September 27, 2016

Pats Pregame Points: Preseason Final Vs. Giants

 

Jerod Mayo should rest on Thursday

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Last Saturday, while Hurricane Irene blew in New England, the Patriots blew in Detroit.

In the wake of the 34-10 dungfest, the Foxboro faithful have to hope for some more fight from their team once the real thing gets going.

As the Pats host the Giants in their final preseason game, these thoughts come to mind…

Low Pressure System: After getting after Tampa Bay’s offense the previous scrimmage, the Patriots’ much-vaunted pressure got tamped down by a little Detroit game planning. Players like Andre Carter and Mark Anderson, who had made themselves at home in the Bucs’ backfield, never got to the Lions. At one point, a clear-path sack by Anderson devolved into a big gain on an ensuing QB scramble.

Miserable night. Just awful. Let’s hope the pass rush has a little more success against the Giants.

Everything But The Kitchen ’Cinco: Okay, sure, receiver Chad Ochocinco has a lot to learn in New England’s notoriously difficult offense. But is that an excuse for his dropped pass last Saturday?

Here’s another issue we have: the Pats Free Agent JG Scale. The spectrum of free agent receivers runs from Joey Galloway (poor) to Jabar Gaffney (great). Galloway signed in March of 2009, went through every camp, yet never picked up the offense and got cut by October. Gaffney, on the other hand, was signed in October 2006 and after a month became a consistent contributor to the offense.

Players seem to pick up this offense, or not. Let’s hope Ochocinco falls in the former category.

Fare Thee Welker: And Wes Welker got hurt making a tackle after an interception? Ugh. Why did that game even happen?

Low Price: A disappointing showing for second-year receiver Taylor Price, who couldn’t come up with a completion. We’re rooting for the young receivers, but neither Price nor Brandon Tate had much to show on Saturday.

But, on the positive side…

A Hidden Julian: Looks like Julian Edelman came to play, getting consistent, tough yardage on punt returns. He also caught a short pass and made a move that left defenders wallowing in tar. One bright note from a dim night.

Out With The Old, Injury New: Tough to see young guys like Dane Fletcher, Jermaine Cunningham, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen on the bench due to various aches and pains. Interesting to see who suits up for Thursday and for how long.

Hold The Mayo: Yeah, I know, clever and original. Dear Coach Belichick, please don’t play linebacker Jerod Mayo or any other starters in this game. Despite last week’s clusterhump, please give the starters a rest and let the rookies and backups show what they can do.

Thursday night we’ll see the last game that means nothing; but, after Saturday’s mess, maybe it will have some significance.

Chris Warner can be reached at [email protected]

 

A Well-Timed Reality Check

By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff

Wow, what a difference nine days can make.

Following last week’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New England Patriots were made out to be some sort of boogeyman that would appear in scary bedtime stories to burgeoning young quarterbacks.

“In the land called the NFL, it was the end of Week 2 of the 2011 preseason and much to everyone’s chagrin a 14-2 New England had gotten much better. Opposing coaches now had to contend with quarterback hunters Haynesworth, Ellis, Anderson and Carter now patrolling a revamped defensive line. This line would give the Patriots an edge they so desperately lacked in the previous few campaigns. As if this was not bad enough, New England’s secondary added Ras-I Dowling, Leigh Bodden and James Sanders to an already quickly maturing group of corners and safeties. Not to be outdone, the Patriots offense added Ochocinco, drafted a surprisingly good Stevan Ridley and solidified their left tackle position for years to come.

What was poor Josh Freeman left to do, as he watched his offensive line overwhelmed while the score got progressively more lopsided?  After last week, there were even whispers of New England going undefeated.

This week, after a wretched performance against a very game Lions team, the tune has changed quite significantly. Now pundits are chattering about how:

  • The Patriots offensive line was exposed as unfit to protect Tom Brady long enough for him to make his reads.
  • They also couldn’t create any decent running holes for Woodhead and Green-Ellis to squirt through.
  • The corners couldn’t defend top tier wide receivers.

Now, I realize that it would be completely  hypocritical of me to read too much into this loss after writing last week’s article about how the preseason has little barring on the regular season. If winning big against a good Bucs team should be taken with a grain of salt, then so should a good drubbing by the Lions. Last year, the Rams demolished the Patriots in Week 3 of the preseason, and well, that didn’t stop New England from winning 14 regular season games.

I do find it interesting  however, to hear and read about how happy some people are about the fact that the Patriots were exposed and got a wake up call. It seems that people were yearning for the Patriots to be hungry and humble as opposed to the unstoppable juggernaut. There is an old sports adage that to be number 1, you have to train like your number 2.

Look for the Patriots to come out aggressively in Week 1 of the regular season, until then just enjoy watching some of the young pups give it their all in Week 4 of the preseason game.

Bah – Preseason Overhype!

By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff

Let me just get this out in the open: I thought the game against Jacksonville was atrocious.

Aaron Hernandez didn't get the preseason off to a great start.

Maybe that’s too harsh a criticism, especially for preseason standards, but despite the score to me it just did not feel like a dominant performance. Not to go all Captain Buzz-kill here, but I would just like to make a few observations about it:

  • Danny Woodhead fumbled once, only to be outdone by Aaron Hernandez’s two fumbles.
  • Taylor Price bobbled the ball twice, one of which resulted in an interception, and the other almost negated his own touchdown.
  • Brian Hoyer can’t throw a spiral to save his life. His throws look like someone throwing a Nerf football for the first time — it gets there but it’s not pretty.
  • Our defense got shredded and was only saved by the fact that the Jaguars kicked 4 field goals.
  • To top it off, their running backs, Jennings and Karim, looked like they were Barry Sanders truncated into Maurice Jones-Drew’s body and given a Michael Vick NOS booster shot. Somehow, I really doubt that they are that good.

Considering all of this, I was surprised to find out upon my return from a 2 week, internet-free vacation, how much Super Bowl hype there was around here!

Let’s pump the brakes a little bit here. Have people forgotten the loss to the Giants, or Tom Brady’s knee injury? It’s like we have instantly forgotten how arduous a task it is to take home the trophy, and how many things need to line up for it to actually happen.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m all for enthusiasm and getting pumped for the upcoming season, but anointing Super Bowl favorites is not what the preseason is all about.

The preseason is all about getting a look at new acquisitions, 2nd year players who might have made ‘the jump’, and highly touted rookies whose draft grades you have spent hours reading and arguing about, despite never having seen them play.

This is the time to make judgment calls about which situational players you are excited about so you can point them out to your less-diehard friends. August is the time when you fall in love with unheralded youngsters like BenJarvus Green-Ellis and  Rob Gronkowski, and relentlessly call The SportsHub about them, and feel vindicated when they later become big contributors to the team.

Otherwise, the preseason performance matters little, as everyone knows that the 2008 Lions went 4-0, only to sputter to 0-16 in the regular season. This is especially true this season, where teams have to deal with a truncated offseason.

Beating Blaine Gabbert and Josh Freeman, both very young quarterbacks who are still learning and would have benefited greatly from OTAs, is completely inconsequential.

Anyways, again, don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited about the Patriots this season, and it was great to see Stevan Ridley’s breakout performance. I just think that everyone should just take some of Bill Belichick’s advice and focus on the next opponent and how the team can get better.

Speaking of which, it will be great to see how our offensive line, with the addition of first-round pick Nate Solder holds up against the unstoppable Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit Lions. I can’t wait.

Pats Pregame Points: Preseason Three At Lions

Welcome to Foxboro, Andre Carterby Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Is it just us, or did New England look sharper than a native Cape Codder’s accent in their 31-14 pasting at Tampa?

According to Coach Bill Belichick, it’s just us. Fine. No one can deny, though, the Patriots did just about everything they wanted while running up a 28-0 lead after two quarters.

Making assumptions with this team always gets us in trouble, but we have to figure that Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork and other starters will get their last licks at Detroit. As they showed for one half vs. the Patriots last Thanksgiving, the Lions have a solid core of young starters and should improve this season.

Some points to ponder heading into the last of the best scrimmage action…

Get Carter: We’ve seen enough of defensive end Andre Carter to know we like him. The new Patriot made himself at home in Tampa’s backfield, at one point actually sitting on an ottoman and asking Buccaneer QB Josh Freeman to get him some herbal tea (we exaggerate for effect).

In fact, we’d rather Carter sit this week as we check out some other defensive linemen who haven’t really shown much. Speaking of whom…

Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s That Albert: Will free agent defensive tackle/asteroid-sized human Albert Haynesworth get to play this weekend? We wouldn’t mind watching him for at least a series.

A Boy Named Suh: Last Thanksgiving, then-rookie defensive lineman Ndomokung Suh tenderized Brady like a flank steak. Will New England’s offensive line travel to Detroit better prepared for the big fella?

Otro Por Ocho? There was once a band called N*Sync. Right now, Brady and receiver Chad Ochocinco are not part of that band. (Insert Brady hair reference here.)

Ochocinco scored an easy TD where the Buccaneer defense left him wide open. Time to see if he can make some noteworthy catches on timing patterns in traffic.

Other receivers to consider…

Tate The Player, Not The Game: With kickoff lines moved up and returns happening only slightly more frequently than lunar eclipses, what role does young receiver Brandon Tate play? His special teams value diminishes while he has yet to prove himself as a regular contributor on offense.

If fellow pro pup Taylor Price has a productive game, consider Tate’s days numbered.

What Can Brown Do For You? Free agent Raider linebacker Ricky Brown should help right away on special teams, but can he play on New England’s 4-3 defense? In 2011 – especially with injuries to other linebackers – Brown might prove useful.

Safety On, Safety Off: What, exactly, should we read into the signing of safety James Ihedigbo? Is he another special teams addition, or will he see time in the defensive backfield? Are the days numbered for safety/off-season gunslinger Brandon Meriweather?

So many questions, most of which won’t get answered by Saturday. And yet, we hope.

Tight Ends Will, Lee, Nil Lee: Intriguing battle between mammoth rookie tight ends Will Yeatman and Lee Smith. Smith, a fifth-rounder, has seemed to lose ground against Yeatman, an undrafted football and lacrosse player out of Maryland. At Tampa, Yeatman had some solid blocks, including one that cleared space for a big BenJarvus Green-Ellis gain.

Look for Smith to make plays at Detroit; if Yeatman doesn’t play Saturday, he may have already made his case for the coaches.

Such A Shane: Second-round pick Shane Vereen suffered a hamstring injury that has prevented him from showing what he can do. We assume Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead (appropriately named after last week’s shot to the noggin) and rookie Stevan Ridley all make the squad. That leaves Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and undrafted rookie Richard Medlin vying for a fifth spot.

(Okay, in reality, probably just Faulk and Morris. But you never know.)

Morris has, as usual, carved out a spot as a special-teamer/fullback, which may or may not have been taken by new signee Garrett Mills. If Vereen’s health fails to improve, Faulk probably stays as another pass-catching option.

No Use Ryan Over Pick Sixes: Rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett looked much more like a rookie last week, lofting a water balloon over the middle of the field that got intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Look for a quick recovery Saturday night as Mallett is sure to face increased pressure from Detroit’s D.

Chris Warner can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

Can’t Watch Tonight? NFL Network Replay Schedule Here

As a reminder, here are the stations that will carry tonight’s Patriots/Buccaneers game:

Maine: Portland – WMTW-TV Channel 8, Bangor – WVII-TV Channel 7.

Connecticut: Hartford – WCTX-TV Channel 59. 

Vermont: Burlington – WVNY-TV Channel 22.

Hawaii: Honolulu KHNL-TV Channel 9.

Alaska: Anchorage KIMO-TV Channel 13.

Canada: (Quebec/Maritimes): Rogers Sports Net East.

Once again, the duo of Don Criqui and Randy Cross will call the games. Tonight’s game starts at 7:30pm EDT.

The game will be rebroadcast on the NFL Network at the following times:

  • Friday, 8/19, 4:00 PM ET
  • Sunday 8/21, 7:00 AM ET
  • Tuesday 8/23, 4:00 PM ET

Set your DVRs as those aren’t exactly in prime-time.

You Only Practice Twice

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

So what exactly IS the deal with Albert Haynesworth?

The Patriots make the trade for him, he shows up, passes his physical and his conditioning test, practices twice, and we’ve not seen him again.

Speculation from the usual suspects is predictable – he’s dogging it, he’s a bad dude, he’s just lazy, turn your radio onto either sports radio station in town, and you’ll likely hear some variant of that.

Then there was the piece last weekend from Dan Pompei of the National Football Post, who wrote the following:

Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth might not be long for New England. One day before this story came out by my guy Mike Reiss, one NFL executive familiar with the Patriots ways told me he believes one or both of the big name acquisitions will be cut before the season starts. The front office man thinks coach Bill Belichick will use the controversial players to help control and send a message to his locker room.

Say what? Since when exactly has Bill Belichick done anything like this? “Controversial” players brought in by Belichick have a pretty decent track record. Belichick cuts players because they can’t help his football team, not to send any sort of message to the locker room.

Mike Reiss feels that Belichick answered that statement with what he said during his Patriots Monday appearance on WEEI this week.

A lot of discussion about Albert Haynesworth and his lack of practice time. Bill Belichick to sports radio WEEI on Monday: “I think Albert has been great since he’s been here. He’s worked hard. He’s done more than really what we’ve asked him to do. He’s put in a lot of extra time and a lot of extra effort to get back on the field, to study, to catch up on things from a playbook standpoint that’s he a little behind on.” Translation: Haynesworth is going to be a big part of what the Patriots do.

Reiss, arguably the most plugged-in and perceptive reporter on the Patriots beat, reads into what the coach said, and draws a reasonable conclusion.

But still….Haynesworth has only those two days of practice? What the heck is going on? This is where things get dangerous, as without information, people are left to speculate. Mostly, people tend to speculate to the negative, which leads to the “dogging it”, “bad dude” comments we’ve heard locally. Others, such a Tom E Curran and Karen Guregian recall that Haynesworth has needed “maintenance” sessions during previous training camps, including injections in his knees, and perhaps that is what is going on here. Could be.

In looking at the situation, I can’t help but see how similar it is to Randy Moss’ first camp here in New England. You’ll recall. Moss gets traded to New England for a fourth round amid rumors and talk that he was dogging it in Oakland, a bad teammate, and a bad guy on and off the field. He comes to training camp, lights it up for a practice, then is out soon thereafter with what was reported to be a hamstring injury. He’s not seen again in the preseason. Speculation runs wild that Moss is in danger of making the club, that he will in fact be cut.

What was happening those weeks where Moss was not at practice? He was getting ready for the season. Perhaps the Patriots saw all they needed to see in that initial practice – they could see he still had it, so there was no need to push him back onto the field. They wanted him ready for the season. As an added bonus, it gave opponents zero tape from which to prepare for the Patriots with Moss. It seemed to work out pretty well.

Is it careless speculation to conclude that something similar is happening here with Haynesworth? Some reporters are tying to put a timetable on things – “If we don’t see him back in a week, I think he could be in danger of being cut.” I don’t see it like that at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see Haynesworth at all the rest of the preseason. Perhaps the Patriots saw all they needed to see in those two days of practice, during which Haynesworth reportedly was dominating the Patriots offensive linemen. Their focus now is making sure he is ready to start the season. From Belichick’s Haynesworth has been studying and catching up on the playbook, which sure seems like a positive.

I’m not too concerned about it. If we get to the week of the season opener, and he’s still not at practice, then perhaps there’s something to be worried about, but let’s get there first.

 

 

Pats Pregame Points: Preseason Two At Bucs

 

Dane Fletcher excelled in a starting role

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

After a comforting 47-12 victory versus Jacksonville last Thursday night, this week the Patriots take the show to Tampa (i.e., New England’s Winter Home).

The Buccaneers went 10-6 last year yet failed to make the playoffs. They look to improve with young quarterback Josh Freeman at the helm and a defense that has improved from its porous 2009 version.

Some points to ponder heading into the second of these meaningless scrimmages that seem to have gained so much significance this year.

To Play’s The Thing: No Tom Brady, Chad Ochocinco, Vince Wilfork or Jerod Mayo last week. While reviewing the youngsters entertained us, we would feel better getting a handle on how the seniors are doing at this point. Can Brady and 8-5 connect? How does Wilfork appear to handle the new look defensive front?

We assume he’ll be awesome. But we’d like a peek, just to be sure.

Pats Tackle The Issue: Will defensive tackle/attention magnet Albert Haynesworth play this preseason? Does it matter? We know three things about Haynesworth: he’s humongous; he likes playing a 4-3, penetrating style of defense; and he looks pretty darn good at it.

In the meantime, players like Kyle Love, Darryl Richard and Landon Cohen will try to bottle up Tampa’s offense while securing a place on a very full roster of D-tackles.

Great Dane: Last year at this time, Dane Fletcher was a little-known defensive end out of Montana State (Go Bobcats!) trying to make a switch to middle linebacker. Last week, Fletcher started on defense and tied for the team lead with five total tackles. His speed and quickness will be worth watching vs. Tampa’s offense, especially if he has to go against bruising running back LaGarrette “Punchy” Blount (who has since redeemed himself for cold-cocking an opposing player in college).

I Know All There Is To Know About The Ryan Game: Considering our pessimistic post-draft outlook on him, rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett’s performance (12 for 19, 164 yards, one TD) gives us hope for his Foxboro future. Yes, we know we shouldn’t get overexcited about one scrimmage, but if you hearken back to former Pats backup QB Matt Cassel flapping around in preseason games like a duck on a hot plate, you can appreciate Mallett’s comparative coolness.

It would help to see him against a different defense – like, say against a Buc D that shut out Kansas City. We just don’t know how much time he’ll get this week.

No Ifs, Ands, Or Butler: It has been disappointing to watch Darius Butler fall down the depth chart. His playing time has decreased (along with, we feel, his prowess). After this interview with PD from a year ago, we felt as though he would have a breakthrough year in 2010.

Now, after watching him against Jacksonville, we wonder how much he can contribute. He was the co-leader with five tackles, which is never a good sign for a cornerback (you can only tackle guys if the quarterback throws the ball your way). Look for Butler to put in time against the Bucs and make a noteworthy play or two.

Answering The Ridley: Rookie running back Stevan Ridley led all rushers with 16 carries for 64 yards and two TDs last Thursday. It will interest us to see whether he gets more carries or if it’s time for veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis to get on the gridiron.

Ridley seems to have the elusive fast-food combo: some beef with a shake. That power and prowess should serve him well. Tampa has recovered from the worst run defense in the league in 2009, holding Kansas City to under 100 yards on the ground last week. It would be informative to see what Ridley can do against them Thursday.

To Aaron Is Fumble, To Forgive, Divine: Two fumbles for tight end Aaron Hernandez? That means Tampa’s defense will rip away at the ball like a Great White Shark rips away at the flesh of a dead whale off the coast of Chatham, Mass.

(Sorry. Still recovering from shark week.)

Kicking Themselves: A return game with as much excitement as a trip to the DMV? Bad. A botched extra-point snap and a kickoff out of bounds? Worse. Time for the special teamers to get their act together. The less we talk about them after their trip to Tampa, the better.

Medlin With The Team, For Now: If rookie free agent running back Richard Medlin makes the Patriots’ final roster, I will go swimming off the coast of Chatham wearing a sushi necklace. Still, Medlin deserves credit for his 14 carries for 54 yards and two TDs.

Kudos to the New England scouts for finding Medlin at Fayetteville State (Go Broncos! – his college highlights here). Whether Medlin this year or Fletcher last year, the preseason gives fans the chance to see players so out of sight the witness protection program asks them for advice.

Depending on the playing time of Patriot starters, guys like Medlin could get more chances against the Bucs.

Enjoy the game. Hey, it’s Tampa. Why wouldn’t New England visit?

Chris Warner can be reached at [email protected]

Patriots 2011 Preseason Television Network

For those of you across New England, or eastern Canada, here is the listing of TV stations that will carry tonight’s preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Note: In the past, the games had also been carried on stations in Honolulu, Hawaii and Anchorage, Alaska. That is apparently no longer the case.

Massachusetts: Boston – WBZ-TV Channel 4, Springfield – WWLP-TV Channel 22.

New Hampshire: Manchester – WMUR-TV Channel 9.

Rhode Island: Providence – WNAC-TV Channel 64. (Reader note: Last year In RI, the Pats/Saints got moved from WNAC (64) to their digital channel MyRI TV, which is 64-2 because of the So You Think You Can Dance finale.  That channel is also carried on Cox, Comcast, Full Channel and Verizon in RI. If you have Satellite, you might be out of luck.)

Maine: Portland – WMTW-TV Channel 8, Bangor – WVII-TV Channel 7.

Connecticut: Hartford – WCTX-TV Channel 59. 

Vermont: Burlington – WVNY-TV Channel 22.

Hawaii: Honolulu KHNL-TV Channel 9.

Alaska: Anchorage KIMO-TV Channel 13.

Canada: (Quebec/Maritimes): Rogers Sports Net East.

Once again, the duo of Don Criqui and Randy Cross will call the games. Tonight’s game starts at 7:30pm EDT.

The game will be rebroadcast on the NFL Network at the following times:

  • Friday, 8/12, 4:00 PM ET
  • Sunday 8/14, 7:00 AM ET
  • Monday 8/15, 7:00 AM ET
  • Tuesday 8/16, 4:00 PM ET

 

Pats Pregame Points: Preseason One Vs. Jags

New Patriot Chad Ochocinco by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

For those of you hungry for some football, help has arrived. Though not a full meal, Thursday night’s scrimmage against Jacksonville should give us a taste of the real thing.

So much to consider going into the team’s first live action of the season. Our main points to ponder…

Four-Front At The Forefront: Has Coach Bill Belichick really made the decision to play more traditional four-man defensive fronts in place of his old, reliable 3-4? If so, the demand for tackles increases while the need for bigger outside linebackers subsides.

Good news for linemen Mike Wright and Myron Pryor. Potential good news for Ron Brace, who played a 4-3 at Boston College. Thursday’s tilt will also give us a peek at new Pats Mark Anderson, a pass-rushing D-lineman, and Andre Carter, a 10-year vet. It looks like we’ll have to wait to see whether Shaun Ellis, a former Jet who has finally seen the light, can contribute, as Ellis will probably sit this one out.

You diehards should tune in to the fourth quarter to see who of the young DEs gets playing time, including sixth-rounder Markell Carter (number 49) and undrafted rookie free agents Clay Nurse (61), Alex Silvestro (69), Aaron Lavarias (60) and Landon Jingleheimer (doesn’t exist – just wanted to see if you were paying attention).

Wait ’Til We Get Our Haynesworth On You: In lieu of missed practices, exactly when will defensive tackle/career malcontent Albert Haynesworth play? It must take a massive effort to lug that monolithic body around (he’s listed at 330 pounds and looks like a Jeep with shoulder pads).

We know Haynesworth can play at a top level; we only wonder how often. Regarding the tackle’s effort: like pancake batter, consistency will be key.

Actually, It’s Ochenta Y Cinco: During training camp, the cheerfully misnamed receiver Chad Ochocinco (number 85 on your program) has let more balls hit the ground than a pack of bulldogs.  Look for Tom Brady to seek out Ochocinco early and get him into the flow of the offense.

At The Route Of The Issue: We’ve got Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Ochocinco. We assume Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate come next, but those special teams standouts have to prove they can do something with the ball besides return it. And how much did Taylor Price benefit from a rookie year spent wandering the sidelines? Can he translate reportedly solid preseason practices into game-time production?

Watch for undrafted rookie Jeremy Ross on returns. Could be a sleeper.

Dropping A Big Third On The Field: The team with the NFL’s worst third-down defense returns. Can they synchronize a decent pass rush with solid downfield coverage? Will this year’s defense continue to have fans hoping for a third-and-two (run defense) rather than a third-and-eight (pass defense)?

Jacksonville was ranked 27th in the league last year throwing the ball, averaging 192 yards per game. Call this an exhibition of  pass defense on training wheels: if it looks shaky this week, that’s not a great sign for the future.

Prove Themselves Youthful: Of the 90 players currently on New England’s roster, over 50 have less than three years of NFL experience. While youngsters like Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes and Patrick Chung have contributed, others like Price and Darius Butler have to prove they belong. Belichick has some talent to sort through – the key will be finding the right combination for the final 53.

Look for this year’s contender for the Randall Gay Award, i.e. the undrafted rookie free agent who turns some heads. With a 4-3 defense, we were looking at one of the D-ends, but the signings of Anderson and Ellis have tempered that thinking.

Use That Mallett: Speaking of rookies, the preseason affords the best chance to watch cubs like Ryan Mallett at play. How well can the former Arkansas Razorback read a pro defense? We know he can throw long, but do his short passes have the Tom Brady Touch or the Drew Bledsoe Bludgeon? Are we looking at the starting Pats QB for 2015?

You know what? Enough talk. Let’s feast on some football.

Any other concerns, points of interest, or yummy salad recipes, please comment below.

You can email Chris Warner at [email protected]

From Rexy, With Love?

So Shaun Ellis is now a member of the New England Patriots. For Jets fans, this may not have the exact same emotional impact as Ty Law suiting up for the New York Jets did for Patriots fans, but its close. On the surface, it seems like a tremendous move for the Patriots, getting a guy who seems to be able to seamlessly fit into their defense, while removing a key cog (and thorn in their side) from the Jets. Was this a gift from Rex Ryan and the Jets?

To get the NY perspective on Ellis and his move to New England, we reached out to one of the biggest Jets fans out there, Brian Bassett, founder of The Jets Blog to get his perspective on things.

The biggest question around here, seems to be why the Jets didn’t make more of an effort to retain his services. Did they think he was over-the-hill?  “The Patriots postseason game dispelled any notions of that in both New York and New England, I am sure.” Bassett says. He adds “Ellis is a very capable player, maybe a tad “under the radar” but he’s a solid player who gives it his all every down and is extremely durable. Given the need, I think that Shaun Ellis is still entirely capable of starting, but I don’t know that he’d be as effective at this point in his career in that role over the course of a whole season – he’s probably better suited in a situation like New England offered, working in a situational role to as needed.”

So you think he can contribute to the Patriots in 2011?  “Most definitely, this guy is fiendishly suited for a Belichick-ian system. While he’s not exactly ripping off sacks in scores (as most DLs aren’t in a 3-4), he’s still a very capable two-gapping 3-4 End who can stuff the run, tie up blockers to free the OLBs or provide pressure on the QB when required.”

Right. Pressure on the quarterback. Something that has been lacking in this team the last few season. What’s the best way to use him if you want to generate pressure?  “As a pressure player he’s best one-gapping, even if it’s from the interior of the defensive line. As just pointed out, one of his biggest strengths is his ability to play the 3-4 End spot or move inside to the 4-3 Tackle based on need.”

Bassett then says, “He’s extremely versatile and is a solid contributor, but don’t expect him to be the second coming of Richard Seymour.”

I think at this point, we’d welcome the second coming of Jarvis Green, circa 2004.

Given Ellis’ career in New York and his status with the Jets, his departure seemed pretty curious. Then you had Rex Ryan flippantly saying that he wouldn’t be wishing Ellis well in New England. Did the Jets misplay this situation?

Bassett doesn’t think so. “Shaun Ellis has been making comments to the press about wanting to finish his career as a Jets since Rex came to New York. Shaun made it clear he wanted his contract re-worked to reflect that. Rex and the front office rebuffed his advances (both privately and publicly), citing Rex’s policy of not extending veteran deals. Rather, the required Ellis to play out the string, and hoped to get him to come back at a low-cost.”

So did the lack of urgency mean that Ellis was expendable? “While he was a valuable piece of the Jets defensive line in Rex’s first two years, it was clear that he wasn’t “Rex’s guy” and the shoe was going to drop eventually – a fact made very obvious when Rex brought in Trevor Pryce midway through last season to help bolster the team’s depth at line. ”

OK, so maybe he wasn’t as “must-keep” guy, in the head coach’s eyes. But couldn’t he have handled that press conference a little better? “As far as what Rex said to the press in the past week about not wishing him well? That’s Rex and it was conflated in the media. He’d say the same to Ellis in a private moment as he would to the press. While he respects Ellis and appreciates his contributions, he’s not looking for him to come to New York and terrorize his QB like Ellis did to Brady in January.”

So Bassett doesn’t seem to be moaning and wailing over the loss of Ellis. How are Jets fans in general reacting to this”

“I think by and large, Jets fans are disappointed to lose Ellis. Ellis was the last man standing from the much ballyhooed Jets 2000 NFL Draft class. One of four rookie first round draft picks. In New York, he’s jokingly referred to as “The Dean of the Defense” or “The Dean” for short. Through four coaching staffs, even more coordinators, he was a guy that the Jets could count on to pretty much be playing every game, contributing, pressuring the QB and stuffing the run.”

He concludes “While Wilkerson represents the future of this team at the DE spot, easing Ellis out and Wilkerson in would have been a nice cushion for Jets fans … but the economics of the thing and the strained relationship between the Jets and their longest tenured starter were too much for the situation to hold together.”

What about the comparison to Ty Law going to the Jets? (The first time) It’s not a perfect comparison, Law had won Super Bowls here and been one of the top players in the league, and was still a top-notch cornerback. I’m not so sure how much Ellis has left.  “It’s an interesting comparison,” Bassett says, “and I do think that the Patriots over-reached for his services. But then again maybe they’re paying more for their production. Consider it Kevin O’Connell in reverse. Ellis ain’t as good as he once was, but he’s as good once as he ever was.”

It remains to be seen what Ellis can contribute to the Patriots in 2011. Given the reported size of the contract, it seems like they’re figuring on him being a pretty big piece to the puzzle. The two games between the Patriots and Jets should be even more interesting than usual, and many eyes will be on Ellis, seeing if Rex Ryan and the Jets made a mistake handing Ellis to the Patriots without much of a struggle.

 

One-Two Switcheroo: Haynesworth’s Impact

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

The addition of Albert Hayneworth to New England’s defensive line could signal a fundamental change at the Foxboro front, as Coach Bill Belichick considers getting his best defenders (Haynesworth, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo) on the field at the same time with a four-linemen, three-linebacker formation as opposed to his standard 3-4.

For the record, we’re not exactly sold on the idea of this switch, for a couple of reasons. One, as Mike Reiss has pointed out in his Patriots blog, the defense played some kind of sub package other than a 3-4 most of the time in 2010.

Two, asking Haynesworth to contribute seems like asking your sketchy cousin to cash in a lottery ticket. You could become a big winner, but there’s a huge trust factor there.

(We’ll just say this: The man not only knows how to get in trouble, he also tends to swim around in it until he’s comfortable. Albert Heinousworth, indeed.)

On the hypothetical that Haynesworth and Wilfork hold down the middle, we look at some other players whom that would affect.

All Wright, All Wright, All Wright: More 4-3 defenses mean more linemen, which will give Mike Wright and some others longer looks. Wright’s a yeoman defender who excels at rushing the passer (a team-leading 5.5 sacks last year, which says as much about New England’s anemic pass rush as it does about him).

Bring Me A Pryor, Love: Interior defensive linemen Myron Pryor, famous for his Brett Favre chin music in 2010, and Kyle Love, another undrafted rookie like Wright, could get more playing time, while free agents like Landon Cohen could solidify spots on the team.

Brace Yourself: Meanwhile, D-lineman Ron Brace could find himself in some trouble, as the third-year player fit as a 3-4 defensive end but seemed to get pushed around in the interior. Big year for him.

A Moore/Jermaine Topic: Defensive ends in a 4-3 tend to have a little more quickness and a little less size. This changes the game a bit for Eric Moore and Jermaine Cunningham, who showed potential as 3-4 outside linebackers in Foxboro after playing defensive end at Florida State and Florida, respectively (Moore also had a stint in the UFL). Both could stay on the field as ends, but each also has the flexibility to play off the line, allowing New England’s D to confuse opponents with more looks.

A Means To Their Ends: Keep your eyes on sixth-round pick Markell Carter of Central Arkansas and undrafted rookies Alex Silvestro of Rutgers and Clay Nurse of Illinois. While each has prototypical size for a 3-4 outside linebacker, a four-man front would better utilize their experience as pass-rushing college defensive ends while downsizing that pesky learning curve for the linebacker position.

Dane To Be Different: A four-man front calls for more speed and less bulk at outside linebacker, opening a door for speedsters like Dane Fletcher and Gary Guyton. While Guyton took plenty of snaps last year as a middle linebacker, he got overwhelmed by offensive linemen and showed his ideal position as a 4-3 guy.

We Wuz Rob: So, where do the above changes leave Rob Ninkovich? A potential switch cuts into his playing time. He has started in a 3-4 defense, but in a 4-3 he lacks the speed for the outside and lacks the size for the line.

Ridley, Believe It Or Not: If the 4-3 helps New England get back to its defensive-strength of the recent past, rookie running back Stevan Ridley could become a big part of the team’s success. While the D had a tough time stopping opponents last year, too often the O failed to hold onto the ball late. (Really, it’s kind of amazing the 2010 Pats went 14-2.) Teaming Ridley up with BenJarvus Green-Ellis could provide a punch like swinging a bag of tools: you’re not exactly sure what’s going to hit your opponent, but you know it’s going to make an impression.

We Was Rob: A potential focus on running the ball could mean an increase in tight ends, and by “increase,” I mean weight-wise. Rob Gronkowski – the best all-around Pats end since Ben Coates – tilts the scales at 265. Rookies Lee Smith and Will Yeatman have similar gravitational obligations, demonstrating a camp necessity for bigger bulk at the position.

Now if they could just get veteran Alge Crumpler back…

Chris Warner can be contacted at [email protected]