New England Patriots: Tully Banta-cain
Although it might look that way on the surface, there is no truth to the rumor that the innovative Belichick is planning to experiment with a rushless defense in 2011.
Actually, Banta-Cain’s spot on the roster was never a certainty, mainly because of economics. His salary ($2.3 million) and cap charge ($4.3 million) didn’t fall in line with his on-field contributions in 2010. So Tuesday's news that Banta-Cain will be released when those moves can become official was far from a shocker; and surely Belichick has a plan on filling the void.
So where do the Patriots go from here at outside linebacker/rush defensive end?
They return top outside linebackers Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham, while veteran Eric Moore -- who joined the team last December and flashed some pass-rush skills -- is a top candidate to elevate into Banta-Cain’s sub-rushing role. Career special teamer Marques Murrell and 2011 sixth-round pick Markell Carter round out the depth chart.
That is likely too thin for Belichick’s liking, and puts added pressure on Cunningham in his second year, which makes it logical to think the Patriots will explore the free-agent market for 3-4 outside linebackers or 4-3 rush ends.
Seven-year veteran Matt Roth projects as a possible fit, given his background in the 3-4 defense with the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns. Mathias Kiwanuka (New York Giants) and Manny Lawson (San Francisco 49ers) are other notable options, or perhaps Belichick revisits Jason Taylor (New York Jets) if Taylor would consider it.
None of the options overwhelm, and they would mostly fit in to a specific role and build depth.
As for Banta-Cain, he called his two stints (2003-2006; 2009-2010) with the Patriots “great times.” His best season came in 2009, when he had 10 sacks.
"I've been rehabbing," Banta-Cain said at Wes Welker's Football Camp, while pointing to his left shoulder. "I'm getting recovered from that. I'm finally back doing everything with the team, doing all the workouts and [organized team activities]. I'm just getting back to my form."
Asked how concerned he is about the injury allowing him to get back to 100 percent, Banta-Cain said: "I am pretty much there. I'm back. It was a minor surgery. It wasn't anything major. I'm good to go."
New England declared his return questionable.
Banta-Cain's left shoulder was worked on by trainers on the sideline after he was initially shaken up with two minutes remaining in the half, but he soon departed.
Banta-Cain has battled a groin injury, which limited him in practice this week. He had been declared questionable for Monday's game.
(Update: Banta-Cain returned to the field late in the third quarter).
Tully Banta-Cain -- In just 26 snaps, outside linebacker/defensive end plays through injury and totals five tackles (one for a loss), two sacks and a forced fumble.
Leigh Bodden -- Cornerback ties a Patriots record with three interceptions.
Mark LeVoir -- Offensive tackle comes off the bench in a pinch and delivers a crushing block on a receiver screen that highlights the physical edge with which the Patriots played.
Ty Warren -- Defensive end ties for the team high with six tackles, continuing to do the dirty work that is easy to overlook.
Wes Welker -- Receiver notches career highs with 15 receptions and 192 yards.
ILB Gary Guyton – 51 of 51 snaps
ILB Jerod Mayo – 51 of 51
S Brandon Meriweather – 51 of 51
CB Jonathan Wilhite – 51 of 51
CB Leigh Bodden – 50 of 51
S Brandon McGowan – 50 of 51
OLB/DE Adalius Thomas – 40 of 51
NT Vince Wilfork – 39 of 51
DE Mike Wright – 37 of 51
DE Ty Warren -- 34 of 52
OLB Tully Banta-Cain – 26 of 51
OLB Pierre Woods – 19 of 51
DE Derrick Burgess – 17 of 51
DT Myron Pryor – 17 of 51
CB Darius Butler – 12 of 51
S James Sanders – 9 of 51
S Pat Chung – 5 of 51
DT Ron Brace – 1 of 51
S Randy Moss – 1 of 51
(Two false start penalties included in snaps)
ANALYSIS: The base alignment was a 3-4, with the Patriots using a 3-2-6 dime (6 defensive backs) in most passing situations and occasionally a 4-2-5 nickel (5 defensive backs). … Butler and Chung were the fifth and sixth defensive backs in the sub package. … When Chung left the game with a head injury, he was replaced by Sanders. … Mayo and Guyton played every snap at inside linebacker, keeping Junior Seau on the sidelines for the third game in a row. … Including penalties, the 51 snaps were the third fewest the defense has played in a game this season (46, vs. Falcons, 49 vs. Titans). … Banta-Cain made the most of his playing time, finishing with five tackles and two sacks in just 26 snaps. … After seeing action solely on early downs, Thomas is playing again in sub packages as he’s had more of a chance to rush the passer in recent weeks. … Woods played on defense for the first time since Oct. 18 against Tennessee, starting at outside linebacker and working in a rotation. … This was the second time this season that Moss has been called upon as a safety in a Hail Mary situation.
No. 1 star: Wes Welker -- Receiver just might be Patriots' most valuable player, totaling a career-high 15 receptions for 192 yards.
No. 2 star: Tully Banta-Cain -- Outside linebacker doesn't start but makes the most of his playing time with two sacks, five tackles, a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble.
No. 3 star: Leigh Bodden -- Cornerback intercepts three errant Mark Sanchez passes and returns one for a touchdown, as he is the beneficiary of some erratic quarterback play.
And at the opposite end of the spectrum:
No. 1: Punt team -- Blocked punt recovered for a touchdown -- which could have been the result of being without personal protector Sam Aiken -- is one of the downers. [Updated 11:50 a.m. -- Belichick said the personal protectors, Pat Chung and Julian Edelman, got the job done.]
No. 2: Jonathan Wilhite -- Cornerback is in coverage on a 29-yard touchdown hookup from Sanchez to Jerricho Cotchery.
No. 3: Bret Lockett -- Safety is called for two penalties on special teams, an illegal blindside block (declined) and illegal hands to the face.
Jarvis Green on his return to practice. Defensive end Jarvis Green was hurrying out of the locker room to get a haircut, but stopped briefly to discuss his return to practice for the first time since undergoing knee surgery over the team’s bye week. “That was no dog and pony show,” he said, hopeful that he will be able to suit up Sunday. In addition to Green, outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain expressed similar optimism on his potential availability after suiting up for parts of practice Friday.
Moss hears Revis chatter. Veteran receiver Randy Moss responded to Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, telling Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald: “I don’t feed into talking and all that crazy stuff. I’m a 12-year vet. So that stuff don’t bother me. My biggest thing is, when you talk like that, you better back it up. So, we’ll see. We’ll see what goes down."
Best practice squad in 10 years. Asked a question about the team’s practice squad by Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly, coach Bill Belichick took the opportunity to praise his personnel men, Nick Caserio (director of player personnel), Jason Licht (director of pro personnel) and Jon Robinson (director of college scouting). He called the practice squad probably the best group he’s had in his 10-year tenure as coach. He also pointed out rookie free agent Brian Hoyer, late-round draft picks like Julian Edelman, and free agent Rob Ninkovich as examples of how the personnel staff has done a good job finding players this year.
Maroney compares running backs to “Voltron” cartoon. Drawing a large media crowd at his locker, running back Laurence Maroney talked about the team’s running back corps returning to full health. He compared the situation to Voltron, the cartoon character in which five pieces connect together to form one large robot. Sammy Morris went through a full week of practice for the first time since injuring his knee Oct. 18, and Fred Taylor is apparently making progress in his recovery from ankle surgery on Oct. 8.
Neal was knocked out of last Sunday's loss to the Colts with a head injury. He has not taken part in any practices since.
If Neal can not play Sunday against the Jets, his starting right guard spot would most likely be filled by four-year veteran Dan Connolly. It also would likely result in rookie Rich Ohrnberger -- a center/guard -- being active for the first time this season as the top interior backup.
The Jets blitz more than any team in the NFL, so pass protection and overall rhythm in the passing game will be key for the Patriots. Neal's status ties into that, and will be something to monitor leading up to kickoff.
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich (sprained knee) and running back Fred Taylor (right ankle) were the other players not spotted at the media-access portion of Friday's practice. With defensive lineman Jarvis Green at practice for the first time since undergoing knee surgery during the team's bye week, it is a sign that he is close to a return. Outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain (rib, groin) was also on the field for the first time since being knocked out of Sunday's loss to the Colts.
1) Without Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour, many questions have been asked about filling a leadership void on defense. This was the adversity-filled week to find out, and second-year linebacker Jerod Mayo officially declared that a big part of the torch has been passed his way with his strong remarks Thursday.
2) After playing all but two plays in a sub package against the Colts, this week's game should feature more of a return to the base 3-4 alignment against the Jets' No. 1 ranked rushing offense. The outside linebacker spot opposite Adalius Thomas will be important to watch. If Tully Canta-Cain isn't healthy enough to play, it could thrust Pierre Woods back into the lineup. Woods hasn't played on defense in the last three games.
3) The Patriots need to be more efficient in the red zone, but their 25th ranking in that area is a bit misleading when considering the Buccaneers are the NFL's top red-zone offense. Would you rather be the Buccaneers (12 TDs in 17 trips) or the Patriots (18 TDs in 40 trips)?
4) With Jarvis Green (knee) unlikely to play and Ty Warren with a nagging ankle injury, and with the physical Jets running game to stop, this could be the week the Patriots call on rookie Ron Brace more along the defensive line. Brace saw his first action since Week 2 when he was on the field for the final two goal-line plays Sunday in Indianapolis.
5) Nine games into the season, the Patriots have already had five different players as a primary kickoff returner because of injuries: Laurence Maroney, Julian Edelman, Kevin Faulk, Brandon Tate and Matthew Slater. That hasn't helped them in the field-position game. The team's average drive start is the 24.9 yard line -- 13th in the AFC and 22nd in the NFL.
In addition to Warren, receiver Sam Aiken also increased his workload. After not practicing Wednesday because of a hip injury, he took part in limited team drills Thursday.
Did Not Practice:
OLB Tully Banta-Cain (groin/rib)
DE Jarvis Green (knee)
G Stephen Neal (head)
LB Rob Ninkovich (knee)
RB Fred Taylor (ankle)
WR Sam Aiken (hip)
LB Eric Alexander (groin)
TE Chris Baker (shoulder)
NT Ron Brace (ankle)
WR Julian Edelman (forearm)
C Dan Koppen (knee)
LT Matt Light (knee)
RB Sammy Morris (knee)
DE Ty Warren (ankle)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
CB Shawn Springs (knee)
TE Benjamin Watson (back)
LB Gary Guyton (illness) and WR Randy Moss (not injury related) were removed from the participation report.
On the Jets' side, LB Vernon Gholston (hamstring) and S Jim Leonhard (thumb) did not participate for the second day in a row, DE Shaun Ellis and WR Brad Smith (quad) were limited for the second straight day, and LB Bryan Thomas (toe) once again had full participation. Long snapper James Dearth (not injury related) was removed from the report.
Baker, who wore a red non-contact jersey during Thursday's session, has a shoulder injury. Banta-Cain, the team's top pass rusher who is enjoying a rebound-type season, has a groin injury.
The Patriots had 10 players who didn't participate in Thursday's practice: linebacker Eric Alexander (groin), receiver Julian Edelman (forearm), defensive end Jarvis Green (knee), center Dan Koppen (knee), left tackle Matt Light (knee), safety Brandon Meriweather (foot), running back Sammy Morris (knee), receiver Brandon Tate (knee), running back Fred Taylor (ankle), and defensive lineman Ty Warren (ankle).
For the Colts, defensive end Dwight Freeney returned to practice after being held out of Wednesday's session for non-injury-related reasons. Receiver Anthony Gonzalez (knee), cornerback Kelvin Hayden (knee), quarterback Jim Sorgi (right shoulder), and kicker Adam Vinatieri (right knee) did not practice.
A look at the Patriots' game-ball winners from last Sunday's 27-17 victory over the Dolphins:
Tully Banta-Cain -- Outside linebacker is credited by in-game statisticians with three quarterback hits and nine tackles (one for a loss), as he is on the field for every defensive play.
Dan Connolly -- Top reserve center/guard fills in after starting center Dan Koppen leaves the game with a knee injury in the second quarter, and the offense doesn't miss a beat.
Stephen Gostkowski -- Kicker is 4 for 4 on field goal attempts, with two crucial touchbacks on kickoffs, one of which comes from the 30-yard line after a penalty.
Laurence Maroney -- Running back generates positive momentum with 82 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
Jerod Mayo -- Inside linebacker is part of every personnel package and totals a team-high 12 tackles (one for a loss) and one quarterback hit.
Randy Moss -- Receiver finishes with six catches for 147 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 powerful stiff-arm.
Vince Wilfork -- Nose tackle shows his unselfishness and versatility by moving to right defensive end to match up against left tackle Jake Long, the first player chosen in the 2008 draft.
A look at snaps played by Patriots defenders in the team's 27-17 win over the Dolphins (as charted in the press box, small margin for error):
OLB Tully Banta-Cain -- 72 of 72 snaps
S Brandon McGowan -- 72 of 72
S Brandon Meriweather -- 72 of 72
ILB Jerod Mayo -- 71 of 72
CB Leigh Bodden -- 63 of 72
DE Vince Wilfork -- 61 of 72
CB Darius Butler -- 58 of 72
ILB Gary Guyton -- 58 of 72
NT/DT Mike Wright -- 50 of 72
OLB Adalius Thomas -- 44 of 72
DE Ty Warren -- 43 of 72
DT Myron Pryor -- 36 of 72
CB/S Shawn Springs -- 32 of 72
S Pat Chung -- 31 of 72
DE Derrick Burgess -- 27 of 72
CB Terrence Wheatley -- 1 of 72
(Snaps come up one short as the Patriots had 10 defenders on the field, not the standard 11, for Ronnie Brown's 16-yard run in the fourth quarter, which was a rare error by the Patriots coaching staff; snaps include a roughing-the-passer penalty and a defensive pass interference penalty)
ANALYSIS: The wire-to-wire effort of Banta-Cain stands out. He is one of the best players on the defense right now, playing in every package as the team's top outside linebacker and pass rusher In moving Wilfork to end, and keeping him on the field for most third-down situations, the Patriots smashed the perception that Wilfork is just a two-down player. Wilfork moved to right end to match up against left tackle Jake Long, a reflection of how the Patriots view him as their best lineman Pryor continues to play over fellow rookie Ron Brace, regardless of the scheme, including short-yardage situations The primary sub package was the dime, with Chung and Springs coming onto the field as the fifth and sixth defensive backs. When the Patriots played nickel (five defensive backs), Chung was the extra DB Thomas is not part of sub packages, but his snap total reflects how often the Patriots were in their base 3-4 alignment The Patriots did not adopt a three-man rotation at inside linebacker, sticking with Guyton and Mayo, as Junior Seau dressed but did not play.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran linebacker Tully Banta-Cain returned to the Patriots this offseason in hopes of reviving his career after two unproductive seasons in San Francisco. The revival has come quicker than expected, with Banta-Cain emerging as one of the team's top pass-rushers.
As a reward Tuesday, the Patriots and Banta-Cain agreed to a contract extension through 2011, according to a source familiar with the deal.
To consummate the extension, the Patriots had to release Banta-Cain on Monday as a procedural matter.
Banta-Cain's extension boosts his 2009 base salary from $620,000 to $1.8 million, according to the source. He'll earn base salaries of $1.3 million in 2010 and $1.5 million in 2011, and will have a chance to earn additional money based on playing time and Pro Bowl incentives in the final two years of the pact.
Banta-Cain is tied for the team lead with three sacks. He's played in all six games, with two starts, and has been a solid contributor on special teams.
The Patriots are in the process of striking a similar deal with linebacker Eric Alexander, multiple sources familiar with that negotiation said. Alexander's main contributions come on special teams.
After releasing linebacker Tully Banta-Cain on Monday night, the Patriots re-signed him on Tuesday morning, a team source told ESPN Insider Adam Schefter.
This was expected, and here is what I think happened:
Banta-Cain was playing under a one-year, $620,000 contract that qualified for the veteran minimum benefit.
It is my understanding that players under a veteran minimum benefit contract can not have their contract extended until after the league year.
Reading the tea leaves with Banta-Cain, it appears both Banta-Cain and the Patriots decided they wanted to make this a longer-term relationship, and figured "Why wait until after the season?" The only way to make that happen now was to rip up the veteran minimum benefit contract, and strike a brand new, longer-term agreement. While Banta-Cain returns on a one-year deal, the opportunity is presumably there to extend him in the coming weeks. By making this move, the Patriots avoid Banta-Cain having to go through the waiver process, which begins tomorrow for veteran players.
As an additional note, the veteran minimum benefit contract is designed to help older players. There was a feeling in some circles in recent years that older players were being squeezed out of the league in favor of cheaper, younger talent on the salary cap.
The veteran minimum benefit contract, always for one year, makes it easier for teams to keep veterans because the salary cap charge is less than the salary.
Also, it should be noted that special teamer Eric Alexander, who was also released, was re-signed Tuesday by the Patriots to a one-year deal that could be extended.