|Countdown to Patriots Camp: Wide receiver||07.24.12 at 8:46 pm ET|
In the days leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we’ll take a quick look at how each position shakes out. We’ve looked at quarterback, tight end and running back. Now, it’s the wide receivers:
Roster (2011 stats): Brandon Lloyd (70 catches, 966 yards, five touchdowns with Denver and St. Louis), Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards, nine touchdowns), Deion Branch (51 catches, 702 yards, five touchdowns), Jabar Gaffney (68 catches, 947 yards, five touchdowns with Washington), Donte Stallworth (22 catches, 309 yards, two touchdowns with Washington), Julian Edelman (four catches, 34 yards), Matthew Slater (one catch, 46 yards), Jeremy Ebert, Britt Davis, Jesse Holley (seven catches, 169 yards for Dallas).
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
Brandon Lloyd has the most unique skill set of any wide receiver that Tom Brady has ever worked with. We covered this back in the spring, but it bears repeating — Lloyd’s ability to work on both intermediate and deep routes, as well as his ability to compete for jump balls, make him a completely different receiver than anyone Brady has worked with. After getting the chance to throw to Lloyd on a regular basis in the spring, Brady bottom-lined it: “We haven’t had anyone quite like him,” the quarterback said of Lloyd, who followed former offensive coordinator and head coach Josh McDaniels back to New England. (For more on their relationship and Lloyd’s potential impact, click HERE.)
Deion Branch doesn’t have the wheels that he used to, but his smarts, knowledge of the system and great working relationship with the quarterback should be enough to keep him in Foxboro for another year. The 33-year-old, who probably played more than he should have last season because of Chad Ochocinco’s inadequacies, will still have a role in this passing game. And while shouldn’t have the same sort of production he had last year, there will be at least three occasions in 2012 where he comes up with a big play based solely on his background with Brady.
The acclimation process between Tom Brady and the new receivers should be a little easier than it was for No. 85 last season. You figure that with Gaffney and Stallworth already having spent time in the New England offense, the getting-to-know-you timetable should be minimal. As for Lloyd, he was asked this spring if he believes the Patriots system would be a difficult one to pick up. He responded with a quick, one-word answer: “No.” OK then.
Can Wes Welker ignore the noise? No Patriots’ player has had a more eventful six-month stretch than Welker. He had 122 catches last year, but ended the 2011 season glassy-eyed and teary after failing to come up with a Brady pass that would have likely closed out the Giants in the Super Bowl. Since that game, he’s been hit with the franchise tag, signed his tender, gone back and forth with the franchise about his contract, gotten married, endorsed adult diapers and revealed the most remarkable story involving Larry Izzo you will ever hear. He starts the 2012 season under the microscope — without a long-term deal, there will be speculation that he’s starting his final year in New England. However, Welker’s track record indicates that he should be able to block out the distractions and focus on the task at hand. Provided he stays healthy, look for another 100-plus catch season from the slot machine.
How many wide receivers can one team carry? Right now, it looks like six or seven, depending on what they want to do with Donte Stallworth: Lloyd, Welker, Gaffney, Edelman, Slater and Branch, with Ebert, Davis and Holley all practice squad possibilities. To his credit, Stallworth spent time this spring working as a returner on special teams, ostensibly to try and increase his overall value to the team. But right now, he would appear to face an uphill battle in a fight for a roster spot.
Why has this team had trouble developing young wide receivers? It’s more of a big picture question (perhaps best answered another day), but when you’re talking about wide receivers, it’s worth mentioning once again that the Patriots haven’t been able to develop a young wide receiver since the Deion Branch/David Givens combo nearly 10 years ago. Since then, they’ve relied on imports like Welker, Moss, Gaffney and Lloyd … and Ochocinco, Galloway and Donald Hayes. The veterans have been good enough to keep the passing game humming — and maybe the Patriots have found something with their younger receivers Ebert, Davis and Holley — but for a team that’s enjoyed so much success in player development in so many other areas (they turn JAGs into starting offensive linemen on an annual basis), it’s an odd anomaly.
By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: Wes Welker’s passes dropped (including postseason): 2008 — 3; 2009 — 13; 2010 — 14; 2011 — 15.
The skinny: As we discussed earlier, while the passing game might not reach 2007 levels, they might not be far off. And while the tight ends have emerged as a potent force for Brady, the receiving corps is deep, smart and filled with the sort of veterans you can build an offense around. (“This group that I’m working with, they’re as professional and as good a group as I’ve ever been around,” Patriots wide receiver coach Chad O’Shea said this spring.) Lloyd appears poised for a monster year, while there’s no reason to think Welker won’t have a typical Welkeresque season. Gaffney is as underrated as they come, and Branch remains a steady and reliable presence for Brady. They may be getting a little older, but there’s no reason to think that this group of receivers won’t be one of the best in the league statistically when the season is done.
|Patriots continue tradition of involvement at NFL rookie symposium with talks from Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater||06.25.12 at 7:03 pm ET|
Patriots’ veterans Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater are two of the players who will be addressing the rookies about the perils they’ll face in the league during this week’s annual rookie symposium. According to AFC PR chief Corry Rush, Devin and Jason McCourty addressed the NFC rookies Sunday, and will speak to the AFC rookies on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Slater will address the NFC rookies Tuesday and the AFC rookies on Friday.
The rookie symposium isn’t the same old seminar — speakers (both current and former players, as well as ex-coaches) focus on cautionary tales of sex, drugs (both performance-enhancers and otherwise), personal conduct and financial matters. Created in 1997, the Patriots have long been part of the process: Tedy Bruschi and Richard Seymour have addressed rookies, with Seymour talking in 2002 after his own rookie season. In a story Seymour later related to reporters, he talked a night where the rookies had to take the veterans out to dinner. A first-round pick in 2001, Seymour to fork over $15,000. “That was when I decided to put myself on a budget,” he later said.
And the Patriots’ rookies have won the “Ultimate Rookie Challenge,” a trivia contest held at the end of the symposium that featured questions on the materials they learned twice in the last four years, with each rookie taking home a flat-screen television for their efforts.
All of the members of New England’s 2012 draft class are expected to be in attendance this week. And in addition to McCourty and Slater, other players who have experienced a myriad of off-field issues are scheduled to address players, including Michael Vick, Adam Jones and Michael Irvin. In addition to McCourty and Slater, other current and former players scheduled to talk are Terrell Owens, Antonio Freeman, LaVar Arrington, Aeneas Williams, Jamie Dukes, Luther Ellis and Carl Eller. They will speak on a variety of topics, including subjects like “Are You Bigger Then The Game” and “What Defines Success?”
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|Five years later, Donte Stallworth ready for his second stint in New England||05.15.12 at 1:45 pm ET|
FOXBORO — A little older and a little wiser, wide receiver Donte Stallworth is ready for his second act with the Patriots.
The well-traveled Stallworth, who spent the 2007 season in New England before leaving as a free agent, jumped at the opportunity to return to the Patriots, signing a one-year deal as a free agent in March. It was a chance to not only go back to the scene of some of his greatest professional success, but to do so with an increased wisdom, one he confessed he didn’t necessarily have in his first go-round with New England.
“I’m a lot more mature now than I was then,” Stallworth said Tuesday during a break between workouts at Gillette Stadium. “I feel like I’m playing better. I’m in a better place mentally, physically and I just felt like at that time I was still trying to mature and grow into a professional athlete. I feel like I’m a lot further down the road than I was last time.
“Back then, I was really more relying on my talent,” said the 6-foot, 220-pounder. “Now that I’m going into my 10th year, I think I run better routes now and understand different coverages and what teams are trying to do.”
The 31-year-old Stallworth, who had 46 catches for 697 yards and three touchdowns with the Patriots in 2007, said a large portion of that increased off-field maturity is because of what he went through in 2009 when he was charged with DUI manslaughter following an accident in Florida. He spent time in jail, and was suspended for the duration of the 2009 season.
“The year I was out and just sitting around and watching my teammates play and watching my friends play, it was not a good feeling,” Stallworth said. “It’s the same, even when you’re hurt. Guys never want to miss games. Anytime you miss something that you appreciate in life or that you love in life, if you have an opportunity to get it back, you always have a better appreciate for it next time.”
Stallworth said that after spending time with the Browns (2008), Ravens (2010) and Redskins (2011), walking back into the New England locker room was an “interesting” experience.
“It was a little weird feeling. It was kind of surreal,” he said. “But honestly, I think it took about a week or so to get adjusted and to really realize that, hey, I really am back; it’s not just a dream. It’s been good being back and seeing a lot of the same, familiar faces — friendly faces. So it’s been good. It’s been five years, but not much has changed other than all the restaurants and stuff around here. That’s a big difference.”
Stallworth enters a crowded field at wide receiver — the Patriots have loaded up this offseason at a position they were already pretty well stocked coming off the 2011 season. Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Gonzalez and Brandon Lloyd join a group that includes Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Britt Davis, Matthew Slater and Chad Ochocinco.
“It’s going to be good competition; we’re all friends, we all have known each other for awhile and respected each other’s games, so we’re going to make each other better,” Stallworth said. “We’ve been doing that now, with the workouts and really having fun, and the real fun gets to start on Monday when we start practicing. Who knows how it will play out, but I’m feeling good; I’m feeling healthy.”
Here are some more highlights of Stallworth’s Q&A with the media:
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|Dane Fletcher free of cast, says he’s fully recovered from thumb injury||04.12.12 at 7:38 pm ET|
PROVIDENCE — After undergoing multiple surgeries on a thumb injury sustained in the preseason, Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher has finally removed the cast that had been on his hand for much of the offseason.
Fletcher took part in a charity event at Hasbro Children’s Hospital Thursday in Providence along with teammates Kevin Faulk and Matthew Slater, bringing smiles and signed memorabilia to patients before taking part in a charity radiothon. While speaking to media after visiting patients, Fletcher also had news that should bring smiles to the faces of Patriots fans.
“We’re good baby,” Fletcher said, cheerfully waving his unencumbered hands in the air in front of a gaggle of reporters. “No worries there.”
The thumb injury had limited Fletcher for much of the regular season and forced him to miss six games entirely before returning against the Redskins on Dec. 11. Now, though, Fletcher is back where he wants to be, healthwise, and ready to get back on the field, telling reporters that he is pleased with his offseason preparation.
“It’s been good,” Fletcher said. “I’ve been progressing just like I wanted to and I just hope to continue there and enjoy my time a little bit back in Montana and relax.”
Now that he’s back at full capacity, Fletcher is now itching to get back on the field. His timing couldn’t be better, with the Patriots’ OTAs beginning next week.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Fletcher said. “A lot of the same faces, a lot of new faces, just get to know everybody again and start from scratch.”
Slater and Fletcher spoke about participating in charity functions like this one and how giving back was just another part of being a player in the NFL.
“As players, we’ve been extremely blessed with all the opportunities that we’ve been afforded and I think the least we can do is come back and visit these kids and try to put a smile on their face,” Slater said. “So, me and Dane, we’re excited about coming out here and visiting these kids and trying to make their day. What they get through on an everyday basis is real life and they’re going through some real struggle and hopefully we can give them a pick-me-up.”
|The Slater family finds important lessons in rewatching Super Bowl defeat||04.11.12 at 6:43 pm ET|
Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater was asked Tuesday if he had a chance to watch the Super Bowl loss to the Giants.
‘‘I watched a little bit of it, only because my dad made me watch it,” he said with a rueful smile. “But, it was tough to watch it. We got so close. We were winning with four minutes left in the game. You could taste victory. A lot of effort and heart and soul was put into that [game], to get to that point. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out. But we can’t dwell on that. It’s time for us to look to 2012.’’
Slater was unsure why his father – former Rams offensive lineman Jackie Slater — made him watch the game again.
“I don’t know — you’ll have to ask him,” he said. “I think he wanted me to really relish what we were able to do, get into that stage, and it was something to be proud of. At the same time, learn from that experience and try to improve.’’
When reached by phone on Wednesday, his father had a simple explanation for the mandatory viewing.
“It wouldn’t make a lick of sense to reach the pinnacle of your chosen profession and not look at the things that you and your teammates did well, and then also see the things that ultimately foiled you,” Jackie said. “If you can do that, you’ll have even more of a clear vision when you start to try and pursue that same goal again.”
When it comes to taking another look at a Super Bowl loss, Jackie can speak from experience. He was part of a Rams’ 31-19 loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, and said going back and watching it again (as painful as it might be) helped his development as a player — particularly, the insight on his game from analyst John Madden.
It certainly paid dividends for Jackie, who would go on to a 20-year career in the NFL and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Experience is the very best teacher,” Jackie said. “For me personally, after playing in Super Bowl XIV and having John Madden make the comments that he made about my performance — which were all positive – that helped keep me driven and focused in an attempt to try and get back to the zenith of my profession.”
According to Matt, the goal going forward is to shake off any feeling that the 2012 Patriots are a Super Bowl team. The process of climbing the mountain toward the summit will begin again soon enough.
‘‘I think it’s important for us as a team to understand: we’re not a Super Bowl team at this point. This is a new team. This is not the 2011 team,” he said. “We shouldn’t come in there expecting for teams [to say] ‘Oh, that’s the Patriots. They were in the Super Bowl last year.’ We have to re-establish an identity. There are new players. We have to create an identity for this 2012 team. We’re going to have to earn everything all over again. So we’re back at ground zero now. We have a lot of work to do.’’
|Taking a look at a six-pack of Patriots’ free agent decisions from Thursday||03.16.12 at 12:41 am ET|
The Patriots made some noise in free agency on Thursday, picking up a pair of new players in defensive lineman Marcus Harrison and safety Steve Gregory; re-signing a pair of their own free agents in offensive lineman Dan Connolly and special teamer Matthew Slater; and apparently kicking the tires on safety LaRon Landry and defensive end/outside linebacker Trevor Scott. Here’s a quick look at what it all means for the franchise.
Harrison: A guy who has been in New England before — he was on the roster for a day last October — Harrison is a 6-foot-3, 316-pound defensive tackle who projects as a backup along New England’s defensive front. The 27-year-old was a third-round pick of the Bears in 2008 (90th overall) out of Arkansas, but in 37 career games over three seasons with the Bears, Harrison has done little to distinguish himself: he’s amassed 55 tackles, 3.0 sacks and three passes defensed. (He had previously failed a physical with the Panthers in September because of a knee problem.)
Gregory: This is probably the biggest signing of the day. New England gets itself a safety who some believe was playing out of position with the Chargers — next to Eric Weddle, San Diego had him in more of a strong safety position. (Pro Football Focus had him graded out as a -10.8 for the 2011 season.) With the Patriots, the 29-year-old could find a home at free safety, challenging James Ihedigbo for snaps. In addition, the presence of Gregory on the roster (and the possible acquisition of Landry) could mean Devin McCourty will make a full-time return to corner in 2012. Regardless, the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder does have some positional versatility — he has worked as a safety, and also spent time in the slot and on special teams, bringing the positional flexibility that they crave in Foxboro. According to reports, it’s a three-year deal worth roughly $8 million.
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|Five thoughts on the second day of NFL free agency and how it all relates to the Patriots||03.14.12 at 2:44 pm ET|
Here are five thoughts on what’s gone on during Day 2 of NFL free agency and how it relates to the Patriots:
1. Per a league source, the Patriots will host safety Steve Gregory on a visit Wednesday afternoon. Gregory is a 29-year-old undrafted free agent out of Syracuse who has spent six years in the NFL, all with the Chargers. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder does have some positional versatility — he has worked as a safety, and also spent time in the slot and on special teams. Hard-nosed and versatile, Gregory (who was suspended for PEDs in 2010) had 67 tackles and one interception in 2011. As some have already noted, there’s a belief that Gregory was out of position playing alongside free safety Eric Weddle in San Diego, and could be better suited playing more of a free safety role next to someone like Patrick Chung. (It tells you something about the state of the safety position that Gregory is starting to develop a following — a league source indicates that Gregory has at least four other teams who are interested in his services, including the Broncos and Panthers, with a few more teams poised to inquire about him by the end of the day.)
2. In addition, the Patriots have reportedly expressed interest in safety LaRon Landy, late of the Redskins. The five-year veteran was plagued with injuries last season, including an Achilles tendon problem that forced him to injured reserve in mid-December. The 6-foot, 220-pound Landry is a really interesting case — he has some working knowledge of a Bill Belichick-type of system, as he played in college for Nick Saban when Saban was at LSU. Because he’s coming off an injury, he’s likely to come at a discounted price. And with the depressed safety market, he could be the best value out there, especially when you consider the fact that he played very well over the first three years of his career (including a 90-tackle season in 2009). But the 27-year-old has had major injury problems over the last two years — he’s played in just 17 games the last two seasons, and fair or not, there are concerns about him being able to stay on the field. (According to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports, the Jets, Eagles, Lions and Bears have also apparently expressed interest in Landry.) And I’m not even sure what to make of his arms.
3. BenJarvus Green-Ellis continues to be the biggest name available among current Patriots’ free agents. The running back, who was attached to two “unknown teams” on Wednesday at a price of roughly $3 million to $4 million a year, will reportedly take a visit with Cincinnati, according to Cole. (It’s not known if the Bengals were one of those two teams that were previously listed on Tuesday.) Cincinnati would be a good landing spot for Green-Ellis — the Bengals have a lot of room under the cap, and the running back would give a playoff team a positive, dependable presence in the backfield. It’s also interesting to see the feedback from Patriots’ fan on Twitter regarding Green-Ellis’ situation. When faced with the prospect of losing Green-Ellis to a bigger deal somewhere else, almost everyone has wished him well. Speaks to his likeability among the New England fan base.
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