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Dont’a Hightower on his third NFL season: ‘I have more on my plate and that’s how I want it’ 09.24.14 at 4:52 pm ET
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Dont'a Hightower

Dont’a Hightower

FOXBORO — Third-year linebacker Dont’€™a Hightower is off to a tremendous start this season.

After three games Hightower is tied for the team-lead in sacks with two and is third on the team with 10 tackles. He isn’€™t a traditional inside linebacker — as he has shifted to outside linebacker in passing downs — both dropping back into coverage as well as rushing the passer.

“If me rushing is going to help us win, that’€™s what it is,” Hightower said. “€œI feel like me rushing on either side with [Rob] Ninkovich and Chandler [Jones] that opens up the opposite side — them sliding to one side gives the one-on-one matchup that we want for those two guys to go to work.”

As a rookie he started in 13 games finishing with four sacks. Last year when Jerod Mayo went on injured reserve Hightower became the defense’€™s signal caller from the inside linebacker position, starting in 14 of the 16 regular season games. With Mayo back this year, this has freed him up to do a number of different things.

“I have more on my plate and that’€™s how I want it,” said Hightower. “€œI am able to rush, to drop, to cover –€“ zone, man –€“ I am doing a lot. When I am doing that the offense doesn’€™t know if I am dropping into coverage or rushing so that opens up space for everyone else.”

Hightower has been a main reason why the Patriots defense is ranked third in the entire NFL in total defense and the best against the run. They are allowing 16.3 points per game, tied for fourth in the league.

The 2012 first-round pick acknowledges he grew a lot last season as a player when Mayo went out for the year.

“It forced me to step up a lot,” he said. “Not having those two big anchors that have been there for a long time. It all helped me in the situation that we were in –“ it’€™s not usually like that. I mean sometimes we get those reps at practice where you pull a couple of starters. It made me grow up a lot faster and more into a leader.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Dont'a Hightower, matt patricia, Patriots defense
Why you should expect to see more and more of Nate Ebner in Patriots’ secondary 09.16.14 at 4:29 pm ET
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Nate Ebner

Nate Ebner

From the moment he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft, Nate Ebner has always been looked at as a special teams player who could play safety in a pinch.

That approach may be changing in the minds of Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. In addition to playing 20 of 28 special teams snaps, Ebner – the former MVP of the US junior rugby squad – saw action in 14 of 66 defensive snaps playing free safety.

Is that a sign of growing confidence and growth in the 25-year-old Ebner?

“I’€™d say it’€™s yes on both accounts,” Belichick said Tuesday, before beaming about Ebner’s development. “We certainly have a lot of confidence in Nate. We’€™ve seen Nate grow and improve. I would probably put him in the, not the all-time top, but maybe in the top five percent all-time of players that I’€™ve coached from where they were in college to how they grew in the NFL.

“Nate had almost no defensive experience at Ohio State. He’€™s adapted in a relatively short amount of time€“ going into his third year so it’€™s really two-plus years ‘€“ adapted very well to the knowledge of our defense, to the understanding of opponents’€™ offenses, to instinctiveness and reading and recognition at a position that he plays right in the middle of the field, which is among the most difficult, inside linebacker and safety where the volume and the number of things that can happen are the greatest, where you have to really see everybody on the field, all 11 guys. His development has really been outstanding.”

Ebner was a “preferred walk-on player” for Ohio State and did not start playing football until 2009, but quickly became their most valuable on special teams. Even though he played only a handful of plays from scrimmage at nickel back as a back up, Ebner was a special teams standout.

In 2011 he was voted the team’€™s most inspirational player, receiving the Bo Rein Award, and the team’s best special teams player, earning the Ike Kelley Award. He was a three-time Big Ten Conference All-Academic honoree. In his 36 career games he had 30 tackles from 2009′€“11.

On Ohio State’s Pro Day, he had an unofficial 4.47 40-yard dash time, and 39-inch vertical jump. He also bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times, ran the 60-yard shuttle in 10.99 seconds, recorded a broad jump of 10 feet 8 inches, and had a short-shuttle time of 4.04 seconds and a 3-cone drill time of 6.59 seconds.

The raw talent was there. It was the football technique that needed work and Belichick was confident that with the right training and teaching, Ebner had the brains and desire to pick up his defensive system.

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Read More: Brian Flores, matt patricia, Nate Ebner, New England Patriots
With coaching vacancies in Foxboro, these names could be in mix for Patriots 01.23.14 at 1:44 pm ET
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With the recent exodus of coaches from the Patriots€™ staff — linebackers coach Pepper Johnson, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and tight ends coach George Godsey have departed — here are seven individuals could be the mix in Foxboro for either a new job with the Patriots or a promotion within the franchise.

Jim Schwartz — The former Lions head coach has been tight with Bill Belichick for several years. He worked with Belichick in Cleveland — the turkey sandwich story has been told and retold a million times (scroll down for the full tale) — before moving on to become a defensive coach for the Ravens and Titans. He was the head coach in Detroit from 2009 through 2013. Based on his work as a linebackers coach, he could be a candidate to take over for Johnson.

Greg Schiano — One of a handful of former college coaches Belichick cultivated a relationship with — Schiano was at Rutgers before moving to the Buccaneers, who fired him this month — Schiano reportedly is in the mix for the Browns head coaching job. If he doesn’t land with Cleveland, he could make his way to Foxboro to work on the defensive side of the ball. (One thing to remember when considering Schwartz and Schiano — Belichick has been very kind in the past to former head coaches who need a one-year, transitional job as assistants before they jump back into working as a coordinator or head coach. See Dom Capers.)

Brian Daboll — Daboll is already in the system, having returned last year to work as a vaguely defined “offensive assistant.” We know he had his fingerprints on several aspects of the offense in 2013 — for what it’€™s worth, during training camp, he was working extensively with the offensive line as well as Tim Tebow. (Remember him?) He wasn’t named to replace Scarnecchia as the offensive line coach but could move into Godsey’€™s role with the tight ends, or continue to serve as an unofficial offensive adviser.

Jerry Schlupinski — The Patriots have a track record of promoting from within, and if they go that route, Schlupisnki — a coaching assistant who joined the franchise in 2013 — could be their guy who has an expanded route in 2014. His pedigree is similar to personnel chief Nick Caserio and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in that he made his bones at John Carroll University in Ohio — in fact, he played alongside them as a collegian. (He also worked at JCU as a coach.)

Joe Judge — Currently the assistant special teams coach, he could be another candidate to be promoted from within to take over one of the available positional vacancies. Judge has worked under special teams coach Scott O’€™Brien the last two seasons and has an impressive resume, having spent time as an assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama.

Patrick Graham — After spending a season as the defensive line coach, Graham could be shuffled back to the linebacker spot to take over for Johnson. (He was linebackers coach in 2011.) Then they would hire someone else to take over at defensive line. The Yale product joined the organization as a coaching assistant in 2009 and has worked as a defensive assistant as well as a linebackers and defensive line coach.

Matt Patricia — Graham’€™s coaching flexibility could also open up an expanded role for Patricia. It’€™s conceivable the Patriots could have Patricia handle a position grouping in addition to his current work as a coordinator. (They’ve done it for several seasons on the offensive side of the ball, where both Bill O’€™Brien and McDaniels have served the dual role of quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.) Patricia also has experience coaching the linebackers, as he was there from 2006-10.

Read More: Brian Daboll, Dante Scarnecchia, George Godsey, Greg Schiano
Matt Patricia knows his D can’t run from past: ‘We obviously have to play better than we did the first time’ 01.14.14 at 9:23 pm ET
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Matt Patricia knows the ugly numbers from Nov. 24. Thirty-seven carries, 224 yards for Knowshon Moreno. Forty-eight carries for 280 yards and a 5.8 yards per carry for the Broncos as a team.

It was the single game that symbolized New England’s inability to stop the run all season. They finished last in the AFC in run defense, allowing 134 yards per game. Only Atlanta and Chicago allowed more this season.

The Broncos knew they could exploit the Patriots, who were without Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Jerod Mayo. On Sunday, the Patriots will be without another starter, run-stopping linebacker Brandon Spikes. That’s four key cogs out of the mix in the Patriots run defense.

The Patriots didn’t want Peyton Manning beating them so the Broncos nearly used the running game to do the job. Doesn’t it figure the Broncos might use the same strategy Sunday in Denver? And if that unfolds, what would have to change?

“We obviously have to play better than we did the first time around against these guys,” Patricia said. “I don’€™t know if we want to challenge Denver to anything. I think we are trying to stop them the best we can in both the pass and the run. Certainly they did a great job against us in the run game and blocked us very well. It is certainly something we need to go out and perform better in than we did last time.

“We want to get back to using our techniques and being strong up front and try to control the line of scrimmage, which is really the goal in the game of football every week. That battle in the trenches is a huge one and something that they obviously had success with last time we played them, Like I said, [in] the run game and they have done a great job here since our game and recently moving through the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs of really having a good run game with all the backs.

“Like I said earlier with Moreno and Ball both being very productive carrying the ball. That is certainly a huge challenge for us and something we need to improve on from the last game. On top of it the record setting passing game that they have behind it. We have a huge challenge in front of us.”

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Read More: Denver Broncos, Knowshon Moreno, matt patricia, New England Patriots
Wes Welker appears to be still playing ‘at a very high level’ 11.19.13 at 12:43 pm ET
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Upon landing back in New England early Tuesday morning, the Patriots coaching staff immediately turned their focus to the Denver Broncos. And for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, that means finding ways to deal with a player they know a lot about.

Wes Welker is in his first year with the Broncos after accepting a two-year, $12 million offer to play with Peyton Manning.

Welker hasn’t disappointed. He leads the Broncos with 61 receptions through 10 games. He is averaging 10.6 yards per catch and his nine touchdowns tie him with Demaryius Thomas for second on the team behind the 10 of Julius Thomas.

“Certainly when you see the film, Wes obviously is very productive in their offense and the system, where obviously Peyton Manning does a great job of running the offense, running the system, and getting the ball around to all the receivers,” Patricia said during a conference call Tuesday. “But [you] certainly see Wes do the things that he does well: be able to use his quickness and get open on the shorter and intermediate routes, and [we'€™ve] also seen him push the vertical also, and get downfield and see some balls that have been thrown downfield to him also.”

Whether Welker actually plays against his former team Sunday night at Gillette is in doubt. Welker went to one knee after taking a big hit in Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Chiefs in Denver. He sustained a concussion after a 20-yard run-and catch in the fourth quarter, a trademark of the receiver during his days in New England.

He is undergoing concussion tests and protocol this week and won’t practice until Friday at the earliest.

“All the good things that he does he appears to still be doing, and doing them at a very high level, so certainly [he] is a huge challenge for us, good player like that when they get him in the slot and be able to try to take advantage of whatever coverages you’€™re playing against him and allow him to really use some of his quickness to work off leverage and just try to get open,” Patricia said.

Added Bill Belichick, “I think Wes looks like Wes, like the player we’€™ve seen. Most of the time he lines [up] in the slot and he plays like we’€™ve all seen him play around here for the time he was here.”

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Read More: Denver Broncos, matt patricia, New England Patriots, nfl
Matt Patricia on loss of Vince Wilfork: ‘The next guy has to step up and perform’ 10.01.13 at 4:02 pm ET
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Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Tuesday that when it comes to replacing veteran defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, the team will rely on the “next man up” approach to pick up the slack.

“Certainly, he’€™s someone that we rely on heavily,” Patricia said on a conference call with the media Tuesday afternoon. “But like in all situations and cases, the situation is what it is and the next guy has got to step up and perform to the best of his ability and go out there and obviously execute whatever it is we’€™re asking him to execute.

“Certainly injuries are an unfortunate part of the game of football, but that is what it is, and we’€™re obviously going to expect whoever’€™s out on the field to perform to the highest level of their ability. But certainly Vince Wilfork is a phenomenal player for us and certainly someone who we rely on week in week out to really attack each opponent at a truly very professional level.”

The loss of Wilfork will be felt on and off the field. The Miami product, in his 10th season in the league, is one of the most well-respected players in the New England locker room. The 31-year-old All-Pro brings a certain level of work ethic, leadership and gravitas that few can match.

“Obviously, first and foremost, Vince is just a phenomenal player both on and off the field for us,” Patricia said. “Defensively — from his leadership to his ability to his work ethic, which is such an incredible example, all of which all of our guys look at and try to model themselves after. Certainly from that standpoint, he’€™s phenomenal as a professional and someone that takes his craft very seriously and works extremely hard to improve himself every day. It’€™s a great work ethic for everyone to see, whether you’€™re a younger player or an older player that’€™s maybe just gotten to our program to really take a look at and obviously see someone like Vince prepare himself week in week out.”

Here are some of the highlights from the rest of Patricia’s Q&A with the media:
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Read More: matt patricia, Vince Wilfork,
Matt Patricia on Matt Ryan: ‘This guy is really cerebral’ 09.24.13 at 4:17 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots aren’t facing Peyton Manning this week, but ask defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and he’ll tell you they’re up against another quarterback who can beat you with his brain alone if you’re not prepared.

The Patriots take on Matt Ryan and the 1-2 Falcons this Sunday night in Atlanta. The Falcons have lost to the Saints and Dolphins on the road, a pair of 3-0 teams to start the season. Ryan is completing 68.1 percent of his passes, has thrown seven touchdowns, been intercepted twice and has a quarterback rating of 100.4 in three games.

“Obviously you are talking about a tremendous quarterback here, who is showing great poise and leadership out there running the offense,” Patricia said. “This guy is really cerebral, very smart quarterback and player who is able to go out, diagnose the defense and get the ball to the proper people. [He can] handle the offensive scheme and the check system down there where he can change the play at the line of scrimmage based on the defensive look.”

The Patriots are 3-0 themselves but the combined win-loss record of their opponents is 3-6. Patricia’s defense is second in the NFL this season behind Seattle in points allowed, giving up just over 11 points per game. They will be up against their stiffest challenge in containing Ryan and his receiving corps of Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas.

“[They] get the ball to the running backs, get the ball to the tight ends, out to the wide receivers,” Patricia said of Ryan. “He really uses the audible system if he has to along with just the whole tempo of the offense in general. The guy is just a really good, phenomenal quarterback. [He is] really accurate, has good arm strength, like I said, recognizes defensive coverages very well, and I think just a really tough guy. A competitive, tough player who can stand in the pocket and make those hard throws if pressure is in on him. If he gets hit, he can still stand in, get the read, get the proper route progression and get the ball where it has to go. So, he’€™s just a very, very talented quarterback.”

As for the stats that show the Patriots as the second stingiest defense in the league in the all-important points allowed category, Patricia says that won’t mean a thing when they step on the field against a Falcons offense that is heads and shoulders above the Bills, Jets and Buccaneers.

“Well I think for us, we approach every week just trying to get better and improve,” he said. “It’€™s the very beginning of the season, and we don’€™t pay attention to a lot of those things except for trying to win the ball game and putting our team in the best position to win every time we go out on the field. That’€™s all we’€™re really trying to do. We’€™re trying to get better than we [were] last game, play better than we did last week, and obviously this week is a huge challenge for us with Atlanta and the different problems that they present. They’€™re a very well coached offense, great quarterback, excellent running backs, good players both at the wide receiver and tight end positions, along with a big offensive line up front, which does a great job of protecting the quarterback and running the ball. They’€™re just a very well coached team with head coach Mike Smith, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. It’€™s just a very big challenge and we’€™re just trying to improve every week to get better.”

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Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Dirk Koetter, matt patricia, Matt Ryan
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