New England Patriots: Nate Ebner

Checking the locks: Patriots safeties

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
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.

Progress report: Pats' second-year players

November, 7, 2013
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has talked at length in the past about the critical importance of the offseason for players entering their second NFL season. It often turns out that players experience their biggest jump from one year to the next from their rookie to sophomore seasons.

We saw it with Stevan Ridley in 2012, as he became the Patriots' workhorse back and one of the NFL's top rushers.

With the regular season more than halfway over and the bye week upon us, below is a look at how the Patriots' second-year players have performed.

Defensive end Chandler Jones: When Belichick talked about the development of second-year players, it was likely exactly with what we've seen from Jones in mind. The team's top pick in 2012 has built off his six-sack rookie season to become one of the best pass-rushers in the AFC, totaling 8.5 already. He's firmly entrenched himself as a cornerstone of the defense.

Linebacker Dont'a Hightower: Another first-round pick in 2012, Hightower is also a key defender for the Patriots. He's taken on a bigger leadership role this season from an on-field communication standpoint, particularly with Jerod Mayo out for the season. Hightower is an able run defender, though his speed limitation has shown up in pass coverage.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard: Dennard made the leap into the starting lineup toward the end of his rookie season and has not looked back since. He's developed into a dependable perimeter corner that has shined through the season's first half. He projects as a long-term starter if he stays on his current arc of progression.

Running back Brandon Bolden: Bolden has figured significantly into the Patriots' running back rotation, often serving as the back within the up-tempo offense. He's played a less prominent role on special teams this season than he did last year, and it will be interesting to see how his offensive role changes when Shane Vereen returns.

Safety Tavon Wilson: The second-round pick out of Illinois in 2012 started off his NFL career as a regular part of the Patriots' defense. He has since become largely a special-teams player. He missed time earlier this season due to a hamstring issue, but he's become among the team's top core special teamers.

Safety Nate Ebner: Ebner was drafted with the idea in mind of him becoming an impactful special teams player, and he's steadily contributed on coverage units. He has not had a defensive role this season.

Defensive tackle Marcus Forston: After starting the year on the practice squad, Forston was promoted to the active roster amidst injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. He's yet to play much, however, as the team has leaned more on rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones.

Defensive end Jake Bequette: There was hope that a full offseason would propel Bequette onto the radar this season, but that has not yet been the case. The Patriots turned to rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan as their third rusher earlier in the year before more recently signing veteran Andre Carter. Bequette is effectively the fifth defensive end on the roster.

Analysis on Patriots downgrades

September, 7, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Some quick-hit thoughts on the Patriots' downgraded players for Sunday's opener -- tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring), offensive lineman Will Svitek (knee) and safeties Nate Ebner (ankle) and Duron Harmon (hamstring):

1. Gronk news expected. The bigger news with Gronkowski would have been if he made the trip; don't think a return is realistic until Sept. 22 at the earliest. The Patriots are light on tight ends for the opener with just Michael Hoomanawanui and Zach Sudfeld dressing. Hoomanawanui (6-4, 260) is more of the inline tight end, while Sudfeld (6-7, 260) is the "move" option.

2. Bolden absence most significant. Of all the moves, Bolden's absence is viewed as the most significant when considering expectations and role (we never thought Gronkowski had a chance to play). Bolden is a core special teams player. When a player like Bolden is lost, it usually takes multiple players to fill his void on special teams. His absence also likely sparked the re-signing of veteran Leon Washington, because Bolden would be the top backup to "passing back" Shane Vereen; that's a role Washington can now handle until Bolden is ready (while also potentially helping on kickoff returns).

3. Dobson's hamstring keeps him home. In a move that was forecasted earlier today, Dobson didn't make the trip. He had been limited all week with a hamstring injury, although even if he was healthy, he might have had a hard time breaking through to the 46-man game-day roster. Based on the way the preseason unfolded, he's currently behind Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins on the receiver depth chart, and with fellow rookie receiver Josh Boyce providing more special teams value, Dobson currently looks like the No. 5 option on game day. Some weeks, that might not be enough to dress depending on injuries to others.

4. Svitek's injury elevates Kline. The Patriots had declared Svitek, who projected to the No. 7 spot on the game-day roster as a backup tackle and guard, out on Friday. That likely sparked the move to promote guard Josh Kline from the practice squad Saturday. Kline had been with the team throughout training camp and thus has more knowledge of the system and experience with checks at the line of scrimmage than rookie Chris Barker, who had been claimed on waivers last Sunday.

5. Thin at safety and special teams. With core special teamer Ebner and rookie safety Harmon out, the Patriots have just starters Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory at safety, along with Tavon Wilson. That could press five-year veteran Marquice Cole into emergency duty at the position; Cole, a cornerback, played some safety in spring camps. Both Ebner and Harmon factor into the special teams mix, which is another trickle-down effect of their absence. It's likely the team will use multiple players to fill those roles.

W2W4: Five things we'll be focused on

September, 6, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Call it the final countdown. The regular season has kicked off for two teams, with just two more days until the Patriots take the field against the Bills in Buffalo (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET on CBS).

After an unusual offseason that saw countless unforeseen twists and turns, the Patriots are likely as ready as ever to get back on the field and begin the process of achieving their ultimate goal.

There are new faces aplenty in the receiver corps, while the defense looks much like the group from last season. The coaching staff is virtually unchanged, with Bill Belichick welcoming another familiar face in Brian Daboll back into the mix.

On Sunday, the Patriots have a chance to begin their division title defense against an AFC East foe while also trying to continue their recent dominance of the Bills. In fact, quarterback Tom Brady is 20-2 against the Bills in his career, a mark he hopes to further improve upon this weekend.

With kickoff right around the corner, here are five things we’ll be watching for when the Patriots take on the Bills.

1. Does preseason success translate into the regular season for receiving corps? Indications from the preseason are that the Patriots pass-catchers will hold up just fine, as Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld and others have looked very much in sync with Brady. But the regular season is a new test and all eyes will be on this group -- particularly the rookies making their NFL debuts. If the Patriots hope to repeat their offensive success from last season, there can be no easing period for the new wideouts in New England.


What's your prediction for Patriots-Bills?


Discuss (Total votes: 22,937)

2. Can the secondary stay on the arc of progression? The Patriots secondary picked it up down the stretch in 2012, and with several pieces in place again this season, improvement is expected. It looks like the same starters from the end of 2012 will get the nod this season, with Kyle Arrington as the top reserve cornerback followed by Logan Ryan. It seems plausible that the third safety will be another third-rounder from Rutgers, as Duron Harmon may have leapfrogged Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner on the depth chart. This group needs to build off of its momentum from 2012.

3. Disrupting Manuel. In 17 games against rookie quarterbacks, the Patriots are 13-4 under Bill Belichick (all four losses, incidentally, have come on the road). They’ll have another first-year test in EJ Manuel, the top quarterback picked in this year’s draft and the hopeful franchise player in Buffalo for the future. While Manuel is considered a polished prospect, how much the Patriots will be able to disrupt and confuse him with multiple looks will, at least in part, dictate his NFL debut. Don’t be surprised to see the Patriots bring the heat with extra rushers.

4. Rotations at RB, TE, LB. From the more under-the-radar category, there’s some intrigue in how the team rotates its players at three positions: running back, tight end and linebacker. At tight end, supposing Rob Gronkowski is unable to play, how might the Patriots deploy their duo of healthy bodies? Will Sudfeld play the predominant number of snaps, or will it be a more balanced workload? At running back, it appears Shane Vereen will be cast in the role Danny Woodhead played last season, with LeGarrette Blount as a backup to workhorse Stevan Ridley. As it relates to the linebackers, who will align next to Jerod Mayo in sub defensive packages? Could top draft choice Jamie Collins get the nod, or might it be Brandon Spikes/Dont'a Hightower, as it was last season? Dane Fletcher could be in the mix, too.

5. Special-teams notes. The Patriots have a new punter for the first time since 2010, and it’s a test for rookie Ryan Allen to show he’s ready for NFL action. Beyond his punting responsibilities, Allen will be called upon to hold on the field goal team. That’s an underrated chore that he must show he’s capable to do consistently. On the kickoff return team, might we see Blount step up into the role that the team struggled with in 2012? If so, he’d qualify as one of the bigger return men in recent NFL action. Finally, the Patriots have no shortage of punt return options, including Amendola and Edelman, who is the only player to have a punt return for a score in each of the past three seasons.

Thursday's Pats-Bills practice report

September, 5, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There were no changes on the Patriots' injury report Thursday, with reserve veteran offensive lineman Will Svitek remaining out of practice and receiver Danny Amendola (groin) still limited.

Wednesday's Pats-Bills practice report

September, 4, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There were no surprises on the Patriots' first injury report of the 2013 regular season as it relates to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was officially listed as limited during Wednesday's session due to back and forearm injuries. Gronkowski, of course, had surgery on both areas this offseason.

The injury report also provided some clarity on other health issues of note. Wide receiver Danny Amendola, who sat out the team's third preseason game, was limited due to a groin issue. Four other Patriots were limited: running back Brandon Bolden (knee), safety Nate Ebner (ankle), safety Duron Harmon (hamstring) and wide receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring), while offensive tackle Will Svitek did not participate due to a knee injury.

The Patriots will distribute another participation report on Thursday and designate injured players as probable, questionable, doubtful or out on Friday's list.

Here are the full practice participation reports for the Patriots and Bills.

Bolden, Ebner, Francis, Cunningham absent

August, 29, 2013
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 spotted in warm-ups

August, 22, 2013
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.

Follow-up thoughts: Nate Ebner

July, 1, 2013
Few knew of Nate Ebner before the Patriots selected him in the sixth round of the draft last year, but he quickly grew a following because of his unlikely path to the NFL. Earlier today, colleague Mike Rodak highlighted Ebner in the latest installment of his "Bubble Watch" series, noting the potential for Ebner to gain more experience on defense this season.

Ebner, who was unable to fully participate in offseason activities due to an unknown injury, played in 15 games as a rookie and contributed primarily on special teams. Safety was a position of flux for the Patriots, but Devin McCourty eventually settled in next to Steve Gregory to solidify the back end of the defense.

It's a distant memory now, but Ebner, who played just three defensive snaps during his final year at Ohio State, flashed ball skills and range during training camp last July and August. He made a handful of plays on the ball, showing reactive athleticism to move laterally on reads, and seemed to grow more comfortable as training camp rolled on.

By the time the season began, Ebner was largely relegated to a special teams role, as he played just 34 defensive snaps last regular season. But while we have a sense of what Ebner is on special teams -- a core special teamer who can help as both a coverage and hold-up player -- what makes him intriguing is what he could become defensively.

If he can develop enough to be a contributor in sub packages, that will enhance Ebner's value and help him stick around for a long time in New England. If he turns out to be best suited as strictly a special teamer, he'll continue to draw a parallel to Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater, who nominally is a wide receiver, but has just one reception in five pro seasons. He's also become a captain and leader for the team, paying credence to the fact that each NFL roster needs core special teamers who can impact the outcome of the game each week. If Ebner evolves into another Slater-like prospect that doesn't have a large defensive role, that's still very good return on an initial investment of just a sixth-round pick.

Bubble watch: Nate Ebner

July, 1, 2013
(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Nate Ebner

[+] EnlargeNate Ebner
AP Photo/Charles KrupaNate Ebner faces some competition in his bid to keep his spot with the Patriots.

AGE: 24

2012 STATS: 15 games (no starts), 14 tackles

INJURY STATUS: Did not participate fully in OTAs/minicamp with unknown injury.


WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: Ebner remains an intriguing NFL prospect, coming from a rugby background with little experience on defense when he played football in college. He carved a role out on special teams last season, and if he builds on that, could provide significant value in a phase of the game the Patriots consider important. With some moving parts in the secondary, there is also potential for Ebner to gain experience on defense this preseason.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: The Patriots' roster is deepest at linebacker and in the secondary, bolstered by four draft picks (Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, and Steve Beauharnais) this April. All of these players figure to have some role on special teams. Moreover, the Patriots are well-stacked at safety: Beyond veterans Adrian Wilson, Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty, they have Harmon and 2012 second-round pick Tavon Wilson. That makes Ebner potentially the sixth player at his position, putting him at risk of not making the cut.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: CB Marquice Cole, S Tavon Wilson, LB Mike Rivera

Jones, Hightower lead strong 2012 class

May, 25, 2013
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.

Football journey: Nate Ebner

January, 5, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the Patriots selected Ohio State safety Nate Ebner in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft, it had many scurrying for information. Ebner wasn't a highly touted prospect, had hardly played defense at Ohio State, and didn't take part in the NFL combine.

[+] EnlargeNate Ebner
Barry Chin/Getty ImagesEbner, a relatively unknown sixth-round pick for the Pats, finished the regular season second on the team with 17 special-teams tackles (14 solo).
His career highlights were more rugby-related (he was a world-class player) than football-related.

But as is usually the case, the Patriots had a plan and a specific fit in mind. If things went according to plan with Ebner, he'd be a core special teams player and a developing prospect at safety.

That's how it turned out, as Ebner finished second on the team with 17 special teams tackles (14 solo) during the 2012 regular season. Only special teams captain Matthew Slater had more (20).

The 24-year-old Ebner, who hails from Dublin, Ohio, shared his unique "football journey" with this week.

When he first started playing football: "I played from 6- and 7-year-old through middle school. Those were my running back days. But then I didn't play at all in high school [Hilliard Davidson]."

Why he first started playing football: "My dad [Jeff] and his influence on sports. Also, all my best friends were playing."

Why he stopped playing football after middle school: "I was raised in Cincinnati in my young years until sixth grade. I went to my last year of middle school in Columbus so that changed. My body type, I was a late bloomer. I didn't grow a lot and wasn't really into the football as much. I wasn't as big. Also, I wanted to play running back and they wanted me to play quarterback and safety. Between that, and also playing rugby with my dad, I enjoyed that more."

Why he eventually came back to football: "I wanted to play football my senior year of high school. I debated it. But I also had a Junior World Cup [for rugby] that I had already committed to in the spring. I talked with my dad about it and I went to meetings with the coaches, but it didn't end up happening. I was concerned about possibly getting hurt for the World Cup, which was my main priority at the time. I wasn't sure about playing football in college, I just wanted to play with my friends, and I also didn't feel good about going out there and taking someone's spot that had been there for four years. They won the state championship that year, so it wasn't like they needed me or anything. Then going into college, I couldn't play on any traveling professional rugby teams because I was committed to college. I was playing at the club collegiate level, and I struggled with that as far as the competition level. It wasn't against the best guys in the world. You were playing college club teams. That was hard for me, how serious I was taking it. So it was a mixture of those two things -- not playing when I kind of wanted to my senior year [of high school] and then just not getting the same competition level I had been used at the World Cup level."

How he approached Ohio State football about walking on to the team: "I got in contact with the guy I needed to get in contact with, and asked when the walk-on process was, and what does it entail? I started to train for that type of stuff, and the rest is history. ... The end of my second year of college, I walked on in the winter. My first season was going into my third year of college [Ebner was at Ohio State for 5 years, playing 3 seasons]."

Best football memories at Ohio State, where he was voted by teammates as the Buckeyes' most inspirational player: "I'd say it was running the [American] flag out in the September 11th game last year. I think at the time, I didn't realize how big of an honor it was. Looking back on it, especially after it happened, and just hearing the crowd ... they always cheer when we come out, but to hear them cheer the American flag on September 11th, it was awesome. And for me to lead the team out and have 110,000 screaming their heads off, I'd say that was my favorite. Obviously everything playing football, there are memories I can look back at and a lot of good things, but that one sticks out. Getting a sack was cool too, but the [flag] was better."

Being selected in the sixth round (197th overall) by the Patriots: "I don't even know where to begin on that one. Every kind of emotion you can imagine -- from extremely excited, to what an opportunity, to feeling that hard work was paying off. There was satisfaction for me, because of what I always felt quietly in my own mind about what I could do. Now it was being seen by other people, an NFL team thinking enough of me to draft me. It was cool for me with all the negative stuff; it's why I don't listen to that stuff."

Describing life as a Patriot: "It's awesome. It's the life. It's a great organization, great people, great attitudes. Everything you could want in any type of work environment -- to be part of a team that is so driven to win, where success is the only option. It's cool to be a part of something that holds itself to such a high standard."

Role models in his life: "My [late] dad was my only role model. Looking back on it, you had your favorite players, but they were just players. But a role model, and the way you carry yourself and how you go about your work -- what hard work really means -- and to be a man ... every aspect of life. To me, my dad was that role model, 100 percent. There wasn't anyone else I wanted to be like than him."

Favorite teams growing up: "Obviously, I was an Ohio State fan. I didn't really have a favorite NFL team. When I started to become a fan of sports like that, I was playing rugby at the time."

Favorite players growing up: "I didn't really have any, but I liked Ronnie Lott. That was before I was playing safety. I liked John Lynch too."

On highs and lows of his rookie NFL season: "I can't even say that right now because we still have a lot left. I'm still excited. I don't really try to look at it like that -- highs and lows -- and just try to stay even-keeled while getting better. When I see growth in myself as a player, and being able to help the team, those are the types of highs for me."

What he loves about football: "I love tackling, but the thing I really love about football is the explosiveness and speed of every play. You stop after every play. In rugby, it's a very fluid game and you have to have endurance. In football, you have time to rest and it's just so explosive. There are real explosive players out here."

Summing up his football journey to this point: "I guess I've always been driven to push myself and not be afraid of anything -- if it's something I wanted to do, I put my heart into it 100 percent and give it my best effort. You have to believe you can't fail, and have that confidence in yourself and from the close people around me, and not worrying about anything else. It's just working as hard as you can if it's something you truly want. That's been my journey."