AFC East: Ron Brace

Source: DE Cunningham to be cut

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
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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.
Perhaps no other AFC East pick in the 2012 draft was more controversial than the New England Patriots’ selection of little-known defensive back Tavon Wilson of Illinois. Wilson, New England’s second-round pick, was the 24th rated safety by Scouts Inc. and wasn’t even invited to the NFL combine.

Wilson
This was viewed as a major reach by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who vehemently defended the pick. But looking deeper, Belichick's track record in the second round has been questionable for the past 10 drafts.

Here’s a look at Belichick’s picks in the second round since 2003:

2011: CB Ras-I Dowling and RB Shane Vereen
2010: LB Jermaine Cunningham, TE Rob Gronkowski, LB Brandon Spikes
2009: CB Darius Butler, S Pat Chung, DT Ron Brace, OT Sebastian Vollmer
2008: CB Terrence Wheatley
2006: WR Chad Jackson
2004: DE Marquise Hill
2003: S Eugene Wilson and WR Bethel Johnson

Of this group, Gronkowski and Vollmer are definite hits. Spikes and Chung have potential but need to prove they can stay healthy for a full season.

For the second round, two stud players in 14 picks (14.3 percent) is a low success rate. If you’re generous and include Chung and Spikes, that’s still only 28.5 percent.

Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com wrote a good column this weekend that Belichick should be trusted with the pick of Wilson. But history shows Belichick struggles in the second round, particularly with defensive backs. Butler and Wheatley were recent busts. Dowling didn't play last season and gets a chance to show what he can do this year.

Belichick may fool everyone with the Wilson pick. A player who was on no one’s radar could turn out to be a rookie contributor or starter in New England’s defense, which was ranked No. 31 last season.

But history suggests this could be another second-round whiff by Belichick. The pressure is on Wilson to change that trend.

Camp Confidential: New England Patriots

August, 18, 2011
8/18/11
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Now in his 37th season, Bill Belichick owns the distinction of having the most NFL experience among current head coaches. That gives him a unique perspective on the evolution of the NFL.

“It’s changed through the years, a lot of things are different from when I started coaching, on a lot of levels -- players, technology, the equipment we use," he said. "That’s the way it is for all of us. Bob Dylan talked about that 50 years ago."

For Belichick and his fellow coaches, Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” is a perfect theme song for the 2011 season.

Coaches must adjust to new rules as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, which means there are no more two-a-day practices, fewer full-pad practices and expanded training-camp rosters. And when it comes to Belichick’s New England Patriots club, which he leads for a 12th season, another year has brought unexpected change.

Few saw the acquisitions of controversial defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth and high-profile wide receiver Chad Ochocinco coming. Their arrivals made the start of 2011 training camp different from the norm in New England.

Usually the focus would be squarely on quarterback Tom Brady as camp opened, but in this unusual year, the NFL’s 2010 Most Valuable Player was on the back burner as he returned from January surgery on his right foot.

Indeed, things have changed.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeAlbert Haynesworth
Stew Milne/US PresswireWith a low price tag and modest salary, aquiring Albert Haynesworth was a low-risk move for the Patriots.
1. How does Haynesworth fit in? All eyes were on Haynesworth when he took the field for the first time July 31, and he didn’t disappoint.

The crowd cheered his arrival, which he acknowledged with a wave (almost like a baseball pitcher tipping his cap). Then he dominated a running drill. On the first play, he exploded through the line to blow up the play, which led to an eruption from the crowd. Haynesworth had a few other disruptive plays.

“It's going to be awesome. It's a refresher, and it kind of revived me, playing football again,” said Haynesworth, who was acquired for a fifth-round draft choice after two tumultuous seasons with the Redskins.

Haynesworth’s arrival could change the way the Patriots, who used a 3-4 alignment about 40 percent of the time last season, play defense. There have been more traditional four-man lines used in training camp, with linemen attacking more rather than controlling two gaps. Haynesworth would line up at tackle next to Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork in that type of plan.

The Patriots have managed Haynesworth’s health closely in camp, keeping him out of practice since Aug. 3. Although the reason Haynesworth is not practicing is not clear -- speculation is it’s simply maintenance of his troublesome knee -- Belichick doesn’t sound concerned.

"I think Albert has been great since he's been here,” he told WEEI sports radio Aug. 15. “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."

As for Haynesworth’s off-field issues, owner Robert Kraft explained how the organization developed a comfort level in acquiring him.

“I met with him, and I like the guy,” Kraft said. “He didn't come here for the money. He came here to be part of a team and win [and] I think in some ways to improve his reputation. So it's like a lot of meetings I have with these guys, I found him to be genuine and sincere. Now I hope he gets out on the field and does his thing.”

Haynesworth agreed to restructure his contract to consummate the trade. His new deal calls for him to earn a base salary of $1.5 million this season (he can earn more in incentives) before the salary spikes to $6.7 million in 2012. There was no signing bonus as part of the pact, making it a low-risk acquisition for the Patriots.

2. Will Ochocinco conform to the Patriot Way? On his first day on the practice field, Ochocinco tweeted, “It’s 1 thing to jump and be able to land on 2 feet but I had no idea I was landing in Heaven.”
He has quickly integrated himself into the mix, lining up in two-receiver packages with Wes Welker. Veteran Deion Branch joined the mix in three-wide looks.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady and Chad Ochocinco
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesChad Ochocinco is clearly still working on mastering the Patriots' offense.
Although there has been a higher-than-expected total of dropped passes, things have otherwise been smooth as Ochocinco has made the transition from Cincinnati to New England. The biggest challenges have been adjusting to offensive terminology that isn’t numbers-based (like the Bengals) and on-field communication with Brady through various signals.

“Once we’re on the field, there is no talking. I just look in his eyes and that’s it and that’s how we communicate,” said Ochocinco, who restructured his contract and received a $4.5 million signing bonus and base salaries of $1 million in 2011, $3 million in 2012 and $3 million in 2013. “That’s what I like about it here. [It’s] really, really cool.”

Patriots coaches and players have cited Ochocinco’s work ethic and passion for football on a daily basis, with some players laughing at the fun he has had off the field, which included attending a Red Sox/Yankees game and sitting in the front row along the third-base line, requesting a group hug from reporters and announcing that he would be living with a fan who had an Internet connection and Xbox for the first few weeks of the season.

In a classy move, second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez gave up his No. 85 for Ochocinco when the trade was consummated, the Patriots giving up fifth- and sixth-round draft choices in the move. Hernandez didn’t receive anything in return for the jersey swap, which set a positive tone.

3. Can Patriots get over playoff hump? Few would argue the Patriots aren’t top contenders for the Super Bowl. But those who don’t put them atop the list can make a strong case by pointing to their last three playoff games.

  • Feb. 3, 2008: Giants 17, Patriots 14. With the chance to close out their perfect season, the Patriots fall just short.
  • Jan. 10, 2010: Ravens 33, Patriots 14. A stunning home blowout in the wild-card round of the playoffs in which the Ravens stomped all over the Pats.
  • Jan. 16, 2011: Jets 28, Patriots 21. Having earned the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, the Patriots had a chance to bury the Jets early, but two first-quarter miscues halted the momentum. The Jets built confidence and stunned the Pats in the divisional round.

Simply put, the Patriots won’t be able to answer one of their biggest questions for at least five months.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Saying goodbye to veteran tight end Alge Crumpler. The Patriots were so pleased with the addition of Crumpler last season, and the role he played in mentoring 2010 draft picks Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez, they named him a captain a few weeks into the season.

Crumpler’s steadying presence in the locker room was considered key in righting one of the team’s trouble areas from 2009 -- a fractured locker room.

So it was surprising when the team released him a few days into training camp, turning the position over to Gronkowski (10 TDs in 2010), Hernandez and either rookie Lee Smith (fifth-round pick out of Marshall) or Will Yeatman (rookie free agent out of Maryland).

Crumpler played 53 percent of the offensive snaps last season, contributing mostly in the running game. Only three other offensive skill-position players were on the field more.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

[+] EnlargeRon Brace
AP Photo/Michael DwyerRon Brace hasn't been healthy enough in camp to seize a spot in the starting lineup.
It’s a tie between third-year defensive lineman Ron Brace and fifth-year safety Brandon Meriweather.

Brace is a 2009 second-round draft choice out of Boston College who is close to hitting a fork in the road of his NFL career.

For the second year in a row, he has opened camp on a reserve list, not ready to practice. With the team releasing longtime starter Ty Warren, the opportunity was there for Brace (6-foot-3, 330 pounds) to rise up the depth chart, but he hasn’t been able to seize the opportunity.

Meanwhile, the coaching staff seems to be sending a message to Meriweather, a two-time Pro Bowl safety. Meriweather played the entire first half of the preseason opener, even though the club’s other Pro Bowl players -- cornerback Devin McCourty, linebacker Jerod Mayo and Wilfork -- did not suit up for the game.

The team also offered free-agent safety Dashon Goldson a contract before Goldson re-signed with the 49ers, while Meriweather’s practice reps of late have been split with second-year player Sergio Brown.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Great competition at backup quarterback between third-year man Brian Hoyer and rookie Ryan Mallett (third round, 74th overall). Hoyer has been the No. 2 the last two seasons after making the club as a rookie free agent out of Michigan State, and he has solid command of the complex offense. Meanwhile, Mallett’s arm strength and work ethic are notable. He often stays late after practice, working with offensive assistant George Godsey on the finer points of the position (e.g., footwork).
  • It has been a common occurrence to see Mallett carrying the shoulder pads of Tom Brady and Hoyer off the field after practice. Some humble pie for the highly touted signal-caller from Arkansas.
  • Belichick gets involved in a drill in which the goal is for quarterbacks to maintain their concentration and perfect their footwork while under duress, and Belichick creates that duress by firing a blocking pad at them. Belichick has cranked Hoyer and Mallett in the head. No 15-yard penalties for that in practice.
  • A lot of defensive linemen in camp. Counting hybrids, the Patriots have 20 in camp entering their second preseason game, and Belichick acknowledged to Sirius XM NFL radio that the team will probably keep more defensive linemen than linebackers this year.
  • Second-round draft choices Ras-I Dowling (cornerback, 33rd overall) and Shane Vereen (running back, 56th overall) pulled up with hamstrings issues after just one practice, and they haven’t practiced since. Both signed contracts late -- this could be filed under the “lockout effect.” When Vereen was on the field, his speed stood out.
  • Second-year receiver Taylor Price, whose chance to break through for a top spot at receiver was made more challenging by the acquisition of Ochocinco, is stating his case. He has had a solid camp and was the star of the preseason opener (5 catches, 105 yards and a TD). He said his next step is developing the trust of Brady that he’ll always be in the right spot. Right now, he looks like a solid No. 4 option.
  • The Patriots struggled to generate a pass rush off the edge in 2010. Veteran defensive ends Mark Anderson and Andre Carter have been solid in that area to this point, providing what looks to be an upgrade over Tully Banta-Cain, who was released.
  • First-round draft choice Nate Solder, the team’s left tackle of the future, has responded well to his crash course since joining the team a week into camp. He’s big (6-foot-8, 319 pounds) and sometimes struggles with an inside move, but the potential is easy to see.
  • Veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden has turned in a solid camp as he returns after missing the entire 2010 season with a torn rotator cuff. A starter at right cornerback opposite McCourty, Bodden has worked in the slot in sub packages, a role he last played in 2007 with the Browns. Bodden’s size (6-foot-1, 193) is a good fit there from a run-support and jamming-receivers perspective.
  • Don’t expect All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins to get too comfortable now that he has signed a six-year, $51 million contract extension. He looks like his typical nasty self on the field, and his early-camp battles with Haynesworth were a highlight.
  • The Patriots had a minor scare when Gronkowski was helped off the field Aug. 8. But he returned a few days later and looks primed to build off his impressive rookie campaign.
  • Sixth-year kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the last half of the 2010 season with a torn right quadriceps muscle, but his recovery is on track. The right-footed kicker is not yet taking kickoffs -- UMass product Chris Koepplin is in camp to handle those duties -- but he looks strong on field goals. Gostkowski has hit from a long of 53 yards in practice and was good from 43 and 46 yards in the preseason opener.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 36, Bears 7

December, 12, 2010
12/12/10
7:13
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CHICAGO -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ stunning 36-7 blowout of the Bears at snowy, windy Soldier Field.

What it means: The Patriots improve to 11-2 and clinch a playoff spot, but this type of convincing effort figures to have analysts thinking about much more than just a playoff spot for this team. The Patriots, who had a 33-0 lead at halftime, look like a well-oiled machine capable of a Super Bowl run.

Impressive burst from Patriots over seven quarters: The Patriots have been on a tear since the fourth quarter of their Thanksgiving win over the Lions. From the fourth quarter of that game, through the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Bears, the Patriots outscored opponents 99-3.

Brady’s interception streak intact: Quarterback Tom Brady continues his remarkable stretch of error-free football. He has now gone eight games without an interception, his last pick coming Oct. 17 on a Hail Mary at the end of regulation against the Ravens. Brady had a few passes tipped the Bears almost intercepted. His MVP candidacy only grew stronger after this effort.

Guyton steps into Spikes’ role and delivers: With rookie inside linebacker Brandon Spikes serving the first game of his four-game suspension, Gary Guyton stepped into a full-time role and came up with two big plays -- a 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the second quarter and an interception in the third quarter.

McCourty the big injury to watch: Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, who has been impressive in locking down the left side and totaling six interceptions, left the game in the second quarter with a rib injury and did not return. The potential loss of McCourty would be a big blow to the Patriots, who have been dressing just three corners on game-day. In addition, defensive lineman Ron Brace (head) left the game in the third quarter and did not return.

Bears crash back to earth: Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher had said during the week that “We’re the best team, period.” They didn’t play like it on this day. The Bears were outclassed, with quarterback Jay Cutler turning into the “Cutler of old” with a mistake-filled performance while the defense was shredded by Brady and Co.

What’s next: The Patriots return home to face the Packers in a Sunday night game. Green Bay lost at Detroit and could be without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who left the game against the Lions with a concussion. It is Rodgers’ second concussion of the season.

Sights from Rams-Patriots observatory

August, 27, 2010
8/27/10
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Rob GronkowskiStew Milne/US PresswireRookie tight end Rob Gronkowski caught three passes for 66 yards and two scores Thursday night.
Some random thoughts from Thursday night, when the St. Louis Rams beat the New England Patriots 36-35 in Gillette Stadium ...

  • You can say Sam Bradford had a sensational night in his first NFL start, or you can be worried the rookie quarterback of a team that went 1-15 last year had his way against Bill Belichick's defense. The Patriots were undisciplined and seemed a little lost.
  • The Rams allowed 44 sacks last year, tied for seventh-most in the NFL. With four-fifths of the same offensive line and a rookie left tackle in front of Bradford, the Patriots' defense sacked him once and generally failed to create pressure.
  • New England was credited with three passes defensed. One of them belonged to nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
  • St. Louis' second-team offense, led by undrafted rookie quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, did this to New England's first-team defense to open the second half: 76 yards on 15 plays in 9:19. Lewis and Brandon Gibson connected for a 20-yard touchdown.
  • First-round draft pick Devin McCourty started at left cornerback and had a rough night. He struggled on run support and was beaten deep by Donnie Avery for 32 yards on the Rams' first drive. McCourty got scorched on what should have been a 27-yard Laurent Robinson touchdown at the end of the second quarter, but Bradford's throw carried Robinson out of bounds.
  • A bright spot for the defense was defensive lineman Ron Brace with seven tackles and a sack. He left the field with an undisclosed leg injury in the second half.
  • Rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski is going to be a fan favorite if he can A) stay healthy, and B) keep making the kinds of plays he made against the Rams. He caught three passes for 66 yards and two scores. On his 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter, he dragged James Laurinaitis the final 5 yards and lunged at the goal line. Gronkowski capped a long drive at the start of the fourth quarter by leaping to snare a Tom Brady dart from 20 yards away.
  • Wes Welker's return from reconstructive knee surgery took another positive step. He had two catches, one going for 39 yards to seemingly wake up the sleepwalking offense. But the psychological part of his recovery shouldn't be overlooked. Welker showed concern when Avery suffered a serious knee injury in the second quarter. Reminders are everywhere.
  • Flat is one thing, undisciplined is another. The Patriots committed nine penalties (two were declined) for 72 yards. The defense was culpable for most. Three Patriots were flagged for roughing the passer: Tully Banta-Cain, Brandon Spikes and Marques Murrell.
  • How did the Patriots score 35 points while maintaining possession for only 16:14? Brandon Tate returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown followed by four straight possessions with a combined one first-down conversion. Then they scored touchdowns on each of their next three series, totaling 20 plays.
  • That's why Brady and the first-teamers played into the fourth quarter. He finished 18 of 22 for 273 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
  • Brady's 65-yard bomb to Randy Moss sure looked pretty and got the Gillette Stadium crowd into the game, but you have to wonder if the Patriots' offense would have been better served with a drive. I don't think Belichick went into Thursday night with "Get Moss behind second-string safety Kevin Payne" on the Patriots' to-do list.
  • So here's what happened on the next series: At the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, New England went no huddle and traveled 98 yards on 10 plays, gaining five first downs before Brady found Gronkowski for a 20-yard touchdown. And it took them just 2:45.
  • Not sure what to make of running back Laurence Maroney not playing a down for the second straight game. Hard to say for sure, but looks like Belichick has booked him at Chateau Bow Wow. Belichick said it was related to time of possession. Regardless of the reason, no action two straight games is a bad sign for the fifth-year pro.
  • Sam Aiken is one of the most underappreciated players in the division. He's an adequate receiver who can help out the offense in a pinch, but he's a consistently solid special-teams performer, the kind of player every good team needs. He eliminated a Rams player on Tate's touchdown return and went across the middle for a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer in the fourth quarter.
  • The Patriots' offense probably would've had the ball longer if Belichick opted to go for it on fourth-and-inches from the 50-yard line midway through the first quarter. The TV showed Brady playfully mocking Belichick for punting. Against the Indianapolis Colts on "Sunday Night Football" is one thing. I guess Thursday night wasn't the right moment to be a renegade.
  • Forbes estimates the Patriots are worth $1.367 billion. Time to give the Gillette Stadium field some new paint. An on-the-spot official thought Rams tight end Fendi Onobun stepped out of bounds on what should have been a touchdown because the faded white sideline was undefined.

AFC East wire: Brown keeps focus on field

June, 1, 2010
6/01/10
11:11
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Buffalo Bills

Athletic safety Brett Johnson is hoping to make it with the Bills despite their depth at the position.

A pre-training camp look at the state of the Bills.

Miami Dolphins

Randy Starks is willing to change positions from end to nose tackle if it helps the team.

After having a fourth surgery on his left knee earlier this year, coach Tony Sparano decided to shed some weight and has already lost over 30 pounds.

Ronnie Brown says he isn't letting his unresolved contract situation bother him.

New England Patriots

Quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Randy Moss joined their Patriots teammates at voluntary organized team activities Tuesday.

Ron Brace chalks up his rookie-year struggles to poor technique and adjusting to the mental aspect of the NFL.

New York Jets

Rex Ryan counts receiver Braylon Edwards among his two most impressive players so far this offseason.

Your dot.com Ravens-Pats primer

January, 10, 2010
1/10/10
12:03
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CINCINNATI -- You'll notice that the word in all caps to the left doesn't look anything like FOXBOROUGH, Mass.

That means I'm not in Gillette Stadium for Sunday's playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. I was on the scene for the New York Jets' first-round victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

We'll see if the AFC East can go 2-0.

I'll be filing dispatches from my hotel on the bank of the Ohio River. But ESPN has a team of reporters in Gillette Stadium. Of course, you need monitor the updates and observations Mike Reiss and Chris Forsberg will be posting at ESPNBoston.com. Senior writer Len Pasquarelli will be writing on the Ravens-Patriots, too.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, you can join our live in-game chat. I will join Reiss, Forsberg and Scouts Inc. analyst Jeremy Green.

Here are the inactives from Foxborough, dispatched via Cincinnati:

Baltimore Ravens

New England Patriots

AFC East draft rewind

December, 23, 2009
12/23/09
3:00
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NFC Draft Rewind: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft class lists: Buffalo | Miami | N.Y. Jets | New England

Examining the draft classes of each division team:

Buffalo Bills

Byrd
Curses: The Bills declined to replace two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters through the draft and tabbed Penn State pass-rusher Aaron Maybin instead with the No. 11 selection. Sure, it was an area of need, but not for a project. The undersized Maybin hasn't started a game and has made eight solo tackles with zero sacks. Meanwhile, the Bills could've had Michael Oher.

Hallelujah: Because of the dire offensive line situation, most Bills fans were focused on their two first-round picks (Maybin and guard Eric Wood) and second second-round pick (guard Andy Levitre). Overlooked was their first second-round choice. Safety Jairus Byrd turned out to have the greatest impact of all. He has started 11 games and leads the NFL with nine interceptions. Byrd's season ended Wednesday when the Bills placed him on IR.

Tough break: Wood showed why the Bills grabbed him with the 28th pick, starting at right guard from opening night. But he suffered a grotesque broken leg in Week 11 and will be lucky if he's ready for the 2010 opener.

Miami Dolphins

White
Corners covered: At the end of the season, barring injury, the Dolphins will have a pair of cornerbacks who started 25 NFL games between them as rookies. Sean Smith, the 61st overall pick, won the right-side job in training camp. Vontae Davis, the 25th pick, assumed the left side when top veteran Will Allen went down for the year. Davis and Smith have been beaten plenty of times, but they've also shown they're skilled enough to handle those jobs for a while.

What was the point? The decision to draft scrambling quarterback Pat White with the 44th selection hasn't panned out. White was identified as a player who could thrive in the Wildcat offense. White has played in 11 games, but doesn't have a completion. He has rushed 16 times for 54 yards and no touchdowns.

On the milk carton: Miami drafted tall receiver Patrick Turner in the third round with hopes he would be an attractive third-down and red zone target. He was Mark Sanchez's go-to guy at Southern California, but has dressed for only two NFL games. Turner doesn't have a reception yet.

New England Patriots

Vollmer
Not much to show: The Patriots traded out of the first round. Their first three picks -- all second-rounders -- haven't done much. Safety Pat Chung, nose tackle Ron Brace and cornerback Darius Butler have six starts among them, with Butler making four.

Pleasant surprise: Their last second-round pick, offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, has been the best player of New England's draft class. The native of Germany generally was viewed as a reach, but he has started six games, filling in capably for Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Light. Vollmer was given the most credit for holding last year's AFC sack king, Joey Porter, without a tackle in Week 9.

Rolling the dice: The Patriots made a surprising pick in the third round, tabbing receiver and return specialist Brandon Tate, who still was recovering from a blown-out knee at the time. Tate was electrifying at North Carolina, but he wasn't healthy enough to play for New England until Week 7. He hurt his knee again and was placed on injured reserve after two games.

New York Jets

Sanchez
The first guy: The success of the 2009 draft will hinge on whether Sanchez develops into a franchise quarterback. Not only was Sanchez the fifth overall choice, but the Jets' entire class was three players. Sanchez's erratic performances -- four games with at least three interceptions -- will keep the Jets out of the playoffs. But the experience Sanchez gained as the starter could be worth it down the road.

The second guy: The Jets traded up to snag Shonn Greene, too. They called the Doak Walker Award winner the first pick of the draft's second day. Greene is a power runner expected to take over when Thomas Jones' tread wears thin. Greene has had fumble trouble, but he is averaging 4.8 yards a carry.

The third (and last) guy: Guard Matt Slauson was a sixth-round project who wasn't expected to contribute much this year. The Jets have one of the NFL's better offensive lines, a veteran unit that doesn't seem to get hurt. Slauson has played in three games.

Trent Edwards goes in, down and out

December, 20, 2009
12/20/09
8:25
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The sequence nicely sums up the Buffalo Bills' year. It probably sums up the past few seasons.

Edwards
Edwards
With 13:14 left in Sunday's game and the Bills trailing the New England Patriots 17-3, a request was made of Trent Edwards to save the day.

The Bills' quarterback, banished to the sideline a month before, was going to get a shot. Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn't getting it done. Interim coach Perry Fewell went to the bullpen.

  • First and 10 at the Bills' 40-yard line: Edwards drops back to pass and gets mauled by Gary Guyton for a 10-yard sack. A facemask by Patriots defensive tackle Ron Brace gives the Bills a first down.
  • First and 10 at the Bills' 45-yard line: Edwards completes a pass to tight end Shawn Nelson for minus-1 yard.
  • Second and 11 at the Bills' 44-yard line: Edwards underthrows slot receiver Josh Reed.
  • Third and 11 at the Bills' 44-yard line: Edwards sacked by Tully Banta-Cain for a loss of 9 yards and suffers an ankle injury. He's done for the day.

Greetings from Land Shark Stadium

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
12:08
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MIAMI -- After a couple days of rain and a chilly night that felt more like Delaware than South Florida, the weather is gorgeous about 90 minutes before Sunday's kickoff in Land Shark Stadium.

The field is awash in sunlight. The forecasted high temperature is 76 degrees.

Big game between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. I still think the Patriots are the class of the division by a significant margin, but if the Dolphins can score an upset, then they and the New York Jets will be only one game behind the Patriots with four to play.

Buzz in the press box is about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's finger. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the injury, announced Friday by the Patriots, isn't bad enough to keep Brady from starting.

But there's skepticism over the injury, especially with the way Monday night's game in New Orleans unfolded. Brady threw two interceptions and was pulled from the game with 5:26 to play. His removal was Bill Belichick throwing in the white towel, but now folks are speculating Brady might've been hurt back then.

The entire inactive list for each team:

New England Patriots

Miami Dolphins

Light, Morris back, Edelman third QB

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
7:43
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NEW ORLEANS -- The New England Patriots also have some interesting scratches for Monday night's game in the Superdome.

Left tackle Matt Light will play tonight after missing five games games with a knee injury, but rookie Sebastian Vollmer, who was playing very well in Light's absence, is out. He suffered a head injury in last week's victory over the New York Jets.

Running back Sammy Morris also returns to help out Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk in the backfield. He sat out four games with a knee injury.

Linebacker Junior Seau has been deactivated for the first time since signing with the Patriots.

Rookie slot receiver Julian Edelman will dress, but as the third quarterback. That means he cannot step on the field until the fourth quarter without disqualifying quarterbacks Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer for the rest of the game. Edelman played quarterback at Kent State before the Patriots converted him.

The Patriots' total inactive list as follows:

Thomas not among Patriots-Buccaneers inactives

October, 25, 2009
10/25/09
12:12
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

In a double-decker bus, we bring you the inactives for Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Wembley Stadium.

You'll notice linebacker Adalius Thomas isn't on the list for a second straight week, and you'll also see a change of scenery didn't get former Miami Dolphins guard Shawn Murphy in pads for his first NFL game. Tampa Bay's Pro Bowl return man, Clifton Smith, is out after taking that cheap shot from Carolina's Dante Wesley last week.

New England Patriots
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Thomas, Galloway out, Seau in for Patriots

October, 18, 2009
10/18/09
3:36
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The New England Patriots made an interesting decision on their inactive list for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium.

Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas is out even though he didn't appear on the Patriots' injury report all week. As ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss explains, the Patriots likely will operate out of a 4-3 base.

The Patriots are dressing 40-year-old linebacker Junior Seau.

Receiver Joey Galloway has been scratched for a third straight game.

Here are the complete inactive lists for the game:

Tennessee Titans
New England Patriots

Greetings from Gillette Stadium

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
11:57
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


FOXBOUROUGH, Mass. -- It's going to be around 70 degrees, damp and overcast here in Gillette Stadium, where the Baltimore Ravens will play the New England Patriots in the most fascinating game of the day, as far as I'm concerned.

With all respect to the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints in the Superdome, what happens Sunday afternoon in New England will resonate more loudly in the AFC.

The Patriots have some notable inactive news.

Receiver Wes Welker and nose tackle Vince Wilfork will play, but beleaguered receiver Joey Galloway will watch in street clothes.

This will be the first game with Welker and rookie Julian Edelman on the field together. I've been looking forward to seeing how they operate together.

Also out for the Patriots: Scratched for the Ravens:

Patriots fortify D-line with Sands

September, 28, 2009
9/28/09
7:58
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

 
 AP Photo/Stephan Savoia
 The Patriots made a move to bolster the defensive line after losing Vince Wilfork.

Boston Herald reporter Ian R. Rapoport wrote Monday afternoon that New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork's sprained left ankle wasn't considered serious.

An unnamed source familiar with the injury told Rapoport it's "not expected to be long-term," but the Patriots made a roster move apparently in response to Wilfork's condition and a minor shoulder injury to defensive lineman Mike Wright.

The Patriots signed free agent defensive tackle Terdell Sands. The Oakland Raiders made the 6-foot-7, 335-pound behemoth a late cut after five-plus ordinary seasons. The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Sands in the seventh round in 2001. He also played one game for the Green Bay Packers.

Don't expect Sands to supplant any defensive linemen previously on the roster. As AFC West blogger Bill Williamson notes, Sands was a disappointment in Oakland, making only a dozen starts and registering the only four sacks of his career.

Rookies Myron Pryor and Ron Brace likely will help Wright fill the considerable void if Wilfork can't play in Sunday's intriguing matchup with the Baltimore Ravens in Gillette Stadium.

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