November 27, 2014

Terrence Wheatley – Lost In The Mix?

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

This continues a look at players who could be on the roster bubble this summer.

2008 2nd Round Pick Terrence Wheatley

It was November 2nd, 2008, the Patriots were playing AFC rivals Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in a nationally televised Sunday night NBC game. The Patriots, after losing Tom Brady in the opening game of the season, came into the game with a 5-2 record, and facing a huge test against the Colts.

As the Colts offense trotted onto the field for the first time that night, a rookie cornerback lined up on defense for the Patriots, making his first-ever NFL start. Terrence Wheatley, a 5-9 185 lb second round pick out of Colorado was matched up with future Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison, who was approaching the end of his career, but still a major threat and favorite target of Manning.

With the Colts facing a third and two on their opening drive, Manning took the shotgun snap, and targeted Harrison. Wheatley, attached to his side the whole play, knocked the pass away, and the Colts were forced to punt the ball away.

Later in the first half Wheatley knocked away another pass intended for Harrison, but injured his wrist on the play, a bothersome body part for Wheatley, who also missed large portions of his college career with wrist injuries. The injury ended Wheatley’s season.

Hopes were high for Wheatley coming into the 2009 season, but instead Wheatley was inactive for 12 games, including the Wild Card playoff game against Baltimore. The times he did take the field, it was in reserve and special teams action. There were rumors of a knee injury suffered in the preseason, but nothing was ever officially confirmed.

Wheatley now enters his third season as a make-or-break campaign. The Patriots have drafted cornerbacks with high picks each of the last two years (Darius Butler and Devin McCourty) and Wheatley’s draft classmate Jonathan Wilhite has also passed him on the depth chart. With veteran Leigh Bodden signed to a new deal, Wheatley faces a fight for a roster spot this summer.

It’s easy to forget that like Shawn Crable, Wheatley was pretty highly regarded coming out of Colorado in the 2008 draft. This 2008 combine profile calls him “the premier man-coverage cornerback in an extremely talented conference.” (Big 12) While you know that a coach is going to go to bat for his own player, the words from Wheatley’s head coach seem a little more than you usual praise you hear:

“When the pro scouts come by, I just jump on the table for Terrence Wheatley,” said Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins. “I think he is a very solid individual, he is a hard worker, he is a smart guy, he is dependable, he is very, very consistent and he is a special talent. I could see that guy, if he continues, being an All-American type player. It is awesome to have him in the return game, too, because we know how fast he is and now that his wrist is healed up and it’s not as big a problem as it was last year, he can do some great things there. But he is a great kid, he really is.”

The positives sections of this scouting report is absolutely glowing:

Positives: Has a lean, but defined frame that can carry at least another 10 pounds of bulk with no loss in quickness … Shows good thickness in his thighs and calves and a toned upper-body torso with surprising power for a player his size … Builds to top speed in a hurry and shows explosive acceleration throughout his running stride … Has the closing burst to instantly make plays in front of him … His second gear is evident by the way he simply races past opponents on kickoff returns … Has very loose hips to redirect and is fluid changing direction … Never takes false steps in transition and shows very good balance on the move … Fearless in run support, closing on the play and pursuing the ballcarriers with good form to push the running game back inside from the perimeter … Has a keen understanding of the playbook, but will still spend time dissecting plays to discover ways to improve his technique … With his wrist surgeries behind him, he is showing much better power behind his tackling form (see 2007 Colorado State and Oklahoma games), doing a good job of wrapping and driving with his strong legs to rock the opponent back … Has made good strides in run support, knowing how to keep his pads low and attack the outside leg to impede the running back’s forward progress … Hard worker in the training room who also puts in extra hours studying game films … Type of athlete that performs best against top-level competition, as he loves the challenge … Dependable field leader who will spend extra time mentoring the younger players (has a bit of Troy Vincent in him, as he tries to understand the assignments of every position) … Could possibly make a good coaching candidate one day due to his grasp of the playbook … Quick to read and react to the ball in flight and shows good confidence in his hand extension and timing on his leaps to get to the ball at its high point … Has the loose hips to quickly get back into the action on the rare times he over-pursues … Has the hand placement and mirror ability to stay tight on the receiver during deep routes … Has an explosive closing burst, doing a good job of keeping the action in front of him … Even with his timed speed, he does not get overconfident and give his opponent a large cushion, preferring to stay tight on his man throughout the route’s progression … Demonstrates the body control to accelerate and adjust to the ball in flight … Can play off the ball, knowing he has the timed speed to close on the play … Maintains good relationship with the receiver and when he does eye the backfield, he is smart enough not to bite on play action … Has excellent range to make plays across the field … Very aggressive when combating for jump balls and will not hesitate to sacrifice his body and extend for the ball in a crowd … Shows good patience returning kickoffs, but is sudden when he spots the crease … Catches the ball naturally with his hands with the ability to secure the ball outside his frame … Lowers his pads and hits the opponent with a thud … More of a low-cut tackler, but has good wrap-up form.

I put a few things in bold above that really stood out to me, and showed perhaps what the Patriots saw in him.The negatives list is rather short, dealing mostly with lack of bulk, injury history and sharpness in focus and on turns.

After all of that, the NFL player that this report says he most compares to, is…Ellis Hobbs…and it is supposed to be a compliment, which seems to put this whole scouting report in the “questionable” category.

All things considered, the Patriots coaches did think enough of Wheatley to start him in that game against the Colts his rookie year, and he did pretty well before getting injured. He’s had a hard time getting on the field since then, but given his pedigree, as well as how high he was taken, it seems that Wheatley is still a possibility to be a contributor to this team at some point. It’s going to be hard for him to pass the guys ahead of him on the depth chart, his best hope for playing time at this point lies as a special teams player and dime back, but as we know, cornerback injuries some to come in bunches, and having depth in that area is always a good plan.

Not exactly what you want out of a second round draft pick, but the book is not entirely closed on Terrence Wheatley just yet.

Could Albert Haynesworth and The Patriots Be A Match?

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

A good fit? Eh, probably not.

I have a friend who has persistently and relentlessly advocated to me the Patriots should pursue All-Pro Defensive Tackle Albert Haynesworth in a trade from the Redskins. His advocacy has been so loud and repeated, and with the Redskins seeming desire to give Haynesworth away, it has admittedly weakened me to a proposition I once rejected out of hand. I’ll admit, he at least convinced me to pause and ponder the possibility for a moment. Could Albert Haynesworth fit with the Patriots?

Haynesworth’s talent is undeniable. As great as Vince Wilfork is, he is just a notch below Haynesworth, who has been called the most dominant defensive tackle in the league. And athletically, for his position, he is as much a freak as Randy Moss is as a receiver. This is a 6’6″ 350 lb. man who ran a 4.82/40 and had a vertical jump of 39″ inches during his pre-draft workouts in 2002. At 350 lbs.!! And as my friend has pointed out, a Patriots team in a reconfigured 4-3 alignment with Wilfork and Haynesworth in the middle would be a nightmare for teams to attempt to run on up the middle. Nobody would even get to middle linebacker Jerod Mayo to block him and he’d clean up on tackles. The double teams would have to be so persistent, it would make life easier for the Patriots edge defenders, where undoubtedly they are a bit weaker and have more question marks. And even on passing downs, Haynesworth is a good inside pass rusher, an area of concern the Patriots have looked to shore up this off-season. Indeed Haynesworth has racked up 18.5 sacks the last 3 seasons, an excellent number for an inside rusher.

But what about that contract you say? The $100 million dollar, 7 year deal Haynesworth got last year is nearly legendary. A defensive tackle getting that? But on closer examination, its not quite as unworkable as it may first appear. For starters, the Redskins have already paid out $32 million of that money, which leaves a potential $68 million which could be paid over 6 years to a team trading for him (though its unlikely it would all ever be paid out). Is that all that more unreasonably more than the $40 million over 5 years Wilfork got when one considers Haynesworth is the next level up player (and capable of playing for 3 downs as opposed to the 2 Wilfork plays on)?

So, what then is the problem? Ship a third rounder to Washington for next year (the Patriots have two firsts and two seconds anyway) and be done with it, right? Not quite. Haynesworth does come with quite a bit of baggage. Lets start with the fact the Redskins have paid him $32 million freakin’ dollars the last calender year and he still has not shown up for voluntary workouts this year!!! Any workouts. He’s been practically invisible to his employer. Think about that, he can’t be unhappy with his contract, right? How could he be? So, what’s the problem? The coaching staff? Is that his problem?

Indeed, Haynesworth did have a problem with last year’s Redskins’ defensive coordinator, Greg Blache. After a December 21st 45-12 loss to the Giants at home last year, Haynesworth threw Blache under the bus to the media by declaring “could not survive another season in this system if it stays the way it is….” Apparently it wasn’t Haynesworth’s fault the Redskins couldn’t cause any turnovers and allowed the Giants to march into town and roll up nearly 400 yards offense and 45 points that day. Not the $100 million dollar guy’s fault at all, apparently. Blame the coach everyone knew was on his way out of town at that point anyways. Courageous of Albert, I must say.

Nevertheless, Haynesworth got his wish. In to town comes new coach Mike Shanahan with new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and his new system, a 3-4 defense to boot. Apparently Haynesworth is still unhappy with this as well and has put out word he in no uncertain terms wishes to play in a 3-4 base defense. Incidentally, the Patriots play a 3-4 base defense and any trade for Haynesworth would assuredly require a change to the 4-3, particularly with Vince Wilfork being one of your better players on defense. Haynesworth’s unhappiness no matter how much money he makes or what system he plays has led Patriots legend Tedy Bruschi to wonder aloud if Haynesworth really even likes football. And this is a guy who’ll be 29 before camp starts. He is no doubt dominant and you may want to make some concessions for a dominant guy, but not sure you want to be committed to someone for 6 more years who is about to hit his 30s and lacks passion for the sport.

Then there are the character issues. Haynesworth is a guy caused a stir by kicking his teammate Justin Hartwig in camp in 2003. The same guy who was suspended five games for viciously stomping on Andre Gurode’s head while he was on the ground during a game with the Cowboys in 2006. And the same guy who’s been brought up on criminal charges several times the past few years for various admittedly minor offenses. Do we really want someone here who has no beef with his contract, having been made the highest paid defensive player in history a year ago, who got a change in coaching staff he advocated for and whose teammates and owner are openly calling for to show up during a critical team-building portion of the off-season while a new coaching staff tries to install his system on the Patriots? And a player who’d require the Patriots to scrap their defensive plans just days before, or even possibly after depending on when any trade were made, their first mandatory mini-camp when the system is being installed and taught to new comers and vets alike?

The Patriots have reportedly recommitted to finding leaders, solid citizens, captains and players with a passion for football and for a chance to succeed this off-season. In a way, its a return to a philosophy that kicked off their run of Super Bowl victories to begin with. The youth they’ve mixed in over the last two years gives Patriots fans justifiable optimism this team is rebuilding and with a little luck can regain its dominance again with a new core of players (and a mixture of some of the old core). Adding a questionable, albeit dominant, 29 year old disgruntled Albert Haynesworth to the mix? Even at a song in terms of draft picks, I gotta say thanks but no thanks.

Sorry buddy.

Shawn Crable – Potential Player, or Bad Joke?

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

Editor’s note: The verdict is in. Apparently “Bad Joke” is the winner. The Patriots released Crable the day before training camp. Mike Reiss speculates that Crable may have failed his conditioning test and this was the final straw as far as they were concerned. You may now disregard everything written below.

Shawn Crable

Mention the name Shawn Crable these days, and you’re likely to get an eye roll, a sarcastic remark, or a blank stare. The Patriots linebacker is entering his third season with the Patriots, but has yet to take the field for a regular season game. He has been on the Injured Reserve list each of his first two seasons. Crable was inactive for the first eight games of 2008 before being placed on IR when the Patriots, needed help at linebacker, re-signed veterans Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin. Last season, Crable was placed on IR just prior to the regular season, on September 5th. Given this history, skepticism about Crable and his ability to ever become a contributor is certainly warranted. But is it fair to completely write the guy off? Sure, the last two years could just be bad luck, a fluke.  After a shoulder injured derailed his freshman season, Crable didn’t show himself to be injury-prone while at Michigan. If you read the scouting reports on him prior to the 2008 draft, you get the impression of a guy with a ton of upside, and a unique ability to rush the passer and create havoc in the backfield. He was also a defensive captain his senior year with the Wolverines, which fits in with the solid citizen approach the Patriots are taking to building their locker room and team. This draft profile from NFLDraftScout.com compares Crable to Carl Banks and Shawn Phillips. Note the first paragraph:

An emerging talent at the strong-side linebacker position, Crable reminds some scouts of Carl Banks, an All-American at that position for the Wolverines’ arch-rivals, Michigan State, who went on to earn All-Pro honors during a stellar career with the New York Giants. The talented youngster has the same excellent read-and-react skills and playing strength, doing a great job of attacking the backfield coming off the edge that Banks showed throughout his college and professional career.

And then later on in the article:

Compares To: SHAUN PHILLIPS-San Diego … Crable is not as bulky as Phillips, but his frame has the potential to carry 260 pounds. He is a very good edge rusher and blitzer who relies a lot on his quickness to surprise a lethargic blocker. He lacks the sand in his pants to generate a good anchor and must do a better job of using his hands to protect his body from combo blocks and cut blocks. He is quick to see the play develop, but it is rare for him to come out of his area to make a play. He is too stiff in his hips to get good depth in his pass drops and struggles with ball recognition when playing in the zone, as he does bite on play-action. He will need to improve his lower body strength for the next level, as his only value right now is as a pass rusher.

Recent reports indicate that Crable has bulked up some in the two years since coming out of college. He’d better have, he hasn’t needed to recover from the grueling grind of playing NFL games. Hopefully that added weight can address some the concerns laid out in the draft profile (not enough “sand in the pants” was listed as a concern). In the 2008 preseason I have some vague memories of Crable looking rather impressive against the reserve NFL talent he was competing against when he was on the field. Everywhere you turn, experts analyzing the Patriots point first to the team’s lack of a pass rush as THE biggest weakness on the team, and the main reason why they will not be a Super Bowl contender in 2010. They say that the Patriots have done very little (drafting Jermaine Cunningham, re-signing Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess) to address this need. If the Patriots are counting on Crable to play a huge role and fill this pass rush need, that’s obviously a huge risk. I don’t think they’re counting on him to solve their needs, but I think they do expect him to be a contributor this season and part of the solution to the pass rush. If he’s injured again, or can’t perform, it’s time to cut bait. Fellow linebacker Tully Banta-Cain had the following to say about Crable recently: “He’s got all the tools. He’s got the size. He looks the part. Even when he’s healthy, he plays the part. As long as he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a great impact for us.” I’ll settle for any impact at this point, let alone great impact. It’s a huge “as long as,” but Crable clearly fits a lot of what the Patriots look for in a pass-rushing outside linebacker. They haven’t given up on him yet, and I don’t think I’m quite ready to, either. I’m hoping that when we look back at the 2010 season, we can list Shawn Crable as one of the pleasant surprises of this season. Update: Mike Reiss has a look at players who didn’t do much in their first two years, but emerged in their third: When the third time is the charm

Patriots on NFL Network 5/20 – 5/25

Yes, the Patriots will be on NFL Network this week, but the games being shown are likely ones you’re not going to want to see again. Thanks NFL Network!

Thursday, May 20th

4:30 PM – NFL Film Session: Super Bowl XXXI – New York Giants vs. New England Patriots

5:00 PM – NFL Film Session: 1996 New England Patriots

Sunday, May 23rd

1:00 PM – NFL Replay: 2009, Week 10 – New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts (HD)

Monday, May 24th

6:00 AM – NFL Replay: 2009, Week 10 – New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts (HD)

10:30 AM – NFL Replay: 2009, Week 10 – New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts (HD)

6:00 PM – NFL Replay: 2009, Week 10 – New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts (HD)

So to recap, that’s a look back at Super Bowl XXXI, where Eli Manning and David Tyree (and Asante Samuel) ruined the perfect season, a look at the 1996 season, where the Patriots went to the Super Bowl, but their coach was already playing footsie with the New York Jets when he should’ve been preparing his team, and four replays of the game that will forever be known as “Fourth and two.”

Once again, Thanks, NFL Network!

Hitting The Dead Zone

Derrick Burgess re-signed with the Patriots

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff.

It’s quiet time here at Patriots Daily, as we’re still catching our breath from the draft, and looking at some time off over the next 10 weeks or so until training camp starts. Yes, it’s really not all that far away.

We won’t be completely gone, I expect we’ll have a post or two about the OTA’s and the madatory minicamp in the coming weeks, and we’ll try and let you know when the Patriots will be featured on NFL Network. If something big happens, such as a bigger-name player being signed or cut, we’ll have something to say about it. We’re on Twitter as @PatriotsDaily and you can also follow @scottabenson or our whole staff with the list @PatriotsDaily/staff . We might not be Patriots “Daily” in terms of blog posts

So what’s been happening since the draft? The Patriots signed defensive lineman Gerard Warren, who interesting was taken ahead of Richard Seymour in that 2001 draft. At this point, I think you can pencil Warren into the starting lineup – he’s not Seymour, but he’s been a solid starter during his career, and gives them another veteran big body at the position. A Warren-Wilfork-Warren defensive line could be seen quite a bit next fall, though I’m sure the hope is that a younger player could step into a bigger role, such as Myron Pryor, Ron Brace, even draftee Brandon Deaderick,who played the 3-4 DE in Nick Saban’s defense at Alabama. Another veteran signee, Damione Lewis is another possibility, as is super-sub Mike Wright, though he appears to be more suited as a fill-in type.

The team also re-signed outside linebacker Derrick Burgess, who was considered a disappointment by most last season, with even WEEI afternoon hosts making jokes about him on a weekly basis. I’m okay with bringing him back, as depth at the position is still a concern. Burgess was actually on the field quite a bit last season, and appeared to get better late in the season. Perhaps a year with the team will result of better pass rush production this season.

A few bored football columnists are already coming out with power rankings, Scott Benson says “I think Power Rankings authored on 5/17 – and then reblogged – are just the media’s way of telling you what ‘storyline’ they’re rooting for.” I couldn’t agree more, especially when you see someone like Peter King put Green Bay as the best team in the league, and the Dolphins and Jets sixth and seventh respectively, with Carolina at eight, and Seattle(!) at 12, while the Patriots are out of the playoffs altogether at 14. Yes, I’m an eternal optimist, but as I’ve said before, this Patriots team wasn’t that far away last season, and most certainly deserves a top 10 ranking at the very least. The Dolphins and Jets have made “splashes” while the Patriots have focused on re-signing their own critical players, and adding veteran leadership, and young talent (most with potential leadership) via the draft – something that John Clayton acknowledged when he declared the Patriots offseason the best of any team.

The biggest question everyone has with this club continues to be the pass-rushing outside linebacker spot. Tully Banta-Cain seems entrenched at one side, coming off his double-digit sack season, but who else will be out there? Burgess? Second round pick Jermaine Cunningham? Former Jets special teamer Marques Murrell? 2008 third round pick Shawn Crable, who has yet to actually play in a game for the team? I’ve even seen it mentioned that on passing downs, Brandon Spikes, slated to play inside, could move out outside linebacker to take advantage of his pass rush skills. Could another player be added to the mix? If someone of note gets released elsewhere in the league, you’ll hear plenty of speculation on the Patriots level of interest. A training camp trade (like the one that brought Burgess here) is another possibility.

Competition at Inside Linebacker, Cornerback, Tight End and the Offensive line are others to keep an eye on, as the team tries to figure out whether veterans still have it, or if a youngster is ready to step in.

This promises to be an interesting offseason and training camp. PD will be with you every step of the way.