AFC East: Jake Bequette

How Patriots filled Matthew Slater void

September, 23, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots were without special-teams captain Matthew Slater in Sunday's 23-3 victory over the Buccaneers. A big part of Slater's value is that he plays on each of the "Big 4" units -- kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return, punt coverage -- so when a player like that is injured it often means multiple players are tapped to fill the void.

Here is a look at how the Patriots compensated:

Duron Harmon on punt coverage. The third-round pick from Rutgers was the choice to serve as one of the team's gunners opposite Marquice Cole. Slater's work as a gunner, where he often faces double teams, is considered exemplary.

Brandon Bolden on kickoff return. Slater is usually back deep on the kickoff return, mostly as the fullback on the unit. Second-year running back Bolden, who played for the first time this season after missing the first two games while recovering from a knee injury, took over that role.

Michael Buchanan on kickoff coverage. In an unusual switch, defensive end Buchanan was the new player on the kickoff coverage unit in place of Slater. At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Buchanan has a different body type than the 6-foot, 210-pound Slater and fills a different role. Buchanan had played on the kickoff coverage unit in the season opener along with Slater, but was bumped off in Week 2 when Harmon dressed for the first time this season.

Jake Bequette on punt return. While not a 1-for-1 switch, and while acknowledging that the Patriots can have different units based on whether they are setting up a return or electing to rush more players, second-year player Bequette was a notable addition to the punt return team. Similar to Buchanan, he has a different body type than Slater and fills a different role. This was the first we've seen of Bequette in this role in 2013.

ANALYSIS: This is a good example of how Slater's absence led to four-pronged juggling by the coaching staff. Bill Belichick has spoken in the past about how his experience as a special-teams coach prepared him well for his role as a head coach in terms of managing the overall 53-man roster, and this is a perfect example to illustrate that point. It also highlights how Slater's skills are unique and no one player can fill the void. ... Players who were on all four units Sunday were LB Jamie Collins, LB Dane Fletcher, LB Chris White and S Tavon Wilson, which reflects their special-teams value and why, among other reasons, they are locks for the 46-man game-day roster on a weekly basis. ... Players on three units were CB Marquice Cole, S Nate Ebner and S Duron Harmon. ... The wedge players on the kickoff return were FB James Develin, TE Michael Hoomanawanui and TE Matthew Mulligan.

Source: DE Cunningham to be cut

August, 31, 2013
The Patriots informed defensive end Jermaine Cunningham that he will be released, a source confirms.

Cunningham has been hurt for most of the preseason and didn't play in a game. The move is considered a minor surprise, and also reflects some of the ups and downs the team has had in the second round of the draft, as Cunningham was a second-round pick in 2010.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer are two solid second-round picks, but the list of second-rounders that haven't panned out is quite longer, and includes receiver Chad Jackson (2006), cornerback Terrence Wheatley (2008), safety Patrick Chung (2009), defensive tackle Ron Brace (2009), cornerback Darius Butler (2009), Cunningham and cornerback Ras-I Dowling (2011).

The jury is still out on safety Tavon Wilson (2012).

At defensive end, the Patriots currently have Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Michael Buchanan and Jake Bequette.

Pro Football Talk first reported the news on Cunningham.

Patriots eligible for practice squad

August, 31, 2013
Later today, the New England Patriots will finalize the first iteration of their 53-man roster. But the player puzzle doesn’t end there, as the team will begin constructing its practice squad, which can be up to eight players, on Sunday.

It would be no surprise for the Patriots to bring aboard players waived by other teams as members of their practice squad, but the unit will also likely include players waived by the team Saturday.

Below is a look at all current Patriots who still have practice-squad eligibility:

P Ryan Allen
DT Armond Armstead (on reserve/PUP)
LB Steve Beauharnais
DE Jake Bequette
WR Josh Boyce
DE Michael Buchanan
LB Jamie Collins
LB Ja'Gared Davis
S Kanorris Davis
WR Aaron Dobson
DT Marcus Forston
DB Justin Green
DT Cory Grissom (on injured reserve)
S Duron Harmon
WR Mark Harrison (on reserve/PUP)
G Josh Kline
C/G Chris McDonald
CB Logan Ryan
WR Quentin Sims
TE Zach Sudfeld
LB Jeff Tarpinian
WR Kenbrell Thompkins
DT Joe Vellano
RB George Winn
OL Markus Zusevics (on injured reserve)
The Patriots have informed defensive end Marcus Benard that he has been released, a source confirms.

This is a mild surprise as Benard had been playing a top backup role, while also coming onto the field in sub situations as an interior rusher.

The five-year veteran had a career-high 7.5 sacks in 2010 with the Browns before injuries derailed him the past two years. After signing with the Patriots on Jan. 24 this year, he flashed some pass-rush explosion in training camp as he seemed to be making the most of his fresh start.

With starting ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich entrenched atop the depth chart, Benard had been competing for a reserve role against the likes of Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan. In recent weeks, Cunningham and Francis were both sidelined with injury, so the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Benard seemed like he might have had some security.

But as we've learned on an annual basis with Bill Belichick, the Patriots often have their fair share of surprises as cutdown day approaches.

Current defensive end depth chart
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
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.

Patriots we want to see more of

July, 31, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The first five practices of training camp are in the books. Wednesday is the first day with no practice since the first public workout last Friday.

This offers a chance to take a step back and assess what we've seen in the initial days of camp.

Along those lines, here are six players we want to see more of:

Defensive end Marcus Benard
The five-year veteran from Jackson State is a relative unknown who has flashed some explosion in one-on-one drills. He entered the NFL in 2009 as a rookie free agent with the Browns (then coached by former Patriots assistant Eric Mangini), spending half his rookie season on the practice squad before being promoted to the 53-man roster. Then, in 2010, he totaled 7.5 sacks before a hand injury limited him to four games in 2011 and he missed all of last season with an elbow injury. At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, he could be this year's Trevor Scott, a veteran depth option looking to rebound after injuries knocked him off course. He might have the quickest first step of any of the reserve pass-rushers that we've watched to this point. -- Mike Reiss

Defensive end Jake Bequette
A 2012 third-round draft choice who played 29 defensive snaps last season, Bequette is hopeful to find a role in the reserve rotation among the edge setters behind Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. In early 1-on-1 rush drills, Bequette has looked fine, though he still needs to develop a counter move. If he isn’t beating the opposing tackle with his first step, he’s often finding himself swallowed up. Bequette will have to contribute on special teams if he is going to stick around, and we’ve seen him work quite a bit on the core teams in camp. That was an area that he did not seem as actively involved in during last training camp, and could reflect improved athleticism after an offseason worth of training. He needs a good August to secure a spot on the 53-man roster. -- Field Yates

Guard Dan Connolly
To be fair, Connolly has been limited by his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, so this isn’t a reflection of anything that he’s done on the field. But nonetheless, we’re anxious to see Connolly back in the mix, particularly with Marcus Cannon also projecting into the right guard competition (although Cannon departed Tuesday’s practice for unknown reasons). Connolly has positional versatility and has performed admirably for the Patriots over the past two seasons, but if the team believes Cannon is the superior option, it’ll make for an interesting decision on the veteran Connolly. He’s due $2.25 million in base salary and carries a cap charge of $3.33 million for 2013, both steep figures for a player in a reserve role. Should he return soon, look for the position battle between he and Cannon to heat up even more. -- Field Yates

Cornerback Ras-I Dowling
Dowling (6-1, 215) hasn't stayed healthy during his first two NFL seasons, but the fact remains this: few NFL cornerbacks possess his length and frame, making him an intriguing prospect that could impact this Patriots defense. He’s had a solid camp so far, though not spectacular. Dowling can stay with receivers on the perimeter in man coverage, and that’s exactly what we want to see more of. With practices upcoming with both the Eagles and Buccaneers, it seems likely that we’ll see extensive 1-on-1 work, and Dowling will also have a chance to show himself in game action. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Dowling figures to be in the mix for the fourth or fifth cornerback job, meaning he’ll also have to factor in on special teams. If he can do that, he might finally carve a consistent role on this squad. -- Field Yates

Tight end Zach Sudfeld
The rookie free-agent from Nevada has good size (6-7, 260), which showed up Tuesday in the red zone. He also has shown, for the most part, solid hands going back to spring camps and into the early part of training camp. Haven't seen as much from him in the blocking game -- he's not as thick in his trunk as the tight ends ahead of him on the depth chart -- but it seems fair to say that he has sustained the momentum from spring and carried it into training camp. Daniel Fells (some notable work in the passing game) and Michael Hoomanawanui (underrated hands) have mostly worked as the top two tight ends, with Sudfeld and Jake Ballard behind them. After Tuesday's practice, I wondered if Sudfeld might challenge one of the veterans for a roster spot. -- Mike Reiss

Defensive tackle Joe Vellano
The Patriots are thin behind starting defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and among the backups, Vellano has generated the most consistent interior pressure. He is undersized compared to the other defensive tackle backups at 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, and sometimes that plays to his advantage when he's displayed short-area quickness to knife through tight spaces, mostly when lining up closer to the center. But other times, when he's aligned closer to the tackle because the line might have shifted, he was more easily blocked. It's too early to say he could be a sleeper who could fill a potential Jonathan Fanene-type role as an interior sub rusher, but a few of his rushes piqued interest to see how he might fare on a consistent basis against starter-level competition. -- Mike Reiss
This is a time of optimism, as every team feels good about its rookie draft class. But sometimes fans in our AFC East community can go a little overboard.

For perspective, here are some comments from our community immediately following the 2012 NFL draft:

Miami Dolphins
  • “Am I the only one who thought the Dolphins' draft was awful? Ryan Tannenhill is shot, a wasted pick. They should’ve grabbed the best available player.”
  • “Sorry Fish fans, but having [Todd] McShay be a supporter of Ryan Tannehill is like a death sentence.”
  • “Outside of Tannehill, Miami had a really solid draft.”
  • “Tannehill is trash. He is an unproven QB and will not be successful in the NFL.”
  • “The Phins sleeper pick after round two will be TE Michael Egnew.”
  • “I think Egnew will be a beast. When was the last time we had a seam threat tight end who can catch and run a 4.4?”
  • “I like the Egnew pick because he can create mismatches over the middle as your prototype, seam-busting tight end. I'm lukewarm on the Lamar Miller pick but understand why we made it.”
Buffalo Bills
  • Tank Carder could be a steal and anchor the middle of the D for years to come.”
  • “TANK CARDER!!! I think he could come out of nowhere. I watched him on TV in multiple games at TCU. The man was a beast and all over the field.”
  • “Put your ear to the ground ... you can hear the stampede coming.”
  • “Say what ya want now, but the Bills take AFC crown.”
New York Jets
  • “The Jets hit homeruns on every one of their picks in every round this year. Got to be an A-plus draft.”
  • Stephen Hill is 6'4", 215, with 4.3 speed. So he didn't catch a lot of passes with the GT offense--neither did DeMaryius Thomas.”
New England Patriots
  • “[Patriots] also drafted Jake Bequette, who's more of pure pass-rusher than Chandler Jones and produced against SEC competition.”
  • “I'll bet Bequette becomes a force. Scary film.”
  • “Other than their last pick (cornerback Alfonzo Dennard), I thought the Patriots did a great job drafting.”
  • “Dennard has no value -- he will never play a single NFL game and he will be in jail before next year's draft.”

Remember last year?

Third-round notes in AFC East

April, 27, 2012
The AFC East made some interesting additions in the third round of the NFL draft.

Here is a recap:
  • The Bills finally drafted a wide receiver by taking T.J. Graham of North Carolina State. Buffalo passed up better prospects in the second round, but you can't fault the Bills for finding a potential starting offensive tackle (Cordy Glenn). Graham was the 20th-ranked prospect at receiver by Scouts Inc. His not a big receiver (5-foot-11) but does possess top-end speed. Buffalo needs a speedster opposite top target Steve Johnson.
  • The Dolphins made an interesting choice in Miami (Fla.) defensive end Olivier Vernon. He is the first player from the hometown Hurricanes the Dolphins have taken since Vernon Carey in 2004. Vernon had an inconsistent career at Miami. The Dolphins also traded back and drafted Missouri tight end Michael Egnew with their second pick in the third round. Agnew can provide depth behind starter Anthony Fasano.
  • The New York Jets also drafted Arkansas State linebacker Demario Davis at No. 77 to help their pass rush.
  • The New England Patriots continue to boost their pass rush with third-round pick Jake Bequette of Arkansas. He recorded 21.5 career sacks at Arkansas and is a versatile player. The Patriots traded down with the Green Bay Packers for this third-round pick.