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Logan Mankins, Rob Gronkowski providing blueprint for new generation of college prospects 02.20.14 at 10:41 pm ET
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UCLA's Xavier Su'€™a-Filo has found a model in Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins. (AP)

UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo has found a model in Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins. (AP)

INDIANAPOLIS — Two members of the Patriots who have managed to carve out impressive careers over the last few seasons are offensive lineman Logan Mankins and tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Their work hasn’t gone unnoticed by the next generation of college prospects. UCLA offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo name-checked Mankins on Thursday at the combine, calling Mankins a “bad-ass” who provides a perfect blueprint for any aspiring offensive lineman.

“I watch a lot of Logan Mankins, left guard from the New England Patriots. I think Logan, he was a high draft pick, but he’€™s physical. He’€™s a bad-ass,’€ Su’€™a-Filo said when asked if there was anyone he models his game after. ‘€œHe started from Day 1 in New England, and I love how nasty he is — something about his game that I really try to implement.’€

Mankins is a good model for the 6-foot-3, 304-pound Su’a-Filo for a couple of reasons. One, Mankins has established himself as one of the best offensive linemen in the league because of his longevity, technique and all-around bad-assery. And two, Su’a-Filo started his college career as a tackle, has moved to guard, a position he’€™ll have to master at the NFL level. Mankins was a tackle in college, but has made his bones as an elite-level guard in the NFL.

“You know, it wasn’€™t too bad,” Su’a-Filo said of the transition he’€™s already undergone. “My offensive line coach, with our young offensive line, he had me take a lot of reps just to stay fresh. When I was a true freshman in 2009, I started at left tackle. So it wasn’t real foreign to me. After a little while of not playing it, all it took was a few extra reps in practice for me to feel comfortable there again, and I think it felt good playing both positions.”

As for Gronkowski, he’€™s served as a model for Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, a 6-foot-5, 265-pounder who had 75 catches the last two seasons with the Hawkeyes. Fiedorowicz has a couple of New England connections working for him: one, Iowa’€™s offensive line coach the past two seasons was Brian Ferentz, who spent the previous season as the Patriots tight end coach, working with both Gronkowski and Hernandez. And two, D.J. Hernandez — the brother of ex-Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez — was a graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes last year.

Fiedorowicz said Thursday he’€™s watched a lot of tape of Gronkowski and Hernandez.

“I like watching Rob Gronkowski, someone I look up to. He can dominate both the line of scrimmage and down the field. That’s who I kind of want to be like,” Fiedorowicz said of Gronkowski. “I was watching him on film. I always used to watch him in games, but when you see it break down as film it’€™s even more impressive.

“He plays hard every down, every play. He finishes guys. He uses his body in the passing game. He’s just an impressive guy. It’€™s the way he plays the game,” he added. “That’s what I’€™m shooting out to be. I proved it a little bit in the Senior Bowl and some of my times — maybe Saturday, I can show them my speed.”

Read More: 2014 combine, Aaron Hernandez, Brian Ferentz, C.J. Fiedorowicz Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
History of Patriots and franchise tag 02.17.14 at 10:56 am ET
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We’ve written about this a couple of times to this point in the offseason, but with the franchise tag window open Monday, it’s worth taking another look at how the Patriots have used the tag in the past and what happened as a result:

2002: Adam Vinatieri, contract extension
2003: Tebucky Jones, traded
2005: Adam Vinatieri, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2007: Asante Samuel, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2009: Matt Cassel, traded
2010: Vince Wilfork, contract extension
2011: Logan Mankins, contract extension
2012: Wes Welker, played it out and later departed as a free agent

To be clear, there are two types of franchise tags:

The non-exclusive franchise tag: The most common designation. Under this agreement, the player must be offered a one-year deal based on the average of the non-exclusive franchise numbers at his position over the last five seasons and their percentage of that year’€™€™s salary cap or 120 percent of his prior year’€™€™s base salary, whichever is greater. If a player does get a non-exclusive franchise tag, they can talk with other teams, but if he signs an offer sheet with another club, his team has five days to match the offer. If the offer is not matched, his team will receive two first-round picks as compensation from the signing team.

The exclusive franchise tag: With this designation, the player receivers a one-year offer from his own team that’€™€™s the greater of the average of the top five salaries at his position once the restricted free-agent signing period has ended or 120 percent of his prior year’€™€™s salary. A player cannot negotiate with other teams with the exclusive franchise tag.

Teams have a two-week window, starting Monday, to tag their players.

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel, Logan Mankins, Matt Cassel Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Thoughts on Julian Edelman, Aqib Talib and franchise tag 02.05.14 at 5:20 pm ET
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Aqib Talib could be in line for the franchise tag. (AP)

Aqib Talib could be in line for the franchise tag. (AP)

We’€™re now less than two weeks away from the start of the franchise tag window — it begins on Feb. 17 and lasts for two weeks — and while New England has a dozen free agents, it’€™s believed the Patriots have two seriously taggable possibilities this year in wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Aqib Talib.

Both were essential elements to the success of the 2013 team, but both were playing on one-year contracts. While the deal Talib signed this past offseason was more of a “show-me” contract (one signed in the wake of a depressed market for free-agent cornerbacks), Edelman was more or less forced to take New England’€™s one-year offer, as it was one of the only ones that was extended to him.

However, as a result of their work in 2013, the pair could enter the market poised to make a sizable piece of change. But would the Patriots be inclined to let them walk without a new deal to keep them in place? The franchise tag is a hammer the teams have over potential players when it comes to retaining their services, and history tells us that the Patriots have never been shy about using it, whether it’€™s a way to keep the player around Foxboro for one more season, a way to keep a player under their umbrella while still negotiating a deal, or as a sign-and-trade maneuver. And it could certainly come into play when talking about Talib and Edelman.

To be clear, there are two types of franchise tags:

The non-exclusive franchise tag: The most common designation. Under this agreement, the player must be offered a one-year deal based on the average of the non-exclusive franchise numbers at his position over the last five seasons and their percentage of that year’€™s salary cap or 120 percent of his prior year’€™s base salary, whichever is greater. If a player does get a non-exclusive franchise tag, they can talk with other teams, but if he signs an offer sheet with another club, his team has five days to match the offer. If the offer is not matched, his team will receive two first-round picks as compensation from the signing team.

The exclusive franchise tag: With this designation, the player receivers a one-year offer from his own team that’€™s the greater of the average of the top five salaries at his position once the restricted free-agent signing period has ended or 120 percent of his prior year’€™s salary. A player cannot negotiate with other teams with the exclusive franchise tag.

Here’€™s a look at how New England has utilized the franchise tag, and what has happened as a result:

2002: Adam Vinatieri, contract extension
2003: Tebucky Jones, traded
2005: Adam Vinatieri, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2007: Asante Samuel, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2009: Matt Cassel, traded
2010: Vince Wilfork, contract extension
2011: Logan Mankins, contract extension
2012: Wes Welker, played it out and later departed as a free agent

As we said, the tag can be a relatively easy way for a team to retain the services of a player, even for a year, but in the case of both Talib and Edelman, it would come at a serious price. While the franchise tag numbers are not expected to be announced until after the 2014 cap number is officially set (usually in late February or early March), according to former agent Joel Corry — who is an excellent follow on Twitter for all things cap related — the projected franchise tag value for cornerbacks in 2014 will be $11,256,000 million. At wide receiver, the price is even steeper — $11,539,000. (For a complete look at Corry’€™s projections click here.)

With all this in mind, we want to get your take: If you could only use the franchise tag on one — Talib or Edelman — who would you tag and why?

If you had to choose between franchising Julian Edelman or Aqib Talib, who would it be?

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Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Aqib Talib, Julian Edelman, Logan Mankins Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Offensive line 02.03.14 at 1:46 pm ET
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Logan Mankins is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line. (AP)

Logan Mankins is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line. (AP)

With the Patriots done for the year, we’€™ve got an end of the year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks. Now, it’s the offensive line.

Depth chart: T Nate Solder, G/C Dan Connolly, G/T Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, T/G Marcus Cannon, T Sebastian Vollmer, G Josh Kline, G/T Will Svitek, G Chris Barker, OT Markus Zusevics. (C/G Braxton Cave, T Jordan Devey and OL R.J. Mattes are all practice squadders.)

Overview: It was an up-and-down season for the New England offensive line. On many occasions, the group was able to do an excellent job buying time for quarterback Tom Brady to deliver the ball, as well as create sizable holes for backs like LeGarrette Blount to run through over the course of the season. However, there were times — and part of this was due in part to breakdowns in other areas, as well as injury — that the line struggled to hold up. Over the course of the season, the Patriots faced some of the best defensive front sevens in the league, and while they were frequently up to the challenge, there were times where they had issues, particularly in pass protection. Some of that can be blamed on the fact that, as a group, the offense was still searching for an identity and struggling with the acclimation of so many new faces. But don’t tell that to the offensive line, a group that continued to hold itself to an almost impossibly high standard regardless of the opponent and situation.

As a group, it was clear that health was an occasional issue. Vollmer had a leg injury that limited him to eight games, while Solder missed a game because of a head injury. As a result, the Patriots had to rely on versatility and depth to get them through some of the toughest points of the season. After Solder went down late in the loss to the Dolphins in Miami, Kline stepped in at left guard and Mankins played left tackle. The same combo faced the Ravens the following week, and held up impressively in the face of the stern Baltimore pass rush.

In the end, much of the mental toughness that eventually became the calling card of the 2013 Patriots came from the offensive line, and, by extension, Mankins. Now the second most senior member of the roster in terms of time in a New England uniform (he was drafted in 2005, and while there have been guys who have been in the league longer — Andre Carter, Isaac Sopoaga — only Brady has been with the Patriots longer than Mankins), he’s the leader of the line, and one of the premier leaders in the locker room. After nine years in the league, Mankins — who was named a second-team All-Pro for the fifth time in his career in 2013 — continues to set the standard.

Going forward, this group will be interesting to watch. The Patriots have a decision to make on pending free agents Wendell and Svitek, and Vollmer faces a return from a leg injury that prematurely ended his 2013 season. And then, there’s the question of how the group will react to the retirement of longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who leaves the franchise after 30-plus seasons. Stability, consistency and continuity have always been the watchwords of the New England offensive line, and as it enters a new era without Scarnecchia, the transition to new coach Dave DeGuglielmo will be something to watch in 2014.

Best moment: It’s shortsighted to measure an offensive line purely on sacks alone, but their work against the Falcons was pretty impressive — Brady wasn’t sacked in a September win in Atlanta. (The only game all season he wasn’t sacked.) The stretch drive the group was able to put together over the final three regular season games and the first playoff game, clearing the way for Blount to carry the offense on his back, particularly against the Bills, Ravens and Colts.

Worst moment: Probably the singular worst series for the New England offensive line was coming out of the half for the start of the third quarter against the Jets on Oct. 20: the first six offensive plays for the Patriots went as follows: sack/interception/four-gain gain/five-yard gain/no gain/sack. It’s tough to lay all that at the feet of the New England offensive line, but by Mankins’ own admission, it starts up front, and the line wasn’t able to get the job done. By the end of the quarter, a 21-10 lead turned into a 27-21 deficit, and ended up in an overtime loss. For more from Mankins on that breakdown, click here.

By the numbers: 1,218. The number of snaps played by Wendell this season, tied with Brady for most on the team.

Money quote: “I’ve coached a lot of tough guys. I don’€™t think there’€™s any that I would put ahead of him. Maybe some on that level, but none ahead. Anytime Logan needs help getting off the field, you feel like it’€™s something serious. Usually he ends up just staying out there, but for him to need assistance getting off the field was definitely a concerning moment. Then when [head athletic trainer] Jim Whelan came back and told me, as you mentioned, after the next series that Logan was back, I was a little bit surprised to hear that. He’€™s a tough individual, tough-minded, physically and mentally tough.”€ — Bill Belichick on Logan Mankins

Read More: Dan Connolly, Dante Scarnecchia, Dave DeGuglielmo, Josh Kline Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger: Logan Mankins still one of best guards in NFL 01.15.14 at 10:01 pm ET
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Logan Mankins will be playing in his third AFC Championship Game on Sunday. (AP)

Logan Mankins will be playing in his third AFC Championship Game on Sunday. (AP)

FOXBORO — Nothing gets a retired offensive lineman more cranked up than talking about a throwback like Patriots left guard Logan Mankins.

Brian Baldinger, who spent 13 seasons in the league as an offensive lineman and is now working as an analyst for NFL Network, said Wednesday that Mankins is one of the top 5 guards in the league, and added that even after nine years in the NFL, there are few linemen who are able to get a good, consistent push like the Fresno State product.

“€œI think he’€™s a very good technician, which starts with his footwork,”€ Baldinger said of Mankins. “He never seems to be out of position — in pass between pass protection, he always seems to be between his man and Tom. He doesn’€™t seem to get turned real quickly or get beat quickly. He went out to offensive tackle this year — not many guards can go out there and protect the blind side of Tom the way he did for as well as he did. Technique is what travels.

“œHe’€™s a very good puller, so that means A) you have to get out of your stance, and be athletic. And B), you have to be able to get around and through a lot of traffic. Which isn’€™t easy to do. That speaks to footwork and athletic ability. And then, sometimes, there’€™s just nothing there. You have to know when nothing is there and you have to clean it out and recognize when, on the run, when there’€™s nothing there. Or, it’€™s ‘€˜Do I try to make something?’€™ or ‘€˜Do I bulldoze my way?’€™ or ‘€˜Is my guy somewhere in there?’€™ Some guys can’€™t see that. He seems to be able to see all of that.”

The 31-year-old Mankins, in his ninth year in the league, has played both left guard and left tackle this season with the Patriots, and was honored for his work with a second All-Pro nod, as well as his sixth Pro Bowl berth. He’€™s the senior member of New England’€™s offensive line — since entering the starting lineup in 2005, Mankins has helped New England finish in the top 10 on offense eight times, including a seventh-ranked offense in 2013. That includes a suddenly resurgent running game that has allowed the Patriots to head into Sunday’€™s AFC title game with a dangerous running attack.

Over the years, Mankins has made no secret of his love of run blocking. Baldinger noted that with more and more pro-style passing offenses at the college level, it’€™s hard to find younger offensive linemen who know proper run-blocking technique — but that was never a problem with Mankins.

“There’€™s not many guys who are great run blockers in this league anymore because they don’€™t run block in college,”€ Baldinger said. “I know Logan did at Fresno, but he had a good head coach at Fresno. I just think he’€™s still a good run blocker. He still takes guys off the ball.

“He’€™s still really good in space. When they run a pull to the left, out in space to the weak side — a toss crack or whatever because — he’€™s really good out in space. They pull and run really, really well. He still does that well.”

Mankins and left tackle Nate Solder are two of the biggest reasons Baldinger calls the Patriots a ‘€œleft-handed’€ team at this point in the postseason.

“œI don’€™t see any slowdown in his game to say, ‘€˜OK, who is better than him right now.’€™ I think it’€™s very difficult to say that,’€ he said of Mankins. ‘€œI think there are some tackles who are clear cut, because tackles do more than guards. I think that him and [right guard] Dan Connolly, it’€™s a good setup, because I think your guard makes your tackle better and your center better because they work so well together, between him and Dan. They’€™ve had a lot of changes in that line to, on the right side at tackle. I just think that the fact that he lines up and plays every snap, kicks out and plays tackle when they need to in a pinch with no loss of technique, that’€™s impressive.

“When [quarterback] Tom [Brady] drives the ball, when he has to make a ‘€˜stick’€™ throw, whether its a seam route to Julian [Edelman] against Cleveland in the final minute and he has to drive that ball, you have to be able to step into that throw to do it and you need a clean pocket up front to do it,’€ Baldinger added. ‘€œYou have to set short. A lot of guys give up ground and still stay between their man and the quarterback. They don’€™t do that here. They set short up front so that Tom can step up into that throw, and that’€™s really important to them and what they do offensively.”

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Logan Mankins on Patriots running game of late: ‘We have blocked better’ at 6:39 pm ET
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Logan Mankins will be playing in his third AFC Championship Game on Sunday. (AP)

Logan Mankins will be playing in his third AFC championship game on Sunday. (AP)

FOXBORO — There is no denying the Patriots running game has been on a roll the past few weeks, as in the last three games the team has rushed for 545 yards and 10 touchdowns. With that has come all of the headlines for the running backs, particularly LaGarrette Blount.

But Blount wouldn’t be making the cover of Sports Illustrated and getting all the added publicity without the work of the Patriots€™ offensive line.

“I think we have blocked better,” guard Logan Mankins said. “I think the backs have run better. It is just a combination of everything. It is not just the line, it’€™s the tight ends, the fullback. On those big, long runs you need receivers blocking. So it is just a total group effort and I think we have all done a better job.”

Even with the great play of the offensive line, Blount has been a monster rushing for 431 yards in his last three games with eight touchdowns. Leading the way for Blount on a number of his runs, Mankins has noticed a steady improvement for the 27-year-old over the course of the season.

“I think for the linemen I think his speed has surprised us but we saw that a couple times earlier in the season,” said Mankins. “It is just opportunities. He has gotten enough opportunities here lately and the holes have been pretty good. He does a great job of having patience and finding the hole first of all. He doesn’t overrun it. He doesn’t cut it too soon. He gives you time to get your block made and he hits it going forward. The most impressive thing is the way he’€™s just dragging people. No one is just arm tackling. He is not going down with just one guy. He is always gaining yards, even after contact, which is very impressive. It is great to have a guy doing that.”

Some say offensive linemen prefer run blocking over pass blocking, but for Mankins it doesn’t matter.

“As long as we’€™re scoring points we’€™re happy,” the 31-year-old said. “You can’€™t win if you don’€™t score. If we’€™re throwing the ball well we’€™re happy, if we’€™re running the ball well we’€™re happy as long as we score.”

The leader of the offensive line also discussed the closeness of the unit as a whole — one that allowed just 40 sacks in the regular season and led the way for the Patriots’€™ rushing attack, which averaged 129 yards a game.

“We get along good. Linemen usually do,” said Mankins. “We hang out a lot together. We do a lot of things together. We enjoy being around each other. Am I the leader of the line? I don’€™t know, you can ask those guys. I know we are a tight knit group. We always pull for each other. We enjoy being around each other.”

Mankins is in his ninth season in the league, all coming with the Patriots, and he will be playing in his 17th playoff game Sunday afternoon and seeking his third Super Bowl appearance.

“It has been a long ride,” Mankins said. “When you say nine years it seems like a long time but it has flown by. That is the one thing about this game, you can say you are in the game a long time but it feels like it’€™s gone like this. It has been fun. I’ve enjoyed it. I just hope it continues for a few more years and hopefully a successful one this year.”

Read More: AFC Championship, LaGarrette Blount, Logan Mankins, Patriots Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Patriots Wednesday injury report: Aaron Dobson (foot) DNP, Logan Mankins (ankle) limited 01.08.14 at 4:38 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Logan Mankins was one of nine players limited at outdoor practice Wednesday at Gillette Stadium while Aaron Dobson was the only one not to participate, per the Patriots official injury report released Wednesday afternoon.

Mankins injured his ankle in the season finale against the Bills but returned to practice on Tuesday and was again on the field on Wednesday in the bitter cold. There was no injury report required by the NFL on Tuesday while Wednesday’s listing was the first one of the week.

In a bit of encouraging news, Aqib Talib (hip), Marcus Cannon (ankle), Rob Ninkovich (ankle) Josh Boyce (ankle) and Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) were not on the injury report at all after appearing on the last injury report before the game against the Bills.

Devin McCourty is still listed as limited with a concussion. Brandon Spikes (knee) was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Monday.

Here is Wednesday’s complete report:

Did Not Practice
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)

Limited Participation
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
S Devin McCourty (concussion)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
LB Dane Fletcher (groin)
S Steve Gregory (finger/knee)
OL Logan Mankins (ankle)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)
RB Shane Vereen (groin)

Full Participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)

Read More: Aaron Dobson, Indianapolis Colts, Logan Mankins, New England Patriots Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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