McCourty pulls for Rutgers WR Coleman

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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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."

Devin McCourty ready to turn up the heat

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots visited the Miami Dolphins in the 2011 season opener, the temperature at kickoff was 82 degrees with 73 percent humidity. And that was a night game (38-24 Patriots win).

In 2012, the Dolphins' home opener was a 1 p.m. ET start and the temperature was 80 degrees with 75 percent humidity (35-13 win over the Raiders).

[+] EnlargeDevin McCourty
Mike Reiss/ESPNDevin McCourty meets with the media Thursday at Gillette Stadium.
Last year, the Dolphins' home opener was a 4:05 p.m. ET start with the kickoff temperature at 89 degrees with 59 percent humidity (27-23 win over the Falcons).

So with news coming Wednesday that the Patriots will open the 2014 season with a trip to Miami, safety Devin McCourty had an innovative, budget-busting thought for the team to prepare for the challenge.

"Maybe we could build a big sauna and try to have a practice in there, just to get ready for the heat," McCourty joked Thursday after participating in the team’s voluntary offseason program. "It's always a challenge any time we go down there, whether it's the beginning of the season or we go down in December, to try to get your body ready for that heat. It's just tough because you really can't get it here in New England."

McCourty recalled the 2011 opener against the Dolphins, which was played on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

"That was tough opening the season there with the humidity," he said, before adding: "Guys will work hard and I don't really worry about weather because I know guys do any and everything, and our nutritionists make sure we're ready to go."

Like others, McCourty watched the release of the NFL schedule on Wednesday night with interest.

"It's always fun, just to see the different guys around the league, talk a little trash and getting ready to go. When the preseason schedule was released, I texted [Panthers receiver] Tiquan [Underwood] to get ready for Week 3," McCourty said of his former Rutgers and Patriots teammate.

Video: How Pats approached free agency

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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video
We recently held our annual Patriots Draft Party at Gillette Stadium, where ESPN analysts Mike Reiss, Field Yates, Tedy Bruschi and Trevor Matich answered questions and gave their analysis on the team.

The first clip we’re posting today deals with the Patriots’ aggressive approach to free agency this offseason.

“Sometimes it’s cyclical for the New England Patriots on what they’ll do,” Bruschi said. “I don’t think you can ever predict what they’ll do. As veterans in the locker room I think you always looked at what they did as sort of sending a message to players on the team.

“In terms of [signing Darrelle] Revis, [Brandon] Browner, the moves they’re making, there’s almost a sense of urgency that players might have on the team right now. Not only are they trying to keep up with the Broncos but also saying, ‘You know guys it’s time. We’re making the moves to where defensively, we’ve given you everything we have here, now it’s the responsibility of the players to do something.’”

Matich cited the team’s disciplined approach to free agency in recent years as the reason the bottom of the roster is so productive.

“They have a history of letting guys go to other teams near the end of their productive careers. They go to the other team and spend a couple of years going to Pro Bowls, but then they taper off and the Patriots replace them with somebody younger,” Matich said.

“I think what we see behind the curtain with all these things -- they’re not super active in free agency, they don’t overpay for guys in free agency, they want to re-sign their own guys -- is the fundamental reason they tend to be competitive year in and year out at the highest levels of the NFL.

“And that is when you perform in free agency like this, you maintain cap space to re-sign the guys at the bottom of the roster, you continue the chemistry between those guys at the bottom. Those guys are your depth. Those guys are your special teams. ...

“Opposing coaches watching tape will look at those guys at the bottom of the roster and see that they’re getting beat there every bit as much as they’re getting beat by [Tom] Brady and his best receivers. This allows them to continue to build that foundation and that chemistry.”

Source: Pats sign LB Josh Hull

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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The New England Patriots have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with former Rams and Redskins linebacker Josh Hull, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.

Financial terms of the deal were not released.

Hull, 26, spent part the 2013 season in Washington after three years with the Rams, the team that initially drafted him out of Penn State in 2010.

He's considered a capable special-teams player and could be called upon to help fill the void created when Dane Fletcher signed with Tampa Bay this offseason.

The Patriots' linebacker depth remains thin after losing both Fletcher and Brandon Spikes in free agency and it could be a position of interest in the upcoming draft.

Hull has career totals of 25 tackles, including a personal-best 14 last season.

Weekly Patriots chat recap

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
12:30
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Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a Patriots chat in the late morning/early afternoon. Today's chat kicked off at 11 a.m., can be recapped here, and included some of the following topics:

1. A variety of thoughts on the 2014 regular-season schedule.

2. Considering the possibility of trading up in the draft.

3. Are too many people counting receiver Kenbrell Thompkins out?

4. Safety Devin McCourty and the possibility of a contract extension.

5. Have there been enough changes to help the Patriots get off the field on third down in the playoffs?

6. Gauging the impact of losing running back LeGarrette Blount.

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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Packers-Seahawks most expensive

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
11:28
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video

As NFL schedules were announced Wednesday night, many season-ticket holders scrambled to the secondary market to list their game tickets.

The game with the highest average resale listed ticket price? The kickoff game that features the Green Bay Packers at the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday, Sept. 4. The average ticket price on resale sites for that game is $575.62, according to TiqIQ, a ticket-resale market aggregator. The get-in price for the worst seat in the house is already a steep $245.

The second-most expensive ticket, by listed price, is the Week 12 "Sunday Night Football" matchup between Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants (Nov. 23). TiqIQ says the average listed price for that game is $569.90.

The defending AFC champion Denver Broncos are featured in the three next-most costly matchups. The team's game at Gillette Stadium against the New England Patriots on Nov. 2 has an average listed price of $567.09, according to TiqIQ data.

The Broncos' "Sunday Night Football" matchup against the San Francisco 49ers at home on Oct. 19 has an average listed price of $536.76, and their Super Bowl XLVIII rematch against the Seahawks in Seattle on Sept. 21 has opened with an average listed ticket price on the resale market of $526.98.


(Read full post)


Offensive line by contract length

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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With the Patriots picking up the fifth-year option on left tackle Nate Solder's contract, which was expected, let's take a look at the team's offensive line through the lens of when each top player's contract expires:

Left tackle
Solder (2015)

Left guard
Logan Mankins (2016)
Josh Kline (2015)

Center
Ryan Wendell (2015)

Right guard
Dan Connolly (2014)
Chris Barker (2015)

Right tackle
Sebastian Vollmer (2016)
Marcus Cannon (2014)

Others on the roster who could emerge from a developmental perspective include center Braxston Cave (2015), tackle Jordan Devey (2015), tackle/guard R.J. Mattes (2015).

QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: In the short term, the Patriots could line up today with a competitive line and feel good about the players assembled as the top blockers from 2013 all return. There are longer-range considerations to keep on the radar from a draft perspective, as Cannon -- the top backup and a player who would probably start for many teams -- could be difficult to retain as a free agent next offseason. Connolly is also in the last year of his contract and scheduled to count $4 million on the salary cap, while Wendell's contract doesn't necessarily lock him in as the long-term starter at center. So it wouldn't be surprising if the team targets an offensive lineman in the draft, with the stronger likelihood on the interior, to increase competition and also plan for the future.

Pats pick up Nate Solder's option

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
9:23
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The New England Patriots have exercised the fifth-year option on left tackle Nate Solder's contract, a league source confirmed.

CBSSports.com had earlier reported the news.

As part of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, first-round picks have team options for the fifth year in their rookie contracts. Solder was a first-round pick that season and the team had to make a decision by May 3 on whether or not to exercise the option.

From a salary perspective, players drafted in the top 10 are entitled to the value of the transition tag for players at their position, while players drafted between 11-32 are paid the average of the top 25 players at the their position, minus the top three. The NFL does not distinguish between tackle, guard and center, so Solder's pay is reflective of all offensive linemen.

The current projection for his pay is $7.438 million.

The towering 26-year-old has emerged as one of the elite linemen in the league, providing dependable blindside protection to Tom Brady and easing the transition from longtime left tackle Matt Light, who retired following the 2012 season.

Exercising the option does not preclude the Patriots from initiating long-term extension talks with Solder, and the 2015 salary is currently guaranteed for injury only. It will become fully guaranteed on the first day of the 2015 league year.


(Read full post)


Beyond the 1st round: Cornerback

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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Each day over the next 10 days, this space will focus on one position in the NFL draft by highlighting a prospect in Rounds 2-7 who might fit for the New England Patriots. With so much attention placed on the first round in mock drafts, "Beyond the first round" focuses on lesser-publicized options beyond the first 32 picks. Today, it's cornerback.

[+] Enlarge Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsCornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste's size is helping make him an attractive NFL draft prospect.
Second round: Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska)
With the Patriots potentially shifting to more press coverage with the acquisitions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, it highlights the possibility of focusing on bigger, physical cornerbacks. Jean-Baptiste (6-foot-2 5/8 and 218 pounds) fits that mold, but he might not make it to the bottom of the second round after an impressive Senior Bowl week.

Third round: Jaylen Watkins (Florida)
A consistent performer over the past three seasons who has scheme flexibility between cornerback and safety, the 5-foot-11 1/2, 194-pound Watkins runs well and plays physical against the run. His 22 reps on the bench press highlight his strength.

Fourth round: Dontae Johnson (N.C. State)
His combination of size (6-foot-2 1/8, 200 pounds), speed (4.45 in the 40) and position flexibility could put him on the radar, as he's played both cornerback and safety. He also has special-teams experience.

Fifth round: Marqueston Huff (Wyoming)
A team captain who played 49 games over his college career, he has experience at cornerback and safety, and would project to a special teams role as well. The 5-foot-11 1/8, 196-pound Huff runs well (4.49 in the 40) and has some traits that could warrant a look if he's available at this point.

Sixth round: Aaron Colvin (Oklahoma)
This pick would fall into the Marcus Cannon category of too much value to pass up at this point of the draft, assuming Colvin is available as he recovers from a torn ACL in January at the Senior Bowl. Colvin might spend his first year on the physically unable to perform list where he wouldn't count against the roster and could be worked into the mix in 2015.

Seventh round: Bennett Jackson (Notre Dame)
A team captain, the 5-foot-11 7/8, 196-pound Jackson has good size and his three-cone drill time of 6.75 was among the best at his position as he tested well at the combine. His toughness was reflected in how he played through a shoulder injury, and he also was a regular on special teams.

(Round projections aided by Scouts Inc., NFL.com and independent analysis.)

Previous entries:
1. Defensive tackles
2. Tight ends
3. Defensive end
4. Linebacker/outside linebacker
5. Quarterback
6. Wide receiver
7. Safety
8. Running back

Weekly Patriots chat at 11 a.m.

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
4:30
AM ET
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a Patriots chat in the late morning/early afternoon. Today's chat is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET, and questions can be submitted in advance.

With the NFL 2014 regular-season schedule to digest, and the NFL draft coming up, there is plenty to discuss.

Catch up then.

Patriots game-by-game predictions

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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Predicting the outcome of the New England Patriots' 2014 schedule is a tough task because so much can change on a week-to-week basis in the NFL.

Looking back at past predictions, this is how the record stacks up:

2010: 9-7

2011: 11-5

2012: 13-3

2013: 8-8

After last year's performance, this writer is feeling the heat. As we know, 8-8 isn't acceptable around these parts. So let's try to turn this thing around -- one game at a time.


(Read full post)


Additional thoughts on Patriots' schedule

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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A few more thoughts on the Patriots' schedule:

WRs and Brandon Browner's return: The Patriots will be without the cornerback for the first four games, but the first four games look favorable from an opposing wide receiver standpoint. The team's schedule includes the likes of Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson, and several other top-flight wideouts. The first four weeks, which Browner will miss, do include some talented targets -- Mike Wallace of Miami, Dwayne Bowe of Kansas City and Cordarrelle Patterson of Minnesota -- but perhaps not the most difficult that they will face all season. Browner will be on the field against some of the tougher matchups.

Prime time in San Diego a test: The Chargers were a playoff team last season and should be a tough foe again this year. Compounding that matchup is playing the game in prime time. While the game will be played at 5:20 p.m. locally, the overnight travel after the fact is the issue. The team will presumably fly through the night back home, meaning a quick turnaround for coaches. That puts a team to the test.

Well-timed bye: There's no perfect time for the bye weekend, as often it is the circumstances of the season that mean the most when analyzing it. If a team struggles out of the gate, an early bye can pay major dividends. Thinking bigger picture, Week 10 seemingly represents a good breaking point for the Patriots, as it allows them a chance to recharge prior to what could be another march toward the postseason. In addition, they have what could amount to a mini-bye in Week 7, as they host the Jets on Thursday night that week.

About that game ... Thursday night games have been something of a hot-button topic, as some wonder whether the quality of the game is impacted by the short work week. One advantage for the Patriots is that they have a short trip home in Week 6 (at Buffalo). That should have them ready to roll as scheduled on Monday morning for a condensed week. Playing at home on a Thursday night is a plus, as the Jets will have to travel on Wednesday rather than use it as a full workday.

Broncos thoughts: Though the Patriots will host the Broncos, Denver has an advantage of its own: It plays the Thursday night game in the week prior to traveling to New England. That means Peyton Manning and his teammates will have 10 days to prepare for the Patriots leading up to what will surely be a highly anticipated matchup.

Former Patriots on the schedule. The Patriots will see some of their old players along the way in 2014: Brandon Spikes (Bills) in Weeks 6 and 17, plus Aqib Talib in Week 9 (Broncos).

New England Patriots schedule analysis

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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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.

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