Tag Archives: Harvey Langi

The 2018 New England Patriots On Social Media

Robert Alvarez
August 2, 2018 at 6:03 pm ET

The following list is a reference point for the 2018 New England Patriots social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube.

(NOTE: Most Snapchat account links only available within app and are not listed publicly)

Ryan Allen 

David Andrews

Ja’Whaun Bentley

Braxton Berrios

Brandon Bolden

Tom Brady

Kenny Britt

Rex Burkhead

Marcus Cannon

Patrick Chung

Adrian Clayborn

Duke Dawson

Phillip Dorsett

Eric Decker

Nate Ebner

Julian Edelman

Danny Etling

Trey Flowers

Marquis Flowers

Mike Gillislee

Stephon Gilmore

Rob Gronkowski –

Lawrence Guy

Duron Harmon

Dont’a Hightower

Jeremy Hill

Chris Hogan

Jacob Hollister

Brian Hoyer

Cyrus Jones

Jonathan Jones

Ted Karras

Harvey Langi

Brandon King

Devin Lucien

Shaq Mason

Jason and Devin McCourty

Sony Michel

Malcolm Mitchell

Cordarrelle Patterson

Derek Rivers

Elandon Roberts

Eric Rowe

Christian Sam

Danny Shelton

Joe Thuney

Vincent Valentine

Kyle Van Noy

LaAdrian Waddle

James White

Deatrich Wise

Isaiah Wynn

Patriots 2018 Training Camp Primer – Linebackers

Steve Balestrieri
July 17, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

Health of Hightower Key in 2018

The Patriots head into training camp in just eight days and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we are breaking down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. We’re on to the linebackers.

There was arguably no position that got more grief than the linebackers last year. Dont’a Hightower, Harvey Langi, and Shea McClellin were placed on IR. Kyle Van Noy was then put in the unenviable position of being asked to do too much. David Harris proved the Jets were right when they thought he was done. Elandon Roberts was boom or bust and proved to be a liability in coverage. Marquis Flowers played meaningful snaps on defense in sub-packages and played well. The team brought in veteran James Harrison at the end of the season and he was arguably the team’s best linebacker in the playoffs.

This spring the Patriots got back Hightower and Langi and concussions forced McClellin to retire. The drafted two linebackers, Ja’Whaun Bentley in the fifth round and Christian Sam in the 6th. We thought they’d address the position earlier in the draft but they passed.

So, with that in mind who are locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy

The healthy return of Hightower is an absolute priority this spring, we wrote last year he was the one guy on defense they could not replace with anyone on the roster. Hightower is a run-stuffer inside who has shown the knack for being a good disruptor and blitzer on the edge as well as up the A-gaps. The question is, do they move him back to the inside or let him go back to the edge where they had him early last season.

Knowing that Hightower hasn’t been able to make it thru seasons unscathed is a huge question mark for the defense. The coaches saw how badly they struggled without him last year. How he’ll be used and how much, especially in the summer will bear watching.

Van Noy is a much better player when Hightower is on the field and they allow him to do what he does best. Which is a little bit of everything. He wore the green dot and became the leader of the defense on the front seven. While not a great athlete or a flashy player, he’s grown into a very dependable, versatile member of the defense. With Hightower back, look for Van Noy to have a very solid 2018.

And although it seems like the former first rounder has been in the league a long time, he’s just 27 years old and should be at the top of his game for the next few years.

Near Roster Locks: Marquis Flowers

Flowers prior to coming to the Patriots in 2017 had played a grand total of two (2) defensive snaps. Last year the Patriots used the athletic, STs maven as an outside linebacker who gained valuable experience as a stopper against athletic QBs and in coverage. He needs to get better in run support, but he had an overall pretty solid season in 2017.

We did our first 53-man Roster Projection after minicamp and left him off. On second thought, that was probably an oversight. With a good summer, he should be a near lock to secure a spot in 2018. The team gave him a new contract worth up to $2.55 million this spring.

On the Bubble: Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Christian Sam, Nicholas Grigsby, Brandon King (STs)

This group of six players is probably competing for four roster spots. Roberts was a starter for most of 2017. The slightly undersized LB from Houston is a downhill thumper in the running game. But at times his aggressiveness hurt him as he filled the wrong hole and was a liability in coverage. The Patriots were not good against the run in 2017, allowing an average of 4.7 yards per rush. Part of that issue, but certainly not all of it was the play of Roberts.

Langi was an intriguing UDFA, who the Patriots gave a good chunk of guaranteed money to sign with New England last spring. He made the team out of training camp and then tragedy struck. He and his wife were rear-ended in a serious car crash at a stop light in Foxboro in October and both ended up in the hospital. His injuries were severe enough to lose him for the rest of the season. Now he’s healthy and will have a lot of work to do to earn himself a spot on the roster this season. But he’s versatile and can play in several different positions.

Bentley is a big, thumper inside. He looks to be primarily an early down run-stuffer. Like Roberts, however, he’s a liability in coverage. But the fact that they drafted him shows, at least in some people’s mind, that they weren’t pleased with Roberts.

Sam was the OLB they drafted in the 6th round and is another intriguing guy. He’s strong and did 28 reps on the bench press at the NFL Combine. He’s got versatility and some explosiveness but doesn’t have a ton of experience. He may be an STs guy with an eye to 2019.

Grigsby is an ST’s guy and doesn’t offer much on defense. But he filled in well once he was signed after a slew of injuries hit the team in the middle of the season. He’s kind of a long shot to make the roster but with the Patriots emphasis of STs, he’ll be in the mix.

Ditto for Brandon King. King was a safety in college, but practices with the linebackers and is a core special teams, standout player. He’ll be a tough guy to knock from the roster given his special team’s expertise, despite him being a linebacker in name only.

Next up our training camp primer on the secondary…stay tuned.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts 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 53-man Roster Projection 1.0 Post Minicamp Edition

Steve Balestrieri
June 18, 2018 at 9:39 am ET

With minicamp over, it is time to a very early look at a New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. We got a brief glimpse of what the players can do in the Bill Belichick system during the spring workouts and although no one was wearing pads, it was as close to actual football activities as the players will get prior to training camp beginning in about five weeks.

We’ll start posting training camp primers by position very soon to break down the current 90 man roster to a workable 53-man roster.

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (3)
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling

The Patriots will probably go with three QBs this year. Etling has shown enough in the spring to earn that much moving into camp. Will he push Hoyer for the backup job this summer? Very doubtful. Hoyer has a comfort level in the system and the confidence in the coaches that he can step up and play well in an emergency. Etling has a long way to go in that regard.

Running backs: (5)

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill, James Develin

Sony Michel looked like a rookie at times this spring, making mistakes, blowing assignments…all the things that rookies do in assimilating into a new system. That’s part of the learning process but shouldn’t affect his availability at all.

Sony Michel after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

However, his upside was also there for all to see. He’s a threat to run or receive and showed a smoothness in the passing game with good hands. Along with Rex Burkhead and James White, the Patriots passing offense using their running backs should be very difficult to stop in 2018.

But that learning process may give the coaches pause enough to carry the veteran Hill to make the comeback attempt with the Patriots in the early going of the season. That may be bad news for Mike Gillislee and veteran ST presence, Brandon Bolden. I know, we cut Bolden every year and every year he’s out there making big plays on the special teams, which he’s known for.

Tight ends: (3)
Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen

The fact that Hollister had a great spring shouldn’t surprise anyone. He made the team a year ago as a UDFA and played, although sparingly during the season. He needed to bulk up and get stronger, and it appears he has. Allen has the firm backing of the head coach and is like an extra tackle out there as a blocker. If he can get anything going in the passing game, it is a bonus.

Jacob Hollister beefed up in the offseason and had an excellent spring. (SBalestrieri photo of 2017 training camp)


Wide Receivers: (6)
Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, Matthew Slater, Malcolm Mitchell (Suspended: Julian Edelman)

Edelman’s looming suspension, unless his appeal is successful will give one Patriots WR at least a month’s reprieve. In this case, it is Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell’s status has zero to do with ability but everything to do with availability. He missed the majority of the spring but the good news was, the Patriots were taking a cautious approach with him.

Can he stay on the field this summer? If he does, he’s a lock, if he can’t then difficult decisions will have to be made by the coaches. There is a lot of competition to be had here at this position this summer, Philip Dorsett, Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios will all be vying for spots. And other than Hogan, and Edelman, everything is on the table. And that includes Slater who is a WR in name only.

Offensive line: (8)
Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Cole Croston, LaAdrian Waddle

The state of the offensive line, if everyone was healthy would be very bright. But injuries abound and because of that, there are plenty of questions right now. Thuney hasn’t made an appearance yet, Wynn and Brown are coming off of shoulder injuries, Cannon is still hurt after going on IR last year. This position will bear watching this summer.

Defense
Defensive line: (8)
Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers

No big surprises here, the Patriots really liked Valentine in his rookie season and if he’s healthy (a big if), he noses out Butler who played well last year on the inside. If Valentine doesn’t have the same impact, Butler or one of the other edge players Eric Lee, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris may be able to step up and be noticed.

Linebacker: (7)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Christian Sam, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Marquis Flowers, Harvey Langi, Brandon King

Roberts got a lot of reps with the “starters” this spring, Bill Belichick hates the term 1st and 2nd team during OTAs but the fact they drafted Bentley speaks volumes. I’m going out on a limb here and say Langi beats him out for an inside LB spot. King is an ST maven but practices with the LBs.

Harvey Langi (SBalestrieri photo)


Cornerback: (6)
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crosson (PUP: Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones)

Jackson, the UDFA got quite a few looks opposite Gilmore this spring and looked pretty solid. Eric Rowe didn’t have a great spring and McCourty was…unused. Neither is a worrisome development yet. But with Gilmore looking outstanding thus far and a young crop of corners entering the picture, this position looks in good shape.

Safety: (4)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner

Once again I go to minicamp and watch Gronkowski and Hollister smoke Jordan Richards in coverage and say, “surely the coaches see this too….right?” But when the smoke clears, we’ll see what happens. Ebner and King are STs first and safety/hybrid LB second. So the depth could use a jolt. Two words:  Kenny Vaccaro.

Specialists: (3)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Corey Bojorquez, long-snapper Joe Cardona

Jumping the gun here but UDFA rookie punter Corey Bojorquez can really put a charge into the ball. We watched him during minicamp and were thoroughly impressed with his leg strength and hang time. He has a long way to go to beat out Ryan Allen and needs work on his directional punting and pinning opponents deep, things that Allen is very good at. But for the simple fact of competition, we’ll give him the early edge. The other two will sleep well during camp as no one has been brought in to challenge them. That must feel nice.

 

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts 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.

Post Draft Reactions: But What About the Patriots Defense?

Steve Balestrieri
May 1, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

With the 2018 NFL Draft in the books, when it comes to the Patriots, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Bill Belichick is the master at doing the opposite of what people expect him to do and once again he remained true to his principles.

Belichick has made it abundantly clear that he will not draft according to need if he doesn’t feel the value was there for the team in terms of fit or ability. He made it very clear his feelings on that just prior to the draft.

“The whole draft-need thing is… I don’t really understand that. You put a card up on the board. That doesn’t mean the guy is a good player. I think it’s important to acquire good players wherever they are. If you take a player at a position that you might so-called ‘need’ but he’s not good enough to fill that need, then it’s a wasted pick. So I don’t understand the whole need thing. I understand player value, and that’s what we try to go by.”

Down the stretch and into the playoffs the Patriots defense, specifically, the front seven didn’t strike fear into the hearts of anyone. They had a pronounced lack of depth at edge rushers and a dearth of speed and athleticism at linebacker. The prevailing thought was (and not just here) that the Patriots would address these needs early in the draft. They didn’t.

Once a few of the top edge rushers and linebackers went early in the draft, including Alabama’s Rashaan Evans who the team reportedly wanted, the Patriots didn’t look for any in the first four rounds, not believing the ability was there. In fact, their first three draft picks were a tackle, running back and a cornerback. Coincidentally, and despite what Belichick said about drafting for need, their biggest free agent losses? You guessed it, a tackle, running back and cornerback.

While we thought here that were plenty of players that could help the defense, Belichick and Nick Caserio balked. The took a linebacker in the 5th Round at #143 but he is hardly the speedy, athletic type we all clamored for. Ja’Whaun Bentley is a throwback to the 2003 era. He’s a big, 6’2, 260-pound sledgehammer. A two-down run stuffer but hardly a coverage guy. Christian Sam taken at #178 is more in line with that type of player. So what is the plan for the defense?

Belichick obviously feels the defense will be best served by getting back its own players. First of all, the team will be looking from within this year. They get Dont’a Hightower, Derek Rivers, Harvey Langi and Vincent Valentine back from injuries. Hightower and Langi could be asked to move back to the linebacker position. Rivers is seen here as a hybrid edge rusher/outside linebacker. The team picked up Adrian Clayborn and DT Danny Shelton during free agency and corner Jason McCourty will definitely help the depth of the unit.

Derek Rivers will be looked to for big things in Year 2 but his first after going on IR in training camp last year. (SBalestrieri photo)

With these added pieces, the defense, and specifically the front seven will look vastly different. Factor in that both Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler will each have a second season to further their development. Belichick always says the biggest development for players is between Years 1-2.

And of course, the team could still try to swing a deal with another team to make a trade for a veteran player early this summer or sign a free agent. Now that the draft is over, any veterans can scan the rosters and see where their best fit may be.

With everyone returning healthy, Rivers may probably be the most watched guy on the defensive side of the ball this summer.  The light was just starting to come on for the rookie when he went down with an injury that forced him onto IR. The defense could look vastly different than the one they fielded at the Super Bowl if the Patriots put Hightower back at the Mike with Rivers and Kyle Van Noy as outside backers, Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers at defensive end and Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown inside.

Some of the other guys can be used for depth and Rivers and Hightower can be moved around and play either upright or down as edge rushers. A few of the UDFAs may make a splash. A couple of the intriguing names for front seven include DTs Frank Herron and John Atkins and DE Trent Harris. Harris is a bit undersized but displayed a lightning quick first step while playing for Miami.

While the draft didn’t play out as some envisioned, (raises hand) the team obviously didn’t value the players available. While I certainly believed that a lot of guys between #56 and #143 were capable of helping the defense, Belichick did not and he’s got a little more experience building defenses. Is it time for minicamp yet?

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

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

New England Patriots Draft Profile, Darius Leonard, LB SC State

Steve Balestrieri
April 3, 2018 at 9:05 am ET

Leonard a Small School Stud at LB

As the 2018 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots are in need of an off-the-ball linebacker, one who can cover as well as come off the edge as a pass rusher. Last season the team lost Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Harvey Langi to season-ending injuries. McClellin was cut and will probably retire due to concussion issues. And depending on how they decide to utilize the other two either as edge rushers or linebackers will also factor in.

Right now the team has Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Marquis Flowers, and Nicholas Grigsby on the roster. Van Noy and Flowers played key roles during the season, Van Noy especially, but the one area that really hurt them was running backs in the passing game.

Seven times during the season opposing running backs caught passes totaling 50 yards or more. During the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, they were gashed by Corey Clement for 100 yards on four catches and a touchdown. So a dose of speed and athleticism is in the cards for the Patriots this spring at the linebacker position.

Darius Leonard from South Carolina State is a small school standout who definitely has the speed, athleticism, and instincts to play at the next level. Leonard was a standout high school player in South Carolina but got no love from either South Carolina or Clemson, (who offered him a walk-on chance). Rather than dwell on it, he used it as fodder to drive him.

Signing with South Carolina State, he strove to become a better player. “I used that as a little chip on my shoulder to show teams what they could’ve had,” he said. “I’m still that guy because I came from a small program, so I’ve got a point to prove.”

The 6’2, 229-pound linebacker had outstanding production for the Bulldogs in 2017 with 114 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two passes defensed and two interceptions. Playing against top-flight competition in the Senior Bowl, he piled up a game-high 14 tackles.

He’s got the issues with he could use more muscle onto his lanky frame, which is already close to being maxed out. He could be more physical and won’t be a stout edge guy (at least initially) at setting the edge against bigger offensive linemen.

But his game is based on speed and athleticism, much like the league is going to today. He’s versatile and can play inside or outside as a 4-3 WILL linebacker.

Pros:

– Outstanding length and speed

– Excellent production

– Good in both zone, man coverage

– Good tackler

Cons

– Slightly underpowered

– Frame is almost maxed out

– May need a year of seasoning

What his Role Will Be:

Leonard would step into a subpackage coverage role from Day 1 as well as being an effective chip to blitz off the edge.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

Yes, in Year 2 with time in the strength and conditioning program, he could become a very productive starter.

How Many Downs Can He Play?

Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

None, with McClellin and David Harris gone and James Harrison a free agent, there are already open spots for him to snatch up.

What is his ST Value?

He’d immediately become a core special teams guy with his athleticism and physicality.

Conclusion:
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein in his profile wrote that “Long and twitchy with athletic ability and straight-line speed that should light up the combine. Leonard has packed on the pounds since hitting campus, but it hasn’t compromised his play speed as he has posted dominant production throughout. He lacks play strength and there are times you want to see him play nastier in his field demeanor, but he has the traits and talent to become a good, three-down linebacker who can play 3-4 inside backer or 4-3 WILL.”

Leonard’s speed, athleticism, and instincts make him a very attractive  Day 2 prospect. He was the two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, with outstanding speed and athleticism. He’s excellent at timing delayed blitzes and getting to the quarterback.

Leonard is versatile and can play inside or at the WILL linebacker role which he may be best suited for. He handles coverage very well and can cover a lot of ground. Watching him, he gets very good depth in his drops and can fly around from sideline to sideline to make plays. He is good in the running game with his ability to slip blocks.

He may take a bit of time to find his way in the NFL game and get some more playing strength but with the trend going to smaller, faster linebackers, he’s a guy whose arrow is pointing upward. He’s described as a “mature, respectful individual, an old soul” according to his coaches.

He answered the bell when the questions were asked about playing against top competition at the Senior Bowl and against Clemson (19 tackles) and can be a very productive player at the next level.

Leonard’s highlight reel tape from Rashaad Lemon can be seen here: 

His tape at the senior bowl was put together by the Dallas Cowboys.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts 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.

New England Patriots Draft Profile, Sam Hubbard, Edge, Ohio State

Steve Balestrieri
March 29, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Hubbard One of the Top Edge Players in the Draft

As the 2018 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots were decimated on the edge in 2017. They lost Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long in free agency. But they brought over Kony Ealy in a trade with the Panthers and then drafted Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise in the draft. They were planning on having the old pro-Rob Ninkovich for one more season along with Shea McClellin and Dont’a Hightower who was moving to the edge last year.

Well, Ninkovich unexpectedly retired in training camp. McClellin and Rivers were injured in camp and were lost for the season. Ealy didn’t fit and was released. Hightower and rookie Harvey Langi who was pressed into some edge work were lost for the year as well. The team brought in Cassius Marsh, but he didn’t work out and later signed Eric Lee. Lee showed a nice ability to rush the passer but had trouble on the edge. They eventually brought James Harrison on late in the season.

The team signed Adrian Clayborn this spring which immediately helps. Hightower, Rivers and Langi return, they’ll join Trey Flowers, Deatrich, Lee, and Adam Butler but they could really use another young edge player which could facilitate moving Hightower and Langi back to linebacker.

Sam Hubbard from Ohio State has prototypical size for an edge player at 6’5, 265-pounds. He still had a year of eligibility left but decided to come out in this season’s draft and has first-round talent. He had a very productive final season with Buckeyes, garnering 42 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, and two forced fumbles.

He would be a nice fit for the Patriots defense and would be a Day 1 contributor as an edge player as part of their rotation. He could easily develop into an above average pass rusher and a starter.

Hubbard was a lacrosse player (oh yeah another lacrosse player) and is a converted safety before he packed on the muscle and became one of the stalwarts on the team’s defense. Hubbard is a high-motor guy as well as a high character one. He was a team captain as well as Academic All-American.  His work ethic will immediately win over the coaching staff and his tenacity will get kudos for the team’s fanbase.

He has a high football I.Q. and his instincts are excellent. While not an elite athlete, he produces thru his smarts and instinctive play.  He’s a sure tackler and does a good job at setting the edge in the running game.

He’s not an explosive pass rusher, and benefitted from the stunts and twists the Buckeyes ran in the passing game. But he displayed good, quick hands and is versatile and can play on either side of the line. While he’s not an elite pass rusher, he’s a very solid all-around player who can do it all.

Pros:

– Good Height and Length

– Sturdy setting the edge

– Great instincts

– Excellent motor

Cons

– Not an elite athlete

– A bit stiff at times when turning the edge

– Needs to keep pad level lower

What his Role Will Be:

Hubbard will be an immediate rotational player on the edge. With Flowers and Clayborn and possibly Rivers, he’ll be expected to play whenever they need to keep fresh legs out there.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

Yes, in Year 2 he should have packed on a few pounds in the strength and conditioning program. Then he can push for more reps and perhaps slide into the starting position with a solid rookie season.

How Many Downs Can He Play?

Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Geneo Grissom, who has been a very good Special Teams player but hasn’t contributed at all defensively. Hubbard could force him out.

What is his ST Value?

Limited, but he has done some coverage duties in the past

Conclusion:
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein in his profile wrote that:

“Hubbard will pass the eyeball test with his height, weight, and build, but he’s missing the plus athleticism to take him over the top as a pass rusher. His tape is solid, but nothing jumps off the screen. Teams looking for a big-time edge rusher won’t get too excited by him, but he will appeal to defensive coordinators looking for guys with size and motor to plug into a blitz-heavy, twist-happy defense. Hubbard could become an early starter as a strong-side defensive end for a 4-3 defense.”

Hubbard is what many draft experts call a “safe pick”, in that he has a very high floor and while he may not become an elite defensive end, because of his work ethic, excellent instincts and high motor could be a very good one.

While Patriots fans want the guys who can pin their ears back and rush the QB kind of players, that isn’t the defense that they run. The “read and react” defense is predicated on setting the edge first in the running game and then having the ability to push and squeeze the pocket forcing the opposing QB into making mistakes.

They want versatile guys who can do it all and Hubbard is the kind of player they covet. Bill Belichick will love this guy, he has a tremendous work ethic, high football I.Q., a non-stop motor and will be a productive member of the defense.

While he’s not that explosive guy at the line, he’s very quick and ran the 3-Cone Drill in a very impressive 6.84. He has the ability to be an above-average pass rusher in the NFL with a bit of experience. He should be an immediate Day 1 contributor to the defense if the Patriots decide to pull the trigger.

Hubbard’s highlight reel tape from Devo Highlights can be seen here: 

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts 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 Draft Profile, Rashaan Evans, LB Alabama

Steve Balestrieri
March 23, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Evans New Breed of NFL Linebacker, Fast, Physical, Explosive

As the 2018 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots really need more depth and a dose of athleticism and speed at the Linebacker position. They were thin at the beginning of the 2017 season and injuries to key players set them back to where it became a glaring weakness in the Super Bowl loss.

The team lost Shea McClellin in the preseason due to concussions and he missed the entire season. Top draft choice Derek Rivers who they were playing in a tweener role bouncing back and forth at DE/OLB was lost to a torn ACL in training camp as well. Dont’a Hightower missed most of the season with different injuries and was placed on IR. He was the one guy the front seven could ill afford to lose. David Harris showed that he had lost too much speed and was barely used. James Harrison was added late in the year. Kyle Van Noy and Marquis Flowers  both played well and they return and help with the depth

Hightower and Rivers return which should help the depth but inside Elandon Roberts is better suited to be a backup than a starter. He frequently was out of position and is a liability in coverage. Will the team move Hightower back inside or will they leave him on the edge? Will the team use Harvey Langi, who was also lost to NFI (Car wreck) at linebacker or will they use him too on the edge? Lots of questions here.

Rashaan Evans from Alabama comes from a Pro-ready program with Nick Saban and can step in on Day 1 and be a key contributor. With the steady influx of talent with the Tide, Evans had to be patient. But despite not being a full-time starter until 2017, he played significant snaps on Special Teams as a freshman.

Evans put the time in and saw his snaps and production increase each year. During the two playoff games in 2016, he started both and was ready for his coming out party last year. He led the excellent Crimson Tide defense with tackles (74), with 13.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and three passes knocked down, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He was All-SEC Second Team.

He’s 6’3, 234 pounds and has tremendous sideline-to-sideline speed.  He’s a quick twitch athlete who is versatile and can play inside at the Mike Linebacker position or outside as well as rush off the edge in sub-packages.

Watching the Alabama defense, he’d be an outstanding delayed Blitzer up the A-Gap. His speed would put an interior offensive lineman on their heels. He flies around the ball and is relentless. The one play that stands out was against Clemson in the national championship. He blitzed off the edge from the left. The quarterback threw a quick screen to the right. Evans after getting to the quarterback still chased down the running back for a minimal gain going across the field.

Pros:

– Tremendous speed can easily go sideline to sideline

– Tough, explosive, and a very good tackler

– Versatile can play inside or outside on the edge

– Excellent blitzer up the inside gaps

Cons

– Can sometimes overrun plays

– Some durability concerns

– Only a full-time starter for one season

What his Role Will Be:

Evans role would be to immediately take over the inside linebacker position and is a big upgrade over Roberts inside. He can cover a tremendous amount of ground and will be a big addition not only in the running game but in coverage and blitz as well.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

Yes, with his ability to go from sideline-to-sideline, they can then explore the possibility of letting him call the defensive signals and as he grows more comfortable in the defense allow him to blitz more.

How Many Downs Can He Play?

Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He’ll bump Roberts for the starting role on Day 1. While Roberts spot on the 53-man roster is probably still secure, some of the other depth players may find themselves outside looking in.

What is his ST Value?

Very good, he can be an immediate contributor and played significant STs snaps since his freshman year in college.

Conclusion:

NFL.com’s Lance Zeirlein in his profile wrote about his versatility. “Evans is an ideal inside linebacker fit for a blitz-happy 3-4 unit, but he could easily fit as a 4-3 WILL with rush potential on sub-packages,” Zeirlein said. “Evans is an early starter with high-end potential if he can stay healthy.”

Evans is a smart, tremendously athletically gifted linebacker who has the perfect work ethic that teams will covet. He wants to play, improve and above all else, puts the team first. Nick Saban has a knack for finding some outstanding talented front sevens during his tenure at Alabama and Evans is the latest of talented linebackers to move to the pros.

He and Hightower would make a great team at linebacker and he’d immediately upgrade the unit. With a linebacking core desperately in need of speed and athleticism, Evans checks the block quite easily. He can cover tight ends, running backs and even slot receivers in a pinch. He ran the all-important 3-Cone Drill in 6.95.

The problem with him is where he falls in the draft. I’ve seen Evans drafted anywhere between 16 and 25 on mock drafts. There is no way, he falls to the Patriots at #31. So, if they like him and see an opportunity, then the Patriots are going to have to move up in the 1st round and swing a deal with someone to swoop in and steal him away from other teams.

Evans’ highlight reel tape from M&M Productions can be seen here: 

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts 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 Edge Rushers in 2018, Biggest Need is Health

Steve Balestrieri
February 26, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

If there was an area more snakebit than the edge for the Patriots in 2017, then please share. The team lost both Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long during free agency. But with Rob Ninkovich, Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, and Kyle Van Noy returning, they weren’t in terrible shape. Then they addressed it with two draft picks, Derek Rivers, and Deatrich Wise. Kony Ealy was brought in with a trade and Harvey Langi was added as an undrafted free agent. So things didn’t seem bad at all, …and then the wheels came off.

Ninkovich retired abruptly during training camp. Rivers and McClellin were hurt in training camp and lost for the season. McClellin may be gone for good as he’s suffered numerous concussions and this one may be it for him. Wise missed time during camp but came on strong afterward. Things weren’t helped when Ealy flamed out and the player they brought in from the Seahawks Cassius Marsh wasn’t a fit. Langi was shelved for the year after he and his wife were rear-ended at a traffic light and both got seriously injured.

Derek Rivers, here against the Jaguars, was just beginning to flash in TC when he got hurt. (SBalestrieri photo)

The team moved Hightower to the edge before he too was injured and ended up on IR. Keionta Davis never took the field as he had a bulging disk in his neck that didn’t hurt him in college but it made it where no one drafted him. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to contribute down the road.

The team brought in Eric Lee who displayed a decent ability to rush the passer but struggled to set the edge. And very late they brought in James Harrison who at 39 still set the edge very well and had some juice left to get after the passer. Harrison, as well as ST/Edge player Geneo Grissom, are both free agents.  Now entering 2018, the team is back to square one. Obviously, edge rusher is a big need, but good health is paramount.

Getting Hightower, Rivers, and Langi back is big. Hightower is a known commodity and he’s the Patriots best defender in the front seven…when healthy. Which is becoming an issue. We still don’t what they have in Rivers and Langi. But both flashed potential last season. Although they both got to sit in the meeting rooms last season, they’re still essentially rookies on the field. So while question marks on one side, they’re both like a free draft pick on the other.  McClellin will bear watching, it may be in his best interest to call it a career after multiple concussions and missing the entire season due to others.

Harvey Langi in coverage against Tommy Bohanon, was injured in a car wreck. (SBalestrieri photo)

Free Agency Options: So what is out there in Free Agency? Top tier pass rushers Demarcus Lawrence and Ziggy Ansah are going to command much more cash than the Patriots can afford. Second tier players that may interest New England are Adrian Clayborn from the Falcons, who had 9.5 sacks in 2017. Trent Murphy from the Redskins had a nice 2016 but then missed all of 2017 with an injury.

Of course, they could bring back Harrison but one name to keep an eye on, could be Julius Peppers. The ageless, 38-year old pass rush specialist for the Panthers had 11 sacks last year in Carolina and could be one of those veteran players the Patriots and Belichick have brought in to bring some heat on the QB.

While we have been beating the drum that they need to get younger and more athletic on the edge, why bring in Peppers? Great question, while we’ll continue to believe that, there is nothing like solid production. Peppers hasn’t had less than seven sacks since 2007. He could be a nice fit with Belichick and the Patriots in a limited snap count role.

Names in the Draft: Now we’ll be the first to say, don’t even bother with draft scenarios until free agency is about played out. That will ultimately decide how the team decides to approach the draft and not the other way around. However, we always get a ton of questions about talented edge guys coming out in the draft.

Some guys to watch during the NFL Combine are Bradley Chubb, NC State, who will go far before the Pats select, and in no particular order (yet) are some edge rushers that could be of interest to New England:
Arden Key, LSU 6’6, 265
Marcus Davenport, UTSA, 6’6, 250
Harold Landry, BC, 6’3, 250
Sam Hubbard, Ohio State, 6’5, 266
Marcell Frazier, Mizzou, 6’5, 260
Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest, 6’3, 275

This list will grow as we get past the combine and get deeper into our NFL Draft coverage as we’ll look at some players whose skill sets may be of interest to the Patriots. If they opt for a guy like Peppers in free agency for instance, then they’ll likely look for an edge player closer to the middle rounds.

But regardless, the biggest thing the team needs now is health. Getting a healthy Hightower, Rivers, and Langi all on the field will do wonders for what ailed the team in 2017. Be intriguing to see if Davis, who was a productive college player can get a clean bill of health, ditto for McClellin.

We’ll be watching as free agency unfolds like everyone else, but with a limited amount of cash this spring, the Patriots will probably not be big players in free agency this season. They’ll have to do some creative work with the cap to make that happen and most of their big decisions will come down to whether or not to sign their own players. And while it won’t be the kind of moves that Patriots fans want to see, their biggest moves this spring may be just getting their own injured players back in the fold.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts 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: Patriots Rookie Harvey Langi Reunites With Wife For First Time Since Car Crash

Robert Alvarez
October 18, 2017 at 8:39 pm ET

This past Friday night, New England Patriots rookie linebacker Harvey Langi along with his wife Cassidy were involved in a serious car accident in Foxborough. According to reports, Harvey suffered a head and neck injury while Cassidy received multiple hip fractures, broken ribs, possible internal bleeding and injuries to her spleen and liver.

By Monday, head coach Bill Belichick provided an update on the WEEI radio show Holley and Keefe;

“We heard about it after it happened, and it obviously was a very unfortunate situation. I think they are doing better. Serious, but not life-threatening,” Belichick said. “Probably will take a little time before either one of them are back to normal, but they both are making progress. Hopefully, (they) will be released soon from the hospital.”

On Instagram Tuesday night, Cassidy shared an emotional video of herself reuniting with her husband for the first time since the crash.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BaWnRk9lMCU/?taken-by=cassidylangi10

New England Patriots News 9-3, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 3, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning and welcome to your Sunday Patriots news 9-3 and AFC East notes.  One of the more interesting notes from Saturday was that the Patriots were waiting until after their scheduled 12:15 p.m. practice to make their final cuts. It isn’t like they didn’t already know who is going to make or not make the team. It does seem odd with their timing of things. I’d love to find out their reasoning behind it, although we never may.

Quick Analysis on the Four Trades this Weekend:
The Patriots made four moves over the period between Friday and Saturday by the time of the initial 53-man roster cut-down.

  • The trade of CB Justin Coleman to Seattle for a 7th Round draft pick was a win for both teams. Coleman had been outplayed by the top four corners as well as (in our opinion) Kenny Moore and D.J. Killings. By getting something for him, it was a win for NE as he didn’t fit in their plans.
  • The trade for Detroit’s Johnson Bademosi was a nice boost for the Pats. He didn’t fit into the Lion’s plans and they netted a 6th rounder in 2019. The Patriots got a good STs gunner in Bademosi and with several of the team’s STs performers banged up and facing KC with Tyreek Hill this week, smart move.
  • The team’s trade with Indianapolis was again, a win for both teams. Phillip Dorsett obviously didn’t fit in the Colts long-term plans. Ditto for Brissett in New England. Folks, Bill Belichick isn’t going to trade a QB that fits into their plans. That position is the hardest to fill in the NFL. With Julian Edelman on IR and Malcolm Mitchell banged up all summer, the Patriots will try to find a way to harness his 4.33 speed. With Dorsett, Cooks, and Hogan, the Patriots now have speed merchants to create matchup nightmares. Will it work? Time will tell.
  • The trade with Seattle later on Saturday afternoon was another good move by Bill Belichick. The team was releasing STs stalwart, Geneo Grissom. But he never made a dent on defense and with the team thin at the DE position, made the deal for the same draft pick they got from Seattle to give it back for DE Cassius Marsh. Marsh played nearly 80 percent of the Seahawks STs snaps in 2016 and is a versatile guy that plays on the edge or as an interior pass rusher.

Overall all of the trades worked out for the Patriots and the teams they dealt with. Seeing reports that the Pats “fleeced” the Colts is hogwash. The Colts were reportedly taking offers for Dorsett this week and with Andrew Luck not yet ready for action, they were in need of another QB. Brissett’s sharp performance on Thursday night must have been the deciding factor. Will all of these moves work out? Time will tell but overall the moves make sense for both teams across the board.

Patriots “Initial” 53-Man Roster Hardly Will Resemble Unit Later:
While the Patriots have made their initial cuts to get down to the 53-man roster limit, don’t get too wrapped up in who is here, especially at the bottom end of the roster.

If Bill Belichick and the staff have shown anything in the past several years it is that the roster will change, sometimes a lot in the early days of the season. I would expect the team to tweak the roster quite a bit in the next two weeks as we’ll see the coaches tinker with and find the players who best fit what they’re trying to do.

Then, as we’ve usually seen, the team will make a deal or two in-season to fill a need or to bolster the team’s depth. And as with the practice squad, which will be announced later today, this unit will see plenty of faces. So, don’t get too worked up over the roster construction, as it is currently constructed. There will be more changes coming.

Belichick Waxes Long on the Differences Between KRs/PRs:
There are times when Bill Belichick’s press conferences become “must-see” and great learning tools for the media and fans (live cast on Patriots.com). Whenever he’s talking about football history is always a perfect example. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at one last year when he spoke at length about forming a practice squad. On Friday, he was at it again when asked if a punt returner, as in a player who might not contribute much offensively or defensively, was worthy of a roster spot. His answer, long and articulate is the kind of stuff that makes his Friday pressers those must-attend events.

“I mean I’d say the ball-handling is critical,” Belichick said. “It’s like the long-snapper. How many plays is a long-snapper in for a game? Call it 10? I don’t know. Somewhere in that neighborhood. Eight to 10 extra-points, punts, field goals. But everybody carries a long-snapper.

“Of course the easy answer is if one person does both, that makes it a lot easier, and it also makes the overall roster discussion a lot easier,” Belichick stated. “The big difference, of course, is on kickoff returns you have a chance to build up your speed. You get a chance to handle the ball cleanly, and there’s nobody on top of you when you’re catching it. You’re able to run and set up your blocks and hit things full-speed . . . usually between the 20 and 30-yard line, where the coverage and the blockers and the wedge all sort of come together and the returners get a chance to set those blocks up and hit them and try to get through there.

The Patriots are looking for a punt returner now that Cyrus Jones has gone on IR. (SBalestrieri photo)

“Between the kick-returns and the punt-returns, maybe a couple less than that. But I’d say the difficulty of those jobs and the importance of them and core ball-handling, there’s not much of a way to lose a game quicker than that. I think it’s a high priority for everybody. When I say everybody, I say every team . . . We’ll have to see how it turns out, but it’s not an afterthought at all. It’s a priority.”

“The punting game is a lot more situational. Mostly on kickoffs, the ball’s always kicked from the same place. Rarely is there a difference; there are some, but they’re minimal — after a safety or that type of thing. But punting, the ball can be anywhere. The situation that they’re punting in can be quite diverse and sometimes complex. Punters are very good at directional punting and kicking different types of punts — end-over-end punts, spiral punts, spirals that don’t turn over and so forth. The ball-handling is a little more complex.

“And you have to deal with players around you as you’re catching the ball sooner or later. Sometimes a punter will outkick his coverage, but the majority of the time there’s some decision making involved on whether to catch it and how to make the first coverage player or two miss to get the return started, or fair-catch it, or to let it go and not catch the ball, or to let it go over your head and go into the end zone for a touchback. There’s a lot of decision-making on whether to just catch the ball, or whether to catch it and run with it, or whether to catch it and just fair-catch it that are quite different than the kickoffs.

“And then in addition to that, you’re dealing with defenders and coverage players that are on you a lot quicker on punt returns. Sometimes you only have a yard or two, or a couple yards, to get into space, make a guy miss, break a tackle, whereas kickoffs are much more of a build-up play. Because they’re so different a lot of times you don’t have the same player doing both.

“And on a personal opinion, because they’re so different, I find the two plays very fascinating and intriguing and a great part of the strategy of football. Just because the plays themselves are so different in the teaching… the rules, the skills and so forth. So that’s why I’m not in favor of . . . I take an opposing view to the people that want to eliminate kickoffs from the game and try to have as few kickoffs as possible. I think it’s an exciting play. It’s a unique play and one that is a big momentum play because of what happened the play before — the score or possibly the times at the start of the half where it’s kind of a tone-setter or a pace-setter for that opening play.

“So yeah they’re plenty different. And of course the same thing in the blocking. You have a chance to set up a return (on kickoffs), whereas on the punting side of it you have an option of trying to pressure the punter and block it or return it, but you kind of have to return it from the line of scrimmage. You can’t drop off too far because of the possibilities of fakes. So you have to keep enough guys up on the line of scrimmage to ensure that that ball is punted. And you have to ensure you’re not getting an onside kick, too, but again, that’s much less frequent and the rules are in the kick-return team’s favor on the onsides kick. It’s a big gamble for the kicking team to do that as a surprise tactic. So the blocking patterns and techniques of blocking are quite different on the punt returns compared to what they are on kickoff returns.” Mic drop.

Jacob Hollister was a surprise UDFA who made the initial 53-man roster out of preseason. (SBalestrieri photo)

Jacob Hollister Makes Initial 53-man Roster:
One of the good stories this spring was the Patriots signing of twin brothers Jacob and Cody Hollister as UDFAs.  And the news that Hollister at least initially made the roster was exciting news. He’s one of a few UDFAs that made the team along with Adam Butler, Harvey Langi, and Cole Croston. However, his brother Cody was released but may be brought back onto the practice squad if he clears waivers.

Hollister was (again in our opinion) the better option in the passing game than James O’Shaughnessy. He’s able to stretch the field, has good hands and has shown the ability to hold onto the ball. He’s more of a move tight-end and still needs some work on his blocking. But he got some good STs work in as well this summer. We liked him as soon as they signed him with his work in college and got to do one of his first interviews during training camp. Which can be revisited here:

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills Trade Seymour to Panthers for WR/KR Clay:
The Buffalo Bills have traded for Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kaelin Clay. Carolina got the Bills sent second-year cornerback Kevon Seymour. The Bills also acquired Carolina’s seventh-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Clay will be expected to be a vertical threat for the Bills offense this season and will be called on to return kicks as well. He played for the Ravens in 2015 before getting injured and going on IR. He was out of football before signing with the Panthers this spring.

Miami Signs T.J. McDonald to a Four-Year Extension Worth $24 Million:
The Dolphins signed safety T.J. McDonald to a four-year extension on Saturday.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal is reportedly worth $24 million and includes $10 million in guarantees.

McDonald signed a one-year deal with Miami in the spring despite being hit with an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy. The suspension begins this week.

Jets Trade Seahawks for Jermaine Kearse and Give Up Sheldon Richardson:
The New York Jets addressed one of their needs by getting wide receiver help by trading DL Sheldon Richardson to Seattle for WR Jermaine Kearse. The Jets also get a 2nd round draft pick in 2018. The teams also swapped their 5th round draft picks.

Kearse has always been very productive but is coming off of a down year in 2016 when he logged only 41 catches for 510 yards and one touchdown. The Jets will obviously be expecting much more.

Richardson, 26, has spent his entire career with the Jets. The former Defensive Rookie of the Year made the Pro Bowl in 2014.But his maturity has been called into question several times and he’s been suspended by the league twice.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts 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.