|Resetting the depth chart in Patriots secondary||03.17.13 at 1:24 pm ET|
There have been some notable moves so far this offseason for the New England secondary. With free agency continuing and the draft now just over a month away, the Patriots can still add to the defensive back spot. But right now — with the addition of veteran safety Adrian Wilson, the re-signing of cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington and the departure of Patrick Chung — here’s a quick look at how the depth chart for the Patriots’ secondary shakes out at this point:
Talib: The 27-year-old, who will return for his first full season with the Patriots, projects as the No. 1 corner for New England in 2013.
Alfonzo Dennard: The Nebraska product, who played very well as a rookie last season in New England, faces something of a murky future, but if he’s available, he should go into the 2013 season as a starting corner.
Ras-I Dowling: The injury-plagued Dowling enters his third season in New England with a lot to prove. When he’s been healthy, he’s been an important part of the secondary — the problem is he hasn’t been healthy all that often. He’s played just nine games in two years.
Slot cornerbacks/special teamers
Arrington: After the acquisition of Talib, Arrington moved back inside to the slot — his more natural position — and flourished. Should start 2013 as the leader in the clubhouse for this spot once again.
Malcolm Williams: Primarily a special teamer, Williams provides depth at the defensive back position.
Devin McCourty: The lead dog in the secondary. He admitted late last season the transition from young guy to leader took some time, but he goes into 2013 as the No. 1 free safety on the team.
Steve Gregory: Gregory started slow and had issues staying on the field early in the season, but he and McCourty played well together at the end of the season.
Adrian Wilson: A bigger safety who can contribute down in the box, one of the early position battles worth watching could be between Wilson and Gregory. While Gregory and McCourty played well together, Wilson (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) is more of a big, strong safety when it comes to overall body type than Gregory (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) and could swipe some snaps from Gregory as a result, depending on the defensive game plans.
Tavon Wilson: Wilson started strong as a rookie — four interceptions in his first 10 games — but the acquisition of Aqib Talib affected his playing time maybe more than anyone else — the trade for Talib meant the Patriots moved Devin McCourty from corner to safety, and left Wilson on the sidelines. He projects as a backup right now.
Nate Ebner: Ebner did see some significant snaps on defense at the start of the season, but made his niche as a special teamer. Currently figures as someone who can provide depth at the strong safety spot, not unlike Matthew Slater.
|Revisiting Patriots’ rookies: Measuring overall impact of this year’s group||01.22.13 at 9:04 pm ET|
This year’s group of Patriots’ rookies collectively made more of an impact in their first season than any other group of first-year players since the 2003 class. (While the 2010 draft class will likely have a greater long-term impact, the 2012 and 2003 groups were asked to do more in their first full season in the NFL — for more on that breakdown, check out the comparison I did on each draft class here.) With their first season now done, let’s take a player-by-player look at how each one of them did.
Chandler Jones: The 6-foot-5, 220-pound defensive end — the first of two first-round picks made by the Patriots last spring — started out on a great note. With eight games in the books, the Syracuse product was leading the team with six sacks (including two in a loss to the Seahawks) and 11 quarterback hits. He also had three forced fumbles (including one in the first quarter of his first game as a professional), and was named AFC Rookie of the Month and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. (We wrote about him as a possible candidate for the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award because of his fast start.) But over the last eight regular-season games, Jones had no sacks, no forced fumbles and one quarterback hit. A sizable portion of that was likely due to an ankle injury he suffered in November that left him on the shelf for a stretch, and probably caused a dip in his play when he did return. (While he wasn’t overwhelming statistically in the regular-season finale against Miami, he did play very well against the Dolphins, looking aggressive while doing a good job setting the edge.) He indicated Monday that he could be facing offseason surgery for his ankle issues.
Dont’a Hightower: After being slowed by a hamstring problem in September and October, the Alabama product became a steady and dependable member of New England defense, and ended his rookie season with 75 tackles (51 solo), four sacks, nine quarterback hits and three passes defensed. He managed to grow into a complimentary piece at linebacker, alongside veterans Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. No reason to think that the 6-foot-2, 270-pound defender won’t be a consistent presence at linebacker for the Patriots for years to come.
Tavon Wilson: The 6-foot, 210-pounder out of Illinois started strong, with four interceptions in his first 10 games, as well as a 10-tackle performance in an October win over Denver that likely marked the high-water mark of the season for the defensive back, who certainly surpassed the expectations of many who initially called him a second-round reach. However, the acquisition of Aqib Talib affected his playing time maybe more than anyone else — the trade for Talib meant the Patriots moved Devin McCourty from corner to safety, and left Wilson on the sidelines. (Wilson was still part of an occasional rotation in sub packages, but his overall snap count drastically decreased.) Overall, he finished the regular-season with 48 tackles (32 solo), but one of the most impressive things you can say about Wilson and what he brought to the field was a nose for the ball: in addition to his four picks, he had six passes defensed and a pair of fumble recoveries.
|Zoltan Mesko: ‘Really what I see is the ball’||09.16.12 at 9:26 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Zoltan Mesko knew the Cardinals were a good punt-blocking team. He didn’t have to have his first career blocked punt in a critical part of the game to reaffirm this.
But as Quentin Groves blew past Nate Ebner with 9:48 left in the third quarter Sunday, Mesko suffered the worst thing a punter can experience – the sound of a ball hitting the hands of a defender in the shadow of his own goal post. That blocked punt led to Arizona’s first touchdown of the day, a 2-yard strike from Kevin Kolb to Andre Roberts, putting Arizona up, 13-9.
“Really what I see is the ball. I concentrate on the ball,” Mesko said. “There’s things I can control – the punting part – and there are things I can’t. I felt like the operation, the rhythm, the protection just broke down on the left side.
“It’s kind of like a peripheral thing where you have to have trust in your teammates to get them out of the way because, just like Tom [Tom Brady] has to wait till the last second sometimes, and then [teammates] will wash them out.”
“It was just something we take pride in,” Groves said of his block. “We just go in and watch films, and we noticed he was a bit soft on the edge.”
Even before getting a punt blocked for the first time in his career in the third quarter Sunday, the Cardinals actually got close enough to the point earlier in the game where one of his punts hit the shoulder pad of Cardinals rusher Justin Bethel.
“That ball was actually touched by his shoulder pads. I don’t know how it got out,” Mesko said of his first punt of the day, a 38-yard punt to the Cardinals 13.
Mesko was also at the scene of the crime when Stephen Gostkowski hooked his potential game-winning 42-yard field goal wide left.
“I thought we had a good operation,” Mesko said. “Steve put it best. We wouldn’t be out there if we didn’t know we risk failure every time we go out there. It’s on us and how we handle it. It’s our job.”
|Chandler Jones on Patriots rookie class: ‘We’re very mature’||09.14.12 at 2:55 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Chandler Jones got the message on rookie humility from Bill Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff.
On Friday, he acknowledged that – as a rookie defensive end out of Syracuse – he can still get a lot better in his technique and overall game on defense.
“Being humble is key because no one likes a cocky player at all,” Jones said. “There’s a big difference between being cocky and being confident. It’s good to be humble but it’s good to be confident at the same time. I have a lot of work to do, a lot of work to do.”
He was asked if his strip-sack of Jake Locker leading to the fumble return for a touchdown by fellow rookie Dont’a Hightower proves right away that he belongs in the NFL.
“I wouldn’t jump to that statement right away, saying ‘I belong in this league.’ I feel like it was a great play but anyone can get a great play in this game of football. Like I said, I have a lot of work to do and that was just Week 1 and I have a few more weeks to go,” Jones said. “It gave me a little bit of swagger, I’ll say. But I have a lot work to do, a lot of work to do.
“We’re handed the game plan. We’re told to execute the game plan and that’s what we did.”
But don’t get Jones wrong. He definitely plays and carries himself like a rookie who knows what he’s doing on and off the field.
“That’s the job of the vets,” Jones said of the job of keeping rookies in check in the Patriots locker room. “I feel like as far as the rookie class, we’re very mature. We all are leaders on our own. That’s one characteristic we all have.”
That rookie class of Jones, Hightower, Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner will be center stage on Sunday as the Patriots make the 2012 home debut at Gillette Stadium.
“I’m excited to see,” Jones said. “With a sold out game, hopefully we can get the crowd going on third down or whenever the defense is out there and we’ll see what happens.”
|Stock Watch: These five Patriots are ending preseason on high note||08.25.12 at 11:52 pm ET|
With the preseason set to come to an end Wednesday when the Patriots travel to New Jersey to meet the Giants, here’s a look at five players whose stock appears to be rising.
Defensive back Marquice Cole: The cornerback had himself a very good night on Friday against the Bucs. Working in the slot, he had two passes defensed, almost getting his hands on a pair of attempts. He finished the night tied for the team lead in tackles with five, and continues to show excellent value as a special teamer — he worked in kick and punt coverage, and added a special teams’ tackle to his total. In fact, it’s his special teams value that likely gives him an edge on some other corners who might also be fighting for a roster spot at this point.
Quote: “I think he did a number of good things, as he has the whole training camp; made plays in the kicking game, made plays on defense.” – Bill Belichick on Cole’s performance Friday against Tampa Bay.
Running back/returner Jeff Demps: It wasn’t much of a start — he was called for a false start in his first snap at running back — but it’s clear that Demps can use his speed to cover up for his drawbacks while he adjusts to life in the NFL. On his 29-yard run, he blew through the middle of the New England offensive line and made a Tampa defender whiff badly as he almost made it to the end zone. In the end, Demps had three carries for 41 yards in his pro debut. He also returned two kickoffs for 44 yards and one punt for 16 yards.
Quote: “You know, he got quite a bit of an opportunity tonight. Coach put him in a position to make some plays out there both in the return game and at running back. It was pretty amazing to go from what he was training for for the last six or eight months of his life, and to come in here and put pads on and do the same thing. So it’s really a credit to his hard work and his mental toughness.” – Tom Brady on the performance against Demps against Tampa Bay.
Defensive back Nate Ebner: The rookie out of Ohio State got some good reps with the starters on Friday against Tampa, as he was utilized frequently on third-down defensive packages and other passing situations. Like Cole, he’s a new defensive back who has flashed positively in limited reps on defense as well as special teams. He’s shown a knack for being around the ball (he had two picks in the last week of camp, as well as one last Monday against the Eagles), and if he continues trending positively throughout the next two weeks, the sixth-round pick out of Ohio State will almost certainly land on the final 53-man roster.
Quote: “[He] didn’t really have a lot of experience just defensively at Ohio State but [he's a] smart kid [and] understood what they were doing real well defensively. I think he’s learning. I think it’s a process for him. But he has good size, he’s smart, he can run. I think there are just some things he’s going to have to learn technique-wise and just seeing things, whether it’s formation, empty, just the multiplicity that goes into defense in general but that specific safety position, because there’s so much communication that’s involved in that spot.” – Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio on Ebner and his development as a defensive back.
Read the rest of this entry »
|Nate Ebner: ‘I’m starting to get a feel for things’||08.21.12 at 3:46 am ET|
FOXBORO — No one has had a better two weeks in training camp and preseason than rookie Nate Ebner.
The rookie continued his roll Monday night when he picked off Nick Foles at the Patriots 3-yard line just before halftime. The red zone interception not only kept the Eagles from taking the lead before halftime, it was his the latest in a string of ballhawking moments for the backup safety.
Last week during camp, Ebner picked off a pass in four consecutive practices, catching the eyes of the coaching staff. His reward? More playing time Monday night. Ebner said he wasn’t expecting such a reward coming into Monday’s game.
“Not in particular,” Ebner said. “I had a coach talk to me a little that I might get out there and just to play the best I can and they put me out there. So that is what was really going through my head.”
The other factor that played a major role in his increased playing time was the minor shoulder injury suffered by Patrick Chung late in the first quarter.
“That was their decision you really have to ask them,” Ebner said. “I don’t really know. They we’re just like, ‘Nate, you’re in.’ and that’s what I did.”
As for his ball magnetism? Ebner said he’s just doing his work in his practice reps.
“I’m just trying to work hard and do my job and if it finds me, it finds me, so I got to make the play when it comes,” Ebner said. “I would say I’m starting to get a feel for things, but you know it [starts] with practice and just getting better and you know just trying to get better every day, every week, so that’s really my focus now.”
|10 things we learned Friday from Patriots training camp||08.17.12 at 5:13 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots held their last public practice Friday, as fans got their last free look at the defending AFC champions as they prepare to host the Eagles Monday night.
Here are 10 things we learned as the Pats get ready for their second preseason game and Gillette Stadium gets ready for Bruce Springsteen:
The following players were in sweats for the Patriots: Jabar Gaffney, Stevan Ridley, Alfonzo Dennard, James Ihedigbo, Spencer Larsen, Tracy White, Markus Zusevics, Kyle Hix, Sebastian Vollmer, Daniel Fells and Myron Pryor.
The players not spotted at practice were: Tavon Wilson, Matt Kopa, Jake Ballard, Gerard Warren and Jonathan Fanene.
JEFF DEMPS ISN’T HERE (YET)
Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio wouldn’t comment on any transactions, but word emerged out of Florida on Friday (Fox 13′s Kevin O’Donnell) that New England had signed silver medal-winning Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps. According to multiple reports, Demps was not in town Friday because he was signing his contract in Florida.
Demps, who played running back at the University of Florida, could also serve as a kick returner for New England. Having been timed in the 40-yard dash below a 4.20, the 5-foot-7 Demps should easily be the fastest player on the team, but speed doesn’t always lead to success. Just ask Chad Jackson or Bethel Johnson.
TY LAW PAYS A VISIT
Patriots legend Ty Law took in practice Friday, as he is in town thanks to an indoor trampoline facility he is opening up. The longtime Pats’ cornerback mostly checked out practice from outside the field, but could be seen on the field chatting with Tom Brady, among others.
WELKER LEAVES EARLY
Without any noticeable injury or any sign of being encumbered, receiver Wes Welker walked off the field, at 2:59 p.m., about an hour and a half into practice. To the naked eye, there didn’t appear to be anything worrying about.
JONES GIVES PUBLIC SOMETHING TO REMEMBER
The last play of open camp was something the fans on hand would certainly view as a highlight, as Chandler Jones — the same Chandler Jones who is supposed to be the answer to the Patriots’ pass rush blues — fielded a punt. Not only did he field the punt, but he did so cleanly. This led to gigantic cheers from both fans and every Patriots player on the field.
It turns out the players were cheering for good reason. At stake on the play was their time Friday night, and Jones catching the punt meant they got the night off.
UP-AND-DOWN DAY FOR LLOYD
While Jones catching the punt secured that he would be the newcomer that stole the show on Friday, free agent receiver Brandon Lloyd had a bit of an interesting day. The veteran receiver turned in some truly sensational catches — he made a one-handed grab in the back of the end zone (it would have been out of bounds, but still) on a pass from Brady and also beat Devin McCourty on a deep ball — but also had some down moments.
One of those came on a deep ball from Brady that Lloyd completely let go through his hands in the end zone. Lloyd was in double coverage (Josh Barrett and Ross Ventrone) on the play, but he was a step ahead of both defenders and saw the ball all the way into — make that through — his hands. Lloyd also dropped an easy pass from Brady that did not come against any defenders.
BRADY, LLOYD, GRONKOWSKI GET CLIQUEY
In a sign that they might not be spending too much time on the field Monday, Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Lloyd spent time on one of the two practice fields all by themselves, with Brady throwing passes to his weapons without the presence of any defenders.
Lloyd wasn’t the only culprit of some head-scratching drops on the day, and Gronkowski put himself among the other guilty parties while the three were working together. The tight end would either run a route unencumbered or deal with a blocking pad before breaking into his route, and he ended up with a pair of drops during the session. Read the rest of this entry »
2013 PATRIOTS DRAFT PICKS
2013 NFL DRAFT
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