December 3, 2016

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.

 

 

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]

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

PD has partnered with AccuScore this season to bring you data-driven content on the Patriots and their opponents throughout the year. AccuScore Advisor offers professional grade football betting systems that help build sustainable success while betting on NFL football.

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.

Patriots Daily Wicked Premature Roster Count

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Unlike past seasons where NFL teams could bring in rookie free agents, hold camps, and give their fans a general idea of what they might think of their personnel, 2011 has provided a unique opportunity for roster rationalists.

Below, we give our rundown of where we think New England’s lineup should reside come September.

OFFENSE

RUNNING BACKS (4) – Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley

What’s new: Bill Belichick makes more cold calculations than an Arctic physicist, and this practice causes him to cut veteran Kevin Faulk. Fresh faces Vereen and Ridley replace old-timey vets Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Robert Hughes (FB), Notre Dame.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6) – Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Matthew Slater

What’s new: Not much, to the chagrin of most Patriots fans looking to draft a speedy downfield threat. We’d like to take Slater off this list, mostly because in three seasons he has exactly as many NFL receptions as I do (i.e., zip). Still, special teams work keeps him here.

With his age and injury history, Branch seems most likely to get replaced by a free agent pickup.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jeremy Ross, Cal.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9) – Dan Koppen, Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, Mark LeVoir, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Nick Kaczur, Quinn Ojinnaka

What’s new: More youth! Stephen Neal retired. In our most noteworthy move so far, we’re letting go of Matt Light. This puts a lot of pressure on the rookie Solder, but giving him experience at left tackle gets the team primed for the playoffs. Kaczur’s experience inside and out gives him value. Rookie guard Marcus Cannon starts the season on the PUP list.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jake Kirkpatrick, TCU.

TIGHT ENDS (4) – Rob Gronkowski, Alge Crumpler, Aaron Hernandez, Lee Smith

What’s new: The rookie Smith bolsters a crew that probably didn’t need a lot of bolstering, but 2010’s offense can maintain its formidable versatility through the tight ends. Crumpler stays as the veteran wrangler of the baby TEs.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Schuylar Oordt, Northern Iowa

QUARTERBACKS (3) – Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett

What’s new: Bill Belichick has kept only two QBs for too long; the rookie/perceived nitwit Mallett comes on as a future starter-in-training. No new player will get more closely analyzed this preseason – and no one else will deserve that scrutiny more.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M

Total Offense: 26

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE (8) – Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Marcus Stroud, Eric Moore, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, Ron Brace, Mike Wright

What’s new: We considered starting Mike Wright on the PUP list, only because his inability to recover from a head injury last season scares the bejeebus out of us. Saying hello to veteran Stroud makes us say goodbye to Gerard Warren. We’re hoping for continued improvement from Deaderick and Brace while also hoping that Moore’s production continues beyond one-year-wonder status.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Elisha Joseph, Temple.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) – Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Markell Carter

What’s new: If rookie Carter provides anything remotely resembling a pass rush, fans will have to feel pleased with the sixth-rounder. Meanwhile, the much-publicized, much-hoped-for Year Two Bump needs to happen for Cunningham. Moore can also put in some work here.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Marc Schiechl, Colorado School of Mines

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) – Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Gary Guyton, Dane Fletcher

What’s new: Nothing, which looks fine to us. We liked the addition of Fletcher’s athleticism in 2010. If Spikes can avoid the banned pharmaceuticals (not what most of us thought), this crew should have a hell of a year.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Mark Herzlich, Boston College

CORNERBACKS (5) – Leigh Bodden, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler, Ras-I Dowling

What’s new: The Jonathan Wilhite experience ends as the rookie Dowling comes in for playing time, relegating Arrington and Butler to backup/rotational duty. Not too shabby.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Darrin Walls, Notre Dame

SAFETIES (3) – Patrick Chung, James Sanders, Jarrad Page

What’s new: The Pro Bowl pedigree might not keep Brandon Meriweather around, so here’s hoping Chung and Sanders are up to the task. Page stays over Sergio Brown for his special teams prowess. We see rookie Malcolm Williams starting the season on the practice squad.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jeron Johnson, Boise State

Total Defense: 24

SPECIAL TEAMS (3) – Stephen Gostkowski (K), Zoltan Mesko (P), Matt Katula (LS)

What’s new: Gostkowski’s back and as good as ever, we hope. We don’t remember calling Katula’s name last year, which is all we ask. Mesko’s around for the foreseeable future, to the joy of his fan club.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Tom Mante, punter and kickoff specialist, Yale

Questions, comments, tirades? Let us know in the comment space below.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

 

Patriots Daily Q&A With Malcolm Williams

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

When New England took Malcolm Williams in the seventh round (219 overall), quite a few draft followers were surprised. That group included Williams himself.

The Texas Christian defensive back played two seasons for the Horned Frogs at safety and cornerback. A successful pro day put him on the NFL radar.

This past weekend, Williams spoke to PD about his unusual route to Foxboro, what he hopes to bring to the team, and his TCU teammate and fellow Patriots rookie Marcus Cannon.

Let’s talk about the draft and where you were when you heard that New England had picked you.

Patriots 7th Round Pick Malcolm Williams

Actually, me, my wife and my daughter, we were at the house, and we were watching Netflix. We weren’t really watching – I was keeping up with the draft on my phone, but we weren’t watching on TV. About pick 216, 217, Bill Belichick called me and he let me know that I was a part of the Patriot family.

So I was just chilling in the living room… I really wasn’t expecting it; I was just waiting on a lot of my friends to go who are also in the draft. I wasn’t expecting a call, and they gave me a shout. It was just – it was crazy.

Since then, have you talked to them? Have you gotten a sense of what they liked about you to pick you in the seventh?

Oh, no. The only contact I had with them was the day of the draft. That’s the last little bit of contact I had with them.

So, had you had any contact with the Patriots or any other teams prior to the draft?

No. I just heard word that the Texans were looking at me and the Patriots were looking at me. That’s really all I heard word of. But other than that, no.

Well, speaking of Texas, it seems like your journey to the pros was kind of unusual. Why don’t you talk a little bit about starting out at – is it South View Prairie?

South Grand Prairie, yeah.

South Grand Prairie, and your trip eventually to TCU and in the end to Foxboro?

Well, I started out at South Grand Prairie as a sophomore, and I played my sophomore, junior, senior year up there in football. And my senior year, I ended up becoming a 5A Defensive Player of the Year for the state of Texas… And then, I had a scholarship to Oklahoma – that’s who I ended up signing with out of high school was OU. I failed this thing called the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge Skills) test we have down here, it’s the entry-level test for the high school. So in the summer of ’07 I got my GED and enrolled at the junior college, so I sat the ’06 season out. I worked at the DFW airport.

Wow.

I worked there for six months. I was a bar back up there… The first few months, I didn’t know what I was going to do, because after I failed that last TAKS test, I was just stuck. I had to end up moving back home with my mom, and I went ahead and got me a job.

And Brad Smiley from Trinity Valley Community College, he gave me a call, and he was like, “I heard you don’t have a family.” And I said not right now. He said you have a family up here in Trinity Valley. And he explained to me what it was, where it was, Athens, Texas. So that’s how I ended up signing with Trinity Valley Community College to play my JUCO ball.

So you were working as a bar back at a bar at Dallas Fort Worth airport?

Yeah. From January until about June when I enrolled at summer school at Trinity Valley of ’07.

What was your day like? You just – were you working out? Were you planning on a future in football? What were you thinking?

Oh, I always worked out. I had a membership to a 24-hour fitness club, so I was always constantly working out. That call just came out of nowhere, at a time that it was really needed. Because I really didn’t know what I was going to do… I ended up at Trinity Valley, and from there, (Coach) Jarett Anderson from TCU, he was recruiting me, and he came up and got me into TCU.

I played two years there, mostly special teams. I didn’t play much defense, because I switched from safety my junior year to corner my senior year. It was learning back and forth, and I had people who were not necessarily more athletic than me, but more experienced, who knew the defense more. That’s why I didn’t get very much playing time at defense, but I did what I had to do on special teams, and I worked really hard and trained for my TCU pro day. I did pretty well at that, and that’s what I think I (got) drafted off of, pretty much.

When you were training for the pro day, was there any particular aspect of those drills that you were preparing for, or just everything in general?

Oh, it was just everything in general. Mostly, though, our strength and conditioning coach said the thing you need to worry about is your 40 (yard dash). Just get your 40 down. Your 40 needs to be low to be successful at the next level… So that’s what we worked on mostly, our 40s, our starts and just speed in general.

Do you think learning both safety and corner has helped you understand defense better overall?

Oh, yes sir. Most definitely. Because when I played safety, I would give a call out to the corner and really not know what he was doing until I moved to corner. Then, when that safety gave me a call, I was like, okay, it all comes into play right now. I see how it works. So, yeah, it does help me, playing safety one year and then corner the next year. It helped me out and helped me understand the defense more.

How do you – I know it’s tough to answer, because you haven’t really spoken to anybody – but what do you see as your role at the next level?

Wherever Bill Belichick wants me to play, I want to play. If he just wants me to run down on kickoffs and make tackles, hey, I’m going to do that. It doesn’t matter. If he wants me to block on punts, even return a punt, return a kickoff, block on kickoff: it doesn’t matter, wherever they put me. I’m a football player. I just want to play wherever, it doesn’t matter. Whatever my role is, then I’m going to fulfill it to the max.

Before you got the call from New England, you weren’t expecting to be drafted. Did you have a plan for afterward? Were you going to wait for calls, or maybe look at other leagues?

Well, throughout the whole process, me and my dad were looking for CFL tryouts or UFL tryouts, and I ended up attending three CFL tryouts and one UFL tryout. I did pretty well at that, so I was expecting if the draft didn’t work out, then I knew I’d get a call from one of these CFL teams because I did pretty well at all the combines I went to.

I mean, I had a Plan A and B going pretty well for me. It just so happens Plan A worked out. (Laughs.) I got drafted. So, I’m pretty happy about that.

Now, I know you were defense and Marcus Cannon was offense, but what can you tell Patriots fans about your new New England teammate?

Oh, Marcus Cannon, he’s a leader, he’s a hard worker. He’s going to work hard at all times. And he has his moments where he can be a big kid, but at the same time, he has his serious moments. He’s a fun character. There’s really nothing negative I can say about him – all positive stuff. So I’m just looking forward to playing with him again.

Excellent. That’s great. Well, I’m looking forward to seeing you up there, Malcolm. I hope it happens soon.

All right. Thank you.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Pats Post-Draft Scenarios: Undrafted Wish List

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Unlike past seasons where NFL teams could seek out undrafted players to fill out their camp rosters, rookie free agents have to sit and wait for the lockout to end.

Below we’ve listed some of those unpicked prospects whom we’d like to see get a shot in Foxboro.

Mark Herzlich, Boston College LB – Unbelievable that no team would spend even a seventh-round pick on this guy. He’s big (6-4, 245) and strong (29 bench reps of 225 pounds) and has been a stalwart on BC’s defense (65 tackles, four interceptions in 2010).

Having beaten cancer, you’d think he’d get a shot on his story alone. But Herzlich’s no pity pick: whatever team he decides to go to will be lucky to have him. Here’s hoping he finds a home at Foxboro this fall.

Jeremy Kelley, Maine WR/ST – Definitely something intriguing about this local athlete, a 6-6, 225-pound receiver who got on the field any way possible, from special teams to pass-rusher. His foot speed (6.60-second 3-cone drill) and suddenness (10-11 broad jump, 42-inch vertical) could get him into an NFL camp. We’d enjoy watching him at Gillette.

Marc Schiechl, Colorado School of Mines OLB – Schiechl gets the Dane Fletcher undrafted nod as the western school defensive end who absolutely killed at his pro day. The 6-2, 252-pound outside linebacker prospect had 38 bench reps and a 35-inch vertical, showing the athleticism that should get him an extra look from scouts.

Jeremy Ross, Cal WR – The Pats drafted his teammate Shane Vereen, and should take a shot at Ross. The receiver has good size at 6-0, 207 pounds, good speed with a 4.45 40, and good special teams prowess, leading Cal in punts. Productive, athletic and smart all have to be worth something, right?

Terrence Holt of Autin Peay

Terrence Holt, Austin Peay RB/RS – We first called Holt’s name in our Superlatives column as the Lil’ Danny Woodhead Award winner. The 5-8, 185-pound pocketknife led the Governors in rushing, receiving and returning. At the very least, that kind of production could make him a versatile addition to New England’s practice squad.

Cedric Thornton, Southern Arkansas DT – Considering the Pats went through defensive linemen last year the way I go through movie popcorn (and believe you me, that’s quick), Thornton (6-3, 310) could bolster the D-line. In eight games last year Thornton had 52 tackles, including 13 for losses.

Jake Kirkpatrick, TCU C – He’s not huge (6-2, 300) nor Herculean (25 bench reps), but Kirkpatrick is consistent. His winning the Rimington Award for the nation’s best college center says all we need to know.

Jeron Johnson, Boise State FS – The 5-10, 212-pound Johnson led Boise State in tackles for the past three years and started 44 games over his Broncos career. Though not the fastest, he put up a respectable 4.5-second 40.

Darrin Walls, Notre Dame CB – Walls had the type of pro day that will get him onto an NFL practice field. Why not New England’s?

He submitted a 4.42 40, a 6.88 3-cone drill, and 10-2 broad jump. With the success of former Irish safety Sergio Brown coming onto the club as a rookie free agent last year, the Patriots must be looking Walls’ way.

Any players whose names went uncalled on draft weekend you’d like to see at Gillette? Please let us know below.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Patriots Daily Q&A With Stevan Ridley

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

New England took LSU running back Stevan Ridley in the third round, 73rd overall. The 225-pound back looks to complement the Patriots’ versatile stable of ball carriers.

Ridley had a breakout 2010, gaining over 1,100 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns. His success compelled him to declare for the NFL draft after his junior year.

Third Round Pick Stevan Ridley

In his interview with PD, Ridley discussed his decision to declare early, his consistent impressions of the Patriots, and a certain position he will not be playing at Gillette this fall.

Tell me about your decision to leave early. It certainly seemed to pay off, and I wonder what went into that decision?

Oh, you know, I really had to weigh it out, man. I looked at it, how much it would benefit me to come back and play another year at LSU. The thing is, I’m a redshirt junior, so I played four years at LSU. If I was to come back next year and really try to up my stock, you know, and get my value that much higher, I’d have to have a 1,400 or 1,500 yard season. Everyone knows that LSU has been known for rotating backs since way back. They always rotate running backs, there are always three or four backs in the backfield. My chances of getting the carries I need to get for a 1,400 or 1,500 yard season to make me a for-sure first-rounder – the chances of that are kind of slim… And also, what happened to (former LSU running back) Charles Scott the last year, going out and getting hurt, then going from a second- or third-rounder to a free agent.

So, there’s always a risk coming back for your senior year. It was just a gamble that I didn’t want to take. You know, my stock was high enough. I had a draft projection, and I ended up going in the third round, and I was satisfied with that. It’s not about where you get in, it’s what you do once you get in the league.

Maybe something the scouts were wary about is that you really didn’t have much production (overall), but you didn’t really get much of a chance. Do you think that’s a credit to the backs ahead of you, or do you think you’re a much better back now than you were a year ago?

Oh, I think I’m a much better back than I was a few years ago, because I didn’t get the opportunities I felt I should have, you know what I mean? It was just – everybody thinks that they’re going to come in and play right away. That’s what everybody says when they come into the program: “I’m going to go in there and start; I’m going to go in there and play.” But in reality, it’s all about timing. You have to know that playbook. You have to be comfortable in that playbook and know everything that’s going on. And once you do that, you put yourself into that playbook all the way. You know everything about it.

So, it was just all about timing. The right time for me was when I was getting to know that system. I had to buy into that, and I hated waiting it out and doing that, but I think it made me a better runner because when I got my chance, I made the most of my opportunities.

I’m wondering what you’ve been able to learn about the Patriots offense and what you’re able to do there?

I really haven’t learned much because they can’t give us any playbooks or anything like that during the lockout period. I really haven’t had that much time to get into the playbook or even have a chance to look at it. I do know they’re going to need a downhill back, someone to come in there and help out with their running game. They’ve got some veterans in there. Kevin Faulk came from LSU. They’ve got a backfield full. There’s a running back in front of me, so there’s going to be a lot of backs in there battling it out for playing time this year.

What were your impressions of the Patriots before the draft, and what are your impressions now?

It’s kind of the same. You know, the Patriots are a winning program. That’s somewhere where they’re expected to be deep in the playoffs or in the Super Bowl every year. So I know if I can go up there and play and produce, I’ve got a good chance to win a Super Bowl, man. It’s just – that’s part of going to the Patriots and playing with arguably the best quarterback in the NFL right now. Coach Belichick is an awesome coach, and I’m going to a wonderful system.

I mean, going from LSU to New England, I couldn’t ask for any better fit. I think the expectations are probably equally high in both places. Because at LSU, the fans aren’t happy unless we’re winning a national championship every year, and in New England, they’re expecting Super Bowls. So, I know I have to go up there and work hard in whatever I do, in whatever role they ask me to fill in New England.

Speaking of LSU, was that your main college? Was that the big school you were looking at?

Oh, definitely. Definitely, because they were the most successful. You know, they won. I wanted to come to a winning team. I wanted to come somewhere where I had a chance to win a national championship, and I fell into a national championship my freshman year.

And what’s that like?

I mean, it just kind of installed a hunger in me. Winning a national championship as a freshman, I really didn’t play that much, but I watched guys like Jacob Hester and Matt Flynn and Quinn Johnson, people like that going in and producing and leading our team – Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson – those are the types of guys that you have to have in order to win a championship.

I think that’s what I’m going into with the Patriots. I’m falling into a system where they have a lot of veterans in key positions, and they know what it takes to win championships up in New England.

Now, in high school, you played a lot of different positions. Is that correct?

Yeah, in high school, man, I played pretty much everywhere. For me, I think that’s what really helped me out in my career to where I’m at now, because I was so versatile. In high school, I had to play quarterback, running back, receiver. I played linebacker; I played safety. I played nose guard early on. You know, playing at a small school, a lot of people said that would hurt me, but I really think it helped me. It kept my body fresh. I did not get all that wear and tear on my body in high school. Then in college, to get one full year playing in the SEC, that helped me out also, not having the beating and the wear and tear there.

I really am – I’m in a good position going into the NFL to go up there and, hopefully, just have a long career. But I know that can’t happen unless I prepare myself and really buy into that system.

So, after playing quarterback, it looks like you’re going to probably be running the Wildcat for the Patriots, right?

(Laughs.) I wouldn’t say that much. I don’t think the Patriots have a Wildcat in their playbook at all. I mean, with Tom Brady in there, I think it’s really just a blessing to be able to fall in with a quality quarterback like that. I don’t think they’re going to need me for the Wildcat.

Where were you when you found out you got drafted?

I was actually at home. We were having a cookout with the family and some of my close friends. My high school coach came, and also some of my high school teammates, my family from Jackson and Georgia. And also my family that’s in Natchez, Mississippi. I mean, everybody was there. My dad came down from Chicago. It was a good time for my family and also for me to really enjoy that moment and that turn in my career.

That’s excellent. Well, welcome to New England. I hope you get a chance to get up here soon.

I appreciate it. I appreciate it.

Fans can check out Ridley’s Facebook page at facebook.com/stevanridley or his Twitter account at twitter.com/stevanridley.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]