|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.
|Andrew Luck replaces Tom Brady on AFC Pro Bowl squad, Logan Mankins, Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork also out||01.21.13 at 7:38 pm ET|
Tom Brady is again politely declining a trip to Hawaii to play in the NFL’s greatest exhibition game.
Andrew Luck had one of the best seasons any rookie quarterback has ever had in living up to his No. 1 overall draft billing coming into the 2012 season.
On Monday, the Indianapolis Colts rookie was rewarded with a trip to Hawaii to replace Brady in the in the Pro Bowl. Brady was excused from the Pro Bowl with an undisclosed injury.
Brady was selected to his eighth Pro Bowl game in late December but hasn’t played the last six times he’s been selected. He played in Feb. 2002 after winning the Super Bowl and he played in Feb. 2005 after the 2004 season but hasn’t played since, as he has been designated as injured and has been replaced.
It appears Brady won’t be alone in turning down the leis in paradise. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports Wes Welker, Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork have also taken their names out of the Pro Bowl due to various injuries. Linebacker Jerod Mayo and special teams captain Matthew Slater were also selected but remain on the Pro Bowl roster.
As for Luck, through Week 9, Luck had thrown for the same number of yards as his predecessor, Peyton Manning, did in his first season in Denver.
His legend began to truly grow in Week 13 against the Lions. Luck and the Colts were trailing 33-28 with 1:07 left. He was able to get to the Lions’ 14 yard line and faced a fourth down with three seconds left. Luck then threw a screen pass to Donnie Avery who got free and ran in for the winning score.
The win gave Luck his eighth on the season – the most wins by a rookie quarterback drafted first overall in NFL history, as well as his fifth game-winning drive on the season, tying Vince Young and Ben Roethlisberger for the most by a rookie quarterback. On Dec. 23, 2012, Luck broke the record for most passing yards by a rookie against the Kansas City Chiefs, throwing 205 to bring his season total to 4,183. Cam Newton held the previous record with 4,051 yards.
Luck advanced the Colts, one season removed from 2-14, to the the playoffs, where they lost to the Ravens in Baltimore.
|Jerod Mayo and friends explain ‘The Patriot Way’ and what it means now||01.16.13 at 4:05 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The “Patriot Way’ means different things to different people, even inside the Patriots locker room.
So while, Ravens wide receiver was boldly predicting this year’s AFC championship ‘we’ll make it different, we’re gonna win,” Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo we’re humbly talking about what it’s like to be a part of a team where the individual doesn’t matter.
“I think Coach [Bill Belichick] always talks about doing your job,” Brady said. “You do your job so that everyone around you can do their job. When people trust each other, then you can play with anticipation and confidence and ultimately go out there and play aggressively. There’s no really no secret to it. It’s just coach puts a lot of pressure on us in practice every day to perform at a high level. When we don’t, we certainly hear about it. When you show up to work every day, you better have your game face on because you’ll end up on the low light film the next morning. I think the guys bring that attitude every day and over the course of a long season, it results in enough wins to get us into the playoffs, give us a chance.”
Brady pointed to past Patriots greats who helped teach him the ‘Patriot Way’.
“I think I was one of those guys that had to learn that too,” he added. “Tedy Bruschi took me aside and Willie McGinest took me aside and Lawyer Milloy took me aside. I think that’s part of the responsibility as a veteran player that you learn from these experiences and you try to convey the message to some of the younger players so they don’t have to learn the hard way. A lot of times you have to learn the hard way in life.
Wilfork echoed Brady’s old-school teachings from great Patriots of the recent past.
“I learned a long time ago with Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinnest, Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, I learned from some of the best that played around here,” Wilfork said. “The first thing that comes to your mind is that you can’t be selfish playing here. It is not about you. It is about the team and if you buy into that you will be very successful, and that is the one thing that I think this organization has had for a long time. Guys that come in here that aren’t selfish and they put the team first because it is a team sport. It definitely is a team sport. You need everybody working on the same page. If you have one or two that are not you can be in big trouble. That is the Patriot Way. We put team first and we win as a team and we lose as a team. I have won a lot of games in my career being here and I wouldn’t change it for nothing.”
The other irony Wednesday was comment from Jerod Mayo, on a day when it snowed in the morning making the rush hour commute difficult. He reminded everyone of Adalius Thomas without dropping his name. It was three years ago when Thomas, Randy Moss, Derrick Burgess and Gary Guyton were sent home for being late to an 8 a.m. meeting on the morning of a snow storm.
“The ‘Patriot Way’ to me, starts at the top with the Kraft family,” Mayo said. “Not only being a good football player, but being a good person and falling in line. If you want to be a good football team, you’ll never be stuck in rush hour traffic. You are the first one here and the last one to leave. I think guys really buy into that, guys that come from other teams, I think they follow the lead of the bulk of this team and it has worked well here.”
For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots. WEEI 93.7FM will broadcast the AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Ravens on Sunday, January 20 at 6:30 p.m.
|Jerod Mayo on AFC championship: Ravens ‘deserve to be here, and so do we’||01.14.13 at 2:51 am ET|
FOXBORO — Jerod Mayo wants no talk about comparisons between this year’s Ravens and Patriots teams and the two teams that squared off 12 months ago on the same Gillette Stadium field they will square off on next Sunday for the same prize – a trip to the Super Bowl.
“I don’t like talking about last year’s game because these are two completely different teams, two completely different teams,” Mayo said. “Look at the personnel, look at the guys that played in last year’s game then look at the teams now. You look at the coaches, look at the game plans, look at the records and stuff. These are two completely different, two completely different years. We’re focused on this year and focused on now.”
Indeed, Jim Caldwell is now calling the Ravens’ offensive plays now, as he replaced Cam Cameron a month before the season ended. With Brandon Ayanbadejo causing a firestorm with his rants against the Patriots in the fourth quarter, there figures to be more hype this week between the Ray Lewis defense against the Tom Brady offense.
“To be honest with you, I really don’t pay attention to the media and the hype of games,” Mayo said. “Baltimore obviously deserves to be in the AFC championship game. They have a good team; good offense, good defense and good special teams. They deserve to be here and so do we. Hopefully, it will be a good game.”
Mayo laughed when asked if he were secretly preparing to face Peyton Manning in the AFC title game before Saturday’s Ravens’ upset.
“Is Brady playing Manning this week? Oh,” Mayo joked.
“It’s like they’re in our division,” Mayo said. “We play those guys every year. It’s always a good game. Those guys are physical, great team. It’s always a good time when you’re playing against another good team. Those guys, they bring it every week.
“It’s always huge to play at home. We love playing at home. The fans here are great. It’s always great not having to get on the airplane. We just love playing at home in front of our plans. We’re not into comparing teams.”
|Brandon Spikes: ‘Either go hard or go home’||01.08.13 at 5:25 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Brandon Spikes has seen the playoffs with the Patriots from a couple of different perspectives, both equally disappointing and painful.
He desperately wants the chance to finally finish one successfully.
“Postseason is what it’s about,” said the second-round pick of the Patriots in 2010 (62nd overall). “Either go hard or go home. It’s that simple. So, definitely looking forward to this. It’s everything we’ve built on in terms of physicality and they’re coming out trying to run the ball and we want to establish the dominance early.”
“It is postseason. We’re going to be ready no matter what. We’re expecting the unexpected so we’re definitely going to be prepared.”
Spikes was on the 2010 team that suffered a shocking 28-21 loss to the Jets in the AFC divisional round after thumping them 45-3 on a Monday night several weeks earlier. He was also on the team last season that came so close against the Giants in the Super Bowl, a game in which he made a team-leading 11 tackles.
With Jerod Mayo in the background making faces, Spikes was asked about last year and being so close, and if it motivates him right now.
“Why do you have to bring that up? Come on,” Spikes said with a good-natured smile. “I’m trying to forget about that. Like I said, of course, everybody feels like we came up short but that’s part of the game. That’s part of football. We just have to come and do whatever we can not to let that happen again. We had a great day today and looking forward to tomorrow and trying to get better and get that edge.
“I approach the postseason like, ‘That’s it.’ If we don’t come out and play well, we’re going to be at home, plain and simple, watching the next game. That’s a terrible feeling. We just have to come out and execute.”
This year, Spikes has had a breakout season, second on the team to Mayo in tackles with 128. He’s also been nursing a sore knee and ankle. But the week off helped.
“I feel great,” Spikes said Tuesday. “I’ve been feeling great. But it’s postseason, it’s been a long year and nobody’s healthy, nobody is 100 percent. I just have to deal with it and try to get better every day.”
“You just have to leave it all out there or go home. It’s that simple. We want to come out and play well and definitely in the postseason at home. We’re looking forward to this game.”
They’ll need that attitude on Sunday when they take on Arian Foster, coming of a 140-yard, 32-carry game against the Bengals in the wild-card round.
“He’s an all-around player,” Spikes said. “He’s one of the emotional guys for them. He obviously gets the offense going and that team going. He’s definitely a big target for us and as far as the linebackers and entire front seven, we want to come out and contain him, definitely.”
|Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski lead a Patriots parade of Pro Bowlers||12.26.12 at 7:31 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Another playoff season, another record-setting campaign of offense and another season of heavy Patriots representation on the AFC squad at the Pro Bowl. Now, all the Patriots want more is to politely decline the invites for the seven players because they’ll be getting ready for the Super Bowl, as was the case last season.
Quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, left guard Logan Mankins, inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, special teams captain Matthew Slater, wide receiver Wes Welker and nose tackle Vince Wilfork have been selected to represent the Patriots and the AFC in the 2013 Pro Bowl.
“It is flattering to be selected, but I have always considered Pro Bowl recognition as a reflection of the team’s overall success,” Brady said. “I am happy for my many teammates who were selected again this year. I know that there are many others who are equally deserving of the opportunity. One day, I am sure I will have a greater appreciation for individual accomplishments, but this week my focus is simply on our preparations for Miami.”
Here is a sampling of other Pro Bowlers from Wednesday:
Wilfork: To be selected to my fifth Pro Bowl is amazing. I am honored and humbled. More importantly, I am proud that the other guys on my team are getting the recognition they deserve.
Mayo: It’s an honor to be recognized by my peers, the coaches and the fans, but it’s more of an honor to be one of seven of my teammates going to Hawaii, since that is a reflection of our overall team success. We’ll all enjoy the recognition tonight with our families and be right back to focusing on the Dolphins in the morning.
Slater: I am very thankful to be selected to the Pro Bowl. God has blessed me with this opportunity and the ability to stay healthy. I have a lot of people to thank. An honor like this does not come without your teammates next to you making plays. I want to thank coach Belichick for believing in me and taking a chance on me so I can live out my childhood dreams of playing in the NFL. Coach Scott O’Brien has pretty much changed my career with the way he teaches and coaches me. I also need to thank Joe Judge for what he has been able to teach me.
Mankins: We have a lot of guys who earned the honor this year, so that is pretty cool. It’s always nice to have your peers, coaches and fans select you to the Pro Bowl. Getting voted in is always a reflection of our team success. While I do appreciate this recognition, we need to get ready and keep our focus on the game this week against Miami.
No one on the Patriots has more experience accepting the honor than Brady. It is his eighth Pro Bowl selection (2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012). Mankins (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012), Welker (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) and Wilfork (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) are next at five apiece.
Gronkowski and Slater earned their second straight Pro Bowl invitations, while Mayo (2010 and 2012) also earned a Pro Bowl berth for the second time.
Gronkowski, Mankins, Mayo and Wilfork were selected as starters.
The Pro Bowl will be played on Jan. 27, 2013 at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, and the Patriots are hoping they won’t be available for the game because the Super Bowl is one week later in New Orleans.
Brady was named to the Pro Bowl for the eighth time, including four straight seasons. John Hannah (9) is the only Patriots player with more Pro Bowls than Brady. Brady enters the final week of the season with 4,543 yards passing and 32 touchdowns. Brady became just the fifth player in NFL history to reach 4,000 yards in five or more seasons and the fifth player with at least 30 or more touchdown passes in four seasons. Brady needs one touchdown pass in the season finale vs. Miami to extend his streak to 48 straight games with at least one touchdown pass and move past Johnny Unitas (47) for the second longest streak behind Drew Brees (54). He will also become the first NFL player to throw at least one touchdown pass in all 16 games for three consecutive seasons. Read the rest of this entry »
|Jerod Mayo: No worries about ‘rookie wall’ with this group of first-year players||11.20.12 at 12:32 pm ET|
FOXBORO — As a guy who played a lot of football in his first year in the NFL, linebacker Jerod Mayo knows all about the idea of the rookie wall.
Mayo played 881 snaps as a rookie in 2008 (according to Pro Football Focus), the highest total on a defense filled with veterans like Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi. He ended up winning the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
So when you ask him about the idea of fighting through a rookie wall — the idea that first-year players struggle with the longer NFL season — you can understand why he might be dismissive of the entire idea.
“I think these guys know,” Mayo said of New England’s rookie class. “These guys have old souls — like Chandler [Jones], he looks like an old man. He does a lot of ice tubs and things like that. Dont’a [Hightower], he’s doing well. We don’t really believe in the rookie wall that everyone talks about. We just talk about taking it one day at a time, and I think if you look at it that way and not try to look ahead at the schedule, you’ll be OK.”
Jones and Hightower remain integral parts of a Patriots’ defense that has started to take steps “in the right direction,” according to the veteran linebacker.
“But at the same time, we didn’t start the game like we wanted to. We haven’t put together four quarters in a game. We’re still striving to do that. [There’s] a lot of work to do,” Mayo said before practice on Tuesday. “We liked the way we finished the game, as well as the fact that we had two defensive touchdowns. That’s always good. Something to build on.
“Obviously, we’re a work in progress. We’re a work in progress. We have to take in one game at a time, day at a time. Like I said earlier, the consistency has to be there. We have to start games strong and finish strong.”
The Patriots will hit the road for a Thanksgiving night with the Jets. It’ll be the second time around for New England and New York this year — the Patriots eked out a dramatic 29-26 overtime win against the Jets on Oct. 21. It’s a dual challenge for New England, which not only faces a road test against a divisional rival, it’ll also come on a short week.
“It was a tough game,” said Mayo when asked about the first game against the Jets. “It came down to last couple of minutes — they’re a tough team. They always play us tough. A division team. They know us and we know them. It’ll be a tough battle.”
Cramming a week’s worth of work into four days is also a test, even against a familiar foe like Rex Ryan and New York.
“There’s a lot of film study in a short time. After that game we just played, it was really a Wednesday in our world. It’s tough, but at the same time, they’re in the same predicament we’re in,” he said. “[Familiarity] does help. But teams change. Teams change over a couple of weeks as far as scheme is concerned, so you have to do a lot of film study and a lot of studying up on things that they’re doing.
“Scheme wise, they’re doing different things. They’re healthier than the last time we played them. They have all their weapons. I don’t think they have any injuries, to be honest with you. They’re doing a lot of things well.”
With a win, the Patriots have an opportunity to put a hammerlock on the division — a victory would give them an 8-3 record and at least a three-game lead with five games to play.
“Obviously, you look at this as a chance to separate yourself from the rest of the pack,” Mayo said. “We handled the Bills, and now, this is a big game for us to kind of distance ourselves from the rest of the pack.”
2013 PATRIOTS DRAFT PICKS
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