Picked-up Patriots pieces around Web

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
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A few picked-up New England Patriots pieces from around the Web:

Patriots among the best QB situations. After the Patriots selected Jimmy Garoppolo in the late second round (62nd overall), Patriots coach Bill Belichick spoke of the team's overall quarterback depth chart of Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett and Garoppolo and said, "We feel like we have a good quarterback situation. I think there are a lot of teams in the league that maybe don’t feel that good about that position, and that’s not a good position to not feel good about. We feel very good about the players we have at that spot." Belichick's remarks are revisited today as Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth is in agreement, assessing the Patriots as the fourth-best overall QB situation in the NFL. (Extra points: Tanier's review on the Patriots from late June, which we missed, as well as the Patriots showing up among the top special-teams units in the NFL.)

Revis and the best cover corners. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com shares his opinion on the best cover corners in the NFL, and he puts Darrelle Revis third behind Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson. "When healthy and allowed to snuff out receivers in man coverage, he remains a highly difficult defender to shake -- which is why he could re-emerge as the No. 1 guy on this list after arriving in New England," Brooks writes.

New England as a dominant defense. Will the Patriots be a top-5 defense in 2014? Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News has them on the cusp at No. 6. The Patriots' offense has the same No. 6 ranking from Iyer.

Rookies report July 20; veterans July 23. In a reminder that football is right around the corner, the NFL distributed a list of each team's reporting dates and where training camps are held. Patriots rookies report July 20, while veterans are due July 23. The Patriots, of course, train at their home facility at Gillette Stadium.

Notable developments while on vacation

July, 14, 2014
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Notable developments with a Patriots-based twist that took place during our two-week vacation:

Aaron Dobson hosts football camp, cites progress with foot. The second-year Patriots receiver held a football camp for youngsters in North Andover, Massachusetts, the week of July 7 and said his left foot continues to get better after undergoing surgery in early March for a stress fracture. Dobson was non-committal when asked if he would be ready for the start of training camp July 24, not wanting to put a timeline on his return. But it would be a disappointment if he’s not on the field close to that date.

Dion Jordan suspended for the first four games. The Dolphins’ 2013 first-round pick (No. 3 overall) has been ruled out of the season-opener against New England after the NFL handed him a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substances policy. Jordan hasn’t met expectations entering his second season, and is projected as a sub rusher behind Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. But nonetheless, it’s one less worry for the Patriots in the Sept. 7 season-opener in South Florida.

Kiko Alonso out for the year with torn ACL. The second-year linebacker, who is to the Buffalo Bills what Jerod Mayo is to the Patriots in terms of being a three-down player who keeps everything together, tore his ACL while working out and won’t play this season after being placed on injured-reserve. That’s a big blow to one of the Patriots’ divisional rivals.

For those dreaming of Andre Johnson. While the veteran receiver would reportedly like a trade, and New England would be an attractive destination, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle writes that the Texans don’t plan on trading him.

Other suspensions for early-season foes. Offensive lineman Rokevious Watkins, who was competing for a reserve role on the Chiefs’ offensive line after playing in three games (1 start at left guard) for Kansas City last season, was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The Patriots visit the Chiefs in Week 4. ... Vikings defensive end Spencer Nealy, who was competing for a reserve role in Minnesota (Week 2 foe for Patriots), was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Brady finishes third in NFL Network “Top 100” player poll. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady landed in the third spot in NFL Network’s annual “Top 100” player poll. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was No. 1. Brady fared better in ESPN.com Insider's rankings.

Extra points. Congrats to Patriots beat reporter Nick Underhill of MassLive.com, who is moving on to cover the New Orleans Saints for The Advocate. … Thoughts on the connection between Wes Welker, Jon Lester and a flip-flopping talk-show host -- come on, man! … The weekly Patriots mailbag returns Tuesday, July 15 and our next Patriots chat is scheduled for Thursday, July 17. Looking forward to catching up then.

Status check on Patriots' sophomores

July, 13, 2014
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(Editor's note: With Mike Reiss on vacation, he filed a "status check" on the Patriots' seven draft picks from 2013 -- plus four -- to run in place of the regular quick-hit thoughts feature.)

LB Jamie Collins (2nd round, 52nd overall) -- After being brought along slowly in the 2013 regular season, playing 25.8 percent of the defensive snaps, he's now in position to become a rare three-down player in the team's system. Expectations have been raised after his breakout playoff performance against the Colts, and he has star potential. But as Bill Parcells might say, "Let's not get the bust ready in Canton just yet."

[+] EnlargeLogan Ryan
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesLogan Ryan seems to be carrying over his impressive rookie performance in 2013 to offseason workouts.
WR Aaron Dobson (2nd round, 59th overall) -- He underwent surgery on his left foot for a stress fracture in early March and, as expected, missed all practices in the spring. It would be a surprise and disappointment if he's not ready for the start of training camp, as he's the type of outside receiver (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) who can help balance out the attack playing alongside Julian Edelman (5-11, 198) and Danny Amendola (5-11, 195) in the three-receiver package. It will be interesting to compare and contrast his Year 2 jump with Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton, who was a player we liked for the Patriots coming out of last year's draft.

CB Logan Ryan (3rd round, 83rd overall) -- Praised for his smarts by veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis, Ryan took mostly second-team reps in spring camps behind Revis and free-agent signing Brandon Browner. His ball skills produced a team-leading five interceptions last season and he'd probably be the starter opposite Revis if the season started today and Browner was serving his four-game suspension.

S Duron Harmon (3rd round, 91st overall) -- After playing 36.9 percent of the defensive snaps in his rookie season, he's the leading candidate to assume more of a full-time role at safety next to Devin McCourty. He started two of the biggest games last season -- at Carolina and home against Denver -- and the game didn't seem too big for him. He's a heady player with a good understanding of the scheme who hopes to improve his consistency when it comes to tackling.

WR Josh Boyce (4th round, 102nd overall) -- The speedster who had entered the draft after his junior season projects as a top kickoff returner and had built momentum in spring camps as a receiver (likely No. 4-5 option) prior to tweaking his knee on June 18 and being held out of the team's final practice. The status of his injury and availability for the first day of training camp warrants a follow-up.

DE Michael Buchanan (7th round, 226th overall) -- After opening last season as the team's nickel rusher and struggling to maintain discipline in his rush lanes at times, Buchanan hopes to prove he is worthy of the role again in his second season. It will be easier to prove that in full-pad practices in training camp, but at the least, Buchanan has a good chance to stick because of his contributions on special teams. Most importantly for him, he was a full participant in all 13 spring practices and has seemingly built as much momentum as possible.

LB Steve Beauharnais (7th round, 235th overall) -- Described as a film junkie by teammate Dont'a Hightower, Beauharnais has been seen leading the defensive huddle when starter Jerod Mayo heads to the sideline in practice. He played in just two games last season and remains a bit of an unknown in the team's competitive battle for backup linebacker roster spots.

[+] EnlargeKenbrell Thompkins
AP Photo/Michael DwyerThe Patriots have a lot of wide receiver options, but Kenbrell Thompkins is as viable a candidate as any.
G Josh Kline (undrafted) -- One thing that caught the eye in spring practices was Kline stepping in for starter Logan Mankins at left guard, which seemed to reflect how he's viewed by the coaching staff. He came up big in the late-season win over the Ravens that clinched the AFC East title and could be in position to elevate to a top backup role.

WR Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted) -- He was one of the team's more consistent receivers in spring camps, generating momentum heading into training camp as a potential complement to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in the three-receiver set. One thing that stands out is how he competes for the ball in 50-50 type situations. Some have wondered if he might be the odd-man-out on a pretty deep receiver depth chart, but it's hard to imagine that happening.

P Ryan Allen (undrafted) -- After winning the job last year, he doesn't have a punter challenging him in camp. One area of potential improvement is control, as his 12 touchbacks were a league-high.

DL Chris Jones (waivers) -- Led all Patriots defensive linemen in snaps played last year, and is at his best penetrating gaps as a pass-rusher.

DT Joe Vellano (undrafted) -- The type of hard-working player who fits any team, he was thrust into a top role at times last season because of injuries to others and competed his tail off. With increased competition this year, he could be challenged to stick on the roster.

Checking the locks: How many open spots?

July, 12, 2014
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As part of this slow time on the NFL calendar, when we'll be taking a break to recharge for the 2014 season, we introduced the pre-produced "checking the locks" series in which we analyzed the players on the Patriots' roster who are "locks" to stick. Today is the final entry of the series, which recaps the "locks" to account for how many open spots are there for the taking:

OFFENSE

Sure-fire locks (15)
QB Tom Brady
QB Jimmy Garoppolo
RB Shane Vereen
RB James White
WR Julian Edelman
WR Aaron Dobson
TE Rob Gronkowski
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
LT Nate Solder
LG Logan Mankins
RT Sebastian Vollmer
OT Marcus Cannon
C Bryan Stork
G Jon Halapio
OT Cameron Fleming

Near locks (9)
QB Ryan Mallett
RB Stevan Ridley
RB Brandon Bolden
WR Kenbrell Thompkins
WR Josh Boyce
WR Brandon LaFell
WR Danny Amendola
FB James Develin
G Josh Kline

Quick-hit thoughts: With 24 offensive players falling into the category of lock or near-lock, it highlights how there aren't too many major roster-based questions at this time. An injury can always change the picture, as can a standout performance from an undrafted player who isn't currently on the radar.

DEFENSE

Sure-fire locks (16)
DT Vince Wilfork
DT Dominique Easley
DT Chris Jones
DE Chandler Jones
DE Rob Ninkovich
DE Zach Moore
LB Jerod Mayo
LB Dont'a Hightower
LB Jamie Collins
CB Darrelle Revis
CB Brandon Browner
CB Kyle Arrington
CB Alfonzo Dennard
CB Logan Ryan
S Devin McCourty
S Duron Harmon

Near locks (6)
DT Sealver Siliga
DT Tommy Kelly
DE Will Smith
DE Michael Buchanan
S Nate Ebner
S Jemea Thomas

Quick-hit thoughts: With 22 defenders falling into the category of "sure-fire lock" or "near lock," it is similar to the offense in the sense that most of the roster seems pretty well set. The backup linebacker spot is one area that seems to have the most possible outcomes, which brings the defensive numbers down a bit.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Sure-fire locks: K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, captain Matthew Slater

Quick-hit thoughts: Not much drama in this area, which is unlike 2013, when Allen successfully challenged incumbent Zoltan Mesko.

Overall, there were 49 players across the roster placed in the "sure-fire lock" or "near lock" categories, and all teams will carry a 53-man roster. If everyone's healthy, it provides a snapshot of the odds facing some of those players who are in the "trying to get in the door" category of this series.

Patriots' top play winner: 'Snow Bowl' kick

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
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Adam VinatieriAP Photo/Michael Dwyer
Score: Patriots 16, Raiders 13 (OT)
Date: Jan. 19, 2002 Site: Foxboro Stadium

The voting is complete for the top play in Patriots history, and I'm in agreement with the majority. My vote is also for Adam Vinatieri's "Snow Bowl" kick.

Here are a few thoughts from this viewpoint:

I kept coming back to the 2001 season throughout the process of this "top play/memorable moment" project and felt that my choice would come from that year because of what it meant to the franchise.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Patriots' history?

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    43%
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    46%
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    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 47,087)

Would it be Drew Bledsoe getting knocked out by Mo Lewis, opening the door for Tom Brady? Adam Vinatieri's "Snow Bowl" kick? The tuck rule play in which Patriots followers will always thank referee Walt Coleman for his knowledge of the rule book? Vinatieri's game-winning kick in Super Bowl XXXVI? Ty Law's interception return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl?

I even considered the Patriots coming out for Super Bowl XXXVI as a team, passing on individual introductions, as a possible "top play/memorable moment" because it was such a powerful statement and captured a big part of the franchise's unexpected run to its first title.

There are many other top plays from other years -- a personal favorite was the record-setting long touchdown pass from Brady to Randy Moss in the 2007 regular-season finale to cap an undefeated regular season -- but '01 trumped them all to me.

Vinatieri's kick just might be the best, most clutch, toughest field goal in the history of this great game.

Checking the locks: Patriots safeties

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
5:00
AM ET
As part of this slow time on the NFL calendar, when we'll be taking a break to recharge for the 2014 season, we introduce the pre-produced "checking the locks" series in which we analyze the players on the Patriots' roster who are "locks" to stick. Today, it's safeties.

[+] EnlargeHarmon
AP Photo/Jim MahoneyDuron Harmon played in more than one-third of the Patriots' defensive snaps in 2013, and that figures to increase in 2014.
Sure-fire locks: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon

Near locks: Nate Ebner, Jemea Thomas

Trying to get in the door: Tavon Wilson, Patrick Chung, Kanorris Davis, Shamiel Gary

Analysis: With the Patriots releasing veteran starter Steve Gregory in late February, it opened up a top role on the depth chart next to McCourty, and 2013 third-round pick Harmon is the leading candidate to fill it. Harmon served as the No. 3 safety last year, making three starts and playing on 36.9 percent of the defensive snaps during the course of the season. Special teams figures to play a significant role in which players earn the backup spots, and third-year player Ebner was working as the personal protector on the punt team in spring practices, which is a key role. Depending on how many safeties the Patriots keep, 2012 second-round pick Wilson could be on the outside looking in after his defensive plays dipped from 42.5 percent as a rookie to 1.6 percent in 2013.
video

John Clayton predicts this season could be the biggest year for tight end production.

Patriots' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
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When projecting the success of the New England Patriots over the next three years, which ties into ESPN Insider’s Future Power Rankings, it brings us back to the hot-button issue that set off some fireworks when the club used a late second-round draft pick (No. 62) to select quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo:

Brady
How many more years will Tom Brady still be playing at a high level?

Brady turns 37 on Aug. 3 and wants to play into his 40s. The Patriots hope that is the case, but as evidenced by the selection of Garoppolo, they are also planning for the possibility it isn’t. That’s smart business.

At the same time, we'll follow up with another question: Anyone here willing to bet against Brady?

This reporter isn’t. Those who watched all or some of the Patriots’ 13 spring practices would be hard-pressed to say anything looked different with Brady, whose arm strength still looks to be top-notch. He keeps himself in tiptop shape and still carries a sixth-round-draft-pick chip on his shoulder.

As long as Brady is still playing at a high level over the next three years, the Patriots have the often-elusive piece to make them a contender.

NFL Nation Buzz: Patriots' top plays

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
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video 
ESPN.com New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discusses the finalists for the team’s most memorable plays.
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In a groundbreaking decision, the NFL has confirmed that arbitrator Stephen Burbank denied me request to officially be declared a wide receiver under the NFL's franchise-tag rules.

Although I lined up either in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of his snaps last year, Burbank agreed with the New Orleans Saints and the NFL Management Council, who argued that the tight end position has always involved a combination of splitting out wide to run pass routes and staying in to block -- especially in today's modern passing offenses.

I and the NFL Players Association can appeal the decision within 10 days to a three-member appeals panel.

In the meantime, the Saints will not have to increase their one-year tender offer of $7.053 million to Jimmy Graham. The receiver tender would have cost them $12.132 million.

More important, with the franchise grievance nearing a conclusion, the two sides can now focus on setting their own value for Graham in long-term contract talks.

The deadline for signing long-term deals with franchised players is July 15.

"The NFLPA will review with Jimmy Graham the decision from Arbitrator Stephen Burbank which permits the player to be designated as a tight end for Franchise Tag purposes. We will advise Graham of his options and carefully determine next steps in this matter," the NFLPA said in a statement. "We will also continue to assist Graham and his representation as necessary to help the player reach a fair long-term deal with the New Orleans Saints."

Super awesome Jimmy Graham is a tight end after all.


(Read full post)


Checking the locks: Patriots' CBs

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
5:00
AM ET
As part of this slow time on the NFL calendar, when we'll be taking a break to recharge for the 2014 season, we introduce the pre-produced "checking the locks" series in which we analyze the players on the Patriots' roster who are "locks" to stick. Today, it's cornerbacks.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Browner
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesBrandon Browner will be suspended for the first four games of the season, likely giving another defensive back a chance to make the roster.
Sure-fire locks: Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan

Trying to get in the door: Justin Green, Dax Swanson, Malcolm Butler, Travis Hawkins

Analysis: This is one of the most clear-cut positions on the Patriots' roster, in part because of the team's aggressive free-agent approach with Revis and Browner. They are the projected starters and their ability to play effective press coverage at the line of scrimmage could be a major factor in improving the team's third-down defense (26th in the NFL last year). With Arrington the top option in the slot and Dennard and Ryan with 23 regular-season starts between them, that's some quality depth. One factor to consider: Browner is suspended for the first four games of the regular season and won't count against the initial 53-man roster. That could potentially create an early-season opening for one of the younger corners to sneak onto the initial roster. Of that group, Green showed he was competitive in limited action in 2013, and Swanson, Butler and Hawkins all had notable pass-breakups in spring camps. This position looks to be in good shape, assuming Dennard comes back from reported offseason shoulder surgery.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has long maintained that the offseason between a player's rookie and sophomore season is among the most critical of his career.

We've seen Patriots make major strides from Year 1 to Year 2 of late, including defensive end Chandler Jones and running back Stevan Ridley.

Collins
Their progress puts players entering Year 2 in New England under the microscope; perhaps none more so than linebacker Jamie Collins, who made significant strides late last season.

Collins lands at No. 5 on NFL.com's Around the League blog in their "Making the Leap" series, a countdown of 25 players in total.

Gregg Rosenthal, who pens the piece, captures Collins' uniqueness succinctly in his lede:
"Jamie Collins is a cornerback trapped in a 250-pound body. While most linebackers are forced into pass coverage duties, Collins looks at home on an island."


As Rosenthal notes, Collins' role should blossom this season, as he played just 302 defensive snaps in 2013. With that number expected to increase dramatically, so too will expectations.

Just how high will expectations increase?

"Collins' ceiling would be to emerge as the AFC's answer to Lavonte David and Thomas Davis," Rosenthal writes. "In an era of multiple defenses and pass-catching tight ends, every team is looking for hybrids at linebacker. The Patriots found a good one."

Hard to argue with that assessment.

Hernandez judge sets 2nd hearing

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
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At a hearing Wednesday to determine whether the New England Patriots could be compelled to hand over Aaron Hernandez's medical records, Judge Raymond Veary said that scouting/combine reports on the former tight end are relevant, but whether the defense gets them won't be determined until another hearing on July 22.

Hernandez's attorney argued that the Patriots withheld Hernandez's psychological assessment as well as medical and scouting records, adding that his "state of mind" is critical to his defense.

"Everyone in this world knows your client's state of mind is an issue in this case," Judge Veary said.

The Patriots say they'll turn over hundreds of pages of medical and other records to lawyers for Hernandez but object to producing scouting reports and a psychological profile.

Patriots attorney Andrew Phelan said Wednesday the team has agreed to produce 317 pages of materials sought by Hernandez's defense attorneys. But Phelan says scouting reports are proprietary and irrelevant. He says the team has offered lawyers the option of reviewing the psychological assessment at its office.

Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to murder in the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée. Two of his associates have also been charged with murder. Hernandez has also pleaded not guilty in a second case in which he is charged with killing two men in Boston in 2012. He's being held without bail.

After Wednesday's hearing, Hernandez was transferred from the Bristol County House of Corrections to the Suffolk County Jail in Boston so that he could be closer to his lawyers.

Hernandez likely will be moved back to Bristol County when he goes on trial on the first of the three murder charges, for the killing of Lloyd.


(Read full post)


Patriots' ticket theme: 20 years as one

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
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(Disclaimer: We don't want to ruin the surprise for New England Patriots season-ticket holders who value the process of receiving their annual package that includes a new theme each year. So for those who haven't received tickets yet, and prefer a surprise, you should stop reading here.)

Some Patriots' season-ticket holders have received their annual package and the theme this year is "20 years as one" -- a reflection on some of the great moments from Robert Kraft and his family's 20 years of ownership.

Each ticket has a photo that captures some of the more meaningful moments of the past 20 years, with a tie-in to each regular-season opponent, and this is the rundown:

Preseason:
Eagles -- Bill Belichick introduced as head coach (1/27/00).
Panthers -- Tom Brady drafted in the sixth round (4/16/00).

[+] EnlargePatriots ticket
ESPNBoston.com
Regular season:
Raiders -- Adam Vinatieri's "Snow Bowl" kick against Oakland in AFC Divisional Round (1/19/02).
Bengals -- Kevin Faulk scores a TD in a 35-28 win against Cincinnati to clinch a playoff spot (12/12/04).
Jets -- Ty Law (pictured, at right) returning INT 38 yards for a TD in 38-10 win against New York Jets; the first of Law's seven INTs returned for a TD (12/8/96).
Bears -- Tom Brady fakes out LB Brian Urlacher on a third-down scramble in a 17-13 win against Chicago (11/26/06).
Broncos -- Julian Edelman dives over the goal-line for a TD in Patriots' 34-31 comeback win against Denver (11/24/13).
Lions -- Corey Dillon scores 3 TDs as the Patriots overcome an 8-point fourth-quarter deficit to post a 28-21 win against Detroit (12/3/06).
Dolphins -- Fans throwing snow in the air during a 12-0 win over Miami after 16 inches of snow blanketed the region the morning of the game (12/7/03).
Bills -- David Givens goes up for a catch in a season-ending 31-0 win against Buffalo that avenges a 31-0 loss to the Bills in the season opener (12/27/03).
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Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith discuss KC Joyner's article that says the Patriots will have a better secondary than the Seahawks in 2014.

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