We’re at the halfway point with just a couple of more to go before the weekend is here. But in the meantime, let’s get things kicked off.
Branch Comes to Easley’s Defense – Last week’s surprising release of Dominique Easley certainly prompted questions as to why the Patriots would release a former first round pick who still had years left to go on his rookie deal without a good reason, which then prompted even more speculation about why he could have been let go.
Everyone knows the history with Easley’s knees coming out of college (he had torn both) and two seasons in that have included two stints on injured reserve, it sounded like they may have started failing him. According to reports, the veteran spent the offseason getting alternate treatments on them to try and get himself back in playing shape for 2016 and there was some doubt about his recovery. But after Easley’s release, several reports indicated that there was more to this story, with Easley apparently being a problem in the locker room as well as having an apparent rift with the coaches and medical staff for his refusal to follow the protocol during his recovery.
But out of all that, there wasn’t really anything concrete. However, that didn’t stop the whispers and conjecture but Easley’s former teammate, Alan Branch, come to his defense on Tuesday, with Branch painting a different picture of the former Patriot.
“I definitely don’t think he’s a locker room cancer,” Branch told the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe. “There’s plenty of guys that have been labeled like that, and they may be extra in the locker room and all that, but when it comes to Dominique, when he’s in there and he’s talking, he’s always joking around. The guys respect him.”
Prior to his release, there hadn’t really ever been any negative reports about Easley and the reasoning behind the release simply seemed to be similar to the release of former Patriots defensive tackle Kyle Love, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and was let go a couple of years ago where it seemed to be more a medical move than anything else. When Love was released, the move was listed as a NFI or non-football injury/illness on the transaction report but in the case of Easley, he was simply waived like any other player without any medical designation. So that’s obviously one reason why there may have been reason to believe there was more to the story.
It’s tough. When you look at a lot of the moments Easley had out on the field and the potential he seemed to possess, it’s disappointing to think that potential won’t be realized here in New England. He showed explosiveness inside and looked like a player who could provide them with pressure up the middle, which is a characteristic that’s been missing for a while in this defense.
No one claimed the veteran after he passed through waivers, and Howe reports that Easley plans on watching the draft and seeing how things play out after teams reassess their needs. After that’s finally over, he’ll begin shopping his services.
For now, Branch admitted that he’s been around for a long time and in his 10-years, he didn’t see anything out of Easley except for a guy who worked hard and did the right things.
“I’ve seen a lot of young guys at this position in my career, and he was almost a step ahead of guys when it comes to, just preparation and wanting to be a great player and doing the things that he needed,” said Branch.
If he ends up landing a job, it looks like Easley will have to do those things for someone else in 2016.
Long Gets Jones’ Blessing – With Chris Long’s former number 91 during his days with the Rams firmly in the hands of Jamie Collins, Long had to look for a new jersey number and it sounds like he’s settled on a familiar set of digits.
According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Long will be wearing Chandler Jones’ No. 95 this season. However, being the class act he is, Long made sure it was O.K. with Jones, who is now in Arizona, before settling on the former Patriots jersey number.
It was a conversation the two apparently had back in March, where Long reached out to him in what he felt was the respectful thing to do.
Looking at some of the numbers that will be worn by new players this year, a couple of others that stood out were Donald Brown’s #34 (Shane Vereen’s former number) as well as tight end Martellus Bennett’s #83 (most notably worn by former WR Wes Welker). Other offensive players to keep an eye on in the coming months will be receiver Chris Hogan, who will be wearing the same #15 he wore in Buffalo, while Nate Washington will wear #84 and tight end Clay Harbor will be wearing #88.
Kevin Faulk had to learn how to protect the quarterback when he came to the Patriots.
Scar Taught Faulk How to Pass Block – A neat little tidbit from Nick Caserio’s press conference on Tuesday was the fact that former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk picked up a skill from one of the best, which ended up helping him become a complete player.
According to Caserio, Faulk didn’t know how to pass block when he arrived in New England and that the former running back basically had to teach himself how to do it and it happened with the help of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who helped him figure it out.
“There are stories that go back that he basically taught himself how to pass block. He didn’t know how to do it when he got here,” said Caserio. “[He] worked with Dante [Scarnecchia] to try and get better in that area and he embodied a lot of things that we look for in football players. [He] was as dependable, was productive, and he’s given back to football. [He’s now] coaching down there in Louisiana. It’s a credit to the career that Kevin has had.”
Caserio dodges question about loss of their first-round pick – Caserio spoke at length to the media Tuesday and one question that came up was whether he and coach Belichick had “talked privately about how asinine it is” that they don’t have a first round pick.
Most fans throughout New England certainly agree that it’s absolutely asinine and Caserio probably does too, but that didn’t stop him from remaining reserved while saying they’re simply focused on what they can control.
“Our philosophy is we control the things that we can control. Our job is to prepare for the draft and whatever our picks are then be prepared to pick,” said Caserio. “A lot of that is out of our hands. There’s nothing we can do about that so there’s no sense in spending extra time on it because there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re just going to try and prepare for the draft and take advantage of our opportunities when we pick.”
The Patriots aren’t strangers to this scenario, and it marks the third draft during the Bill Belichick era they gave up a first round pick under unconventional circumstances. The first was in 2000, the year Belichick got here, as part of the deal that ultimately helped release him from the Jets. That year, it wasn’t exactly a great draft but completely by chance, they landed Tom Brady in the 6th round, which made up for the fact they drafted players like tight end Dave Stachelski, tackle David Nugent, defensive lineman Jeff Marriott and defensive end Casey Tisdale.
The second time it happened was in 2008 thanks to spygate, when Bill Belichick moved up to #10 after a deal with the Saints and grabbed Jerod Mayo. That move put in place the stipulation for this year’s occurrence where since they don’t have a first round pick due to the commissioner’s ridiculous deflategate punishment, if they were to trade into round one, the highest they could pick is #29.
That’s generally been a round where grabbing an impact player has been something they’ve had pretty good luck with, with Malcom Brown as the latest example of that trend. Obviously without that option this year it hurts, but Caserio said it won’t change how they approach things.
“Look, we can’t control where we pick,” said Caserio. “It’s out of our hands. What we control is what we do with the pick when we have it and that’s what we’re prepared to do, and that’s how we’re going to approach it the next couple of weeks.”
Patriots Set to Host RB Booker – The Patriots have been doing their due-diligence this offseason on the offensive side of the football, and it appears they’ve got another one set to visit today.
According to the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows, the New England Patriots are hosting Utah running back Devontae Booker today, who was in Pittsburgh visiting the Steelers yesterday.
Booker played in 23 games and carried 560 times for 2773 yards and 21 touchdowns, including 11 last season. He’s also a threat out of the backfield catching the football, finishing with 80 receptions for 624 yards and two touchdowns.
Our own Steve Balestrieri wrote about Booker in his draft preview recently, taking a look at how he might fit in here in New England. So be sure and check that out.
One final quick note, a couple of reports had quoted a deleted report of Barrows about University of California receiver Bryce Treggs visiting the Patriots, which apparently was incorrect as it’s Booker and not Treggs set to visit Gillette Stadium today.
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