New England Patriots: Justin Francis

Source: Pats work out five players

November, 4, 2013
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The Patriots worked out five players on Monday, including former tight end Jake Ballard and defensive end Justin Francis, who were both released by the team near the conclusion of training camp, according to a league source.

Ballard, however, who was originally claimed by the Patriots off waivers during the 2012 offseason, was signed by the Cardinals on Monday.

Meanwhile, Francis was waived/injured at the end of training camp and eventually released off of the injured reserve list. A 2012 undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, he landed on the Patriots' 53-man roster as a rotational reserve defensive end and special-teams player.

The Patriots also worked out running back Cierre Wood, wide receiver Greg Orton and linebacker Marcus Dowtin.

Wood went undrafted in 2013 after a productive career with Notre Dame, signing with the Texans as a free agent. He was recently released after violating team rules during a road trip in Kansas City. The violation reportedly involved the use of marijuana.

Orton has spent time with both the Bengals and Broncos, who released him on Aug. 26. Originally an undrafted free agent in 2009, Orton is 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds.

Dowtin also was an undrafted free agent, coming out of North Alabama in 2012. He has spent time with the Jets, Eagles and most recently the Bills. In five games for Buffalo this season, he recorded six tackles.

Patriots announce 13 cuts

August, 31, 2013
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The New England Patriots announced Saturday that the following 13 players have been released:

DE Jermaine Cunningham
LB Ja'Gared Davis
S Kannoris Davis
DL Marcus Forston
DE Justin Francis
CB Justin Green
OL Chris McDonald
P Zoltan Mesko
DB Stephon Morris
WR Quentin Sims
LB Jeff Tarpinian
QB Tim Tebow
RB George Winn

Of the group, Tarpinian is the one new player who had previously not been reported to be released.

More analysis to come.

Sharing some midday cut-down thoughts

August, 31, 2013
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Sharing non-Tim Tebow-based thoughts on some of the Patriots' roster moves today:

1a. The change at punter, with Zoltan Mesko out and rookie Ryan Allen in, has many layers. Both showed this preseason that they are deserving of punting in the NFL this season and that's why I took the unconventional approach of keeping both on a final 53-man roster projection (the idea being that maybe it would have been easier to slide Allen to the practice squad after a few weeks). Allen's upside is obvious; his leg is a bit stronger than Mesko's. But Mesko's control and directional punting seemed a notch above over the course of training camp and the preseason. However, Allen's three second-half punts on Thursday might have been the clincher, which showed his potential when it comes to control and directional punting.

Mesko
Allen
1b. Economics shouldn't have been the primary reason for the decision to go with Allen over Mesko, but it has to be a consideration. Mesko was due to earn $1.3 million in the final year of his contract. Allen has a three-year contract and is due to earn $405,000 this season.

1c. There is a trickle-down effect when it comes to the field-goal operation, as Mesko has served as the primary holder for kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Allen didn't hold at Louisiana Tech, but he's worked on the skill since joining the Patriots. Allen will likely become the primary holder, although backup quarterback Ryan Mallett could also be a consideration for the role.

1d. In 2005, the Patriots released rookie kicker Robbie Gould after an impressive camp and later regretted it when Adam Vinatieri departed in free agency the following year. I wondered how much that experience might have played a factor in this decision.

1e. Mesko goes down as one of the players who was most fun to cover. He also seemed most genuine and his farewell message to fans was most classy. One of my favorite personal memories of Mesko was how he was brought to tears after receiving the team's community service award in 2012. It meant so much to him and the emotions took over.

2. The biggest surprise has come among the reserves at defensive end, with Justin Francis, Marcus Benard and Jermaine Cunningham all being cut. They projected to the 3-4-5 spots on the depth chart. Health was likely a factor with Francis and Cunningham, as they have been sidelined. There is always the possibility for them to return if not picked up elsewhere, but an initial thought is that 2013 seventh-round pick Michael Buchanan (previous film breakdown) has impressed to the point that the coaching staff felt comfortable letting go of more experienced depth at the position. Buchanan was impressive on Thursday.

3. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was scheduled to earn $1.3 million, but he's agreed to reduce the salary this year with the chance to recoup some of the earnings in incentives, which helped him stick on the roster. Hoomanawanui's smarts, professionalism and dependability made an impression on the coaching staff last season. That he was the last tight end standing among the group of himself, Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells is a minor surprise.

4. The release of defensive tackle Marcus Forston was a mild surprise from this viewpoint. This could mean that rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano is the top backup behind Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Vellano caught the eye early in training camp, but still didn't think he'd top Forston at this point.

5. Still waiting to hear the fate of presumed bubble players like Vellano, safety Adrian Wilson, running back Leon Washington, linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, fullback James Develin and linebacker Steve Beauharnais.

DE Justin Francis among Pats cuts

August, 31, 2013
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The Patriots have released defensive end Justin Francis, linebacker Ja'Gared Davis and defensive back Kanorris Davis, according to a league source.

The news on Francis comes as a surprise, as he had developed into a rotational defensive end last season after making the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers. He was recently limited by an undisclosed injury in training camp. He recorded three sacks during his rookie season.

The Patriots now have starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on top of the depth chart, with rookie Michael Buchanan and 2012 third-round draft choice Jake Bequette behind them.

As for Ja'Gared Davis, an undrafted free agent out of SMU, he was claimed by the Patriots off of waivers earlier this week. He has practice-squad eligibility.

Kanorris Davis, another undrafted free agent, has worked as a reserve safety throughout training camp. He, too, has practice-squad eligibility.

All three players will be subject to the NFL's waiver system.

Source: DE Cunningham to be cut

August, 31, 2013
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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.

Source: DE Benard informed of Pats release

August, 30, 2013
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The Patriots have informed defensive end Marcus Benard that he has been released, a source confirms.

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

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

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

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

Current defensive end depth chart
Jones
Ninkovich
Francis
Cunningham
Buchanan
Bequette

Bolden, Ebner, Francis, Cunningham absent

August, 29, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Four players were not spotted in New England Patriots pregame warm-ups:

RB Brandon Bolden
S Nate Ebner
DE Justin Francis
DE Jermaine Cunningham

While many of the starters aren't expected to play tonight, quarterback Tom Brady got in some work with receiver Danny Amendola, who looked like he was running well and cutting sharply after missing last week's game.

It's notable that offensive lineman Marcus Cannon, who has not played thus far, is dressed for the first time this preseason.

Patriots not expected to play in finale

August, 29, 2013
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The Patriots wrap up their preseason tonight with a game against the New York Giants, their final tune-up in advance of the regular-season opener next Sunday in Buffalo against the Bills.

It's not uncommon to see teams sit all or most of their starters for the preseason finale (colleague Mike Reiss chronicled Tom Brady's snaps history in the preseason finale: link here), so it's possible that tonight's action will prominently feature Patriots reserves.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin indicated his starters will get between 12-15 snaps, and Brady recently said he expects to play as well.

But let's examine those Patriots whom we would not expect to play because of recent injury issues:

Wide receiver Danny Amendola
Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon
Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard
Defensive end Justin Francis
Tight end Rob Gronkowski (on PUP)

With regard to Amendola, who recently returned to practice, the team could prioritize keeping him off the field to prevent a re-injury rather than putting him out there for limited reps. Given the strong rapport he's developed with Brady, a final preseason game might not be as much of a priority as it would be for other players.

As for the starters, that's a storyline we'll be closely monitoring leading up to kickoff and in the early stages of the game.

Patriots not spotted in warm-ups

August, 22, 2013
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DETROIT -- The Patriots have 84 players on their current roster, but a number of them won't be in action tonight when the team takes on the Detroit Lions in their third preseason game.

The following Patriots were not spotted during warm-ups, a sign that they likely won't suit up for the game.

Wide receiver Kamar Aiken
Wide receiver Danny Amendola
Defensive lineman Armond Armstead (on NFI list)
Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon
Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard
Cornerback Ras-I Dowling
Safety Nate Ebner
Tight end Daniel Fells
Defensive end Justin Francis
Tight end Rob Gronkowski (on PUP)
Wide receiver Mark Harrison (on NFI list)
Defensive back Brandon Jones

On the other end of the spectrum, both safety Devin McCourty and guard Dan Connolly are dressed for the first time this preseason. Each underwent offseason shoulder surgery that has limited them thus far in training camp.

Patriots not expected to play

August, 22, 2013
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Tonight marks the third preseason game for the Patriots, which almost always represents the closest thing to regular-season action, as teams typically play their starters for substantially longer than other preseason games.

It would come as no surprise to see Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork on the field into the third quarter, while there are other players whom we aren't expecting to see at all, highlighted below.

Non-football Injury List/Physical Unable to Perform Players
TE Rob Gronkowski (PUP)
WR Mark Harrison (NFI)
DT Armond Armstead (NFI)

Players who were absent from practice this week
WR Danny Amendola
DE Jermaine Cunningham
CB Brandon Jones

Players who were limited during Tuesday's practice
DE Justin Francis
OT/G Marcus Cannon
TE Daniel Fells
CB Ras-I Dowling
WR Kamar Aiken

A trio of others to keep an eye on includes defensive backs Devin McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard, as well as offensive lineman Dan Connolly. McCourty and Connolly have yet to play in a preseason game (both are recovering from offseason shoulder surgery), but they were on the field for practice this week.

Additionally, McCourty shed the red non-contact jersey he had worn throughout much of camp. Dennard, meanwhile, has been limited of late, but could return to action after missing the team's second preseason game.

If the 11 players who we expect not to play in the game do in fact sit out, the Patriots will have 73 players in uniform for the contest. That total could shrink if McCourty, Dennard or Connolly is once again unable to suit up.

Polian: DE Jones a pivotal Patriot

August, 21, 2013
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Bill Belichick has often spoken about players making marked improvement from their first to second seasons in the NFL, something Chandler Jones has the opportunity to do in 2013.

Jones, the team's top pick in 2012, started his rookie campaign strong, notching six sacks in his first eight games. A pair of ankle injuries limited him down the stretch, and Jones finished with just those six sacks for the season.

But the upside was apparent, and he's among the most pivotal players for his team in 2013, according to former NFL GM Bill Polian, who wrote about Jones in a recent piece for ESPN Insider.

"Rob Ninkovich has turned into a very solid pass-rusher. I liked him coming out of Purdue and the Patriots have done a great job with him. That said, they need more from Jones. New England was 22nd in the league on third down last year and had only 21 sacks. Even in an AFC East that should be relatively weak this season, that won't cut it.

"They drafted Jones to be the next Willie McGinest. Jones needs to stay on the field and get the job done. If he can measure up to McGinest or Mike Vrabel, the Patriots will be a much better defensive team systematically and functionally. If Jones can't, this defense will likely have some of the same holes it had last season."

Jones worked hard this offseason to balance his strength and become more proportional throughout his body (targeting improvement in his upper half), and we've seen positive signs throughout training camp and the preseason. He helped force a fumble in the team's preseason opener and recorded another sack against the Buccaneers.

The key for Jones, in our estimation, is the expansion of his arsenal of pass-rush moves. He has the length and initial quickness to win off the edge, but there will be tough tackles that he is forced to take on and beat with his technique as well. We've seen some development from Jones as a technician, and if he can stay on course, he'll make an even bigger impact as a rusher.

That's something the Patriots need, as it was an area that let them down during the AFC Championship. They were unable to generate a single hit on Joe Flacco, putting their secondary is a difficult spot.

Beyond Jones, Ninkovich will be counted on as a complementary rusher, while the team has a rotation of young ends who could provide reserve rush presence too. Justin Francis appears to have emerged as the third rusher, with Marcus Benard also impressing in his effort to solidify a roster spot.

To read the piece in its entirety (Insider content), CLICK HERE.

W2W4: Five things we'll be focused on

August, 8, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- The New England Patriots open the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday night at Lincoln Financial Field (7:30 p.m. ET). Here are some of the main areas of interest:

1. Dobson and young receivers. Through the early stretch of training camp, the play of rookie receivers Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted free agent) has made onlookers take note. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Dobson in particular offers something the Patriots haven’t had for a few years: size and the athletic ability to go up and get the ball.

“It’s like going up for rebounds and you can control your body,” Dobson said Thursday after practice. “I guess it’s a good skill set for a receiver.”

PatriotsEaglesWhile Dobson brings that size and athleticism on the outside, Boyce (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) can flat out fly. He brings a speed element not seen around these parts in recent seasons.

Thompkins (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) strikes us as more of a tactician. He’s shown ability to win at the start of his route with sharp footwork that sets up defensive backs and also some speed to threaten the deep parts of the field.

For the first time in Bill Belichick’s coaching tenure, it looks like the Patriots will open the season with three rookie wide receivers.

2. Top draft pick Collins and the defense. When the Patriots first take the field on defense, it’s possible that top draft pick Jamie Collins (jersey No. 91) will still be on the sideline. He’s been the first linebacker to come on when there is a substitution, and the Patriots are still exploring ways in which his speed and athleticism can best help them.

Watching Collins (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) on the practice field, a few things stand out: He runs well and has shown a knack for ball disruption by forcing fumbles.

One of the trouble areas for the Patriots last season was matching up against athletic tight ends, and that’s a position that has traditionally been a big part of Chip Kelly-coached offenses; Kelly announced Thursday that quarterback Michael Vick will start this game.

There figure to be times when Collins is matched up against tight ends, and perhaps he shows signs that he can help the Patriots in an area in which they mostly struggled in 2012.

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3. Mallett, Tebow and backup quarterbacks. No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett has totaled 130 pass attempts over the past two preseasons, which is a team high. Now in his third NFL season, the question remains: Is he a potential No. 1 quarterback for another team who could provide value to the Patriots in a trade?

The preseason opener, when Tom Brady usually doesn’t play past the first quarter, is the best chance for the Patriots to find out.

If things go according to plan, Mallett won’t be called upon during the regular season unless the game is well in hand and the Patriots take Brady off the field to protect him from injury.

“I get a lot of action right now, and it’s just going to help me in the long run, so I’m excited to get out there with my teammates and go compete,” Mallett said Thursday.

At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, he looks the part and has a cannon for an arm. Now is his time to show he can put it all together.

As for Tim Tebow, he said Thursday that he hadn’t been informed of how much, if at all, he will play. But he is encouraged by his progress to this point.

“I feel like I’m getting better every single day,” he said. “I’m more comfortable with the offense, better timing with everybody around me, better understanding of what the coaches want me to do, with the offense, with the reads, with the timing. Every day, I’m trying to get a little bit better, and it sounds cliché, but it’s true. That’s really what I’m focused on, and I know that’s something hopefully I’ve been able to accomplish.”

4. Do Jones and the pass-rushers show signs of life? One of the keys for the Patriots defense is the development of 2012 first-round draft choices Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower. Jones in particular has the tools to develop into a disruptive game-changing pass-rusher.

After a solid six-sack rookie season, he’s built more upper-body strength and will be matched up against second-string left tackle Allen Barbre, who is expected to fill in for starter Jason Peters.

In one-on-one drills against Patriots left tackles, Jones has shown signs of explosiveness, but in the one drill we watched Tuesday, Jones was kept at bay by Barbre.

In addition to Jones and fellow starter Rob Ninkovich, there is a developing competition behind them, with second-year man Justin Francis and five-year veteran Marcus Benard the current top candidates. Others include 2012 third-round pick Jake Bequette and 2013 seventh-rounder Michael Buchanan.

5. Sudfeld and the tight-end competition. While the biggest question at tight end is whether Rob Gronkowski will open the season on the physically unable to perform list, there is also a good competition unfolding with the remaining players on the depth chart.

Undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld (jersey No. 44) has opened some eyes. He’s 6-foot-7 and listed at 260 pounds, although he’s probably a bit lighter than that. He runs well and has caught most everything thrown in his direction, with Eagles linebacker Casey Matthews calling him more of a receiver than a pure tight end.

Then there are veterans Jake Ballard (6-foot-6, 260 pounds), Daniel Fells (6-foot-4, 260 pounds) and Michael Hoomanawanui (6-foot-4, 260 pounds).

Not everyone can stick, and with Ballard on the books for $630,000 and Fells ($1.25 million) and Hoomanawanui ($1.3 million) in the higher tax bracket, the latter two probably have to prove they are a cut above to land on the roster.

Jones, Hightower lead strong 2012 class

May, 25, 2013
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Chandler Jones and Justin FrancisJim Rogash/Getty ImagesFirst-rounder Chandler Jones impressed as a rookie, as did Justin Francis, who went undrafted.
While there has been no shortage of instant impact rookies in the NFL in recent seasons, there are others who take time to transition into the pro game from the college level. To that point, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has said in the past that many players experience the greatest development during their NFL careers between their rookie and sophomore seasons.

In 2012, the Patriots drafted seven rookies in total, six of whom remain on the active roster (Jeremy Ebert, a seventh-round receiver from Northwestern, recently signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars). Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, the team's pair of first-rounders in 2012, highlighted the class, as they each became immediate starters and debuted in style by combining for a strip sack and fumble return for a touchdown in a Week 1 win in Tennessee. Overall, the class provided strong results, as those two appear to be defensive cornerstones for the future with other promising members of the class, as well.

Here's an overview of each of the 2012 drafted rookies, with a look at what 2013 could hold for each.

Defensive end Chandler Jones
2012 stats: 45 tackles, six sacks, three forced fumbles
2013 outlook: Pencil in Jones as a starter on the defensive line, and a good one at that. The question will be how much progress Jones can make to build off of what early in the season looked to be a defensive rookie of the year quality season. After starting the season off with six sacks in eight games, Jones failed to register a sack in his final eight contests (playoffs included). He was billed by some as a draft prospect who would need time to develop into an NFL standout, but it was easy to see why the Patriots targeted Jones in the first round. If he can emerge as a consistent pass-rusher, he'll add a new dynamic to the front seven.

[+] EnlargeDont'a Hightower
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceDont'a Hightower seems primed to play a key defensive role for seasons to come.
Linebacker Dont'a Hightower
2012 stats: 60 tackles, four sacks
2013 outlook: Like Jones, it seems like a fair bet to pencil Hightower in as a starter in the Patriots' base defense. He was a consistent presence as a strongside linebacker as a rookie, and he should provide more of the same this season. Hightower was a ready-made prospect coming out of Alabama and showed himself capable of taking on a number of assignments. By all accounts, the staff is high on him, and he could be a starter alongside Jerod Mayo for a long time. What will be most interesting regarding Hightower is what role -- if any -- he plays on sub defense. He was removed from the unit late in the 2012 season in favor of Brandon Spikes.

Safety Tavon Wilson
2012 stats: 41 tackles, four interceptions
2013 outlook: Which Wilson will the Patriots see in 2013? The one who was a virtual starter early in his rookie season and produced in the back end of the secondary, or the one who had coverage breakdowns and later was relegated to a sub defensive back role? The team's hope is the former, and Wilson has a terrific set of mentors at his position to learn from in Adrian Wilson, Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty. With McCourty entrenched as a starter on one side, Wilson might have to fight for reps at strong safety. He projects to play extensively on special teams again in 2013.

Defensive end Jake Bequette
No stats accumulated
2013 outlook: Seems a little crazy to suggest a guy who hardly saw the field in 2012 could be a factor in 2013, right? Well, don't be entirely surprised if Bequette does earn time as a player who can be utilized in a role comparable to Rob Ninkovich's in the Patriots' defense. We saw the two working together during the individual drill portion of Tuesday's OTA, and the reality of life in the NFL is some rookies need a "redshirt" season to develop. Bequette might not develop into a starter this season, but he should have a chance to compete for reps at defensive end and might fall into the category of players that Belichick alluded to who undergo substantial growth in between seasons one and two.

Safety Nate Ebner
2012 stats: 14 tackles
2013 outlook: The unheralded Ohio State product was believed to be a player who could impact the special teams immediately, and that's what Ebner proved to be. He's the kind of guy who can both cover kicks and hold up as a blocker. He flashed ball skills throughout training camp as a safety, but the position is deep again in 2013. Even if Ebner continues to carve out a niche on special teams (akin to the defensive player version of Matthew Slater), that's a worthy investment in the sixth round.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard
2012 stats: 35 tackles, three interceptions
2013 outlook: Dennard avoided in-season jail time following a 2012 incident prior to the draft, opening the door for him to pick up where he left off at the conclusion of his rookie season. Dennard helped to stabilize the secondary as a starter opposite of Aqib Talib and figures to compete with Kyle Arrington for a starting job in 2013. Arrington is more explosive and adds special-teams value, but Dennard is an instinctive zone cornerback who can be physical at the line of scrimmage.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

Running back Brandon Bolden
2012 stats: 56 carries, 274 yards, two touchdowns
2013 outlook: Prior to a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy, Bolden emerged as a backup running back with good between-the-tackles ability. When he returned from an injury/suspension, he became mostly a special-teams player. The feeling here is Bolden will have a chance to earn those carries again in 2013, as he has very good contact strength as a runner and can earn tough yards near the goal line. He'll contribute on special teams, too.

Defensive end Justin Francis
2012 stats: 10 tackles, three sacks
2013 outlook: Defensive end is a position at which the Patriots have a stable of young bodies in the fold for 2013. Francis leapfrogged Bequette and Jermaine Cunningham by season's end in 2012 and should compete for a top reserve job this season. With good natural pass-rushing skills, Francis is a player who can contribute in nickel and dime fronts. His work ethic as a rookie was notable.

Offensive lineman Markus Zusevics
No stats accumulated
2013 outlook: We don't know much about Zusevics, as he started the season on the Non-Football Injury list. He tore a pectoral muscle at the combine in 2012 after a solid career at Iowa and should compete for a reserve tackle spot in 2013.

Defensive lineman Marcus Forston
No stats accumulated
2013 outlook: The Patriots recently released both Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick, the co-starters opposite of Vince Wilfork in 2012. Veteran Tommy Kelly and highly touted CFL prospect Armond Armstead were added this offseason, but Forston should also have a shot to compete for work. He's a big body who can defend the run in short-yardage situations and adds some interior quickness. A spot on the 53-man roster seems in play again for Forston.

DL Francis back on practice field

January, 9, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had perfect attendance at practice on Wednesday, with defensive lineman Justin Francis back on the field after missing Tuesday's session.

Francis had not been on the injury report in recent weeks. He practiced during the bye week before a four-day break for players, so the reason for his absence on Tuesday is not known. The undrafted rookie from Rutgers has played in 10 games this season, tallying three sacks.

Meanwhile, defensive end Rob Ninkovich (hip) was on the practice field for the start of a third straight session, including last Thursday's workout, so his chances of playing on Sunday continue to increase.

Owner Robert Kraft took in the start of the practice, which was held in helmets and light shoulder pads.

The Patriots will release their first injury report of the week on Wednesday afternoon.

Thoughts on reserve DEs

December, 31, 2012
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Other than the New England Patriots clinching a first-round bye in the playoffs, the biggest news that came out of Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins was a second-quarter hip injury to defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who started all 16 games this season.

The condition of Ninkovich, the team's leader in sacks and forced fumbles, still isn't known. But on Monday, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia offered his thoughts on some of the players who could be in the mix to replace Ninkovich if his injury keeps him out of the playoffs:

On veteran defensive end Trevor Scott:
"Trevor has done ... over the course of the season, you take a look at the role he’s had and the opportunities he’s had when he’s been able to deal with them, he’s really tried to develop and come along. Obviously he was available for us and did a good job for us in the first game versus Miami and it just steadily improved throughout the season. Like all the guys on the defense, hopefully throughout the entire season, you get to this point and you’ve done a good enough job to improve yourself week by week and that’s really what we’re trying to do. Trevor has certainly done that and become more familiar with the system and communication and the different things that we’re trying to do. Obviously we have a situation like we had yesterday and guys just have to step in and go and that’s what we prepare for every week."

Scott also talked Monday in the locker room about his roll:

"I just go in and perform every time I'm asked to. That's all I can really control. Every time my number is called, I just try to go in and do my job.

"We have a lot of depth here on defense. That's one thing. If someone goes down, we have the next guy who's going to step in and fill his role. It's definitely huge to have the depth that we have. No matter what happens, we just have to keep moving forward."

On Jermaine Cunningham, who returned after missing four games due to a suspension.
"I think obviously the situation for Jermaine, came back and tried to go out and play hard and certainly was out there doing the things we were asking him to do. I think it’s like any player that has a little time off or is away from the game for a while, you just have to keep working to improve and hopefully build on that performance the following week or whenever it is that you play. So certainly, he’s going to have to come back in and keep working hard to get himself going again, but it was a good job by him of being ready to go when he got back in the building."

On the collaborative pass rush effort (that included three sacks from rookie Justin Francis).
"Coach hit it right on the head as far as the great thing about what we do is obviously a team effort. When you look at the bottom line stats and you see one particular player with high numbers, I don’t really think that tells the whole story. If you take a good look at the game and what actually happened during a particular play, you’ll see that there’s a lot of other factors that contribute to maybe a player making a play on that particular situation. You can single out anybody with stat numbers yesterday but if you take a look at the group effort, it was really what we were looking for. You can certainly see situations where the guys in coverage in those situations did a really excellent job to allow the pass rush time to get to the quarterback and then you can see situations where the pass rush was able to get to the quarterback, which allowed the cover guys to not have to cover as long. So, I really think it was a good, collaborative effort."

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