|10 most intriguing veterans on Patriots roster||05.07.13 at 12:43 pm ET|
This spring, there are several notable names on the Patriots roster who are starting an important period in their careers for one of four reasons. One, because they might be on the hot seat this year as part of a looming positional battle. Two, they’ve been on the shelf for an extended stretch and are a question mark when it comes to how much they might be able to contribute. Three, they have yet to take a snap in the Patriots system, which makes it difficult when it comes to gauging how they might fit in Foxboro. And four, they are entering a contract year and could have their fortunes down the road tied to their performance in 2013.
With that in mind, here’s our list of this spring’s 10 most intriguing veterans on the New England roster.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Talib, who was acquired from the Bucs in a November trade, wasn’t an elite corner by any stretch, but his presence allowed the Patriots to move Devin McCourty to safety and install Kyle Arrington in the slot. With that personnel combination in the secondary, the Patriots pass defense had great improvement across the board. (The continuity of having the same five guys at the same spots in the defensive backfield also helped, and with his return, should help going forward.) Despite some injury issues — his departure in the AFC title game, combined with New England’s lack of a coverage linebacker, left the Patriots struggling to defend against Joe Flacco — Talib became a key part of the defense. He re-signed with the Patriots on a low-cost, one-year “prove it” deal that creates incentives for both him and the team. If he has a terrific year, he gets to return to the open market with a chance to really cash in, and the team gets a top-level corner for a year at relatively low cost.
Tight end Jake Ballard: The former Giant was plucked off the New York roster last June and spent the entire 2012 season on the shelf after suffering a knee injury in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots. A 6-foot-6, 275-pounder, he was undrafted out of Ohio State in 2010 but turned himself into an effective downfield threat in 2011 with New York (38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns). Ballard is intriguing for a couple of reasons. One, he hasn’t been on the field for a year, and remains a bit of an unknown commodity because of his inactivity. And two, if Rob Gronkowski is on the shelf for any amount of time, Ballard (provided he’s healthy) should see an increase in reps, as his game has some elements of Gronkowski.
Defensive lineman Armond Armstead: One of the most intriguing veteran prospects the Patriots have brought in this spring, this CFL import — who stands 6-foot-5, 300 pounds — could provide a boost to the New England pass rush. The 22-year-old, a USC product, was a three-year star for the Trojans in college. After a junior year spent at defensive end — where he had 43 tackles, six of which were for a loss (three sacks) — he was set to open his senior year at defensive tackle but suffered a heart attack before his senior season and never was cleared to practice. As a result, he went undrafted last spring and ended up with Toronto of the Canadian Football League, where he led the team with 44 tackles and six sacks to help the Argonauts to a Grey Cup championship. (Armstead and Jason Vega are the two CFL imports who joined the New England roster this offseason.)
(When it comes to making the transition from the CFL to the NFL, Marc Trestman — a former CFL coach who was named coach of the Bears this offseason — thinks it can be done. “There are some players up there certainly that have shown they can play in the NFL, that’s been proven over time. There haven’t been many, but the guys who have shown up down here did a pretty good job of fitting in,” he said. “Players up there are very similar to the guys down here in terms of their character. They want to master their craft, they want to be the best they can be, and some of them have had the opportunity south of the border and have done well. These guys love football up there and have dreams of wanting to do it down here, and those who can, will give it a try. Those who can’t have experienced a lot of exciting football up there.”)
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|NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes||03.05.13 at 3:43 pm ET|
WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that might be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2013 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’s time for the Patriots to make a selection.
School: Florida State
Weight: 210 pounds
Achievements: 2012 All-ACC, 2010 Freshman All-American, 2010 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year
What he brings: Rhodes is a big, strong, aggressive, physical corner who projects well in a scheme that calls for a lot of press coverage and also brings the ability to come up and tackle in the run game and on screen passes.
At 6-foot-1, Rhodes will come into the league as one of the biggest defenders at the position and could provide the Patriots with a younger, cheaper version of Aqib Talib, should Talib leave the team via free agency this offseason. In fact, Talib is the player with which Rhodes is most often compared, with Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com projecting him as a similar player, albeit without Talib’s top-end speed.
As with any larger cornerback, Rhodes will have to prove he has the top-end speed and short-area quickness to match up with some of the NFL’s faster receivers. Although, given the right scheme, Rhodes has the ability to flourish without his weaknesses getting exposed too often. It’s more likely that Rhodes will end up being matched up against receivers such as Demaryius Thomas and Dwayne Bowe far more often than quicker slot receivers such as the Jets’ Jeremy Kerley.
It could take some time for Rhodes to adapt to the NFL game, as his aggressive, handsy style might have to adjust to what is a more tightly called game in the secondary. Additionally, Rhodes’ aggressive reputation likely will be tested early and often to try to get the defensive back to guess wrong.
Where the Patriots could get him: Rounds 1-2
Notes: After redshirting his first year at Florida State, Rhodes burst onto the scene, quickly becoming one of the top young defenders in college football, posting his most productive season in his first of three seasons as a starter. After his breakout season, Rhodes quickly established himself as a shutdown corner in the ACC, forcing teams to throw to his side of the field less, which caused his numbers to drop. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher put it best as to why the corneback’s stats dropped after his freshman season.
“After one good year when you get numbers, you usually don’t get them after that because they quit throwing at you,” Fisher said. “It comes back to the respect and appreciation of how he plays the game and how good of a player he is. To me, when a corner doesn’t have big numbers, it’s because of the respect other teams have for you.”
It’s unlikely that he will still be on the board for the Patriots at No. 29. However, Rhodes’ lack of elite speed and quickness might cause him to slip a little. Such concerns, along with the notion that he needs to significantly improve his discipline as a defender, have some experts projecting him as a second-round selection, while others have him coming off the board in the top 15.
Patriots fans fearing that their team could be targeting another Ras-I Dowling have less to fear with this outside cornerback. Although he was sidelined for most of what would end up being his redshirt year his first season with the Seminoles, Rhodes’ only other injury was a major knee sprain during the 2011 season. While Rhodes isn’t indestructible, he lacks the chronic injury concerns surrounding Dowling.
Related articles: ESPN: Advance scouting: Xavier Rhodes
Video: Here is a package of highlights from Rhodes’ performances against Wake Forest and Clemson this past season.
|Four forgotten players who could have a sizable role in 2013 for Patriots||01.22.13 at 1:05 pm ET|
Like every team, the Patriots suffered their share of injuries over the course of the 2012 season. Here’s a look at four guys who went down relatively early, and who could play a sizable role in the fortunes of the 2013 team:
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: The 26-year-old inside linebacker was an undrafted free agent who made the 53-man roster out of Montana State in 2010. The 6-foot-2, 244-pounder, who was a defensive end in college was able to carve out on impressive career for himself in his first two seasons in the league, moving from core special teamer to backup linebacker in relatively short order. But a thumb injury slowed him in 2011, and he tore the ACL in his left knee in an August preseason game against the Saints. The knee injury left him on injured reserve for the season, but as long as he recovers, he should be expected to be in the mix as an inside linebacker and special teamer in 2013.
Kick returner/running back Jeff Demps: The former Olympic sprinter showed up relatively late this summer, and left the Patriots with an interesting personnel decision — place him on IR (with the possibility he could return, thanks to the new DFR roster loophole) or have him occupy a roster spot until he was ready to go. The Patriots chose the former, and ended up putting tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on IR (designated for return) while leaving the 23-year-old Demps on the sidelines for the year. That’s a decision the Patriots would probably like to have back, as the team used the DFR-IR designation on Shiancoe before cutting him loose late in the season. (In that same stretch, the Patriots continued to struggle to find consistency in the return game.) Meanwhile, the 5-foot-7. 175-pound Demps got time to get up to speed in the New England system, essentially taking a redshirt season while learning about life in the NFL. Look for him to play a major role on special teams next season, as well as a possible dynamic new wrinkle at running back.
Tight end Jake Ballard: Hey, another tight end. Why not? The 25-year-old Ballard, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots while playing for New York, was acquired this past summer by the Patriots (he was signed off waivers from the Giants, much to the consternation of New York coach Tom Coughlin). Undrafted out of Ohio State in 2010, he turned himself into a effective downfield threat in 2011 with the Giants (38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns), and could provide the same sort of presence in 2013 with the Patriots. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Ballard compares with Rob Gronkowski in his bulk and his overall playing style, and the idea of deploying a three-tight end set with Ballard, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez would be an intriguing matchup problem for opposing defensive coordinators. Figures to weigh heavily in the Patriots’ plans for 2013.
Cornerback Ras-I Dowling: Dowling, who was the 33rd overall pick of the 2011 daft, has seen his two-year career with the Patriots has been marked by injury. After a strong opening to his rookie year in 2011 where he started his first two games as a professional, he landed on season-ending injured reserve on Oct. 29 because he needed hip surgery. And 2012 started poorly when he suffered a hamstring injury early in camp and missed nearly three weeks. As a result, he slipped down the depth chart, and began the season as a nickel back. This past season, he made it all the way to late October before suffering a thigh injury in an overtime win over the Jets, which sent him to IR again. When he’s been healthy, the 24-year-old has been an intriguing physical presence in the secondary — at 6-foot-1 and 210-pounds, he brings a size that New England had been lacking in the defensive backfield for several years, at least until Aqib Talib came along. But Dowling, who had struggled with injury in college, has to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season before the Patriots start to lean on him seriously. This will be a key offseason for the youngster out of Virginia.
|Aqib Talib learns the ‘Patriot’ way very quickly||11.15.12 at 5:20 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s a tried and true mantra in Foxboro.
Do what’s asked of you, no less, no more, and you’ll become the perfect team player.
If Thursday is any indication, Aqib Talib is on the right track to getting the good graces of Bill Belichick.
Talib was acquired, along with a seventh-round pick on Nov. 2, in a trade with Tampa Bay that sent a fourth-round pick to the Bucs.
“Just coming in to learn as quick as possible and just work hard and see what I can do to help the team,” Talib said. “I’m just coming in and doing what’s asked to be done. So, if that’s help right away, then help right away. If it’s help down the road, then it’s help down the road. I’m just doing what’s asked to be done.
“I just take it one day at a time. Until I was traded, I was a Buc, now I’m a Patriot. Just taking it one day at a time, one step at a time. Of course, you’re always surprised when you get traded but it’s football. I’ve seen it happen before.”
Talib met with reporters on Thursday for the first time since being acquired in a deadline day trade with the Buccaneers and said he’s already been embraced by his new teammates.
“The guys have been great, man,” Talib said of his teammates. “They’ve embraced me and I love the team already.”
“I really didn’t have a perspective on him,” Talib said. “He is a great guy, a great coach, about his business and he definitely knows how to win ballgames. I met him in my rookie time, a lot of visits so I got a chance to meet him before.
“We just talked straight football. He didn’t bring up the past, I didn’t bring up the past. He didn’t bring up the future. I didn’t bring up the future. We’re just kind of taking it one day at a time.”
Talib, who finished his four-game suspension on Sunday for taking Adderall in violation of the NFL performance enchancing policy, sits in a locker between Ras-I Dowling and Devin McCourty.
“I did my best to stay in pretty good shape,” Talib said. “Coming in early, leaving late, just trying to learn the system. It’s been all right.”
Talib said he’s not worried about the perceptions of his past problems, including being indicted for firing a gun at his sister’s boyfiend in Texas. He also said he’s not worried about perceptions and pressure of being someone the Patriots are looking toward to stabilize their leaky secondary.
“I’ll let [the media] deal with all the perceptions and all that,” he said. “I’m just coming in and doing what’s asked of me, learn as quick as possible and see what I can do to help. It’s a great opportunity with a great organization to come in and do what I can to win some ballgames. We’re taking it one day at a time. Right now, we just have to play on Sunday, we have to play these Colts first on Sunday, big game on Sunday.
“Whatever is asked. I’ve played man before. I’ve played zone before so this is my fifth year in the league. I’ve played just about every coverage there is. Whatever they ask me to play, I’ll play. For a corner, you can almost play for any team. It’s football. You’re going to play one of eight coverages. I’ve done it all before. I’m just doing what’s called for out there.
“I’m just excited to help. I’m excited that Bill gave me the chance to come in and help.”
|Setting the scene: Patriots-Rams||10.28.12 at 10:47 am ET|
Cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-40s are expected for the 5 p.m. local time kickoff at Wembley Stadium as the Patriots square off against the Rams in the annual NFL International series game.
There is a 10 percent chance of rain with light winds of 10 mph expected.
The Patriots head into the game without seven players, including cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Friday with a thigh injury. His spot on the 53-man roster was taken by Malcolm Williams, who was signed off the practice squad on Saturday.
On the offensive side, the Patriots will not have tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was ruled out after having a setback this week with his right ankle.
Also out today for the Patriots are safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory, running back Brandon Bolden. defensive end Trevor Scott and linebacker Tracy White.
The Patriots’ road trip to London – 6,500 miles roundtrip – will be longer than the Packers (5,774) will travel all season. Between their trips to Seattle and London in a space of three weeks, the Patriots will travel 11,480 miles, a total more than 11 teams will travel in all of 2012.
The Patriots enter this game ranked first in points per game (31.0) and yards gained per game (436.1) while the Rams and Sam Bradford are 28th in yards (315.1) and 26th in points (18.6).
The Patriots have beaten the Rams three straight times, starting with their Super Bowl XXXVI win against Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf” on Feb. 3, 2002. The Patriots beat the Rams, 40-22, at Edwards Jones Dome in 2004 and 23-16 in 2008 at Gillette Stadium. The Rams built a 16-13 fourth-quarter lead before Matt Cassel led the comeback. Deltha O’Neal sealed the win with an interception with just over a minute left.
The last Rams win in the regular season series – which is tied at five wins apiece – came in the 2001 Super Bowl season when Warner led the Rams to a 24-17 win on Sunday night football at Foxboro Stadium. That would be the last loss as the Patriots won their final six games and all three in playoffs to capture their first NFL title.
Keep an eye on Bradford. Four of the last five quarterbacks to face the Patriots defense have posted their season-best passing yardage total. Another factoid that is of concern, the Patriots defense have allowed an NFL-worst 36 plays of 20 yards or more.
|Patriots sign DB Malcolm Williams to take place of Ras-I Dowling||10.27.12 at 6:22 pm ET|
Defensive back Malcolm Williams will take the place Ras-I Dowling on the active 53-man roster after being signed off the practice squad on Saturday.
Williams, 24, was originally signed to the practice squad on Sept. 1 after being released following training camp on Aug. 31. The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder was originally drafted by New England in the seventh round (219th overall) out of Texas Christian in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Williams was released by the Patriots at the end of his first training camp before being signed to the practice squad in November. Williams rotated between the practice squad and 53-man roster after being re-signed and played in two regular season games and all three postseason games, including Super Bowl XLVI, mostly on special teams.
Dowling, a second-round pick of the Patriots in 2011, was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Friday with a thigh injury. Dowling has played in just eight regular season games with two starts and 10 total tackles. Dowling played in six games this season, recording seven tackles with one pass defended. Last season, Dowling started the first two games of his career before being placed on injured reserve with a hip injury Oct. 29, 2011.
|When it comes to Patriots’ new and improved defense, don’t forget about Ras-I Dowling||08.02.12 at 12:26 am ET|
FOXBORO — One of the most intriguing additions to the Patriots defense isn’t even new.
Ras-I Dowling missed all but two games of his rookie year last season due to a hip injury, but now that he’s healthy the Patriots may have themselves a starting cornerback. Dowling — who has had injury concerns since his college days at Virginia — is healthy again and trying to prove the Patriots right taking him at the top of the second round in 2011.
“I’m doing everything everybody else is doing,” Dowling said after Wednesday’s practice at Gillette Stadium. “Practicing, taking [everything] day by day.”
A man of few words, Dowling isn’t just doing what everybody else is doing. In fact, he’s doing something that every player hopes to be doing by taking regular reps with the first team. With third-year man Devin McCourty at one corner spot, Dowling has manned the other while Kyle Arrington has lined up at nickel.
That isn’t to say that a starting job is automatically Dowling’s. He’ll have to stay healthy and prove himself to be a safer bet in coverage than Sterling Moore, another second-year defensive back with the advantage of playing in big games during New England’s run to the Super Bowl.
If Dowling, who was limited to five games by various injuries as a senior before being drafted, is able to stay healthy, he could provide the Patriots with a rare blend of size and ball skills. At 6-foot-1 3/8 and 198 pounds, Dowling joined Colorado’s Jimmy Smith as the 2011 draft’s oversized big-name corners. With Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara and Smith off the board when the Pats chose with Carolina’s second-rounder, the Pats made Dowling the pick.
Yet size isn’t all that Dowling brings. He ran a 4.46 second 40-yard dash at the combine — a great time for a corner his size — even though he pulled his hamstring on the run, ending his combine. He also had eight picks in his first three years at Virginia and was rated an “exceptional” tackler by ESPN’s Scouts, Inc. coming out of school.
Of course, all of those attributes are of no use to the Patriots if Dowling isn’t on the field.
“I’m just getting the feel of the game again and practicing out here with the guys, just the feel of it,” he said. “The more practices underneath my belt, the better.”
The more practices and games, that is. Dowling only missed on game in his first three years of college ball, but now he’s looking for his first healthy season in three years. If he can accomplish that, his physical skills would suggest the Pats could have a special young corner.
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