April 20, 2014

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]

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