AFC East: New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots have tapped the Rutgers pipeline in recent NFL drafts, starting with safety Devin McCourty (1st round, 2010) and then picking three Scarlet Knights last year in cornerback Logan Ryan (3rd round, 83rd overall), safety Duron Harmon (3rd round, 91st overall) and linebacker Steve Beauharnais (7th round, 235th overall).

Could receiver Brandon Coleman be the next in line?

Coleman was highlighted as part of the "Beyond the first round" series as a third-round consideration, so on Thursday at Gillette Stadium, I asked McCourty his thoughts on him.

"He's probably the most interesting [Rutgers prospect this year]," McCourty responded. "The thing I loved about him is his work ethic. I remember one summer, I went back there and we were just doing 1-on-1s and 7-on-7s with those guys and he was going each time. If one of the NFL guys got up there, he would go just to get the work. I'm happy for him, getting a chance to live out his dream."

McCourty said Coleman and the other Rutgers prospects can all be counted on for one thing.

"They work there," McCourty said. "I know whether it's here or somewhere else, those guys will land somewhere and work their butt off trying to keep a job."

Analyzing McShay's mock: Patriots 

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
12:15
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The New England Patriots have the No. 29 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. They could go in a number of different directions as, unlike last year, when they were locked into the receiver position, there is no glaring void to fill.

ESPN Insider Todd McShay has posted his latest mock draft , making the picks for each team as if he was in the general manager's seat, and he pinpoints defense for New England.


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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: The Patriots have a well-placed bye in Week 10, on Nov. 9. That is the first thing that catches the eye when looking at the schedule. Add in that the bye comes the week after another Patriots-Broncos showdown (Nov. 2 in New England at 4:25 p.m.), and the week before the Patriots visit the Colts for a Sunday night tilt (Nov. 16), that looks like the sweet spot of the schedule. Ending the year with three straight AFC East opponents is also notable, potentially increasing the odds that the division title will still be up for grabs at that point. We also like almost the entire month of October is spent at home, one of the great months for football in New England with the foliage providing a picturesque backdrop at Gillette Stadium.

Complaint department: Not much to bicker with here, but back-to-back road games against the Packers (Nov. 30) and Chargers (Dec. 7) looks like a tough draw, especially with the game in San Diego coming on a Sunday night. Also, this is the fourth straight year the Patriots will open the season on the road.

Preseason conditioning will be a focus: Opening the season at Miami, as the club did in 2011 in a convincing win, creates a natural storyline on preseason conditioning as preparing for the heat and humidity in South Florida will be a focus. It will be an early chance for the Patriots to get a jump on the division as they won't see another AFC East foe until Weeks 6 and 7 -- at the Bills and at home on Thursday night against the Jets.

Strength of schedule: 10th, .516 | Vegas over/under : 10.5

Patriots Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Monday, Sept. 29, at Kansas City, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 16, NY Jets, 8:25 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Green Bay, 4:25 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at San Diego, 8:30 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater likes what he sees at this early stage of the 2014 league year, while at the same time acknowledging this is just the start of a long journey.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Slater
Mike Reiss/ESPNMatthew Slater talks to the media at Gillette Stadium.
“There’s a lot to be excited about,” Slater said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium after participating in the second day of the team’s voluntary offseason program, which as expected, had exemplary attendance including quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Darrelle Revis. “There are some extremely talented players that we’ve added to the roster, along with some extremely talented players that we’ve had here for a while.

“But all that’s on paper and it really doesn’t mean anything right now. We haven’t even had one practice together, so we have a long way to go.”

Slater represented the AFC in the Pro Bowl this year, and he talked Tuesday about spending time with Revis in Hawaii. Now they’re teammates in New England.

“Obviously when you get a player like that, you’re excited about the opportunity to play with him. You know what he brings to the table,” Slater said. “He’s really a good guy, does everything the right way, plays the game the right way, and you respect that about the guy, no matter who he plays for. If he plays the game hard, plays the game the right way, you respect it. And he’s definitely one of those guys.”

Slater, who adds depth to the receiving corps, looks forward to competing against Revis in practice.

“I’m sure that will be fun,” he said. “As competitors, no matter what it is you’re doing, I feel like all of us want to go against the best and we feel like he’s definitely one of the best. He’s proven that. I think it’s just going to make everyone better going against a guy like that, as well as the other guys we’ve added. There will be a lot of competition, as there is every year, and I think that breeds success.”

Patriots offseason roundtable, Part 1

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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With the Patriots beginning their voluntary offseason program Monday, Mike Reiss and Field Yates got together for a roundtable to cover some questions surrounding the team (part 1 of 2):

Which signing, or re-signing, has perhaps flown under the radar the most this offseason?

Yates: Mike, I'll go with Ryan Wendell and here's why. Did he struggle last season? Relative to 2012, yes he did. Was his performance detrimental to the offense? No, that's overstating it. What cannot be disputed is Wendell's durability. He played every snap last season, something his quarterback, Tom Brady, undoubtedly appreciated. Would it be a total shock to see the Patriots draft an interior lineman? No, but what they accomplished in re-signing Wendell is continuity at a fair price. If he reverts to his 2012 form, the maximum value of roughly $4.5 million over two years will be a steal.

[+] EnlargeDarrelle Revis
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaWill Darrelle Revis bring the same edge and confidence to the Patriots' locker room that Aqib Talib did?
Reiss: I'll counter with defensive end Rob Ninkovich, Field. This happens a lot when it comes to evaluating free agency -- we often just focus on the snapshot in front of us that unfolded from the official start of free agency March 11 to now. But Ninkovich, who was in the last year of his contract when he struck an extension last September, should be included in any free-agent analysis. He certainly would be if he was signing with another team.

Bill Belichick always talks about development from Year 1 to Year 2. It's impossible to predict which players will make the biggest leap, but two to keep an eye on are Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan. What are your expectations for them at this time?

Yates: My gut take on Collins is that the team hopes for him to be not just a starter (replacing Brandon Spikes), but also a three-down contributor. Given how small Collins' role was on defense to start the 2013 season, this represents a big leap. But we saw the flashes during the playoffs, giving me confidence that they expect more of the same. As for Ryan, while the cornerback depth chart is stacked right now, he showed far too much ability last season for the team to not try and get him on the field for close to 50 percent of the snaps.

Reiss: I think you nailed it, Field. One of the things that was most impressive to me about Collins last year is that I don't think he missed a practice or game. That helped him use 2013 as a strong foundation year, and I think it's fair to expect more from him in a three-down role. With Ryan, I expect him to compete for the starting cornerback spot opposite of Darrelle Revis for the first four games of the regular season when Brandon Browner is suspended. He has some of the best ball skills in the secondary.

Most football fans agree that the Patriots upgraded from signing Darrelle Revis to replace Aqib Talib. Are there any aspects of Talib's game you think they'll miss, however?

Yates: By all accounts, Darrelle Revis is a terrific teammate, so it's unfair to suppose he won't jell with the rest of the Patriots' secondary. But I will say this, Aqib Talib brought a certain edge and confidence to both the Patriots' defensive meeting room and the secondary on the whole. The increase in confidence and camaraderie was seemingly palpable from the 2012 season to 2013, Talib's only full year in New England. Revis seems like the kind of guy that fits in anywhere, but Talib's personality will be missed.

Reiss: Not only do most football fans agree that Revis is an upgrade, Talib himself said it last year, too. Chemistry would be the one area to focus on, as Talib seemed to fit in very well here. Chemistry can't be forced and we'll see how that evolves with Revis.

Each offseason, players are listed that project as potential “cap casualties.” At this point of the offseason, do you think it's safe to say some of the players carrying a higher number (e.g. Dan Connolly) are safe for 2014? Or might this be something to re-visit come training camp?

Yates: The player that I continue to keep an eye on is guard Dan Connolly, Mike. With a cap charge north of $4 million, the Patriots will have to weigh his “replace-ability” at a cheaper value. They are very high on Josh Kline (who played well in spot duty last year) and could add depth via the draft. If Connolly has any sort of struggles during training camp or the preseason, there's an opportunity for the team to vault a player up the depth chart at a lower price point.

Reiss: Connolly has been working out this offseason with Logan Mankins and one thing that I think helps him is that he could be part of the competition at center as well. Still, if the Patriots were looking for ways to create cap space, it could gain $2.5 million by making a move there. There aren't many other players on the roster that could offer that type of relief.
When the Patriots were forced to shuffle their offensive line in a critical late December game against the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, unheralded rookie Josh Kline was inserted into the mix at left guard for his first career NFL start.

Kline
That vote of confidence, coupled with Kline delivering a solid performance as the Patriots clinched the AFC East title in convincing fashion, reflects how Kline (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) could be a vital player for the team in years to come.

He went undrafted out of Kent State in 2013, but quickly won over his teammates.

“I think the thing that stands out about Josh the most is that you can’t rattle the guy,” center Ryan Wendell said Sunday on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

“He’s a flat-liner emotionally, which goes a long way as an offensive lineman. Nothing is too big for him and he never gets too low. He just keeps trucking. He’ll make a mistake or something like that in practice, and he doesn’t mind getting [yelled at]. He just comes back the next play and works harder at it. Some guys don’t have that kind of mental toughness, but Josh really does. I think that’s what stands out the most about him.”

Wendell’s remarks were delivered as part of Bob Socci’s NFL draft preview show.

A few other soundbites from Wendell, who in late March inked a two-year deal to return to New England:

On his free-agent experience. “It was definitely something different, but it was such a blessing. Just to have the career that I’ve been able to have here at the Patriots, to even have the opportunity to become a free agent, and to market my skills out there and things like that, it was a blessing to have that opportunity. And then to be able to sign back with the Patriots, to be where I want to be, to stay here, to stay home, it was great. I’m very thankful for that.”

Reflecting on joining the team as a rookie free agent in 2008. “Once the draft ends, you start getting phone calls from various teams that are looking for free agents, and these different teams will call with different personnel. I think the importance of who they’re trying to get is who they send to come and call you, and when Bill Belichick calls you and spends 20 minutes on the phone with you trying to convince you to come to New England, it’s hard to turn down.”

Having all offensive linemen return from 2013. “It’s great any time you can get an entire offensive line back. Being able to have those same guys next to you, over time, it goes a long way. I would also say, the guys that are our backups, that have rotated in, have all done a great job – guys like Marcus Cannon, Will Svitek and rookies like Josh Kline. Our guys all do a great job and I think no matter who comes in the room, we’ll all work hard to make a solid unit that can perform every Sunday.”

Offseason workout guidelines

April, 20, 2014
Apr 20
2:00
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The Patriots open their offseason workout program, and there are several guidelines and restrictions related to these workouts, highlighted below:

General
" Workouts are strictly voluntary
" A maximum of four workouts per week (no weekends)
" One week is the mandatory minicamp (no weekends)
" Contact work is prohibited in all workouts
" Intensity and tempo of drills should be at level conducive to learning, with player safety as the highest priority

Phase one (four hours a day)
" Two weeks. Limited to strength and conditioning activities with only the strength and conditioning coaches allowed on the field
" 90-minute maximum on the field
" Clubs can only specify two hours for the players to be at the facility
" Players choose the other two hours for weights, etc.

Phase two (four hours a day)
" Three weeks with the same rules with a few exceptions:
" All coaches allowed on field
" Individual and “perfect play” drills allowed
" No offense vs. defense, no 1-on-1’s, no helmets

Phase three (six hours a day)
" Four weeks total
" Three weeks for 10 total OTA’s
" A maximum of three OTA’s each week for the first two weeks
" During Weeks one and two a fourth OTA is allowed but phase two rules apply
" A maximum of four OTA’s for the third or fourth week
" One week for mini camp
" No pads except protective knee and elbow pads
" Helmets are permitted
" No live contract drills between OL and DL or WR and DB
" 7 on 7, 9 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills will be permitted

Minicamp (10 hours a day)
" Physicals on Monday but no practice
" Practices Tuesday-Thursday with a day off on Friday
" Allowed two practices totaling three and a half hours on the field per day
" Second practice limited to walk through activities only

Offseason workout guidelines

April, 20, 2014
Apr 20
2:00
PM ET
The Patriots open their offseason workout program, and there are several guidelines and restrictions related to these workouts, highlighted below:

General
  • Workouts are strictly voluntary
  • A maximum of four workouts per week (no weekends)
  • One week is the mandatory minicamp (no weekends)
  • Contact work is prohibited in all workouts
  • Intensity and tempo of drills should be at level conducive to learning, with player safety as the highest priority
Phase one (four hours a day)
  • Two weeks. Limited to strength and conditioning activities with only the strength and conditioning coaches allowed on the field
  • 90-minute maximum on the field
  • Clubs can only specify two hours for the players to be at the facility
  • Players choose the other two hours for weights, etc.
Phase two (four hours a day)

Three weeks with the same rules with a few exceptions:
  • All coaches allowed on field
  • Individual and “perfect play” drills allowed
  • No offense vs. defense, no 1-on-1’s, no helmets
Phase three (six hours a day)
  • Four weeks total
  • Three weeks for 10 total OTA’s
  • A maximum of three OTA’s each week for the first two weeks
  • During weeks one and two a fourth OTA is allowed but phase two rules apply
  • A maximum of four OTA’s for the third or fourth week
  • One week for mini camp
  • No pads except protective knee and elbow pads
  • Helmets are permitted
  • No live contract drills between OL and DL or WR and DB
  • 7 on 7, 9 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills will be permitted
Minicamp (10 hours a day)
  • Physicals on Monday but no practice
  • Practices Tuesday-Thursday with a day off on Friday
  • Allowed two practices totaling three and a half hours on the field per day
  • Second practice limited to walk through activities only
The Patriots will get bigger along the defensive line and at running back if things unfold the way ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper projects in his fourth mock draft. But are they the right picks?

To start, the choices hit two areas in which the Patriots could use more of a long-term boost, first at defensive tackle and then in the offensive backfield.

The defensive tackle spot is well stocked in the short term from a personnel standpoint with Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga and Joe Vellano, so the need doesn't seem as pressing right now. Thus, any pick at the position would be made as much with 2015 upside in mind more so than the present snapshot, sort of like the Patriots did in 2004 with Wilfork as a first-rounder.


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The New England Patriots continue to devote attention and significant resources to the quarterback position in the NFL draft, as two weeks after creating a buzz by hosting Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater on visits at Gillette Stadium, they welcomed another top prospect earlier this week – Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois.

Some analysts, such as ESPN’s Bill Polian, have Garoppolo rated as high as a first-round draft choice.

The 6-foot-2 1/4, 226-pound Garoppolo earned the Walter Payton Award in 2013, which is given to the top player in the Football Championship Subdivision. In 14 games, he completed 375 of 568 passes for 5,050 yards with 53 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

NFL teams are allowed 30 in-house visits with out-of-town prospects, and the Patriots have devoted at least three of them to top quarterbacks (Manziel, Bridgewater, Garoppolo).

Starting quarterback Tom Brady turns 37 in August and is signed through 2017, while the only other signal-caller on the roster, Ryan Mallett, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014 season.
We've made the case that the Patriots' biggest need entering the 2014 NFL draft is tight end, and they'll spent part of Wednesday getting a close look at a highly regarded prospect, as Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is taking a visit to Gillette Stadium, a source confirmed.

NFL Network first reported the news.

The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder was a first-team All-Big Ten selection during his final college season, hauling in 30 passes, including six for touchdowns. He was a standout during the week of the Senior Bowl and ran a respectable 4.76 40-yard dash at the combine while also putting up 25 reps on the bench press.

Washington State safety Deone Bucannon will also be in Foxborough, Mass., for a visit on Wednesday, as we noted on Tuesday evening.

Fiedorowicz is the fifth-ranked tight end and 76th-rated prospect overall by ESPN's Scouts Inc.
The New England Patriots hold private workouts with hundreds of prospects leading into the NFL draft, so there is reluctance to read too much into those workouts.

The most accurate analysis would be that the workouts indicate that the team is still seeking more information on a prospect; sometimes it can lead to genuine interest or to confirm interest, while other times it can lead the team in another direction.

Along these lines, Colorado State center Weston Richburg popped up on the radar late last week after it was learned the Patriots put him through one of their many private workouts, this one coming in Fort Collins, Colo.

Richburg, at 6-foot-3 3/8 and 298 pounds, is one of the higher-rated centers in the draft, according to Scouts Inc. He's projected as a second-to-third-round pick.

A closer look at Richburg reveals a few things that are sure to appeal to the Patriots:

1. He made the line calls and has good football intelligence.

2. Has played games at center, guard and tackle, highlighting his athleticism and versatility.

3. He appears to fit best in a zone-blocking scheme, which is what the Patriots primarily utilize.

4. He played 49 career games.

5. He is a two-time team captain.

The Patriots re-signed their starting center from the last two seasons, Ryan Wendell, to a two-year deal in March. But the expectation has been that Wendell can expect competition, and perhaps it will come in the form of Richburg.

At the least, the Patriots wanted to get a closer look to consider the possibility.

Draft, quarterbacks & the Patriots

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
2:35
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After all the discussion about top quarterbacks in the NFL draft in recent months, is it possible that more signal-callers end up being selected in the second round than the first?

That scenario was offered up by Peter King of TheMMQB.com in his widely-read "Monday Morning Quarterback" piece.

From a Patriots perspective, the view from this perspective is that scenario wouldn't be ideal.

As ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi noted on Sunday during the fifth-annual ESPNBoston draft preview event, the more quarterbacks picked early, the better it is for New England because it pushes other players down the board.

I'd add receivers, in what is considered a deep class but an unlikely position for the Patriots to address, into that mix as well.

That's why the projection of NFL.com's Gil Brandt, also part of "Monday Morning Quarterback", would be a better turn of events for New England: "Four quarterbacks and six wideouts in the top 32 for Brandt, if he had to pick it today."

This highlights one of the challenges for teams picking late in the first round, like the Patriots are at No. 29. It's hard to know what will unfold with many of the picks that will be made before that selection, so preparing for all scenarios is smart business.

As is often the case, quarterbacks (and to a lesser degree receivers) hold part of the key.

Duron Harmon next man up at safety

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
3:00
PM ET
TAUNTON, Mass. – If the New England Patriots continue with the “next man up” theme that has been a significant part of their success in Bill Belichick’s 15-year coaching tenure, it is Duron Harmon’s time in 2014.

The first domino to fall came when starting safety Steve Gregory was released on Feb. 28, which opened the door for Harmon in his second season.

[+] EnlargeHarmon
AP Photo/Jim MahoneyDuron Harmon said he is aiming to learn more about the finer aspects of football during the offseason.
“Steve Gregory was like a big brother/uncle to me, somebody that literally sat me down all the time and watched film with me, broke things down, so he’s definitely going to be missed,” Harmon said Friday after reading to third-grade students at the Elizabeth Pole Elementary School as part of the team’s Celebrate Volunteerism campaign.

“It’s an opportunity for me to show that I am capable of playing and starting. But it all counts towards me. I have to show my worth to Coach Belichick and the coaching staff, and I’m eager to do that.”

Along those lines, Harmon has spent this offseason in Foxborough, and has been working out at Gillette Stadium with cornerback Logan Ryan every day. He’ll be joined by more teammates on April 21 for the official start of the team’s voluntary offseason program.

Harmon is listed at 6-foot and 205 pounds on the team’s roster, and he said Friday that he’s most comfortable in the 205-210 range. That qualifies him as a bigger safety and a potential nice complement to Devin McCourty (5-10, 195).

Harmon, who many viewed as a surprise third-round draft choice last year, played 36.9 percent of the defensive snaps in his rookie season. He started two of the team’s biggest games when Gregory was out with a broken thumb – a Nov. 18 loss at Carolina and a Nov. 24 win over the Broncos – and also was a contributor on special teams throughout the year.

He was asked what he felt good about from his rookie season, and what area he believes needs the most improvement.

“I felt good about just being out there, just getting comfortable out there,” he answered. “Toward the beginning of the season, I was just a little hesitant because playing in the NFL is different than playing in college [at Rutgers]. So just getting comfortable out there and getting repetitions.

“But then, I’d say one thing I still need to work on is just learning the game. There is always more you can learn. When I see Tom Brady still trying to learn as much as he can, so if a man is that good and plays that long is always trying to learn, I need to do the same thing.

“And definitely tackling. I think some games I tackled bad, and some games I tackled well. It was just an inconsistent effort that I know I need to be a lot more consistent with.”

Another undefeated season at home?

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
12:30
PM ET
NFL Network's "NFL-AM" show keeps the football discussion going on a daily basis, and Friday morning it sparked a discussion on the New England Patriots' excellence at home.

Since 2002, the Patriots are 92-18 at home (including playoffs), which is the best mark in the NFL. They went 9-0 last year.

SportsNation

Will the Patriots go undefeated at home in 2014?

  •  
    69%
  •  
    31%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,968)

So could another undefeated regular season be possible?

That was the question tossed out for discussion by host Molly Qerim, as analysts Steve Wyche, Jordan Babineaux and Shawne Merriman opined on a home slate that includes the Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Broncos, Bears, Bengals, Lions and Raiders.

Babineaux: "The answer is no ... As long as Rex [Ryan] is in that division I'm always going to give the Jets an opportunity and a chance to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots. I think Rex Ryan comes up with the best game-plan for Tom Brady."

Merriman: "Another team that's on that [schedule] is Denver. They have two outside pass-rushers now in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, who is probably going to come back healthy. Now you're looking at an offense that can put up points, I don't see [the Patriots] getting a win over those guys at home. It's just too much."

Wyche: "I have them going 7-1, but I have them losing to the Chicago Bears. That defense is going to be better this year. I know the Patriots have [Darrelle] Revis. I know they have Brandon Browner. But Chicago has a whole lot of other weapons there, and if it's cold, it doesn't matter [to them]. So I like Chicago."

At that point, Qerim said, "I know the chances are slim, but you can never count out Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. There's always a chance."

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