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Archive for January, 2011

Patriots Off – Season Preview

After an abrupt end to the New England Patriots 2010 season, the focus of Patriots nation has now turned to the off-season. Contract situations, free agency, and the draft will occupy both the team and its fans for the next few months. A year that was labeled by many as a rebuilding year, instead ended with the Patriots holding a 14 – 2 record. A strong off-season could put the team back in the American conference driver seat when the new season begins.

Even with free agency process potentially being postponed by CBA negotiations, the draft will take place April 28th – 30th regardless. With less than 100 days to go before the 2011 NFL draft (but who’s counting) and the playoffs in full force, it may be a little early for player projection. However, there are several areas on the Patriots roster that could use improvement. The following are the areas I deem of need for the Pats this April.

  • 3-4 OLB (Pass Rusher)
  • Defensive Line
  • Offensive Line
  • Running Back / Fullback
  • Wide Receiver
  • Defensive Backs (Corner or Safety)

In my opinion, the Patriots need to keep investing in their defense. They have spent the last few seasons building a young, talented squad, and now it is time for them to add a few more pieces. I believe the team needs a defensive end to help stop the run and most importantly an outside linebacker to get after the opposing QB. Also, the patriots showed in their last three playoff exits that they cannot protect their most important asset, Tom Brady. The Logan Mankins and Matt Light situations have a huge effect on the Patriots priorities. If neither or one return, I feel offensive line jumps to the top of the list. As much I love the combination of Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, I expect the Pats to bring in a young running back in the draft. Re-establishing a more physical presence in the trenches, as well as staying more balanced in the offense with a new running attack should make the Patriots even more deadly.

Luckily for the Pats, they are stacked with picks throughout the draft, including six in the first 92 overall selections. They have the ammo to move up or down the draft boards to acquire any player(s) they desire. The following is a list of the draft picks the Patriots have going into the draft process:

2010 Patriots Draft Picks

1st Round – #17 (OAK – Richard Seymour)

1st Round – #28

2nd Round – #33 (CAR – 2010 3rd Round)

2nd Round – #60

3rd Round – #74 (Min – Randy Moss)

3rd Round – #92

4th Round

5th Round

6th Round (NO – David Thomas)

* Compensatory picks will be awarded later *

Picks traded away:

4th Round – Traded to SEA  for Deion Branch (via DEN Maroney trade)

6th Round (DEN – Laurence Maroney)

7th Round – (Traded to ATL – Quinn Ojinnaka)

Conditional Draft Pick – (KC Jarrad Page) – Unknown

2010 Patriots Free Agents

Not only do the Patriots need to continue to bring in talent from the draft, but they also need to re-sign some of their expiring veterans. The Patriots made re-signing their own veterans priority one last off-season and I feel they should do the same this season. The following is a list of the 2010 New England Patriots free agents heading into the off – season. Here is my thoughts on each players stance with the team moving forward:

CB Kyle Arrington – After Kyle Arrington played mainly special teams in his rookie season, he stepped up to play starting corner across from Devin McCourty since week 3. I certainly expect this young man to be back on a multi-year deal and play in the slot with Leigh Bodden returning from injury next season.

S Josh Barrett – The veteran safety, claimed off the Denver Broncos waiver wire during the season, was immediately placed on IR after signing with the team. I feel Belichick wants to see Barrett in camp for his league renown special teams skills, but wouldn’t necessarily expect a long term commitment with the team.

RB Kevin Faulk – After a devastating knee injury cut Kevin Faulk’s 13th season with the Patriots short, the 34 year old has been undergoing rehab trying to make a comeback for 2011. It has been understood that if Kevin wants to return next year he can, but at what point can the Patriots not hold a roster spot for the veteran?

K Shayne Graham – Graham stepped up in Stephen Gostkowski’s absence to deliver a solid effort the final half of the season. Even though Graham did not miss a field goal during his Patriots tenure, there is only  one roster spot available for the kicker. I would be surprised if Graham was not in camp with the patriots just in case Gostkowski is not ready to return in 2011.

RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis -Heading into the season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis appeared to be at the bottom of the Patriots roster. Months later, he eclipsed the 1000-yard mark for the first time in his career and scored 13 touchdowns. In almost any CBA scenario, he will end up a restricted free agent, which gives the Patriots an edge to re-sign him. While he has been a near perfect fit in New England, he might not be the future. I believe he returns to the team but would not be surprised if the Patriots drafted a younger more talented running back for next season.

OL Matt Light – At first glance, I expect the Patriots will not re-sign Matt Light and instead bring in more youth to the offensive line. Even though he had one of his best seasons, Light will be turning 33 next season and it is hard to imagine his return to the team. Second year tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who played well on the right side this season, has proven he can play from the left side as well. I expect the Patriots will  bring in more youth to the offensive line as the front is in need of roster turnover but, since the Pats have so many question marks along the front, they maybe inclined to bring him back.

OL Logan Mankins – Mankins return to the Patriots offensive line was flawless, even after a holdout at the early stages of the season. He continues to be one of the top guards in the league and will be paid as so in the coming months. Hopefully, for Patriots nation, he will remain a Patriot for years to come. With the offensive line aging and in need of a makeover, Mankins is one of the few bright spots this team has left in that unit. I have a feeling both Mr. Kraft and Mankins will hammer out a new contract but with these situations, you just never know.

S Brandon McGowan – McGowan missed the whole season with a torn pectoral muscle after a solid season in 2009. Unfortunately for him, the Patriots have several players at the safety position. Brandon Meriweather, Patrick Chung, Jarrad page, James Sanders, and serjio Brown all got reps throughout the season. It will be interesting if the Pats bring him back but a veteran minimum contract and a training camp appearance is certainly not out of the question.

RB Sammy Morris – The 34 year old contributed sparingly in 2010 and is almost a lock he will not be back with the patriots next season. Between his age, ability, and room on the roster, I do not see room for him in 2011. The only real loss the Patriots would lose in Morris’ absence is his ability to play both the full back and tailback position.

OL Quinn Ojinnaka – After trading a 7th round pick for Ojinnaka earlier in the season, the veteran added quality depth for the Pats all season. Ojinnaka is so valuable as a back up because of his versatility. He can play all five offensive line positions and has game experience in all of them. I fully expect him to be back with the Patriots next year.

S Jarrad Page – After a contract dispute forced his departure in Kansas City, Page suffered a few injuries in the first few weeks. After he was healthy, he rotated in the defensive backfield and also contributed on special teams. I think he could be back with the team but part of me is curious to see if he asks for more money than he is worth.

RB Fred Taylor – Fred Taylor tried to shed the “fragile Fred” nickname this season but the veteran had no such luck. He was hampered throughout the year with nagging injuries and when he was healthy enough to play, he had lost his job to BenJarvis Green-Ellis. Taylor talked several times about retirement this season, many of those in tears with obvious frustration and sadness in his facial expression. I expect the 34 year old not to return and possibly sign with the Jaguars to retire where his great career began.

DL Gerard Warren – Gerard Warren had a great start to the season and slowly regressed as the year went along. Never the less, I thought he did a great job replacing the injured Ty Warren for the seasons entirety. I certainly expect the Patriots to re-sign the veteran DE to help add depth and experience along the defensive front.

LB Tracy White – In early September the Eagles traded White to the Patriots for an undisclosed late round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. White played in all 16 games, finishing second on the team with 18 special teams tackles. I expect White to return with the team next season and be big part of the on special teams next season.

Unfortunately, the NFL’s immediate future is in question because the new collective bargaining agreement has not yet been constructed. Until an agreement is reached, free agency will likely be postponed and many of the usual off – season activities. Hopefully, for football fans across the nation, the NFL will resolve their CBA negotiations in a timely fashion.

In any case, the Patriots have once again put themselves in a position to reload on the fly. Bill Belichick and the brain trust have certainly positioned themselves masterfully. Another strong off – season should continue building this teams foundation. If all goes well, the Patriots could be a championship team in the near future.

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Patriots Issues? Rank ‘em

As the Patriots off – season begins, everyone seems to have their own opinion (as they should) of what the Patriots “needs” are as the team evaluates the roster in the coming months. Even with a 14 – 2 record, this team still has holes along with the other 31 NFL clubs. So what positions need upgrading?

In my opinion, the Patriots need to keep investing in their defense. They have spent the last few seasons building a young, talented squad, and now it is time for them to add a few more pieces. I believe the team needs a defensive end to help stop the run and most importantly an outside linebacker to get after the opposing QB. Also, the patriots showed in their last three playoff exits that they cannot protect their most important asset, Tom Brady. The patriots need to resign Logan Mankins and help their interior line. As much I love the combination of Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, I expect the Pats to bring in a young running back in the draft. Re-establishing a more physical presence in the trenches as well as staying more balanced in the offense with a new running attack should make the Patriots even more deadly.

Whether it is the free agency or the draft, what should this team focus on? Below are a list of needs, rank them in the comments section and share your thoughts! Disagree or agree with what think the team should address? Let me know below!

  • 3-4 OLB (Pass Rusher)
  • Defensive Line
  • Offensive Line
  • Wide Receiver
  • Running Back / Fullback
  • Defensive Backs (Corner or Safety)

* Want to talk about the team on twitter? Reach me at username: @DerekHavens

Patriots Lose a Heartbreaker

After a long week of trash talking and anticipation, the Jets backed up their words with a strong performance on Sunday afternoon. Surprisingly, to both analysts and fans alike, the Patriot’s season came to a close abruptly. The Patriots played very uncharacteristic football throughout the games entirety. Coming to Gillette Stadium and going toe-to-toe with the Pats is something that the club has not been accustomed to in over a year. The Jets dominated in every phase of the game and even though the Patriots kept the score close, the team really never had a solid grip on their division rival.

The Jets coverage down the field was nearly perfect, and Brady was hit more times than any other throughout the season. In the end, the Jets made more plays to win the game. Whether the Patriots were the better team or not is irrelevant. Simply put, the Jets came to play and the Patriots were not up to the challenge; a rarity for this organization in 2010.

The focus of the Patriots now turns to the off-season. Contract situations, free agency, the draft, and training camps will occupy both the team and its fans for the next few months. With eight players ProBowl eligible and Bill Belichick the expected coach for the AFC, the immediate focus shifts to Hawaii. Belichick’s opportunity to coach the AFC squad might give him a chance to evaluate any player from the conference who might become a free agent. The most recent example, although not the best, is Adalius Thomas in 2007. Belichick’s extra time with Thomas gave him the first hand experience to bring him to the club the following season. Even if the memory of Thomas is not the most flattering, a different scenario could unfold in the future.

Even though it may be difficult to look past Sunday evening, there is a silver lining to Sunday’s defeat. The Patriots were 14 – 2 throughout the regular season in what was suppose to be a rebuilding year. With 6 draft selections in the first 96 overall picks in the upcoming draft, the team will continue to add talent and improve its roster. A strong off-season could put the team back in the American conference driver seat when the new season begins. Hopefully, for football fans across the nation, the NFL will resolve their CBA negotiations in a timely fashion. For now, both the team and its loyal fans will reflect on the regular season, in what will most certainly prove to be a long off-season.

Pre-Game Thoughts: Jets and Patriots Showdown

After a long week of back and forth from both the Jets and Patriots personnel, Sunday has finally arrived. The trash talk, rivalry, and playoff atmosphere is a dream scenario. Most people have picked the Patriots to win this weeks game by a comfortable margin, and I agree. While I don’t believe the Pats will win 45 – 3, I think the Pats will move on to the AFC Championship game next week. Here are some thoughts on Sunday’s game:

Stop the run: The Jets rushed for 169 yards last week, so the Patriots will have to make sure that does not happen again. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene will look to have monster games and control the clock. Obviously, the Jets want to keep Tom Brady off the field. If the Jets can establish their running game and control the games overall tempo, it will be a long day for the Patriots.

Make Sanchez uncomfortable: Mark Sanchez misses too many throws and has certainly not progressed the way he or the Jets had hoped. While he has played well in the final minutes of games, he has not historically played well in new England. In fact, he has a 1 – 7 Touchdown – Interception ratio. England’s pass defense has greatly improved since the beginning of the season and is much better when it blitzes. If the Pats can get some early pressure and make Mark Sanchez uncomfortable early, it could lead to another Patriots victory.

Matchup to watch: Patriots tight ends versus Jets Defense: With Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Alge Crumpler, the Pats use Tight Ends more intricately than any team in the NFL. While these three players have very different skill sets, they all have great success in their roles with the team. How Rex Ryan accounts for the various formations his team will face will be critical if the Jets want to leave New England victorious. Because Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie will likely cover the receivers on the outside, Jets will have to find away to win their individual match-ups. It is almost an unwinnable situation for any defense.

Protect Tom Brady: Brady has been incredibly good versus the blitz, and the Jets chose not to blitz Manning often last week in Indianapolis. Brady is a difficult quarterback to sack because of his pocket awareness and ability to get rid of the ball when he is under pressure. The Jets, like the Patriots, do not have one superb pass-rusher at their disposal and have struggled getting to opposing QBs this season. The Patriots’ protection is exceptional and will need to continue if the Patriots want to keep their SuperBowl aspirations alive.

Be ready for anything and everything – Since the Jets have were embarrassed on December 6th, they have a large chip on their soldier. I expect the Jets to open up their offensive playbook to keep pace with the Patriots offensive attack. Whether its using the “Seminal” package or fakes on special teams, the Patriots need to be ready for everything. If the Patriots let their guard down, they could get burned.

Don’t take your foot off the gas – If the Patriots get off to an early lead, which I expect them too, I hope they keep the foot on the gas. Meaning I do not want them to relax and play prevent defense and conservative offense. I would hate to see them get caught off guard with a trick play or rare mental error. The Patriots need to continue to play smart and disciplined football. The way the Pats have played through this point in the season, it is hard to imagine a scenario where this takes place.

With all of these thoughts taken into consideration. I believe the Patriots can continue their home dominance and move on to the AFC championship game. While I don’t believe it will be a blow out for the Patriots, they should have no problem winning by 14-point margin if they continue to play their style of football. Brady and Belichick have never lost in the divisional round after having a bye in the wildcard round. The Jets will be ready to play but I think the Patriots want to shut up the Jets trash talkers on the field. My prediction is Patriots – 34, Jets – 20.

A Quick Glance Towards April’s NFL Draft

With over four months to go before the 2011 NFL draft and the playoffs in full force, it may be a little early for player projection. However, the following is a list of the draft picks the Patriots have going into the draft process.

1st Round – #17 (OAK – Richard Seymour)
1st Round – #32*
2nd Round – #33 (CAR – 2010 3rd Round)
2nd Round – #64*
3rd Round – #74 (Min – Randy Moss)
3rd Round – #96*
4th Round
5th Round
6th Round (NO – David Thomas)

* – Picks subject to change

Picks traded away:

4th Round (SEA – Deion Branch) (via DEN Maroney)
6th Round (DEN – Laurence Maroney)
7th Round (ATL – Quinn Ojinnaka)
Conditional Draft Pick – (KC Jarrad Page)

Patriots Release Atiyyah Ellison

As first reported by Brian Mcintyre, then confirmed by the Patriots, the team has waived defensive lineman Atiyyah Ellison. The Pats had signed Ellison on Wednesday last week. The Patriots had to make a roster move by Jan. 10, when roster exemption for Brandon Spikes was set to expire. Spikes, returning from a four game suspension, practiced with the team last week. The roster is now at 53 and set for the playoffs.

Patriots Players Earn Long Weekend

After back-to-back full-pads practices Wednesday and Thursday, Bill Belichick has given players a long weekend off. Players are off Friday-Sunday, which should give them a much deserved opportunity to rest. SInce players also had Monday and Tuesday off this week, the Pats should come out of their bye week relatively healthy at this point in the season. With a slue of injuries towards the end of the regular season, this is key for the Pats to make a Super Bowl run.

The Patriots’ first playoff game, in the AFC divisional round, will be Sunday Jan. 16 at 4:30 p.m. ET. By the end of the weekend, the Pats will know if their next opponent is Kansas City, Baltimore, or New York.

Deaderick Suspended: Pats line Issues Continue

The Patriots have suspended rookie defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick, according to publsihed reports.

Deaderick, who started four games this season, has played sparingly since Detroit. The Patriots defensive line has been hit with injuries as of late, so this certainly does not help the situation. With Myron Pryor (back/eye), Mike Wright (concussion) and Ron Brace (Placed on IR Monday with an Elbow injury) all missing time in recent weeks, the Pats have struggled with their defensive front rotation.

In addition, defensive lineman Lorenzo Washington, was released from the Patriots’ practice squad on Monday. With Brace being placed on IR, a roster spot opened up for newly reinstated Brandon Spikes, who had been suspended for the last four games. Washington’s release, creates an opening on the Pats practice squad.  The Patriots had four defensive linemen in for tryouts on Monday. Atiyyah Ellison, Alfonso Boone, Ryan Sims and former Patriot Le Kevin Smith were the players reportedly in for the workout.

Fortunately, the Patriots have almost two weeks to fix their line issues. The Patriots’ first playoff game, in the AFC divisional round, will be Sunday Jan. 16 at 4:30 p.m. ET. I’ll be sure to monitor the situation and pass along any newly acquired details.

Spikes Returns: Brace to IR *Updated*

Barring an unexpected change, Patriots defensive lineman Ron Brace will be placed on season-ending injured reserve on Monday. Brace has been dealing with an elbow injury the past few weeks. His loss will hurt an already shallow defensive front. Mike Wright, who has been out since Nov. 21 with a concussion has yet to return. If Wright returns he will most likely be the top candidate to start next to Warren and Wilfork.

This move creates a roster spot as linebacker Brandon Spikes returns from a four-game suspension. Spikes return will be a lift for the Pats run support and tackling, as they have struggled in both areas in his absence. The rookie has been solid in both areas through three-quarters of the season. Gary Guyton, who replaced Spikes during his suspension, will most likely go back into his passing down role.

**Update**

The New England Patriots announced Monday that defensive lineman Ron Brace has been placed on injured reserve with an elbow injury and that DL Lorenzo Washington has been released from the practice squad.