Tag Archives: Joe Vellano

Thursday Daily Rundown 9/8: New England Patriots News and Notes

Ian Logue
September 8, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Here’s a quick rundown of this morning’s top stories:

Jones on Garoppolo, “I have seen him make some great throws” – Chandler Jones is a little more familiar than most of his teammates when it comes to Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and despite the fact the third-year quarterback will be making his first NFL start this weekend, Jones isn’t taking him lightly.

With Tom Brady sidelined to begin 2016, the Cardinals are in a unique situation that opponents after Week 4 won’t be in, which will see them take on a Patriots team that is missing their future Hall of Fame quarterback.  The first game of the season tends to set the tone for the rest of the season, and given how the Cardinals season ended in the playoffs last year the home crowd will likely be pretty amped up for Sunday night’s match-up.

It will be a big test for Garoppolo, who will have to overcome a hostile crowd in what should be a good test for the former Eastern Illinois standout.  As for Jones, he knows he and his teammates will need to shut down Garoppolo and the Patriots’ offense, but the veteran still expects a tough match-up even with Garoppolo at the helm.

“He’s not Tom Brady,” Jones said via the Cardinals’ official site. “He’s a different quarterback. But I have seen him make some great throws this preseason and even in my years in New England. He made some great throws in practice that I can recall. He’s not a slouch. He’s definitely not a slouch.”

As for Garoppolo, with Brady gone the responsibility now firmly rests on his shoulders and he’s spent this week hard at work getting ready for Jones and the Cardinals.

“It’s busy, that’s for sure,” said Garoppolo when asked about being the starter. “There’s not much time to rest or anything like that, but that’s what I expected. It’s going pretty smooth right now. We’ve just got to keep it rolling this week.”

Gronkowski Limited at Wednesday’s Practice – The Patriots are seemingly taking it easy with veteran tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was listed as “limited” when the team released their first injury report of 2016 on Wednesday.

Gronkowski hasn’t quite been the same since pulling up lame in a joint practice session back on August 15th against the Bears and it seems the Patriots are being cautious with him heading into Week 1 in Arizona.

But the fact he was at least out there is good news, especially as he joins Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola as the trio is hopefully set to make their first start together of the season.  Having all their top players back on the field has been something Garoppolo has enjoyed, and he’s looking forward to taking them into battle this weekend.

“It’s a little different,” explained Garoppolo about having all his weapons out there.  “But it’s nice to have those guys out there. It really is. Their veteran presence it’s always a nice thing and it’s nice to have in the huddle with you.”

Patriots Work Out Eight Players Including QB – The Patriots may have set their roster this past weekend but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to do their due diligence when it comes to potential additions to their team.

According to NESN.com, the Patriots tried out eight free agents on Wednesday, one of which included a quarterback along with five wide receivers.

The team reportedly worked out quarterback Sean Renfree, as well as receivers Da’Ron Brown, Max McCaffrey, Jordan Leslie, DeAndrew White and Mekale McKay, and linebacker Deon King.  They also worked out defensive lineman B.J. McBryde.

They did reportedly add one player to their practice squad, signing linebacker Quentin Gause, while releasing Rufus Johnson.


Amendola hasn’t practiced during the preseason as he continues getting healthy. (USA TODAY Images)

Amendola Lands on Magazine Cover – We haven’t seen much from receiver Danny Amendola during the preseason as he continues recovering from offseason surgery, but it looks like the veteran may be on a newstand near you very shortly.

According to the Patriots’ official site, Amendola will be on the upcoming cover of the October issue of “Men’s Health” magazine.

The veteran is pictured with his shirt off showing off his physique in the issue, with a teaser that reads, “How MH Guy and NFL Receiver Danny Amendola Gets Fit.”

This marks the second-straight year a Patriots receiver has been in the magazine during the month of October, with Julian Edelman appearing in it last year.

Roethlisberger Weighs in on Brady – Ben Roethlisberger knows what it’s like to miss the first four games of the season after having been suspended for the same span in 2010 when he was accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old woman, which the league deemed a violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

When asked about what advice he would give Brady, Roethlisberger didn’t have any, because he doesn’t believe Brady needs it.

Roethlisberger said via ESPN that Brady “doesn’t need any advice from anybody.”

Added the Steelers quarterback, “Tom’s the greatest in the world, and I mean that.”

Roethlisberger’s comments came after former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw put the Steelers’ QB “ahead of Brady for sure and anybody else.”

There’s obviously bias given the difference in quarterbacks and their accomplishments, so we’ll let that one slide as Bradshaw is from a region where he couldn’t say anything else.  But given Brady’s Super Bowl victories and the fact he appears like he’s still in position to win a couple of more, that debate should easily be tipped in Brady’s favor by the time their two careers come to an end, if it hasn’t already.

Vellano Lost His House, and His Job, Last Week – In the NFL, most players know it’s just a business but last week was a harsh reminder of that reality.

Long-time Patriots defensive tackle Joe Vellano became a casualty of a talented group on the defensive line when he was released by the team over the weekend as New England made their final roster cuts, but that was hardly the worst thing that happened to him.

Vellano reportedly lost his home to a fire last Thursday, which he apparently found out about as he was out on the field warming up against the Giants.

During the game Vellano played in 18 defensive snaps and three special teams snaps, finishing the game with four defensive tackles.  From there he arrived back in New England in the wee hours of Friday morning to assess the damage, and one day later the Patriots added insult to injury when they let him go.

His agent, Sean Stellato, told the Albany Times-Union that it’s been a tough run for Vellano, who has certainly had one of the worst weeks we’ve seen a player endure in recent memory.

“I always believed God gives you what you can handle,” Stellato told the newspaper. “I guess we had to re-check that statement. He definitely dealt with a tremendous amount of adversity the last few days.”

Fortunately his story has some good news, as he did find a new job after landing a place on the practice squad with the Falcons Tuesday.

 

Patriots Defense Keys 19-17 Win Over Carolina Panthers

Steve Balestrieri
August 26, 2016 at 11:38 pm ET

“Secondary provides solid coverage in win over NFC Champs

The Patriots defense was very good in a winning effort over the Carolina Panthers 19-17 on Friday night in Charlotte. On a night where both offenses looked sloppy and wilting in the heat, it was the play of the defense that carried the day.

New England’s strategy of holding Cam Newton in the pocket and making him hit throws downfield worked on this night as the reigning MVP was frequently off target and was victimized by drops by his receivers when he did find them.

The Patriots got strong games from their edge players especially Chris Long and Trey Flowers. What makes Newton so effective is his ability to take off and run when a play breaks down. When he makes plays with his feet the Panthers offense takes off. Long and Flowers did a great job of keeping him in the pocket and not allowing him to break containment.

The Patriots secondary, especially the first team corners of Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Cyrus Jones did an outstanding job in coverage. Early in the game, Newton had all day to throw and could find nothing open. The corners were mirroring the receivers and the safeties were rolling the coverages over the top right where they needed to.

It’s interesting to note that Jones took 1st team reps tonight over Justin Coleman. That is a sign that he may have jumped over Coleman on the roster. Coleman’s roster spot is safe but he may have lost his starter’s spot. Cre’Von LeBlanc saw a ton of reps tonight against Carolina’s top offense, frequently matched up with WR Devin Funchess who has a huge size advantage over him. LeBlanc acquitted himself very well on the night and was physical and competitive. He’s seemingly pulling ahead for that final cornerback slot on the team.

Another intriguing move was ILB Elandon Roberts seeing a ton of reps all game against the excellent running team that the Panthers are. Roberts, a 6th-round draft choice from Houston is an undersized thumper in the running game and he played very well, taking reps from Jonathan Freeny.

Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton seems to be truly on the bubble. Early reps went to Vincent Valentine and Markus Kuhn, both held up well in the running game. Later in the game, Joe Vellano and Woodrow Hamilton saw the field before Knighton. He’s struggled in his 2-gap responsibilities and he got pushed around against the Bears a week ago. Kuhn or Anthony Johnson may end up stealing his roster position.

The Patriots got three turnovers from the secondary, two on picks from Cam Newton. One was on an outstanding play by Long, he dropped in coverage and dragged across the line of scrimmage. He got a hand on a Newton pass, deflecting it high into the air and into the arms of Devin McCourty. Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon each had picks as well.

The Patriots defense flustered Newton who finished just 13-29 for 100 yards with 0 touchdowns and 2 INTs. Trey Flowers registered a sack, but the Patriots had other chances with Geneo Grissom, Jamie Collins, Rufus Johnson and Markus Kuhn having opportunities but the Panthers’ QB is a very hard man to bring down.

The Panthers were just 5 of 17 on third down but many of those conversions were late in the game with Joe Webb in at QB who added two very late garbage time scores. The Panthers rushing attack was held to 92 yards on the ground. And their QBs were a combined 24 of 55 for 253 yards for only a 4.5 yard per attempt average.

Overall it was a very impressive night for the Patriots defense who looks like they are ready for Week 1 of the NFL season. The offense….not so much.

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 Training Camp Primer – Defensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 20, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Deep, Talented Group Preps for a Big Year

The Patriots head into training camp next week and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break 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. Next up is the Defensive Line.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 89 players on the current roster, a minimum of 36 of these will be cut. That doesn’t take into consideration the tweaking that goes on during the season after the initial 53-man roster is completed.

So next on deck are the defensive linemen. The Patriots lost three of their linemen from a year ago. They traded Chandler Jones to Arizona, lost Akiem Hicks in free agency and released former first-round pick Dominique Easley. But the team is poised to be very good and is deep along the front four.

After years of trying to search for an undersized penetrator in the interior to beef up the pass rush, the Patriots and Belichick made a shift in their approach in 2016. The interior players that they brought in via free agency and the draft are all big men that are space eaters and run stuffers first. It is clear that the pass rush will come from the edge guys who are versatile and can slide inside on obvious passing downs.

They added Terrance Knighton, Frank Kearse and Markus Kuhn in free agency. Picking up Vincent Valentine in the draft and Woodrow Hamilton as a UDFA adds a lot of beef to the interior of the line.

On the edge, the team brought in Chris Long who has the last two seasons end in injury but is healthy in 2016 and is this season’s reclamation project. Jabaal Sheard will take Chandler Jones’ previous starting spot opposite Rob Ninkovich.

So who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Malcom Brown, Terrance Knighton, Alan Branch, Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Vincent Valentine
Sheard and Ninkovich, who played LB in the spring are the starters on the edge. They are both productive and set the edge in the running game extremely well, (something Jones’ game lacked in his time here). Long will be the dedicated pass rush specialist, something that should keep him fresh this season. He and Flowers provide the depth.

Malcom Brown Malcom Brown had a solid rookie campaign and should be a key cog of the defense for years to come. (SBalestrieri Images)

The interior will feature a mixture of Brown who in his second season is primed for a big year, Branch and Knighton. Branch has played some of his best football as a member of the Patriots and provides that veteran leadership. Valentine by virtue of his draft position is a lock. Pot Roast came over from Washington and gives the Patriots that big (6’3, 354-pounds), immovable object inside, like Vince Wilfork.

One of the things the Patriots liked to do in Big Vince’s time was to play a hybrid scheme that Knighton should fit well in. Knighton will line up on the center and two gap his area on either side of the center. The strong side defensive end, (Ninkovich) will two-gap his area. The other side with Brown and Sheard will be a traditional 4-3 one-gap attacking style. It will also open up opportunities for the linebackers to blitz in openings on the outside as well. Lots of versatility and flexibility with this group as well as a nice mix of youth and experience.

On the Bubble: Geneo Grissom, Frank Kearse, Markus Kuhn
These three are competing for one or possibly two spots if the Patriots opt to keep 10 linemen on the defensive side. Grissom is a big guy who seems larger in person than his listed 6’4, 265 pounds. He brings the element of versatility and athleticism to the table. He can play special teams, something that always resonates with Belichick.

2-Grissom Geneo Grissom made the team out of training camp as a rookie but the team will have to find a niche for his talents. (SBalestrieri Images)

Both Kuhn and Kearse are big guys who will be looking to add some depth inside. Kuhn saw a lot of reps this spring and that may bode well for him this summer. He came over from the Giants and was considered a favorite of coach Tom Coughlin although his numbers didn’t translate on the field. Kearse is a 6’5, 310-pound defensive end who projects to move inside here with the Patriots. He’s spent time with the Panthers, Cowboys, and Redskins (2014-15) and will look to latch on as a backup.

The competition here should prove to be spirited. All of these players are worthy of a roster spot but it may come down to a simple numbers crunch unless the inevitable injury or two occurs in training camp.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Woodrow Hamilton, Anthony Johnson, Joe Vellano
Odds are long for Joe Vellano this season to make the cut. He’s one of those guys that you can’t help but root for. After being signed as a UDFA from Maryland in 2013, he made the team out of training camp and played in all 16 games with eight starts. But in 2014 he played in just four games with a single start and one playoff game. He was hurt early in training camp last season and will have a tough time to garner the reps this summer.

Johnson was signed by Miami as a UDFA in 2014 and appeared in seven games. He was cut by the Dolphins and spent part of 2015 as a practice squad player for the Redskins. The Patriots signed him to a free-agent contract in May.

Woodrow Hamilton is a big interior lineman from Mississippi. The 6’3, 319-pound tackle faces long odds. He and Bryan Stork were tossed from practice during minicamp for throwing punches at one another. That may set up something to watch this summer.

Check out our earlier primers on the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and the offensive line. And be sure to keep tuned into PatsFans.com during training camp as we’ll post daily updates from down in Gillette.

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.

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.

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.