Archive for the ‘ Football ’ Category

Patriots Pre-Training Camp Player Spotlight: Sebastian Vollmer

Sebastian Vollmer’s 2013 season didn’t end well after he suffered a leg injury that saw him end up on injured reserve. (USA TODAY Images)

(This is the seventh in a series of individual player spotlights over the next few weeks leading up to training camp. We’ll have several each day, so check back frequently as we go down the roster.  This edition focuses on Patriots tackle Sebastian Vollmer:) 

2013 Summary: 

Sebastian Vollmer’s season ended abruptly in 2013, with the right tackle suffering a gruesome leg injury during the team’s week eight match-up at home against the Dolphins.

It was a moment that was hard to forget.  On the play Vollmer was engaged with Miami defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, who Vollmer had blocked out of the play, opening up a hole behind him for Stevan Ridley to cut through.  However, Dan Connolly, who was lined up next to Vollmer, wasn’t able to keep McDaniel’s teammate, Randy Starks, from cutting inside and taking Ridley down as he made his move behind Vollmer.

Starks grabbed Ridley from behind and as he twisted to pull down the Patriots running back, he landed right on the legs of Vollmer.  The normally tough right tackle let out a scream that was audible on the television broadcast and was heard by the fans who were on hand to witness it unfold right in front of them.  Over and over he yelled, slamming his fists into the turf as his right leg was visually bent awkwardly.

Moments later with his leg placed in an air cast he was driven off the field, which marked the final time fans saw him in 2013.

Best game of 2013:

It’s hard to quantify it, but for Vollmer, his best performance of 2013 was arguably against the New Orleans Saints in week 6 after a terrific overall showing that afternoon.  He faced a tough Saints defense that afternoon, but of the five sacks allowed that day he was only responsible for one and actually did a good job of giving Tom Brady enough time to help engineer their last-second victory.  He also opened up holes during what ended up being one of Stevan Ridley’s best games of the season running the football.  Of Ridley’s 20 carries, eight of them came to Vollmer’s side of the line (2 over right tackle, 6 around the right end) for 39 yards.

He played a lot of snaps in that game, with the 87 plays matching the second most the team played during the regular season, which came against the Broncos.  But they did enough to win the game, and Vollmer certainly played an important part.

Notable Stat of 2013:

Overall through each of the first seven games running backs had the second highest yards-per-carry average running over right tackle compared to the other positions, gaining 111 yards on 19 carries (5.8 avg).  They also carried 22 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns around the right end, with Ridley and Brandon Bolden each accounting for one.  He also wasn’t called for a single penalty during the eight games he did take part in.

What to Watch For in 2014: 

Vollmer is such an important part of the team’s offense both in terms of his pass blocking and his toughness in opening holes in the running game.  His health will certainly be something to watch during training camp, and despite the fact that Cannon has been serviceable during his time filling in while Vollmer was injured, it’s hard not to appreciate the type of player Vollmer is.  Tackle is certainly not the sexiest position by any means and it’s one of those positions that doesn’t fetch a lot of glory.  But he’s a player whose name isn’t called very often for the wrong reasons, and he’ll likely be an important part of this offense once again this season.

Five Key Questions On Offense For the Patriots Heading into 2014

It was a frustrating season for much of 2013 for quarterback Tom Brady. (USA TODAY Images)

Heading into the 2013 season the Patriots found themselves with plenty of questions on the offensive side of the football, many of which simply required the battle of real NFL competition to work out the kinks in hopes of having everything come together.

One year later, not much has changed.

Most of the newer players at least have a year in the system under their belt, and all of them were given a taste of the excitement of the NFL postseason, while also experiencing the agony of coming up short in their ultimate goal. This is a team that is used to winning football games and each year the expectations are such that they expect to be playing football into January, and potentially even longer.

But getting there isn’t easy, and there were quite a few new players who had up and down seasons last year. The regular season is still a couple of months away and for the second-straight year, the Patriots are in need of some stronger contributions from a group that overall showed plenty of positive things to build on, but not quite enough for this offense to reach their potential.

This is a key season for a few players to establish themselves as the future of this football team as key assets for Tom Brady over his final few seasons. Here’s a look at five of them who have plenty to prove if this team hopes to be playing football in Arizona in February.

Patriots WR Thompkins Trying to Build on an Up-and-Down Rookie Season

When training camp started for the Patriots last year, not many expected very much from wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins.

At the time, most people didn’t know much about him and the expectations weren’t that high. But the rookie free agent came into camp and made a lot of noise, grabbing the attention of everyone during an unbelievable showing in the team’s exhibition games.  In preseason he and quarterback Tom Brady were electric, with the two having plenty of success while connecting on 10-of-12 passes for 116 yards.  They made it look easy and the chemistry seemed to be there, and it was hard not to believe the two might be able to build on that success and have quite a year together.

However, during the season opener out in Buffalo, the trouble having it translate into the regular season was apparent as Brady overall went Thompkins’ way 14 times, while connecting on just four of them for 42 yards. Their problems getting on the same page hurt the offense, which caused them to struggle to get in sync before eventually pulling off the win.  In that game they were already somewhat shorthanded, with Aaron Dobson ending up inactive due to injury, and Danny Amendola was hampered with a groin injury as he gutted out a 10 reception, 104 yard performance, which was a major factor in the win and covered up for Thompkins’ disappointing rookie debut.

The growing pains continued in week two, with Thompkins finding himself targeted seven times with just two receptions. He then had a similar performance the following week after being targeted seven times with just three catches during the team’s win over Tampa Bay.

One of his better games came in week four down in Atlanta when Thompkins caught six passes (he was targeted 11 times) including a touchdown and it seemed as though he was starting to turn a corner. He then caught three passes the following week down in Cincinnati on four attempts, although it seemed like he struggled to get open at times against a very physical Bengals defense.

His biggest moment of the season came the next week in the waning seconds against the Saints, with Thompkins hauling in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Brady with :10 to go in the game, giving them a dramatic 30-27 come-from-behind win.  The bad news is from there what should have been a massive springboard ended up starting a decline for the rookie, with Thompkins catching just two passes the following week in a frustrating loss down in New York against the Jets.

Taking a look at his playing time, the downward trend was pretty obvious.

Week 1 at BUF: 87/91 (96%)
Week 2 vs NYJ: 54/65 (83%)
Week 3 vs TBB: 67/74 (91%)
Week 4 at ATL: 57/66 (86%)
Week 5 at CIN: 61/63 (97%)
Week 6 vs NO: 59/87 (68%)
Week 7 at NYJ: 70/75 (93%)
Week 8 vs MIA: 13/66 (20%)
Week 9 vs PIT: Not Active
Week 11 at CAR: 14/72 (19%)
Week 12 vs DEN: 44/87 (51%)
Week 13 at HOU: 15/70 (21%)
Week 14 vs CLE: Not Active
Week 15 at MIA: Not Active
Week 16 at BAL: Not Active
Week 17 vs BUF: 34/75 (45%)

As a result, the trend from weeks 1-8 is obviously different from 9-17 as well in terms of his production:

Weeks 1-8: 23 receptions, 334 yards, 4 TD’s
Weeks 9-17: 9 receptions, 132 yards

The good news is that it sounds like he’s been working hard this offseason, as most reports so far say he’s bulked up his frame over the 200-pound mark. He talked in May about the fact that with a full season under his belt, his confidence is better than where it was last year at this time.

“Every year we put new things in,” Thompkins told NESN last month. “Every year is a learning curve, but I feel a little bit better knowing the guys and some of the plays we did last year. Now we’re trying to build on the execution of them and build on what we did wrong last year.”

The second year receiver finds himself in a crowded group heading into training camp (they have 12 receivers total currently on the roster), and there isn’t exactly a guarantee that Thompkins will make the team if he doesn’t play well. For now Edelman and Amendola are the two likely starters, while other top names including Dobson, Brandon LaFell and Josh Boyce are among players fighting with Thompkins for a roster spot. The situation could even become more complicated if someone else emerges in the months ahead.

Thompkins certainly made his fair share of mistakes in 2013, but there were plenty of moments last season where he showed he has the potential to be effective in this offense. This play against the Lions during the preseason was likely one that showed the coaching staff what the future could hold and likely played a part in why he made the roster last year.

But with an entire NFL season now under his belt and a full offseason to build on, it’s now up to him to show if he can now turn those moments into a complete season.

With OTAs in the books for the Patriots and mini camps set to begin, it’s been an interesting stretch recently as the team started working with quite a few new players who will hopefully help this team take the next step heading into the 2014 season.

Coming off of their AFC Championship loss earlier this year, this group seems to have a different feel and a new sense of urgency at this point in the offseason compared to we’ve seen in recent years.  With training camp just over a month away, it will still be a while before most fans will be able to get a look at this group with their own eyes. However, from what’s been reported, it may be one that could also potentially end up making some serious noise this season.

From a personnel standpoint, it’s hard not to feel as though they’ve improved on the defensive side of the football.  Free agent cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis are two of the most notable names having been added into the mix, which should be solid upgrades in a secondary that has already played better and showed encouraging signs of improvement last season.

Despite the free agent defection of cornerback Aqib Talib, the Patriots came out on top by adding Revis and also added a physical presence in Browner that’s been lacking in past seasons.  Some experts still believe the Broncos will come out on top should these two teams meet again in the postseason, but how this team grows from September to December will ultimately determine whether or not they’ve got what it takes to prove they can contend for another championship.

There’s still a long way to go and it’s obviously a little too early to tell at this point what the future holds.  But looking back through OTAs, some players have already set some expectations for themselves.  Some will build on it, while others will end up looking for work in the months ahead.  However, for now, here’s a quick rundown at some things that transpired which should be fun to watch in the weeks and months to come.

In a Contract Year, Ridley Focused On Being Mistake-Free in 2014

After a rough 2013, Stevan Ridley’s knows he’s got his work cut out for him. (USA TODAY Images)

Patriots running back Stevan Ridley has certainly had two very different seasons in recent years.

In 2012 he finished with 290 carries for 1263 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, both ranking him third in the AFC.  It was his best season to that point as a pro, and the stage certainly appeared to be set for him to improve on that in 2013.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way. Last season he carried the football 178 times for just 773 yards, having seen his playing time greatly diminished thanks to early season issues holding onto the football.  He fumbled four times total in 2013 and lost all four, including three times over the span of weeks 9-12, with one against Denver being returned 60-yards for a touchdown for the Broncos.

That saw him inactive against Houston in week 13.

When he was given another chance he certainly played better and hasn’t fumbled since, although at that point the offense shifted to LeGarrette Blount getting the lion’s share of the carries.

Blount has since departed via free agency, having signed with Pittsburgh back on March 28th.  That sets up a big opportunity for Ridley to once again reclaim his role as the starting running back and get back to the level he was at two seasons ago.  He’s in the final year of his contract, and his football future and his tenure as a Patriot will likely depend on how he performs this year.  Ridley knows he’ll need to be more careful with the football this time around, which is something he’s focused on doing heading into this season.

“I’ve just got to go out there and play football and hit it hard and run the ball out wide open,” Ridley told the Boston Herald this week.  “So I’ve just got to be the same player I’ve been to this point in time and just try to be mistake-free.”

Ridley was actually better down the stretch after he came back in terms of yards per carry last season.  Through the first 12 games he averaged 4.3 (135 carries for 576 yards), compared to 4.6 (43 carries for 197 yards) over the final four games.  Blount had the better numbers over that same span, finishing the final four games averaging six yards per carry with 59 carries for 354 yards and four touchdowns.

With Blount now wearing black and gold, Ridley at least will no longer have to worry about fighting with the departed running back for playing time this season as he tries to get his job back.

For now he knows that nothing is going to be handed to him and he’ll need to earn his way back into the lead role.  He’s ready to do what it takes, and he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“I fight for my job every day,” Ridley told the Herald.  “I don’t care who they bring in or the guys that are in the room. I’m going in there to compete, and I don’t think that anything is mine or I deserve anything.

“I want to work for everything I get. That’s the way of the world. Nobody is going to hand you anything. I don’t mind doing that. I’m just a country boy from the South. I enjoy hard work. So if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’m going to do.”

“I never back down from any challenge” – Darrelle Revis. (USA TODAY Images)

Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis spoke to the media last Friday, and posted a video of his interview with reporters.  Here’s a transcript of what he had to say for anyone who hasn’t seen/heard it:


“You know, it feels great.  I’m just taking my time, taking it one day at a time, and just working.  That’s basically it.”


“No.  No.  This is a new adventure for me and I’m just happy to be a part of the Patriots organization.  I’ve known them from playing in New York for six years and it’s good man.  This is something in my journey and like I said, I’m just happy to be here.


“From inside out, it’s totally different.  There’s things that you didn’t expect, how this organization is run from top to bottom.  You’ve got to crown your hat off  to Mr. Kraft for how this organization operates.  They’re going to be a winning organization and I’m happy those guys gave me an opportunity to come in here and be a part of it.”


“One, is to get in shape.  Also, is to, you know, learn the defense.  It’s different terminology, the program is run differently and I’m just trying to adjust to coach Belichick’s program.  You’ve got to take step back.  That’s all I’m trying to do is learn and enjoy it as much as I can and just try to get better.”


“It’s always a defensive and offensive competition going on and I think both sides, I think what we’re really trying to do is just get better at the end of the day.  You know, it’s good to have the same jersey on as Tom and everybody else on this team from just the past and being across the sideline from each other.  Like I said, it’s an offensive and defensive type of thing and it’s competition but at the same time, we’re just all trying to get better here.”


“It could take a while.  You just…as of right now we’re in OTA’s and this is the time where we can glue together, not just as a secondary, but also as a defense and also as a team as well.  We’re all in this together and everybody’s working hard, and that’s what we’re all trying to do.  Trying to get prepared for the season and use these OTA’s as something for us to build towards the season.”


“I love competition.  I think that’s why we play this game is to compete every Sunday and to go out there and execute your job and try to win games.  Like I said, I love competition and I never back down from any challenge.  It’s just going out there and competing and doing your job and help your team win.”


“As of right now, I don’t know.  Like I said, I’m just trying to take this time to get to know the guys and for them to know me as well.  I’m not trying to come in here and step on anybody’s toes.  I’m just trying to come in here and learn as much as I can and improve and get this defensive scheme down and just keep on working.”


“I don’t know man, I’m too busy with having so much stuff on my plate.  You’ve got to speak to Brandon about that.  Because I’ve been trying to focus on what I need to focus on and just trying to worry about the things I can control.”


“It’s fine. You know, it’s great.”


“Like I said, I’m not trying to come in here and step on anybody’s toes.  You’ve got to take a step back. There are guys who have been here for many years.  Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan is a very smart guy.  So you know, they’ve been in this system a little bit so I’m just trying to sit back and get feedback from those guys and go from there.”


“I mean, there’s conversations all the time.  We see each other every day.  We’re at work, there’s always talks about the issue of if I have any questions, I know I can go to those guys  and ask them.”


“Every defense has their kinks and they do things differently and have different schemes.  Right now, for me, this is my third team and I’m just trying to observe everything right now and just trying to take a step back and learn everything I can to get prepared for the season.”


“Like I said, I’ve got a lot of stuff on my plate.  The coaches are evaluating guys every day.  That’s really not for me to sit here and really talk about, because I’ve got too much stuff on my plate and the things I’m trying to worry about every day.”


“Well, you can’t put a prediction on it right now.  We’re right in the beginning stages.  We just finished up our third practice and we’ve still got a lot of work to do.  The good thing about it is we still have time to get better and that’s what we’re just trying to focus on.  Just trying to get better every day.  When the preseason comes and all of that, when the season comes, I think we’ll be ready to go.”


“Yeah, I’m being my own guy.  I’m going to be me.  That’s all I can say.  I think coach Belichick lets guys be who they are, and that’s fine. I’m going to be myself and just go with the flow.”


“Well, you know, last year, it was a tough year – when I played in Tampa Bay – it was tough, coming off the ACL and everything.  So it was a long year for me personally, just trying to recover.  So now I’m ready to go and like I said, I’m just trying to sit here and absorb everything in and just trying to enjoy my time and get ready for the season.”


“No, it’s not.  That’s in the past man.  Like I said man, I’m on my career and my journey and right now I’m a New England Patriot, and that’s that.  I’m trying to do the best I can to get better as a player but also help this team win.”

Avoiding hits appears to be a priority this offseason for Tom Brady. (USA TODAY Images)

In today’s NFL, there are quite a few mobile quarterbacks who make life pretty miserable for opposing defenses with their feet.

It’s a challenge that we’ve heard Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talk about when it comes to the team’s defensive preparation, and one that adds another wrinkle that has to be accounted for during the game.

For Tom Brady, he’s not a Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick type of player.  His area of expertise is his ability to read defenses and pick them apart with his arm rather than tear them up with his feet.  According to last season, Brady took off with the football just four times (excluding QB sneaks) compared to Wilson whose total was 51.

Half of Brady’s sack total in 2013 came on third down, where he was sacked 20 times, including three down inside the red zone.
(USA TODAY Images)

Meanwhile, Brady had the fifth highest total of drop backs in the league with 671, trailing just Matt Ryan (703), Drew Brees (699), along with Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco (tied with 677).

Being a pocket passer obviously has its advantages, but being able to move around is also a big benefit.  It helps avoid additional hits by opposing defenses by being able to roll away from the pressure.  Brady got hit as he threw quite a bit this past season, and was tied for first in having been hit nine times as he threw the football (Wilson and Kaepernick were only hit as they threw once), as well as having been sacked 40 times, the most since 2001 (41).

As a result it appears one area of focus is moving Brady around and working on throws on the run.  That’s an area that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels spoke about last week, and felt that’s a weakness that needs to be improved.

“We were moving in the pocket and throwing off-schedule throws,” McDaniels told reporters on Friday. “That’s not necessarily a strength of our quarterbacks in general, and I think that’s something we’ve identified that could have helped us – a time here, a time there – and we’re adamant about trying to make it better.”

Half of Brady’s sack total last season came on third down, where he was sacked 20 times, including three down inside the red zone.

Needless to say despite being one of the NFL’s elite, there are still areas of improvement and McDaniels said that Brady’s constant desire to get better is something other players can learn from.

“Yup, I do,” McDaniels told reporters when asked if he thought Brady was still improving. “It’s hard for me to ever feel like that wouldn’t be the case. Any time you have a guy that is really focused on working on all of the weaknesses in his game, when there really aren’t that many, you can see where there would be room for growth.

“He listens as well or better than he ever has in terms of taking coaching and working on things that we’re trying to get better at. I think that’s a great example for the rest of the guys.”

Patriots Ninkovich Among AFC’s ‘Most Underrated Players’

Ninkovich was listed among the AFC’s most underrated players by USA TODAY. (USA TODAY Images)

Rob Ninkovich is one of those players who quietly goes about his job each week, doesn’t trash talk, doesn’t pound his chest, and doesn’t spend much time attracting attention to himself. He doesn’t receive many accolades or notoriety, nor is he usually a guy that people outside of New England know much about or appreciate the type of player he is.

However, Ninkovich’s name came up in a piece by USA TODAY’s Brent Sobleski, discussing players in the AFC he feels are the “most underrated”, and guys that don’t get enough credit for what they bring to their respective football teams.

Here’s what he had to say about the veteran linebacker:

In the past three seasons, Ninkovich has started every game for the Patriots, and he’s accumulated 22.5 sacks. He’s proven to be a relentless pass rusher and stout against the run. More importantly, Ninkovich helps provide the flexibility Bill Belichick prefers in his defense since he also plays linebacker.

Ninkovich has had a couple of solid seasons recently, having amassed eight sacks in 2012, and eight again last season.  He told Sirius XM NFL Radio last month that he missed a few he felt he should have had last year, and is focused on trying to be even better this season.

“I probably missed five or sacks out there,” said Ninkovich. “Obviously, getting to the quarterback — it takes a lot of work to get there but if I can finish a little better when I’m there and not miss them … sometimes I leave my feet and kind of go after the ball when really just getting the guy down is the ultimate goal.”

As for who else made USA TODAY’s list, you can read the rest by CLICKING HERE

Patriots QB Tom Brady Showing No Signs Of Slowing Down

For Patriots QB Tom Brady, the fire seems to be burning just as deep as ever. (USA TODAY Images)

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may be heading into the twilight of his career, but he doesn’t sound much different from the player he’s always been after putting together one of the most impressive stretches in the history of the franchise here in New England.

His approach hasn’t changed. Although his team hasn’t won a title since they last hoisted the Lombardi trophy back in 2005 following a 2004 season that was arguably one of their greatest team efforts, that drought only seems to continue fueling the fire of the man who essentially put the Patriots on the map after winning three in his first four years as a starter.

It may have been a while since their last championship, but that hasn’t stopped New England from having quite a run over the last decade.  Since 2003, this team has won double-digit games in every season, which in the NFL is an astounding achievement considering the restrictions every franchise faces thanks to the salary cap.  Fans actually haven’t even seen a losing season since back in 2000 (they went 5-11 that season), and since then the worst record this team has finished with was back in 2002 when they finished 9-7.

Over that span Brady has been at the helm for all but one, having suffered a knee injury in 2008 in the season opener that left him as nothing more than a spectator that year.

While he was gone, he married his wife Gisele Bundchen, and when he returned he had a new appreciation for the game he loved and realized how quickly it could all be taken away.

“The reality is in this sport, you really never know. …Any day could be your last day in football,” Brady told the Associated Press back in May of 2009. “You come out and it’s a very physical game and I think you’re just grateful for having a chance to compete in practice and be on a team and having a great job. I don’t think about the end too often.”

“(But) when you sit on the sidelines for an entire year, you realize how much you love it,” Brady added. “Not that you need that to happen to be grateful to play, but you experience things in a much different way and a way that I never experienced as an athlete. I love being out here.”

Despite missing all of 2008, Brady currently holds the fourth-longest consecutive game streak among active quarterbacks.
(USA TODAY Images)

Aside from the knee injury, Brady has remained durable and has played in 80 consecutive regular season games, the fourth longest active streak among quarterbacks in the NFL.  He trails only Eli Manning (151), Philip Rivers (129) and Joe Flacco (96) in that category, and he recently talked to’s Peter King about a variety of topics, including the fact his commitment to his health and durability are at the forefront of his approach in making sure he’s there for his team each week.

“It’s hard to explain this to people, but the commitment I make, in terms of keeping my body in shape and my nutrition right, should make me healthy,” Brady told King.  “I feel better today than when I was 25, and I know that’s hard for people to believe, but I do. I work at it. Basically, I work all off-season to prepare my body to not get hurt. I can’t help the team if I’m on the sidelines. I’ve got to be durable.”

What he does to make that happen is something he holds close to the vest.  While he wouldn’t reveal during his interview with King what that secret was, Brady said that the things he does are done with the hopes of making him a better player on the field and that’s what people will ultimately judge him for.

“It’s all very well-researched,” Brady said. “But that’s for the other guys to figure out. I’m not going to give away any state secrets. I’m not here to be king of the weight room. I do things to make me a better quarterback, whatever they are. Does it work? You be the one to judge. Watch me play. Then draw your own conclusions.”

For now Brady will shortly enter into yet another year of organized team activities, and once again he’ll have another young quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo in the mix. Garoppolo was another early round pick who some feel could one day replace Brady, but the veteran has already been in this position after the team also drafted Ryan Mallett in the third round back in 2011. Mallett is now likely on his way out after this season, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Brady leaves Garoppolo in the same position in the years ahead.

However, having been a player who unseated an established veteran himself, Brady’s fully aware that should he begin not playing up to the team’s lofty standards that he himself has set, the time could come where he’s no longer the guy who Bill Belichick feels gives them the best chance to win.

That’s why he’s once again spending another offseason preparing for one more chance to get another championship before that day comes.  He’ll be 37 in August, which at that age the chances are there could be moments that could lead to those who will start critiquing every incompletion, every errant pass, or every turnover. However, that’s not something Brady’s worried about, and despite his age he told King, “You know, you don’t have to suck when you get older.”

As for quarterbacks who played at a high level late into their careers, one comparison can be made to Denver’s John Elway, who retired at the age of 38 after winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 1998 and 1999.  He walked away at the top of his game and on the heels of two incredible years for the Broncos before hanging it up in what was an emotional press conference.  Brady is now in that territory in terms of his age and recently tied Elway’s mark of five Super Bowl starts at quarterback back in 2012.

We all know how Elway’s career ended, but Elway also admitted at the time that there were injuries and ailments that lead to his decision to not take a shot at trying to get one more ring. His body told him it was time to call it quits, and as a result, he walked away in a manner that most players can only hope for.

“I have a chronic bad [left] knee,” said Elway during his retirement press conference. “It got to the point where it was preventing me from doing the things I wanted to do. Last year, I fell on the football twice and hurt my ribs on both sides. I’d never done that before. Nagging things that used to go away in a week were lingering four and five weeks.”

Elway was a running quarterback and had no issue diving for extra yards and sacrificing his body in doing so.  Brady’s earned the reputation for his effectiveness during quarterback sneaks, but he doesn’t tend to put himself in positions to take the hits that Elway did.  Whether or not he can continue doing the things to remain healthy will obviously be the question as he tries to extend his career, but the odds seem to be in his favor for him to play into his forties.

But for that to happen, he’ll also need to continue playing at the same high level. He’s been smart with the football over the past four seasons, having thrown fewer interceptions (4 in 2010, 12 in 2011, and 8 in 2012) than the 13 he threw in 2009. He threw 11 in 2013, and there were a few that were hard to put solely on his shoulders. Ill-advised throws and bad decisions are usually signs of deterioration in a quarterback’s skills, and that’s something Brady hasn’t shown to this point.

Whether or not that changes remains to be seen. He probably won’t be perfect, and as a result there will still likely be some whispers over the next few years about his future and whether or not the end is indeed getting closer.

Obviously nothing lasts forever, and what has transpired over his career here in New England is nothing short of remarkable. It’s going to be hard to imagine not seeing him calling signals someday, but it sounds like he’ll still be part of the game he loves in some fashion.

“There’s nothing that can wake me up at 5 o’clock in the morning on a Thursday in May like getting ready for a day of football,” Brady told King. “I want to play a long time. There’s nothing I like doing that’s close to football. What’ll I do when I’m done playing? I don’t know, but I know it won’t be nearly as fun. I can tell you neither me nor Peyton [Manning] will probably be very far from the game of football when we’re done.”

Hopefully if all goes well it will be a while before we find out exactly what that is.

Patriots Will Be Making Three Key In-House Defensive Additions in 2014

Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t have to make, and fortunately for the Patriots part of their problems in 2013 will hopefully be solved by a few guys who were already in the fold heading into the 2014 campaign. That made things a little easier in free agency, as New England already had a few key players who will end up being welcomed re-additions to their football team on the defensive side of the football when we see them again just a little over two months from now.

Contrary to the annual reactions of many after free agency kicked off (and those groans are never late), this isn’t a team that lacks much in the talent category.  Much of New England’s issues in 2013 stemmed from personnel losses thanks to injuries that absolutely decimated a group that started off with so much promise, and it started right smack in the middle of a defense that looked better than they had in years.

Early on, the duo of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly was one of the most dominant up front we had seen in quite some time.  The two clicked so well together, and the opportunity to play together was one Kelly had been looking for since he signed with the team back in May of last year.

“You get to the end of your career, you get the opportunity to play with a real good team like New England — it came down to a couple teams — but I guess after talking with Coach [Bill] Belichick and then just the opportunity to play with Vince,” Kelly told Patriots Today at the time. “You wanna play with someone that can play. You know, you always watch people who play your position. I mean, he’s a real good player. A hell of a player.”

Their time together lasted just four games, and in that moment in Atlanta where Wilfork was carted off the field, Kelly saw the writing on the wall.

“I’m sure they’re going to try to run the ball more,” defensive tackle Tommy Kelly told the Boston Herald, while talking about what to expect with Wilfork being gone. “I mean, we’re lighter up front now. Take Vince out, I mean, I’d try to run the ball more. That’s being smart, but I think we’re more than capable of handling the job.”

Little could Kelly have guessed that just one week later he’d see his season washed away in the rain in Cincinnati after he injured his knee during New England’s first loss of the year. Despite the initial thought he might return, he never made it back after the injury ultimately saw him end up on injured reserve weeks later. It was certainly one of the turning points in a season that started off so well, and it took away two terrific components from a defense that no longer looked as formidable as they did just weeks earlier.

The Patriots fought on, and Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, and Sealver Siliga did the best they could to fill the void while those two were sidelined.  The experience was certainly great for those three players, but the fact both Kelly and Wilfork will be back in 2014 is something that is tough to overlook.  Fans haven’t seen him in action yet so it’s tough to say what type of player he’ll be coming off of that injury, but one would have to believe Wilfork will still be a problem for opposing offensive players.  Granted, the workload and snaps will likely be lowered for the veteran tackle, who played in 177 of 219 defensive snaps (80.8%) before tearing his Achilles. However, he and Kelly should be welcomed additions to a group that was a fairly solid tandem before they went down.

Lost not long after that was linebacker Jerod Mayo, whose injury overshadowed what was arguably one of the most exciting finishes of the season during the Patriots come-from-behind win over New Orleans.  Mayo left Gillette Stadium that night with his arm in a sling and his loss marked more changes in a defense that lost yet another veteran leader.

Fortunately Bill Belichick planned ahead for such a moment, with several players each spending time with the “green dot” on their helmets during last year’s preseason.  That designation goes to the player who calls the plays in the huddle and Mayo was the one who up until that week had handled those duties.  From there Dont’a Hightower was forced into that role, with the second year linebacker having been one of the players who had experienced that responsibility in the preseason.  It’s unlikely that he could have imagined how important that experience would end up being, and it’s the overall preparation for the unknown by Bill Belichick that helped the Patriots continue on.

They were forced to play their final ten games without Mayo, and he’ll be another addition to New England’s defense that should make the Patriots better than they were after he went down.  But his absence could end up being a big reason why the team may find Hightower making bigger contributions this year, as the increased playing time, along with the experience in Mayo’s role calling the plays, should make him even better this season.

Another player who benefited from the added playing time was linebacker Jamie Collins, who saw increased snaps down the stretch while Brandon Spikes was banged up.  Now that Spikes is gone, it marks yet another one of the positives New England walked away with from last year’s trying season.

Getting an All-Pro back like Mayo is an offseason move that any team would be excited to be able to make, and fortunately for New England they already have him in-house.  The veteran has been New England’s leading tackler, and his importance tends to get lost as he does a lot of the dirty work in the Patriots’ defense.  As a result, having him back on the field should hopefully free some other guys up around him and allow them to be more effective.

He’s been working hard this offseason and Rob Ninkovich recently pointed out that Mayo has been pushing him in the weight room as the two continue getting ready for the upcoming year.

“He’s a pretty explosive guy,” Rob Ninkovich told the Boston Globe of Mayo, who he’s been working out with this offseason. “So I try to keep up with that guy. He’s looking good right now. I’ve been training with him for a long time. It’s always good to somebody to push you and make you better than what you are.“

That’s certainly promising news.  With the draft now out of the way these are three key guys who will allow first round pick Dominique Easley to have some time to develop, and will hopefully play a part in helping some of the newer players get acclimated. But in the meantime these are also three players who will add to an already improved and battle-tested group when they get back on the field in the months ahead.