New England Patriots: Dane Fletcher

A few leftover pieces of Patriots mail

March, 19, 2014
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A few leftover pieces of New England Patriots mail from Tuesday's mailbag...

Chris (Washington DC): Hey Mike, the TE position has always been one that has been one of Tom Brady's favorite targets. From Christian Fauria, to Ben Watson, to Gronk and Hernandez. I know they re-signed Michael Hoomanawanui but is he enough? Do the Patriots trust that he will be reliable this season as the full time starter for most if not all of the season? Or do you think this will be something they address to get help in the draft and or free agency?

Chris, I think the Patriots are happy to have Hoomanawanui back as he's proven to be a reliable, team-first player. But I also believe they aren't done addressing the position. There are currently three tight ends on the roster -- Rob Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams -- and I would anticipate at least two more added by the time training camp begins in late July. We're looking at a partial snapshot right now.



Tom C. (North andover ma): Hey Mike, I was very disappointed at the loss of Dane Fletcher. His special teams efforts were significant but I always liked what I saw of him when he played. Fletcher just always seemed to show up and make plays. He only went to Tampa on a one-year deal. Why weren't the Patriots more interested in keeping him?

Tom, my educated guess would be economics, as perhaps the Patriots view Fletcher as more of a pure core special teamer, and paying a salary north of $1 million for that might not represent the best value to them when you can have a younger player at more than half the cost. Also, sometimes it's more the player's choice to seek a fresh start, which is something to keep in mind as well. I'm going to be interested to watch how that unfolds because Fletcher is going to a much different defensive system under Lovie Smith than what the Patriots play under Bill Belichick. Maybe it turns out to be a better fit for him.



Benjamin (Concord, MA): Hi Mike, with the Patriots taking such an uncanny aggressive offseason approach this offseason,wouldn't it be fair to expect the team to perhaps move up in the draft for some "real" talent. If so, who could you envision them trading up for?

Benjamin, I see it a little bit differently in terms of the "aggressiveness." Obviously, the Darrelle Revis signing was a big one, and that is unusual, but I think it was more about capitalizing on an unexpected opportunity than a specific philosophical change in approach. With this in mind, I wouldn't expect anything different in the team's draft approach. If the right players are there and there is an opportunity to move up (e.g. Chandler Jones/Dont'a Hightower in 2012), I think they'll do it. If the better play is to trade back in a 4-picks-for-1-pick scenario (similar to last year), I think they'd do that, too. It's all about seizing the opportunities that present themselves.



John (Honolulu): Hi Mike, last year the [Patriots] picked up Armond Armstead from the CFL and after missing last season, he will be back in 2014. While maybe better suited for the interior of the defense, do you think he gets a look at possibly defensive end? We know that Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones need a breather now and then.

John, I had specifically asked Bill Belichick that question last year, about the possibility of Armstead as an end-of-the-line player and he dismissed it by noting Armstead is 295 pounds and more suited for the interior.



Josh (Reading/PA): Hi Mike, obviously things are fluid right now, but is it possible to get a sense of how much more room the Pats have under the salary cap now that they've signed/re-signed Hoomanawanui, Revis, Browner, LaFell, Edelman, and Co? I know it may be hard to say, what with pending potential releases/restructures with Vince and A. Wilson, but is it still reasonable to think that we can still keep Blount and Wendell while bringing a veteran pass-rusher aboard?

Josh, a conservative estimate is around $7 million of cap space. I still think Blount has a good chance of being back. My take on Ryan Wendell is that they would welcome him back at lower financial levels with the hope of adding competition at the position.

Dane Fletcher reaches deal with Bucs

March, 16, 2014
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with former Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher, the team announced on Sunday.

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

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

New Bucs GM Jason Licht was a member of the Patriots' personnel department when Fletcher was signed as an undrafted free agent.

Dane Fletcher's departure thins LB depth

March, 16, 2014
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In a matter of 48 hours, a pair of the Patriots' top five linebackers from the 2013 season have signed elsewhere, as Brandon Spikes (Buffalo) and Dane Fletcher (Tampa Bay) have moved on.

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

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

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

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

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

Dane Fletcher to visit Raiders

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

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

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

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

Patriots may be willing to wait out Edelman

March, 11, 2014
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The initial hours of NFL free agency produced the expected frenzy, and the New England Patriots, as they often do, remained on the sidelines. If recent history is any indication, things should now start picking up, with a surprise or two along the way.

The biggest takeaways from the day:

All quiet surrounding Aqib Talib ... until Denver pounced. With top cornerbacks Brent Grimes (Dolphins), Sam Shields (Packers) and Vontae Davis (Colts) re-signing with their teams, and Alterraun Verner (Buccaneers) inking a deal late Tuesday, it initially left Talib as the top remaining corner on the market. Verner’s reported deal (4 years, $26.5 million, $14 million guaranteed) came in low compared to the other top corners and at that moment, from a Patriots perspective, it seemed like a positive development that Talib didn’t generate an immediate market. But then the Broncos swooped in with a big-money deal for Talib that was a shocker.

[+] Enlarge Julian Edelman
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesJulian Edelman's timing in hitting the free agent market doesn't seem to be in his favor.
Receiver market soft. Julian Edelman has to be wondering what he has to do to catch a break. Last year at this time, the Patriots were so concerned with missing out on receiver Danny Amendola that they moved quickly away from Wes Welker when the market opened and forked over a five-year, $28.5 million deal with $10 million in bonuses and guarantees. But the receiver market is much softer this year -- the biggest signing at the position Tuesday was Dexter McCluster in Tennessee (3 years, up to $12 million) -- and the timing is tough for Edelman, who is coming off a 105-catch season.

Wesley Woodyard an early target. With a top linebacker trio of Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, the Patriots weren’t forecast to be aggressive at the position early in free agency. But Woodyard’s availability had the Patriots springing to action to bring the former Denver Bronco to town on Wednesday, and Woodyard is scheduled to visit the Tennessee Titans after coming to Foxborough, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. It’s rare to see the Patriots target an undersized linebacker this aggressively, but with more of the game being played in sub defenses (67 percent of the snaps for New England in 2013), it appears that the Patriots view a speedy, coverage-based 'backer as an important addition.

Dane Fletcher draws early visit. If you had Fletcher taking a free-agent visit (Tampa Bay) before fellow linebacker Brandon Spikes, you might consider buying a lottery ticket. That Fletcher has drawn such early interest likely punches his ticket out of town. Woodyard, if he’s signed, would immediately slide into that type of role and would represent an upgrade.

Isaac Sopoaga’s contract remains unchanged. While it seems unlikely that the Patriots will keep Sopoaga on the roster at a $3.5 million base salary, there has been no change in the veteran defensive tackle’s status. One possible reason: Until the Patriots have some clarity with Vince Wilfork’s contract situation (he’s scheduled to earn $7.5 million in base salary but the club might be looking for an adjustment of some kind), they might be more inclined to hold on to Sopoaga.

SportsNation

After we get word that Julian Edelman will indeed hit the free market, are you worried about his future with the team?

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    75%
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    25%

Discuss (Total votes: 9,883)

Of all the Patriots-related activity from free agency, the situation with the most layers to dissect was with Edelman. The door isn’t closed on his return, as the sides are keeping open dialogue, but it’s clear that whatever Edelman hoped would be there for him on the open market -- expectations fueled by the contract the Patriots handed out last offseason to Amendola -- hasn’t materialized at this point. The Baltimore Ravens reportedly have some interest, according to The Baltimore Sun, but it’s unclear at what level.

Edelman’s situation appears strikingly similar to the position that Welker found himself in last year, as Welker himself had to drum up interest with the Broncos and then ultimately come to grips with a contract that wasn’t as rich as what he had initially hoped for.

In the end, Welker found it easier to accept that type of contract from the Broncos than the team he felt he had given everything he had for six seasons. It stands to reason that Edelman might harbor some type of feelings along those lines as well, given that the Patriots invested big in Amendola last year, and not with him.

So the Patriots have some sensitive ground to navigate as they’d still like to retain Edelman. All told, that’s probably the biggest difference between Welker/2013 and Edelman/2014; there doesn’t seem to be as much urgency from the team to move on to Plan B this year, in part because it’s a buyer’s market for receivers.

Perhaps there will be a breakthrough on Wednesday.

As has often been the case with the Patriots, the activity usually picks up after the initial flurry of moves.

LB Dane Fletcher visiting Bucs

March, 11, 2014
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Free-agent linebacker Dane Fletcher, who led the New England Patriots in special teams tackles last season and was a top backup on defense, is scheduled to visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as free agency opens.

Jason La Canfora first tweeted news of Fletcher's visit.

Fletcher joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent in 2010, and first-year Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht was the Patriots' director of pro personnel that year.

Fletcher made the switch from college defensive end to NFL linebacker, and his primary contributions came on special teams in his four-year Patriots tenure. In 2013, he played 18 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season; when starting linebacker Jerod Mayo was lost to a season-ending pectoral muscle on Oct. 13, he was tapped to lead the dime package.

The Patriots have plans to host Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard on a free-agent visit Wednesday. Woodyard would be a top candidate to fill Fletcher's void.

Lining up Patriots 2014 free agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Projecting the Patriots' inactives

December, 28, 2013
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Before the New England Patriots play a game, we'll attempt to predict the team's inactive players.

Our best guess on the list for Sunday's game against the Bills:

Devin McCourty: Starting safety has missed all week of practice with a concussion. Rookie Duron Harmon is the top candidate to take his place.

Nate Solder: Starting left tackle has been on the injury report the past three weeks with a concussion. He's been limited in practice this week and more visible in the locker room, but we'll play a hunch that the team sits him out for a second straight week.

Dane Fletcher: Linebacker was a game-time decision last Sunday because of a groin injury, and didn't pass the pre-game test. If he is inactive again, it could potentially give him another two weeks to heal if the Patriots earn a first-round bye.

Shane Vereen: Running back was held out of last Sunday's win after leaving with a groin injury, and if this was the playoffs, he'd be ready to go. But the possibility of the team holding him back as a precaution makes some sense from this viewpoint.

D.J. Williams: Tight end adds a third layer of depth, and while it would be helpful to have it on the 46-man game-day roster, needs at other positions trump the luxury of a No. 3 tight end.

Jake Bequette: Second-year defensive end is fifth on the depth chart and has been inactive the past eight games.

Josh Boyce: Rookie receiver and primary kickoff returner has already been ruled for the second straight week with an ankle injury.

(Last week: 4 of 7 projections correct.)

EXTRA POINT: The Patriots have two open spots on their 53-man roster and those will likely be filled today with promotions from the practice squad (our best guesses are safety Kanorris Davis and offensive tackle Jordan Devey). Thus, a full complement of seven inactives is projected.

Ups and downs for the Patriots

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

Up

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

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

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

Down

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

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

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

Stephen Gostkowski: After the Patriots go ahead 20-17, sends his kickoff out of bounds, giving the Dolphins the ball at the 40.

Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review

August, 30, 2013
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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. Later in the second quarter, Bequette set a nice edge against tight end Brandon Myers on a run for minus-3 yards.

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
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Defensive starters for the New England Patriots tonight against the New York Giants:

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

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

Defensive snaps: Gregory & McCourty

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

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

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

Extra points from weekly Pats chat

May, 31, 2013
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A few "extra points" from Thursday's weekly Patriots chat:

Matt (Boston): How has Dane Fletcher looked so far; health-wise, is he moving and turning at full speed?

Matt, I don't see any restrictions for Fletcher in terms of how he's moving. He had a notable pass breakup in Wednesday's practice, as he's been the top option at middle linebacker with starter Brandon Spikes choosing to work out on his own.

Eric (Enfield CT): Mike, I think too much is being made of Brandon Spikes' absence at OTAs. As you keep saying, his attendance is not required. Spikes has provided an infusion of intensity and emotion that is often absent from, what can be, an emotionally dry defense. Spikes brings it every time he is on the field, and the man requires a little extra personal time to reset before diving back into the grind of the season.

Eric, Spikes is one of the Patriots' best contact players (if not the best) and he does bring an emotional fire that can be infectious. The bottom line to me is that it's within a player's rights to stay away, so Spikes hasn't broken any rules or anything like that. He's planning to be present at mandatory minicamp June 11-13. At the same time, when 89 of 90 players show up for OTAs, it does shine a little bit of a brighter spotlight on the one player who doesn't. It does make me wonder if the Patriots might hesitate to strike a contract extension with him -- the thinking being that it's difficult to commit long-term to a player who could be perceived to not be fully committed to the team -- but I think that's a story for another day/year.

Drew (Riverview, NB): Mike, if you could target one position where a trade would be considered, would it be DT? We seem a little light on the depth chart.

Drew, the Patriots had veteran defensive tackle Spencer Johnson in for a tryout this week, which could be an indication they see things the same way you do. I don't think there would be a trade as much as a free-agent signing. The DT depth chart was thinned by the team's own doing, letting go co-starters Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick. Right now, it's a Vince Wilfork/Tommy Kelly tandem, and we'd probably see Armond Armstead and Marcus Forston as the next options.

Luke J (CMAFS): I know it might be a strange question but can you explain how added height would be more beneficial to the secondary. I ask because I notice you mention Adrian Wilson bringing size and length to the secondary a lot. Isn't it normal for the average height to be around 5-foot-10/6-foot-0? How does more translate to success?

Luke, I think linebacker Jerod Mayo said it best in his interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio on Thursday. It's an intimidating presence back there that can make receivers think twice about coming across the middle. It's not just the height, but also the weight (230 pounds) and hard-hitting edge of the player with that size.

Shamarko (Boston, MA): Hi Mike, do you see Markus Zusevics making the final roster? Practice squad?

In Wednesday's organized team activity, Zusevics was lined up opposite Nate Solder at the right tackle position. This was due to the Patriots not having starter Sebastian Vollmer (recovering from knee surgery) and top backup Will Svitek. I think a lot is going to depend on what type of development Zusevics shows in training camp and preseason games. He was considered a later-round prospect in 2012 before a pectoral injury sustained at the combine led to his going undrafted. Now healthy, he's probably in that 50-60 range on the roster, which puts him closer to the bubble at this time.

Analysis of Fletcher signing

January, 31, 2013
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Following up with some thoughts on restricted free-agent linebacker Dane Fletcher coming to terms on a one-year deal with the Patriots to remain with the team in 2013. Fletcher missed all of the 2012 regular season after tearing his ACL during a preseason game.

1. Examining his 2011 role: As a refresher, Fletcher was on the field for just over 22 percent of the defensive snaps during the 2011 season, the last time he played in a regular-season game. That included just one defensive snap during Super Bowl XLVI, as Tracy White was called upon to play a larger role in that game. Fletcher's primary value that season was as a core special-teams player, something he projects to continue to do going forward.

2. Subpackage pass defender? With Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower entrenched as starters, Fletcher doesn't project at this point to be a primary cog in the Patriots' base defense next season. But he could be used is as a sub-defense player, subbing in for either Spikes or Hightower when the Patriots go to their nickel package. It's not a given that such would be the case, but Fletcher showed good athleticism on the field during the 2012 preseason. If the team opts to beef up its pass defense at the linebacker spot, it has numerous options.

3. Depth inside:Beyond his special-teams value, Fletcher's most important contributions in 2013 could be as a reserve player at inside linebacker, where the team was relatively thin in 2012. Mike Rivera was the top inside linebacker reserve, though he was seldom used last season. It's tough to read too much into preseason depth charts and lineups, but Fletcher was on the field with the starting defense for parts of training camp before his injury.

4. ACL impact: Like any other player coming off a major injury, the process of getting back into playing shape will be a gradual one for Fletcher. Due to the timing of his injury, he'll have nearly a full year before training camp begins, which is ample time for a normal recovery from an ACL tear.

5. Patriots take care of business early: Though losing restricted free agents is uncommon in the NFL, the Patriots got ahead of the game in coming to terms with Fletcher sooner rather than later. The team has a number of decisions to make in free agency -- headlined by Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer -- but securing a young player now can be filed under good business.

How Fletcher became fullback

October, 4, 2011
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AP Photo/Steve MitchellDane Fletcher at his more normal linebacker spot.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Dane Fletcher smiles as a reporter relays Bill Belichick's account of how the second-year defensive end-turned-linebacker ended up as the team's short-yardage fullback this season. After Belichick suggested the move came late in training camp, Fletcher is quick to clarify that it was much more a situation of him being tossed into the fire.

"I don’t know about training camp, training camp might be a stretch, that would have given me a little bit of time to plan for being the fullback," the easy-going Fletcher said with a smile. "I'd say maybe the first game or that first game week. If they tell me to run my face into some people, I’ll do it."

And how much experience did he have as a fullback?

"Slim to none," said the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Fletcher. "I played tight end in high school, but that was a long way back for me."

Undrafted out of Montana State, Fletcher earned a spot on the Patriots' 53-man roster out of camp last season. The team took the unusual Tedy Bruschi-like step of converting him from a college defensive lineman to an inside linebacker.

Now, with Jerod Mayo suffering a knee injury Sunday in Oakland, Fletcher could be poised for more work at that spot, but he's kept his plate full playing 10 snaps at fullback this season and establishing himself as a core special teamer on four cover units.

The fullback role? That's just something that arose out of necessity.

(Read full post)

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