AFC East: Matt Patricia

What we learned from Pats coaches' calls

September, 3, 2013
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels held conference calls this afternoon.

From a “what we learned” perspective heading into Sunday’s season opener against the Bills, here are some highlights:

1. Bills’ defense has Jet-like feel: As one would expect with coordinator Mike Pettine moving from the Jets to the Bills this year, Buffalo’s defense looks “a lot like the Jets,” according to Belichick. That means a lot of different looks (especially on third down, when a defensive lineman could play a linebacker-type role), multiple fronts, and a heavy percentage of blitzing. So as Patriots offensive players prepare this week, they are marrying two areas: Bills personnel that they’ve come to know in recent years playing a Jet-like scheme.

2. Scouting report on Mulligan: Asked about signing 28-year-old tight end Matthew Mulligan to the 53-man active roster, Belichick cited his experience and blocking ability before saying, “he’s a tough, physical player.”

3. A lot of no-huddle on offense from Bills: There is an element of unknown with any season opener, which Belichick repeated multiple times, but one thing the Patriots are most certainly expecting from the Bills is the no-huddle attack. “It’s really all no-huddle,” Belichick said of what he’s seen from the Bills’ offense, later adding the Bills’ fast pace on offense draws some similarities to the Eagles under Chip Kelly which the Patriots practiced against in August. Another point Belichick made was that there isn’t a lot of NFL-based film for the team to watch of Bills rookie quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Jeff Tuel.

4. Pleased with Talib’s presence. Patricia, the defensive coordinator, said he is “very, very happy” with cornerback Aqib Talib’s work ethic and approach. The Patriots acquired Talib last November, so as time has passed, coaches have had a longer look at Talib's integration into the team’s system and way of doing business. “He really practices hard and competes every day,” Patricia said. “He’s a good example out on the field for those guys that are coming into our program to get behind and follow along.”

5. Young receivers have grasped multiple roles. It is often said that the Patriots' complex offensive system can be tough for rookies to pick up, so it was notable that Josh McDaniels, the offensive coordinator, said that receivers Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Aaron Dobson (second round) have all grasped multiple positions. "We've already moved them and played multiple roles with them, multiple positions with them," he said. "In our system, that's a really big 'plus' for us to have some flexibility with those guys. They've shown that they'll work and study on the mental side of the game to be able to be flexible and play in multiple spots when we need them to."

AFC East links: Sanchez gets Namath vote

May, 16, 2012
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Buffalo Bills

The experience of head coach Chain Gailey and quarterbacks coach David Lee helped sell new addition Vince Young on the Bills, he told Chris Brown.

Leo Roth of the Democrat and Chronicle throws Bill Polian's name out there as a possibility as the Bills' next general manager.

Miami Dolphins

Quarterback David Garrard is a fan of the fast-paced offense Miami's new coaching staff is installing, he tells the team's official site. "We’re going to be snap that ball at 33 seconds every time," Garrard said. "It’s going to be non-stop, and defenses will be tired because they won’t even get to put their hand on the ground."

Omar Kelly answers some of the questions he posed earlier about how good the Dolphins could be in 2012.

New England Patriots

Julian Edelman was pleased to hear that fellow receiver Wes Welker had signed his franchise tender. "He’s one of our better players on our team and he’s only going to make us better," Edelman told ESPN Boston. "I think that's great." Defensive back Devin McCourty, meanwhile, expects business as usual from Matt Patricia following his elevation to defensive coordinator.

Back with the Patriots after serving jail time for manslaughter and on the heels of lackluster seasons in Baltimore and Washington, receiver Donte' Stallworth says he's a changed man. "I’m in a better place, mentally, physically," Stallworth told the Boston Herald.

New York Jets

Mark Sanchez definitely has the edge on Tim Tebow in the quarterbacking department, Joe Namath told ESPN New York. The legendary signal-caller also said he gets bad vibes whenever he crosses paths with Jets owner Woody Johnson.

A day after signing running back Terrance Ganaway, the Jets added one of Ganaway's former Baylor teammates, guard Robert Griffin. Griffin, who blocked for Ganaway and the "other" Robert Griffin, Heisman winner and first-round pick Robert Griffin III, was taken one pick after Ganaway in the sixth round of April's draft.
Here are the most interesting stories Friday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: Revis is scheduled to make $13.5 million over the next two years, which is a bargain for the best corner in football. The Jets don’t have the cap room to pay Revis market value unless they slice some salaries. For now, Revis isn't making it an issue.
Morning take: Head coach Bill Belichick felt he needed to make a change after last year’s horrific performance on defense. Patricia coached linebackers and safeties in the past and now will try to do a good job with the whole unit.
Morning take: Corners with starting experience don’t last long on the market. So it's no surprise Florence found a job quickly. He joins Peyton Manning and Co. and will contend in the AFC.
Morning take: The Dolphins are working hard to overcome low expectations. Most will pick Miami to finish last in the division, and maybe that will motivate the Dolphins.

Underrated players: AFC East

June, 10, 2011
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NFC Underrated Players: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at the most underrated players in the division.

Buffalo Bills

Roscoe Parrish, receiver/punt returner: For five years, Parrish practically begged to be thrown the ball. He made the most of his touches, becoming one of the most dangerous punt returners in the NFL and setting franchise records.

[+] EnlargeBuffalo's Roscoe Parrish
Luc Leclerc/US PRESSWIREBills receiver Roscoe Parrish caught 33 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns last season.
But his listed position was wide receiver, and in the Bills' passing game under head coaches Mike Mularkey and Dick Jauron, the undersized Parrish always seemed to be an afterthought.

That changed last year under new coach Chan Gailey. He played just eight games because of a broken wrist, but Parrish caught 33 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns. The yardage was the most of his career. His touchdowns tied a career high. Two more receptions would have matched a career high.

Miami Dolphins

Kendall Langford, defensive end: On a defense with sack master Cameron Wake, the NFL's highest-paid linebacker in Karlos Dansby, franchise-tagged nose tackle Paul Soliai and Pro Bowl defensive end Randy Starks, a guy like Langford can get overlooked.

Langford, a 2008 third-round pick out of Hampton, has been a starter since his rookie season. Last year, after he gained national fame for being the sap who lost a $50,000 earring on the Dolphins' practice field, Langford produced a quality season for one of the NFL's better defenses. He notched 47 tackles, three sacks, six tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and four passes defensed.

Langford is adept at controlling blockers and was a major reason the Dolphins ranked seventh in run defense (100.1 yards per game) and third in average allowed per carry (3.6 yards).

New England Patriots

Gary Guyton, linebacker: Guyton started only eight games at linebacker last season, and half of those were necessitated by Brandon Spikes' four-game suspension. Even so, Guyton made a mark on the Patriots' defense. The undrafted third-year pro from Georgia Tech recorded 63 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), six passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery (returned for another touchdown).

"Gary is someone that fits in our system very well no matter what that role is," Patriots linebackers coach Matt Patricia said during the playoffs. "He's a very [versatile] player for us. He does an excellent job in whatever avenue we ask him to prepare and play. I think he is a guy who is active and plays for us every Sunday, and whatever that role is, he's going to go out and do it to the best of his ability. It’s something that we have a lot of confidence in."

New York Jets

Brandon Moore, right guard: The Jets' offensive line has had remarkable star power over the past few seasons. Nick Mangold is an All-Pro center. Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson went to the Pro Bowl last season. Right tackle Damien Woody has been to the Pro Bowl and owns Super Bowl rings. Alan Faneca, the Jets' left guard in 2008 and 2009, went to nine straight Pro Bowls.

Then there was Moore, an undrafted and often-overlooked workhorse. "Meat," as he's affectionately known by his teammates, has started 105 straight regular-season games. He was a third alternate for the Pro Bowl last year but still hasn't made it to one. In the Jets' locker room, he's respected enough to be a union representative.

"It's a shame that Brandon doesn't get as much of a nod as he deserves," Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said last season. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a better guard than him in all of football."

Hey, playa! Can you coach?

March, 30, 2011
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SparanoSam Greenwood/Getty ImagesDolphins coach Tony Sparano felt it was necessary to add former players to his coaching staff.
Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall scoffed in September that broadcast analyst Sterling Sharpe had no right to judge him. Marshall claimed Sharpe didn't do enough on the field to earn the privilege.

Imagine, then, how much disdain Marshall would harbor for criticism from those who didn't play in the NFL at all.

When you consider Marshall's logic and the sort of position coaches he has worked with, you get a sense of how unstable a situation can be.

As a rookie, he learned from former Pro Bowl receiver Steve Watson. But since 2007, Marshall's coaches have been Jeremy Bates, Jedd Fish and Adam Gase with Denver and Karl Dorrell last year with Miami. None of them played in the NFL. Neither Fisch nor Gase played in college.

Probably not the kinds of guys you'd expect to make a connection.

Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano rearranged his coaching staff after last season. He moved Dorrell into the quarterbacks vacancy and promoted Steve Bush from a quality-control role -- usually considered entry-level -- to receivers coach. Bush hasn't been an NFL position coach before. In 2008, the Dolphins hired the one-time Syracuse assistant away from West Genesee High in upstate New York.

Some help was in order, and not just for Bush.

Sparano made it a point to add former players to his coaching staff because he identified a deficiency. He needed more voices to reach his players.

Although the Dolphins parted ways with running backs coach James Saxon, they hired Ike Hilliard to assist Bush and Bryan Cox to coach pass rushing and promoted Dan Campbell from intern to tight ends coach.

"I feel good about the way we were able to put the staff together with the infusion of ex-players onto the staff," Sparano said last week at the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans.

"A little bit of that flavor and that knowledge on your coaching staff helps a lot. Sometimes, as coaches, we can get tunnel vision and forget about what the players' needs are. When you get an ex-player on your staff -- somebody that's really not far removed -- it helps you a lot."

A breakdown of AFC East coaching staffs shows there are multiple philosophies on former NFL players as assistants.

The Dolphins went into last season with two position coaches who played in the NFL: assistant head coach and secondary assistant Todd Bowles and Saxon. They now have four assistants with a combined 557 games.

Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey has one former NFL player on his staff, but none coaching a position. Former defensive back Adrian White, a veteran of seven seasons, handles quality control.

New England Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson is the lone member of Bill Belichick's crew to have experienced NFL action. Johnson played linebacker for four teams over 13 years.

Then there's Rex Ryan's staff, populated by six former NFL players with 62 seasons and 829 games. Matt Cavanaugh coaches quarterbacks, Anthony Lynn running backs, Henry Ellard receivers, Mike Devlin tight ends, Mark Carrier defensive line and Dennis Thurman defensive backs.

I reached out to three former coaches who played in the NFL -- Tom Flores, Herm Edwards and Ted Cottrell -- to get their opinions on the significance of having on-field experience on staff.

"It's always been a thing with the players," said Cottrell, an Atlanta Falcons linebacker and successful defensive coordinator for the Bills, Jets, Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers, "where they think in the backs of their minds, 'Well, you haven't played this game. You don't know what we're going through. You haven't done this, Coach.' But if you have some playing experience on your staff, it helps offset that."

As valuable as those players-turned-coaches are, they're difficult to find. The best players don't necessarily make the best coaches because what came to them naturally can't always be conveyed through instruction.

[+] EnlargePepper Johnson
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaPatriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson is the only member of Bill Belichick's staff with NFL playing experience.
Flores found a way to make it work. He and Mike Ditka are the only two in NFL history to win a Super Bowl ring as a player, assistant coach and head coach. Flores played quarterback for the Bills, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs before guiding the Raiders to pair of Super Bowl titles.

"Some of the young kids coming out have no idea," Flores said. "They think they invented the game. Sometimes you have to bring them back to reality.

"But you also don't want somebody who keeps saying, 'Well, when I played ... When I played ... When I played ...' The player thinks, 'I don't give a damn when you played. We're playing now.'"

The transition from player to coach is difficult. Many players focus so much on their specific jobs when they're active that they don't become students of the overall game or learn how their roles fit into the overall puzzle. Others find it difficult to stop acting like a player when their careers are over.

Still, the ex-player element can be crucial in various instances.

"Sometimes you need a bridge with a former player," said Edwards, who played cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles and was head coach for the Jets and Chiefs. "His voice is going to speak volumes, especially during the rough times because he's done it; he's been through it. He can give them, 'OK, this is what we gotta do' speech.

"He's going to respect because he played, but can he teach? That's the whole key. Players will figure that out."

Not all coaches are comfortable hiring former players, particularly those fresh off the field. Cottrell claimed there's a fear of subversion, that the former player will relate better to the locker room than the man in charge.

"Who do you think the players on the roster will gravitate towards more?" Cottrell asked. "The guy who played in the NFL and is young, or the older guy who didn't play?"

The former player, I responded.

"Damn right they would," Cottrell said. "That's why some coaches are intimidated to hire them. That's the truth. They don't want that guy around."

Added Edwards: "I've seen that happen. There's no doubt about that. That's when you're paranoid, but there are coaches like that."

Even so, Edwards conceded insurrections aren't an unfounded conspiracy theory.

"If you've got a former player in his positional meeting room, saying, 'Man, the coach doesn't know what he's talking about,' then you've got no shot as a head coach," Edwards said. "That's why you've got to be particular on who you hire."

The Patriots have a more institutional coaching staff. Their message is easy to deliver when players consider Belichick has won three Super Bowls and four conference championships in the past decade.

Rather than rely on former players, Belichick has core assistants such as offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia (28th season with New England) and running backs coach Ivan Fears (15th season).

Belichick grooms assistants from gophers into coordinators and even head coaches. A steady stream of his acolytes -- Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Brian Daboll, Bill O'Brien, Matt Patricia -- got their NFL starts under Belichick with no pro playing experience.

New England's cyclical process protects organizational doctrine from outside influences. Johnson, the lone ex-player on the staff, played 10 of his 13 seasons under Belichick.

"Belichick has a certain philosophy, and you want everybody to be on the same page," Flores said. "Sometimes, when you bring in guys that have been too many other places, they're not going to be on your page because they've been trained someplace else.

"If you bring up assistants through the ranks, then they'll be trained the way you want them to be. Everybody has to buy into the same program."

At the other end of the spectrum are the Jets.

Ryan obviously values former players. Their presence on the staff contributes to the Jets being an attractive destination for free agents, and Cottrell surmises the Dolphins have noticed.

"From a coaching standpoint, he looks at the Jets and wants to catch them in the division," Cottrell said. "He thinks, 'Rex has six guys that have played the game who are coaching. Uh oh. Rex has got an advantage on me.'

"That's got to be in the back of his mind. You've got to win your division to get into the playoffs, and when you look at your coaching staff, you see you don't matchup in that area."

Or, in the case of adding Hilliard at least, maybe it was as simple as noticing the Dolphins didn't match up with Marshall.

Patriots make changes on coaching staff

February, 11, 2011
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The New England Patriots have a new offensive coordinator.

Before you get too excited, keep in mind they didn't have one last year.

Quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien has called the plays the past two seasons. The Patriots officially added the coordinator title Friday.

The title is mightily deserved. O'Brien has done a wonderful job overseeing the offense. A marvelous season from unanimous MVP quarterback Tom Brady didn't hurt. The Patriots also were deemed to have the NFL's best offensive line, and O'Brien's boss was voted Associated Press 2010 Coach of the Year.

But O'Brien deserves partial credit for those honors. He helped overhaul an offense that jettisoned receiver Randy Moss (the final straw likely a blowup with O'Brien) and running back Laurence Maroney, successfully incorporated overachieving backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, thrived with two rookie tight ends and dealt with dicey issues along the offensive line.

The Patriots' coaching staff became a bit of a curiosity one year ago, when Bill Belichick revealed he wouldn't have any coordinators on his staff -- not on offense, defense or special teams.

Also Friday, the Patriots announced linebackers coach Matt Patricia was moved to safeties coach. Defensive assistant Patrick Graham has been promoted to linebackers coach. Offensive and special-teams assistant Brian Flores will assume Graham's old role.

ESPNBoston writers Mike Reiss and Mike Rodak reported head strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik interviewed with the Dallas Cowboys this week. Woicik's contract is up. So the Patriots apparently are in the market for a new strength coach.

Hey, I hear Sal Alosi isn’t doing anything these days.

Fins back to D coordinator drawing board

January, 15, 2010
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Al Groh won’t be reuniting with Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick.

Groh is going to stay in the college game, deciding to accept Georgia Tech's offer to be its defensive coordinator.

The former New York Jets and University of Virginia head coach interviewed Wednesday for the Miami Dolphins' coordinator vacancy and might have been a candidate to fill the New England Patriots' opening created by Dean Pees' departure.

The Dolphins received another bit of bad news when Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler turned down an invitation to interview for the job, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Gary Dulac reports.

One possibility for Miami would be assistant head coach and defensive backs assistant Todd Bowles.

ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss broke down some of the names that could surface with the Patriots, among them a couple current assistants: defensive line coach Pepper Johnson and linebackers coach Matt Patricia.

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