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James White, Nate Ebner headline Patriots inactives vs. Bills 09.20.15 at 11:37 am ET
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James White

James White

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The following Patriots players are inactive for Sunday’s game against the Bills: offensive lineman Ryan Wendell, defensive lineman Dominique Easley, running back James White, defensive lineman Trey Flowers, wide receiver Keshawn Martin, cornerback Justin Coleman and safety Nate Ebner.

Wendell (illness) was ruled out Friday, while Easley (hip) was downgraded to out Saturday night. Ebner went through a pregame workout with the training staff on the field, but it apparently wasn’t enough to play.

Rufus Johnson and Travaris Cadet are making their Patriot debuts.

Running back LeSean McCoy is active for the Bills.

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Read More: James White, Nate Ebner,
Patriots announce offseason award winners 08.01.15 at 7:00 am ET
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FOXBORO — On Friday, the Patriots announced their offseason award winners. The honors are doled out on the combination of attendance at offseason workout programs, physical testing and overall improvement, and usually come with a prime parking space closest to the players’ entrance at Gillette Stadium.

This year’s winners are: safety Nate Ebner, linebacker Jonathan Freeny, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, defensive lineman Antonio Johnson, linebacker Eric Martin, safety Devin McCourty, left tackle Nate Solder and center Bryan Stork.

By way of comparison, here’s a look at the offseason award winners the last three years:

Defensive end Chandler Jones, wide receiver Julian Edelman, linebacker Jamie Collins, safety Devin McCourty, cornerback Logan Ryan, fullback James Develin, safety Nate Ebner, linebacker Jerod Mayo, offensive lineman Dan Connolly and linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

Wide receiver Danny Amendola, quarterback Tom Brady, cornerback Ras-I Dowling, linebacker Dane Fletcher, linebacker Jerod Mayo, defensive end Rob Ninkovich, special teams captain Matthew Slater, left tackle Nate Solder, cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.

Linebacker Bobby Carpenter, safety Patrick Chung, defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, wide receiver Julian Edelman, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, linebacker Jerod Mayo, linebacker Trevor Scott, left tackle Nate Solder, linebacker Jeff Tarpinian and running back Danny Woodhead.




Read More: Antonio Johnson, Bryan Stork, Devin McCourty, Eric Martin
Resetting Patriots depth chart: Safety 04.30.15 at 12:35 am ET
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Devin McCourty will be the leader of the New England safeties again in 2015. (Getty Images)

Devin McCourty will be the leader of the New England safeties again in 2015. (Getty Images)

With the majority of free agency completed and the draft looming, we’re going to take a look at the Patriots depth chart by position, and try and assess the level of need going forward. We’ve broken down each position on the offensive side of the ball. On defense, we’ve taken a look at the defensive line and the linebackers. Now, it’s safety:

Current depth chart: (2014 regular-season stats via coaches film review and Pro Football Reference): Devin McCourty (72 tackles, 2 INTs, 6 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble), Patrick Chung (89 tackles, 1 INT, 7 passes defensed), Tavon Wilson (20 tackles, 2 passes defensed), Duron Harmon (12 tackles, 1 INT, 1 pass defensed), Nate Ebner. (4 tackles).

Lost in free agency: None.

Gained in the offseason: None.

Other changes: The only major event at the safety position to this point in the offseason has been McCourty signing a five-year, $47.5 million contract with $28.5 million guaranteed. With the departure of Darrelle Revis, McCourty will have more in his shoulders, at least as it relates to the secondary. And with the loss of Vince Wilfork, McCourty will be asked to provide more from a leadership standpoint as well.

Is this a major area of need going into the draft? Probably not, at least through the first two days. But the Patriots appear to be thin at the free safety spot, with a sizable dropoff after McCourty. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see New England try and add an extra body at the position between now and the start of training camp for depth purposes.

Read More: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, pat chung
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Safety 02.13.15 at 7:48 pm ET
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Devin McCourty has emerged as one of the best safeties in the league. (Getty Images)

Devin McCourty has emerged as one of the best safeties in the league. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We’ve looked at special teams, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, quarterback and offensive line. Now, we start on the defensive side of the ball with the safety position.

Depth chart (stats via coaches film review): Devin McCourty (72 tackles, 2 INTs, 6 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble), Patrick Chung (89 tackles, 1 INT, 7 passes defensed), Tavon Wilson (20 tackles, 2 passes defensed), Duron Harmon (12 tackles, 1 INT, 1 pass defensed), Nate Ebner. (4 tackles)

Overview: While no one preaches team defense like the Patriots, any conversation about the safety position in New England begins and ends with McCourty. The Rutgers product was the consummate quarterback for the Patriots defense in 2014, serving as a leader for what became one of the best secondaries in the league over the course of the season. He wasn’t the best pure defensive back on the roster — that honor goes to Darrelle Revis — but his smarts, versatility and leadership made him one of the foundational elements of the Patriots’ defense in 2014.

“You really can’t quantify what he brings to the team,” said coach Brian Flores said of McCourty midway through the season. “His leadership, his communication. He gets a lot of guys lined up. Guys have questions, they ask him. He’s like a coach on the field, quite honestly. He’s a very important cog in our defense. It would be different without him.”

Thanks in large part to the lockdown abilities of cornerbacks like Revis and Brandon Browner, McCourty spent much of the season working as a single high safety who was charged as the last line of defense for New England. Most of the year, he was twinned with either the youngster Harmon or Chung, the latter of whom had something of a career renaissance in his return to Foxboro after spending a season in exile with the Eagles. Both did a passable job working as an in-the-box safety — particularly Chung in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks, as well as the regular-season win over the Broncos. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Patriots address the strong safety spot in the offseason via the draft or free agency in hopes of building some depth at the position. (Wilson and Ebner are listed as defensive backs on the roster, and while Wilson did step in and play some this year because of injury, they are more special teamers than anything else.)

Going forward, there are some questions about this positional grouping. Can the Patriots re-sign McCourty? If they can’t, is there a name out there they have in mind as a potential replacement, either in the draft or as a free agent? Would New England go after a strong safety in the offseason? Regardless of how things end up, this was a group that performed very well in 2014, and McCourty was a sizable reason why.

Best moment: This is kind of broad-brushing it, but the work of the safeties — and the Get The (Bleep) Back mantra they espoused over the course of the season — over the first eight games was extremely impressive. New England did not give up a pass play of 40 or more yards over the course of the first half of the regular season. The first pass play of 40-plus yards against the Patriots’ pass defense came in Week 9 against the Broncos. In all, New England allowed eight pass plays of 40 or more yards, tied for 13th best in the league.

Worst moment: One of the only major breakdowns in the New England secondary all season long took place in a Nov. 30 loss to the Packers in Green Bay. Just before the end of the first half, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers found Jordy Nelson on a 45-yard pass play over the middle that started as a short play and Nelson turned into a touchdown when he raced through the Patriots defensive backs with less than a minute to go in the second quarter. It was a game-changing play that swung the momentum in Green Bay’s favor, and was one of the few breakdowns the New England secondary had all year long.

By the numbers: 1,196 — According to Pro Football Focus, the number of defensive snaps that McCourty played in 2014, including the postseason. McCourty was the only member of the Patriots to play more than 1,000 snaps in 2014 not to be flagged for a penalty.

Money quote: “He’s outstanding. He’s been outstanding before I got here, and he’s continuing to be outstanding. I feel like he’s the best free safety in the league. He has so much range out there. He’s so fast. I think the biggest thing I respect him for and appreciate him is how he studies the game and how he knows the game so well. He’s a student of the game and he works so hard at it.” — Revis talking about McCourty and his impact on the defense

Read More: Dan Patrick, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner
Extra special: Patriots special teams has excelled under coach Scott O’Brien 01.28.15 at 12:44 am ET
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Scott O'Brien has been the Patriots' special teams coach for six years. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Scott O’Brien has been the Patriots’ special teams coach for six years. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Often times on some NFL teams, the special teams unit gets over looked. Not so much with the New England Patriots.

Led by special teams coach Scott O’Brien — in his sixth year in New England, but serving as a special teams coach in the NFL since 1991 — the Patriots have emerged as one of the better special teams units in the league, making game-changing plays on numerous occasions.

The Patriots’ special teams group finished first in Rick Gosselin’s famous NFL special teams rankings this year and finished seventh in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranking, a major credit to the work O’Brien has done with his players.

“I’€™m not sure,” O’Brien said when asked why he’s coached special teams exclusively for 23 seasons. “I’€™m sure I was influenced by a lot of people I came up with through my career. I’€™ve always enjoyed it as a player. I can’€™t put my finger on it, but it’€™s always been something I’€™ve enjoyed doing. I love the schemes, the creation of it. I don’€™t know. I don’€™t think it’€™s just one thing. I’€™ve had a lot of influences on me.”

New England has blocked five kicks this season — four field goals and one punt. The unit has seen three players get named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Chris Jones for his field goal block in the closing seconds against the Jets in Week 7, Julian Edelman for his punt return for a touchdown against the Broncos in Week 9 and Ryan Allen for his field position changing punts in Week 14 against the Chargers.

The four blocked field goals on the year was a franchise record.

“I think a lot of it has been, like I said, timing,” O’Brien said. “It’€™s a group effort no matter who blocks it. To block kicks in this league is hard to do. It usually takes more than one thing to happen to have that success, but I think these guys have always worked hard at it. You just get the right combination of the right players in the right spot. You give them a chance to have success, and they have it. It’€™s obviously had a big impact during the games.”

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Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, Brandon Bolden, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner
Dominique Easley (knee) misses Patriots practice, 4 players limited 11.12.14 at 4:19 pm ET
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Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

FOXBORO — The first Patriots injury report of the week was released following Wednesday’s practice and it came with no major surprises.

Chandler Jones (hip) and Dominique Easley (knee) were the only two players to miss the full-padded session held inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse. Jones is expected to be out at least until the Green Bay game (Nov. 30), which would be six weeks from originally suffering the injury in Week 7. Easley appeared to re-injure his knee in the last practice before the bye week — last Wednesday — as he was seen working with trainer’s during the first positional drills. The rookie has been listed as questionable with a knee injury each of the last five games, but has played in all five games.

Offensive lineman Ryan Wendell has popped up on the injury report for the first time this season with a knee injury. After not being spotted at the start of Tuesday’s practice, wide receiver Brandon LaFell did not appear on the injury report on Wednesday. The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reported LaFell missed the practice because of step throat, as there was no Tuesday practice report since the team is only required to release three per week.

Here is the full participation report:

Did not practice

DE Chandler Jones (hip)
DL Dominique Easley (knee)

Limited participation

S Nate Ebner (finger)
OL Cameron Fleming (finger)
WR Matthew Slater (shoulder)
OL Ryan Wendell (knee)

Full participation

QB Tom Brady (ankle)

Read More: chandler jones, Dominique Easley, Nate Ebner, Patriots practice report
Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork back at practice for Patriots, Darrelle Revis among those not spotted 10.21.14 at 12:42 pm ET
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Offensive linemen Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming were all present at the start of practice for the Patriots on Tuesday, while cornerback Darrelle Revis and defensive end Chandler Jones were not among those spotted at the workout, which was held in sweats and shells, according to reports.

Connolly and Stork have been dealing with head injuries the last couple of weeks, while Fleming has been on the shelf because of a finger problem. Special teamer Nate Ebner, who has also been missing with a finger injury for the last couple of weeks, was also spotted at practice.

On the other side, while Revis has had occasional hamstring issues over the course of the season, nothing has kept him from playing. It’s not known what Jones might be dealing with.

The Patriots will host the Bears Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

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Read More: Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, chandler jones, Dan Connolly
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