Tag Archives: Malcom Brown

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer: Defensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 17, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

Versatility and Physicality Mark The Pats DL

The Patriots head into training camp in ten days 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 on our primers is the Defensive Line position.

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. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation.

So, we’re going to look at the Patriots Defensive Line and how they shake out. There is much versatility here and that what makes the Patriots defense so effective. In a sack driven league, they’re rather pedestrian at them despite leading the league in points against in 2016.

DL Malcom Brown will be expected to be more consistent in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

It wasn’t smoke and mirrors, the team uses a variety of different looks and squeezes offenses from running the ball and then with their pass rushers, do not let opponents out of the pocket where big plays tend to happen. They demand their edge players set the edge first, they’re not and have never been a “sell-out” pass rush team.

The team lost defensive ends, Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long, this spring but drafted two younger guys in Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise while picking up Kony Ealy from the Panthers in a steal of a trade, during the NFL Draft. The team also picked up the versatile and underrated Lawrence Guy from Baltimore. Trey Flowers was arguably their best DL down the stretch and into the playoffs and Alan Branch was outstanding all season.

Roster Locks: Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Rob Ninkovich, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown
Everything starts with the big men in the middle and Branch and Brown were very good in 2016. Branch frequently plays over the center and is outstanding at stuffing the run. Brown is as well. Their job is to force everything outside where the defensive ends and linebackers are supposed to clean it up. They each got a little bit of push in the passing game but that is something that Brown could do a bit more of as well as be more consistent in 2017.

Patriots rookie DE Deatrich Wise in action at minicamp in June. (SBalestrieri photo)

Ealy will be an intriguing guy to watch this year. He’s in a contract year and has been given a clean slate by the coaches in New England.  The biggest knock against him was that he didn’t buy in when he was in Carolina. He seems to be doing that right off the bat here, which is a good sign. When he’s on, he’s a difficult man to block. Just rewind to Super Bowl L and watch him against the Broncos.

Big things are expected of Flowers this season, and after the way he finished 2016, he seems to be the go-to guy in the pass rush. Flowers, like many others in the Pats defense, is versatile and can rush from the edge or push inside as an interior pass rusher.

Ninkovich is a guy who is always at his best in clutch situations. He may be losing a step but he’s another versatile guy who can line up as a defensive end or drop as an outside linebacker.

Rob Ninkovich has been a clutch performer for the Patriots defense. (SBalestrieri photo)

Rivers and Wise by virtue of their draft stock are untouchable this season. Rivers is another guy who can play DE or OLB and was the Patriots top draft choice this season. Wise is another big DE in the Patriots mold that is an edge setter first and a pass rusher second. He was hurt in his senior season in college but had a very impressive 2015.

With the depth listed above, these rookie edge players, they won’t have a ton of pressure put on them to produce much this season. They will be able to learn the defense, get used to the speed of the pro game and get some reps here and there.

Near Roster Locks: Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine
Valentine showed some nice flashes last year in his rookie campaign. He’s another big body who can stuff the run on the inside. Guy is a versatile, movable piece and plays the 1-technique or out to the 5-technique. He seems like he’s going to be a nice fit in the Patriots defense. We’ll have to see if he can translate that to the field.

It is going to take some hard work from the guys below to unseat either of these two players. But stranger things have happened. Unless someone gets hurt or a case of the Foxboro Flu.

On the Bubble: Geneo Grissom, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
The clock is running out on Geneo Grissom. He’s a guy that was drafted ahead of Flowers and was thought to have all kinds of versatility. But it hasn’t happened for him, he’s been unable to make a dent in the defense. Hamilton made the team a year ago but with the addition of Guy from the Ravens, he’s going to have to turn it up… a lot.

Augusta is a big-body, run stuffer in the Vince Wilfork mold, he’s listed at 6’0, 335-pounds…which may be wishful thinking. Passing the conditioning test on Day 1 will be a tough task for the big man, who failed to complete a lap during minicamp…twice.

Butler is a definite under the radar guy. Signed as a UDFA from Vanderbilt, the 6’4, 305-pound DL can be a run-stuffing tackle or a penetrator from the interior on passing downs. He played OL in college before switching over. He’ll be a guy to watch to see if he can turn some heads.

Kilgo was drafted by Denver and appeared in 18 games in two seasons before being released last November. The Pats signed the big 6’3, 320 DL to the practice squad where he spent the remaining part of the season.

Our next primer will have the Patriots Linebackers… 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.

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Alan Branch

Steve Balestrieri
February 16, 2017 at 9:30 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the starters and a very important piece is defensive lineman Alan Branch.

The Patriots picked up Branch during the 2014 Super Bowl run after Chandler Jones injured his hip in midseason. The Buffalo Bills released Branch after a DUI arrest earlier that year. He then played very well but sparingly down the stretch for the Patriots and was an integral part of the team that defeated the Seahawks.

He was even more valuable this time around, being arguably the Patriots best interior defensive lineman all season long being a two-gap run stuffer inside and providing outstanding support against the run and the occasional pocket push against the pass.

Branch was originally drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2007 NFL Draft and played four seasons for the Cardinals before playing well in two seasons for the Seahawks. Branch spent 2013 as a member of the Buffalo Bills. After playing well for Buffalo that year, he was given a three-year contract extension and paid a $3.1 million dollar signing bonus.

But like Michael Floyd this season, he let a lapse in judgment cost him. But since his release by Buffalo, he’s been a solid teammate and a veteran presence on the team providing very solid play next to two younger players inside with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine.

Alan Branch was a tremendous run-stuffer for the Patriots defense in 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

Why Branch Will Return: The Patriots don’t have a lot of depth inside with just Branch, Brown, and Valentine along with Woodrow Hamilton and the three players have little experience. Brown finished his 2nd season and the latter two were rookies in 2016.

Branch at 32, shouldn’t break the bank in terms of free agency. After the last Super Bowl run he signed a two-year deal for a moderate sum ($5 million-dollar range). If he is willing to accept a similar deal again, it would be easy to see the Patriots paying him around the same amount of money with weight and playing time incentives worked in.

The Patriots are happy with his play the past few years as Branch has been a very solid performer both on the practice and playing fields. There is no reason to think he couldn’t continue to perform at a high level for the next season or two and provide the big immovable object inside, eating up two gaps which allow the linebackers to come in and make plays.

The 6’6, 350-pound Branch while an immovable force inside is quite athletic for a big man and enjoys skateboarding since he was a kid in New Mexico. He didn’t panic after a slow start in Super Bowl LI by the Patriots defense. Instead, he said, the players just trusted in themselves and the process.

“Honestly, we just started finally executing,” he said after the game. “We were on the field and we knew what we had to do, but we weren’t getting it done in the first half. When we came into halftime, we talked to each other. We weren’t down, we didn’t give up. We weren’t talking about rolling over or anything. We just started talking about being on our job, being more positive, having fun out there.”

Branch actually leapfrogged Brown this season on the Patriots depth chart and played more snaps than the 2nd year player after Brown in his rookie year, led the defensive line in snap percentage in 2015. Branch played just under 60 percent of the snaps after playing in under 40 percent of them last year.

Why Branch Won’t Return: Branch has won a pair of Super Bowls with New England and may be wanting to cash in one final time. There are always teams looking for veteran run-stuffing help inside and it is possible that a team will pony up more money than the Patriots will feel fits his value. In that scenario, one could easily see Branch leaving for one final payday in the sun.

It is possible that the Patriots will want to get younger at the position and bring in a rookie player that can stuff the run and play for about 20 percent of what they’d have to pay Branch to return.

Branch is at that age when the big men begin to break down and perhaps the coaches will feel that they’ve already gotten the best that they can ask for from Branch at this stage of his career and be prepared to move on. Remember, they did much the same thing with Vince Wilfork after Super Bowl XLIX.

Bottom Line: The Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Branch earlier during the playoffs and praised his size and athleticism. The Providence Journal quoted Belichick as saying this about Branch:

“How unique is it? I mean, yeah, guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is — I mean they don’t grow on trees,” Belichick said. “They’re hard to find. Ted Washington had that kind of length and size. Ted was 6-5, but Alan moves better than Ted does, or did at that point in his career. We’ve had some other longer guys like Richard Seymour or guys like that, but they weren’t 350 pounds. There’re not too many of them. Gerard Warren was a big guy that ran well. Money [Warren] was a very athletic player who wasn’t quite as long as Branch, but moving into that range.”

“It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays, so all of that is good.”

It will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out. Branch is a very valuable member of the defense. He was a key cog in a Patriots defense that was very solid against the run and his presence inside allowed players like Hightower and Roberts at linebacker to flow and make plays.

If the money is right, it is easy to see him returning for a final contract that will allow him to retire as a Patriot. He’s been very happy here in Matt Patricia’s defense and that factor may sway him to remain. But other teams love to pluck players off of Super Bowl-winning rosters to provide that type of presence and mentorship to their younger players. If someone ponies up the cash, he could bolt. Right now, I’d say it is even money that Branch returns in 2017.

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 DL Faces Questions With Alan Branch Suspended

Steve Balestrieri
November 21, 2016 at 8:04 pm ET

The Patriots defense took another hit as they will be without one of their top defensive players and a starter on the defensive line for possibly four games.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that defensive tackle Alan Branch has been suspended four games for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Apparently, Branch tested positive for marijuana. Branch is appealing per Schefter’s report.

Branch has been playing some of his best football since becoming a member of the Patriots in 2014. He’s been a valued anchor on the defensive line with Malcom Brown on the interior. This leaves the Patriots thin at the position with just Brown, and rookies Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton, both of whom have missed time this season due to injuries.

So what is in store for the Patriots who have upcoming games against the Jets, Rams, Ravens, and Broncos during Branch’s league imposed vacation? The good news in the short term is that his appeal won’t be heard until next week, so he’ll be able to play against the Jets.

But until Branch is eligible to return expect the Patriots to add another big body to the inside. Who is available?  Scouring the free agent market, there are a few names that could be of interest to the Patriots. Former Dolphin and Cleveland Brown Randy Starks, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen who spent some time with the Patriots, Kenrick Ellis as well as two players who spent training camp with the team, Terrance Knighton and Markus Kuhn.

With the Patriots defense struggling in recent weeks and facing teams that like to run the football, this could be a costly suspension. The rookies will be looked at to step up in the interim and play some valuable snaps.

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.

Podcast: Should We Be Worried About Stephen Gostkowski?

Russ Goldman
October 20, 2016 at 8:45 am ET

In this episode, we talked to PatsFans.com and Bleacher Report writer Lee Shechter who wrote an interesting article about Stephen Gostkowski. Later on in this episode, we discussed Lee’s grades for the Patriots against the Bengals.

Patriots Sign DT John Hughes, Cut Anthony Johnson

Steve Balestrieri
September 26, 2016 at 3:54 pm ET

The Patriots are rapidly becoming the home of former Cleveland Browns.

ESPN’s Field Yates has reported that the Patriots are signing former Cleveland defensive tackle John Hughes. Hughes was a 3rd -round 2012 NFL Draft pick out of Cincinnati. He was released by the Browns last week after signing a 4-year, $14.4 million-dollar contract extension just a year ago.

He was supposed to be one of the anchors of the Browns defensive line but missed significant time during training camp due to a personal issue. He was used sparingly in the first two games and was shown the gate by Hue Jackson. With the emergence of rookie Carl Nassib, Hughes became expendable for Cleveland.

The 6’4, 320-pound Hughes played in 53 games, starting 10 and notched 109 combined tackles to go with 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his time for the Browns.

With the Patriots releasing undersized DT Anthony Johnson, today, this may be a move considering the Patriots next opponent, the Buffalo Bills who have a potent rushing attack that gained 208 yards against Arizona yesterday.

I asked Yates about him minutes ago and he said, that he’s a hard man to miss in person and that he’s a big run stuffing body inside and that he could provide insurance for both Alan Branch and Malcom Brown.

Hughes the Patriots roster that includes three other former Browns in linebacker Barkevious Mingo, defensive end Jabaal Sheard and running back Dion Lewis.

 

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.

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.

 

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:

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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 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.