AFC East: Dane Fletcher

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with former Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher, the team announced on Sunday.

Fletcher, 27, originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Montana in 2010. He has spent each of his four pro seasons with the Patriots, logging 81 tackles in 38 regular-season games played. He missed the entirety of the 2012 regular season after tearing his ACL in preseason play.

He played just more than 18 percent of the Patriots defensive snaps in 2013, but was a critical contributor on special teams. He will likely continue to be a primary contributor on special teams for Tampa Bay.

New Bucs GM Jason Licht was a member of the Patriots' personnel department when Fletcher was signed as an undrafted free agent.
In a matter of 48 hours, a pair of the Patriots' top five linebackers from the 2013 season have signed elsewhere, as Brandon Spikes (Buffalo) and Dane Fletcher (Tampa Bay) have moved on.

Spikes had fallen out of favor with the team, while Fletcher played primarily on special teams and in sub defense, logging just over 18 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season.

With both out of the picture, the Patriots now have just three linebackers on their roster who played more than a single defensive snap last season. Jerod Mayo, who will return from a torn pectoral muscle, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower project as starters in base defense, but the Patriots have little established depth behind them.

Steve Beauharnais, Chris White and Ja'Gared Davis all are on the roster as well, though each was a core special teamer in 2013. With that in mind, linebacker has become a position for the Patriots to address this offseason.

The team recently had Wesley Woodyard in for a visit, but he wound up signing with the Titans.

The starting trio is a solid cast, with Collins expected to improve from his rookie to sophomore season, but the Patriots now need to consider adding at least one more body to their linebacker rotation for 2014, be it through the draft or free agency.

Dane Fletcher to visit Raiders

March, 15, 2014
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Free-agent linebacker Dane Fletcher is scheduled to visit the Oakland Raiders and will head to town Sunday.

Fletcher, who led the Patriots in special-teams tackles last season (15) and played 18 percent of the defensive snaps (primarily as a sub/coverage player), previously visited with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Fletcher overcame long odds to emerge with the Patriots, signing as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and making the transition from college defensive end at Montana State to NFL linebacker.

In 2013, he was praised by coach Bill Belichick for his work in coming back from a torn ACL that sidelined him for the entire 2012 season.

Lining up Patriots 2014 free agents

February, 27, 2014
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With various top free agent lists starting to surface, let's narrow things down to the Patriots with a snapshot look at the team's free agents:

1. CB Aqib Talib -- Difference-maker when healthy and added a different dynamic to the cornerbacks room since November of 2012. A top priority for the team.

2. WR Julian Edelman -- Deserves everything coming to him after a terrific 2013 season. Patriots would obviously like him back, but if another team ups the bidding, he's probably gone.

3. RB LeGarrette Blount -- Mutual interest in his return. A player who seemingly has more value to the Patriots than most others, which makes us think it's a greater likelihood he's back.

4. LB Brandon Spikes -- The way 2013 ended makes it unlikely he returns.

5. C Ryan Wendell -- A scrappy heady performer, Wendell maximizes his talents. I don't evision the Patriots extending their budget to ensure his return, but if a market doesn't develop for him, he'd surely be welcome back in a situation where there might be top competition for the No. 1 job.

6. TE Michael Hoomanawanui-- Played his role well in 2013. Would think he's back unless another team unexpectedly ups the ante.

7. LB Dane Fletcher -- One of the Patriots' best special teams players. Would think there is a competitive bid to retain him.

8. DE Andre Carter -- They don't get much better from a locker-room perspective, but we'd be surprised if the team makes his return a priority at this point.

9. TE Matthew Mulligan -- More of a blocking presence, he filled his role well in 2013. Although the Patriots will probably look to add to the position, it wouldn't be a surprise if Mulligan competes for a roster spot again.

10. WR Austin Collie -- Veteran was dependable and should warrant serious consideration to re-sign.

11-. OT Will Svitek -- Smart, versatile veteran probably will see his spot go to a youngster, unless Sebastian Vollmer's recovery doesn't look promising.

Ups and downs for the Patriots

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
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MIAMI -- At an initial glance, a look at which players were "up" in the Patriots' game against the Dolphins and those at the opposite end of the spectrum:

Up

Julian Edelman: On the field where he broke his foot last year, receiver delivers with another big game.

Michael Hoomanawanui: Tight end's 13-yard, one-handed touchdown grab late in the second quarter is one for the highlight reel.

Aqib Talib: Cornerback who often aligns on the inside part of the field, likely with the idea of taking away the Dolphins' middle-of-the-field passing game, isn't heard from often.

Down

Josh Boyce: Rookie receiver can't come up with two catches against tight coverage, one of which came in the end zone.

Marquice Cole/Steve Gregory: Defensive backs are in coverage on Mike Wallace's 39-yard catch-and-run touchdown at the end of the second quarter.

Dane Fletcher: Linebacker is flagged for a critical pass-interference penalty on third down late in the third quarter.

Stephen Gostkowski: After the Patriots go ahead 20-17, sends his kickoff out of bounds, giving the Dolphins the ball at the 40.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces after reviewing the first quarter of the Patriots' 28-20 preseason win over the Giants:

1. It seemed like the Patriots wanted to take a closer look at veteran safety Adrian Wilson and his effectiveness as a blitzer. Wilson blitzed on the first play of the game (the ball was out quickly) and then on the third-and-7 play (incomplete pass) that ended the Giants’ second drive. On the second blitz, Wilson was met by running back Andre Brown and ridden out of the play, as quarterback Eli Manning stepped up to make his throw on the run. Then there was a third blitz from Wilson on the Giants’ opening play of the third drive (off the defensive left side), when Manning completed a 37-yard pass to receiver Louis Murphy as Wilson was again picked up by running back David Wilson. He then blitzed again on the Giants’ touchdown later in the quarter (wasn’t close to disrupting the play). As the Patriots consider whether Wilson has a spot on their 53-man roster, I could envision them looking at these blitzes today and attempting to determine if Wilson can help them in that role.

2. Rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan (6-6, 255) was disruptive off the defensive left side, showing good power and multiple pass-rush moves, as well as how his long arms can affect passing lanes for opposing quarterbacks. In addition, he showed strength and technique to effectively set the edge, which is a necessity for any end (4-3) or outside linebacker (3-4) in the team’s scheme. We got a good look at that on the Giants’ second offensive play when Buchanan locked up with pulling guard Chris Snee, held his ground, and kept Wilson hemmed in as he was stopped for a modest 1-yard gain.

3. A good contrast to that play was seen later in the quarter on Wilson’s 16-yard run on a pitch from Manning around left end. The Patriots’ run force broke down, with right end Jake Bequette taking his first step inside, which was enough to lose containment. With linebacker Dane Fletcher also sealed off by left tackle Will Beatty, and cornerback Marquice Cole cleared out of the area because he was covering receiver Hakeem Nicks, it left a wide swath of real estate for Wilson. Some credit goes to the Giants for a well-blocked run, but it looked like it also could have been executed better from the Patriots’ standpoint.

4. The top seven offensive linemen appear set for the Patriots (Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Will Svitek), so I spent some time watching the reserves beyond that to see if anyone stood out. Center Matt Stankiewitch (6-4, 305) would be the choice. The first play might have been his worst -- he was pushed back into quarterback Ryan Mallett by Linval Joseph -- but he seemed to settle in nicely over the remainder of the first quarter against first-unit competition. His athleticism to get to the second level of the defense was seen on receiver Josh Boyce’s 18-yard reverse, when he sealed off linebacker Dan Connor. A nice play like that was later balanced off by failing to hold his block against defensive tackle Mike Patterson as Patterson pressured Mallett early in the second quarter. Like most rookies, Stankiewitch will benefit from some physical development, but he showed a scrappiness that made us take note.

5. There is a risk-reward that comes with every blitz, and the risk was evidenced on the Giants’ first touchdown. On third-and-2 from the Patriots 3-yard line, the defense sent seven rushers. That created a man-to-man situation with receivers and defensive backs, with rookie cornerback Logan Ryan matched up against Nicks. The rush didn’t get there and Manning had time to lock in on Nicks to complete a relatively easy touchdown. If you’re going to send seven, that’s a case where the rush has to get there quickly to help out the defensive backs. Didn’t happen in that case.

Defensive starters for Patriots

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Defensive starters for the New England Patriots tonight against the New York Giants:

DE -- Michael Buchanan
DT -- Marcus Forston
DT -- Joe Vellano
DE -- Jake Bequette
LB -- Dane Fletcher
LB -- Steve Beauharnais
LB -- Jamie Collins
CB -- Logan Ryan
CB -- Marquice Cole
S -- Adrian Wilson
S -- Duron Harmon

Wilson's presence among the second- and third-stringers is notable.

Defensive snaps: Gregory & McCourty

August, 23, 2013
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DETROIT -- A look at the snaps played by Patriots defenders in the first half, when most of the top players were in the game, and analyzing what it might mean (includes penalties):

CB Kyle Arrington -- 36 of 36
S Steve Gregory -- 36 of 36
DE Chandler Jones -- 36 of 36
DE Rob Ninkovich -- 36 of 36
CB Aqib Talib -- 36 of 36
DT Tommy Kelly -- 26 of 36
LB Dont'a Hightower -- 23 of 36
LB Brandon Spikes -- 23 of 36
DT Joe Vellano -- 23 of 36
CB Logan Ryan -- 19 of 36
S Duron Harmon -- 18 of 36
S Devin McCourty -- 16 of 36
S Adrian Wilson -- 15 of 36
DE Marcus Benard -- 13 of 36
LB Jerod Mayo -- 13 of 36
LB Jamie Collins -- 11 of 36
DT Marcus Forston -- 10 of 36
LB Dane Fletcher -- 6 of 36

QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: The biggest personnel notes on defense were with starting defensive tackle Vince Wilfork being held out of the game, which gave the coaching staff an extended look at rookie free-agent Joe Vellano. Also, starting linebacker Jerod Mayo only played in the dime package, so rookie Jamie Collins started alongside Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower and Dane Fletcher also came on for two series in the base defense. ... Against a strong vertical passing offense, it's probably not a coincidence that Steve Gregory got the start next to Devin McCourty at safety as they are considered the team's best cover safeties. It will be interesting to see if that changes against teams who aren't as threatening in that area of the game, which could open the door for a bigger safety (e.g. Adrian Wilson) to step in to that role. Wilson played solely in the dime package in the first half, in a linebacker-type role. That bumped Tavon Wilson out of that spot. ... Rookie Logan Ryan served as the fifth defensive back in the nickel. ... McCourty's playing time was limited as it was his first action this preseason as he's been managed closely after offseason shoulder surgery. ... Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, as expected, are the top ends and they won't come off the field often. ... Tommy Kelly looks like a difference-maker at defensive tackle and the type of player who would never leave the field, but the Patriots probably want to find some time to give him a breather at times, which is what we saw Thursday night. ... Marcus Benard came on in sub situations as an interior rusher, which was the niche that Jermaine Cunningham (currently injured) had carved out for himself early in 2012.

AFC East Week 15 X factors

December, 17, 2011
12/17/11
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Miami Dolphins (4-9)

Opponent: Bills

X factor: CB Vontae Davis

Analysis: Win or lose, the Bills throw the football a lot. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is a streaky gunslinger. Right now he's on the downside. Fitzpatrick is coming off another poor outing last week with two interceptions against the San Diego Chargers. This will provide plenty of opportunities for Davis to make plays. He's been Miami's best corner in the second half of the season. With injuries at quarterback and the offensive line, Davis and Miami's defense may have to carry the team to win.

Buffalo Bills (5-8)

Opponent: Dolphins

X factor: RB C.J. Spiller

Analysis: Spiller's late-season audition for Buffalo's starting job has seen some ups and downs. He needs to finish strong and prove to Buffalo that he's part of the team's long-term plans. The Bills have gone away from the run the past two weeks in the second half. Last week San Diego gathered a huge lead and made the running game obsolete. Spiller will be tested this week against Miami's stout run defense. The Dolphins are third overall in stopping the run and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Houston Texans running back Ben Tate in Week 2.

New York Jets (8-5)

Opponent: Philadelphia Eagles (5-8)

X factor: LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson

Analysis: The Eagles' pass rush is dangerous. Philadelphia registered a season-high nine sacks last week in a win over the Dolphins. New York's offensive line has been an enigma this season. It started the season slowly but has picked it up lately. As a result, the Jets are averaging 33 points per game during their three-game winning streak. Ferguson has to protect Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's blind side. He could see a lot of Philadelphia defensive end Jason Babin on Sunday.

New England Patriots (10-3)

Opponent: Denver Broncos (8-5)

X factor: LB Dane Fletcher

Analysis: Someone has to keep an eye on Tim Tebow. That job could come down to Fletcher in the middle for New England. He recorded eight tackles last week in a win over the Washington Redskins. New England’s defense has been terrible this season. It is ranked last in the NFL. But the Patriots have defended the run pretty well. New England is ranked 13th against the run, and that will be tested against Denver and Tebow.
TAMPA -- Rapid reaction after the Patriots throttled the Buccaneers, 31-14, in both teams' second preseason game:

Domination from top units. The Patriots looked sharp on both sides of the ball, opening a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. It was 28-0 at the half. Quarterback Tom Brady was on his game; outside of failing to execute in a two-minute situation at the end of the first half, he directed an offense that played at a regular-season type pace. Meanwhile, the defense had a nice mix of tight coverage and pressure, forcing two three-and-outs to open the game. It was 14-0 by that point as the Patriots' first-stringers smoked the Buccaneers' top players. The Patriots' top units look loaded.

Ochocinco takes big hit, responds. The first Tom Brady-to-Chad Ochocinco connection got off to a tough start, with Brady's first pass to No. 85 over the middle resulting in Ochocinco taking a big hit from linebacker Mason Foster that drew a personal-foul penalty. After another incompletion along the sideline, Ochocinco gathered in an 8-yard touchdown from Brady on a play-action fake out of a three-tight end set. Ochocinco left the football in the end zone, hardly celebrating. In all, Ochocinco was charted on the field for 24 snaps (including penalties). His stat line: 2 catches, 14 yards, 1 TD.

Starters play throughout first half. Playing time is often a big question in preseason games and Bill Belichick kept his top players in the game throughout the first half. Rookie left tackle Nate Solder, who started, played two series into the second half. The Patriots were short-handed in the secondary, so they had some top players still on the field in the second half.

Attacking defense, led by Carter and Mayo, shines. After a 2010 season in which the Patriots struggled to generate pressure on a consistent basis out of their base alignment, tonight they looked like a different unit. They were swarming, led by linebacker Jerod Mayo (two sacks) and defensive end Andre Carter, who was bringing it off the right edge. Impressive.

Running game gets it going. The offensive line/tight ends and running backs Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis get deserved praise, as the Patriots steamrolled the Buccaneers. First-half totals on the ground: 117 yards on 17 carries (6.9 avg.) and two touchdowns.

Health questions with Fletcher, Lockett and Woodhead. Areas to monitor on the health front in the days to come are with linebacker Dane Fletcher (thumb), safety Bret Lockett (thigh/groin) and Woodhead (shaken up on fourth-quarter punt coverage). Woodhead was smiling on the bench at the end of the game.

Mallett throws a pick-six. After an impressive performance in the preseason opener, rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett struggled, throwing a pick-six on his first drive which opened the second half. It was returned 69 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Elbert Mack, with Mallett getting crunched on the return. No. 2 quarterback Brian Hoyer, who played sparingly as he was inserted into the game mid-drive twice as a way to keep him sharp, also almost threw a pick-six. Not a great night for the backups after a strong showing in the preseason opener. Overall, the second half was sloppy for the Patriots' reserves.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' 47-12 win over the Jaguars in the preseason opener:

A night for backups. Bill Belichick sat several key players, quarterback Tom Brady; receivers Chad Ochocinco, Wes Welker and Deion Branch; defensive lineman Vince Wilfork; cornerback Devin McCourty and linebacker Jerod Mayo among them. This gave Belichick a chance to evaluate some younger players, while at the same time not rushing things with key personnel after just seven full-pad practices. You had to be a hard-core fan to sit through all of this one, but in all, it was a productive night for a first preseason game.

Taylor Price one of the big stories. The second-year receiver was excellent, the highlight play coming with a back-of-the-end-zone, fingertip, toe-tapping touchdown grab. Price later showed his speed on a long catch-and-run play. Price is behind Ochocinco, Branch and Welker on the depth chart, but he ensured that he's not in jeopardy of missing the final roster cut. Impressive night.

Quarterback situation looks sharp. Between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett, the Patriots appear to have one of the best backup quarterback situations in the NFL. Both were impressive.

Rookie RB Stevan Ridley shines. Third-round pick Stevan Ridley showed up for camp on time and took advantage of extended reps as second-rounder Shane Vereen had yet to sign and veterans BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris could not yet practice. That showed tonight. Ridley's confidence and hard-charging style was evident on two touchdown runs and he showed good hands on a touchdown catch. Agents generally don't get a lot of praise, but Ridley's agent -- Andy Simms -- gets a tip of the cap from here. Simms is also the agent for McCourty and for two years in a row he's made sure his clients were there for the first day of practice, putting them in the best position to succeed.

Tough night for CBs Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite. Both played into the fourth quarter. That's a hard fall for Butler, the 2009 second-round pick was an opening-day starter last season. Butler and Wilhite look to be on the roster bubble.

Nate Solder passes first test. The first-round pick played the entire first half at left tackle. He was hardly noticed, which meant he did his job well.

Dane Fletcher a top performer on defense. The second-year linebacker started and led the defensive huddle. He finished with five tackles while delivering a bit hit in the process. A strong special teams player as a rookie (he made the club as a free agent), he showed he's ready if called upon as a middle linebacker in the event of injury to Brandon Spikes.

Bills at Patriots inactives

September, 26, 2010
9/26/10
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Here are the inactives for Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium:

Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots

Woodhead among Patriots at Jets inactives

September, 19, 2010
9/19/10
3:05
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New England Patriots have scratched running spy -- I mean, running back -- Danny Woodhead and will dress receiver Julian Edelman for Sunday afternoon's game against the New York Jets.

New England Patriots
New York Jets

Maroney, Edelman among Pats scratches

September, 12, 2010
9/12/10
11:44
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Be sure to click on ESPNBoston.com for comprehensive coverage of the New England Patriots' season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals in Gillette Stadium.

Mike Reiss is the lead writer there, but the game also marks the debut of ESPNBoston.com columnist Jackie MacMullan. The crew also includes Chris Forsberg, Mike Rodak and Jack McCluckey.

Meanwhile, I'm at Ralph Wilson Stadium by myself.

Forsberg has blogged the Patriots' inactives:

A glance at AFC East's undrafted rookies

September, 5, 2010
9/05/10
1:01
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You can tell a lot about a team by the number of undrafted rookies who make the roster.

Undrafted rookies are essential, but they are a case of good news, bad news.

They are pleasant finds for the scouting department and indicate a keen eye for overlooked gems. That said, too many undrafted rookies usually are a sign the front office hasn't hit on a high percentage of draft picks or a team is in full-scale rebuilding mode.

With that in mind, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at how many each AFC East club kept on their 53-man rosters Saturday.

Buffalo Bills (5)
Miami Dolphins (3)
New England Patriots (2)
New York Jets (2)

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