September 28, 2016

Waking Up From The Lockout

Now that the lockout has finally been lifted, there is a palpable sense of relief amongst Patriot fans. The horrid thoughts that were creeping into the collective mindset of the fan base have been quickly dissipating. Suddenly, NFL nation has been jarred awake by a truly frenzied free agency, and all that was once a reality during the 76-day lockout now feels like a hazy dream. Vague notions that once made sense during our collective slumber are quickly slipping away into absurdity just like most dreams. The notions, that getting your girlfriend to follow College Football or that collegian fantasy football is just as fun have now taken their rightful place on top of the laughably ridiculous pile.

It’s important that as we collectively rub our eyes and prepare for the coming months, that we get a lay of the land. So here are the things Patriot fans have to look forward to:

1) An improved pass-rush.

Now I know it sounds crazy considering all the hoopla that has been made about not drafting a great outside linebacker or defensive end, but here me out. There are 3 ways to improve the pass rush.

  • Improve the secondary. This gives the slowpokes up front enough time to chase down the quarterback. Devin McCourty, panned by the likes of Mel Kiper as an obscure ‘first round overreach’, has clearly been a steal and was a premiere shutdown corner in the league last year. He seems hungry, smart, and dedicated which is a great sign for those who are worried about a second year setback due to complacency. On top of that, the Patriots get back their best corner from 2 years ago in the form of Leigh Bodden. He missed a whole season due to a rotator cuff tear, something that I am all too personally familiar with. And if it took me 1 year to return to my NCAA athletic career, I’m sure Mr. Bodden will back in full force. The Patriots didn’t stop there, as they drafted Ras-I Dowling, who has one of the coolest names in the NFL, with the 33rd pick overall and will surely be someone to keep an eye out during the pre-season games. Add to these 3 corners, the maturation and emergence of Patrick Chung and Kyle Arrington and you’ve got yourself a much improved and scary secondary.
  • Improve the Defensive Line. It collapses the pocket quicker, gives the linebackers more lanes to run through, and forces the opposing offensive lines to double team. Well last year’s serviceable D-line, got a big booster shot. The signing of Marcus Stroud,(note: reportedly released on Thursday) who used to be a beast and could still have a bit left in the tank, was a good pick up. Also, Ty Warren, who missed the whole 2010 campaign due to a hip injury, looks to be back to his formidable form. On top of this, Mike Wright, Ty’s very decent replacement, is back after suffering a concussion last year. So that’s three ‘new’ D-linemen, 2 of which, although not stars, are bona fide starters in the NFL. However, I know that ya’ll are much more intrigued by the trade for the disgruntled Albert Haynesworth. Here is the skinny on him—he doesn’t want to play nose tackle, and he is better in the 4-3 then the 3-4. Considering that we have Wilfork at nose, and that last year we played only 40% in our base 3-4 formation and couple that with the fact that we have a great history of rehabilitating malcontents, this should be a great bet and relatively inexpensive bet.
  • Improve Defensive Ends and Outside Linebackers. One way to do this is by cutting your best rushing linebacker, Tully Banta-Cain. Just seeing if you’re paying attention. Obviously losing him hurts, but not nearly as much as one might think. He was clearly losing favor with the coaching staff, and once Cunningham started performing, he really ate into Tully’s playing time. The trend was probably going to continue anyway, and considering that Tully just got surgery this week, he wouldn’t have been too productive at the start of the season. Either way, the free agency isn’t over, and while the Patriots clearly still need to sign a stud or at least add more depth to the position, the team seems to be in much better shape then last year.

2) A 14-2 team remains largely intact

There really aren’t any big departures from the team. The Patriots have Logan Mankins in camp after signing his franchise tender, and even if they don’t sign Light, they have Solder or Sebastian Vollmer to fill in.

3) A More Mature Team

Last year, there were something like 26 players on our 53 man squad that were in the league for less then 3 years. The Patriots went from one of the oldest teams in the NFL to one of the youngest teams, in a very short time. These players needed time to mature, and learn Bill Belichick’s complicated system. The growth was evident last year, with the likes of Chung, Cunningham, Arrington, Gronkowski, Vollmer, Hernandez and McCourty performing well. These players look to continue their growth, and if a few new guys step up or the likes of wide receiver Taylor Price makes the vaunted ‘second year leap’ then the team will be hard to beat.

4) The return of Stephen Gostkowski

Quick, who was the Patriots kicker in the playoffs? Don’t feel bad if you had to look it up. I did too. Considering that Gostkowski is one of the best in the league and that his replacement couldn’t get a kickoff past the 10 yard line, Stephen’s return will be a great improvement for the defense (better starting field position) and the offense (more field goals).

5) Wes Welker and Tom Brady’s ACL tears

It takes a while to return from ACL tears. Wes wasn’t even supposed to play last year considering that he tore his ACL in that ill-fated meaningless season finale 2 years ago. He will surely feel better, have crisper cuts and more explosiveness then he did last year. The same goes for Tom Brady. The ghost of Bernard Pollard will be less haunting as it fades into the rear view.

Previously Unpicked Preseason Pats

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

The Patriots got to work signing undrafted free agents on Monday, filling out their roster before official practices begin. Below, we have a rundown of the players New England has reportedly signed.

For calming updates of this preseason news cyclone, we recommend the indispensable Mike Reiss’ blog. League-wide rookie free agent signings can be found for each team on NEPatriotsdraft.com.

Jeremy Ross, Cal wide receiver: Well, well, well. Patriots Daily finally got one! Ross has been a favorite of PD, not just for his skills, but also for his contributions to this piece about the travails of rookie free agency during the lockout.

Why undrafted: Ross had a mere 18 catches with an 11.7-yard average his senior year, hardly eye-popping numbers.

Why he’s in camp: The Cal Bear has three things going for him, including size (a sturdy 6-0, 209 pounds, big enough to tower over many Pats pass-catchers), athleticism (4.4-second 40, 39-inch vertical at his pro day), and special teams prowess (13-yard average on punt returns). With questions surrounding New England’s receiving corps, Ross could provide solid reps and could sneak his way into Foxboro by September.

Jeff Tarpinian, Iowa linebacker: Tarpinian continues the trend of productive Hawkeye linebackers Bill Belichick and his staff take long looks at due to the coach’s relationship with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.

Why undrafted: Due to injury, Tarpinian played in only eight games this past season. He’s also a bit undersized at 6-2, 235 pounds and put up only 16 bench presses at his pro day.

Why he’s in camp: Judging by his Iowa player page, this kid looks like a coach’s dream. Academic All-American, plus a Coaches Appreciation Award for special teams after his junior year.

Oh, the athleticism he showed off at his pro day probably helped, too, like a 4.56-second 40 and 6.78-second 3-cone drill.

Mike Berry, Auburn offensive lineman: Berry played guard for the national champion Tigers. He throws his hat into a crowded ring at the position but could get some consideration as the long-term statuses of Logan Mankins, Nick Kaczur and rookie Marcus Cannon remain unclear.

Why undrafted: Berry’s pro day did little to get him noticed, as his 19 bench reps and 5.5-second 40 weren’t exactly head-turners. (Unless those heads were turning away.)

Why he’s in camp: The Tiger started on an offense featuring a quarterback named Cam Newton who, you know, did pretty well for himself. At 6-3, 318 pounds, he’s a “phone booth” type of player whose foot speed shouldn’t matter all that much.

Alex Silvestro, Rutgers defensive end: At 6-3, 265 pounds, Silvestro projects to a pass-rushing outside linebacker at Gillette. He had 14.5 tackles for loss (including 5.5 sacks) and blocked a kick, which bodes well for a future on special teams.

Why undrafted: Rutgers has had some good seasons recently, but 2010’s 4-8 effort wasn’t one of them. Also, checking his size and pro day numbers (including a 4.83-second 40), Silvestro looks like a tweener stuck between 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker.

Why he’s in camp: His 20-yard shuttle (4.28 seconds) matches highly-touted Arizona pass-rusher Brooks Reed’s, while his bench press (29 reps) and 3-cone drill (7.16 seconds) compare well with Reed (30 reps, 7.11 seconds).

Not saying Silvestro will perform at the same level as Reed, a second-round pick for Houston. Just looking at stats beyond the 40-yard dash.

Corey Woods, Akron offensive lineman: Woods played both right and left tackle for the Zips, receiving All-MAC honors his junior and senior years. With his experience and size (6-5, 303 pounds), he has some flexibility along the offensive line.

Why undrafted: Woods exemplifies a consistent performer at a small school. He also failed to wow at his pro day.

Why he’s in camp: The aforementioned ability to change positions along the O-line, plus some respectable pro day numbers (5.25 40, 24 bench reps) show Woods shouldn’t be out of place at an NFL camp.

Kyle Hix, Texas offensive lineman: New England bolsters their O-line with this 6-7, 320-pound tackle, who started at Texas since his sophomore year.

Why undrafted: Hix may not possess the most speed, nor greatest strength, as shown in his combine results. He was also bothered by nagging injuries throughout his senior year.

Why he’s in camp: Um, you read the whole 6-7, 320-pound thing, right? Hix started at both left and right tackle in his career, giving him that good ol’ flexibility that gets so much attention in these parts. Add decent combine numbers (5.44 40, 24 bench reps, plus a 32-inch vertical), and the Longhorn seems worth a look, if not a draft pick.

Will Yeatman, Maryland tight end: The hefty Terrapin (6-6, 270) comes to Gillette as another in-line blocking candidate at the tight end position.

Why undrafted: Yeatman ran a 5.1-second 40 at his pro day. He also tallied a mere 13 catches his senior year at Maryland.

Why he’s in camp: Oh, where to begin? Yeatman transferred from Notre Dame, where he played under former Pats offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. In college, Yeatman also played lacrosse – a Belichick favorite. Watch him (number 23) show some athleticism as he helps the Terps come back to win vs. Georgetown here, starting at the 2-minute mark.

Just to tickle Belichick’s fancy further, Yeatman’s father played lacrosse at the Naval Academy, where Belichick’s father Steve coached football for decades.

Ryan Coulson, Nevada defensive end/long snapper: Are the Patriots continuing their search for a diamond-in-the-rough pass-rusher amidst the undrafted ranks? As a defensive end, Coulson had 56 tackles for the Wolfpack, including 8.5 for loss. The Pats are expected to look at him for his long snapping abilities.

Why undrafted: Coulson’s a bit slight at 6-3, 243 pounds. And really, who wants to spend a draft pick on a long snapper?

Right? I mean, who would do that?

Why he’s in camp: If you’re up for it, wade through this 15-minute highlight reel and watch number 58 at work. You’ll see a solid defender who can read opposing offenses quickly. And, apparently, a long snapper.

Clay Nurse, Illinois defensive end: This college defensive lineman joins the aforementioned hordes trying out for outside linebacker in New England’s 3-4 defense.

Why undrafted: Nurse ran a five-second 40 and otherwise did little to distinguish himself at his pro day. Also notched only 23 tackles in 2010 despite starting all 13 games.

Why he’s in camp: Blessed with prototypical size (6-2, 260), the Guyana native has only been playing football since the age of 16 and could improve in an NFL system. Among his 23 tackles were four sacks and eight QB hurries. Also blocked a punt and a PAT this past year.

You can watch Nurse at D-end for the Illini (number 97) in this footage from their game vs. Baylor in the Texas Bowl.

Anthony Leonard, West Virginia linebacker: Leonard comes to Foxboro as a sure tackler and a team leader for the Mountaineers.

Why undrafted: A 4.9-second 40 and an only half-decent 20 bench reps at his pro day didn’t win over many front offices.

Why he’s in camp: Leonard measures 6-1, 255 pounds, and plays faster than his 40 time. His senior year at West Virginia, Leonard had 70 tackles (6.5 for loss) and three pass breakups.

For an in-depth feature on Leonard put out by the Mountaineer sports department, see this YouTube clip.

Aaron Lavarias, Idaho defensive end: What’s that you say? A college defensive end who projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker? Why, come on over to Gillette!

Why undrafted: The Western Athletic Conference in general and Idaho in particular tend to get overlooked by NFL higher-ups. A 6-7 season record won’t help.

Why he’s in camp: Lavarias has decent size (6-2, 250) and displayed noteworthy athleticism at his pro day, including a 4.62 40 and a 33.5-inch vertical. The Vandal lived up to his mascot’s moniker in opposing backfields, tallying 17 tackles for loss (including 10 sacks).

Chris Koepplin, UMass kicker: Koepplin, who graduated from UMass in 2008, will take preseason reps and relieve Stephen Gostkowski.

Why undrafted: Gostkowski’s fourth-round status notwithstanding, most kickers don’t get picked on draft day.

Why he’s in camp: Koepplin spent two seasons in the Arena Football 2 League with the Manchester Wolves (now defunct). The uprights in Arena Football are much closer together than in the NFL.

Give this guy credit: he has done a great job of promoting himself. Watch this highlight reel of his time in Manchester and see if you don’t want to sign him yourself.

Any updates, comments or suggestions regarding New England’s rookie free agents, please give us a holler in the space below.

Chris Warner can be reached at [email protected]

Questions For Camp

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

And we’re back! Almost. Sort of.

Anyway, looking forward to camp, and coming at it with many questions for 2011. While some could get answered early, many won’t get figured out until several weeks from now.

If you get a chance to see a New England practice in person, we recommend it. (For those who can’t make it and would like a review of how Coach Bill Belichick runs preseason practices, take a gander at this piece from three years ago that runs down a typical practice drill-by-drill.)

The Brady Bunk: Oh, no! Tom Brady hasn’t been in Foxboro practicing with his teammates since February! What’s going to happen? Does he still care about football? Can he still be a great quarterback?

You know what? Just – shush.

Living On The Edge: Wait, is pressuring opposing QBs an issue? Should we talk about defensive lineman Mike Wright leading the team with 5.5 sacks last year, or is that still a sore subject considering the Patriots waited until Round Six to draft a pass-rusher?

Nothing against Markell Carter, but having a rookie come in and make an impact as a 3-4 outside linebacker seems like a bit much to ask. (What say you, Jermaine Cunningham?)

Who Wants Moore? Does that make last year’s midseason spark Eric Moore the answer? Considering Moore was a Florida Tusker at this time last year, other teams might scout him better after watching some bona fide NFL footage.

Taylor Suited: So, how’s this Taylor Price kid going to fit, in light of the fact that he only played in one game last year and has had zilch practice time with teammates this off-season? Hard to tell. Speaking of young receivers…

Tate The Player, Not The Game: Hey, Brandon Tate. We keep hearing about you breaking out. You’re in year three. It’s time for you to live up to your “veteran” status, my fresh-faced friend.

Cannon Fodder: Really hoping rookie offensive lineman Marcus Cannon can report to camp after his treatments for cancer this summer. We expect him to find his way to the Player Unable to Perform (PUP) list, delaying a decision on whether or not he’ll play this year.

Personally, we wouldn’t mind watching his 355-pound frame pushing some people around, but if we have to wait to see it, we have no complaints.

Turn On Your Heart, Light: Tackle Matt Light has got to stick around the only franchise he’s ever known for another season. Doesn’t he? Please?

Swing Logan, Sweet Chariot: Guard Logan Mankins has got to stick around the only franchise he’s ever known for another season. Right? Franchised? Please?

Win, Loss, Ty: New England’s record could depend on the health and welfare of veteran defensive end Ty Warren, who missed 2010 due to injury. While the Pats have plenty of bodies to fill up the end spots (Wright, Ron Brace, Marcus Stroud, to name a few), only Warren (That’s Ty – no offense, Gerard Warren) consistently contains his side.

This Is The End; My Only Friend, The End: So, do tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez start 2011 like the same Brady security blankets of 2010, or do we see some holes in their respective games?

Old Pirates, Yes They Ras-I: Speaking of a Redemption Song, can second-round pick Ras-I Dowling prove he was worthy of a first-round selection? Can he compete with veteran Leigh Bodden for playing time? Between Dowling, Bodden and Devin McCourty, who’s best suited to take nickel responsibilities?

(We vote for McCourty. Which, of course, means so close to nothing that the number zero feels like we’re invading its personal space.)

Safety Dance: At what point will Brandon Meriweather do something regretful? Is solid vet James Sanders sticking around? Will Patrick Chung keep his starting spot, and has he improved his coverage skills?

For a position that seems loaded, lots of questions there.

I’m Free, Free Falling: What a tense summer to have rookie free agent status. (As proof, check out this previous piece on four such hopefuls.) As rosters expand, that means plenty of undrafted youngsters will travel to Foxboro this summer. With New England’s record of keeping these castaways each year, who will find his way into Gillette for 2011?

Coach Seats: And what of the various assistant coaching switches and their potential effect on the squad? Will the lockout wreak havoc with the young players, or will it play out as a preseason hiccup?

Any other inquiries, please post them below. We will have plenty of answers soon. Whether or not they’ll end up correct, well, that’s another issue.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

 

AccuScore Team Preview

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Preview – The New England Patriots

The New England Patriots put together an impressive 14-2 record, which was the best regular season record in the NFL last year. With Bill Belichick still returning as head coach, and Tom Brady on schedule following a January 20th procedure to repair a stress fracture in his right foot, the Patriots will be favorites to win the AFC East again.

The Patriots are projected to finish with an 11-5 mark for the 2011-12 season, but that should still be good enough to win the AFC East and give the Pats an 88% probability of post season play. With Brady and Belichick, it’s hard to imagine the Pats not making the playoffs.

Rookie tight-end Aaron Hernandez was a revelation last season, as the former Florida Gator quickly became one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets. Hernandez caught 45 passes, scored 6 TDs, and averaged 12.5 yards/catch. Only Wes Welker had more receiving TDs than Hernandez, and Hernandez was 3rd on the team in receptions and receiving yards. Entering his 2nd season at Foxboro, the Pats have high hopes for the last year’s 4th round pick.

Projected Record: 11-5

Projected Division Finish: 1 of 4

Probability of Winning Division: 72%

Probability of Making Playoffs:  88%

Future Stars Of The Patriots?

Editor’s note: We’d like to welcome Justin Buzzotta to the site. This is his first post.

Could it be? An ending to what seemed like the longest off-season in pro sports history. As the lockout nears its end, fans can finally be optimistic there will be football in 2011. No longer will we be huddling by our TV’s hoping to get a view of Roger Goodell walking out of the courtroom. Now that both sides have agreed on the most pressing terms, barring any major setbacks, a deal will be done by the end of the week. This means the start of training camp is right around the corner and it’s time to weed out the younger players on the current roster and find the true gems, superstar talents that may or may not have seen much time on the field. Now it doesn’t take some snot nosed kid like me to tell you that Devin McCourty or Jerod Mayo will be future stars because to be frank, they already are. The focus of this article will be the players who haven’t seen a lot of time on the field. Players who were just drafted, backups, members of last year’s practice squad or just flat out under appreciated.

So without further ado (drumroll please), the Future Stars of the New England Patriots…

Buddy Farnham

This first one is a longshot, but hey, you can’t win a game without throwing it deep, am I right? Buddy Farnham is a hometown kid from the Boston area, But it is far from local bias that puts this kid on my list. The star wideout from Brown University has the right skill set to fit right in with the rest of this young wide receiving core. Farnham graduated Brown after accumulating 229 catches for 2,895 yards, both stats reside in the top ten all time list for the Ivy League for their respective categories.

Judging by the injury history of current starters, Wes Welker and Deion Branch, it can be assumed that their 30’s will not emulate the great Jerry Rice. With this in mind, this year’s receiving core is going to look to its younger players to step up and play big roles soon. Brandon Tate has already proved he can be a big time player but who else will step up? Taylor Price? Julian Edelman? While I do like both receivers, look for Buddy Farnham to swoop in and get some time as a fourth option in this receiving core. He will be looking at some serious time when Deion Branch goes down. And yes he will go down, let’s be honest here the chances of Deion Branch lasting an entire season without getting hurt are about as slim as me getting a date with Mila Kunis (I may not be a marine but I can at least borrow some fatigues from a friend of mine, she’ll never know the difference.) Give Farnham a few more seasons with the Patriots and this local legend may one day become a star wideout for the boys in blue. If nothing else, look for Farnham to at least be a speedy special teams option until a spot opens on the offense.

Myron Pryor

This was a hard decision to make for many reasons. With an abundance of Nose Tackles on this team, it was hard to pick second best. Vince Wilfork will be the starter for as long as possible but as much as Brett Favre would beg to differ, even the best players cannot play forever. It will be hard to replace one of the best nose tackles in NFL history but look for Myron Pryor to fill Wilfork’s gigantic shoes. Ron Brace and Marcus Stroud are the other big names at the nose tackle position. Brace is a young bruiser whose size resembles Wilfork but he lacks speed and his injury history is an immediate red flag. Stroud, an aging veteran, will likely provide more impact off the field than on. This leaves Myron Pryor, an absolute physical specimen that cannot be ignored by this Patriots organization. It’s hard to call a 6’1” 310 lbs. defensive lineman small especially coming from someone like me (5’11” 165 lbs. soaking wet) but that’s exactly what Pryor is.

Pryor will prove to be an excellent compliment to Vince Wilfork’s size and strength with his uncanny speed and agility. He ran a lightning fast 5.05 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and has already shown his worth at the pro level recording 32 tackles in 22 games between the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Look for him to surpass both Ron Brace and Marcus Stroud on the depth chart to become the second string nose tackle and to one day step up and be the next great nose tackle.

Jermaine Cunningham

Jermaine Cunningham never got the attention he deserved playing opposite Carl0s Dunlap at Florida. In fact, Cunningham has continued to fly under the radar by quietly putting up an excellent rookie season for the Patriots.  As a rookie, Cunningham started 11 of 16 games finishing with 27 tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles.

Despite being undersized, Cunningham is a quick defensive end with the ability to play linebacker if needed. He can explode from the three point stance, allowing him to be an excellent pass rusher that finds a way to the quarterback with ease. Cunningham has great play recognition and is tough in the trenches. He is not much of an impact tackler but is instead absorbent with his style and while he will not turn as many heads as Troy Polamalu, he makes safe, reliable tackles that stop the forces of even the best running backs. What he lacks in size, he makes up in speed, athleticism and excellent work ethic. He will continue to be a great weapon for Bill Belichick this season.

Ras-I Dowling

Drafted last April, Ras-I Dowling may have been the steal of the draft. Had his senior year not been hampered with injury, he would have easily been a top 15 player in this year’s draft pool. In Virginia, Dowling made a name early recording 44 tackles and two picks in only 12 games as a freshmen. He continued to be a shutdown corner for the cavaliers until his senior year where he battled multiple leg injuries and was limited to only five games.

Dowling is bigger (6’1” 198lbs) and faster (4.40 40 yard dash, 7th among all DBs) than most DBs. His strength is also impressive, putting up 10 reps on the bench press, which was good for tenth at his position. Look for Devin McCourty, Leigh Bodden and Ras-I Dowling to become one of the best Defensive Back trios in the NFL, injury permitting.

Shane Vereen

It is hard to harness my excitement for this player. Shane Vereen has the tools and skill set to be a break out performer right out of the gate. Vereen is a route-running halfback who forces the attention of the defense. At 5’10” 203 lbs, he is a thick, compact running back who runs strong with a low center of gravity. Vereen performed well at the combine running a 4.50 40-yard dash (8th in the combine for running backs) and a putting up a stunning 31 reps on the bench press (2nd in the combine among running backs). At Cal, he ran for 2,834 yards and 29 TDs in three seasons while adding 74 receptions for 674 yards and six scores.

Despite his uncanny eye for the endzone, Vereen’s hands are his best attribute. He shows soft hands that consistently make even the toughest catches look easy. The Patriots will likely line him up in the slot as well as the half back position. His hands and route-running ability will be a great asset at either position and will prove to be a big upgrade from Danny Woodhead last year. Look for Shane Vereen to be the Patriots new 3rd down back that boasts a striking resemblance to the once great Kevin Faulk.