|Countdown to camp: Special teams||07.30.15 at 1:46 pm ET|
As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the offensive side of the ball and then the defense, now we close with special teams.
Depth chart: Kicker- Stephen Gostkowski, Punter- Ryan Allen, Long snapper- Joe Cardona
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. Gostkowski is one of the best. In 2014 he hit 35 of his 37 field goal attempts for a career-high 94.6 percent mark, leading to his third Pro Bowl selection and a second-team All-Pro honor. He also led the league in scoring with 156 points, booted 53 kickoffs for touchbacks (tied for fifth most in the league) and hit all 51 PATs he attempted. He was rewarded with a new four-year contract extension worth $17 million after being hit with the franchise tag earlier in the offseason.
2. New coaching staff. After Scott O’Brien’s retirement following last season, there will be a new face leading the unit. Joe Judge will take over as the special teams coach and the team hired former Patriot Ray Ventrone as his assistant. Judge served as O’Brien’s assistant for each of the last few seasons, so he is used to the system. Although O’Brien is gone, it would appear much of what he preached will still be implemented. The players who have spoken so far seem excited to work with the new coaches.
3. New long snapper in town. The Patriots moved on from long snapper Danny Aiken and drafted Cardona out of Navy in the fifth-round, the highest-drafted long snapper in NFL history. His Naval assignment has been delayed until after the 2015 NFL season so that he will be able to play for this year and possibly beyond. It appears from the spring he has developed a good connection with Gostkowski and Allen.
|Matthew Slater: Scott O’Brien ‘earned his retirement,’ but ‘excited to play for’ Joe Judge, Ray Ventrone||04.22.15 at 11:31 am ET|
FOXBORO — There’s no question the Patriots’ special teams played a large role in the Super Bowl winning season last year.
Whether it was blocking a field goal and returning it for a touchdown, blocking a punt, or even just a huge flip in field position, the Patriots’ special teams unit seemingly made a big play every single week.
Just two days after winning the Super Bowl, their leader, coach Scott O’Brien announced his retirement after 24 seasons in the NFL, including the last six in New England. O’Brien will remain with the organization in some capacity.
In the same release, the team announced assistant special teams coach Joe Judge would take over for O’Brien and then later the team signed former player Ray Ventrone to serve as Judge’s assistant.
“I know that the game comes to an end for all of us and I know Scott had jokingly mentioned it over the years, and I certainly didn’t want him to retire because he definitely means a lot to me personally and I know to a lot of guys around here, but he’s earned his retirement,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said.
“He’s given a lot to this game, and I know he’s excited about the next chapter. That being said, we’re excited about having Ray [Ventrone] here and Joe Judge, them starting their legacy, we’re excited to play for those guys.”
Ventrone actually played for the Patriots and Bill Belichick from 2006-08. In all he played nine seasons in the NFL, primarily used as a special teams player, registering 57 total tackles.
Slater was actually a teammate of Ventrone, and he always had a feeling one day he would become a coach.
“Certainly,” Slater said. “I think Ray was just a pro’s pro, the way he played the game and the way he prepared, he had a better understanding of the game than most guys I’ve ever played with. The way he competed, I had so much respect for him as a competitor and the passion that he played with and he’s already bringing that to the meeting room and we’re excited about it. Like I said, I’m not surprised that he’s doing what he’s doing now.”
Having a former teammate now be his coach, Slater said there was one thing he needed to be made clear before getting started.
“The big thing that I wanted to get clear with Ray was, ‘Should I call you Ray or should I call you coach Ventrone?’” Slater joked. “So it’s going to be great. Coach Ventrone is a very intelligent guy and he played this game at a high level for a long time and he really understands the game, so I’m excited to work with him, to learn from him, and I think he’s going to bring a lot to the table.”
|Ray Ventrone returns to Patriots as special teams assistant coach||03.03.15 at 10:11 am ET|
Bubba is back.
The Patriots announced Tuesday that Bill Belichick has hired Ray Ventrone to serve as assistant special teams coach. Belichick was the first coach to give Ventrone a chance to play in the NFL. Now it will be Belichick who gives Ventrone a chance to coach.
Ventrone will fill the spot of Joe Judge, who was promoted to take over as special teams coach for Scott O’Brien when O’Brien retired on Feb. 3, two days after the Patriots’ win in Super Bowl XLIX.
Ventrone spent four years with the Patriots after originally joining the team as a rookie free agent out of Villanova in 2005. Ventrone played nine NFL seasons as a player with New England (2006-2008), the New York Jets (2007), Cleveland Browns (2009-2012) and the San Francisco 49ers (2013-2014). During his NFL career, he was primarily used as a special teams player, registering 57 total tackles, including a season-high of 12 in 2009 with the Browns.
Ventrone was originally signed by New England as a rookie free agent out of Villanova in 2005. After spending the 2005 season on the Patriots’ practice squad and the 2006 season on injured reserve, he split the 2007 season between the Jets and the Patriots practice squads before being signed to the New England 53-man roster in November.
Ventrone played the entire 2008 season with the Patriots before playing four years in Cleveland and the last two seasons in San Francisco.
|Sunday NFL Notes: Nick Caserio looks ahead to offseason, proclaims ‘our team is going to be different’||02.22.15 at 7:00 am ET|
With Chris Price taking a well-deserved vacation this week, we’ll keep the Sunday NFL Notes going, hoping to live up to the high standard he sets every week.
1. At the NFL combine in Indianapolis this week, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio gave a 1-on-1 interview with Jackie Brittain of Patriots.com, hitting on a number of subjects (the interview can be seen here). One of those subjects was free agency and how it relates to what happens with cornerback Darrelle Revis. “We’re going through an evaluation process,” said Caserio. “When we get back here from the combine, we’ll actually go through pretty comprehensive analysis of our roster, go through player by player, strengths, weaknesses, what we see their role as and what their future’s gonna be moving forward. Those are decisions that will be made at the appropriate time. The reality is our team is going to be different from what it was last year. That’s just a reality of the NFL and a reality that every team faces. We’ll go through, and in the end we’ll do what we feel is best for the organization moving forward.”
As it stands now, the Patriots’ top order of business is Revis and getting him signed long-term instead of paying him $20 million for 2015. Then, they have Devin McCourty and Stephen Gostkowski as free agents, with the possibility of placing the franchise tag on either of them. Also set to become free agents are running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, so when Caserio says the team is going to be different next year, he isn’t lying.
2. In addition to Caserio at the combine, the Patriots have a number of coaches and executives present in Indianapolis this week. Coach Bill Belichick is there as always, and also accompanying him are recently retired assistant coaches in special teams coach Scott O’Brien and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. O’Brien retired after this past season, but will stay in the organization, while Scarnecchia is assisting Belichick at the combine like he did last year. Also seen at the combine this week was former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, as he’s been seen helping out the Patriots and Belichick a number of times over the last year. Current Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo has also been seen helping run drills during the week.
3. There aren’t too many local players at the combine this week. Representing the New England schools are: running back Tyler Varga from Yale, wide receiver Geremy Davis from UConn, tight end Jean Stifrin from UMass, offensive lineman Andy Gallik from Boston College, defensive lineman Zach Hodges from Harvard and defensive back Bryon Jones from UConn. While none of these players are expected to go very high in the draft, getting invited to the combine is a big accomplishment in itself. Stifrin from UMass has a pretty interesting story, as he is 27 years old — much older than most of the other combine participants. MassLive.com’s Kevin Duffy did a good job going into Stifrin’s past and telling his story.
4. The Schiano-Belichick connection has led to a number of Rutgers players becoming Patriots over the past few years. That pipeline may have gotten even stronger lately, as Josh McDaniels‘ brother Ben has been named offensive coordinator at the school. So, who could be the next Rutgers player drafted by the Patriots? Tight end Tyler Kroft could be a possibility and join former Rutgers player Tim Wright as Rob Gronkowski‘s backup. Kroft is looked at as more of a receiving threat than an in-line blocking tight end, so he would be a great complement to Gronkowski, given Gronkowski’s size and Kroft’s lack there of. Kroft weighed in at 246 pounds at the combine, the 16th heaviest tight end out of the 19 attending the workouts.
5. Here are a few interesting stats we dug up following the season:
- The Patriots were 13-0 this season when scoring 23 or more points and are 160-12 under Belichick.
- The Patriots finished 11-0 this season when scoring first.
- Going into the Super Bowl the Seahawks allowed an average of 6.8 points per game in the second half of games this year — the Patriots scored 14 in Super Bowl XLIX.
- According to Elias, the Patriots were the first team to reach the Super Bowl without having a player with 100 rush attempts during the season.
|Scott O’Brien retires as Patriots special teams coach, remains in organization; Joe Judge to take over||02.03.15 at 8:59 pm ET|
The Patriots announced Tuesday afternoon that special teams coach Scott O’Brien is retiring from coaching after 24 seasons in the NFL, including the last six with the Patriots, but he will remain in the organization. Joe Judge will take over for O’Brien, as he joined the Patriots in 2012 as O’Brien’s assistant.
Judge came from to the Patriots from the University of Alabama where he was a football analyst/special teams assistant under Nick Saban.
“I have never worked with a coach better than Scott O’Brien,” said head coach Bill Belichick in a statement. “Scott is second to none at preparation, strategy, teaching, techniques, fundamentals, scouting and virtually any other aspect of teambuilding, game planning or player development that exists in football. I thank Scott for making me a better coach, finding and developing countless players and being such a tremendous asset at both organizations we worked together. Scott O’Brien is undoubtedly one of the finest coaches of his generation and he deserves having his final game be a Super Bowl championship. While we will miss his contributions in coaching, we look forward to continuing to work with him in other capacities.”
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|Extra special: Patriots special teams has excelled under coach Scott O’Brien||01.28.15 at 12:44 am ET|
PHOENIX — Often times on some NFL teams, the special teams unit gets over looked. Not so much with the New England Patriots.
Led by special teams coach Scott O’Brien — in his sixth year in New England, but serving as a special teams coach in the NFL since 1991 — the Patriots have emerged as one of the better special teams units in the league, making game-changing plays on numerous occasions.
The Patriots’ special teams group finished first in Rick Gosselin’s famous NFL special teams rankings this year and finished seventh in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranking, a major credit to the work O’Brien has done with his players.
“I’m not sure,” O’Brien said when asked why he’s coached special teams exclusively for 23 seasons. “I’m sure I was influenced by a lot of people I came up with through my career. I’ve always enjoyed it as a player. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s always been something I’ve enjoyed doing. I love the schemes, the creation of it. I don’t know. I don’t think it’s just one thing. I’ve had a lot of influences on me.”
New England has blocked five kicks this season — four field goals and one punt. The unit has seen three players get named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Chris Jones for his field goal block in the closing seconds against the Jets in Week 7, Julian Edelman for his punt return for a touchdown against the Broncos in Week 9 and Ryan Allen for his field position changing punts in Week 14 against the Chargers.
The four blocked field goals on the year was a franchise record.
“I think a lot of it has been, like I said, timing,” O’Brien said. “It’s a group effort no matter who blocks it. To block kicks in this league is hard to do. It usually takes more than one thing to happen to have that success, but I think these guys have always worked hard at it. You just get the right combination of the right players in the right spot. You give them a chance to have success, and they have it. It’s obviously had a big impact during the games.”
|Matthew Slater explains why Patriots are ‘ultimately the perfect fit’ for his career||04.22.14 at 2:09 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Matthew Slater knows a good thing when he sees one.
Being special teams captain on a perennial winner like the Patriots, with a chance to go to the Super Bowl nearly every season certainly qualifies.
Add to the fact that his coaches are special teams coach Scott O’Brien and head coach Bill Belichick, and it’s no surprise that Slater is loving life in New England, with no intentions of going anywhere else. Slater is entering the third and final year of a deal worth $5.4 million, signed in March 2012.
Taking time out from his offseason workout program inside Gillette Stadium, Slater, the special teams captain of the Patriots for the last three seasons, says he and the Patriots are a perfect fit because of the coaching he has received.
“I really feel like this is ultimately the perfect fit because coach Belichick understands that you have to have solid effort in all three phases to have a good football team,” Slater said. “That’s something he values and they value here and fortunate for me, I’ve been able to have a little bit of success doing that.
“I definitely think the cerebral part of the game, and really thinking about what you’re doing, having a plan of attack, understanding how you’re being attacked or blocked, understanding what you’re trying to do return-wise. He’s really opened my mind to just being more than a fast guy that’s running down and throwing my body around. It’s a thinking man’s game, believe it or not. He’s really helped me in that area. There’s also been things physically that he’s challenged me to do better. I’m really thankful to have played for a coach like that.”
Ironically, Slater, who is already entering his seventh season with the Patriots, has been in New England longer than his current special teams coach.