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A look at the 2009 draft: Who the Patriots could have had over Ron Brace 12.30.12 at 12:37 pm ET
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The Patriots waived defensive lineman Ron Brace on Saturday after the Boston College product recorded just four tackles in 10 games played this season. Brace was drafted in 2009 in the second round by the Patriots – part of a New England draft class that, for the most part, didn’t last long with the organization.

Ron Brace was a second-round pick in 2009. (AP)

Ron Brace was a second-round pick in 2009. (AP)

In fact, there are only three Patriots players from that 2009 draft class — the Pats made 12 selections — still with the team: Sebastian VollmerJulian Edelman and Patrick Chung.

Brace was the Patriots’ second selection in 2009 at 40th overall, just six picks behind Chung.

His numbers with New England peaked during the 2010 season, when he recorded a combined 23 tackles – 15 solo – and two stuffs in 13 games played. His next highest tackle total was eight during his rookie year. Rounding things out, he forced one fumble in 2011, and did not have a sack with the Patriots in any of his four years.

With this latest release of a player by the Patriots from the 2009 draft class, here’s a quick look at some other names New England could have selected over Brace.

Defensive linemen:

Connor Barwin (Round 2, Pick 46) – The Texans took Barwin from Cincinnati six picks after Brace. In Houston, Barwin has excelled as both a linebacker and defensive end, notching 105 career tackles with 18 sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, and 16 passes deflected.

Paul Kruger (Round 2, Pick 57) – Kruger has had a steady career with the Ravens, recording 68 tackles, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions, 14.5 sacks, and 12 passes defensed. Kruger was part of a Ravens defense that terrorized the league back in 2009 and 2010.

Michael Johnson (Round 3, Pick 70) – Johnson was a freak athlete on the defensive line coming out of Georgia Tech, and has had a stellar career with the Bengals thus far, with 144 career tackles, 21 sacks, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and 16 passes defensed. Johnson has gotten progressively better each season, with 15.5 of his 21.5 career sacks coming in his last two seasons.  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: New England Patriots, Ron Brace,
Five players who are on the hot seat this offseason 04.21.12 at 12:51 pm ET
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Jermaine Cunningham faces a key offseason. (AP)

On the heels of our post last week that detailed six players who are still in limbo as we near the midway point of the offseason — and keeping in mind that the offseason workout programs started this past week at Gillette Stadium — here are five Patriots who need a good offseason to help solidify their status before training camp rolls around in July.

Defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham – Bill Belichick fell in love with Cunningham as a collegian, but the Florida product has been underwhelming in his first two seasons in the NFL. There were occasional flashes as a rookie — he had 35 tackles and a sack in 15 games in 2010. But 2011 was forgettable for the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder, as he had just one tackle and spent most of the year on special teams. By the time he was placed on injured reserve in December with a hamstring problem, it marked the end of a disappointing year. He’s just 23, but he’ll likely find himself in a fight for a job come July. The former second-round pick is entering the third year of a four-year deal he signed with the Patriots as a rookie.

Defensive lineman Ron Brace – The 25-year-old has been plagued by injury and inconsistency in his relatively short career in the NFL. Despite the fact that the Patriots picked up several veteran defensive linemen before the start of the 2011 season, he showed some flashes last season, but never really managed to break through, playing just 62 snaps all year, according to Pro Football Focus. The 6-foot-3, 330-pounder is entering the final year of a four-year deal he signed as a rookie.

Safety Sergio Brown – The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Brown had issues, mostly in coverage, for a bulk of the 2011 season. (He had three crippling pass interference calls last year, and as a result, was assessed more penalty yardage — 86 — than anyone on the team.) After starting the year as a regular part of the rotation, he slipped down the depth chart, and didn’t play a single snap after Week 16 of the regular-season. Despite the fact that the Patriots picked up safety Steve Gregory, he could be helped by the fact that the safety market (in free agency and the draft) is pretty bad. A former undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, the 23-year-old is entering the third year of a four-year contract he signed as a rookie.

Running back Shane Vereen – The 23-year-old Cal product was slowed by a hamstring early on, and by the time he got fully healthy, the 5-foot-9, 205-pounder was buried so deep on the depth chart it was essentially a lost year when it came to playing time. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis departing as a free agent, he should get some opportunities to prove himself over the summer. (His opportunities in 2012 could be tied to whether or not the Patriots pick up a veteran free-agent running back: New England reportedly kicked the tires on Tim Hightower, Ryan Grant and Joseph Addai this past week.)

Safety Josh Barrett – The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Barrett is a relatively young safety who had four starts last season and was starting to play better, but fell out of favor as the year went on last season. (He went on injured reserve with a calf injury in November, and was dogged with a thumb injury along the way as well.) With some moving parts in the secondary — including the arrival of Gregory and the appearance of Devin McCourty as a part-time safety — Barrett needs a good offseason and to prove that he’s healthy in order to reclaim his spot in the defensive back rotation. This year marks the last season of a two-year contract the 27-year-old signed last February.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty, Jermaine Cunningham
Rating the Roster, Part 1 02.10.12 at 1:02 am ET
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Chad Ochocinco checks in at No. 50. (AP)

With the 2011 season in the rear-view mirror — and the Patriots facing a number of key personnel decisions — it seems like a good time to break down the current 53-man roster, taking a look at who might be the most valuable members of the franchise.

We arrived at this list by considering a combination of factors, including overall ability, positional versatility, expectations, contract situation and place on the depth chart. We also looked at what might be best described as intangibles — loosely defined as a mixture of clubhouse character and willingness to work. In all, it helped us determine the overall value of each player within the Patriots system.

A quick note: The 53 players were taken straight from New England’s postseason media guide, the most up-to-date listing available. That means injured players such as Andre Carter, Mike Wright, Jermaine Cunningham, Dan Koppen and Ras-I Dowling, as well as practice squadders are not included for purposes of this exercise.

We start with No. 53 through No. 26.

53. Safety Sergio Brown: Fewer players slid down the depth chart as precipitously as Brown, who opened the season in a regular rotation at safety (he played every snap of a Week 3 loss to Buffalo) but saw virtually zero meaningful snaps after the Week 12 win over Philadelphia. His low point was a costly pass interference penalty in the regular-season loss to the Giants that set up the game-winning score.

52. Linebacker Gary Guyton: Guyton began the year as a starter, but like Brown, slid quickly down the depth chart. A solid locker room presence and good buddy of Jerod Mayo, he will almost certainly be elsewhere next season.

51. Safety Malcolm Williams: A defensive back who was a seventh-round pick of the Patriots last April, he saw limited action this season as a special teamer, getting into a December win over the Redskins.

50. Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco: The Patriots preach value, and there have been few instances of them getting less value for a player than New England got for Ochocinco in 2011. The wide receiver was the recipient of a $6 million base salary, and had just 15 catches on the season. Needless to say, if he does return, it will be with a reworked deal.

49. Defensive end Alex Silvestro: He will always be known to the world as The Guy Who Took Tiquan Underwood’s Spot The Day Before The Super Bowl, he’s someone the organization likes, but still needs more seasoning.

48. Defensive back Nathan Jones: A late-season pickup who bounced around the league before landing with the Patriots, he was thrown right into the action as soon as he showed up — four days after he was signed, he started at corner against the Colts. A veteran, if he is back next season, it will be to provide depth in the secondary.

47. Long snapper Danny Aiken: No problems this season from Aiken at the long snapper spot, as the New England specialists had a good season.

46. Offensive lineman Donald Thomas: A youngster out of UConn, he was used sparingly for a snap here or there throughout the course of the regular season until the regular-season finale. A youngster who provides good depth along the offensive line.

45. Linebacker Niko Koutouvides: A good complementary player, Koutouvides provided depth on special teams and the occasional snap on defense. (The sight of him split wide in coverage late in the year against the Colts was one of the more interesting images of the season.)

44. Fullback Lousaka Polite: A solid locker room presence in his relatively short time with the Patriots, he played just 24 snaps in his four games with New England, including 14 in the postseason. It will be interesting to see what the Patriots do with Polite going forward, as they haven’t had a full-time, traditional fullback on the roster for a full season since Heath Evans in 2008.

43. Running back Shane Vereen: The rookie never seemed to recover after an early hamstring issue kept him on the shelf for an extended stretch (he was only involved in three games this past season), but it will be interesting to see what he can do with a full offseason in the facility. There may be some shuffling at the running back position this offseason (veteran Kevin Faulk could retire, while BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a free agent), and as a result, there could be some opportunities there for Vereen in 2012.

42. Quarterback Ryan Mallett: The rookie didn’t play at all in the regular season, but was a good teammate who, by all accounts, kept his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut. As has always been the case, it’s curious what the endgame will be between Mallett and the Patriots. Is he trade bait? Or is he in New England’s future plans?

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Alex Silvestro, Andre Carter, Antuwan Molden, Brandon Deaderick
A closer look at the inactives for the Super Bowl: No Kevin Faulk, but Chad Ochocinco dressed and ready to go 02.05.12 at 5:08 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — The following Patriots are inactive for Sunday’s game against the Giants: Ryan Mallett, Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen, Gary Guyton, Donald Thomas, Nick McDonald and Ron Brace.

No colossal surprises on the list, but the biggest name might be Faulk, a veteran who might have played his last game with the Patriots. With Faulk on the sideline, the Patriots will try their hand with rookie running back Stevan Ridley, who had been a healthy scratch previously, ostensibly because of a fumbling problem. Look for Ridley to serve as the backup on Sunday to BenJarvus Green-Ellis when it comes to working as the traditional, between-the-tackles runner.

One intriguing name who wasn’t on the list was wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who was a healthy scratch for the AFC championship game, but now figures to be dressed and ready to go for his first career Super Bowl. This also marks the first time in several weeks that right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is active.

Meanwhile, Thomas and McDonald are likely the victims of a numbers game (both have been inactive more often than not in recent weeks), and rookie Marcus Cannon and Ryan Wendell will likely stand to benefit when it comes to playing time. Mallett and Vereen are rookies who have been more inactive than most over the course of the season, while Guyton has dramatically slipped off the depth chart and Brace has failed to break through over the course of the regular season.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Donald Thomas, Gary Guyton
A closer look at the Patriots’ inactives against the Broncos 01.14.12 at 7:27 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The following players were listed as inactive by New England for Saturday night’s game between the Patriots and Broncos: quarterback Ryan Mallett, running back Shane Vereen, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, guard Donald Thomas, defensive lineman Ron Brace, linebacker Gary Guyton and cornerback Nathan Jones.

•The decision to sit Vollmer is perhaps the biggest move, at least from a personnel standpoint. The right tackle, who returned to practice this week after an extended stretch on the shelf, has been hobbled all season long by back and foot problems, and will likely be spelled at the position by rookie Nate Solder. Solder, a rookie out of Colorado, has actually played serious snaps all season long because of Vollmer’s injuries, and has performed well at tackle (as well as an occasional snap here and there at tight end). He’ll be making his playoff debut, and will likely play a ton of snaps.

•One banged up offensive lineman who will give it a go tonight is guard Logan Mankins. Mankins suffered a knee injury in the penultimate regular-season game, but appears to be good to go against the Broncos. (The decision to deactivate Thomas is likely tied to Mankins’ availability.)

•Guyton and Jones are two healthy scratches that are interesting, as Guyton has slid down the depth chart all season long (there has been at least one occasion this year where he has dressed but hasn’t played). Meanwhile, Jones has added depth in the secondary, but hasn’t been what you might call an integral part of the roster. Jones’ absence could lead to more playing time at defensive back for Julian Edelman and/or Matthew Slater. In fact, the secondary is an extremely fluid situation. Devin McCourty could see time at corner and/or safety, while Kyle Arrington, and Antwaun Molden the top options at cornerback. Meanwhile, Patrick Chung is apparently feeling good enough to play, while James Ihedigbo, Sergio Brown, and Sterling Moore are available safety.

•Mallett has been the victim of a numbers’ game all season, while Vereen has also been sidelined by personnel decisions as well as a nagging hamstring injury he’s battled all season long. Veteran Kevin Faulk is active, and will likely see an uptick in activity because Vereen is out.

Read More: Antwaun Molden, Donald Thomas, Gary Guyton, James Ihedigbo
Key Moment: Patriots force three turnovers in the second quarter to take command against the Broncos 12.18.11 at 8:30 pm ET
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This fumble forced by Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson helped to turn Sunday's game. (AP)

For the Patriots, the key moments in Sunday’s eventful 41-23 win over the Broncos came in the second quarter during a remarkable sequence where Denver turned the ball over three times and New England turned those into 13 points to take control of the game.

•On the first turnover (which came with 8:37 left in the first half and the Broncos leading 16-14), Denver running back Lance Ball was tied up by linebacker Dane Fletcher and the ball was knocked away by defensive lineman Ron Brace and the fumble was recovered nicely by Rob Ninkovich at the Denver 19. New England quickly turned that into a 21-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to make it 17-16 in favor of the Patriots.

•On the Broncos’ next possession — three plays after the Gostkowski field goal — defensive end Mark Anderson poked the ball away from Denver quarterback Tim Tebow (he also recovered the football) at the 4:32 mark. The Patriots turned that into a touchdown with a one-yard plunge from quarterback Tom Brady that made it 24-16 with 1:12 left in the first half. (That drive was highlighted by a 25-yard pass play from Brady to Aaron Hernandez on a fourth-and-2 to get New England down to the Denver six.)

•And with 14 seconds remaining in the half, Denver punt returner Quan Cosby fumbled away a punt return. Again, the Patriots took advantage, with Gostkowski adding his second field goal of the afternoon, a 34-yarder to make it 27-16 at the half.

It was part of a 20-point second quarter for the Patriots that turned a 13-7 deficit into a 27-16 halftime lead, and set the stage for New England’s victory that ended up sealing the win.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Dane Fletcher, Lance Ball, Mark Anderson
Analysis of Sunday’s inactives: Price, Ellis out; Edelman, Brace are in 11.06.11 at 3:08 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The following players were deactivated for the Patriots game Sunday against the Giants: quarterback Ryan Mallett, running back Kevin Faulk, wide receiver Taylor Price, offensive lineman Donald Thomas, defensive lineman Shaun Ellis, linebacker Jermaine Cunningham and linebacker Dane Fletcher.

Price is perhaps the most interesting name listed — offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said earlier in the week that they were hoping to get Price more involved in the offense. However, the young receiver, who had been fighting a hamstring problem since the start of the season, apparently had an issue with it again late this week and was added to the injury report as “questionable” on Saturday.

As for the rest of the group, Ellis suffered a rib injury last week against the Steelers, while Faulk said he was a little banged up in the wake of his first game in more than a year after coming off the PUP list. This is another healthy scratch for Cunningham, while Mallett’s is simply the victim of a numbers game at the quarterback spot. Meanwhile, Fletcher remains on the shelf with a thumb injury, and Thomas’ spot among the inactives likely means the Patriots feel good about their depth at offensive tackle (Sebastian Vollmer had been down for several weeks earlier this season with a back injury.)

Among the notables who are healthy enough to give it a go are defensive lineman Ron Brace, who came off the physically unable to perform list this week, while fellow defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth is also good to go after struggling with a back injury over the last month or so. And Julian Edelman, who was charged with indecent assault after an incident at an area nightclub and was a healthy scratch last week, is also dressing for the game.

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Bill O'Brien, Dane Fletcher, Donald Thomas
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