|At this point in offseason, where are Patriots personnel priorities?||04.04.14 at 9:55 pm ET|
With the offseason now one-third of the way done — and most of free agency now complete — the Patriots still have to address a few specific areas of need as part of the team-building process. Here’s a look at four personnel questions that have to be dealt with between now and the start of training camp.
Backup linebacker: Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher departed as free agents this offseason, with Spikes heading to Buffalo and Fletcher signing with Tampa Bay. Neither were starters, but over the last two seasons, both were called upon to play significant snaps for the Patriots. As a result, New England is a little thin when it comes to their linebacker depth. Currently on the roster, the Patriots have a few possibilities when it comes to backing up the expected starting trio of Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, including Steve Beauharnais, who just finished his rookie season. But their pursuit of veteran free agent Wesley Woodyard was likely a sign they believe they need more help when it comes to depth at the spot.
Strong safety: Steve Gregory was cut loose earlier this offseason, and Adrian Wilson was released on Friday. And while the Patriots did bring back Patrick Chung on Thursday, there’s some uncertainty as to what New England plans on doing at the position. Two things to remember: one, the Patriots like their defensive backs to be versatile, and so shuffling DBs from one spot to another wouldn’t be a surprise. And two, on that same vein, there are some possibilities on the roster, including Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan, the latter of whom has been the subject of much speculation this offseason when it comes to a possible move to free safety. In addition, there’s Tavon Wilson, who slid down the depth chart in 2013 to more of a special teams role, one that’s also occupied by fellow safeties Kanorris Davis and Nate Ebner. (And there’s always the possibility that Gregory could return on a reworked deal — he said this week despite the fact that he was cut by New England, “it would definitely be a place I would love to go back to.”) Regardless of whether or not New England decides to address the position in the draft, right now, it’s shaping up to be one of the more intriguing camp battles this spring and summer.
Situational pass rusher: The Patriots were believed to be at least partially in the mix for Jared Allen in free agency before he signed with the Bears, and while New England does currently have youngsters Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan on the roster as backup defensive ends, it’s a fair dropoff at this point from the starting duo of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. In terms of free agents who could still be on the market, Will Smith remains a possibility, but his recent injury woes leave him questionable at this stage of his career. When it comes to other in-house possibilities, Andre Carter could return for at least part of the season if New England struggles to find help — he sure sounds open to the possibility of returning. In addition, Armond Armstead could also be in the mix as an interior pass rushing presence at some point if he ever does get healthy. It’s also expected that if veteran Tommy Kelly can stay on the field, he’ll offer some support as another interior pass rushing presence in 2014.
Depth at tight end and running back: While New England appears to be set when it comes to starters at the two positions, it could really use some depth at both spots, and both will likely be addressed in some form or fashion come the second and/or third day of the draft. Despite the fact the Patriots might be more inclined to move away from the two-tight end sets they ran over the last few seasons, another tight end to compliment Rob Gronkowski could be had in this draft, especially given the fact that this year appears to be a pretty good one for tight ends. In addition, the fact that the Patriots made a serious play for veteran free agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew could be taken as a sign they feel like they need someone to replace LeGarrette Blount in the backfield.
|Updates on Patriots rules proposals, Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon working out for New England and other notes from league meetings||03.25.14 at 2:57 pm ET|
ORLANDO — A few picked-up pieces to report from the NFL’s annual meetings in Central Florida:
1. The proposal to extend the goal posts by an extra five feet “seems likely to pass” when voted on Wednesday, according to Judy Battista of NFL.com. An initiative sponsored by Bill Belichick and the Patriots, the coach said Tuesday that the idea of doing it certainly seems like a no-brainer. “Virtually every kicker at the combine can kick them over the top of the goal posts [and] some of those guys aren’t even going to be in the league,” Belichick said Tuesday morning when asked about the idea. “I’d say every kicker can do that.” In addition, the other three proposals proposed by the Patriots are also scheduled to be voted on by the owners Wednesday.
2. In other end-zone related news, the league announced Tuesday it will penalize players who dunk on the goal posts in 2014. In the past, the league has cracked down on group celebrations, as well as using the football as a prop, so it would appear that this is the next step in the process. In addition, it was announced Tuesday that the NFL officiating department will help referees rule on instant replay reviews starting next season. Referees will now be allowed to consult with director of officiating Dean Blandino and his staff — who will be monitoring games from the league offices in New York — to help determine whether a call should be upheld or overturned.
3. This doesn’t have anything to do with the goings on in Florida, but according to a league source, wide receiver and special teams coaches from New England were in Ann Arbor on Tuesday to work out wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. The 5-foot-8, 187-pound Gallon has put up impressive numbers over the last two years with the Wolverines, including 89 catches for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013. He also posted good numbers as a return man, compiling 589 yards on 27 kick returns in 2010, and 192 yards on 31 punt returns in 2011.
“We had an offer on the table to [Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie]. They were working through it. I don’t get involved in this stuff’this is agents and [Director of Football Administration] Mike Sullivan. It’s scholarships with price tags,” Fox said. “We obviously are an appealing place but the reality is it comes down to the contract, usually. We were all over that and then it flipped and we were very pleased to get Aqib.”
On Talib as a player: “He’s long, he’s fast, he’s quick, he’s tough. The only real negative is he had some off-the-field issues early in his career. I knew him even when I was in Carolina and he was in Tampa. I knew their coaches there pretty well. You get a pretty good feedback on players when you’re in the division’even on other teams. I knew how he grew, got married, started a family and matured.”
5. Reports continue to link running back Maurice Jones-Drew to the Patriots, with one story saying that Jones-Drew was going meet with the Patriots, Steelers, Dolphins and Jets this week in Orlando. (Jones-Drew has already apparently met with Pittsburgh, but has not received an offer from the Steelers.) It remains to be seen how all of this will play out — given the Patriots depth at running back, as well as the current state of the market, you would have to think they’d be more inclined to bring back LeGarrette Blount at a cut rate price instead of likely investing more in Jones-Drew. (Jones-Drew could also sit out until the summer to see if the market shifts and he’s able to play one team against each other in hopes of reaching the reported $3 million annually he’s seeking.) But it’s certainly a situation that bears watching going forward for Patriots fans — even if he doesn’t land in New England, two of the three other teams reportedly in the hunt for the diminutive back are in the division.
|Bill Belichick pokes fun at the Mayans and talks about taking it easy on his team, sort of||12.21.12 at 1:22 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Bill Belichickwas in one of those moods Friday.
The Patriots head coach was in one of those happier, jovial moods. So, he dipped into his stand-up material and opened Friday’s press conference at Gillette by letting everyone know he hasn’t been in a cave.
“Glad to see everyone is still here,” Belichick quipped, referencing the fact that the Mayans weren’t calling for gloom, doom and the end of the world but rather just turning the calendar page just like Belichick does every day at his job.
As for his team, Belichick moved them indoors and out of the brutal wind and rain that pelted Gillette Stadium on Friday. The other storyline is who will play and who won’t on Sunday. Shalise Manza Young reported Friday that a league source indicated that Rob Gronkowski will miss his fifth straight game as he heals his left forearm, broken in a Nov. 18 win over the Colts. Gronkowski did practice on Friday and has practiced all week but on a limited basis.
“The emphasis is to get everybody healthy as soon as possible every week,” Belichick said Friday. “I don’t know what we do differently now. Our treatment schedule is the same, guys getting rest, guys getting treatment, guys doing what they can do on a progressive basis – a little bit more, a little bit more until they get all the way back up there with whatever injury they’re dealing with. Trying to stay healthy, away from the colds and the flus and those kinds of setbacks which come sometimes at this time of year too and they can run through your team. It could be a dozen guys getting that or it could be one. If it’s one, you just hope that you can keep it at one and not end up losing a third of roster to a bug or something like that.
“All those things are important. We try to stay on top of them in terms of disinfecting everything and just constantly staying on top of it. I know players now really think about getting more rest and sometimes our schedule shortens a little bit in order to try to lengthen the rest time. All those things are part of it, but I wouldn’t say that, it’s not like we sit there in October and don’t care about [it]. We try to get them back then too but I think as the season goes on, there is a little bit of a different dynamic that comes into play, if you will, just because of the length of the season. I think the urgency to get people healthy, get them back and play is there like it is all year long.”
Tapering is something nearly every sport practices, the art of lessening the load during practice and saving it for competition.
“That’s part of it,” Belichick said of the similar practice used by the Patriots. “Of course, the rules with the number of padded practices you can have, those have been trimmed back in the last six weeks. They probably would be trimmed back anyway because we’ve had so many practices, 88 practices. We haven’t had 88 practices for Jacksonville but we’ve been on the field 88 times. Do you need to do everything as much now as we did in practices six, seven and eight? Probably not. But I think you still need to stay sharp on it. I think there are still things that you want to stay on but the intensity of training camp or those type of practices, no I don’t think, it’s just not that level. That level is on Sunday and above, but it’s a little less than that during the week, sure.”
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|Bill Belichick on Maurice Jones-Drew: ‘He brings everything’||12.20.12 at 4:13 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The prospects of facing one of the best running backs in the NFL decreased Thursday as Maurice Jones-Drew missed practice again for the Jaguars with a foot injury he sustained in Week 7 against the Raiders.
Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey said Wednesday it would be hard to imagine Jones-Drew returning this week against the Patriots if he didn’t get back to practice on Thursday, after missing the last eight games.
“It will be difficult, yes,” Mularkey said. “It would be difficult. It’s not out of the question but it would be difficult.”
Jones-Drew is a three-time Pro Bowler who led the league in rushing in 2011 with 1,606 yards. At just 5-foot-7, 208 pounds, he is often compared with Ray Rice as a back who is incredibly hard to find behind the line of scrimmage and equally hard to bring to the ground.
If he plays, what does MJD bring as a running back?
“Everything, he brings everything,” Bill Belichick raved on Wednesday. “He has great balance, vision, power for his size. He’s a thick guy, hard to put on the ground. [He] sees the holes well, runs with good power, has good speed, catches the ball well out of the backfield, he’s dangerous on the check-downs and flare routes, screens, things like that. He’s very good in the line of scrimmage on the inside runs, very good on the outside runs. He’s a tough guy to handle in space. He does everything well. I don’t think there are any weak points to his game. Kind of like Ray Rice, his low center of gravity, his strength, his balance, he’s a tough guy to tackle, even if you have somebody there, you still have to tackle him and that’s not he easiest thing in the world at all.
“There are a lot of plays where it doesn’t look like he has much and he gets a good 10 or 15 yards out of it. Then there are other times where it looks like he has a five or six yard run and he takes it 50. He’s very dangerous. It’s not over with him until the whistle blows and he’s on the ground because he’s a guy that gets a lot of extra yards on his own.
“He runs with a good base, good balance and he uses his blockers well. He has good vision so it makes it hard for the defenders to see him without trying to stand up and look for him and that exposes their body to the blockers and they get blocked more. He certainly knows how to use everything to his advantage. His speed, his power, his quickness, his vision and he can stay behind those guys and it is hard sometimes to see exactly where he is or where he’s going and he can get there in a hurry. But they have a very good group of backs too. [Rashad] Jennings is an explosive guy, [Montell] Owens, [Greg] Jones is a good fullback. They have a lot of good players in their backfield, good skill players – the receivers, [Jordan] Shipley, [Marcedes] Lewis. They have plenty of good skill players.”
|Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio talks draft||04.14.11 at 2:43 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio spoke for roughly 45 minutes on Thursday at The Hall at Patriot Place about the pre-draft process, and how the New England braintrust approaches the draft. Here are some of the highlights:
•On draft day, Caserio described things in the draft room as being “pretty tame” for most of the time. “When you’re not picking, things are pretty quiet,” he said. As for trades, most of them occur on draft night, with most discussions usually picking up between five and eight picks out: “There are [trade] possibilities examined the week before, but things don’t really manifest themselves until the draft,” he said.
•Where are things right now? Caserio said that most of the Pro Days have been completed to this point, with most of the players who will be drafted having worked out. He added that the time frame for the 30 allotted visits expires next Wednesday, April 20. However, you can work a player out until the day before the draft — he recalled an instance a few years ago where he flew out to work out a player a day or two before the draft.
•The private workouts are important for getting a handle on a prospect, but they can be invaluable for trying to figure out if a small school prospect, an injured player or a non-combine invitee might fit into your system. Caserio used wide receiver Julian Edelman and offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer as examples of two guys the Patriots were able to get a much clearer picture of as a result of private workouts, as both were not invited to the combine. When it comes to private workouts, “We’re just trying to make sure we have the most accurate picture of the player possible.” (Caserio added that when they were working out Edelman prior to the 2010 draft, they had multiple private workouts with him, including as a wide receiver, running back and return man.)
“In the end, the goal is to have it right. Is it perfect? No. There are players where it hasn’t worked out,” Caserio said. “[But] it’s a projection element. You are talking about the unknown.”
•Caserio showed a fictional draft card, and explained what the intricate grading system that appears on the card, a series of numbers and letters that includes height, weight and Wonderlic score. In addition, the card reveals whether or not a prospect is considered “height deficient” or “weight deficient.” (Caserio was quick to let people know that a prospect being classified as “height deficient” isn’t necessarily a bad thing — he mentioned players like Kevin Faulk, Barry Sanders and Maurice Jones-Drew as players who were classified as such but have gone on to successful careers.)
•As for how things might be different because of the lockout this year, Caserio said that their pre-draft process this year is no different than it’s been in year’s past. “Our approach this year is no different than in year’s past — we’re looking for the player who can improve our football team the most and that’s what we’re focused on doing,” he said. “We’re evaluating a player for his skill set based on the information that we’ve gathered, and we’ll just move forward from there. So our approach hasn’t changed much at all.”
•When asked about the preconceived ideas some people have when it comes to the Patriots and the outside linebacker spot — and if they have adjusted them somewhat — Caserio replied: “I think you’re always looking at different things. In terms of the players and the types of players and the standards … the most important thing is finding good football players that can help our football team, whatever shape and form they come in. Danny Woodhead is the perfect example. I’d say he falls short in some of the ‘standards,’ but … that’s something we’re always evaluating across the positions, the different standards and where we are relative to the rest of the league. That position, there’s more teams that are looking for similar-type players, and in college, maybe the pool of players isn’t that big to begin with, so everybody’s looking at the same players and ultimately, you just have to make the decision on who you feel like is best for your team.”
|Drafting running backs remains an inexact science||03.17.11 at 9:42 pm ET|
Some positions in the NFL draft require more attention early on than others. For example, if your team is in need of a quarterback, history shows that while there can be risk in spending a Top 10 pick on a signal-caller, you’re far more likely to go wrong by choosing one in the second or third round.
While quarterback is a position best addressed in the first round (or, if you’re lucky, the 199th overall pick), not every position necessarily screams “high pick.” Of course, punters go untouched in the early part of the draft, but other positions — even the occasional kicker — have been fair game in the first two rounds over time. Still, for an event that is defined by finding value, trends over the years have shown that certain positions may not represent the utmost value high in the draft.
It could be argued that one such position is running back. Despite being a position that plays such a crucial role in the average NFL offense, running backs that get big attention on draft day don’t necessarily provide a big payoff for their teams. Here’s a look at every running back selected in the top two rounds of the last five drafts:
16th overall — Ryan Mathews
30th overall — Jahvid Best
36th overall — Dexter McCluster
51st overall — Toby Gerhart
58th overall — Ben Tate
12th overall — Knowshon Moreno
27th overall — Donald Brown
31st overall — Beanie Wells
53rd overall — LeSean McCoy
4th overall — Darren McFadden
13th overall — Jonathan Stewart
22nd overall — Felix Jones
23rd overall — Rashard Mendenhall
24th overall — Chris Johnson
44th overall — Matt Forte
55th overall — Ray Rice
7th overall — Adrian Peterson
12th overall — Marshawn Lynch
49th overall — Kenny Irons
50th overall — Chris Henry
52nd overall — Brian Leonard
63rd overall — Brandon Jackson
2nd overall — Reggie Bush
21st overall — Laurence Maroney
27th overall — DeAngelo Williams
30th overall — Joseph Addai
45th overall — LenDale White
60th overall — Maurice Jones-Drew
Of those 28 players, eight finished Top 20 in the league in rushing yards last season. Of course, simply looking at last season doesn’t tell the whole story.
|The toughest back the Pats will face||12.24.09 at 9:57 am ET|
FOXBORO – The Patriots have seen and faced many very talented and skilled running backs this season.
Starting with Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch on opening night and last week in Buffalo, continuing with Michael Turner, Leon Washington, Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.
But the feature back they are called to defend this week might be the most difficult to get a grip on – literally.
Maurice Jones-Drew is the reason the Jacksonville Jaguars felt comfortable letting go of 11-year star back Fred Taylor.
He stands just 5-7 and weighs 208 pounds. He is universally regarded as the single-hardest running back to tackle in the National Football League.
“No doubt about it, he’s definitely one of the top backs we’ve seen and we’ve seen a lot of good ones,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “I think he can do it all. He’s returned kicks. He’s good in pass protection. [He] catches the ball very well and has a good feel in the passing game, like the scramble pass he caught against Indianapolis last week on a broken play.
“And, of course, in the running game, he can run inside, he can run outside, he can run with power, he can run with speed, he can jump cut and has good vision. He can see those lanes inside. He’s got good balance. He’s hard to knock off his feet, breaks a lot of tackles and pushes the pile forward for extra yards when he’s carrying the ball. He’s a powerful guy as well as an elusive player, so he’s tough.” Read the rest of this entry »
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