New England Patriots: Ryan Wendell

Clarity on Ryan Wendell's contract

April, 1, 2014
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On Friday, we passed along word of a new two-year deal for center Ryan Wendell to stay with the New England Patriots. Per NFLPA records, the deal carried a maximum value of $8.15 million.

Wendell
We later noted Wendell had a $2 million roster bonus each season, a robust figure relative to how the Patriots normally construct their contracts. In looking at the finer print, we surmised that there may have been an errant entry on the NFLPA records.

Wendell's deal became official Monday, meaning the contract was registered with the NFL's management council overnight. The records of the management council serve as the data of record.

As it turns out, Wendell's deal did in fact have a misprint in the NFLPA, as he does not have roster bonuses of up to $2 million each season. He has roster bonuses of up to $200,000 each season, which can be earned by being on the 46-man roster for each of the 16 regular-season games next year ($12,500 for each game).

With this detail ironed out, here's an updated look at the contract:

Overall terms: Two years, base value of $3.25 million, maximum value of $4.55 million ($850,000 guaranteed in a signing bonus)

2014
Base salary: $1 million
Roster bonus: $200,000
Cap hit: $1.625 million

2015
Base salary: $1 million
Roster bonus: $200,000
Playing-time incentives: Up to $1.3 million
Cap hit: $1.625 million (would increase up to $2.975 million if he hits all incentives)

Quick-hit thoughts: Wendell has been a reliable and durable player across the Patriots' offensive line, though he did struggle against bigger, more physical defensive linemen in 2013. The $8.15 million maximum value seemed like a large figure for him, but this amended total strikes us as a good deal for both sides. If Wendell stays healthy and plays well enough to continue to start, the Patriots are paying him a salary in line for his level of pay. Wendell earns a raise from his previous contract and is in line to remain the starter at center over the next two seasons.

A note on Wendell's deal

March, 28, 2014
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Earlier today, we passed along the terms on Ryan Wendell's two-year deal with the Patriots, per NFLPA records obtained.

The breakdown was a maximum value of $8.15 million, a number that seemed a little high for a player who hadn't generated a ton of interest in free agency and endured struggles last season.

The details of the contract have not been submitted to the NFL's management council department, though that should come shortly after the deal is made official (we'd expect that in the coming days).

NFLPA documents are largely accurate, but the numbers submitted to the management council are the figures of record. So until we have those details, we won't have 100 percent confirmation on the overall value.

In looking at the NFLPA information, it was noted that Wendell has a roster bonus of $12,500 per game for each season, which would, if he played all 16 games, equal $200,000 per year. It also lists an overall roster bonus of $2 million per season.

The Patriots have just two players -- offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and cornerback Brandon Browner -- with a roster bonus over $750,000.

Vollmer's roster bonus is $2 million, something that derived from his injury history prior to signing the deal. Roster bonuses serve as a measure of protection for teams.

Meanwhile, Browner has a roster bonus of up to $2.3 million, again serving as protection for the team for a player who has a four-game suspension ahead of him and faces further punishment if he repeats previous offenses.

Wendell has been durable (he's played all but six offensive snaps the past two seasons), making it even less likely that the team would institute a roster bonus of that figure.

It could be that the NFLPA records listed a roster bonus of $2 million inadvertently, as the figure perhaps should have been $200,000 total, not $2 million.

If so, Wendell's contract would have a maximum value of $4.55 million over two years. That number is closer to what we might have projected for Wendell to fetch in free agency.

The Patriots don't have an extensive track record of robust roster bonuses, especially not for a player who has a reliable history in terms of games and snaps played.

Again, we don't have the official figures at this time. The numbers from the NFLPA could prove to be accurate, but for now we're in wait-and-see mode to get the final word.

Several Pats FAs are still out there

March, 28, 2014
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With the NFL owners meetings behind us, we’ve come to something of a natural juncture within the NFL offseason schedule.

Most of the major free-agent activity has come and passed, though there is still a collection of talent available.

The New England Patriots have been busy already this offseason, but certainly might not be done.

One of the orders of business the Patriots will continue to monitor is their own free agents.

Below is a snapshot of those still available to sign, with a quick-hit thought.

Williams
Blount
RB LeGarrette Blount: Blount is reportedly visiting the Steelers today, marking his most legitimate interest from another team that we’ve heard of. The running back market has been soft this offseason, and a return to New England would still make sense in our eyes.

DE Andre Carter: The veteran provided experience as a midseason signing, though his ability to impact the game on the field has regressed. He indicated last year that if he weren’t to return to the Patriots, he’d retire.

WR Austin Collie: Dependable in a small role last season, Collie is the type of player the Patriots can be patient on. After re-signing Julian Edelman and adding Brandon LaFell in free agency, there is not a huge need to re-sign Collie with Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson expected to develop in Year 2.

Tight end Matthew Mulligan: Tight end remains an area to address for the Patriots, but Mulligan is another player who there is no need to rush on. He’s replaceable through a late-round draft choice or other veteran option.

Offensive tackle Will Svitek: Svitek offers versatility to play both tackle spots and guard, though a balky ankle slowed him down the stretch last season. With Marcus Cannon on the roster, the Patriots have their swing tackle. Svitek has a place in this league as a reserve.

Center Ryan Wendell: Perhaps the most intriguing name still on this list. If Wendell had been a free agent after the 2012 season, the narrative might be different. But a difficult 2013 has decreased his market. At a low-money contract, bringing him back is a wise investment.

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.

Free-agency primer: Patriots

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: CB Aqib Talib, WR Julian Edelman, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Brandon Spikes, C Ryan Wendell

Where they stand: The Patriots would like Talib back, and Brent Grimes' four-year, $32 million contract with $16 million guaranteed in Miami provides a ballpark for the marketplace. Is that too rich for the Patriots? The club would also like Edelman back, but after investing in a receiver with a similar skill set last offseason (Danny Amendola), it will be interesting to see how far the Patriots are willing to extend to do so. Talib is the key piece, and similar to Wes Welker last year, it makes sense to think the team will quickly move to Plan B if a deal isn't struck by the start of free agency.

What to expect: The Patriots aren't flush with cap space, and Bill Belichick often says that free agency is one slice of the team-building process, along with the draft and trades. A focus on retaining their own, with a few complementary pieces from other teams added in free agency, would be our best guess as to how the Patriots approach things in 2014. Key spots in addition to retaining Talib and Edelman are adding a more dynamic presence at tight end, more pass-rush help and depth at defensive tackle.

Patriots free agents and perception

February, 27, 2014
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On Wednesday night, two media-based lists were passed along on top NFL free agents, from the perspective of viewing where Patriots players were placed.

Let's follow that up today, as Greg Bedard of TheMMQB.com has released the rest of his list (players 1-50) and the CBSSports.com tandem of Pete Prisco and Pat Kirwan has also unveiled theirs as well.

Bedard has cornerback Aqib Talib as the No. 17 overall free agent.

"An unquestioned passion for the game and shutdown ability, but he's never played 16 games and his off-field problems aren't that far removed," Bedard writes, before adding that Talib's best fit is back in New England. "Both sides are comfortable with him there, and other teams might be reluctant to give him a big deal."

Bedard has Talib as the third best corner on the market, behind Tennessee's Alterraun Verner (No. 9) and Miami's Brent Grimes (No. 15).

Meanwhile, the Prisco/Kirwan list has Talib at No. 19 and the fourth overall cornerback behind Verner, the Colts' Vontae Davis, and Grimes.

Other Patriots on the list include:

No. 31 -- Julian Edelman
No. 68 -- Brandon Spikes
No. 95 -- LeGarrette Blount
No. 132 -- Ryan Wendell

QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: With some top cornerbacks all hitting the market at the same time, this could be a case where all it takes is for one domino to fall before the others fall into place. In that sense, when projecting Talib's potential return to New England, it almost can't be mentioned without factoring in Verner, Davis and Grimes because they all figure to be in the same general market.

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.

Draft & free agency: Interior O-line

February, 12, 2014
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With free agency to begin March 11, and the draft from May 8-10, one thing NFL teams generally do at this time is marry the two to better assess the best approach to filling potential needs.

For example, if a team knows it’s a deep draft for top-quality offensive tackles (2014 is such), it might be less inclined to be as aggressive at that position in free agency. With this in mind, our plan is to look at each position in the coming days through a similar lens.

We’ll lead off with center/guard.

Warmack
Draft: When Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell was asked what might be easier to accomplish between adding a spark to the running game or finding an impact pass-rusher, he chose the running game because of the ability to find good value/production along the offensive line in the middle rounds. Unlike last year with center Travis Frederick (31st overall pick), and guards Jonathan Cooper (No. 7), Chance Warmack (No. 10), and Kyle Long (No. 20), this year is shaping up as one in which the first pure interior offensive lineman might not be selected until the second round. Southern Cal's Marcus Martin and North Carolina's Russell Bodine are two of the top interior offensive linemen in the draft.

Mack
Free agency: The contract that former New England Patriots guard Donald Thomas landed from the Colts last offseason (four years, $14 million) provides some framework of a marketplace for a free agent pursued early in the process. Browns center Alex Mack and Broncos guard Zane Beadles look like the crown jewels, and they won’t come that cheap if they ultimately make it to the open market. Chiefs guard Jon Asamoah enters his fifth season, and fits the still-young-and-entering-his-prime profile that could lead to a nice payday. The view from here is that there are some quality high-level options in free agency and then a notable drop-off.

Patriots perspective: Starting center Ryan Wendell is a free agent, and starting right guard Dan Connolly is due a $3 million base salary and will count $4 million against the cap, which could be viewed as too rich for the Patriots’ liking. As colleague Field Yates noted, the Patriots have a high total of $16 million of their cap currently tied up along the interior of the offensive line, which probably tilts the odds in favor of the team looking at low- to moderate-cost options unless that financial picture changes. There are also developmental prospects like guard Chris Barker and practice squad center Braxston Cave who could figure into the plans.

Patriots positional review: OL

January, 29, 2014
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the New England Patriots offensive linemen.

Guard Logan Mankins
Age: 31
2013 status: Played and started every game this season, including one at left tackle when Nate Solder suffered a concussion.
2013 highlights: The tone-setter. Mankins flexed his toughness throughout the year and showed his versatility in kicking out to tackle as well. A road grader in the running game who was named to the Pro Bowl. After nine seasons, Mankins remains one of the top interior linemen in the league.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Left tackle Nate Solder
Age: 25
2013 status: Played and started 15 games at left tackle. Also logged 22 snaps as a tight end during the regular season.
2013 highlights: Solder continues to blossom into one of the top young left tackles in the league. Has a compelling mix of length and power, but can continue to grow sturdier in his base. Was at-times dominant. Missed his first career game with a concussion.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season (team can exercise option through 2015)

Center Ryan Wendell
Age: 27
2013 status: Played and started every game at center.
2013 highlights: After an exceptional 2012, Wendell wasn’t quite as solid in 2013. He can be outmanned in the middle sometimes with his light frame, but he remains a solid technician. Smart, involved in the line calls and an accurate shotgun snapper, he’s a center you can certainly win with.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Right guard Dan Connolly
Age: 31
2013 status: Played and started every game at right guard.
2013 highlights: After a down 2012, Connolly bounced back for a steady 2013. Offers unique versatility to play both guard spots and center. Not an overwhelm-er at the point of attack, but has good short area quickness and athleticism. If Wendell departs in free agency, Connolly could return to center.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer
Age: 29
2013 status: Played and started eight games before being placed on injured reserve after suffering a broken leg.
2013 highlights: Dominant when on the field. The towering right tackle was among the best at his position before the injury. Powerful and athletic, his loss was felt along the line.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Guard/tackle Marcus Cannon
Age: 25
2013 status: Played in 14 games, starting six in place of Vollmer.
2013 highlights: The Patriots’ utility man along the line, Cannon took snaps at both tackle spots. He has experience at guard as well. As a starter, he was sufficient. Had some struggles against elite defensive ends but has continued to progress. Gives the Patriots insurance along the line.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Guard/tackle Will Svitek
Age: 32
2013 status: Played in 13 games, starting two at right tackle when Cannon was out due to injury.
2013 Highlights: Another utility lineman who returned from injury after missing the entire 2012 season. Held up in spot duty at both guard and tackle. A veteran with positional versatility.
Current contract runs through: Free agent.

Guard Josh Kline
Age: 24
2013 status: Played in seven games, starting against Baltimore when Mankins played left tackle.
2013 highlights: Emerged as a young, developmental prospect. Went undrafted out of Kent State but could stick around as a player the Patriots can count on. Performed at a high level in start against the Ravens.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Guard Chris Barker
Age: 23
2013 status: Played in four games.
2013 highlights: A reserve who was active sporadically, seeing some time on the field goal/extra point team.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Others on the roster: C/G Braxton Cave, T Jordan Devey, OL R.J. Mattes, OT Markus Zusevics

POSITIONAL NEED: Contractually, the Patriots have four of their five starters from 2013 in place for next season, as Wendell is the lone free agent. If the team brings him back, the 2014 starters may well mirror this year’s starting group. If Wendell doesn’t return, the team could shift Connolly back to center, use Cannon at right guard and form an altered starting five. Kline showed promise as a developmental prospect, while Barker, Cave, Devey, Zusevics and Mattes are lesser-known prospects. Given that Cave was claimed off of waivers from Cleveland at the start of the season, he could be a player the team has a preferred level of interest in. All told, the Patriots have options along the offensive line. The angle worth watching closely is the transition from longtime coach Dante Scarnecchia to Dave DeGuglielmo. Scarnecchia was simply phenomenal, both as an X’s and O’s coach and talent developer. This group had some struggles on the whole in pass protection this season, but can be a strength of the roster with a bounce-back season.

The next big thing: Patriots

January, 22, 2014
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The first focus for the Patriots in free agency will be their own key players who are set to hit the market.

The list is plentiful, and it starts with cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib's work as a shutdown cover man was as good as the Patriots have seen in Bill Belichick's 14 years as coach, which is why he is viewed as the centerpiece to the team's offseason approach.

If Talib isn't back, the Patriots are back to what we saw in the AFC Championship game ... and the drop-off was notable.

Meanwhile, receiver Julian Edelman and running back LeGarrette Blount are two others the club would likely hope to retain, with center Ryan Wendell also in that mix.

In the draft, the Patriots have their full complement of picks -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 6 and 7. The fifth-rounder went to Philadelphia in the Isaac Sopoaga trade this year, with the additional sixth coming from the Eagles in that same deal.

The other aspect to consider is the fluid nature of salary-cap space. One important offseason storyline will be if the team gets salary-cap relief from Aaron Hernandez's contract, which would play a major role in building the team.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

January, 11, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing thoughts on the New England Patriots' 43-22 divisional-round playoff victory Saturday over the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: The Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game for the eighth time in Bill Belichick's 14 years as head coach, which continues a remarkable run of success for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Many of the faces around them have changed over the years, but Belichick and Brady have been the constants, and one could make a case this has been their most impressive season as a tandem. The Patriots have been hit as hard by injuries as any team in the NFL, but they've willed their way to put themselves in position to win their first Super Bowl championship since the 2004 season.

Running game sparks attack again: For the third consecutive game, the Patriots' ground attack was the difference-maker, led by hard-charging LeGarrette Blount (franchise-record four rushing touchdowns). The Patriots split snaps at running back evenly among Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and sliced up the Colts with strong work up front by the offensive line -- left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Marcus Cannon -- as well as tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and fullback James Develin. When the Patriots run it like this, it brings back memories of the 2004 Super Bowl championship team for which bruiser Corey Dillon was the lead back.

Injuries to monitor: Punter Ryan Allen left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski handled the punting duties, and Brady handled the holder responsibilities as part of the field-goal operation. If Allen is unavailable in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots would almost certainly bring in another punter. Former Patriot Zoltan Mesko isn't an option, as he punted for the Bengals in the playoffs and isn't eligible to join another team. ... Elsewhere, rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins left the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury (presumably a concussion) and did not return. Veteran Austin Collie was his replacement.

Stock watch: Jamie Collins -- up. The Patriots' top pick in the 2013 draft (52nd overall) was thrust into an expanded role, in part because linebacker Brandon Spikes was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the week. Collins had played just 25 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season, but he didn't come off the field and made his presence felt as a tackler, pass-rusher and in coverage with an interception. He was all over the field in what was a coming out party for the ultra-athletic defender from Southern Mississippi.

What's next: The Patriots will play in the AFC Championship Game against the winner of Sunday's game between the visiting San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos (4:40 p.m. ET). If Denver beats San Diego, the AFC Championship Game will be played in Denver. If San Diego beats Denver, the AFC Championship Game will be played in New England. Regardless of location, the game will be played at 3 p.m. ET next Sunday.

Kline, Daboll among unsung contributors

December, 23, 2013
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As reporters arrived in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 41-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, center Ryan Wendell turned to one and said, "Go interview Josh Kline." It was a case where a veteran player wanted to make sure a rookie making his first career start received his just due.

[+] EnlargeJosh Kline
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsRookie offensive lineman Josh Kline made his first NFL career start on Sunday at Baltimore.
Kline, who went undrafted out of Kent State and has been on and off the team's practice squad this season, had just put on his AFC East Championship hat and T-shirt when approached by reporters.

“It’s great to win the AFC East and have a shot to be a 2-seed next week. It's unreal for me, my first start. Personally it means a lot,” Kline said, struggling to come up with the words for how he was pressed into action in a critical spot.

Kline said he treated the week like any other, preparing as if he would start.

How he arrived at this point is, first and foremost, a credit to his approach and improvement. Patriots coach Bill Belichick also noted the work of assistant coach Brian Daboll when it comes to Kline.

"Brian Daboll worked him out in the spring and I think that [was] part of the impetus in our interest in him," Belichick said. "He wasn't drafted -- we were able to recruit and then sign him as a college free agent."

With Nate Solder out with a concussion, Logan Mankins was asked to move out to his college position of left tackle, thrusting Kline into a starting role for the first time in his young NFL career.

The results were positive for the Patriots on Sunday, as they mustered 142 rushing yards against what had previously been the NFL's seventh-best run defense.

Should Solder be forced to miss any more games, it seems likely Kline will continue to start alongside Mankins and Wendell.

Based off of remarks from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Monday, it appears Daboll not only helped in the process to bring Kline to New England, but also in his development throughout the season.

"He's spent a lot of time with our young linemen to give them extra teaching and extra classroom work when we have our meetings and are able to split those up like that," McDaniels said. "I think he's really done a nice job of teaching those guys the foundation of our system and trying to help them move along because eventually during the course of the season you know you're going to need some of those young players to step in and play potentially significant roles, as Josh did yesterday."

Aiding in the development of young linemen is just one of the hats Daboll -- who is officially listed as an offensive assistant -- has worn this season.

McDaniels added that he's provided substantial value in a multitude of ways during his first full season back in New England after stops in New York, Cleveland, Miami and Kansas City.

"Whether it's game plan thoughts and ideas or in-game adjustments or teaching some of the other players or helping us out in any way, shape or form that he could with his volume of experience as a coordinator, as a position coach in our system, I think it's just been an incredible benefit to have him here and he's really contributed a ton to our success," he said.

Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review

November, 25, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces from the first quarter of the New England Patriots' 34-31 overtime win over the Denver Broncos:

1. Some of the Patriots’ struggles defending the run were evident from the first play -- a 12-yard Knowshon Moreno run up the middle. Rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano was double teamed by right tackle Orlando Franklin and right guard Louis Vasquez, while fellow rookie Chris Jones was handled by center Manny Ramirez, with a little help from left guard Zane Beadles. It didn’t help that linebacker Dont'a Hightower didn’t seem to fill his gap decisively. The Broncos won these battles consistently. Vellano and Jones play with great effort and are giving the Patriots everything they have. They were just outplayed at times, which created big running lanes for Moreno.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesPatriots head coach Bill Belichick says there are different types of fumbles, citing some are just football plays that happen and others are a result of poor technique or skills.
2. Strong work by top Patriots draft pick Jamie Collins, who opened the game with three tackles on the game’s first five plays. Collins was part of one version of the 4-2-5 nickel, playing 22 snaps replacing Brandon Spikes at linebacker in some sub situations. In a spread passing game, it seemed the coaching staff liked Collins’ athleticism in the matchup. “I thought he was active,” Bill Belichick said of Collins. “He was in on a number of plays. It looked like the last third-down play, he was in on breaking up passes, jamming receivers, had a couple big tackles for us there.”

3. One of the topics that has come up in weekly mailbags and chats is if left guard Logan Mankins might be slipping. The Patriots’ first running play (Stevan Ridley for 7 yards) is a good example of why the answer is no. While Mankins leads the Patriots with seven penalties and has had some protection breakdowns, he still showcases the athleticism to pull, combined with impressive power that was evidenced as he drove linebacker Danny Trevathan on to his back.

4. Bill Belichick talked about the difference between fumbles that are good football plays and those that could be avoided with better discipline. We'd put Ridley's in the latter category. As he attempts to spin, he is upright and opens himself up while exposing the football to contact. Some credit obviously goes to Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard for creating the fumble, and it appeared right guard Dan Connolly might have been late coming off his initial block in a failed attempt to deter Woodyard, but with better fundamentals Ridley should be able to hold on to that ball.

5. On LeGarrette Blount's fumble, we'd put it closer to the "football plays" category as Blount seemed initially dazed by safety Duke Ihenacho’s helmet making contact with his helmet (not a penalty because he isn't a defenseless player). Blount was also attempting to protect the ball as Ihenacho arrived, which from our view, showed more awareness than Ridley's miscue.

6. Explosive rush by Broncos defensive end Von Miller to get around left tackle Nate Solder to the outside to create the Tom Brady strip sack with 9:30 remaining in the first quarter. Miller does that to a lot of left tackles. We'd imagine offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia would also point to Solder’s technique breakdown on the play, as the third-year pro didn’t get his hands on Miller early enough in the rush, which allowed Miller to dictate as Solder found himself in a compromising position.

7. Right defensive end Chandler Jones, who now has 10.5 sacks, was one of the Patriots' top defenders. He continues to evolve, mostly playing forward but also showing athleticism to drop into coverage at times. He plays out of both a 3- and 2-point stance and his sack on second-and-goal was a big play that ultimately contributed to a red-zone hold. We don’t want to undersell the strong 1-on-1 rush against left tackle Chris Clark, but there was also an important coverage element to the play as Kyle Arrington played outside leverage and took away Wes Welker, who appeared to be Peyton Manning's first read as the middle receiver in a three-wide alignment to the left. Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard also had solid man coverage on that side. Specific to Arrington, his work in the slot against Welker warrants mention as similar to Mankins, he’s been subject to criticism in some mailbags and chats this year. The feeling here is that Arrington is a solid slot corner. When asked to do more, that's when some struggles arise.

8. On the second sack of Brady, the Broncos came with a six-man blitz and it looked like a case of the Broncos having the perfect call for the play. Connolly was pulling on the play as part of creating some play-action, but the issue was that defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson was too quick to shoot the gap vacated by Connolly before center Ryan Wendell could get over to him. Easy sack. NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth quickly pointed out that it was a similar protection that resulted in a sack in last Monday's game against the Panthers and wondered the Patriots might remove the protection from the playbook. That could be the case. At the same time, we wondered if it was just a result of the Broncos matching a perfect call against it.

Quick-hit thoughts on Pats and NFL

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
5:00
AM ET
Quick-hit thoughts on the NFL and the New England Patriots:

1. The Patriots kept just two quarterbacks on their initial 53-man roster, marking the fourth time in the past five years they have done so. How does that compare to the other teams in the NFL? By my count, here is the breakdown for 2013 after Saturday’s cut-downs:

Four quarterbacks: three teams
Three quarterbacks: 15 teams
Two quarterbacks: 14 teams

The next step that will be interesting to monitor is how many of the 14 teams with just two quarterbacks add a third to their practice squad.

2. With all seven draft choices making the Patriots’ initial roster, plus five undrafted players, that initially gives the club 12 of its 51 spots filled by rookies. Add in six draft picks from last year still on the roster, plus 2012 undrafted running back Brandon Bolden, and that’s 19 players within their first two years in the NFL (35 percent of a 53-man roster). The Patriots have a solid veteran core, and trend older at some positions (defensive tackle, for example), but all in all, this is a very young team.

3. Let’s play the armchair-general-manager game for the Patriots when it comes to their defensive tackle need and see if we can hit the bull's-eye. Here were a few players at the position we could envision being of interest to the Patriots on the waiver wire:

Marvin Austin (Giants): The second-round pick out of North Carolina in 2011 hasn’t panned out, as his rookie season was wiped out by a torn pectoral muscle and he didn't break through last year. He is 6-foot-2 and 312 pounds. As ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano noted, the Giants are pretty deep at defensive tackle, so part of Austin’s release was a numbers game.

[+] EnlargeMarvin Austin
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesMarvin Austin, a second-round pick in 2011 who never found a groove with the Giants, could help New England at defensive tackle.
Kheeston Randall (Dolphins): The 6-foot-5, 309-pounder who played collegiately at Texas appeared in 12 games for Miami last season. He was a 2012 seventh-round pick and has some physical traits (e.g. long arms) that might have some appeal to New England.

Adam Replogle (Falcons): The undrafted rookie is 6-3 and 310 pounds, and started the final 47 games of his collegiate career at Indiana, where he was known for his work ethic and reliability. Patriots defensive line coach Patrick Graham had worked him out before the draft.

Torell Troup (Bills): He has battled injuries in the past but has some physical traits (6-3, 327) that could be appealing as a bigger-bodied backup to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Bill Belichick got to know him well on his annual pre-draft scouting trip in 2010. Troup, who played at Central Florida, was picked by the Bills in the second round that year. He has some partially guaranteed money in his contract, so it might be smarter, if interested, for the Patriots to see if he clears waivers and then bring him in.

4. While the Patriots are extremely thin at defensive tackle, which they figure to address with one of their open roster spots, it led us to check in on former New England tackles Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick in Jacksonville. Both made the Jaguars’ initial 53-man roster and are backups to Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller, who were signed as unrestricted free agents this offseason. Deaderick missed the first two games of the preseason with a groin injury, but is now healthy. Looking back, it’s only natural to wonder if the Patriots have any regret in parting ways with Love and Deaderick, as they created a void without having the reinforcements in place. In fairness, they were counting on Armond Armstead to play an integral role, but he later landed on the reserve/non-football illness list (he’s out at least the first six weeks of the season) after undergoing surgery for an infection.

4b. One more check-in: Patriots 2009 second-round draft choice Ron Brace didn’t make the initial 53-man roster with the Redskins. Given the depth questions at defensive tackle, would the Patriots consider bringing him back? Our guess: They probably look elsewhere.

5. Given the makeup of their initial roster -- with six receivers, five running backs, one fullback and three tight ends (one of whom, Rob Gronkowski, won’t be ready for the season opener) -- the Patriots figure to trend more toward three-receiver and two-back sets than multiple-tight-end packages early in the season. So while this is a team that has a reputation as a two-tight-end offense, which goes back to 2011 with the dynamic duo of Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the early part of this season is likely to have a different look. For the Sept. 8 opener at Buffalo, the three-receiver grouping might turn out to be the best matchup anyway, as the Bills are hurting at cornerback and it could hit their stress points from a depth perspective.

6. With Elvis Dumervil now in Baltimore, and Von Miller facing a six-game suspension to open the year, what’s left for the Broncos at defensive end? The free-agent signing of veteran Shaun Phillips looks more significant now, as Denver will count on him to help fill the void along with Derek Wolfe (2012 second-round pick out of Cincinnati) and Malik Jackson (2012 fifth-round pick out of Tennessee). One lingering question is if the Broncos will be able to generate enough pass rush. As for Phillips, he jumped to the Broncos after spending the first nine years of his career with the Chargers, putting him in almost the same position as linebacker Daryl Smith, who signed with the Ravens after spending the first nine years of his career with the Jaguars. Both are stepping into important roles -- Phillips helping fill the Miller void and Smith part of the puzzle to account for Ray Lewis’ absence -- which is a neat storyline for the Denver/Baltimore NFL season opener.

7. When it comes to the Patriots’ rookie receivers, I think the pace of their progression goes in the reverse order of how they arrived: Undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins is furthest along, followed by speedy fourth-round pick Josh Boyce (Texas Christian) and then second-rounder Aaron Dobson (Marshall). The thought occurred to me as Thompkins was given the veteran treatment in the second half of Thursday's preseason finale, watching from the sideline as Boyce and Dobson were still on the field playing.

8. With news that the Bills signed center Eric Wood to a long-term contract extension, it served as a reminder that he was a player I believe the Patriots had targeted as one of their ideal choices in the 2009 draft. That was the year the team traded down twice -- from 23 (Michael Oher) to 26 (Clay Matthews) to 34, where they selected safety Patrick Chung. Had Wood been on the board at 34, I think he would have received strong consideration. Had they stuck at 26, maybe they would have taken him there. Not that the Patriots are currently hurting at center, as Ryan Wendell has developed into a solid starter, but there was a lot of smoke around the Patriots and Wood that year.

9. The Raiders did what I thought the Patriots might by keeping two punters on their initial 53-man roster, as they view both Chris Kluwe and Marquette King as assets. The thinking, it appears, is that maybe the Raiders could trade one of them for a draft pick, although it's hard to imagine that unfolding. As for New England, rookie Ryan Allen was so impressive that the Patriots didn’t think he would clear waivers so they could bring him back on the practice squad (I thought that maybe by waiting a week or two, it would have a better chance of happening). So instead of keeping two, they just kept Allen and said goodbye to Zoltan Mesko, who should be punting somewhere in the NFL this season. He didn’t lose the job as much as Allen won it.

10. Patriots players return to the practice field today and tomorrow. They were off Saturday, as owner Robert Kraft hosted his annual before-the-season party for players and their families on Cape Cod. The Patriots will also practice Monday, before a day off Tuesday.

Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
11:55
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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.

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