|Zoltan Mesko: ‘I will miss New England’||08.31.13 at 11:51 am ET|
Zoltan Mesko, who was released Saturday by the Patriots, issued a statement in the wake of the move on his Facebook page:
“First and foremost, I want to thank the New England Patriots for everything they have done for me. I have nothing but love in my heart as I depart this great organization. Mr. Kraft, the coaches, the strength staff, the trainers, the media personnel, the marketing department, the rest of the amazing staff members at Gillette, and especially my teammates…THANK YOU for all that you have given and have done for me. I want to say that I see the silver lining in things now more than ever, and am a true believer that things DO happen for a reason. This goes out to anyone that will ever come across a mere bump in the road; be thankful, be positive, because there’s a deeper purpose of WHY things happen that we may not yet, or may never come to understand. Just believe. I will miss New England, and more than anything, I’ll be missing the smiles on those kids whom I visited and acted like a goofball in front of. It was ALL worth it. God bless.”
|Patriots release Zoltan Mesko and George Winn||at 11:18 am ET|
The moves keep coming for the Patriots:
•New England has released veteran punter Zoltan Mesko, according to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. Mesko was beaten out for the job by rookie Ryan Allen, a Ray Guy Award winner out of Louisiana Tech who had a good summer. Mesko, who was taken in 2010 by the Patriots, averaged 44.2 yards per punt for New England in his three seasons in the NFL. Active in the community, the 27-year-old was one of the more popular guys on the team — considering his track record, he should find work pretty quickly.
•The Patriots have released running back George Winn, a 5-foot-10 1/2, 218-pounder out of Cincinnati who impressed in limited reps over the course of the summer — he had 14 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown in the preseason finale against the Giants. (He finished the 2012 season with the Bearcats with 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns on 243 carries.)
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|Bill Belichick still thinks Stephen Gostkowski is ‘one of the best kickers in the league’||08.17.13 at 3:26 pm ET|
It hasn’t been the best of camps in terms of productivity for Stephen Gostkowski. But his coach isn’t worried, a point that was underscored Saturday in a conference call with reporters.
Friday night, Gostkowski connected on a 39-yard field goal in the first quarter. He connected on a 35-yarder in the third quarter but it was nullified by a holding penalty. He moved back five yards to attempt a 45-yarder only to have a false start make a routine 35-yarder turn into a not-so routine 50-yard attempt. That kick was struck well but faded at the last moment and hit the right upright, falling to the ground for his third miss of the preseason.
“I think he’s had a good camp, he’s worked really hard, he’s in good condition, he’s kicked the ball well – he’s been hitting the ball very solidly consistently,” Belichick said when asked Saturday. “I know that he’ll continue to work hard to do everything he can, and so will the other people involved in the operation, snapping and holding, however that turns out.”
Against Philadelphia, Gostkowski missed wide right from 44 and 53 yards.
“I have confidence that he’s one of the best kickers in the league,” Belichick said.
Unlike the punting job, which is currently a battle between Zoltan Mesko and Ryan Allen, there is no current competition to Gostkowski, who is in the fourth year of a five-year contract paying him $15.7 million.
Instead of focusing on Gostkowski, Belichick said the entire kicking operation can improve.
“He’s a part of that, but so is the snapper and so is the holder,” Belichick said. “We’ve had three different snappers and two different holders in camp and in the preseason games. You want to have multiple people ready, which means that multiple people will have to work with each other. At some point, we have to settle in to whichever guys it is that we think are going to do most of the work this year at that position.”
Gostkowski is 2-for-5 so far in the preseason with both kicks under 40 yards, a 34-yard success against the Eagles and a 39-yard connection Friday against Tampa Bay. While Belichick was supportive, he added that if the struggles continue, he wouldn’t rule out bringing in competition.
“As I’ve said many times before, I would consider doing anything that I think would help our team,” Belichick said. “I wouldn’t rule anything in or out. If there is something that we can do that would help our football team, then as part of my job, that’s what I try to do.”
|Countdown to Camp: Special teams/specialists||07.16.13 at 2:20 pm ET|
As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2013 Patriots. We kick off the series with a look at the special teamers and specialists:
Depth chart: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski (29-for-35 on FGA in 2012, 66-for-66 on XP, 153 points, 52 touchbacks on 111 kickoffs); punter Zoltan Mesko (38.5 net average, 28 of 60 punts landed inside the opponents’ 20); punter Ryan Allen; long snapper Danny Aiken.
Overview: This is going to be one of the most interesting — and underrated — spots to keep an eye on this summer. You have to figure that Gostkowski is fairly well entrenched at his position, but Allen boasts a pretty impressive college resume and could offer a serious challenge to the immensely likeable Mesko. Meanwhile, veteran Leon Washington could find work as a kick and punt returner — replacing an occasionally effective Julian Edelman — finally shaking the team free of The Curse of Ellis Hobbs. Lots of intrigue here when things kick off for real at camp later this month.
Three Things We Know:
Matt Slater is one of the best special teamers in the league. He’s not out there on a regular basis on either offense or defense, though given the turnover, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get a little run with the wide receivers this summer.
Yet for those casual fans who might question the wisdom of using a roster spot on a player without any real position like Slater, invest the $70 in NFL All-22 — which is available at NFL.com — and really watch No. 18 on New England on kick and punt teams. Few players have such a terrific ability to create havoc on special teams as Slater. His speed and smarts make him one of the best in the game. (In addition, for what it’s worth, his high character and work ethic make him one of the most respected players in the New England locker room.)
There’s going to be at least one more guy on the roster who will make the final 53 because of his special teams skills. In year’s past, New England has always carried at least three guys who are core special teamers. Whether it’s Slater (defensive back/wide receiver), Niko Koutouvides (linebacker), Tracy White (linebacker), Marquice Cole (cornerback) or Nate Ebner (safety), there are always players who make the team more for their special teams skills than their work on either side of the ball. Expect the same thing to happen this year, as (at least) Slater and Ebner figure to be roster locks, while Koutouvides and Cole could also figure into the mix in 2013 as core special teamers. (That’s not to mention any one of the rookies, including Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon.)
Gostkowski is still one of the best in the league. There was much upheaval around Foxboro at the start of the 2012 season when Gostkowski missed a potential game-winner against the Cardinals (after making two 50-plus yarders in that one), and botched a pair of field-goal chances in a win over the Bills. But he went 19-for-22 from October through January, and remains as dependable as any kicker in the league. For what it’s worth, over the first seven years of his career (in the regular season), Gostkowski has gone 170-for-202 (84 percent), including 39-for-55 from 40 to 49 yards out (71 percent). Meanwhile, in his first seven seasons, Adam Vinatieri was 187-for-229 (82 percent), including 50-for-73 from 40 to 49 yards out (68 percent).
Will the Patriots add a kicker to try and push Gostkowski? New England had David Ruffer in camp, but that was mainly as an extra leg to try and save Gostkowski some reps. There are some roster spots available, and while there aren’t necessarily any elite kickers out there, if past history is any indication, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see New England bring in another kicker this summer.
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|Scott O’Brien: Patriots’ success on special teams is a group effort||11.27.12 at 4:05 pm ET|
In a conference call with the media on Tuesday, Patriots special teams coach Scott O’Brien congratulated the work of his group, which has come up with some big plays over the last three weeks. Included in that is a punt return for a touchdown by Julian Edelman against the Colts, as well as a forced fumble by Devin McCourty which was returned for a touchdown by Edelman against the Jets.
“I think anytime you can contribute with big plays or put points on the board for your team it’s a credit to the players on the field, what our goals are every week that we try to accomplish,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “And to see them fulfill it is obviously gratifying to me. It’s good to see them have success because they’ve worked so hard all year.”
O’Brien said that like every good return, Edelman’s runback against the Colts was a team effort.
“Like every week, it starts outside with the gunners we’re playing and matched up against,” O’Brien said. “Anytime you can get your punt returner started, it really starts with the guys matched up on those guys. Then the rest of the players doing their job on their assignment and creating a finish for Julian as he works up the field and Julian doing a good job to get started.
“We always have a responsibility for the returner to get matched up on, and it’s always their responsibility to make that guy miss or the first player miss to get started. But it really helps when our outside players that play against the gunner as well as the player that matches up against their personal protector that tries to cover, do their job, just to get him started so he can work the field then the rest of the players can finish for him and obviously create an explosive play or in Julian’s case, the effort lies in beating guys at the end, either the punter or whatever on his own to create a score for himself.”
O’Brien also lauded the work of punter Zoltan Mesko and kicker Stephen Gostkowski. When it comes to Mesko, O’Brien acknowledged that the punter has a relatively low average, but that’s only a small part of the picture.
“There’s a lot of stats within stats — you know, where you punt from, what area of the field and when you’re around midfield and you’re trying to back your opponents up and keep the ball out of the end zone and not create touchbacks,” he said. “When those field position opportunities come up, you have to perform there as well as you do as when you’re backed up and you have to exchange field position. I think Zoltan has done a good job of forcing those fair catches and giving us a chance to keep the ball out of the end zone. So, his average obviously is not going to be like it is if you’re continuously punting from your territory backed like you are in plus-50. So that part of it he’s done a really good job trying to control field position for us.”
As for Gostkowski, the kicker struggled at the start of the season with some misses field goals – including a potential game-winner against the Cardinals in Week 2 – but O’Brien never lost faith in him.
“I have a lot of confidence in Stephen,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think he’s lost his confidence at all. He’s missed a couple that he’d like to have back — we all would like to have back — but the most important thing is that he can learn from either the misses or the ones he does make to make sure he can correct himself if he does miss. There’s probably nobody more disappointed when he does miss it than himself.
“And again, there are a lot of things that have to happen well for him. We have to snap the ball good for him. We have to hold it good for him and then obviously give him the opportunity to kick the ball and make the field goal. But, I don’t think there’s any concern about the confidence. He’s a self-starter, he’s very competitive. He works very hard at it. The good thing is when he makes contact, he has a pretty good idea of what has happened as a result so he can [move] on to get ready to kick the next one.”
Here are a few other highlights from O’Brien’s Tuesday afternoon Q&A:
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|There’s something special about these Patriots||11.26.12 at 10:48 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots have always preached the value of special teams, and this year is no exception.
“We really look at the special teams as being a third of the game,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick on a conference call Monday afternoon. “The field position part of it is huge, trying to start offensively on a shorter field or play defensively on a longer field, as well as taking advantage of our scoring opportunities on the field-goal team and making game-changing plays in the kicking game. That’s always one of our goals every week.”
Belichick said that it all starts with good field position, an area where the Patriots done well, thanks in large part to kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Zoltan Mesko and the coverage units. According to Football Outsiders, through 11 games, New England’s opponents have averaged the worst average starting field position in the league (an average of the 23.18-yard line).
Meanwhile, the Patriots’ average drive has started on the 30.05-yard line, seventh-best in the league. (By way of comparison, the Giants lead the league in starting field position, opening drives at the 31.27.)
“Field position is huge – trying to start offensively on a shorter field or trying to play defensively on a longer field, as well as taking advantage of our scoring opportunities on the field goal team and making plays, game changing plays in the kicking game, which is one of our goals every week,” he said.
“Statistically, that field position edge eventually comes into play, not necessarily on any individual series or possession, but over the long haul. We all know the importance of field position and scoring opportunities and making big plays in the kicking game.”
On Monday, Belichick lauded the work of his special teamers — as well as the two special teams coaches — for the role they have played over the course of New England’s recent five-game winning streak.
“I think that Scott and Joe Judge, our two special-teams coaches, do a great job of coaching the players,” he said. “Taking the young guys and improving them, watching some of our younger guys perform for us in the kicking game, as well as some of our veteran players, bringing it all together.”
That work has manifested itself throughout the course of the season with great field position, but it’s also shown up in the box score the last two games. Two weeks ago, Julian Edelman had a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in a win over the Colts. Last Thursday, Edelman scored when Devin McCourty forced a fumble off a kick return from New York’s Joe McKnight.
“I think those are huge momentum plays,” said special teams captain Matthew Slater. “When you look at a game, you’re not counting on special teams to score every game — it’s just not realistic for that to happen. But when it does happen, it brings a huge momentum swing to the game. In the case of the last two weeks it’s been huge for us, as far as getting momentum going and allowing us to get some separation against our opponent.”
While Slater isn’t the one scoring touchdowns, Belichick celebrated his hard work and ability to create some consistency among the special teamers.
“Matt Slater has done a great job as the captain of the special teams with his leadership and making it a total cohesive unit even though it’s six different units but it’s still more players on all of them,” Belichick said. “He’s doing a great job with that this year.”
“We’re a very close-knit group of guys,” said the 27-year-old Slater, who was named a Pro Bowler last year for his special teams skills. “We understand what our role is in this league, we understand how we’re going to keep jobs in this league, and we take a lot of pride in what we do.”
|Sunita Williams is out of this world for Rob Gronkowski and her Patriots||11.08.12 at 4:17 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Patriots public relations chief Stacey James held an iPad in the middle of the locker room Thursday while Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Zoltan Mesko and Rob Gronkowski took turns speaking into it while holding a cell phone.
On the the other end of the connection was Sunita Williams several hundred miles above Earth in the International Space Station, which is very appropriately the size and width of a football field.
She graduated from Needham High School in 1983 and has been a Patriots fan through thick and thin. She holds the record for the longest space walk ever by a female. But on Thursday, she was in front of video terminal talking to three people from her favorite team.
Williams, who went up on her current mission in July, is scheduled to live and work aboard the station through the end of this month.
“Take some pictures and send them down to us,” Gronkowski told her. “That’d be great.”
What seemed to really impress Gronkowski was the amount of armor and equipment the astronauts carry, up to 300 pounds worth.
“It’s not that difficult for us,” Gronk said. “Aren’t your suits way heavier than ours? Yeah, our armor is about five to six pounds. It’s a lot less than 300 pounds.”
Williams has been keeping close tabs on her Patriots as they return from the bye at 5-3 to play the Bills Sunday at Gillette.
“We prepared pretty well this week,” Gronk told Williams. “We have another practice [Friday]. We’re definitely ready after this bye week to get back to playing some games for sure.
“It was nice talking to you and get back safe.
After giving the phone back to James, Gronk made the following observation about the discussion over , “Wow, there’s an incredible, weird delay.”
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