Tag Archives: Tre’ Jackson

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.”

Patriots Training Camp Primer – Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 18, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Return of Scarnecchia and Health Two Biggest Issues

The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks 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 Offensive 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 big bodies on the Offensive Line. The team is banking heavily on the return of positional coach Dante Scarnecchia who was retired for two years. He’s a tough taskmaster who demands the most from his charges. The health of this group is a big question mark; injuries ravaged them and the protection of QB Tom Brady steadily got worse as the season progressed.

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


Dante Scarnecchia returns to be the Pats OL coach after he retired two years ago. (USA TODAY Images)

Roster Locks: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Jonathan Cooper
Health is the key here, Solder was lost in Dallas Week 5 for the season with a torn bicep. Vollmer battled injuries throughout the campaign and has knee and back issues. But if both are healthy they’ll be your starting tackles. One would have thought that the tackle position would have been addressed in either free agency and the draft but it was not. We’ll see how that turns out later this year.

The Pats didn’t draft Thuney to sit on the pine, and with Mason, Jackson and Kline MIA this spring, he took the starting reps at left guard whenever Brady or Garoppolo was on the field. He even took a few at center. Mason finally appeared in the last spring workout and had 10 starts as a rookie. Coming from the running game of Georgia Tech, he’s an excellent drive blocker but as one would expect, had issues with his pass blocking.  Andrews, who started all the games early last season and played fairly well is undersized but tough. In a surprise move, he was getting the starting reps over Bryan Stork this spring…something to keep an eye on.

Cooper was a top draft pick for the Cardinals before injuries derailed his career there. With the aforementioned players out this spring, he got the starter’s reps at right guard. The Pats are hoping that Scarnecchia can rekindle his professional career.


Nate Solder returns after going on IR after Week 5 in 2015. (USA TODAY Images)

Near Roster Locks: Bryan Stork, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle
Stork, who played so well as a rookie at center, missed the first six weeks of the season on IR-Designated to Return and struggled as he had health issues of his own last year. Stork even played at right tackle against the Giants as Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon struggled. It will be interesting to watch the competition between Stork and Andrews this summer. With Thuney providing added insurance, the pivot position should be in good shape.

Cannon, is the ultimate head scratcher for this team, but Bill Belichick and Scarnecchia love this kid.  He was ineffective last season when pressed into starting duty and was just abused in the AFC Championship Game in Denver. As the saying goes, we’ll see how it plays out on the field.

Waddle has the opportunity to seize the swing tackle position. He too was hurt against the Cowboys and his shoulder injury sidelined him. But the Patriots gave him a two-year contract this offseason and he also has the capability to be an extra blocking tight end in short yardage.

On the Bubble: Tre’ Jackson, Josh Kline, Cameron Fleming, Ted Karras
Jackson was a rookie draft pick (4th Rd, 111th overall), a year ago and had nine starts while appearing in 13 games. Prior to coming out in the 2015 NFL Draft, he had knee issues and he missed time with those during the season as well as missing both playoff games. If he’s healthy he’ll compete for the right guard spot, where he saw all of his action a year ago. But he missed all of the spring, so his status will bear watching once training camp begins.

Kline is a guy who the Patriots traditionally love, an undersized but tough player. He too missed all of the spring. With the additions of Thuney and Cooper along the interior of the line, he may find himself on the outside looking in.

Fleming flopped as a swing tackle a year ago, like Cannon was ineffective when pressed into service. But the last offseason, the Patriots fiddled with the idea of moving him to guard. He was training to do just that, cutting down on his weight a bit and improving his quickness. We saw the video of his workouts last spring and it seemed he was destined to move inside.

But the team drafted Mason and Jackson last spring and Fleming went back outside. The results were not good. Perhaps with a full offseason with Scarnecchia, Fleming can get his game back together. The swing tackle position will again go thru Cannon, Waddle and Fleming.

Karras is a tough kid that has a lot of upper body strength, completing 32 reps on the bench press at his Pro Day this spring. The 6th round draft pick has an NFL pedigree and is a good pass protector but isn’t very athletic and may find himself a practice squad candidate unless he can shine in limited opportunities.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Chris Barker, Keavon Milton
Both of these players have been let go in the past and face long odds of making the roster out of training camp.

Barker was originally claimed off of waivers from the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 season and appeared in four games. During the 2014 season, he split time between the practice squad and the active roster and appeared in two games. Last season he was signed to the active roster for the Week 10 game against the Giants before being released and signed back to the practice squad.

Milton was a UDFA in 2013 and was signed by the New Orleans Saints. He was among the final cuts of the Saints and was signed by the Browns and appeared in eight games with no starts that season. He then was released by the Browns at the end of training camp in 2014 and signed to Seattle’s practice squad. Released in September 2015 he was signed by the Patriots to their practice squad in November. The 6’4, 320-pound Milton was a blocking tight end at Louisiana-Monroe who made the transition to tackle

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

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

Patriots Trade Chandler Jones to AZ for Cooper, 2nd Rd Pick

Steve Balestrieri
March 15, 2016 at 3:29 pm ET

The Patriots free agency period is quiet no more. The Pats just completed a huge trade, moving former 1st round Draft Pick Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals for G Jonathan Cooper and a 2nd Round Draft pick. This was first reported by ESPN’s Diana Russini and Adam Schefter.

The social media scene has been ripe with Jones talk since the 2015 season ended but picked up in intensity the past two days with the news of Chris Long visiting the Patriots yesterday. While no news of Long’s visit has borne reports of his imminent signing, one can connect the dots and see the possibilities unfold now.

Regardless, the trade is a win-win for both teams, Arizona is looking for a pass rusher now that Dwight Freeney is a free agent and the Patriots have questions with their offensive line and have lost their 1st round draft pick with Deflategate sanctions.

Jones, with 12.5 sacks in 2015 will certainly help the Cardinals in that regard although he struggled badly down the stretch with only a pair of sacks in the last seven games. He had two sacks in nine playoff contests, but with the huge contracts given to players at equal to or beneath his level of play this spring, the Patriots were not going to re-sign him after the 2016 season. Jones was scheduled to earn $7.79 million as part of the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

That is no longer in the cards and in getting an interior offensive lineman and an additional 2nd round draft pick, it is a no-brainer for Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

Regardless of the Long situation, the trade doesn’t leave the cupboard bare for New England with the team still boasting DE’s Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard (arguably their best DE in 2015), and last season’s draft picks Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers on the roster.

Cooper was a first round draft pick for the Cardinals in 2013. He should immediately contend for a starting role and is especially valuable with the news that last season’s draft pick Tre’ Jackson had off-season knee surgery.

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

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

Patriots Bringing Scarnecchia Back, Great Short-term Move

Steve Balestrieri
February 8, 2016 at 1:20 pm ET

The Patriots have an opening on their coaching staff for an offensive line coach after coach Dave DeGuglielmo’s contract wasn’t renewed after the 2015 season.

DeGuglielmo replaced a legend in Dante Scarnecchia who retired after the 2013 season after a 32-year NFL career, 30 of which where he was a member of the New England Patriots. He spent his final 15 seasons as the Pats OL coach.

Now Mike Reiss from ESPN is reporting that the team is in contract talks with bringing the legend back into the fold at his old position. While fans are rejoicing at the news, perhaps it isn’t the best choice long-term for the team or Scarnecchia. But for the time being, this will work just fine thank you very much.

Granted, no one is a better OL coach for this team than Coach Scar, who filled his retirement time with helping the team scout future offensive linemen and was actively involved with the draft. He was the lead man on the Patriots drafting Bryan Stork and Tre’ Jackson from Florida State, Shaq Mason from Georgia Tech and David Andrews from Georgia.

He knows these players better than anyone, their strengths, weaknesses and how they can be best utilized. Plus, he’s always gotten the very best out of his linemen. One of the enduring images of Coach Scar is watching him run the wind sprints at the beginning of practice during training camp with his players. No one worked harder nor expected …and got more from his players.

So while the short term box is definitely checked, what does this mean long-term?

Scarnecchia who will turn 68 on Valentine’s Day, retired for a reason. He was obviously tired of the grind and at 66 two years ago, was ready to step back and enjoy his time with his family. He remained in contact with the team however and as we mentioned, did the scouting for the Patriots on several members of the current roster.

The only questions really would be, did the two years off recharge his batteries and his desire to return to coaching? Or is Scarnecchia just being a good soldier and is answering the call, running to the sound of the guns as an old war horse is apt to do.

The best case scenario would be to have Scarnecchia work with the team this season and then help them find a suitable long-term offensive line coach, someone familiar with their offense and the players to find what would work best for how they’re currently constructed.

Bill Belichick knows his value, at the time of his retirement, he said, “In an industry of constant change, Dante remained a fixture here for the simple reason that he helped every player reach his highest potential, regardless of who he was, how he was acquired, or how much raw talent he had. In whatever category a coach can be assessed … evaluator, teacher, motivator, problem-solver, disciplinarian, team player, winner … Dante is as good as it gets.”

So for 2016 at least if they can get a deal worked out, the Patriots will have one of the very best position coaches ever, back in the fold. And if they have issues this season on the offensive line, coaching won’t be the reason.

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

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

Patriots – Next Man Up? This is Getting Ridiculous

Steve Balestrieri
November 16, 2015 at 12:00 pm ET

First there is the good news, the Patriots are 9-0 and have a four game lead in the AFC East and are one of only three undefeated teams left in the NFL. The team is playing at a very high level and has to be considered one of the favorites to not only make Super Bowl L but to win it.

Now the bad news, the injury situation is getting ridiculous to the point of being sublime. The team beat the New York Giants without their top RB, WR, LB and the top three ….yes three offensive tackles as well as one of their best guards.

Nate Solder and Dion Lewis are gone for the year, Julian Edelman is probably lost for at least the rest of the regular season and Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon and Jamie Collins could be out for even longer. And yet this team keeps winning; a mere mortal team would have collapsed under the pressure. But the Pats have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and they’ve grinded out a couple of wins. But they can’t keep this up forever.

Bill Belichick’s mantra for the team, and one that they’ve followed has always been, “Next man up”. Now one has to wonder if Alan Alda and the MASH unit have been called out of retirement to put all of the players back together again.

OL depth stretched: First starting tackle Nate Solder went down with a season ending injury. The team put swing tackle Marcus Cannon in at LT but in the first quarter of his first game he injured a toe and hasn’t been seen since. Sebastian Vollmer moved from RT to LT and the team activated Cameron Fleming from the practice squad.

Vollmer then went down with a concussion and Fleming, a PS player a few weeks ago is now the starting LT. Bryan Stork, last year’s starting center just came off of IR-Return and is now the starting RT. Right guard Tre’ Jackson is out with a knee injury. Left guard Shaq Mason has been hobbled by knee injury but has played thru it.

The team activated OL Chris Barker from the practice squad on Saturday and he played some on Sunday. But the Giants pass rush, mired as one of the worst if not the worst in the NFL teed off on Brady Sunday. They sacked him three times (and came in with just nine), harassed him and forced him into two turnovers. For the first time cracks appeared in Brady’s protection. The team really needs Vollmer and Cannon back especially with Buffalo and Denver’s defenses on deck.

Dion Lewis was the Patriots dynamic playmaker out of the backfield that put a ton of pressure on opposing defenses. His loss was a big one. Sunday the Patriots countered with a mix of Brandon Bolden and James White. While neither possesses the explosive cuts and elusiveness of Lewis, they’re going to have to step up as the season winds down.

Dealing with no JE is toughest challenge: Now the biggest loss is Edelman who broke his foot on Sunday and is lost for at least the remainder of the season. No one has better chemistry with Brady. Those two are nearly inseparable and are always in tune with the play and what each needs to do on any given down.

Amendola has been excellent this season, but he’s not at Edelman’s comfort level with both Brady and the offense. Now he’ll have to be the go-to guy. Can he do that? Yes but some of the other players are going to have to step up their games.

Both Rob Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell will have to take up even bigger roles now. Gronkowski already has a ton of attention from opposing defenses but he’ll have to step up his game just a tad more. LaFell seems to be getting better and better every week as he’s missed all spring and summer. But the past three games have gotten him to the point where he’s looking like his normal self. He’ll definitely get more looks in the passing game now.

Good Time For 2-TEs, Martin/Dobson: So who steps up, one overlooked target in the first half of the season has been TE Scott Chandler. He did have two drops yesterday but in both cases he was open, the second play was a deep cross where he was running alone in what would have been a big gain. Could the Pats run more two-TE sets with Gronk and Chandler? Absolutely and with LaFell, they’d have a big size mismatch.

Keshawn Martin who came over in a trade earlier this season had made a bit of an impact before he suffered a hamstring injury. And as Ian Logue pointed out this morning, this may be the opportunity to either make or break Aaron Dobson’s time with the Patriots. Dobson was a high draft pick that is still looking to make a mark with this offense.

When Martin was healthy, he was getting the playing time, and Dobson was a healthy scratch. There will be no better time for Dobson to make a name for himself. The clock is ticking and this may be either the time for him to either step up or start looking for a new home.

The Patriots can’t replace Edelman, he’s a unique talent that is tailor-made for this offense and has a tremendous chemistry with Tom Brady. But the Patriots have some talent that they can utilize to get them thru the end of the regular season and into the playoffs when hopefully he can return.

But the biggest needs right now they have is to get Vollmer, Cannon and Jamie Collins healthy and back on the field. They can get by at guard with Jackson out for now but tackle is a big need. Freeny was exposed in coverage against the Giants to the point that the team brought in Jerod Mayo who’s been the forgotten man this season in during the second half.

These moves will give Brady more time in the pocket and allow him to work the other options into the offense. Will they be as difficult to stop as with Edelman and Lewis in there? Absolutely not, but they’ll still be plenty good enough to win.

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 11-15 and Notes Around the AFC East

Steve Balestrieri
November 15, 2015 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division:

First off, all of our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Paris who were subjected to several terrorist attacks on Friday evening at a time when most people were just trying to enjoy a night out in the City of Light.

Some Milestones to Monitor Today: There are a couple of big milestones that are well within reach for the Patriots as they play the Giants at the Meadowlands today. If the Patriots score in the first quarter of the game today, they will have scored in 32 straight quarters dating back to the first quarter against Pittsburgh in the season opener. That will become a new NFL record.

Stephen Gostokowski needs just one more field goal tie Adam Vinatieri for the franchise record of 262 career field goals. With two FGs on Sunday, he’d own a new Patriots record.

A win on Sunday against the Giants will ensure that the Patriots would have their 15th straight winning season under Bill Belichick. Only Tom Landry with 16 has more consecutive winning seasons and no one since the 1970 merger has more than 10.

Too Soon to Re-sign Jones, Hightower and Collins?: The Patriots have a dynamic young core of players on the defense with Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. With the first two set to become free agents after the 2016 season, the time would be perfect to re-sign them and keep out possibility of losing them in free agency.

The prevailing consensus is that the Patriots can sign two but unlikely to keep all three. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald wrote a compelling piece on Saturday where he spelled out a scenario where the Patriots indeed keep the three of them around for the foreseeable future.

Collins isn’t eligible for an extension or a new contract until the third year of his rookie deal is completed. So the team can’t do anything with him until after the league season is complete.

Chris Barker Activated From PS: On Saturday the Patriots activated OL Chris Barker from the Practice Squad. The team signed S Dewey McDonald who was cut from the active roster on Friday to replace Barker on the PS.

Barker has been with the team since 2013 and has the versatility to play either guard or tackle. He’s likely to be the backup tackle but can fill in just about anywhere and that could be the case as the team’s OL has been beset by injuries. Marcus Cannon (toe) is out today as is tackle Sebastian Vollmer (concussion/head) and G Tre’ Jackson. Nate Solder and Ryan Wendell have already been placed on IR.  The probable starters at tackle today will be former PS player Cameron Fleming and Bryan Stork as well as TE/T Michael Williams with Barker being able to step in anywhere he’s needed.

East Bound and Down…Notes Around the AFC East:

Jets Fitzpatrick, Stacy Have surgery:  The Jets’ starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick  had surgery on his injured thumb on Friday but is still thought to be able to play next Sunday when the team travels to Houston.

Fitzpatrick tore the ulnar collateral ligament in the thumb on his non-throwing hand at Oakland on November 1st and has played through it in two games while wearing a brace. He could have waited until after the season but opted for surgery now after the team’s Thursday night game against Buffalo. It is expected to take several weeks to heal but Fitzpatrick can play thru the injury and wear a brace over his non-throwing hand.

In other news Jets running back Zac Stacy had season ending surgery on his broken left ankle on Friday and is lost for the season. He injured it when running back a kickoff at the end of the first half against the Bills.

Bills Safeties Get High Marks From Ryan: Bills coach Rex Ryan is never one to shy away from making big guarantees or high praise for his players. But this week he’s thrilled with the way his safeties are playing and shared those sentiments with the media.

He especially singled out Baccari Rambo who had a big night, he forced a fumble on a kickoff that was returned for a touchdown, then later forced a fumble from Jets RB Chris Ivory that he recovered and finally Rambo’s interception on the Jets final possession sealed the game for Buffalo.

“Rambo’s performance yesterday was…..that’s about as good as you can get,” Ryan told the Buffalo media.  “Not saying Eddie Reed-ish, but I mean the one where that big back came in there, he ripped the ball from Chris Ivory.  That was phenomenal.  Makes the interception.  Gets the great hit on special teams.  I mean he’s dong tremendous job.”

The Bills will also get their best safety, Aaron Williams back from short term IR in December so the problem of trying to fit all of the safeties in a crowded backfield is a good one to have if you’re Ryan and the Bills coaches.

Dolphins Sign Hull, Cut Francis: The Miami Dolphins announced some personnel changes on Saturday. First, the team signed linebacker Mike Hull from the practice squad and cut defensive tackle A.J. Francis in a corresponding move. He was waived after training camp but was quickly signed to the Dolphins practice squad.

Hull played his college ball at Penn State, where his 294 career tackles are sixth in team history. In his final season, Hull led the Big Ten with 140 tackles and had 10.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception, a forced fumble, one fumble recovery and three passes defensed.

Francis spent time on the Patriots practice squad before being signed to the Dolphins active roster in 2014. He was a healthy scratch for the last five games of last year after the trade. The Dolphins are playing the Eagles on Sunday and need the victory to try to get some momentum heading into the second half of the season.

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

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

Three Keys to Victory for the Patriots over the Giants

Steve Balestrieri
November 13, 2015 at 8:25 am ET

The undefeated Patriots (8-0), take on the Giants (5-4) Sunday afternoon in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Forgive us if this sounds somewhat familiar. The last two times the Patriots have played the Giants they were on long winning streaks of 10 games+ and each ended in losses to New York. Currently the Pats are on an 11-game winning streak heading back to the playoffs in 2014.

So we know that the Giants and in particular Eli Manning seems to channel his best performances against New England. Manning plays his best when the money is on the line especially in the playoffs, much like Joe Flacco his regular season numbers belie a solid if not spectacular post-season quarterback, so he is the polar opposite of his more famous brother.

But those Super Bowls were then and this is now. So from a Patriots perspective how do the Patriots end their three-game slide against those G-Men from New York? Here are our three keys to victory for the Pats to come out of New York with a 9-0 record:

Win the Turnover Battle: This sounds innocuous enough and we state it every week but for the Giants winning the turnover battle is essential. How does a team that has a defense that is 25th in the NFL and 31st against the pass go 5-4? Turnovers.

No one is better than forcing turnovers than the opportunistic Giants defense. They’ve forced 21 turnovers in 2015, (13 interceptions and 8 fumbles) and lead the league with a plus-12 turnover differential. Entering Thursday night’s game between the Jets and Bills, the Patriots and Jets were tied in 2nd with a +7 turnover differential.

The Giants defense gives up a lot of yardage and a lot of points, but how they’ve been able to counter that is to force a lot of turnovers that have stopped drives. The Patriots will make things much easier on themselves by limiting the turnovers, something the Patriots have been excellent at this season. Tom Brady has thrown only two interceptions and the team has lost only three fumbles.

This is also an area where the Patriots can improve defensively. They’ve forced ten fumbles but only recovered three. And so many times this season, we’ve seen would-be interceptions slide thru the Pats secondary’s hands. This will be one of the key areas to watch on both sides of the ball on Sunday.

This is a Gronk Sunday: When the Patriots and Giants last met in Super Bowl XLVI, TE Rob Gronkowski was hurt and a shadow of himself. Brady and the Patriots offense used him mostly as a decoy as his ankle injury suffered in the AFC Championship Game really limited his effectiveness.

Gronkowski is healthy and is facing a team that has a lot of trouble stopping opposing tight ends. Indeed, opposing tight ends have caught 52 of 70 pass targets for 658 yards and five touchdowns against the Giants. The 77.9 yards per game given by the Giants defense to opposing tight ends are the second most in the NFL behind the Saints (80.6). Now they’re facing the best overall tight end in the game. With a beat-up secondary and a pass rush that’s struggled to get after opposing QB’s this is a perfect week for Brady to attack the middle of the Giants defense.

There was some talk of the Giants sliding their best available cornerback, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie over to cover Gronkowski this week, something coach Tom Coughlin joked with the media about earlier in the week. Coughlin said with a smile that he was going to listen to the media about the matchup. That would be a mistake considering the Patriots can counter with WRs Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola. That would open up large areas of the field for them to operate in.

However, Gronkowski is a big matchup mismatch on the Giants safeties, former Patriot Brandon Meriweather and Landon Collins. With injuries to the linebacking core as well, this is an area where Brady and the Patriots can really attack the defense. Look for Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels to call Gronk’s number early and often Sunday.

Flip the tables on Manning With the Pass Rush: One of the reason’s the Giants were able to derail the Patriots last two Super Bowl matchups was the pass rush, specifically using just a four-man rush. Manning and the Giants haven’t had a productive running game but they’ve been very good thru the air.

Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle, Dwayne Harris, Larry Donnell and Shane Vereen give Manning plenty of weapons to use in the passing game. They’ll get even more dangerous once Victor Cruz returns around Week 12. So to stop Manning and the Giants passing game, they’ll have to get after Manning.

Now it is the Patriots who have the better pass rush, they’ve logged 26 sacks, good for 2nd in the league and will need to bring some heat on Manning and disrupt his deep passing game. Given time, Beckham Jr. will no doubt get open and then he’s very apt to break a long gainer.

Having Jabaal Sheard back to practice this week is a big plus, if he is able to go on Sunday, the rotation with him, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones is an area the Patriots will have to win. One area to watch will be the A-gap pressure from Dont’a Hightower. Hightower has been an effective blitzer and the team may opt to use him over Jonathan Freeny who wasn’t effective coming up the middle last week.

Normally Hightower shares that responsibility with Jamie Collins, but this week with the team activating Eric Martin from the practice squad, it is looking like the virus that sidelined Collins last week will hold him out again.

If the Patriots can carry out those three keys on Sunday, then the chances look much better for them to leave New York for a happy plane ride back to Foxboro.

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

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

Patriots Report Card at the Halfway Point of the Season

Steve Balestrieri
November 9, 2015 at 12:00 pm ET

The New England Patriots sitting at 8-0 and in great position as one of only two undefeated teams in the AFC and one of three in the league. So this is a good time to take stock of the performances so far in 2015 and give a grade and outlook moving forward by position.

Overall the Patriots and Bengals sit alone atop the AFC and if the season ended today would get a first round bye entering the playoffs. In the AFC East, much of the talk that the Patriots would be pushed hard for division by Miami, Buffalo and the Jets hasn’t materialized. The Patriots are a perfect 3-0 in the division having beaten every other team the first time thru the schedule

The Jets are 3+ games back at 5-3, Buffalo is 4-4 and Miami, which was thought to be a playoff contender sits in last place with a 3-5 record. Barring a disaster down the stretch, the Patriots are in great shape to repeat as division champions.

So here is the Report Card for the Patriots position by position starting with the Offense:

Patriots News 11-8 and Notes Around the AFC East

Steve Balestrieri
November 8, 2015 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning and here are some of the top Patriots’ news items for this week.

Fire Still Burning Bright for Brady: There was a great piece published this week in the Washington Post by Sally Jenkins that is definitely worth the time to check out if you haven’t already. Brady has responded to the Deflatege fiasco as a personal challenge as Jenkins puts out:

This is the real outcome of DeflateGate: A guy who had nothing left to gain now has everything to prove. “They did us a favor,” says New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Quotes from family and friends point to a very motivated and focused Brady this season. Not that he isn’t every season, but he seem to have an added chip on his shoulder this fall with his entire legacy in question. And he’s responded.

His numbers for 2015 even for Brady are in pretty rarified air, 20 touchdowns and only one interception and that was on a bounced pass off of Edelman’s hands. Brady has come to terms with the negativity and those surrounding questions of his accomplishments, telling his father, “You have to understand that this is not about me. It’s all about other people’s agendas.”

To read all of Jenkins article click here:

Stork Activated, Wendell to IR: The Patriots received a boost for the offensive line on Saturday when it was announced that C Bryan Stork was activated for this week’s game against Washington. Stork has been on IR-designation to return since suffering a concussion during preseason.

With injuries to LT Marcus Cannon and G Tre’ Jackson which will keep them out of action on Sunday, that news is welcome. G Shaq Mason is questionable with an injury so Stork will give the team just five healthy offensive linemen. TE Michael Williams would be the emergency tackle for the Redskins game. He played tackle for the Lions prior to being traded to New England.

Stork has been only a center with New England but he played both guard and center in college and practiced at both this week.

In a corresponding move, G Ryan Wendell was placed on IR. The veteran appeared in just two games this year after missing a large chunk of the early season with an illness. He was inactive last week with a knee injury.

As LaFell Rounds Back Into Shape, His Production Should too:  Wide receiver Brandon LaFell has only played in the past two games after missing all of the spring and summer dealing with an injury.

He definitely looked rusty against the Jets but was looking a bit more like his normal self against the Dolphins.

Once he gets his timing and rhythm with Tom Brady back, he should see a definite uptick in passes going his way. LaFell brings the element of size and physicality that the other wide receivers don’t possess.

This week against the Redskins may be a prime opportunity to get not only some more passes from Brady but perhaps try some deep passes against a Washington secondary that may be missing quite a few of their starters.

As if the Patriots offense needs a boost averaging more than 35 points per game; LaFell is bringing his skills to bear again and last season had more than 1000 yards receiving between the regular season and playoffs.

Brady, Edelman channel their Inner Bond: With the release of the newest James Bond flick “Spectre” this weekend in theatres, Julian Edelman and Tom Brady both had their likenesses superimposed to be a possible Bond replacement when the current Bond, Daniel Craig hangs it up after this latest film.

Edelman posted a picture on Twitter dressed in a snazzy suit that is a faux Bond film poster with himself as Agent 0011. However, Edelman should know that 007 sports an Omega watch, but he does get high points for his fashion sense.

http://twitter.com/Edelman11/status/662653204031807489/photo/1

While on the Patriots.com website, the team put in their own version of a “Spectre” movie poster with Brady reprising the Craig role, complete with the white tuxedo. The storyline on Brady’s candidacy comes complete with 007 reasons why Brady would make the next great Bond.

Eastbound and Down, Divisional Notes:

Jets unveil hideous uniforms for showdown with Buffalo: The Jets play a big game again Jacksonville on Sunday but have unveiled a new uniform look for the Thursday Night Football against Buffalo and they are just awful.

The Jets are going with a total green look that is just devoid of any style and simply are just plain ugly. The Bills in comparison are going to an equally god-awful red uniform. With the red and green uniforms on television, perhaps this game should have been played around Christmas time.

Hopefully the Jets will only wear these unis the one time against Buffalo but they’d still have a long way to go to beat those terrible bumble-bee looking uniforms of the Steelers.

Bills Put Harvin on IR, Activate McKelvin: Mark this one down as a not-so-surprising move; the Bill placed wide receiver Percy Harvin on IR Saturday. Harvin has been injured for much of 2015 and his knee injury flared up again according to reports.

Harvin had just 19 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown in 2015 and his time in Buffalo will probably come to an end as he’s an UFA next season. Good news for the Bills is the return of CB Leodis McKelvin of the NFI (ankle), and he should be ready to go on Sunday.

With the emergence of rookie Ronald Darby at corner, rumors are that the Bills may opt to move McKelvin to safety for the remainder of this season.

Dolphins – Bills Game Huge for Both teams: Sunday’s rematch of an early season blowout is a big test for both teams sorely in need of a win. Miami was embarrassed  by the Bills, which led to the firing of head coach Joe Philbin. They turned things around with two impressive wins before being blown out by the Patriots a week ago.

With both teams sitting at 3-4, they’re both still very much alive in the race for a playoff spot in the topsy-turvy AFC.

While a loss for either team won’t mean the end of any playoff hopes given the dearth of winning records this season, it will make it much more difficult to find their way to the postseason. It is even more imperative for Miami who is 0-3 in the division.

Coach Dan Campbell is optimistic that the team can find a way to win in Buffalo which is a tough place to play, “Hey, you don’t lose hope,” Campbell said. “Just stay the course and we can get back to what we were doing two weeks ago, and then let the chips fall where they will.” 

Each team has disappointed thus far in 2015, as they were supposed to make big improvements thru their defenses and challenge not only for a playoff spot but to push New England for divisional supremacy. Which is why today’s game is all-important. Our call? Take Buffalo at home.

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

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

Patriots Guard Tre’ Jackson Won’t Need Surgery, Possible Stork Return

Robert Alvarez
October 31, 2015 at 11:15 am ET

As first reported by ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, New England Patriots rookie guard Tre’ Jackson will not require surgery on his left knee following an injury during the fourth quarter of Thursday nights win over the Miami Dolphins.

The sources informed Reiss that Jackson did not have any ACL or MCL tears in his knee follwing MRI tests that came back negative and his playing future will be day-to-day dependent on how he responds to the recovery treatments.

Jackson was a fourth round draft pick of the Patriots in 2015 and has started four of the seven games this season while playing in all of them.

The Patriots have been depleted on the offensive line all season long, losing Nate Solder for the year with a bicep injury, Marcus Cannon sustained a toe injury against the Colts and has an unknown return, and Ryan Wendell has missed the entire season with an undisclosed illness.

The other good news, 2014 starting center Bryan Stork should be eligible return to action against the Washington Redskins next week.