Siliga 'ready to get this thing going'

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few leftovers from the media access period in the New England Patriots' locker room on Monday:

Siliga ready for Sunday. Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, who has been out with an injured left wrist since Aug. 5, is expecting to play in Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins. “I feel great, I’m ready to get this thing going and ready to play on Sunday,” Siliga said. Siliga said he needs to shake off some rust after missing significant time. “It’s been about a month since I have taken my last snap, so that’s what today is for and the next few days -- to get back out there running around with the fellas and see what I can pick up.”

Ninkovich focusing on defense. With an opening at long-snapper on the active roster since Charley Hughlett is a member of the practice squad, defensive end Rob Ninkovich is the only player with experience in that role. “Whatever it is I’m doing, we all have multiple roles but again I’m going to focus in on playing defense and special teams,” Ninkovich said. “I’ve done [long-snapping], something that if there was ever an opportunity for me to go out there and do it, I can do it. I have done it before.” Ninkovich is confident in his ability to snap, if needed. “I’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s something I’ve always worked on and been able to use that and have it in my back pocket whenever there is an issue. If the snapper hurts his hand or something, I can go out there and get the job done.”

Wright tough on himself. Tight end Tim Wright’s toughest critic may be himself. When asked about what he did right and what he can improve on from his debut with the Patriots in Thursday’s preseason finale, he came down hard on himself. “Everything wasn’t done right. Playing fast, just going out there and doing my job. Catching balls and blocking doing whatever the coaches ask.” But Wright feels ready to contribute wherever the team wants him to play, whether that is at tight end or wide receiver. “I feel like I can be used in all types of ways, but it’s up to the coaches to determine that and see what fits best for me and my teammates,” he said. “Football is football at the end of the day. It’s a ball and whatever that description may entail, that’s what I will just go out there and try to do.”

Gronkowski's return means everything

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
2:45
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Things happened fast on Monday morning at New England Patriots team headquarters. Tight end Rob Gronkowski announced that he would play in the team's Sept. 7 opener at the Miami Dolphins, and just moments later, Gronkowski's breaking news was a top story on "SportsCenter."

That's when the question was asked to this reporter on the air: What does it mean for the Patriots?

The answer: Everything.

OK, that might be overstating it a bit given the team's prior success without Gronkowski, but it goes without saying that the Patriots' offense takes on a much different look with Gronkowski on the field. The first place to look is the red zone.

Consider these stats from 2013:

With Gronkowski on the field from Weeks 7-14, the Patriots had a 69 percent efficiency rate in the red zone.

With Gronkowski sidelined from Weeks 1-6, and Weeks 15-17, it was 43.5 percent.

So as the Patriots gradually ease Gronkowski into the mix, as they did last year when it took five games before he was playing every snap, one would think the Patriots want him on the field for every possible red zone play. That's where his 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame and his unique skills show up most.

Perhaps no better example of the effectiveness and attention Gronkowski draws in the red zone came in last year's 24-20 loss to Carolina on Nov. 18. In the third quarter of that game, he lined up split wide left, fought through a jam to run a slant and dragged three defenders into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Then other times, the attention defenders gave to Gronkowski in the red zone opened opportunities for others.

So while it might not be until a quarter of the way into the season that Gronkowski is an every-play option for the Patriots, the first place we'll be looking for him Sunday is inside the 20-yard line.

That's where he does some of his most notable work.

Vollmer will play wherever Pats want him

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots tackle Sebastian Vollmer is ready to play wherever the team wants him to play, including guard.

“Hey, if they put me as wide receiver, you know I will be doing that, too,” Vollmer said jokingly. “I’ll do what they want me to do.”

When asked if the team has raised the possibility of him playing guard, Vollmer did not provide an answer.

Vollmer has been the team’s starting right tackle for three seasons, but also played some left tackle during his first season. He has never played guard at any level.

After the Aug. 26 trade that sent Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay, the Patriots could have a void there despite second-year lineman Josh Kline playing all 70 snaps in the preseason finale against the New York Giants.

“You never want to lose a guy, but it’s the time of year where that happens,” Vollmer said about the Mankins trade. “He’s not the only one; obviously he is a friend of a lot of us, played a lot of plays with the guy. But it’s time to step up and go forward and play my game.”

Mankins brought a no-nonsense style of leadership to the team as well, but Vollmer said the team is adjusting.

“Nobody plays forever so it’s a steady turnaround,” Vollmer said. “You never have the same team from one year to another; that’s just how it is.”

As the Patriots work to find the right combination on the offensive line, Vollmer knows that talent is not a concern.

“I think we have a lot of good guys on the football team, especially on the offensive line,” Vollmer said. “It’s just kind of the way that business goes; it’s time for somebody else to do it and hopefully go out and do a good job this week.”

Vollmer is excited about the season opener at Miami and said it will be a good test for everyone. As for whether his test will come at left guard, we will have to wait and see.

WR Boyce among 10 on Pats practice squad

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots announced their 10-man practice squad Monday, and it's a group highlighted by second-year receiver Josh Boyce.

Joyce
Boyce
"A little bit [disappointed], but at the end of the day I'm on the football team still," Boyce said in the locker room Monday. "So you know I can't complain about that. It caught me off guard a little bit, but it's just all right now."

Here is the Patriots' initial practice squad:

DE Jake Bequette -- 2012 third-round draft choice has appeared in eight games over two seasons with the Patriots but hasn't registered any statistics.

WR Josh Boyce -- 2013 fourth-round draft choice out of TCU. Played in nine games with the Patriots last season, totaling nine catches for 121 yards and returning nine kickoffs.

QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson -- The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Sacramento State alum has been with Miami (2011), Minnesota (2012-2013) and San Francisco (2011, 2013-2014) after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He does not have any regular-season stats.

LB Ja'Gared Davis -- Davis was claimed on waivers from the Texans in August of 2013 and played in one regular-season game and two playoff games last season on special teams.

S Kanorris Davis -- In his first year out of Troy, Davis appeared in three regular-season games and two playoff contests last season for the Patriots in a special-teams-type role.

RB Jonas Gray -- First-year running back out of Notre Dame, a bigger presence at 5-foot-10 and 230 pounds, did some good things in the preseason for the Patriots.

LS Charley Hughlett -- The first-year snapper was with the Patriots for a few months this offseason and has also spent time with Dallas and Jacksonville. He has not snapped in a regular-season game.

OL Chris Martin -- Rookie offensive tackle from Central Florida joined the team in June as an undrafted free agent and spent training camp on the active/non-football injury list.

LB Deontae Skinner -- Undrafted middle linebacker from Mississippi State was with the Patriots until the cut down to 75 players and adds some depth in practice at a position where the Patriots are thin on their 53-man roster.

CB Daxton Swanson -- The first-year cornerback from Sam Houston State, who stands at 5-foot-11 and 191 pounds, was with the Patriots in training camp and showed good ball skills in practice and games.

Every Patriots player present at practice

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
1:45
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- All hands are on deck for the New England Patriots as they began preparations Monday for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at the Miami Dolphins.

No players were missing from practice other than cornerback Brandon Browner and wide receiver Brian Tyms, who are both serving four-game suspensions for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones rejoined his teammates after doing some conditioning work at the start practice. He had been out since the Aug. 7 preseason opener against Washington after sustaining a sprained left ankle.

Rookie offensive lineman Chris Martin, who spent training camp on the non-football injury list, also returned after signing on the team's practice squad.

Meanwhile, for those keeping tabs on jersey numbers, defensive end Zach Moore switched from No. 71 to No. 90; linebacker Darius Fleming swapped from No. 44 to No. 55; and Martin changed from No. 72 to No. 69.

The Patriots were wearing shorts and shells for the practice.

Revisiting Gronk's post-injury '13 snaps

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
1:05
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski declared that he is ready to play in the Sept. 7 season opener against the Dolphins, while also adding that a full workload isn't a realistic expectation.

“Definitely not [playing] every single snap. But just get out there, get my feet wet, whatever coaches have, whatever we game-plan this week, will be good," he said.

With this in mind, here's a look at how the Patriots gradually brought Gronkowski back upon his return to action last year (including penalties):

at Jets: 51 of 79
vs. Dolphins: 33 of 65
vs. Steelers: 48 of 75
at Panthers: 63 of 72
vs. Broncos: 86 of 86

A realistic expectation Sunday would be for Gronkowski to be part of a rotation or a specific package, perhaps dedicated to the red zone, where he does some of his best work.

Rob Gronkowski: 'I'm ready to go'

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
12:00
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said he didn't want to be answering questions all week about his status for Sunday's season opener at Miami. So he walked through the locker room late Monday morning, welcomed reporters to join him and broke the news: "I'm good to go. I'll be playing."

It was a bit out of the norm for a Patriots player to be so forthcoming, as the team seldom tips its intentions with anyone, let alone a game-changer like Gronkowski.

Gronkowski, who underwent surgery on a torn right ACL on Jan. 9 and returned to full-team drills for the first time Aug. 18, did not play in the preseason. Because of that, he could still be listed on the team's first injury report, to be released Wednesday afternoon.

"Super excited, super pumped. I feel mentally and physically ready, for sure. No doubt about it," Gronkowski said Monday. "My mentality now is I'm ready to go, I'm ready to be out there, I'm ready to hit, I'm ready to start going."

Once Gronkowski returned from a forearm injury last year, it wasn't until his fifth game that he played every snap. He doesn't expect a full workload Sunday against the Dolphins.

"Definitely not [playing] every single snap, but just get out there, get my feet wet, whatever coaches have, whatever we game-plan this week will be good," he said.

Gronkowski said he will most likely wear a brace over the knee but doesn't plan to change his style of play. After months of challenging rehabilitation, he flashed several smiles and laughed a few times while answering questions from reporters Monday.


(Read full post)


Film review on Patriots DL Bruce Gaston

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
9:45
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The following is a review of what the New England Patriots are getting in defensive lineman Bruce Gaston (claimed on waivers from the Arizona Cardinals) after a film study of him in two preseason games -- against the Houston Texans (week 1) and San Diego Chargers (week 4):

Alignment and style of play: Gaston lined up at nose tackle in the Cardinals' 3-4 defense in the preseason opener and then was mostly at defensive end in the finale. So it looks like he has a little bit of versatility to play different techniques from head up against the tackles to anywhere on the inside. Gaston played on early downs and then came off in sub situations, reflecting his status as more of a two-down run-stuffing type. In the passing game, he's more likely to win with a bull-rush as he is not a dynamic rusher. Gaston is 6-foot-2 and 308 pounds and if there is one thing that made a positive impression, it's playing strength coupled with a bit of nastiness to finish each play (he sometimes threw down the blocker in front of him as the play unfolded).

Areas to improve: In the preseason opener, Gaston struggled to maintain his balance at times when playing head up on the center. On one pass rush, he got too high and was pancaked by Texans center Barrett Jones. He lost his footing on another running play while chasing from behind. Also, late in the fourth quarter against the Chargers, he was turned inside in a one-on-one situation against left tackle Willie Smith, as a large hole opened and led to a 23-yard-run. If there was a positive to the play, it was that Gaston hustled downfield to make the tackle (one of his six in the game).

Limited work to assess: There wasn't a lot of film to watch because he didn't play in the middle two preseason games, and was on the field sparingly in the opener and then in the second half of the finale. That made me think the Patriots' interest in claiming Gaston might have gone back to the pre-draft process (Gaston was a captain at Purdue), because there wasn't overwhelming performance on tape from the preseason to spark a waiver claim.

Plays that stood out: The Chargers blew a blitz pickup with just less than 12 minutes to play in the game and Gaston came surging in between the left guard and left tackle for a big sack late in the fourth quarter, showing nice explosion as he was unblocked and crunched quarterback Brad Sorensen. ... He disengaged from offensive guard Kenny Wiggins on one running play and dove at running back Brandon Oliver to make the tackle, showing the ability to shed, locate the ball-carrier and make the tackle.

Summary: Gaston wore No. 75 in Arizona, which won't be an option for him in New England because it belongs to Vince Wilfork. But there is a link to Wilfork, because Gaston looks like he could potentially fill Sealver Siliga's role behind Wilfork until Siliga returns to health from a left hand/wrist injury. Gaston is a physical presence at the line of scrimmage who benched 34 times at his pro day and sometimes that strength shows up on the field.

Film review on Patriots DL Kelcy Quarles

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
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The following is a review of what the New England Patriots are getting in defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles after a film study of him in two preseason games -- against the Indianapolis Colts (19 snaps) and Patriots (30 snaps):

Projects to the interior, has scheme versatility: Quarles mainly played three different techniques in the New York Giants' 4-3 alignment -- head up on the center (0 technique), shaded on the center (1 technique) and shaded on the outside shoulder of the guard (3 technique). He is a physical, strong player with long arms (33 1/4 inches). When he gets his hands into an offensive lineman and extends his arms, he is most effective and shows the ability to control blockers. While he is not a quick-twitch dynamic rusher like first-round draft choice Dominique Easley, he did display short-area quickness, twice penetrating over the left guard's outside shoulder and beating an attempted block down the line of scrimmage from the left tackle. He also showed notable speed (for a player his size) and effort in chasing Colts quarterback Chandler Harnish to the sideline on a scramble.

Areas in which he can improve: No rookie is a finished product, and Quarles sometimes rose high in his stance; when that happened, he was easily blocked. He also picked up three penalties over his 19 snaps against the Colts -- horse-collar tackle (on the play he chased down Harnish), late hit to the quarterback and illegal hands to the face. He won't last long in New England if that becomes the norm.

Plays that stood out: With 8:52 remaining in the fourth quarter against the Patriots, Quarles was jarred back in his pass rush by a strong initial punch from left guard Josh Kline. But he effectively showed the ability to re-start his rush, quickly generating power with his lower body to drive Kline back into the pocket while effectively using his hands and long reach. On the next play, he showed good awareness on an attempted screen (incomplete) before following up on the next snap by pushing Kline into the backfield as the Giants' front got solid penetration and limited running back Roy Finch to a 2-yard gain. That was a nice three-play sequence late in the game when Quarles was likely tiring. ... Later in the fourth quarter, Quarles was too quick for Kline, once again slicing into the offensive backfield on a Jonas Gray run for minus-3 yards.

Context to the evaluation: One of the challenges in evaluating Quarles is that he didn't play against proven top-level competition in the preseason, as he was often in the game in the second half. In the preseason, he played 16 snaps against the Bills in the Hall of Fame Game, was held out of the second game, then followed up with 19 snaps against the Colts, 13 against the Jets and the 30 against the Patriots. The majority of the work we watched came against Kline, rookie center Bryan Stork and the Colts' Thomas Austin (since waived).

Summary: Quarles played well in the preseason finale against the Patriots and our educated guess is that is what sparked the team's waiver claim. Based on that performance, it's hard to believe he went undrafted. Quarles' fit on the New England roster is with the likes of interior players such as Vince Wilfork, Easley, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Zach Moore (we're still learning more about waiver claim Bruce Gaston). Each player brings a little something different to the club -- Wilfork and Siliga play bigger against the run, Easley is an athletic pass-rusher, Jones is a slashing 3-technique, while Vellano is a workmanlike technician and Moore is a wild card of sorts who has been lining up all across the front. Quarles would fall somewhere between the Wilfork/Siliga big-against-the-run category and the Jones/3-technique slasher. For a defense that will mix and match combinations, he could be a nice fit. At the least, there is obvious developmental upside.

QB Bethel-Thompson to practice squad

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
5:55
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The trickle-down effect of the New England Patriots trading quarterback Ryan Mallett to the Texans is that the team will now account for the position on its practice squad. McLeod Bethel-Thompson, one of 12 players in for a tryout on Saturday, is joining the Patriots' 10-man practice squad, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.



Bethel-Thompson is a third-year player out of Sacramento State who has been with the Vikings (2012-2013) and 49ers (2013-2014). At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he is a bigger player at the position and was with the 49ers this past training camp before being released in the cut to 75 players.

In three preseason games this year, Bethel-Thompson was 11 of 18 for 113 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and doesn't have any regular-season statistics.

A few other notes relative to the Patriots' practice squad:
  • Wide receiver Josh Boyce cleared waivers and has practice squad eligibility.
  • Linebacker Ja'Gared Davis has agreed to join the practice squad, ESPNBoston.com's Lee Schechter confirmed earlier in the day. Doug Kyed of NESN had initially reported Davis' agreement.
  • Running back Jonas Gray has agreed to join the practice squad, per Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal.
  • One name to keep an eye on is long snapper Charley Hughlett as a possibility for the practice squad. Hughlett was with the Patriots briefly earlier this offseason.

Patriots claim DT Gaston, release LB White

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
4:55
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The New England Patriots claimed rookie defensive tackle Bruce Gaston from the Arizona Cardinals on waivers on Sunday and released linebacker and core special-teamer Chris White to make room on the roster.

The team announced those transactions, in addition to the previously reported moves of claiming rookie defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and trading quarterback Ryan Mallett to the Texans.

Gaston, who was featured in our "beyond the first round" series leading into the draft as a possible Patriots fit, was a team captain at Purdue who played in 50 games over his college career. The 22-year-old Gaston was originally signed by the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent on May 12.

The 6-foot-2, 310-pound Gaston might have caught the Patriots' eye in the preseason finale when he totaled six tackles and a quarterback hit against the Chargers. Up to that point, Gaston had only played nine defensive snaps over the first three preseason games.

Between Quarles and Gaston, the Patriots are stocking up on young defensive defensive tackles, an area where they already had a deep stable of personnel with Vince Wilfork, Dominique Easley, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano and Zach Moore.

As for White, he played on all four of the team's core special-teams units -- kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return and punt coverage. The Patriots are thin in that area, and there could more roster juggling ahead to account for that role.

Patriots claim DL Kelcy Quarles on waivers

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
4:00
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The New England Patriots have claimed New York Giants defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles on waivers today.

Quarles, an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina, tweeted about his new beginning.

The 6-foot-3 3/4, 297-pound Quarles entered the 2014 draft after his junior season. He played in 35 games over his three seasons with the Gamecocks, totaling 9.5 sacks last season, and at one point was viewed as a potential second-round draft pick by analysts before slipping completely out of the draft.

In Thursday's preseason finale between the Patriots and Giants, Quarles played 30 defensive snaps and was credited with two tackles, so the Patriots got a bit of an extended look at him in the game. The Giants had plans to bring Quarles back to their practice squad had the Patriots not claimed him on waivers.

ESPN Insider's draft scouting report on Quarles noted that he has "natural core strength and anchor, and [is] tough to move off the ball when playing with leverage. Flashes the ability to hold ground against double teams. Heavy hands and long arms and uses length to lock out blockers."

The Patriots have veteran Vince Wilfork as their stalwart big defensive tackle, then a group of younger players with upside including first-round pick Dominique Easley, second-year players Chris Jones and Joe Vellano, third-year veteran Sealver Siliga, and perhaps rookie Zach Moore.

Now Quarles is added to the pipeline.

Analysis: Digesting the Ryan Mallett trade

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
3:00
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video
Here are a few points to consider when it comes to the New England Patriots trading quarterback Ryan Mallett to the Houston Texans for a late-round draft choice:

Mallett
Only a late-rounder? That seemed to be the most prevalent Patriots-based question among those immediately digesting the deal. Mallett was drafted in the third round in 2011, so four seasons later, how could he be worth only a late-rounder? The market spoke. This is what we wrote April 6: "There was a time when the Patriots might have felt Mallett could develop into a tradable commodity, but I don’t think it ever generated the momentum the club hoped. So at this point, my feeling is that whatever the club could get in return (projected here as a late-round pick at best) pales in comparison to the value Mallett has on the roster as Tom Brady’s insurance policy." When the Patriots drafted rookie Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round this year and he played well this preseason, it lessened Mallett's value on the roster.

Weighing the value of third QB vs. late-round pick: Given Garoppolo's rise, the question for the Patriots was whether Mallett had more value to them as a No. 3 option on their depth chart or if taking the late-round pick and freeing up a roster spot was the better play. They chose the latter route, which shows their faith in Garoppolo. Mallett was in the final year of his contract and was almost certainly going to sign elsewhere after the 2014 season, so the Patriots could have held on to him and potentially received a later-round 2016 compensatory draft choice when he signed with another team. In this case, they get the pick and immediate roster flexibility.

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Texans' viewpoint: The Texans were seeking an upgrade on their depth chart behind starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, and first-year head coach Bill O'Brien and quarterbacks coach George Godsey have a background with Mallett from being on the Patriots' staff in Mallett's rookie season in 2011. O'Brien and Godsey can feel comfortable knowing that Mallett has been well-schooled over the past three-plus years in a system that is similar, if not identical, to what they are installing in Houston. With the future in mind, Mallett is another option to consider if 2014 fourth-round pick Tom Savage doesn't develop as hoped. Mallett could be a one-year rental in Houston, but given the importance of the quarterback position and how the entire team is at risk if there isn't a player ready to run the offense, a late-round pick seems to be a fair price to pay.

Patriots' track record with quarterbacks: There was a time when former Packers general manager Ron Wolf was the gold standard in football when it came to developing quarterbacks. Those quarterbacks helped the Packers win big in the 1990s, provided valuable insurance or brought back something in return in a trade. The Patriots have a nice little Wolf-type run going over the past five years. Two of their last three backups, Matt Cassel and Mallett, have filled an insurance-based or emergency-starter role and then brought back a draft pick in return (Cassel and Mike Vrabel traded to Kansas City for a high second-rounder in 2009). That's not to mention that the Patriots' backup quarterback between those two, Brian Hoyer, is slated to the start the opener for the Cleveland Browns this year. The Patriots never found a trade partner for Hoyer and ended up releasing him in 2012. Wolf would certainly approve.

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