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A brief history of Patriots and their pre-draft contact with recent top picks 03.16.15 at 1:50 pm ET
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Before he was drafted by the Patriots last spring, Dominque Easley had an inkling New England was interested in his service. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Before he was drafted by the Patriots last spring, Dominque Easley had an inkling New England was interested in his service. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With the pre-draft process now in full swing — and private workouts and visits looming for each team starting later this month — fans and media alike will undoubtedly try and gauge the level of the Patriots’ interest in a player through visits, contact and workout sessions. With the understanding that some of the pre-draft conversations can be a smokescreen, some of it can be done for intel down the road and some of can be for practical scouting purposes, here’s a look at the pre-draft connections New England has made with some of their top draft picks over the last seven years.

Defensive lineman Dominique Easley (taken with New England’s first pick in 2014, 29th overall): Easley was brought in to Foxboro for a pre-draft visit with the Patriots. He later recalled that Bill Belichick showed up at his pro day, and they “talked a whole lot and got to know each other,” according to the Florida product.

Linebacker Jamie Collins (taken with New England’s first pick in 2013, a second-round selection at No. 52 overall): Belichick flew South to work out Collins before the draft, but the linebacker later indicated he didn’t talk much with the Patriots throughout the pre-draft process, at least when compared to other teams.

Defensive end Chandler Jones (first-round pick 2012, 21st overall): Jones said the only substantive contact he had with New England prior to being drafted was a conversation at the combine that winter in Indy. “I talked to the Patriots — I talked with them at the combine,” he said. “That was the most formal thing we did. That’s basically it — we talked at the combine.”

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (first-round pick 2012, 25th overall): He didn’t work out for Patriots, but he said he “had a small (idea)” the Patriots were interested, he indicated following the draft. “I met with those guys at the combine and I met them at one of the pro days,” Hightower recalled, “I knew that they were kind of interested in some of the defensive players that we had at Alabama.”

Tackle Nate Solder (first-round pick 2011, 17th overall): Solder had “fairly limited contact” with the Patriots throughout the pre-draft process. He met with former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia the Monday before the draft in Colorado, but also had a scheduled visit to Foxboro cancelled at the last minute as he was preparing to leave for New England. “I don’t know exactly what happened,” Solder later explained. “I was scheduled to visit (but), the minute before I left, it was cancelled. That’s all I know.”

Defensive back Devin McCourty (first-round pick 2010, 27th overall): McCourty met with Belichick prior to the draft, where the two had a film session on campus at Rutgers. “Bill Belichick had come to my school for a coaches’ clinic, and he was going to fly right out after the clinic to see his son play in a lacrosse game,” McCourty recalled. “But we had an hour, we watched some film and we spoke for a little while. We had a real generic conversation, but he showed me some things on film, just watching and helping me out as far as being a player.”

Linebacker Jerod Mayo (first-round pick, 2008, 10th overall): Mayo had 11 visits with teams during the pre-draft process, and remembers his visit to Foxboro fondly. “I had a great visit when I came down there,” he said after the draft. “The coaches and I sat down and talked football for a long time. Like I said, I just had a great visit and I felt like we clicked.”

Read More: 2015 NFL Draft, chandler jones, Devin McCourty, Dominique Easley
Patriots players dismiss talk of deflated footballs 01.19.15 at 2:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots players weren’t in the mood Monday afternoon to talk about the report of deflated footballs in Sunday’s AFC title game.

Reports have surfaced that the Colts believe that there were some partially deflated footballs used in Sunday’s game, with a story from WTHR-TV in Indianapolis quoting a source saying the Patriots partially deflated the footballs.

Asked if the ball felt “a little deflated” when he caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady in the second half. left tackle Nate Solder laughed.

“I don’t know anything about that. I’m glad I caught it,” he said with a smile. “[But] I don’t anything about that. Nothing.”

Wide receiver Julian Edelman was a little more dismissive of the idea that deflated balls played a role in the game.

“No. I don’t even know anything about that. I think it’s just a story. Whatever,” he said Monday. “I don’t know anything about it, like I said. It’s funny.”

According to NFL rules, officials test game footballs two hours prior to kickoff, and they can measure the pressure during the game. As a result, it’s not clear how a team could deflate footballs surreptitiously during a contest.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady laughed off the talk on WEEI on Monday morning, saying he had ‘€œno idea’€ what the controversy was all about.

‘€œI think I’€™ve heard it all at this point,’€ he said.

Added Brady: ‘€œThat’€™s the last of my worries. I don’€™t even respond to stuff like this.’€

Read More: 2015 playoffs, Julian Edelman, Nate Solder,
Tom Brady on D&C: ‘Just a great win by our team’ at 9:08 am ET
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Tom Brady is heading to the Super Bowl for an NFL record sixth time. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady and the Patriots had plenty to celebrate after Sunday’s rout of the Colts. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady checked in with Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning, following Sunday night’s rout of the Colts in the AFC championship game. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

“It was just a great win by our team,” Brady said. “It was an exciting one to be a part of. We put a lot of work into this year, and then to have it culminate in really a great all-around performance last night, it was pretty sweet for everybody.”

The Patriots were 2-2 after four games and raising concern for their inconsistent play before turning things around. Brady said he takes no additional satisfaction because of where the team was at the end of September.

“I don’t think it does [matter],” he said. “Look, there’s a lot of people that say good things about you, there’s a lot of people that say bad things about you. I think just as professional athletes you have to show up to work every day and focus on doing your job and doing everything you have to do to help your team win and succeed at a high level on a weekly basis.

“Sometimes it doesn’t go right, as I said, all season long. You don’t win every single game. You’re certainly never going to throw in the towel. We stayed focused, we stayed with what we were expecting ourselves to do, which was make improvements over the course of the season. It puts us in a pretty good place going into the playoffs, and we took care of business twice at home. So that was a great thing.”

After being favored in both of their AFC playoff games, the Patriots are underdogs for their Super Bowl matchup against the defending champion Seahawks. Brady claims the Patriots won’t use this underdog status as inspiration.

“Whatever it is, it is. I don’t know who makes those decisions or things like that,” he said. “We’ll go in there with a lot of confidence. It doesn’t matter whether they think you’ll win or lose. A lot of people think we’ll win, a lot of people think we’ll lose. None of that stuff really matters to us.”

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Read More: LeGarrette Blount, Nate Solder, Richard Sherman, Tom Brady
Nate Solder on touchdown catch: ‘There is no way to know that was coming’ at 12:52 am ET
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Nate Solder's touchdown catch drew the praise of the entire Patriots' offensive line. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Nate Solder‘s touchdown catch drew the praise of the entire Patriots’ offensive line. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — The Patriots and their trickery were at it again.

On the opening drive of the second half, with the Patriots leading  the Colts, 17-7, it was third-and-1 on the Colts’ 16-yard line and left tackle Nate Solder reported as an eligible receiver.

The Colts expected quarterback Tom Brady to hand it off to LeGarrette Blount with the Patriots running it down their throats on the drive, but Brady faked the hand off and Solder slipped behind the defense and caught a 16-yard touchdown pass, diving into the end zone before he could be brought down.

It was Solder’s first career catch, although he did play some tight end in college at the University of Colorado.

“There is no way to know that was coming,” the humble Solder said after the game. “When the time came I did my best as anyone would’ve.”

Asked how he would rate his route on the catch, Solder couldn’t do anything but laugh.

“Just proficient,” he said. “I made it across the goal line.”

It was the second straight week the Patriots called a “trick play,” as in last week’s divisional round win over the Ravens, Josh McDaniels called a double-pass when Julian Edelman found Danny Amendola for a 51-yard touchdown strike.

“I feel fortunate to be a part of this group,” said Solder. “We have great coaches, great players. To be a part of this group is amazing.”

The touchdown electrified the Patriots’ sideline and was the start of 28 second half points for New England, including 21 in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. The biggest celebration on the sidelines and on the field was with his fellow offensive linemen.

“Those are my guys, those are my guys,” Solder said. “To be around them, the excitement that they shared with me, it was like we all did it. That was a lot of fun.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Nate Solder, ryan wendell,
Patriots offensive line at full strength vital to offense, Tom Brady’s success 01.07.15 at 7:00 am ET
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Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman — three very important pieces to the Patriots’ offense, but are they the most important?

Not be to overlooked is the Patriots’ offensive line, especially with the group likely getting back to full strength this week against Baltimore, as Dan Connolly is set to return. This will be especially important going against a Ravens defense, which finished second in the regular season in sacks with 49.

“I’€™m just excited to be back at practice,” Connolly said Tuesday after missing the last two games with a knee injury. “I’€™m going to do my best to work in and try to get as healthy as I can. But it’€™s good to be back out.”

All indications are the Patriots will get their starting offensive line back this week — (left tackle to right tackle) Nate Solder, Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer.

Just how important is a healthy offense line for the Patriots offense and Brady to be successful?

  • Solder, Connolly, Stork, Wendell, Vollmer (7-1 record) — Weeks 5, 8-14: Brady: 214-320 (66.9 percent), 2,433 yards, 21 TDs, 6 INTs, 103.6 QB rating, 4 sacks
  • Any combination besides above (5-3 record) — Weeks 1-4, 6, 7, 15, 16: Brady: 160-263 (60.8 percent), 1,675 yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs, 89.8 QB rating, 17 sacks

It’s pretty clear having the starting offensive line together makes a huge difference for the offense, as well as Brady in a number of different ways. The biggest difference is sacks. In the same number of games (eight) there is a 13 sack difference between when the starting offensive line is playing and when they are not. In games not started by the regular offensive line, Brady has been sacked multiple times in five of the eight, and four times twice. In games started by the starting offensive line, they haven’t allowed a multiple sack game and had four games allowing zero sacks, which will be especially important this weekend against a strong Ravens defense.

“They’€™re great,” Connolly said of the Ravens’ pass rush. “[Elvis] Dumervil has got 19 sacks. They do a great job of getting to the quarterback. We’€™ve faced a lot of good D-lines this season. That’€™s nothing new in the NFL. It’€™s a lot of pressure on us to do a good job. That’€™s what we try to do every week. It’€™s our job to make sure Tom [Brady] stays upright, so that’€™s what we’€™re going to try to do this week, too.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Bryan Stork, Dan Connolly, Nate Solder
Patriots OL needs to be better going into postseason 12.28.14 at 7:57 pm ET
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Ryan Wendell

Ryan Wendell

FOXBORO — If there is one thing to be hesitant about going into the postseason for the Patriots offense, it is the play of its offensive line.

Without starters Dan Connolly (knee) and Sebastian Vollmer (back), forcing a starting offensive line (left-to-right) of Nate Solder, Josh Kline, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Marcus Cannon Sunday against the Bills — Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo, particularly Garoppolo in the second half, were under constant pressure all game long.

Overall, the Bills hit Patriots quarterbacks six times and recorded four sacks in the game. This comes after last week’s game against the Jets where the Patriots were reshuffling their line all game without Connolly to give Brady more time, but allowed a season-high four sacks and 11 quarterback hits.

“We didn’t play very well. We just didn’t do our jobs,” Wendell said Sunday.

The Patriots did some reshuffling again against the Bills, as late in the first half the Patriots subbed out Kline, and replaced him with Wendell at left guard and Cameron Fleming at right guard. Then, just before the half Solder appeared to injure his right leg on a play he was called for holding on. He finished the last minute of the half before limping to the locker room. In the second half, Cannon moved to left tackle, so the line went: Cannon, Kline, Stork, Wendell, Fleming.

Missing key players in Connolly and Vollmer, then losing Solder in the game made things difficult to get any sort of continuity up front.

“It was a good opportunity to get some other guys some reps,” Wendell said. “We’€™re going to need everybody moving forward. You never knew who’€™s going to get called up, so a game like this was a great opportunity to get a lot of those guys more reps that they normally don’€™t get.”

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Read More: Dan Connolly, Nate Solder, ryan wendell, Sebastian Vollmer
Bill Belichick on Marcus Cannon: ‘It’s always good to have him on the field’ 12.12.14 at 11:00 am ET
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Marcus Cannon

Marcus Cannon

FOXBORO — The way Bill Belichick sees it, a two-year, $9 million extension for Marcus Cannon is money well earned. The Patriots coach made that much clear Friday morning, hours after the extension was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Cannon showed his biggest value in 2013 when Sebastian Vollmer went out with a broken leg against the Dolphins in October. He took over at right tackle and helped stabilize the offensive line.

“Last year, he had an opportunity to play a lot,” Belichick said of the 26-year-old offensive lineman out of Texas Christian. “I thought he played well. This year, he gives us a lot of depth at a key position. It’s always good to have him on the field.

“He works hard and is very athletic guy, tough.”

This year has been a bigger challenge for Cannon, who has struggled at times on the left side of the offensive line. He started the first three games at left guard, as the Patriots searched for a replacement for the traded Logan Mankins. But he seemed to find a more comfortable role in the tackle-eligible role when the Patriots went with their jumbo sets.

“Marcus works hard. He’s done a lot of different things for us. He’s improved a lot,” Belichick said.

Belichick would not specifically confirm the new deal for Cannon, focusing instead on the upcoming opponent this weekend at Gillette Stadium.

“I don’t really talk too much about contracts. Just right now worried about Miami,” Belichick said.

Cannon was due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season after signing his four-year, $2.338 million rookie contract with New England in July 2011.

Cannon’s deal gives the Patriots some tackle insurance on the offensive line as Nate Solder is facing an upcoming fifth-year option of $7.43 million. With Cameron Fleming having missed eight of the last nine games with finger and knee injuries, that role has fallen primarily to Cannon.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder, New England Patriots
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