Tag Archives: Terrance Knighton

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.

Tuesday Daily Rundown 8/30: New England Patriots News and Notes

Ian Logue
August 30, 2016 at 7:31 am ET

Here’s a look at this morning’s top stories.

Knighton Out – The writing appeared to be on the wall for defensive lineman Terrance Knighton after a preseason that saw him not get any snaps last Friday night, and on Monday the Patriots parted ways with the veteran, ending his short tenure in New England.

The team released him Monday, which follows up on the concerns he had after the game where he seemed surprised about his lack of snaps against the Panthers.

“You’re always concerned when you’re not playing,” he said via ESPN. “I prepared myself to play, the coaches made the decisions on who they wanted to play, and I’m not going to ask any questions or make any excuses or look for any explanation. I’m just going to get dressed, get back on the plane and see what happens.”

Bill Belichick addressed the move on Monday, saying that it was just one of those things that happens during what’s been a competitive training camp.

“Just didn’t work out,” Belichick told the media. “He came in, worked hard, lost weight, got in good condition, tried to do the things we asked him to do. Just other people ahead of him.”

The early release of Knighton gives the former Washington standout an opportunity to start exploring opportunities elsewhere, which is something Belichick has historically done for veterans he respects.

Knighton tweeted a good bye after the news, “Well it’s been real New England.  The road continues.”

Stork Fails Physical, Nullifies Trade – After being acquired for a conditional draft pick by Washington last week, it looks like Bryan Stork won’t be landing with a new team after all.

According to published reports, Stork failed his physical for what would have been his new team, nullifying the trade that would have potentially yielded a conditional draft pick for the Patriots had Stork ended up in Washington.

The 25-year former Florida State lineman has had a rough run over his first two seasons in New England, suffering four reported concussions over that span after emerging as a starter up front on the offensive line.

He earned a lot of respect of the players around him, with a memorable article from January 2015 from Yahoo.com where he made Eric Edholm nervous after a seemingly harmless line of questioning was something Stork wasn’t interested in, setting up some uncomfortable moments.

But on the same day as that interview, Jimmy Garoppolo offered up some praise for Stork after he recalled meeting him in the Senior Bowl where they two played together.

“Well, we were in the Senior Bowl together,” Garoppolo said, “so I knew him before we were actually drafted here. But playing with him there, I realized … he’s a badass.”

“He’s a hard-nosed dude, and that’s what you want in your linemen,” said Garoppolo at the time about playing with him in New England.  “Just getting in there, doing his job. You can’t ask for a better lineman than that.”

As for what his future holds, Stork had been mulling retirement so it remains to be seen what direction his career may take.  He told the Tallahassee Democrat back in 2013 that when his playing days were over, he was hoping to buy a big piece of land out in the country somewhere, with a runway on it so he could fly planes and live in peace.

Thankfully after a relatively successful football career, hopefully he has the money to make that dream a reality should he decide his playing days are over.


Jackson is off to a rough start so far in 2016. (USA TODAY Images)

Jackson Heads to PUP – Guard Tre’ Jackson will start 2016 on the PUP list, which means he’ll miss at least the first six games of the regular season.

The second-year player out of Florida State started nine games while appearing in 13 during his rookie season and looked like he was poised to contend for a starting role in 2016.  But so far he hadn’t been a full participant in practice and had just been seen doing conditioning and getting in light workouts during training camp, which obviously means he’s not quite healthy enough to factor into the Patriots immediate plans.

Jackson, who has a history of knee problems, suffered a knee injury during the middle of the season against Miami and seemingly escaped serious injury after the Boston Herald reported that his MRI came back negative.  However after fighting through it, he ultimately missed both playoff games and underwent offseason knee surgery.

The move to PUP gives the Patriots an extra roster spot to start the year, as he won’t count against the official roster while he remains with that designation.

Cooper Returns – One quick bit of good news is that offensive guard Jonathan Cooper returned to practice on Monday for the first time since the beginning of camp.  Cooper has reportedly been dealing with a plantar fascia condition in his foot, which he aggravated early on after being carted off the field and it’s hampered him ever since.

He joined Shaq Mason on the practice field on Monday for the warm-up period before heading down to the lower field to do some conditioning.

Cooper was part of the compensation the Patriots received from the Arizona Cardinals, with the hope that having him coached up by Dante Scarnecchia might see him finally live up to his potential. The veteran offensive lineman is a former 1st round pick for the Arizona Cardinals (7th overall) in 2013.

Mingo Enjoying Transition in New England – After playing in a 3-4 defensive alignment in Cleveland, Barkevious Mingo is enjoying getting back to his roots now that he’s joined the Patriots.

After being acquired from the Browns last week for a fifth-round pick in 2017, Mingo has been hard at work getting immersed in the Patriots’ defense.  The Patriots play a 4-3 defense, which Mingo admitted is similar to the one he played at LSU.  But he’s also excited about the fact he’s reunited with former Browns teammate Jabaal Sheard, who he told Boston.com has helped make him comfortable since he’s been here.

“Jabaal was there my first year and he carried me along that long, long year,” Mingo said. “Being back with him is definitely a huge relief.”

It seems to have been a good experience so far, with Mingo admitting that he’s gotten plenty of help from everyone since he’s been here as he continues getting acclimated with his new teammates.

“It’s hard. These guys got couple of months on me,” Mingo said. “It’s a challenge but the guys here they’re really helping me come along, pointing me in the right direction and just getting me ready to play.”

Terrance Knighton Thanks Patriots On Social Media Following Release

Robert Alvarez
at 12:33 am ET

After being released by the Patriots on Monday, defensive lineman Terrance Knighton took to Twitter to give his thanks to the club for the opportunity despite the fact things probably didn’t quite work out as well as he hoped.

Knighton walked away with plenty of class as he thanked both Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft, as well as the fans.

Best wishes to Knighton, who many had hoped would be a factor in the Patriots defensive line this season.  But a crowded and talented group was the issue Belichick cited on Monday for the veteran’s release.

“Just didn’t work out,” Belichick told the media. “He came in, worked hard, lost weight, got in good condition, tried to do the things we asked him to do. Just other people ahead of him.”

Patriots Roster Cutdown to 75 Players Looming for Tuesday

Steve Balestrieri
August 29, 2016 at 6:42 am ET

Few Easy Decisions for the Coaching Staff

The Patriots roster currently has 82 players listed, by tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. that number will be slashed as seven players will be released. The team has to be at the league mandated 75 player limit Tuesday. An additional 22 players will be released just a few days after that on Sept. 3 as all NFL teams must be at the 53-man roster limit. With the depth of the current roster, there will be few easy decisions for the coaching staff and for the players on the roster bubble, this will be the uneasy time of wondering if they did enough to warrant sticking around.

One area to monitor will be the cornerback position. With Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Cyrus Jones roster locks and Justin Coleman a near roster certainty, that leaves one spot open for three deserving players.

“It’s tough,” Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan said. “It’s always a tough time. These are your friends on and off the field. You get to know the people’s families. It’s what drives me so hard personally, and I think other guys too. Because this job is so hard, and it’s a business, and this is the hardest part of it every year.”

Cre’Von LeBlanc was given the most opportunity to shine this week against Carolina and he has responded in my opinion in a big way. He’s very competitive and like all good corners has a short memory. He won’t let a play where an opposing receiver makes a play effect his next snap. The least athletic (numbers wise) of the three, he’s allowed the most receptions but has faced the best competition frequently seeing the opposition’s starters.

LeBlanc extends for the ball

LeBlanc extends for the ball

Jonathan Jones and Darryl Roberts have each acquitted themselves well this summer. Both are extremely athletic and have produced on the field.  Roberts, while playing albeit later in games has allowed only 1 pass completion in 11 attempts and has three passes defensed. Jones has allowed a few more receptions but he too has been solid. What could turn the table in regards to those players are special teams contributions. Both Jones and Roberts have made plays on STs this summer and that can’t be discounted when the cut-down takes place.

Another area to watch is the defensive line. On the interior, veteran Terrance Knighton has to be feeling the heat right now. He’s struggled to pick up the Patriots two-gap system and has been being outplayed by Markus Kuhn and Anthony Johnson. With Malcom Brown and rookie Vincent Valentine (by virtue of his draft position) locked, it leaves two additional spots. Kuhn and Johnson, as well as Knighton, are vying for one while veteran Alan Branch should lock down the other.

Branch was suspended a week ago by the team but if they didn’t have plans for him, they’d have just released him then. With three slots seemingly locked down, three players are vying for the final spot. Johnson is an intriguing case. The undersized DT has shown nice explosion and disruption inside but could his size work against him? The team has shown that they like to move the bigger edge rushers inside in a sort of NASCAR package on passing downs. They may deem Johnson’s talent can be covered by another player and opt for another bigger body inside.

Grissom,-Blount

Edge rushers Geneo Grissom and Rufus Johnson will be interesting cases. Now with the addition of Barkevious Mingo, that will obviously impact not only the entire roster but specifically the defensive side of the ball. One or both of them could be looking at the axe in the coming days.

“It makes you appreciate… this is my ninth year, and I’ve seen people come and go,” defensive end Chris Long told the media on Sunday. “It just makes you appreciate things. And any time you come to work, you come into the building, you should cherish that.”

At wide receiver, the decision whether to activate Danny Amendola from the PUP list or let him start the season there will impact the decision on who gets cut or kept. Aaron Dobson and Keshawn Martin are vying for the fifth and final WR spot on the roster. With Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell roster locks, Amendola’s status will either open up another spot or create an opening.

If Amendola starts the year on PUP, then both Martin and Dobson should be safe and DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper, and Devin Lucien will be looking at practice squad positions. It will be a difficult balance for the coaches this week, trying to decide on how it is best to proceed.

The same is true at the running back position. With LeGarrette Blount, James White and STs ace Brandon Bolden being essentially locked in, who stays and who goes? Tyler Gaffney fills the big back role and has shown he can carry the ball and be effective between the tackles. Rookie D.J. Foster has electric speed and athleticism out of the backfield but missed nearly all summer with a hamstring injury.

Photo-Tyler-Gaffney-zsW7z-250x250 Can either one of these players crack the roster or will the team opt to bring in a veteran who may find himself on the outs elsewhere? One thing is for sure, the Patriots will be scouring the waiver wire, not only tomorrow but in the coming days. That’s why the 53-man roster on September 3, is seldom the one you’ll see later in the season.

The sad part of the business side of the NFL is that about 30 players on the Patriots roster will be out of work in the next week. Many of them have earned a place at the table but it comes down to a simple numbers crunch.

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.

Stock Up, Stock Down for Patriots After Preseason Win vs. Panthers

Lee Schechter
August 27, 2016 at 10:14 am ET

The Patriots shined defensively in their 19-17 win over the Carolina Panthers in Week 3 of the preseason. But, some of the defensive showing was credited to Cam Newton and the Panthers’ struggles.

New England delivered on offense at the right time with Tom Brady and it was enough to hold onto a win.

Here’s the stock report for players from Friday night:

Stock Up:

Chris Long, DE

Long showcased his impressive motor and excellent awareness despite being a seasoned veteran. Throughout the preseason, Long has shown he has a lot left in the tank. He deflected a pass that led to a Devin McCourty interception. Long also was a presence in the pass-rush and in run defense. He had an all-around great night.

Cyrus Jones, CB/PR

Second-round pick Cyrus Jones seemed to solidify his spot as the No. 3 cornerback in the secondary even though he was frozen by speedy veteran Ted Ginn Jr. on a screen play. Though it was on special teams where Jones made his presence. Jones made a sharp cut, turned on the jets, crossed to the opposite side of the field and evaded multiple tackles en route to a 59-yard punt return. As one of college football’s top return specialists in 2015, Jones picked up where he left off and that talent is translating perfectly in the NFL.

Chris Hogan, WR

The newcomer in the wide receiving core is looking like he is finding his place. Tom Brady connected with Hogan for a perfectly executed 33-yard touchdown pass over-the-shoulder. Sure, Brady made an absolutely perfect throw that dropped in on a dime, but Hogan ran a nice route, located the football and hauled it in with ease. Hogan also looked to have a good connection with Jimmy Garoppolo as he caught four passes from him.

Tyler Gaffney, RB

Gaffney once again looked like he will be a solid contributor out of the backfield. Gaffney ran with decisiveness and purpose as he continued to gain his “sea legs” and burst through gaps. The offensive line looked shaky with blocking after his quick start, which ruined his night a bit.

Logan Ryan, CB 

Ryan had one interception where he gained position on the bigger Kelvin Benjamin and then went up for the football on a sub-par Cam Newton throw. Ryan stuck with Benjamin through most of his snaps and drew an offensive pass interference call. And to top it all off, Ryan started the “Rutgers Pick Party” as McCourty and Duron Harmon also recorded interceptions.

 

Stock Down

Terrance Knighton, DT

It’s probably not a good thing that “Pot Roast” didn’t record a single defensive snap in the game. Knighton was in on a field-goal block early in the game. Anthony Johnson and even undrafted rookie Woodrow Hamilton played instead of Knighton. Knighton appears to have one foot out the door and the other foot is about to cross the line, too.

Geneo Grissom, DE

Grissom really needed to come out and make the most of his snaps with the new addition of Barkevious Mingo who is likely to steal Grissom’s spot. Grissom had to convince the Patriots that he is worth having as an extra roster spot, but right now that extra defensive roster spot should belong to the cornerbacks or safeties/special teamers.

Ted Karras/Nate Solder, OL

It’s not entirely fair to toss Karras and Solder in here as the offensive line had various struggles throughout the night. But, Karras was outmatched and botched a run block and appeared to give up a sack. Solder also gave up a sack.

Aaron Dobson, WR

Dobson did have a 37-yard catch over the middle where he had room to run. But, that still isn’t the most gratifying play. Dobson was shaky making the grab, then looked scared to take a hit. He always seems complacent and doesn’t attack the football at the high point to catch it. He’s tentative and has had too many chances. Dobson didn’t help his case with this performance.

Stephen Gostkowski, K

Who replaced Gostkowski with Robert Aguayo (who actually had a good game on Friday)? There’s no reason to panic, but Gostkowski’s missed FGs, mainly the 30-yard attempt, were ugly.

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.

Sights and Sounds From Day 1 of Patriots Training Camp

Robert Alvarez
July 28, 2016 at 11:05 pm ET

On Thursday morning, the New England Patriots welcomed their fans back to Gillette Stadium for the first open public practice of 2016 Training Camp.

As expected fans came out in droves for the 9am start time, over 12,000 attended the session, with the annual “running of the fans” following the opening of the gates.

On social media, many players voiced their excitement to be back on the field in front of Patriot Nation.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BIYwiaHB_r1/?taken-by=bbhulksmash&hl=en

https://www.instagram.com/p/BIYKmGEDLSN/?taken-by=edelman11&hl=en

Crew lookin solid!! #patriots

A post shared by Robert Ninkovich (@nink50) on

While others are stepping away to focus.

Teammate comrade was on display courtesy of Matthew Slater.

 

Roger Goodell is still not welcome.

The best sound bites of the first day came from none other than Rob Gronkowski following practice.

Lastly, Scott Sullivan of WBZ TV shared this heart tugging video of Nate Solder spending time with his son Hudson on the field.

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 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.

New England Patriots News 4-10, and AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 10, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 4-10 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

Belichick Calls Brady, “the Greatest Ever”:
Bill Belichick was the guest speaker this week at the 2016 Salesforce World Tour in Boston and shared his thoughts on QB Tom Brady as the “greatest QB of all time” during a question and answer session.

“He’s been just a tremendous leader and tremendous player for our organization,” Belichick said.

The duo, who have been together for the past 16 seasons, bring out the best in one another and share the same philosophies about football which has made their relationship one of the strongest in the sport.

Belichick spoke about the mindset in New England and what the team looks for in its players.

“If you like football, and you like to come in and work on football, then the New England Patriots is a great place to be,” Belichick said. “If you don’t, if it’s a job, if you’d rather be doing something else, honestly you’d be better off with another team.

“I think it starts there — a love of the game, the passion for the game, a passion to be part of a team, be part of a group, be part of a commitment to perform at a high level, and be unselfish and to give up some of your own personal goals and desires for the good of the team for the opportunity to be part of something special in a team environment. I think those are the things that help us.”

Belichick spoke about being an ‘outlier’ in the sport stating that when he arrived as Patriots coach in 2000, only the Patriots and Steelers were running the 3-4 defense. But by 2005, after the Patriots had won three Super Bowls and the Steelers one, half the league was playing the 3-4 defense, making it much more difficult to find the players to fit in the system.

And while Belichick rarely is one to mince words, look for the Patriots to buck the system again…and soon. A look at the team that is just in the infancy stages of development here in early April looks like the Patriots are getting away from the smaller faster teams that everyone is building and going to a bigger, more physical unit. Stay tuned.

Kuhn Signing and the ‘German connection’, a Third Perhaps:
The Patriots signed former Giants DT Markus Kuhn to a contract this week adding depth and size to the interior defensive line.

The 6’4, 303-pound defensive tackle was a 7th round draft pick from North Carolina State for the Giants in 2012. He has notched 48 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries in his NFL career.

His signing brings the second German-born player to the roster, the other being OT Sebastian Vollmer which could bring some interesting trash talking in training camp when the two face off against one another. “Du darfst nicht passieren!“

Kuhn is slotted to be another big-bodied run stuffer for early downs and goal line situations. He joins a now crowded and eclectic group of interior defensive line run stuffers and pass rushers of Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Dominique Easley, Frank Kearse, Chris Jones, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Joe Vellano.

One has to wonder now if the Patriots could be the landing spot for a third German-born player, wide receiver Moritz Boehringer, a 6-foot-4, 227-pound wide receiver from Florida Atlantic University running a 40-yard dash time (on grass) at 4.38.

Boehringer also posted a vertical jump of 39 inches, a broad jump of 10 feet, 11 inches and a three-cone time of 6.65 seconds. While his level of competition in the German league isn’t up to US college standards, his measurable are outstanding. “Wie geht’s?”

Preseason Schedule Brings Familiar Foes, Joint Practice?
With the Patriots preseason schedule being released the team will face four teams from the NFC, with two of their opponents being familiar foes in the preseason.

The Patriots open up with the New Orleans Saints and the chances are excellent that the two teams that have conducted joint practices in the past will do so again. There is a lot of respect between the two teams and head coaches and we look forward to seeing the Saints once again joining the Pats for a couple of practices prior to the preseason kicking off.

The Bears will visit for the second home preseason game and with the teams doing a lot of player swapping the past few years it promises to be an interesting matchup with Martellus Bennett, Shane McClellin, Jon Bostic and Brock Vereen facing their old teams.

The Pats finish up on the road in Weeks 3-4 with away games in Carolina and New Jersey to take on the New York Giants. This will be the 12th season in a row facing the G-men in the preseason finale, but the first in many years with Tom Coughlin at the helm.

Brandon-King2

Brandon King Signing Solidifying Solid STs:
The Patriots announced this week that S/LB/ST 2nd year player Brandon King had signed his free agent tender and will be re-joining the team in 2016.

Although the signing was merely a formality and it was expected, it was good news as King stepped up big for the team after being signed to the active roster from the practice squad in Week 4. He played in 12 games and was second on the team in STs tackles with 12, finishing behind only Matthew Slater with 17.

We watched King all through training camp last year and he continually got a lot of 1-on-1 work with STs’ coach Joe Judge and liked his chances of making the team despite being a long shot.

Knighton, Cannon, Branch Face Weigh-ins:
Newly signed DL Terrance Knighton has a weight clause in his contract and according to the veteran, he isn’t worried about making weight.

Knighton who weighed a reported 354 pounds for the Redskins in 2015 has already met with Patriots team nutritionist Ted Harper and he and the team plan on monitoring his playing weight in 2016.

Knighton appeared with former Pat Vince Wilfork at Aqib Talib’s wedding recently and looked a lot slimmer than a year ago. The Patriots also have DL Alan Branch and OL Marcus Cannon on similar programs where they must monitor their weight as well.

Looking Like the Patriots will target OT, RB first in the Draft:
With the NFL Draft approaching, perhaps one of the harder things to do is to predict who the Patriots will target in the draft. The Patriots two greatest areas of need entering the draft at running back and offensive tackle.

Having been using the Mock Draft simulator of Fanspeak.com s couple of time this spring, the one thing that keeps coming up, many of the best players in each category will be gone by the time the Patriots pick at #60.

However, there do seem to be more top tier running backs still available at the bottom of the 2nd round than tackles as the pool for them seems to be drying up quicker. So if they want one of the better tackles in the market, they may be looking to move up earlier in the 2nd round.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Claim Ekpre-Olomu On Waivers from Cleveland:
The Dolphins claimed cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu via waivers this week after he was cut by the Cleveland Browns, who drafted him in the seventh round in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Ekpre Olomu was projected to be a first-round pick before he injured his knee with Oregon just prior to the national championship game against Ohio State.

Miami is looking for CB help after releasing former Pro-Bowl corner Brent Grimes this spring. They did trade for Eagles CB Byron Maxwell but are expected to look to this season’s draft to augment the position and are rumored to looking at Houston CB William Jackson III with the 13th pick.

In a Surprise Move, Jets LT Ferguson Retires:
Jets left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, a former Pro Bowl player known for his remarkable durability, and consistency retired Friday at age 32. The move was unexpected and caught the Jets by surprise with the draft just around the corner.

“As I considered the words I would say to you, I recognize a simple truth: It just isn’t easy saying goodbye,” Ferguson said in a note on the team’s website. “Today we celebrate a different type of moment, one that marks the completion of a journey versus the start of one. Today marks my retirement from the NFL as a professional football player.”

Drafted by the Jets in the 1st round with the No. 4 overall pick in 2006 NFL Draft, Ferguson didn’t miss a game in 10 NFL seasons, with 167 consecutive starts, including the playoffs. His durability was such that he never missed a practice and never appeared on an injury report.

Ferguson’s retirement frees up around $9 million dollars in cap room for the cash-starved Jets who prior to this had less than a million in salary cap space. The Jets approached Ferguson last week about taking a pay cut from what was supposed to be $14.9 million-dollar cap hit in 2016.

The Jets reportedly will explore options in the draft but are also looking at a possible trade with Denver for tackle Ryan Clady as well.
**Update**  On Saturday evening according to Adam Schefter from ESPN, the Jets completed a trade for Clady and Denver’s 7th Round pick for the Jets 5th Round pick.

Bills LB A.J. Tarpley Retires After 1 Season:
In another surprise move, the Bills 1st year linebacker A.J. Tarpley announced his retirement from the NFL this week citing concussion woes.

“After months of introspection, I am retiring from football,” Tarpley, wrote on his Instagram account on Wednesday.

“I suffered the 3rd and 4th concussions of my career this past season and I am walking away from the game I love to preserve my future health.”

Tarpley appeared in 14 games with two starts after signing as an UDFA from Stanford, recording five tackles, two interceptions, one sack and a forced fumble.

The 6’0, 233-pound linebacker is just 23-years old. “This decision is the hardest I’ve made yet but after much research and contemplation I believe it’s what is best for me going forward.”

 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.