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Patriots defense looks to find fix for third-down woes of last few years 07.23.14 at 12:24 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For the past few seasons there has been one consistent issue with the Patriots defense — getting off the field on third down.

According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, dating back to the 2010 season there hasn’t been one year in which the Patriots finished higher than 20th in the league in third-down defense. Last year the unit got off the field 42.7 percent of the time, 25th in the league, so on a little more than half of the third-down plays, opponents were successful. 2010 was the worst season of all, as New England allowed opponents a success rate of 47.1 percent, dead last among all 32 defenses in the league.

This is one of the areas in which the defense as a whole knows it needs to get better as preparation for the 2014 season begins with training camp opening on Thursday.

“We have to get off the field, that’s huge,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “Some of the third-and-long situations we weren’t able to get off the field. I know third-and-long screens hurt us, too. Specifically that play and third and long as a whole, we need to do a better job. Obviously everything is working together, so coverage-rush, rush-coverage, everything works together. That’s just one area we definitely need to work on this year.”

A good amount of the conversions have come on screen plays, some even going for long yardage. Stopping the play comes from not just one specific group of players, but the entire defense.

“It’s just different things you can work on,” defensive back Devin McCourty said of how to stop the screen. “I think one of the greatest things here is we have coaches that find any and everything we can do to get better. I think one of the big things is getting to the ball. It’s a play you try and get the linemen up field and guys drop into coverage, so just effort and everything on that simple basis can help improve the screen game.”

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Read More: Devin McCourty, Patriots, Rob Ninkovich,
For Stanford double-major Cameron Fleming, learning Patriots playbook shouldn’t be difficult 06.13.14 at 11:10 am ET
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Despite being 6-foot-5, 323 pounds, Cameron Fleming is still very athletic and versatile. (AP)

Despite being 6-foot-5, 323 pounds, Cameron Fleming is very athletic and versatile. He’s also intelligent, as the Patriots’ fourth-round pick out of Stanford double-majored in aeronautics and astronautics. (AP)

For rookies — all new players, really — learning the Patriots playbook is a bit of a challenge with the numerous schemes and many new concepts. But for rookie right tackle Cameron Fleming, the X’€™s and O’€™s will be nothing compared to what he went through during his four years in the classroom at Stanford.

Fleming double-majored in aeronautics and astronautics, so he is no stranger to foreign concepts and challenging his brain.

“He’€™s designed planes in class and stuff like that,” Stanford offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren said in a phone interview. “He knows that is what he wants to do after football, and so not only is he your typical Stanford kid, but he’s one that majored in that. He’€™s absolutely brilliant.”

Last year as a senior Fleming needed to schedule special meetings with Bloomgren to go over game plans, as Fleming was in class when the rest of the team had meetings. Over lunch each day the pair would go over what Fleming missed, becoming very close to one another over the course of the season.

Bloomgren coached in the NFL, serving as an offensive assistant with the Jets for four seasons before joining Stanford in 2011. With that NFL experience, he knows what the playbooks look like and installed a similar philosophy at Stanford with multiple plays being called in the huddle, many audibles, etc. He said it will be a seamless transition for Fleming to the pro game.

“Absolutely, especially in a system like ours and one like the New England system,” Bloomgren said. “The little that I know about it, it certainly requires you to be a thinking man. A guy that can go to a second play and have the quarterback come to the line and audible, do whatever he tells you to do, and Cameron is that guy. He’€™s a guy that can certainly adjust on the run, and that is nothing new for him to go to the line of scrimmage with two or three plays called in the huddle and he’€™s told which one to run.”

On the field Fleming is a monster. He stands 6-foot-5, 323 pounds. As a sophomore he started 11 games and protected Andrew Luck while the quarterback threw a school-record 37 touchdown passes. As a junior Fleming started 14 games at right tackle and was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention. As a senior he started all 14 games and took home numerous awards, including All-Pac-12 second team, Sporting News All-Pac-12 and Athlon Sports All-Pac-12 second team.

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Cameron Fleming, Mike Bloomgren, Patriots
Tiki Barber on MFB: Stevan Ridley ‘has every opportunity to be one of the greats’ 06.12.14 at 3:11 pm ET
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Former Giants running back and current CBS Sports Radio host Tiki Barber joined Middays with MFB on Thursday to discuss the fumbling issues of Stevan Ridley and Jets rookie Calvin Pryor‘€™s comments about the Patriots. To listen to the interview, go the MFB audio on demand page.

Ridley has been one of the most productive running backs in the league over the last two seasons, rushing for 2,036 yards and 19 touchdowns in 30 games. However, Ridley has been plagued with fumbling issues, losing the ball eight times over the same 30-game stretch.

Barber stated that working on mechanics and strategy over the offseason will help Ridley solve the problem that put him in Bill Belichick‘€™s doghouse for most of last year.

“€œThis is what worked for me: It was showing a concerted effort in the offseason to correct whatever the problem is, and his problem is unfortunately the same one that I had — an inconsistency of holding onto the ball,”€ Barber said, adding: “The way you get out of people’€™s doghouses is to show a concerted effort to fixing the problem and then executing it day in and day out when people aren’t watching.

“The only way that the fans and media are going to care and let this go is if when the games start happening, when preseasons starts happening, it doesn’t become an issue at all.”

Barber continued: “I’ve always said this about sports. It’€™s train, train, train … so that when you get into the moment, you don’€™t have to think about it and you can just trust. So for Stevan and for any guys that are having issues with ball security, it’€™s about mechanically changing your mind in the offseason when there’€™s no pressure to do it, because when you try to do it at the moment of game day … there’€™s no chance. You have to train yourself when there is no pressure, so that when there is pressure, you don’€™t think about it.”

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Read More: Giants, Patriots, Stevan Ridley, Tiki Barber
Broncos Super Bowl swag headed to Africa 06.02.14 at 1:47 pm ET
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It’s become a rite of passage for each team that ends up losing the Super Bowl — the championship swag it would have been sporting on the field after the game ends up getting sent to a part of the world that needs clothing. It happened with the Patriots on a couple of occasions (including the nearly perfect 2007 team). On Monday, it happened to the 2013 Broncos. (H/T @adampaulcooper, @WorldVision and @arrowheadpride).

 

Read More: Broncos, Patriots, Schadenfreude, welcome to the offseason
Tom Brady talks Jimmy Garoppolo, future at Best Buddies charity event 05.31.14 at 1:42 am ET
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Tom Brady ditched his football helmet and cleats for a pair of sneakers and a baseball cap — at least for Friday night.

Brady addressed the media during halftime of his charity football game Friday at Harvard Stadium. (Conor Ryan/WEEI.com)

Brady addressed the media during halftime of his charity football game Friday at Harvard Stadium. (Conor Ryan/WEEI.com)

The Patriots quarterback was once again under center Friday night at Harvard Stadium for his annual Tom Brady Football Challenge, a charity event benefiting Best Buddies International.

“€œIt’€™s special for me, it’€™s special for my family and all the buddies and their families,” Brady said. “Everyone’€™s really worked hard to put this on. … It’€™s a great weekend for us to … have an opportunity to do this and it’€™s also getting closer to football season, so it’€™s great.”

Best Buddies International is a nonprofit organization, founded by Anthony K. Shriver in 1989, that is dedicated to establishing opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Brady held court with the press during halftime, and while the three-minute media session was brief, the New England signal caller touched on a variety of topics, including the upcoming season, newly drafted quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and, of course, the charity organization that he has volunteered with for the past 13 years.

Garoppolo was taken by the Patriots out of Eastern Illinois with the 62nd pick of the draft earlier this month. It was the highest spot that the Patriots have drafted a quarterback since selecting Drew Bledsoe with the first pick in the 1993 draft.

“He’€™s a really nice kid,” Brady said. “He’€™s a great guy, and all the new guys have really come in and hopefully they can play a great role on our team.”

The Patriots kicked off their OTA schedule earlier this week, with Brady stating that his team will need time to truly start to mesh.

“€œWe’ve got a long way to go,” Brady said. “€œIt’€™s only been a couple of days. We’€™re a long ways from the season and we’€™re going to need all the practices that we can get.”

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Read More: Best Buddies, Jimmy Garoppolo, Patriots, Tom Brady
Patriots players discuss pick plays, season coming to an end 01.20.14 at 3:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The day after the Patriots fell to the Broncos 26-16 in the AFC championship game it was a somber locker room at Gillette Stadium, where the players cleaned out their lockers and many said goodbye to teammates, some of whom likely will not be teammates again because of free agency and the general nature of the NFL.

A few players spoke with the media reflecting on both the season and Sunday’s game, with pick plays in the league being a main focus.

Here are a few quotes:

Devin McCourty

On the season coming to an end: “It’€™s always tough when your season ends in the playoffs, it just ends so fast.”

On the Broncos and their pick plays: “Each team is different, but they run that a lot and do a good job doing that.”

Steve Gregory

On what the the defense could have done better in the loss: “I wish we could’ve gotten off the field a little bit. Third downs we weren’t able to get off the field, they kind of pretty much moved the ball and chewed up a lot of clock. We would’ve liked to have gotten a turnover or two and given the ball back to our offense in good field position, even just forcing a punt. We weren’t able to, they were clicking. Peyton [Manning] was on his game. They are a good football team. It’€™s going to be a good game.”

Overall thoughts on the season: “At the end of the season there is only one team that is going to be happy. Every other team is going to go home and wonder what they could’ve done more of to accomplish their goals. I am proud of this group of guys. They played hard all year long. We had so much adversity that we overcame. By no means was it a bad season, we made it to the AFC championship and played a great team in the Denver Broncos and yesterday they were just a little bit better than we were. They made more plays than we did and they deserved it. At the end of the day we can hold our heads high. We played a heck of a year, the guys fought hard, you just have to learn from it, move on.”

On pick plays and what they’ve become: “The game has evolved to that with bunches and stacks with guys trying to create separation especially in man coverage and things like that. Receivers try and rub routes with picks like that, pick plays is what they are called — trying to create separation for guys so the quarterback can get the ball in there. It’€™s kind of become part of the game. To what extent it’€™s a flag or a penalty, I don’€™t know. It’€™s something you have to deal with and work through.”

Andre Carter

On pick plays in the NFL: “It’€™s football. It’€™s part of the offensive scheme, we understand that. Sometimes for defensive linemen like myself, the crack-toss play, it happens. You just have to prepare for it. Sometimes you get caught in the wrong place, but like I said it’s football. The league will review it and see what they can do to protect players.”

Read More: Andre Carter, Devin McCourty, Patriots, Steve Gregory
LeGarrette Blount on re-signing with Patriots: ‘I’d like to be here, but we’ll see how it goes’ at 2:10 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount is now a free agent. (AP)

LeGarrette Blount is now a free agent. (AP)

FOXBORO — Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount slowly removed items from his locker and into a trash bag Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after his team was eliminated from the playoffs following their 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game.

Monday could be the last time Blount sets foot in the Patriots locker room as the 27-year-old is now a free agent, but that doesn’€™t mean Blount isn’€™t open to a return with New England.

“I’€™d like to be here, but we’€™ll see how it goes,” Blount said.

His contract this past year was reportedly for the four-year league minimum of $630,000 with an added $50,000 workout bonus.

The 250-pound running back had a breakout season, particularly in the final two games of the regular season carrying over into the divisional round game against the Colts. He averaged 143 yards on the ground in those three games and recorded eight touchdowns, including four against the Colts.

For the season he finished with 772 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, but only ran the ball five times for six yards in Sunday’s loss to the Broncos.

“I’€™m proud of how far we went, obviously we didn’€™t reach our ultimate goal, but we’€™re proud of the strides we made,” said Blount.

He came to the Patriots from Tampa Bay this offseason in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick and sprinter Jeff Demps, who only played in two games for the Buccaneers this season.

Blount went undrafted out of Oregon coming into the league in 2010 where he rushed for 1,007 yards with Tampa. In 2011 he ran for 781 yards before a down year of just 151 in 2012. The Patriots took a chance on him and Blount joined a team where he fit right in.

“Hard, tough-nosed, the ability that this whole team has. A lot of guys here are underdogs and undrafted guys. There are a lot of not first-round guys coming in here stepping up doing things guys didn’€™t expect them to do,” Blount said of the Patriots as a team. ‘€œWe’€™ve come out here and proved them wrong a bunch of times.”

Although the team didn’€™t reach their ultimate goal, there was still a lot of take away from the season with just how many injuries the team was able to get past — something Blount took a lot of pride in.

“We did everything we could to overcome them,” he said. “We made it as far as we could’€™ve without getting to the big show.”

Whether Blount is apart of the Patriots team next year that hopes to get to “the big show” still remains to be seen.

Read More: LeGarrette Blount, Patriots,
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