charge of the Bucs for just over a year, but he and Belichick have been pals dating back to Schiano’s time at Rutgers, and they’ve shown a proclivity to work out deals in the past. The Patriots picked up former Tampa Bay tight end Kellen Winslow off the scrap heap last year for a cup of coffee, and New England and the Bucs swung a deal that brought cornerback Aqib Talib to the Patriots last season.
As for how this impacts New England, Blount is an intriguing addition to an already full-house backfield. At 6-feet and 247 pounds, the 26-year-old Blount is a big, physical back in the mold of Brandon Bolden. (As a result, if he’s healthy coming into the 2013 season, he could battle with Bolden for playing time.) He’s a between-the-tackles runner who put up some good numbers — as a rookie in 2010, he rushed for a career-best 1,007 yards on 201 carries, adding six touchdowns.
However, his production has dropped off dramatically over the last two seasons, to a point where he had 151 yards on 41 carries this past season in Tampa Bay. (To be fair, some of that could be because of the recent emergence of Doug “Muscle Hamster” Martin, who got the bulk of the carries last year and finished the season with 319 carries for 1,454 yards.) This spring, he signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Bucs that contained no guaranteed money.
Ultimately, in the eyes of the Patriots, it allows them to get rid of a meddlesome issue involving Demps in exchange for the chance to build some depth at running back with no long-term financial ramifications. A win-win in New England.
FOXBORO — The Jeff Demps era in Foxboro is over before it ever really began.
The Patriots have dealt the former Olympic track star and a seventh round pick (No. 229 overall) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for running back LeGarrette Blount. The deal leaves New England with two seventh round picks.
Ironically, Demps made his Patriots debut in the preseason last August against Tampa Bay after being signed as an undrafted free agent.
Demps skipped the 2012 NFL Combine and Draft in favor of preparing for the Olympics. However, he attracted interest from NFL teams after the Games, and agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the New England Patriots on Aug. 17, 2012. Two weeks later, he was placed on injured reserve and missed the entire 2012 season.
Demps injured his knee in the final preseason game and then expressed a desire to continue his track career career while at the same time playing in the NFL, presumably leading to the Patriots’ desire to trade him.
As for Blount, in three seasons with Tampa Bay, he has 1,939 yards and a 4.5 yards per carry average with with 13 touchdowns. But Blount achieved notoriety for what he did in college while playing for Chip Kelly at Oregon.
The Ducks opened their 2009 season with a 19–8 loss to Boise State. Blount ended the game with negative yardage (-8) and points (-2 from a safety). Shortly after the end of the game, Blount punched Boise State defensive end Byron Hout, knocking him to the ground. Blount then hit teammate Garrett Embry, who was attempting to restrain him, in the helmet.
As he was escorted to the locker room, Blount confronted Boise State fans who were jeering him after seeing the video replay. Blount claimed one Boise State fan brandished a chair at him and another punched him. Two police officers and Oregon assistant coach Scott Frost restrained Blount and escorted him into the locker room.
For more, visit the Patriots team page at weei.com/patriots.
|Jeff Demps talks more about prioritizing track over football||03.25.13 at 1:01 am ET|
Don’t pencil Jeff Demps in as part of the 2013 Patriots just yet.
The returner/running back, who spent the 2012 season on injured reserve as he got acclimated to life in the NFL, went on a Florida radio station over the weekend and sounded like someone who is more focused on track than football at the moment.
Speaking with Sports Talk Florida, the former Olympic sprinter talked about track being his top priority at the moment, and told host David Baumann he was willing to come back to football sometime “midseason,” once the track season was done, adding that midseason was “three, four, maybe five games.”
“Listen coach, I want to do both, but in order for me to get to where I want to be on the track and field side, it’ll take a full year of preparation,” Demps said when he was asked by Baumann what his pitch to Patriots coach Bill Belichick might be when it comes to doing both football and track.
“And after the season, if you guys are willing to let me come back — you know, probably midseason — and work out and train and get ready for the season, I’ll be able to do that. If not, then I guess I’ll just focus on running.”
And if that was unacceptable to the Patriots?
“If I’m not able to do football anymore, it’s kind of like I’m just opening up another chapter of my life — and it’s on the track and field side,” Demps said. “Like I said, I’ll be a rookie in the game, and I still have a lot to learn, even though I did it for four years in college and throughout high school. I still haven’t seen or ran with any other big-name guys or the top guys in the world. I’m looking forward to it, I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
However, it would appear that the Patriots have given themselves a small measure of insurance with the recent acquisition of Leon Washington, a veteran who has been considered one of the league’s best return men over the last decade and could bring some stability to an occasionally erratic New England return unit.
While Demps has made noise about doing both track and field and football in the past, it sounds like he’s clearly made track a priority over football, and that can’t make the folks in Foxboro too happy. The team has a year invested in him — he signed a three-year, $1.451 million deal in late August — and the fact that they stashed him on injured reserve last season with a (ahem) leg injury instead of cutting him loose speaks to just how much they think of his abilities.
Here’s the interview with Demps and Justin Gatlin:
|Resetting depth chart in Patriots backfield||03.19.13 at 2:10 pm ET|
We hit the reset button on the Patriots’ defensive back depth chart the other day, and with a few changes over the first week of free agency at the running back spot, we’ll do the same thing now for the New England backfield. With the understanding that things can change dramatically between now and the start of the season, here’s a look at the Patriots’ depth chart at running back as it stands right now.
Stevan Ridley: After finishing the 2012 season with 290 carries, 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns, if he stays healthy the LSU product figures to be the closest thing to a lead back again for the Patriots in 2013.
Shane Vereen: Displayed enough of a multidimensional flair late in the year to render Danny Woodhead expendable (Woodhead signed with the Chargers as a free agent). Vereen figures to take over many of the responsibilities that fell to Danny Woodhead over the last few seasons, particularly when it came to serving as the third-down and changeup back.
Leon Washington: More of a third-down back and option in the passing game than a traditional between-the-tackles runner, Washington — who projects as more of a special teamer at this point — will likely provide depth for Vereen, at least as things stand right now.
Brandon Bolden: The undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss had one terrific game (he rushed for 137 yards in Buffalo against the Bills), but wasn’t used much late in the season for several reasons, including a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He finished the season with 56 carries for 274 yards, and right now, projects to be Ridley’s backup as the big, between-the-tackles back.
Jeff Demps: A bit of a wild card at this point because of his reported interest in working part-time in track and field (we got into his situation here), he could serve as a multipurpose threat in the same mold as Washington if he does end up sticking around.
James Develin: The Brown product was a fringe guy last season, spending time with both the Patriots and Bengals before being added to the New England practice squad in September and the active roster in December. At 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, probably more of a fullback type.
Tony Fiammetta: The fullback was just reinstated to the active roster on Monday after spending all of 2012 out of the game.
|Notes on Sebastian Vollmer, Julian Edelman and how the Leon Washington signing might affect Jeff Demps||03.18.13 at 1:41 pm ET|
Three midday notes on the Patriots and free agency:
With tackle Jake Long finally secured by the Rams, this should start a series of signings among the rest of the league’s elite free agent offensive linemen, including Sebastian Vollmer. Vollmer, who is probably the Patriots best remaining free agent, will be able to measure himself against the contracts signed by Long (a four-year deal that could be worth up to $36 million, with $16 million guaranteed at signing) and Jermon Bushrod (a five-year deal that could be worth upwards of $35.9 million, with $17.7 million guaranteed). Two things about Vollmer and his situation: One, given his injury history, he’ll probably get a little less than either one of those two tackles. (At the very least, the Patriots will build in playtime incentives to try and make sure he’s on the field as often as possible.) And two, you have to figure that the Dolphins are now very interested in Vollmer, considering that they lost out to the Rams for Long’s services. Miami still has money to spend under the cap, and would also love the opportunity to weaken a divisional rival.
After Vollmer, Julian Edelman could be next priority for the Patriots, at least when it comes to retaining their own free agents. You have to figure that Edelman’s value to the Patriots increased slightly in the wake of Wes Welker‘s departure, but at the same time, I can’t imagine New England would break the bank for Edelman. (Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports Tweeted Monday afternoon: Would not rule out a return by WR Julian Edelman to Pats. NE still searching for receivers. Market getting thin.) A tough player who has added value on special teams, he could definitely see an uptick in playing time in the wake of Welker’s departure — we all remember how he suddenly got a boost at the start of the 2012 season. Edelman has struggled with injury over the last two seasons, but if he can stay healthy, he figures to be a good fit in New England in 2013, even with the addition of Danny Amendola.
One guy who has kind of gotten lost in all the hubbub this past week is Jeff Demps — specifically, what the signing of Leon Washington means for the former Olympic track star. Despite the fact that he’s said he wants to try his hand at both track and football, the Patriots likely aren’t all that enthused about the idea of him returning to the track later this month. The franchise has a year invested in him — he signed in late August — and the fact that they stashed him on injured reserve last season with a (ahem) leg injury instead of cutting him loose speaks to just how much they think of his abilities and what he could bring down the road. (That and the three-year, $1.451 million contract he signed with the Patriots last August.) However, the addition of Washington could provide New England with some insurance in case they decide to part ways with Demps. A storyline worth following as we get closer to spring workouts.
|Revisiting Patriots’ rookies: Measuring overall impact of this year’s group||01.22.13 at 9:04 pm ET|
This year’s group of Patriots’ rookies collectively made more of an impact in their first season than any other group of first-year players since the 2003 class. (While the 2010 draft class will likely have a greater long-term impact, the 2012 and 2003 groups were asked to do more in their first full season in the NFL — for more on that breakdown, check out the comparison I did on each draft class here.) With their first season now done, let’s take a player-by-player look at how each one of them did.
Chandler Jones: The 6-foot-5, 220-pound defensive end — the first of two first-round picks made by the Patriots last spring — started out on a great note. With eight games in the books, the Syracuse product was leading the team with six sacks (including two in a loss to the Seahawks) and 11 quarterback hits. He also had three forced fumbles (including one in the first quarter of his first game as a professional), and was named AFC Rookie of the Month and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. (We wrote about him as a possible candidate for the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award because of his fast start.) But over the last eight regular-season games, Jones had no sacks, no forced fumbles and one quarterback hit. A sizable portion of that was likely due to an ankle injury he suffered in November that left him on the shelf for a stretch, and probably caused a dip in his play when he did return. (While he wasn’t overwhelming statistically in the regular-season finale against Miami, he did play very well against the Dolphins, looking aggressive while doing a good job setting the edge.) He indicated Monday that he could be facing offseason surgery for his ankle issues.
Dont’a Hightower: After being slowed by a hamstring problem in September and October, the Alabama product became a steady and dependable member of New England defense, and ended his rookie season with 75 tackles (51 solo), four sacks, nine quarterback hits and three passes defensed. He managed to grow into a complimentary piece at linebacker, alongside veterans Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. No reason to think that the 6-foot-2, 270-pound defender won’t be a consistent presence at linebacker for the Patriots for years to come.
Tavon Wilson: The 6-foot, 210-pounder out of Illinois started strong, with four interceptions in his first 10 games, as well as a 10-tackle performance in an October win over Denver that likely marked the high-water mark of the season for the defensive back, who certainly surpassed the expectations of many who initially called him a second-round reach. However, the acquisition of Aqib Talib affected his playing time maybe more than anyone else — the trade for Talib meant the Patriots moved Devin McCourty from corner to safety, and left Wilson on the sidelines. (Wilson was still part of an occasional rotation in sub packages, but his overall snap count drastically decreased.) Overall, he finished the regular-season with 48 tackles (32 solo), but one of the most impressive things you can say about Wilson and what he brought to the field was a nose for the ball: in addition to his four picks, he had six passes defensed and a pair of fumble recoveries.
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.
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