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New Patriots defenders contributing right away because of ‘their study and their work ethic’ 11.25.14 at 8:55 pm ET
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Akeem Ayers has already made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

Akeem Ayers has already made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

With long-term injuries to important players on the Patriots defense so far this season — Chandler Jones (out since Week 7), Jerod Mayo (season-ending injured reserve) and Sealver Siliga (short-term injured reserve designated for return) — the Patriots have had a number of players step up to fill the voids.

A few of those players weren’t even with the team at the start of the regular season.

On Oct. 21, linebacker Akeem Ayers and a seventh-round pick in next year’s draft were traded to the Patriots for a sixth-round pick, also in next year’s draft. Ayers played in that Sunday’s game against the Bears and recorded a sack and five tackles. In his four games with the Patriots, Ayers has recorded a sack in three of the four games.

On Oct. 28, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, along with a 2015 sixth-round pick was traded to the Patriots from Tampa Bay for a 2015 fifth-round pick. Casillas played in the Nov. 2 game against the Broncos and recorded three tackles, but has been most known for his contributions on special teams.

A day later, Oct. 29, the Patriots announced they had signed veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch. Branch also played in the Denver game that Sunday, and has been a major contributor in stopping the run.

With all these new players joining the team and learning a new system, it wouldn’t be a surprise for each player to take a few weeks to settle in, but that hasn’t happened — the players have fit in right away. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia says a lot of that has to do with the leaders the Patriots have on defense, and to go along with the work ethics of all three new players.

“Specifically talking about [Casillas and Ayers] I will say those guys work extremely hard,” Patricia said on Tuesday’s conference call. “They are true professionals as far as their ability to study, learn the game, understand what we are doing from the systems standpoint and have matriculated into what we are trying to do defensively fairly quickly from their study and their work ethic. They have really fallen right in line. We have great guys on defense.

“I say this all the time, but I can’€™t stress to you the importance of the leaders that we have on defense — Vince Wilfork and Dont’€™a Hightower and Devin McCourty and [Darrelle] Revis and [Brandon] Browner, the list goes on. The way that these guys approach and attack each week to try to learn the opponent, study their film and prepare themselves to play every week is really a tribute to their professionalism. I think that’€™s something that can’€™t be understated. As a group, these guys work extremely hard to get ready to compete every week. We have a difficult task every week and this week is no different than the next. It’€™s a very huge challenge for us to get ready to handle.”

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Read More: Akeem Ayers, Alan Branch, Jonathan Casillas, matt patricia
Patrick Chung making most of second chance with Patriots 11.04.14 at 10:15 pm ET
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When Patrick Chung signed with the Patriots in early April there weren’€™t very high expectations based on the way his first tenure with New England went from 2009-12.

However, Chung has made the most of his second opportunity with the Patriots — starting all nine games at safety and playing a major role in the Patriots’€™ defense, which currently is allowing 22 points a game, good for 12th in the NFL.

The 2009 second-round pick by the Patriots was not re-signed after his rookie contract in 2012 and instead signed with the Eagles. Things didn’€™t work out the way he would have wanted there — playing in 12 games, finishing with 43 tackles in 2013 before being released after just one season.

The Patriots wasted no time giving Chung another chance — re-signing him just a month after he was released by the Eagles.

“I thought he played pretty well for us in the time that he was here,”€ coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday on a conference call. “I think kind of the circumstances of the 2012 season just didn’€™t work out as well as probably we all hoped they would for a combination of reasons.

“Pat and I talked about that last year after he was released from Philadelphia. Pat and I talked about that. We had a long conversation about a lot of things. Not saying it was anybody’€™s fault, it was just one of those things that didn’€™t work out. But we both felt that we’€™d want to try to give it another shot. We were able to come to an agreement on that, contractually.”

Chung had an outstanding spring and training camp — looking better each day –€“ and won the starting safety job next to Devin McCourty. He’€™s continued to make the most of his second opportunity, as per Pro Football Focus he has played 486 of a possible 636 snaps (76 percent) through nine games.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, matt patricia, Patrick Chung,
Bill Belichick says learning D isn’t ‘any issue at all’ for Brandon Browner 10.10.14 at 9:57 am ET
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Bill Belichick is always teaching and planning. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick is always teaching and planning. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick insisted Friday morning that Brandon Browner is not having any issues picking up the Patriots’ defensive system.

On Thursday the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reported that the defensive back signed to a three-year, $16.8 million deal in March was held out of Sunday’s game against Cincinnati not because of physical issues but because Browner was having difficulties picking up the schemes of Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

But on Friday morning, asked how Browner was coming along and progressing, Belichick said, “good.”

Pressed as to whether Browner was held out of Sunday night’s game because of difficulties in learning the system, Belichick said that’s not a problem and hasn’t been since Browner arrived in New England.

“I don’t think the learning part of it is any issue at all… hasn’t been since he’s been here,” Belichick said.

Browner missed practice Thursday due to what the team is calling an ankle injury. Browner and Brian Tyms were eligible to return against the Bengals after each served four-game suspensions. With Tyms, it appeared to be matter of numbers in the receiving corps. With Browner, the Herald said it was a matter of readiness.

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Browner’s former teammate, told the Herald in June that the Seahawks gave their corners just one responsibility. Sherman hinted that adding more responsibilities could make him less effective.

Browner may be in the same boat as Darrelle Revis – playing best when he is allowed to play his own game, as WEEI.com’s Chris Price wrote last week. Revis played primarily man coverage against Bengals superstar receiver A.J. Green and posting his best game in a Patriots uniform.

The other factor that figured in slowing Browner’s return to action is the healthy return of Alfonzo Dennard Sunday night after missing the previous three games with a shoulder injury.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Browner, matt patricia, New England Patriots
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
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