Tag Archives: Dominique Easley

New England Patriots News 5-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 22, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 5-22 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

Congratulations to former running back Kevin Faulk who was elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame this week. Well-deserved and with three quality candidates this year it was a tough decision.

Injuries/Surgery to Edelman and Amendola Highlight Attention to WRs:
The Patriots added four wide receivers this spring, Chris Hogan and Nate Washington during free agency and Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien during the draft. Now we know why.

With the latest surgery for Julian Edelman to insert a screw in his injured foot and the offseason knee and ankle surgery for Danny Amendola, in a worst case scenario, the Patriots could begin training camp without either being ready to go.

But the team had this scenario well planned, however. The addition of Hogan who can play anywhere from the slot to the outside should address one of those issues and the veteran Washington, as well as Mitchell, will vie for the Brandon LaFell role outside.

One thing that will benefit the newcomers on the roster is that they’ll get more reps with Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo this spring with the two vets on the shelf. No better way to build their rapport and trust factor with the QBs.

Arian Foster a Fit for the Patriots?
Foster the free agent, running back for the Texans set the tongues wagging this week when he was spotted at Logan Airport in Boston at a rental car booth and then on Friday evening taking in the Red Sox game against the Indians.

Later it was explained that Foster was in town on personal business which lends itself to the truth since if the Patriots were bringing him in for a visit, they’d have picked him up at the airport and not have required him to rent his own car.

However, as we’ve done on this column in the past, we’ll ask the question, could he be a fit for the Patriots offense? And the answer is…absolutely if he’s healthy. Foster suffered an Achilles injury which has really affected running backs ability to move, cut and change direction in the past. Other players have returned as good as new, but the team will have to ensure he’s healthy and check him out thoroughly with the team doctor’s first. If healthy, (a big if), he’d be a nice upgrade to the NE running game.

Full Padded Rookie Camp, Where’s the Outrage?
Chalk this one up as another arbitrary ruling by the league…this week it was reported that the Baltimore Ravens conducted part of their rookie mini-camp in full pads. That is a direct violation of the CBA which coach John Harbaugh is “more probable than not” “generally aware” of.

Such a clear violation of the rules and integrity of the game surely would invite the league to step in and protest against such practice…By the way, this is the second time that Baltimore has been caught doing this and as such would be considered a repeat offender.

But so far from the league….nary a peep, nor a blip from the national press. One can only imagine the orgy of outrage that would be falling now if that had been in Foxboro.

Easley Lands with the Rams but at the minimum:
Former Patriots 1st round Dominique Easley’s unemployment time is at an end. After just five weeks, the Rams have signed the former Patriots defensive lineman.

The Rams, who have a very talented defensive front seven could strike oil giving Easley a fresh start to the gifted but injury-prone disruptor. Reportedly the Rams are giving Easley on a $600,000 salary with no guaranteed money, no bonuses, and no incentives.

That is a pretty steep fall for a player entering just his third year in the league. But comments supposedly made by Easley to a fellow player stating he didn’t care if the Patriots won or lost the Super Bowl before opting to go to Vegas instead of with the team may have a play in that.

Brown and the 2nd year Jump:
The Patriots top draft pick from a year ago, DT Malcom Brown is in a totally different category. The talented big man from Texas caught on slowly in his rookie season but got better and better as the season went on and ended up with a solid first campaign.

Now Brown will be looking to make what Bill Belichick terms the big second-year jump in player development. “There’s a lot on his plate as a rookie in the different situations that he plays in and the number of things that we do on the front,” Belichick said of Brown.

“So it’s not easy, but he’s improved his techniques, his fundamental play and he’s improved his communication and overall understanding of the multiples that are involved. It’s been good.” Brown shook off early struggles and finished 2015 as the 4th best run-stuffing DL according to Pro Football Focus.

Brown played in about 47 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie. If his development follows that of fellow veterans who the Patriots brought in prior to his arrival, he should see a significant jump in time on the field. With Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn, Anthony Johnson and rookies Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton, they should have quite a good rotation inside.

Steelers Experiment with a new MVP:
One way to minimize injuries in practice and still get in the practice of tackling is to do what the Pittsburgh Steelers are trying out is the Mobile Virtual Player (MVP).

Mobile Virtual Player, is a robotic tackling dummy on the cutting edge of technology that is operated by remote control. This was a program something designed and first implemented at Dartmouth College and is now being experimented with by the Steelers during their offseason workouts.

Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering took up the reins of the issue when head coach Buddy Teevens banned live tackling from practice to minimize injuries. Hence, the MVP was born.

“I imagine it’s a great tool from a tackling tech standpoint,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. In today’s NFL, with player safety the focus that it is, I think it’s going to provide opportunities to improve in that area without the hand to hand or man to man combat associated with that teaching.”

The “MVP” has the ability to cut, weave, stop and start, and it has speed. The test version the Steelers are experimenting on in practice is a prototype with the goal is to have it available everywhere in 2017.

Check out another video with the Dartmouth players putting it through its paces.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins, Jordan Play Waiting Game with the NFL on Reinstatement:
The Miami Dolphins are hoping that DE Dion Jordan can suit up for the team in 2016. The #8 overall pick of the 2014 draft was suspended for the entire 2015 NFL season due to numerous league infractions.

Eligible for reinstatement since April, Jordan and the Fins are forced to play the waiting game with Roger Goodell and the league. The team signed former Bills and Texans DE Mario Williams this spring and have Cameron Wake returning after tearing an Achilles tendon last year against New England.

The 6’6”, 280-pound Jordan would give Miami an added dose of youth and athleticism to the defense but for now, they are in a holding pattern.

Decker says Jets ready to Challenge Pats in AFC East:
New England has won the AFC East seven straight years and 13 of the past 15, but Eric Decker thinks this is the year that the Jets break thru and win the division for the first time since 2002.

In an interview with the NFL Network, Decker thinks the Tom Brady suspension will bring the Patriots back to the pack and open the door for the 10-6 Jets, who narrowly missed the postseason last year.

“I think we’re there, to be honest,” he said. “We’re set up with a tough schedule, a playoff team schedule. You’ve got to win your division games. With Brady being suspended four games, I think it makes the division up for grabs. I believe in this team and that we’re ready to make the run now.”

Bills Haven’t Heard from Archer:
The Bills a week ago, added one of the fastest players ever in the NFL when they claimed running back/return man Dri Archer off waivers from the New York Jets. Archer also spent time with the Steelers in 2015.

Then on Wednesday, the Bills placed Archer on the reserve/did not report list after he failed to show up. Not only that he won’t even return calls from the coach or the team.

“I never even talked to the kid, so we’ll see what happens,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said.

“He won’t return a call. Is it him not wanting to be a Bill, or is it something else? I don’t know, but I guess there’s a reason Pittsburgh let him go [last November]. But when you find something out, let us know, because I’ve never even talked to him”.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

 

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: The Patriots Schedule

Russ Goldman
April 20, 2016 at 11:07 am ET

In this episode, we discussed in detail the Patriots schedule for the 2016 season. We also discussed the release of Dominique Easley, and also the opening of OTA’s for the Patriots.

New England Patriots News 4-17, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 17, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 4-17 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

WR? Patriots Have Had Issues Finding a Penetrating DT:
With the release of former 1st round pick Dominique Easley this week, it brings to light the struggles have had finding that elusive interior defensive lineman who can rush the QB. While much has been made about the Pats inability to develop wide receivers, the interior pass rushing presence has been missing for quite some time.

The Patriots whiffed on DT Ron Brace who they spent a 2nd round draft pick on back in 2009. They instead got a little production from Mike Wright and Gerard Warren. They tried CFL DT Armond Armstead but health problems prevented him from ever taking the field. Ditto for free agent Jonathan Fanene. Tommy Kelly got off to a good start with the team but a knee injury derailed his season and he was cut loose a year later.

They drafted Easley with that thought in mind, a slightly undersized DT that can penetrate and disrupt the passing game with explosion off the snap. Although both of his seasons in a Patriots uniform were cut short due to injuries, he flashed some of that known explosion in his time here.

So it is back to the drawing board (NFL Draft) for the team. They can expect 2nd-year player Malcom Brown to provide more production there but the rest of the tackles, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn, Frank Kearse and Joe Vellano are all more of the ‘big bodied run stuffers’ than penetrating pass rushers. We’ve profiled some of the draft possibilities and the Pats will be sure to look for help with this draft class which is considered very deep.

Patriots Also Release DL Jones and Kitchen:
The Patriots also released two more interior defensive linemen this week cutting Chris Jones and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen.

While Kitchen was viewed as mainly a depth player, Jones logged some quality snaps. He played in 28 games (23 starts), over the 2013-2014 seasons with the Patriots and notched 83 tackles, nine sacks and a big blocked field goal against the Jets. He added nine tackles and one sack in four postseason games. In 2015, Jones spent the entire year on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. 

His base pay was due to jump from $585,000 to $1.67 million in 2016 so the team may have decided that the value wasn’t there for that kind of money. In which case he could very possibly return at a reduced hit against the cap.

Jones could occasionally push the pocket from the inside and while they sometimes push their defensive ends inside in obvious passing situations, the need for an interior pass rusher has resurfaced. Bringing back Jones would be a small band-aid.

Easley Story Takes More Twists: The release of Easley unleashed some very “unPatriot-like” behavior with some of the players. When we learned of his trip to Germany ostensibly to seek alternative treatment for his ailing knees, we knew his career wouldn’t be a long one. The rumor was that his release wasn’t only an injury related one. Tom E. Curran from CSNNE spoke at length about how Easley “wasn’t always on the program” and that the timing wasn’t entirely unexpected.

But here is where some things go awry, usually the Patriots players toe the line and flash the party line but Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported that one unnamed Patriot player called Easley “a locker room cancer.” On Saturday, Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald had another un-named Patriot player call Easley “a great teammate.”

No one really knows the entire story, perhaps the Germany trip was a deal breaker. When we learned of it, we reached out to an insider and asked if the Patriots were onboard with this treatment. The insider stated that although it was known Easley would seek alternative treatment for his knees, he knew nothing (which probably means the Patriots didn’t either). That alone could have been enough for them to wipe their hands of the entire situation.

Patriots Face Challenges, Questions with 2016 Schedule:
The Patriots 2016 schedule was released (albeit a bit premature) on Thursday evening and a couple of things jump right out. First, if the NFL’s suspension of Tom Brady is re-instated, Jimmy Garappolo will have three straight home games after opening the season in Arizona. But it should be noted that two of those games are against division rivals so those games could factor in the Patriots late-season visits to the Jets and Dolphins.

The Patriots will play in no less than five prime-time games this season so nearly a third of the season will consist of late nights for the team and the fans.

The bye week comes at a perfect time for the Patriots in Week 9, smack dab in the middle of the season. After the injury-plagued campaign of 2015, the rest in the middle of the season is a perfect time for Belichick and Co. to re-charge their batteries.

There is a tough stretch in the middle of the year with a home game against the Bengals, then on the road against the Steelers and Bills. We should learn a lot about this 2016 team after that stretch.

The Seattle Seahawks come to Foxboro for a prime-time game which promises to be a tough one but it comes right after the bye week so the Patriots will have two weeks to prepare for Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll, and Co.

Patriots Hall of Fame Finalists Down to Clayborn, Faulk, Vrabel:
Also on Thursday, the Patriots announced three finalists for this year’s induction into the team’s hall of fame. This year’s finalists are CB Raymond Clayborn, RB Kevin Faulk, and LB Mike Vrabel.

Most fans are well versed in the exploits of Faulk and Vrable who were instrumental in the first three Patriots Super Bowl wins. Clayborn played for the Pats in an early era (1977-89) and was a three-time Pro Bowler. He set a franchise record for playing in 161 straight games.

Congratulations to all three finalists; you can read more on each and vote for your choice to be named to the Patriots Hall of Fame here: The Patriots are the only team in the NFL that allows the fans to vote and have a voice in who belongs in the team’s Hall.

Voting will be open until May 14. The Pats will announce the winner (the 25th member to be inducted), later this spring and the winner will be inducted later this summer, probably prior to one of the first two pre-season games either against the Saints or the Bears.

The Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony is held on the NRG Plaza just outside The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon. The outdoor ceremony is always free and open to the public.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins’ Gase Will Put Feet to the Fire Early:
The Miami Dolphins have a new coach in Adam Gase and the schedule makers at the NFL did him no favors. The rookie head coach will take his team on the road to two very tough venues to start the season. To Seattle and then to New England.

Making matters even tougher is the fact that Miami has been notoriously slow starters at the beginning of each season, going a combined 11-22 in September since 2006. Gase will have to buck that trend quickly if he wants to get his team off to a good start.

Of course, if Tom Brady’s suspension is reinstated, it will make the Dolphins’ job quite a bit easier. Miami’s final four games to end the season isn’t easy either, at home against Arizona, on the road to face the Bills and Jets (who BTW swept Miami in 2015) and back home against New England…Welcome to the NFL Mr. Gase.

Jets Get No Love from the NFL Schedulers:
The Jets are facing a daunting task in Todd Bowles second season, their schedule has them playing six of their first nine games on the road in 2016. Gang Green opens at home against the Cincinnati Bengals then goes on the road for four of the next five weeks, including prime-time games against the Bills and Cardinals. Intermingled in their road trip are games in Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Their next home game? Seattle.

Still no movement on the QB situation with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets have an offer of reportedly $8 million on the table. There is also talk of trading Muhammad Wilkerson and moving up in the top 10 to take either QB Carson Wentz or QB Jared Goff.

Bills WR Percy Harvin to Retire at 27:
A month after saying thru sources “that he was definitely planning to play” Bills WR Percy Harvin’s hip injury may be forcing him into early retirement.

Harvin is only 27 but has been beset by migraines for several years and now this hip ailment that forced him onto IR last season with Buffalo.

After wearing out his welcome in Minnesota, he went to Seattle where he played brilliantly at times and others fought with his teammates even during a year where they won the Super Bowl. The Seahawks traded him to the Jets for the final eight games of 2014 and from there he signed a one-year $6 million-dollar deal with Buffalo.

He played well for the Bills until his hip landed him on IR. Harvin was an extremely talented player who was a threat to score every time he touched the ball.

 Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Possible Patriots Draft Target, DL Javon Hargrave

Steve Balestrieri
April 16, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Small School Stud, an intriguing Day 3 Pocket-Pushing Prospect

As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots have a need at defensive tackle following the release of Dominique Easley this week.  More specifically the team again has a need for an interior defensive lineman that is good against the run but can penetrate into the backfield as well as pressure the quarterback and collapse the pocket.

The team brought in a trio of big-bodied run stuffers in Frank Kearse, Terrance Knighton and Markus Kuhn which will help the run defense that suffered the loss of both Akiem Hicks and Sealver Siliga during the off-season. Now the team must try to replace the interior pocket push of Easley and Hicks.

The team used a nice rotation last year of rookie Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Hicks and Easley during 2015. With Chris Jones being released on Friday along with Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, don’t rule out his returning this season, he’s provided a bit of pocket push at times and Brown in his second season will be looked to, to add some production there as well. Jones’ contract will probably get re-done at a more team friendly cap hit. On the roster right now the team has DTs Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn, Frank Kearse and Joe Vellano.

The Patriots will look to the draft to find some depth for a big man that can push the pocket, penetrate inside and provide run support as well.

Javon Hargrave from South Carolina State is a player who immediately comes to mind. One of the more under the radar defensive tackle prospects, he played against lesser opponents at the FCS level but there is no arguing with his domination and production.

In his final two seasons at SCS, in 23 games the 6’2, 310-pound Hargrave racked up an incredible 45.5 tackles for loss (TFL), 29.5 sacks, 19 QB hits, and five forced fumbles. He was the MEAC Defensive Player of the year two seasons in a row and was a two-time FCS All-American.

In his senior season despite having every team on their schedule, game-plan specifically for him, he produced some outstanding numbers and earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game. There, against solid, top competition, he played very well and looks quite at home facing NFL-level talent.

Javon Hargrave2

Pros:

– Has good first step explosion, keeps pad level low and drives thru the play

– Excellent short area quickness, will blow thru gaps to make the play

– Powerful lower body can fill up gaps in the running game

– Non-stop motor and good flexibility make him a disruptive influence inside

Cons

– Competition at FCS level wasn’t near the NFL level

– Stopped moving his feet at times when pushing the pocket

– Shorter arms (31½) could be an issue in disengaging from NFL linemen

What his Role Will Be:
His role is part of the rotation inside for the Patriots defensive line. He’d project initially as a sub-package pass rusher; he’s a guy who can shed blockers quickly and get after the quarterback.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with some experience and some added strength

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He’ll push Kearse and veteran Chris Jones for a roster spot

What is his ST Value?
None

Conclusion:
Hargrave could fit in very well in the New England system. Big men who can play inside, stuff the run and push the pocket are always sought after in the NFL; regardless of where they played in college.

He moves very well for a 310-pound defensive lineman and has the ability to easily change direction due to very good flexibility in his lower body. That translates to short-area quickness where he can beat interior blockers and disrupt the running game and the timing of the passing game.

With a stout, strong lower body, he has the ability to anchor and stop the running game in its tracks. Hargrave has the first step explosion to get off the line quickly and get after the quarterback with excellent snap anticipation.

He is a disruptive, deceptively good athlete and his 10-yard split and 3-Cone Drill time was good for a big man, and with a non-stop motor, Hargrave could be a potential steal for the Patriots.

He projects in the Patriots system to be a solid Backup on Day 1, with the potential to be a starter in the future. He should fit in very well into the defensive line rotation.

Hargrave has been thought to be available on Day 3 of the draft. If he’s available in the later rounds he could be a very nice addition to the defense

Hargrave’s highlight film can be found here, courtesy of Wesley Lemon:

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Dominique Easley Thanks Fans Following Release

Robert Alvarez
April 14, 2016 at 9:27 pm ET

On Wednesday the New England Patriots made headlines with the sudden release of former first round pick an defensive tackle Dominique Easley. The move ended a brief two-year stint with the team who took him 29th overall in 2014 out of the University of Florida.

On Instagram Thursday, Easley posted a short goodbye message to the organization thanking them for the opportunity.

Possible Patriots Draft Target, DL Hassan Ridgeway

Steve Balestrieri
March 26, 2016 at 9:40 am ET

 

Texas Two-Step? Could the Patriots re-unite Ridgeway with Malcom Brown?

As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots still have a need at defensive tackle following the loss of Akiem Hicks during free agency. The team signed journeyman Frank Kearse but could use another big body inside who can help stuff the run and push the pocket from the interior.

The team used a nice rotation last year of rookie Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Hicks and Dominique Easley during 2015. With Easley’s injury concerns still an issue, more depth is needed. Branch and Brown may prove to be the top two players but keeping fresh legs and bodies is imperative for the big men inside.

The Patriots kicked the tires on free agent Nick Fairley of the Lions and Rams but were thought to be out of the loop now for a deal. While there are still other free agents still available and still a possibility, the draft is chock full of prospects right thru the middle rounds of players who can step up and play immediately.

Hassan Ridgeway from Texas is a player who immediately comes to mind and could become a Patriots draft target. One of the more underrated defensive tackle prospects, he was brought to the Longhorns as a 250-pound edge rusher. He put on 50 pounds and is now an interior presence. Powerfully built at 6’3, 307 pounds, he’s an interior disruptor who can stuff plays in the backfield and push the pocket from the inside.

When teamed with the Pats Brown during his sophomore season, he was immense, stuffing 11 plays for a loss. In his final season at Texas, he was again a factor notching 36 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Ridgeway played mostly five-technique in Charlie Strong’s 3-4 defense but switched to a one-technique when the Longhorns went to a four-man front. He decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft a year early. So for the second season in a row, Texas loses its top defensive lineman to the NFL Draft. The last one ended up in New England. Where will Ridgeway end up?

Ridgeway turned heads at his Pro Day by running the 20-yard short-shuttle in 4.69 seconds and the 3-Cone Drill in 7.33 which for a big man of his size is pretty impressive. At the NFL Combine he ran a 5.02 in the 40-yard dash with a 1.71 time in the 10-yard split. That is outstanding short area burst and quickness something NFL Network’s Mike Mayock was pointing out when evaluating big men.

Pros:

– Very strong and powerful and extremely difficult to move at the point of attack

– Quick first step and will blow thru gaps to make the play

– Good vision, can sniff out plays at the snap and adjust

– Violent hitter, will punish ball carriers

Cons

– Conditioning was an issue at Texas

– Had a lot of nagging injuries that could be an issue

– Not yet the sum of his parts, needs to step up his production

What his Role Will Be:
His role is part of the rotation inside for the Patriots defensive line. He’d project initially as an earlier down run stuffing player, but he’s a guy who can shed blockers quickly and get after the quarterback.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with some better conditioning and experience in the pro game, he’ll be looked at in Year 2 to produce more in the pass rush department

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He’ll push Kearse, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Chris Jones for a roster spot

What is his ST Value?
None

Conclusion:
Ridgeway would fit in very well in the New England system. He’s a powerfully built young man who won’t be easy to move at the point of attack. He has a good football I.Q. and can diagnose plays at the snap, anticipate the design of the play and disrupt.

He’s mature and that will play out well with Bill Belichick and the coaching staff. With the Patriots rotating interior men in and out, he’ll benefit playing with veteran Alan Branch and his former Texas teammate Brown.

He’s versatile (another Belichick checkmark), and having played both inside and outside on the defensive line will serve him well. As a former edge rusher, he shows good hand work which can still be improved. His pass rushing skills are good, not top notch but can definitely improve with time.

There are some conditioning and nagging injury issues but he’d be a very good addition to an already stout defense in 2016.

He projects in the Patriots system to be a Potential Starter on Day 1. He should fit in very well into the NE defense as a member of the defensive line rotation.

Ridgeway was initially thought to be available around the 4th round of the draft. His impressive Pro Day with Texas may have him moving up draft boards.

Ridgeway’s highlight film can be found here, courtesy of Harris Highlights:

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Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Free Agent Profile Sealver Siliga

Steve Balestrieri
February 11, 2016 at 6:43 am ET

The Patriots have a couple of decisions to make in regard to free agents this offseason, but they are mainly to do with their role players and not with the starters like last year or the upcoming 2017 season.

The Patriots are deep at the defensive tackle position; starters last season were rookie Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, the latter who played very well but is entering into the last season on his contract. The rotation consisted of Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga, Akiem Hicks and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. The team also has Chris Jones returning as well as Joe Vellano. Easley was the team’s top draft choice in 2014 but has never played a full season due to injuries.

Siliga was signed to the Patriots practice squad back in October 2013 and if re-signed will start his fourth season with the team. With the departure of Vince Wilfork last spring, it was penciled in that he’d take over the starting tackle position while the rookie Brown found his feet in the pro game.

But after starting the first few games, Siliga had a poor outing against the Colts in Week 5, losing containment on several plays. The next week, he lost the starting job to Brown and played only 10 defensive snaps against the Jets, although chipping in with three tackles.

The big 6’2, 325-pound run stuffer is one of two free agents (Hicks), the Patriots have in their interior. He’ll turn 26 in April and still has plenty of tread left on his tires. Now the question is, after losing his starting job and a lot of snaps to the duo of Brown and Branch, will the Patriots bring Siliga back for the 2016 season?

Why Siliga Will Return: Siliga is one of those big bodied guys who are invaluable as run stuffers. One of the indelible moments of training camp was his crunching hit of Tyler Gaffney on August 1, shooting across the gap and leveling the runner as he was trying to get to the second level. That’s his type of play and frankly the type that the Patriots need more of.

With the injury history of both Easley and Jones and Branch’s uncertain future given his age (31) and his contract status, it would certainly bode well for the Patriots to at least bring him back to compete for a slot in training camp. He certainly shouldn’t break the bank and with Hicks possibly commanding a lot of money in free agency, their depth would certainly take a hit if they were to lose both.

At a minimum, if Hicks returns and Easley is healthy, Siliga would provide the big-bodied run stuffing rotation against the run heavy teams that the Patriots will face in 2016.

Why Siliga Won’t Return: The Patriots may see the diminishing returns of Siliga this season as a sign of things to come. If they re-sign Hicks then their rotation with he, Branch, Brown and Easley would be close to being set and Siliga would be relegated to a #5 role.

The big man has also battled some injury concerns as well and that will also have to be taken into consideration.

Bottom Line:  It makes too much sense for the Patriots not to offer Siliga a team-friendly deal and bring him back to compete for playing time during the spring and summer workouts. Training camp snaps will become important as they have potentially a lot of depth to work with.

There shouldn’t be a ton of pursuers coming after Siliga so a bidding war isn’t in the cards. Much of their decision may come down to how their negotiations go with Hicks and monitoring the health of Easley and Jones in the spring. Easley didn’t need surgery on his injured quad so that was a positive sign for the 2nd year player.

Siliga has been a nice part of the team’s rotation up front and given the extent of the injuries the team has suffered the past few years, the chances are 60/40 or better that they’ll bring him back in 2016.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

 

Patriots Free Agent Profile Akiem Hicks

Steve Balestrieri
January 29, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots defensive line entered the 2015 season with some questions. It was the first time in more than a decade that they’d not have big Vince Wilfork clogging the middle. And with questions about how the rookie 1st round draft pick Malcom Brown would work out, the Patriots ability to stop the run as well as push the pocket from the interior was not as sure as in years past.

The Patriots traded for Akiem Hicks on September 30, sending backup tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to the New Orleans Saints for his services. At the time the trade made little fanfare, but it ended up being a steal for New England. Now at the end of the 2015 season, Hicks is the team’s biggest free agent priority to bring back in 2016.

Hicks was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Saints and after three seasons due to a change in philosophy as well as diminishing returns, he was relegated to a backup role in New Orleans. There were some whisperings of his work ethic, which made the trade seem like a bust. But Hicks just needed a fresh start and has been a valued member of the team.

He started slowly as the four-man rotation featuring Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley, Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga was already set. But when Dominique Easley went down with a season ending injury, Hicks stepped in to the third player in the rotation and played very well.

The big 6’4, 325-pound lineman is versatile, a Bill Belichick staple and can play anywhere from 0-technique to a 5-technique. His ability to stop the run and collapse the pocket were big parts of the Patriots defense down the stretch. His role increased as he became more familiar with the Patriots system and given a better defined role once Easley went down.

Playing a 5-technique defensive end in the Big Easy, he played more of a defensive tackle role in New England moving in different spots on the line. He logged 21 tackles, including 15 in the final four games, with three sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in 2015. He uses his big frame and plays with good leverage in the running game but has long arms that he can shed blockers in pass rushing, his specialty.

“I think that my time here has been spent well, focusing on what I need to do to become a better player, in general,” Hicks said just prior to the playoffs beginning. “And then, along with the coaches, keeping me as a part of the defense and pushing me forward.”

And it never hurts to get a little love from the head coach. Bill Belichick was singing his praises to the media earlier this month.

“We change things a little bit fairly regularly, Belichick said. “So there is definitely an element of game planning and things we do specific to one team that don’t necessarily carry over from the week before, so I think that’s an adjustment for a lot of players that come in here. But he’s done a good job, he works hard, he’s certainly improved and gotten a lot better in all those areas.”

Why Hicks Will Return: Versatility, leadership and production. And he’s only 26 years old so he’s just entering his prime. Hicks seems to have found a second lease on his career in New England this season and his signing will align him with Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins to give the team an incredibly young and talented nucleus for the front seven.

The Patriots had their eye on Hicks this season at the joint practices in West Virginia, Belichick said as much back in September when they made the trade for what was their fourth tight end on the depth chart.

They know what they have in Hicks and he was just finding his groove at the end of the season after a slow start. He should only get better in 2016.

Why Hicks Won’t Return: Money. Hicks’ performance may put him in-line for a huge payday that the Patriots may decide that is too rich for their blood. Belichick is a pragmatist when it comes to contracts. He will pay a player what he feels that player is worth and not a penny more.

If another team comes in with an offer for big money, Hicks could be moving on next season. The Patriots won’t be the only team vying for his services as Hicks plays a position that is always paid and paid well in free agency.

Bottom line: Our take is that there is a better than 50/50 chance that Hicks will return to wear the Flying Elvis in 2016. He’s more than shown he’s a fit. And once he got to play regularly, he played and played well. Now that he’s comfortable in the system, he should be even better next season.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

VIDEO: Newly Signed Patriots DT Featured In “Key and Peele” Sketch

Robert Alvarez
December 16, 2015 at 10:09 pm ET

On Wednesday, The New England Patriots signed free-agent defensive tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen to add depth at the position following the season ending injury to Dominique Easley.

According to a report by ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, ” Kitchen was present in the team’s locker room Wednesday and dressing for practice.”

Reiss stated, “Kitchen entered the NFL as an undrafted player with the Ravens in 2012. He was claimed by the Browns on waivers before the start of the 2012 season, and went on to play in 40 regular-season games and totaled 78 tackles for them in three seasons.”

Kitchen also has had a brief run-in with television, as he was featured in a sketch during a Super Bowl themed episode of the Comedy Central sketch comedy show Key & Peele back in January(2:25 mark)

Patriots Defensive Line Was Big Difference in Houston, All-22 Study

Steve Balestrieri
December 15, 2015 at 9:14 am ET

The Patriots got back on the winning track in Houston on Sunday Night Football with a convincing 27-6 win as the defense dominated the Texans offense and limited them to just a pair of first half field goals. Houston could only muster 189 total yards of offense with just 102 net yards thru the air.

Part of that reason was the very good coverage by cornerbacks Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Leonard Johnson who all had solid performances. Johnson had been on the team less than a week and just seven days before had worked out for the team. He received a lot of praise from Bill Belichick for the hard work he put in, trying to learn the Patriots defense in a very short amount of time.

But the defensive linemen were the ones who really turned the tide in this one; they notched six sacks of Texans quarterbacks and were putting them under pressure all night long. It was a total group effort with the interior players pushing the pocket and the edge rushers bringing pressure outside. Surprisingly, the dominant performance by the Pats defensive line was on a night where the team’s lead in sacks, Chandler Jones had a pretty quiet night.

But Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich more than made for that on the other edge. Sheard has regained his health now after having some ankle issues and is playing once again at a very high level. Unlike some dedicated pass rushers that the team has had in the past, Sheard is far from a one-trick pony. He’s smart, versatile and plays the run extremely well. His signing this spring was a coup; at the time an under the radar steal from the Browns.

Akiem Hicks in the interior is playing some of his best football right now. The team traded for him with New Orleans and he’s beginning to return to form that they had hoped for. He, Alan Branch, Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown have put together quite a rotation inside.

Here’s a look at the Patriots sacks via the coaches’ film from the NFL’s All-22 Game Pass:

On the Texans first series, Easley uses a bull rush to defeat his blocker and just overpowers him, pushing him violently back into Brian Hoyer causing  a third down sack and forcing the Texans to punt. Jones looped around the inside was right there with Easley giving Hoyer no chance at escape.

DEasley sack2

It was a great effort by the defensive line as a whole as they totally collapsed the pocket and didn’t allow Hoyer to step up or have the time to make a play.

On Jabaal Sheard’s first sack, it was significant because the loss of 21 yards took the Texans out of field goal position and nearly resulted in a turnover at midfield. Sheard lined up wide at left DE. There was confusion in the Texans OL. The right tackle, Brown, took Jamie Collins who lined up inside of Sheard and was showing blitz. Sheard was unblocked and flew off the edge. The running back should have at least chipped Sheard on the way out into the flat. It was a breakdown all around and Sheard came in untouched and knocked the ball loose.

Sheard sack -21 (3)

Ninkovich follows with a sack of his own. He lines up wide at the LDE position, Sheard is playing inside and brings pressure up the middle along with Akiem Hicks who also pushes the pocket from the RT position. Ninkovich does a nice should dip and blows right past Brown who won’t enjoy his film review this week for the Texans.

Ninkovich sack(2)

Sheard comes up with another gem, which ultimately leads to a Patriots touchdown. He lines up wide at LDE and this time takes an inside move and runs a stunt behind Alan Branch. He wins the matchup cleanly and as he gets to Hoyer he flings him to the ground causing a fumble. Malcom Brown who was playing on the nose, was double-teamed but didn’t quit on the play and alertly jumped on the ball recovering at the seven-yard line.

Sheard strip sack(2)

Hicks who had a very strong game, lines up on this play at 0-technique right over the center. He pushes the pocket back onto Hoyer. Sheard brings pressure from the outside again and is visibly held (non-call), but his play forces Hoyer to step up, right into the arms of Hicks who flings him down. Hoyer was injured on the play and didn’t return.

Hicks sack Hoyer(2)

Hicks then welcomed Yates to the party by sacking him at the six yard line. Hicks lined up at LDT and once again pushes the pocket back. Sheard brings tremendous pressure off of the LDE side and once again is obviously being held. But Hicks is able to push through his blockers and get to Yates. Ninkovich is also bringing pressure from the outside RDE position.

Hicks sack Yates(2)

This was a great performance by the Patriots defensive line on Sunday night. Coupled with strong play by the secondary, it was a dominant effort  against albeit a limited offensive team but doesn’t take away from their production as a unit.

Bill Belichick always states that defense is a team effort with the pass rush and coverage working in concert. Sunday was another big game for this unit. Normally they rely on A-gap pressure from Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. But this was a night for the defensive line. If the Patriots can get consistent pressure like this from the line, it will serve them well down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.