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Reports: Pats sign former Texans RB Cierre Wood, former Ravens WR LaQuan Williams 11.05.13 at 12:34 pm ET
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Cierre Wood signed with the Patriots on Tuesday. (AP)

Cierre Wood signed with the Patriots on Tuesday. (AP)

FOXBORO — The Patriots have added depth to their corps of running backs by signing free agent Cierre Wood, according to a report from NESN.com.

The running back was spotted at full pads practice on Tuesday morning on the upper practice fields outside Gillette Stadium, one day after working out with the team, according to ESPNBoston.com. Wood was cut by the Texans for violating team rules two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun and Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com, the Patriots also signed former Ravens wide receiver LaQuan Williams. Williams was on the field Tuesday, wearing No. 16.

The team also worked out Justin Francis and Jake Ballard, both of whom were cut at the end of the summer.

Francis was waived/injured, then signed an injury settlement to become a free agent. He suffered an ankle injury during the preseason. Ballard signed with the Cardinals after his workout with the Patriots. The tight end struggled with rehab from ACL surgery during the summer with the Patriots.

He was active for 10 games and had three sacks. The Patriots also brought wide receiver Greg Orton and linebacker Marcus Dowtin for workouts. Orton has most recently spent time with the Broncos. He went undrafted out of Purdue in 2009. Dowtin went undrafted out of North Alabama in 2012. He was previously with the Bills.

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DE Justin Francis and WR Quentin Sims among latest cuts for Patriots 08.31.13 at 12:14 pm ET
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Justin Francis

Justin Francis

The Patriots have released defensive end Justin Francis, linebacker Ja’Gared Davis and safety Kanorris Davis, according to Field Yates of ESPN. The biggest surprise of the three is Francis, a defensive end who showed some promise as a rookie in 2012, finishing the season with seven quarterback hits and three sacks. The 24-year-old, a 6-foot-4, 270-pounder out of Rutgers who had 10 tackles total last season, will likely get picked up by someone between now and the start of the regular season.

In addition, the Patriots released wide receiver Quentin Sims. The 23-year-old Sims played two seasons at Georgia Tech (2009-10) before transferring to Tennessee-Martin in 2011. The 6-foot-3, 202-pounder had 86 receptions for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, and gained a small measure of fame this summer as the favored target of Tim Tebow — the two hooked up on a pair of touchdown passes in the preseason finale Thursday night against the Giants. Sims, who has practice squad eligibility, is certainly a candidate to be retained in that capacity providing he makes it through waivers.

And Shalise Manza-Young of the Boston Globe is reporting that the Patriots will cut offensive lineman Josh Kline and defensive back Justin Green, but the team would like to retain them for the practice squad as well. Kline is a 6-foot-3, 295-pound offensive lineman who was signed as a rookie this spring out of Kent State. Meanwhile, Green is a 5-foot-11, 195-pounder out of Illinois who signed with the Patriots as a rookie free agent in July who made 29 starts over his final three seasons, registering 76 total tackles, 13 passes defensed, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. (Green saw action at running back as a true freshman in 2009 and was not moved to cornerback until two weeks before the 2010 season.)

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

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Updating Patriots positional battles: LeGarrette Blount, Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson all starting strong 08.10.13 at 1:28 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount

In May, we took a look at some of the positional battles we were most excited to see in Patriots training camp. Now, almost two weeks into camp and with one preseason game already in the books, we take a look at how some of those battles are shaping up.

Running back: Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount. We didn’t include Stevan Ridley Shane Vereen and Leon Washington on this list because it’s pretty clear their spots are secure at this point. While the battle between Bolden and Blount was a little underwhelming through the first two weeks of camp (due in large part to the fact that there has been relatively little hitting, and physical, between-the-tackles yardage is the presumed specialty of the Bolden-Blount combo), Blount really opened some eyes on Friday night with a team-high 101 rushing yards — including a 51-yard touchdown run on a slo-mo reverse — and now appears to have the edge on Bolden. Bolden did get some reps late in the game (and also picked up a questionable running-into-the-kicker penalty) and finished with four carries for 14 yards. Bolden is coming back slowly from offseason surgery, but he does need to have a good week to answer Blount’s strong performance in the preseason opener.

Defensive tackle opposite Vince Wilfork: Kyle Love, Armond Armstead, Tommy Kelly. We put this list together the day Love was cut, so we can effectively eliminate him. Meanwhile, Armstead has a murky future because of a recent surgery. But even if they were on the field in Foxboro on a regular basis, they’d be hard-pressed to replicate the work of Kelly, who has emerged as the clear leader at the position. Kelly started at the defensive tackle spot opposite Wilfork on Friday and looked impressive, caving in the pocket and even getting to the quarterback (along with Chandler Jones) to force an early sack and a fumble. There might be a temptation to overuse him because he’s playing so well, but the 32-year-old has shown no signs of wear, at least at this point. The only question is who is competing to work as Kelly’s backup, a group that includes Joe Vellano and Marcus Forston. Forston popped up on the radar a few times Friday night, but right now, the job is Kelly’s to lose.

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Revisiting Patriots’ rookies: Measuring overall impact of this year’s group 01.22.13 at 9:04 pm ET
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Chandler Jones was part of an important rookie class for the Patriots. (AP)

Chandler Jones was part of an important rookie class for the Patriots. (AP)

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.

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Matt Patricia on the shutout: ‘Obviously, you’re happy with the effort’ 12.31.12 at 12:59 pm ET
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Rookie Justin Francis had a career-high three sacks in the Patriots' first shutout in over three seasons. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Rookie Justin Francis had a career-high three sacks in the Patriots’ first shutout in over three seasons. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — In light of the team’s first shutout in over three years, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was pleased with the 28-0 result Sunday over the Dolphins. But, on Monday, he was even happier for the players.

“I think absolutely you’re always looking for improvement,” Patricia said. “Obviously you’re happy with the effort and excited for the players. They’re the ones who did all the work on the field to achieve certain goals, but certainly when you go back and look at the film, there’s a lot of things we need to do better, improve on and work on and that’s really what we’ll focus on, obviously more so than just the scoreboard there. But, you know, it was a good effort by everybody out there.

“I think guys really tried hard and did things we asked them to do and we’re pleased with that, but there are certainly some areas of improvement that you can really take a look at and say, ‘We really have to do some things better here because they just weren’t good enough.’”

The last time the Patriots blanked an opponent was Oct. 18, 2009 – the 59-0 thrashing of the Titans at Gillette. A lot has been said and written about the lack of defense in the three seasons since. But the team has turned over most of the defensive roster since then, with the notable exception of Vince Wilfork. Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower have become household names.

But Sunday was also a coming out party for rookie defensive lineman Justin Francis, who had a career-best three sacks.

“Coach [Bill Belichick] hit it right on the head as far as the great thing about what we do is obviously a team effort,” Patricia said. “When you look at the bottom line stats and you see one particular player with high numbers, I don’t really think that tells the whole story. If you take a good look at the game and what actually happened during a particular play, you’ll see that there’s a lot of other factors that contribute to maybe a player making a play on that particular situation. You can single out anybody with stat numbers yesterday but if you take a look at the group effort, it was really what we were looking for.

“You can certainly see situations where the guys in coverage in those situations did a really excellent job to allow the pass rush time to get to the quarterback and then you can see situations where the pass rush was able to get to the quarterback, which allowed the cover guys to not have to cover as long. So, I really think it was a good, collaborative effort, along with the same thing for the run game, where one guy may be making a particular tackle or a particular play, but what you don’t see is the other guy that has three guys on him at one time [and is] eating up a bunch of blockers [which] frees up another player. That’s the beauty of the sport and that’s really what we strive for in a team effort so I think that’s what we’re talking about when we have successful plays like that, where we get a good particular play but really there’s a lot of other factors that go into it.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Bill Belichick: Jermaine Cunningham will have some ‘catching up’ to do 12.26.12 at 4:26 pm ET
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Jermaine Cunningham stands ready to return to action this weekend for the Patriots. (AP)

Jermaine Cunningham stands ready to return to action this weekend for the Patriots. (AP)

FOXBORO — Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham returned to Patriots practice on Wednesday and will be eligible to return to game action this Sunday against Miami in the regular season finale. But Bill Belichick made it clear Wednesday that his return to the starting lineup is hardly automatic.

Cunningham was suspended Nov. 26 for four games by the NFL for violation of the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. At the time of his suspension, Cunningham was coming on stronger than anyone along the defensive line not named Vince Wilfork. He had six tackles against the Jets on Thanksgiving, with 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hits in 11 games before his league-mandated break.

“I think any time a player comes back after an absence for awhile – whatever the reasons are don’t matter – that there’s a combination of catching up mentally to what’s going on but also catching up from a technique standpoint and also communication and reaction,” Belichick said.

“Really, no matter how much a player runs around a track or does situps or whatever, it’s not the same as when the other 21 guys are out there hearing plays called, reacting to what happens on the other side of the play, communicating, making adjustments with your teammates. There’s just no way to do that other than to do it. I think that’s important for any player that’s coming back after missing some time, regardless what the reasons are. That’s definitely something that they need to do and they need to do it with their teammates. It’s something their teammates need to have happen as well as the individual player who wasn’t there himself. All that is part of it.”

Certainly, the bright side of the Cunningham suspension has the increased experience of defensive ends Justin Francis and Trevor Scott, especially Francis, an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers. Francis got experience he otherwise likely would not have seen on the field.

“It’s certainly a positive for some of the players who get those opportunities,” Belichick said. “If they can take advantage of them and use that opportunity to enhance their role or show through their performance that they’re ready to handle more responsibility, it’s a good thing for them and ultimately it can be a good thing for the team to be able to actually see those guys do it, see those guys improve, watch them get more reps in practice and in the games and get more confidence in them and know that their execution level is higher from that. I’d say that’s accurate.

Cunningham’s return at Wednesday’s walk-through was part of perfect attendance inside Dana-Farber Field House as the team worked out without pads and helmets.

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Justin Francis: ‘I like getting after the quarterback’ 11.29.12 at 2:02 pm ET
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Pats rookie Justin Francis could get significant playing time with the suspension of Jermaine Cunningham. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — In the wake of the four-game suspension for Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, the first name mentioned as a possible replacement was veteran Trevor Scott. And for good reason. The 28-year-old Scott has NFL experience and was brought in to provide the just the kind of depth the Patriots need right now.

But do not overlook Justin Francis.

He is yet another product of the Greg Schiano Rutgers program on the roster. The 23-year-old possesses the type of explosive speed (4.9 in the 40) – if undersized (6-foot-4, 270 lbs.) – the Patriots were looking for when they signed him as an undrafted free agent in the spring. The Patriots projected Francis as a depth guy on the outside and he has made big strides in his rookie year.

He has moved ahead of third-round pick Jake Bequette on the depth chart, as Bequette has played in just two games this season while Francis has appeared in five, including five of the last six games for the Patriots.

What makes him such an attractive option to the Patriots as a potential replacement to the pass-rushing Cunningham?

“I like getting after the quarterback,” Francis said. “Wherever coach wants me to play, I’m going play. If it’s quarterback, it’s quarterback. If it’s cornerback, it’s cornerback but I don’t think I’ll be playing any of those positions. Whatever coach wants me to play, and however I can get to the quarterback is all that matters to me.”

Francis was activated for the Denver game on Oct. 7 but did not play. He made his NFL debut the next week and played in four straight games for the Patriots, as the team looked to give Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Chandler Jones rest.

“It’s somewhat of a climbing [process], been working pretty hard this whole time and trying to take it a day at a time and follow after the guys I have to follow after. I’m just trying to do the best thing for me and the team.”

“Every day is an opportunity to get better and anything can happen. The way I take it is you have to be prepared, prepared for whatever happens. By being prepared, you’re going to help the team. That’s all I’m doing right now, listening to Vince, listening to coach and listen to my position coach and listen to all the older guys who are guiding me along the way.”

Francis is most appreciative of the family atmosphere he’s been brought into and is thriving in.

“It’s been good,” Francis said. “We’ve grown a pretty good bond. We’ve spent time outside the stadium and a helluva lot of time in here. The bond is growing and we’re getting tighter as a unit. That’s all you can really hope for and appreciate.”

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