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The Patriots and ESPN Boston NFL Draft Preview Party was as success and had Trey Wingo, Field Yates, Tedy Bruschi and Trevor Matich on their panel
The Patriots and ESPN Boston NFL Draft Preview Party was as success and had Trey Wingo, Field Yates, Tedy Bruschi and Trevor Matich on their panel. (SBalestrieri photo)

FOXBORO, MA — Gillette Stadium was the scene on Sunday afternoon for approximately 1200 football starved New England fans as the Patriots hosted the 2014 Patriots NFL Draft Preview Party that was presented by ESPN Boston. The annual event is put on for Patriots season ticket holders and invited guests.

Besides plenty of food, drinks and giveaways, fans could meet and get their picture taken with Pat the Patriot and the team’s cheerleaders, former Patriot tight end Jermaine Wiggins, and they also got a chance to walk on the new Field Turf that was recently installed at Gillette Stadium.

As in years past, some great video clips were shown with both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick wired by NFL Films during game action, providing a fascinating glimpse of what goes during the heat of Patriots’ games. Brady in particular had the sound clip of the day when in the final seconds of the comeback win against the Saints, he turns to Julian Edelman and says simply, “Just get open”, which drew a chuckle from the fans.

The fans were treated to some great football insight by the panel of experts headed up by ESPN’s Trey Wingo, who was acting as the MC of the day once again, and consisted of Field Yates of ESPN Boston and NFL Insiders, Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, Former Patriots LB and ESPN Boston analyst Tedy Bruschi , and former Patriots offensive lineman Trevor Matich, who is an analyst for ESPN College Game Day.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who has attended the event in the past as a member of the panel, pre-recorded a couple of video clips that were played during the discussion. It also featured special surprise guest, former Patriots 1st round pick Chandler Jones, who treated fans to a question and answer session that was at times both enlightening and funny.

But the real reason fans were there was to hear the panel’s take on the upcoming 2014 season, and the group discussed the moves so far in free agency and where they see the team headed in the upcoming NFL Draft. They didn’t disappoint, as for 90 minutes they kept the crowd well entertained and engaged. Some of the highlights included:

Patriots DE Chandler Jones was a suprise guest  and entertained the crowd with some light-hearted moments. (SBalestrieri photo)
Patriots DE Chandler Jones was a suprise guest and entertained the crowd with some light-hearted moments. (SBalestrieri photo)

FA Period, Revis Signing: Bruschi talked about the cyclical method of Free Agency with some years where the team didn’t sign any big name free agents, while in and others they’ve brought in marquee players such as Roosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas. Bruschi remarked that the Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner signings could signify a sense of urgency inside the organization.

Reiss chimed in with how the team in recent years had missed on some free agents they’ve signed, noting players Jonathan Fanene, Leon Washington and Adrian Wilson, with none from that group having ever taken the field or contributed little. Reiss also noted Tommy Kelly, who played well but whose season was cut short due to injury, saying the team “didn’t get their bang for their buck.”

Both Bruschi and Yates stated that Revis should be highly motivated to play at a very high level in 2014 while playing on what is essentially a one-year contract.

Vince Wilfork Contract: Matich noted that re-signing its own players is a bedrock of the organization and that a healthy Wilfork is key. Bruschi chimed in that the current off-season workouts are key for Wilfork’s return. “Can he still be an every-down player? Can he be an explosive pass rusher? When you have an Achilles injury you can’t do a lot of cardio and conditioning and Vince’s work this off-season will have a lot to do with his production this year.”

Reiss also noted that there are certain times where the owner gets involved in a contract negotiation and in Wilfork’s case Kraft got involved, so that there was at least a chance that the veteran defensive tackle could return.

Bruschi added, which brought cheers from the crowd on hand, that Wilfork is a player you don’t want to see him ever in another team’s uniform but noted due to players who are currently on the roster, Wilfork needs to be an every down player.

Depth At Offensive Line: Switching to offense, Field Yates talked about the interior offensive line and Patriots center Ryan Wendell’s contract and the need for an upgrade with a guard, center, or swing tackle. Yates and Wingo both noted that the team will have to deal with the big loss of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.

Bruschi added that the offensive line is an area to watch, especially early in the season as they may struggle learning the nuances of a new coach. Reiss also added that Scarnecchia was a great judge of talent as well, speaking of how the team sent him to check out a tight end from tiny Livingstone College in North Carolina and how that player ended up being Ben Coates.

Discussion also ensued on Marcus Cannon and where he fits long term in the Patriots plans. Yates added that the great success of the Patriots running game down the stretch in 2013 had a lot to do with Cannon providing key, solid support. He could be a starting guard or stay at tackle, and provide depth at tackle where Sebastian Vollmer is coming back from injury.

Wide Receiver Situation: The talk then went on to the receiver position, and the consensus was that the return of Edelman was a major step in the right direction for the team, with Bruschi noting Edelman’s toughness, attitude, and his trust factor with Brady.

Matich added that Brady’s frustration early in the season wasn’t a result of a lack of talent, but in chemistry. He pointed out that accuracy isn’t just about throwing the ball to a spot on the field, but throwing the ball at a very specific point of time at the correct spot on the field. Matich said that was one of the problems the Patriots had early on last season, as the younger receivers were still learning the nuances of the offense and struggled, as did Brady.

Reiss stated that the Danny Amendola signing hasn’t initially worked out because of the injury suffered in the opener against Buffalo and that in that game, but that Amendola has shown many of the characteristics of Wes Welker.

Yates talked about how many fans are still clamoring for further additions to the wide receiving core, adding that with the contracts signed, essentially Amendola, Edelman and newcomer Brandon Lafell are locks. Since they were only drafted last year, he feels the same applies to Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, adding that Matthew Slater, listed as a receiver but is a special teams player, leaves little room for them to bring in additional players at that position.

Better in 2014: All four members of the panel agreed that the Patriots are a better team on paper right now than the one that lost the AFC Championship in Denver with not just the players they added in free agency, but also the team’s own re-signings and, most importantly, the players the Patriots have returning from injuries.

Bruschi remarked on how much linebacker Jamie Collins will mean to the coverage units in 2014, saying that he can cover the big, fast tight ends. Reiss also added that Revis and Browner will change the way the team can play defense, remarking that the matchup in Denver without Talib turned into a track meet that the Broncos were primed for.

Bruschi made a great point that having the better corners may mean an extra half second that each of those players can cover, which could be a key difference in the defense’s ability to get a sack, a QB pressure, or a hand on a pass that can be tipped at the line.

Yates agreed, stating that extra half-second could mean the difference between Chandler Jones being a 10 sack and a 15 sack player.

Matich used a go-cart analogy for the offense, stating that the young receivers were learning the ropes “like a go-cart with a governor limiting their speed”. This season he believes they should be better prepared and their production, like Brady’s, will increase.

Improving the Defense:  A common theme was using the Seattle defense as a measuring stick, and the panel agreed that Seattle’s production was tied to all eleven players playing as a unit on defense.

Matich stated that to beat Peyton Manning, one doesn’t have to out-smart him but to beat “his friends”. He stated that the Super Bowl showed that Seattle beat up Manning’s receivers and that made the pass rush even more effective.

Bruschi talked about intimidation and how Denver’s receivers didn’t fight back, which Wingo chimed in “which is why [Eric Decker] is now a NY Jet”. However, the point Bruschi ultimately made was the fact that with Revis and Browner on board, the Patriots are now building that type of defense.

Reiss stated the Seahawks victory reminded him of the Patriots first Super Bowl win over the Rams and that perhaps the team was getting back to its defensive roots of those early 2000’s teams.

The panel enjoys a laugh during a trivia question session that Bruschi scored poorly on. (SBalestrieri photo)
The panel enjoys a laugh during a trivia question session that Bruschi scored poorly on. (SBalestrieri photo)

Draft Issues/Selections: The talk moved on to the upcoming draft and the Patriots pick at #29 and much of the talk centered around helping the interior of both the offensive and defensive lines, as well as help at tight end.

Yates believes that while the defensive line needs to be addressed that the tight position is of a more pressing need, stating that “Tight ends not named Rob Gronkowski, accounted for only 13 catches last year.”  Yates added that they need to not only compliment Gronkowski, but prepare for replacing him, noting his injury history if it should crop up again.

Reiss noted that the team may look ahead to beyond 2014 and address team needs in 2015 and possibly even further, noting that not many starting positions on this roster would be filled via the draft. Reiss thinks the defensive line or linebacker will be the priority of the draft.

Bruschi also thinks the defensive line is a priority and stated that as a Patriots fan, you want to see a lot of quarterbacks taken in the first round. Bruschi feels that the more quarterbacks that are taken early, the more options the team will have available at defensive tackle when the Patriots pick at #29.

Matich believes tight end is the top priority and that they need to maximize Brady’s weapons on offense. Switching to defense, Matich noted that a player like Louis Nix of Notre Dame would spell Wilfork and make the depth of the defensive line much stronger.

Film Breakdown: Breaking down some film of different prospects began with Matich showing some highlights of Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt, who can play both inside at defensive tackle, or outside at the 5-technique. Matich also noted some of Tuitt’s excellent pass rushing moves.

The Fighting Irish’s Louis Nix got a lot of film breakdown as well, with the feeling that he could be a disruptor at nose guard or at defensive tackle. Reiss added that unlike the popular misconception, a big man inside is still very much needed, citing the first Denver game of 2013 as an example. He also added that a Rutgers presence in the past few NFL drafts may be replaced this year by the Notre Dame influence of Brian Kelly with Bill Belichick.

The panel also spoke about pass rushing defensive end Dee Ford of Auburn, with Matich noting that he is a nice prospect in the mid-rounds but doesn’t believe him to be an every down player. Matich showed highlights of Ford with a complete set of moves, including a sack of Johnny Manziel.

Yates added that any edge rusher defensive end drafted at #29 wouldn’t necessarily be considered a starter since both Jones and Rob Ninkovich are locked up until 2016 in their contracts.

Reiss added that another common theme this off-season is talk of going “big” at safety, as the Seahawks have Cam Chancellor but that players like him don’t turn up often. Reiss noted that the Patriots have Duron Harmon , who they drafted last year. He added that one player to watch is Deone Buchanon, who is a big physical safety that could be of interest.

Bruschi thinks Browner could be used in certain packages as a safety, which has been a frequent topic on these pages.

They finally got around to tight ends and the first player mentioned was a player frequently tied to the Patriots in mock drafts, Jace Amaro. Amaro is a matchup nightmare in the Aaron Hernandez mold. He can beat coverages from corners, linebackers, or safeties, and is a player to certainly watch as the draft unfolds.

Reiss made an interesting caveat however, that an interesting thing to watch will be how the team views Amaro and “Will they see him as a tight end or just a big receiver?” He also feels if the Patriots view him as just a big receiver, they may not value him at the 29th pick. Matich showed more tape on Notre Dame (see the trend developing here?) tight end Troy Niklas and believes him to be a better target for the Patriots in their offense.

The panel had some fantastic discussions overall and the fans went away with their football fix sated until the draft rolls around in a few weeks. The one takeaway is that this is a draft loaded with talent and there is plenty for the Patriots to choose from this year. 2014 is indeed shaping up already to be quite interesting….

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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.

Pat Chung Signing By The Patriots Provides Depth, Special Teams Addition

Pat Chung here in 2012 versus the Broncos has returned to New England signing with the Patriots on Thursday. (SteveBalestrieri?PatsFans photo) Pat Chung here in 2012 versus the Broncos has returned to New England signing with the Patriots on Thursday. (SteveBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

Chock this one up as un-expected…The Patriots signed Patrick Chung on Thursday as the 6th year safety was released after one unsuccessful season with the Philadelphia Eagles. This is a good depth signing for New England as Chung can help in-the-box at strong safety as well as be a key contributor on Special Teams.

Chung spent the first four seasons of his career with the Patriots from 2009 – 2012 before signing a three-year $10 million dollar deal last spring from the Eagles.

I heard about this potential signing two weeks ago from a person with inside information down in Foxboro and frankly I discounted it as, “that ship has sailed” and if you’re reading this my friend…apologies. Obviously the two sides have been talking for some time and made it happen.

Surprisingly, this move was met with an outpouring of scorn from Patriots fans. Chung didn’t exactly set the world on fire during his first tenure here. After barely playing in his rookie season, 2010 seemed like he was playing with confidence and physicality. But his second half of the 2011 season and most of 2012 was a series of late and incorrect decisions as well as injury problems.

But to be fair the Patriots were playing zone Cover-2 defense where he was expected to provide a deep presence, which is hardly his strength. Now the team is playing much more man coverage with a single deep safety and Devin McCourtyis much more secure at his position than he was during the times of Chung’s earlier years.

Chung, should he stick with the team this year, will provide depth as well as a sizable Special Teams presence. The SS position now will allow him to make plays in the box, where he’s much better suited. One of the reasons the team jettisoned Steve Gregory was that he was essentially a FS playing out of position. Chung is tailor made for in-the-box play. Plus, he’s a bit bigger, younger, faster, already knows the playbook, the calls and the coaching staff.

This job is essentially Duron Harmon’s to lose at this point. Chung will be one of the guys including Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, and Nate Ebner looked to provide depth and insurance in the case of Harmon going down with injury or lack of production.

None of these players is a fit at free safety so the talk of Logan Ryan getting some work at free safety makes sense in the event that McCourty gets injured. With a plethora of good cornerbacks including recent free agent additions Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the team is strong and deep there. It also frees up a position of need in the draft.

For what it is worth, I still think the Patriots will use Browner at some point at safety in some of their sub-packages…but that is a story for a different time.

Bill Belichick is always one to mix and match against teams being very game plan specific and depending upon the opponent, the Patriots will change their identity from week to week. The defense is certainly much more able to do that now with the additions of Revis and Browner. Chung could find himself in the mix this season.

He’ll definitely find himself more comfortable than he was in 2011 and 2012 when the Patriots were giving up big play after big play in the secondary. He’ll be able to play closer to the line of scrimmage, where he made the majority of his big plays anyway.

One area where he’ll provide immediate dividends is on special teams where his play was always very good. Going back to 2010, Chung had a memorable night in Miami when he blocked two kicks and later returned an interception for a touchdown in a blowout win.

His STs prowess should give the two Wilsons as well as Ebner pause as this may decide who stays and who goes at the end of training camp. Chung may be able to contribute both on STs and on defense which is something that has been limited in Tavon Wilson and Ebner, while Adrian Wilson doesn’t play STs.

So Patriots fans can relax a bit, this was a good depth move by the team. Maybe that ship hasn’t sailed after all.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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 Seven Round Mock Draft 3.0, Heavy On Defense, Light on Tight End


Bill Belichick may go heavy for the defense in this mock draft. (USA TODAY Images)

With the NFL Draft almost a month away and free agency continuing, the Patriots are still in the early stages of team building. After an initial burst of activity, things have quieted down on the free agency front and teams are now taking their time to make decisions and add players.

New England continues to be linked to nearly every free agent or player release that comes up. And as of where they stand right now it is time for another mock draft. With that thought in mind, here is Mock Draft 3.0 for the 2014 season. Mock 1.0 and 2.0 can be found here: and found here: and had a few interesting selections that fell to the team.

This mock is using an ingenious idea by FanSpeak in which you get to play the GM of any team and using the big boards supplied by different scouting bureaus, FanSpeak, Walter Football or Optimum Scouting. All of these have different ratings for individual players so the automatic generation of picks for other teams differs depending upon ones’ selection.

In this mock, another big board (Optimum Scouting) was chosen so the picks will differ significantly which shows how volatile the board can be. The Patriots due to added picks in the 4th round due to compensatory considerations now have picks in Rounds 1, 2,3,4,4,6,6,7.

Round 1, Pick 29 — Scott Crichton, DE Oregon State :
Crichton is an intriguing pick because he is perhaps much more under the radar than some of the other edge rushers coming out in the draft. Not having the speed or burst of either Clowney or Ealy, Crichton has a relentless motor and will pursue sideline-to-sideline and is perhaps the best tackler in the DE class.

Crichton had 7.5 sacks in 2013, down a bit from his 9.5 in 2012 but was the man every opponent game-planned for at Oregon State and didn’t have a lot of support. He’s a well built, solid 6’3, 265 and is equally adept at stopping the run as rushing the passer.

Plays with passion and will get even stronger in the Patriots strength and conditioning program.

Round 2  Pick 62 — Stephon Tuitt, DT Notre Dame:
Tremendous frame at 6’6, 312, looks like a young Richard Seymour. Tuitt is very athletic and has such scary upside with his combination of size, quickness and power that the question is…how can he fall to the 2nd round?

Tuitt hasn’t taken to conditioning seriously and showed up overweight in 2013 and wasn’t as dominant as he should have been. As he got into shape his performance and production increased down the stretch.

Very versatile and can play a 4-3 as an interior lineman or slide out in 3-4 defense as a 5-technique. Can set and collapse the edge, powerful enough to be very good in run support and quick enough to get after the QB as a pass rusher.

Round 3, Pick 93 — Donte Moncrief, WR Ole Miss:
Moncrief is a big 6’2, 226 WR from Ole Miss who excels against tight man coverage, using his size and frame to get separation from opponents. While not possessing great straight line speed, he can accelerate quickly and breaks quickly for a big man.

Moncrief has good body control and very good hands and finished his career at Ole Miss as the third most productive WR in school history. In 2013 he snagged 59 passes for 938 yards and six TDs.

His excellent showing at the NFL Combine combined with his size and athleticism projects him to be a very good chain mover to the outside with the occasional ability to go deep. He still rounds off some of his routes but has tremendous upside at only 21 years old.

Round 4, Pick 126 — Preston Brown, ILB Louisville:
Brown projects to be a run stuffing ILB/MLB in the Brandon Spikes mold. Stout, physical and very instinctive while playing a downhill style. Brown is a sure tackler but not as limited as Spikes was in coverage.

Can drop back in coverage somewhat although that is not his strength. Was a productive force for the Cardinals in 2013 with 14 tackles for a loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles.

While somewhat limited to play in space, Brown is a guaranteed two-down run stuffer, short yardage linebacker who can spell Dont’a Hightower and provide a good physical presence.

Round 4, Compensatory Pick — Gabe Ikard, C Oklahoma:
Maybe a bit of a reach here at the end of the 4th round, most project Ikard to be taken in the 6th round, he is an experienced player, a four-year starter with 51 games experience for the Sooners. Ikard is a Patriots type player, tough, dependable and very highly intelligent.

Ikard set the protection and made the line calls, and has great work habits and character. His downside is that he’s limited athletically and has been pushed around a bit by more physical players.

He’s a guy that isn’t going to set the world on fire but can be the guy that comes into camp and works his way into getting and keeping a starting job.

 Round 6, Pick 182 — Joe Don Duncan, TE Dixie St. :
What?!?! Finally a TE in the sixth round? Don’t be shocked, just as always the Patriots do the unexpected and in this mock, they do just that. Duncan playing at Division II Dixie State, had five 100 yard games in 2013, totaling 71 catches, good for 1045 yards and 13 TDs.

Not a great blocker and but sneaky good athletically, Duncan good be in the running to compete as the move or “Joker” tight end spot for the Patriots. Has very good quickness off the line and has very good hands. Good size at 6’3, 267 makes him an intriguing pick, but has suffered numerous leg injuries requiring surgery.

With Rob Gronkowski coming back and Michael Hoomanawanui backing him up, there are still options in FA (Owen Daniels) and the move TE position may be fought over by DJ Williams and Mark Harrison. Duncan is a nice pickup for Day 2.

Round 6, Pick 190 — Tyler Starr, OLB South Dakota:
Played against sub-standard competition in the FCS but was able to quell many questions at the East-West Shrine Game. Good size at 6’4, 249 and was versatile playing both at OLB and DE.

Excellent speed and a good tackler Starr is not only good at rushing the passer but can play in coverage as well. Has outstanding special teams potential due to his above average vision to locate the ball and athleticism.

Starr ran a 6.93 three-cone time something the Patriots always covet but could use some more power at the next level. The Patriots need depth at LB behind the starters, Jerod Mayo, Hightower and Jamie Collins. Starr could immediately step in on some sub-packages and either rush the passer or cover.

Round 7, Pick 221 — Michael Schofield, T Michigan:
Schofield has the size (6’4, 303) to play tackle but may be better suited to move inside in the NFL or strictly right tackle due to his footwork.

Schofield is a tireless worker and with his wide base is able to wall off defenders. Good vision allows him recognize and pick-up blitzers. Keeps pad level low and over his feet.

He struggles with speed rushers, has only average strength and has little in the way of athleticism. He’d project to a guard with the Patriots and would be a nice developmental project.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll be keeping readers up-to-date on all the free agency and draft news as it unfolds.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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 Pass Rush Should Upgrade With Collins, Buchanan

Michael Buchanan can be expected to make a big upgrade at DE in 2014. (SBalestrieri PatsFans photo)

Michael Buchanan can be expected to make a big upgrade at DE in 2014. (SBalestrieri PatsFans photo)

The Patriots have made significant upgrades to their secondary during the opening days of free agency with the signings of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Now with the restructured contracts of both defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork the interior of the DL (depending upon their health) should be bolstered as well.

And make no mistake the interior of the defensive line is extremely important. The latest trend has been to diminish the value of run-stuffing interior DL for sake of the pass rush. When in fact both are extremely important, but that isn’t the topic at hand.

So what’s next for the defense? Patriots Nation has been clamoring for a pass rusher, either at DE or OLB and watched as high-profile and high-priced free agents DeMarcus Ware, Julius Peppers and Jared Allen signed elsewhere. On Thursday the Titans signed Shaun Phillips who was very effective for the Broncos in 2013, notching 12 sacks during the regular season and playoffs.

There are still a couple of good free agent DEs out there in Robert Ayers and Anthony Spencer that may or not be on the team’s radar, but a good chunk of the added QB pressure the team is looking for may come via the Draft or more importantly from within.

One of the benefits of having upgraded the cornerback position with physical, bump-and-run, man coverage players is that it allows you to be much more aggressive in getting after the QB. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich did a very good job at that last season, but other than them the production fell off pretty steeply.


Jamie Collins came on strongly at the end of 2013. (USA TODAY Images)

While much talk was devoted to the expected 2nd year improvements of last year’s rookie wide receivers, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that the team will expect much more in 2014 from linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive end Michael Buchanan.

Collins didn’t play much early in the season but worked himself into a starting role due to injuries and was very effective down the stretch. Collins was mainly utilized in a coverage role in 2013 but with his uber-athleticism, the team may have just scratched the surface on his ability to get after the quarterback.

With the revamped secondary and the over-abundance of talented corners, one possible scenario would be to see the big, physical Browner slide his coverage on to the larger WRs or TEs which would free up Collins to bring pressure from the edge. With Kelly back in the mix as well as Jones, whom the Patriots like to slide inside on some passing downs, it would give the team a significant upgrade in QB pressure.

Buchanan, unlike Collins saw more snaps earlier in the season and saw his time decrease as the season went on. He was utilized primarily as a third-down DE whose job was to get after the QB. He did struggle with containment with the run and was caught pinching inside losing the edge, a typical rookie mistake.

But with a year of experience as well as taking advantage of the strength and conditioning program, Buchanan will be in line to play much more than he did as a rookie. And his playing more in 2014 is very needed, as both Jones and Ninkovich were very much overworked last season. With Buchanan able to provide quality snaps, it will allow both starters to stay fresh late in games and down the stretch.

There is another player on the roster slotted as a DE that is an intriguing option for the team in 2014. And that player is Armond Armstead, who never took the field in 2013 after having surgery for an infection prior to training camp.

Armstead is still very much an unknown and one wouldn’t bank too much on his potential until the time when he shows up on the field. And at 6’5, 305 he projects to be a DT in the Patriots system, but it is curious that the Patriots list him as a DE.

Armstead could play anywhere on the line especially if the Patriots decide to utilize some different looks on defense and use him as a 5-technique DE in a 4-3 under similar to how Seattle used Red Bryant.

The Patriots still need to and will add more depth at both the DE and LB positions, and having a player that can get after the QB is much valued and there are plenty available. It will all depend on how the board plays out at the NFL Draft. But they also will look for their second year players to provide some of that pressure. So don’t go to sleep on either Collins or Buchanan.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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 May Move Logan Ryan To Safety, Opens Up Possibilities, Ire

Logan Ryan, here defending against Josh Boyce in training camp may be moved to safety in 2014. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

Logan Ryan, here defending against Josh Boyce in training camp may be moved to safety in 2014. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

With a plethora of cornerbacks now due to the signings of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the Patriots now have the problem of trying to fit all of their best players on the field.

Revis and Browner join Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington giving the Patriots the enviable “problem” of having five starting quality corners. So how does the team plan on utilizing all of them?

According to Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald the team may opt to move Logan Ryan from corner to free safety and slide FS Devin McCourty to the SS position. Many thought (this writer included) that it may be Browner who would move to that position. Being a big, (6’4, 220) physical player who could physically handle the bigger WRs and TEs seemed a logical fit, but Browner in his introductory presser stated that the team hadn’t approached him about playing safety.

Ryan had an impressive rookie campaign with five interceptions and would probably find a way to slide into that role with little trouble as he plays very well in space and has very good ball-skills. He could also be groomed to be an extra safety for sub-packages which would allow the team to field a much deeper and athletic group on the back end.

Bill Belichick always looks for a way to put his best 11 players on the field and this move on the surface may be indeed that. While not doubting the validity of the report however, it doesn’t seem to fit for a couple of reasons.

First McCourty is a Pro-Bowl quality FS and possesses more top-end speed than Ryan, why would you want to move a player of McCourty’s caliber and replace him with a younger player who’s never played the position?

Plus, McCourty who has battled injuries in the past may not be able to hold up physically to the pounding of playing a more in-the-box safety role. Granted the Patriots don’t always play their safeties in a true FS/SS role but McCourty’s responsibilities would most certainly change and this may not be the best move for him.

In the 2013 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected Rutgers Safety Duron Harmon in the 3rd round. While Harmon isn’t athletic as Ryan, he demonstrated that he can handle his responsibilities well and is better suited physically at 6’1, 205 to handle the in-the-box role of a SS.

While the debate was raging on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, Patriots SS Adrian Wilson who signed as a free agent in 2013 took great exception at being basically excluded from the conversation.

adrian wilson tweet

Wilson was brought in to fulfill the SS role as well as the “Money” role of replacing a LB in sub-packages with a safety. Wilson was hobbled by an injury during training camp which resulted in his being placed on IR prior to the season starting. He is still on the roster and while being written off by many is working hard at rehab with many of the other secondary members in Arizona.

This may be Belichick’s way of just preparing a player to move in case of injury or emergency where Ryan would replace McCourty in case he were to go down which would still allow the team to field their best players.

But for now, it still seems the best case scenario would be to start Harmon in the SS role and allow him with plenty of help on the perimeter to grow into his role. It certainly wouldn’t hurt for Ryan to get some experience at playing FS as he may be called upon to fill in there.

It has been quite some time since New England had too many quality defensive backs to put on the field, an issue that is nice to have. One thing is for certain, training camp will be fun to watch as Bill Belichick will have plenty of options to tinker with the defense once the players hit the field.

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Patriots Mock Draft 2.0, The Trenches Get Attention

The initial open season of big name free agents has come to a close and most NFL teams now are searching for those complimentary pieces that can make or break a season although there are a few big name free agents still out there.

The Patriots did their share of big splashes with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner early in the process and added Brandon Lafell and Julian Edelman to bolster their WR core.

Still, the Patriots are linked to nearly every free agent or trade that comes up. And while they will be signing free agents, it is time for a mock draft at where they stand right now. With that thought in mind, here is Mock Draft 2.0 for the 2014 season. Mock 1.0 can be found here: and had a few interesting selections that fell to the team.

This mock is using an ingenious idea by FanSpeak in which you get to play the GM of any team and using the big boards supplied by different scouting bureaus, FanSpeak, Walter Football or Optimum Scouting. All of these have different ratings for individual players so the automatic generation of picks for other teams differs depending upon ones’ selection.

In this mock, another big board was chosen so the picks will differ significantly which shows how volatile the board can be. The Patriots due to an added pick in the 4th round due to compensatory considerations now have picks in Rounds 1, 2,3,4,4,6,6,7.

Round 1, Pick 29 — Kony Ealy, DE Mizzou:
Ealy is one of the best pass rushing DEs in the draft and falls to NE at #29. Ealy has a long frame at 6’5, 275 and possesses outstanding burst off the edge. His production including 14.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 3 FFs earned him ALL-SEC honors.

With both Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich both overworked last season logging in 98 and 95 percent of the snaps, the Patriots require an influx of talent at the position to ease some of the burden of those two. Adding Ealy and expecting a 2nd year jump from Michael Buchanan should provide plenty of quality rotation.

Ealy can play 4-3 or 3-4 and has moved up and down the line as well as some snaps as a stand-up linebacker. Versatility is Bill Belichick’s hallmark and Ealy has the great burst to beat tackles at the edge as well as a quick inside spin move.

Round 2  Pick 62 — Troy Niklas, TE Notre Dame:
With only one season as a starting tight end, Niklas is still emerging as a tight end. He was buried on the depth chart behind Tyler Eifert with the Irish and switched to linebacker, but was brought back to the offense last season and produced to the tune of 32 catches, 498 yards and five touchdowns in 2013.

Prototypical size at 6’6, 270 instantly provides matchup nightmares for opposing offenses. Loves contact and is an excellent blocker and has good athleticism and can create space with his large frame.

Doesn’t possess the breakaway speed of Rob Gronkowski and tends to round off some of his pass routes but has a lot of upside as a pass threat and will at least initially provide a reliable threat underneath.

Round 3, Pick 93 — Kelcy Quarles, DT South Carolina:
**Last Mock taken in the 4th round**

Quarles is a big interior DL at 6’4, 300 that has the versatility to line up inside at DT or slide outside as a 5-technique. While much of the focus in SC was on his heralded teammate Jadevon Clowney, Quarles was very productive for the Gamecocks putting up 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.

Quarles uses a combination of quickness to shoot gaps and strength to bull-rush past blockers. Keeps his pad level low for a big man and can take on blockers at the point of attack.Bill Belichick loves his players to be versatile and Quarles would be a nice addition to the Patriots DL, given that Tommy Kelly is returning from injury as well as Vince Wilfork who may be released prior to the season beginning.

Quarles also has Patriots DNA in his background as his uncle is former Patriots TE Ben Coates.

Round 4, Pick 126 — A.J. Hubbard, OLB Alabama:
Hubbard surprisingly entered the draft after his junior year and had another season of eligibility remaining which most scouts thought he could use.

Large framed and lanky at 6’6, 255 Hubbard has good athleticism and has some versatility as well, playing both OLB and with his hand in the dirt as a DE in some packages for the Tide.

Hubbard could use some extra beef on his frame but holds up well against the run and with his length and athleticism is an intriguing possibility as both a sub-rusher and coverage linebacker.

Round 4, Compensatory Pick — C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE Iowa:
Still on the board at the end of Round 4, Fiedorowicz would be hard pressed to pass up. Suffered in his production due to a run first mentality of the Hawkeyes but is another intriguing prospect.

Versatile, with a huge catch radius at 6’6, 262 Fiedorowicz has decent athleticism and soft hands as well as underrated speed at the second level for the passing game and is an very good blocker in the running game.

With Fiedorowicz and Niklas to go along with a healthy Gronkowski, the Patriots can easily utilize the Two-TE offense that Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels likes.

 Round 6, Pick 182 — Vinnie Sunseri, S Alabama :
Sunseri is another surprise underclassman from the Tide who came out early and whose draft stock fell due to an ACL injury suffered in October.

Decent sized at 6’0, 210 Sunseri’s best attributes are his instincts and ability to make big plays at big times. While not the best athlete, Sunseri is a tireless worker who is known as a coach on the field. A film-rat, he’s rarely fooled and is known to call out formations and opponent play calls, which are things Belichick will love.

Very good and alert coverman as well as a physical tackler, Sunseri excels in special teams but at times can be a bit over-aggressive.

Round 6, Pick 190 — Russell Bodine, C North Carolina:
A two-year starter for the Tar Heels, Bodine has decent size at 6’3, 310 and even filled in as a guard for one start in 2013 but projects to be a center at the next level.

Good athleticism and power in the running game and likes contact. Sometimes can be pushed back initially while pass blocking but is quick enough to recover and push defenders back.

Wouldn’t be an immediate starter in New England but would project to be a good developmental project at the position.

Round 7, Pick 221 — Matt Patchan, T Boston College:
Patchan has had a myriad of injuries including but not limited to a torn ACL, a torn pectoral muscle, a broken wrist and a bullet wound in the shoulder has slowed his progression.

Good size at 6’5, 305 with wide shoulders and long arms, Patchan has the look of an NFL tackle. Good athleticism and quickness in the running game but may not have the quickness in his feet to play left tackle.

Plays a bit high at times in pass protection and has been vulnerable to the bull-rush but has the talent to succeed. His major questions are off the off-field variety but could be a coup in the late rounds for the Patriots.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll be keeping readers up-to-date on all the free agency and draft news as it unfolds.

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Patriots Mock Draft 1.0, The Defense Never Rests

The Patriots, needing help with the pass rush and depth at DE would love to see Dee Ford fall into their lap at #29. (USA Today photo)

The Patriots, needing help with the pass rush and depth at DE would love to see Dee Ford fall into their lap at #29. (USA Today photo)

After a very eventful first week of free agency the NFL 2014 season is off and running. New England was quiet during the initial phase and lost Aqib Talib who signed a  6-year, $57 million dollar contract with the Denver Broncos.

The Patriots made a couple of big impact signings at the cornerback position bringing in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner soon after as well as bringing back WR Julian Edelman and inking former Carolina Panther Brandon Lafell. In the process the team lost LBs Brandon Spikes who signed with Buffalo and Dane Fletcher who signed with Tampa Bay.

Now with the initial frenzy of signings in the books, the picture becomes just a tad clearer on what New England needs to address in terms of team building in 2014. With that thought in mind, here is Mock Draft 1.0 for the 2014 season.

This mock is using an ingenious idea by FanSpeak in which you get to play the GM of any team and using the big boards supplied by different scouting bureaus, FanSpeak, Walter Football or Optimum Scouting. All of these have different ratings for individual players so the automatic generation of picks for other teams differs depending upon ones’ selection.

Round 1, Pick 29 — Dee Ford, DE/OLB Auburn:
Ford turned a lot of heads at the Senior Bowl and at 6’2, 252 is not the proto-typical edge rusher that the Patriots have targeted in the past. But there is no over-looking his motor, and burst off the perimeter. With broad shoulders and long arms, Ford possesses great burst at the point of attack and while isn’t great at setting the edge in the running game, is a bit underrated in that aspect, showing better than average strength.

This is a position of need with the Patriots as both Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were overworked last year, playing in 98 and 95 percent of the snaps in 2013. It showed down the stretch as each was worn out and ineffective when they were needed most.

Primarily a defensive end with his hand in the dirt, Ford has played some in coverage which means he could become a hybrid DE/OLB or “Tweener” with New England. Strong with an outstanding burst, he would immediately make the pass rush better. His versatility could make him a valuable commodity in New England.

Round 2  Pick 62 — Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE Washington:
With Rob Gronkowski on the mend from tearing his ACL in 2013, the Patriots have a need at TE and while most pressing is a need at the “Move” or “Joker” TE that Aaron Hernandez played, Jenkins is too good a prospect to pass up.

Big at 6’5, 265 Jenkins has the size but not quite the athleticism of Gronkowski and lacks that deep threat ability to stretch the field. He would be a tremendous red-zone target due his size, concentration and soft hands.

Jenkins has the ability to easily shed arm tackles and is emerging as a blocker.

Round 3, Pick 93 — Weston Richburg, C Colorado State:
Richburg is perhaps the most NFL ready center in the draft and with Ryan Wendell a free agent could immediately be thrust in the role of a starter with New England.

Possessing decent size at 6’3, 300, Richburg started 49 games at Colorado State as a center and guard and is considered a highly intelligent, instinctive player who will thrive at the next level. More of a technician than a mauler, Richburg can easily handle players much larger than himself.

Want a ringing endorsement, former Cowboys’ GM Gil Brandt said this, “If a team is looking for the next Alex Mack, Richburg is that guy. He’ll be your starting center for the next 10 years.”

While the team could still move Dan Connolly to center and slide Marcus Cannon to guard, Richburg would instantly ugrade the position with an influx of youth.

Round 4, Pick 126 — Kelcy Quarles, DT South Carolina:
Quarles is a big interior DL at 6’4, 300 that has the versatility to line up inside at DT or slide outside as a 5-technique. While much of the focus in SC was on his heralded teammate Jadevon Clowney, Quarles was very productive for the Gamecocks putting up 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.

Quarles uses a combination of quickness to shoot gaps and strength to bull-rush past blockers. Keeps his pad level low for a big man and can take on blockers at the point of attack.Bill Belichick loves his players to be versatile and Quarles would be a nice addition to the Patriots DL, given that Tommy Kelly is returning from injury as well as Vince Wilfork who may be released prior to the season beginning.

Quarles also has Patriots DNA in his background as his uncle is former Patriots TE Ben Coates.

Round 6, Pick 182 —Connor Shaw, QB South Carolina:
Lacking the proto-typical size of a NFL QB at 6’1, 206, Shaw like Johnny Manziel is very athletic, mobile and a winner. He led SC to 27 victories in his time at Columbia.

Coach Steve Spurrier compares Shaw to Seahawks’ QB Russell Wilson, and is tough with a solid but not great arm and the ability to make plays in or outside the pocket.

If the Patriots are looking for a QB who can be very mobile with excellent leadership and intangibles, Shaw may be an intriguing developmental prospect.

Round 6, Pick 190 — Colt Lyerla, TE Oregon:

With good size at 6’5, 246 Lyerla has the potential to replace Aaron Hernandez in the Patriots offense. Given his numerous off-field issues, Lyerla would otherwise be a much higher pick than his place here.

Lyerla can line up all over the field, in-line, in the slot, outside, as an H-back and is an excellent receiver with soft hands who can attack the seams of the defense. He has the speed to go vertical and the lateral quickness to work the flat and is strong enough to overpower smaller defensive backs to gain separation. Lyerla can turn a short pass into a long gain and has tremendous YAC (yards after catch) potential.

The question will be if he’s available, will the Patriots just a year removed from the Hernandez fiasco, roll the dice again on a troubled athlete, albeit with superior athletic upside? One NFL scout described him as a Pro-Bowl talent with the upside coaches drool over, but the character concerns leaving one wondering if he can handle all the trappings of an NFL environment.

Round 7, Pick 221 — Keon Lyn, CB Syracuse:
Lyn is a big cornerback at 6’1, 205 and depending upon one’s point of view will be either a corner or a safety at the next level.

Originally planning on coming out after the 2012 season, Lyn returned to the ‘Cuse for his senior season but then fractured his knee-cap during the eighth game against Clemson.

Lyn if he’s healthy has the combination of size and speed to work his way on to an NFL roster. While the Patriots are chocked full of corners right now, Lyn could work his way into the mix as a safety.

While there is still plenty of work to be done for the Patriots roster wise, free agency is still only less than a week old and one can expect the team to remain active in it as well as dip into the UDFA market

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Patriots Secondary Gets Another Boost With Brandon Browner


The Patriots secondary got another shot in the arm with the signing on Friday of Brandon Browner. (USA TODAY Images)

Like the Canadian Mounties, the Patriots finally got their man oCanadian Mounties, the Patriots finally got their man n Friday night as Brandon Browner the free-agent cornerback from the Seattle Seahawks signed a 3 year deal worth a reported $17 million dollars to bring his talents to the Pats.

It’s been a crazy day as the Browner deal was announced late Thursday night followed by a denial and reports that no deal was signed and he was visiting with the Washington Redskins on Friday. But apparently, Browner stayed in the area and the two sides worked on the deal until it was announced on Friday evening.

Upgrades the Secondary: Browner 29, joins Darrelle Revis in totally revamping the Patriots secondary. The Patriots back end of the defense is now (on paper) one of the strongest units in the NFL. Revis is universally thought of as the best cornerback in the league and now Browner brings the size element to a unit that could really use it.

Browner excels in press coverage and at 6’4, 220 is one of the biggest corners in the league.  But perhaps the most intriguing thing about Browner is his versatility. He can line up across from Revis and present a very potent duo at the cornerback position with Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington also in the mix gives tremendous depth.

Just a view days ago, Patriots fans were clamoring for the team to do something as free agent Aqib Talib bolted for the Denver Broncos. In the snap of a finger the Patriots have upgraded the secondary giving them one of the better units in the league.

Versatility: With Devin McCourty as the centerfielder at FS, another intriguing possibility would be moving Browner to SS where his size would give him the ability to easily match-up with the larger wide receivers and tight ends which shall give the Patriots essentially five cornerbacks on the field in nickel packages since McCourty is a converted corner as well. Browner has played some safety when he first entered the league so it isn’t a completely foreign position for him.

The Patriots really wanted Adrian Wilson to be that physical presence in sub-packages at the “Money” position subbing for a linebacker and Browner could easily fulfill that role as well. One area that the Patriots other corners have been lacking in is size as Dennard, Ryan and Arrington aren’t the biggest of guys and now with Browner they get an influx of needed size and physicality.

However they decide to utilize him, at corner, at safety….both, Browner makes the Patriots secondary much stronger and more physical. They are a deep and talented unit now with Revis essentially locking down one side of the field; Bill Belichick has a lot of pieces in which to tinker with the other.

At least initially thru the first four games of the season, the Patriots will be without Browner as he’ll have to serve a league mandated suspension, but he will be able to participate in all off-season activities as well mini-camps, training camp and the pre-season games.

Which means that second year safety Duron Harmon will get the starting reps next to McCourty at safety and Dennard, Ryan and Arrington will get to showcase their talents for the first month opposite Revis.

The Patriots defense still has some holes to fill notably with some depth needed at Defensive End with an added edge rusher, defensive tackle, and the Vince Wilfork situation that still needs to be addressed as well as at Linebacker but in just the first few days of Free Agency, this promises to be a much stronger unit than took the field in 2013. Stay tuned….

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Making A Case For Jared Allen To The Patriots In Free Agency

Jared Allen would be a great fit for the New England Patriots at DE during Free Agency. (USA Today photo)

Jared Allen would be a great fit for the New England Patriots at DE during Free Agency. (USA Today photo)

With the second day of the “legal tampering” period here before NFL Free Agency starts on March 11, this is the time of year where much speculation and rumors usually abound. The Patriots are usually in the midst of many of these and have some areas to address of their own, among them tight ends, interior OL/DL help, and depth at the DE position in the form of edge rushers.

Last season Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones were just flat-out overworked and played far too many snaps for the defense. Jones was in for 98 percent of the defensive workload while Ninkovich played about 95 percent.

The result was their production was well off going down the stretch and really hurt the team in the postseason. Jones had one sack in the team’s final seven games with none in the playoffs. Ninkovich had only 2 sacks in the final five games with zero in the playoffs.

The team didn’t have enough depth there to help take the pressure off of the two starters and they were forced to remain on the field. Andre Carter is starting to show his age and wasn’t as effective as in times past here and Michael Buchanan, after playing some early in the year, saw his workload decrease down the stretch. Jake Bequette was invisible and played less than 10 snaps on defense.

There is some help out there in free agency and perhaps the best fit would be Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings. Allen is part of a talented group of free agents at DE that include Michael Bennett, Michael Johnson, Lamarr Houston, Justin Tuck and Everson Griffen.

Bennett and Johnson are expected to fetch the most money and will probably be outside the Patriots range. Both are 28 and 27 respectively and have about 4-5 years of peak production left.

Houston will be 27 in June and is a bit under the radar while playing for the Raiders but is solid in both run-stopping and rushing the passer with 6 sacks.  Griffen, 26 would be more affordable and would primarily serve as a sub-package pass rusher.

Tuck will be 31 this season and after a slow start in 2013, finished on fire with 11 sacks for the Giants.

Durability/Production a Plus: While all of them have their upside, Allen the elder statesman (he’ll be 32 on April 3) would be a great fit. He’s remarkably durable having played in every game since coming to Minnesota in 2008 (96 games) and has outstanding production, having at least 11 sacks for the past seven years.

Allen still possesses a relentless motor and has unrealized goals in his career. Currently 12th all-time on the NFL’s sack list Allen has made it clear his goal upon his retirement is to be #1. Also on his radar is an elusive Super Bowl title so the desire is still there.

Allen in an interview on Wednesday with Sirius XM Radio had some interesting quotes about playing for a team with a winning, stable quarterback: “If you can play for one of the top five quarterbacks, that makes life easier, especially for rushing the passer,” he said. “You get tons of opportunities when you’re leading games by 14 or more.”

Why It Might Not Work: Money. Allen still wants to get paid like he’s one of the top DEs in the game and while the $11.62 million he got last season will not even be in the discussion with the Patriots, Allen has made it clear that he expects to be paid what he’s worth and doesn’t feel that he is a declining veteran even at 32 and would like to quiet his critics.

He also wants to go somewhere that he can still play the majority of the snaps.With New England, Jones and Ninkovich are the established starters and Allen, although sure to get plenty of work might not get the amount of snaps he’s looking for.

Allen is definitely an intriguing option for the Patriots to pursue, adding him to the mix with Jones, Ninkovich and a return to health of Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead would give New England plenty of pass rushers both inside and outside.

The Patriots have experimented with the Giants “NASCAR” package and could still push Jones inside on occasion and those players would definitely help the Patriots pass rush which disappeared in the playoffs when they needed it most.

New England would fit the bill for Allen playing with a team with stability at QB with Tom Brady and playing with the lead, giving him opportunities to rush the opposing quarterback. The only question to be resolved will be how much money he’ll need to feel satisfied. And those numbers can always be inflated by bonuses tied to production and roster bonuses.

It isn’t known who if any of the free agents at DE are on the Patriots radar. But the fact that they need help there isn’t in question, one can easily look at the production down the stretch and say it is an area that needs to be addressed. And Jared Allen would be a very valuable asset in a Patriots uniform.

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Patriots Safety Position, Team May Stand Pat With Duron Harmon

With the release of Steve Gregory, the Patriots could sign a free agent or opt to start Adrian Wilson or Duron Harmon (30) in 2014. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

With the release of Steve Gregory, the Patriots could sign a free agent or opt to start Adrian Wilson or Duron Harmon (30) in 2014. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

With Free Agency slated to begin in less than a week the New England Patriots have some holes to fill especially on the defensive side of the ball. The re-signing of CB Aqib Talib or bringing in another corner, interior defensive line, depth at DE with an edge rusher and added depth at linebacker are all needs that will have to be addressed. But now of added importance is the Strong Safety position with Steve Gregory having been released a week ago.

Gregory really played out of position at SS; he was more of a FS type but was considered a smart, dependable leader. Gregory was considered by his peers to be a coach on the field, especially for the younger players. With his departure a starting position is now open next to Devin McCourty.

Current Roster: McCourty, Duron Harmon, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Kanorris Davis

For at least the time being, the starter’s job would fall to last season’s surprise 3rd round pick in the NFL Draft, in Harmon who has good size at 6’1, 205 who was considered a QB for the defense at Rutgers but a reach that early in the draft. Harmon played well in his rookie season and may end up being the guy who gets the majority of the snaps.

Last season the team signed Adrian Wilson to a 3 year deal hoping he’d be that big in the box physical presence that they’ve lacked since Rodney Harrison left town. Wilson was expected to play the “Money” position in sub-packages, replacing a linebacker. But he suffered an injury early and never made it out of training camp. Now with his age (34) a factor, he may be cut prior to camp starting.

Tavon Wilson was another surprise pick, during the 2nd round of the 2012 NFL Draft and played a good amount as a rookie but he fell far down the depth chart in 2013 and barely saw the field. He’ll need a strong training camp to stick in 2014. Ebner is more of a special teams’ presence and won’t be counted on to play many snaps on defense.

Noted Free Agents Available: Some of the bigger names out there in include Jarius Byrd, T.J. Ward, Donte’ Whitner, Chris Clemons, Louis Delmas, Ryan Clark and James Ihedigbo.

Byrd from the Bills along with Ward are perhaps the two most sought after free agent safeties in the league. Ward would provide the Patriots with the best fit in terms of positional need but in speaking with ESPN’s Mike Reiss on Thursday night, he made the point that with McCourty’s contract coming up in 2015, the Patriots traditionally don’t like to spend a lot of money on one position.

Jarius Byrd is the top safety available in free agency, and since entering the league no one has more interceptions or forced fumbles from the safety position. But Byrd is looking for a reported $9 million a year, which would put him far out of the realm for New England.

T.J. Ward is a hard hitter who would provide a strong physical presence in the box and very good coverage skills in the secondary. He made 112 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions and 1 touchdown in 2013. He’s only 27 which would give him quite a few years of play left in him but he too will command a hefty price tag this spring.

Donte Whitner is a big physical hitter at the SS positon and would easily provide that presence the Patriots require in the box and in the middle of the field where he’s terrorized opponents since joining the 49ers. After a bad 2012 in coverage however, Whitner rebounded with a fantastic 2013, ranking 6th among safeties by Pro Football Focus. His price tag as well is expected to be beyond the Pats ability to pay and his age (29) by opening day, may preclude a longer term deal.

Chris Clemons presents an interesting case as a player with the fit; he’s 6’1, 215, is only 28 with really limited wear on his body as he was a role player for his first two years in Miami and would be considered as a “second-tier” player in terms of cost.

Clemons won’t break the bank in terms of asking price and the Patriots having faced him twice a year in the AFC East divisional games would have a much better feel for him as a player and how he’d be used in the defense.

Clemons has legitimate 4.3 speed which will aid him in the back end of the secondary and Pro Football Focus had Clemons as the 9th best safety for 2013. His only downside is that although he has the size to be a physical presence in the box, he hasn’t fared particularly well against the run with 14 missed tackles and isn’t considered a ball-hawk. He had eight passes defensed with only one interception in 2013.

NFL Draft Possibilities: The safety position in this year’s NFL Draft has some top-tier talent but falls away quickly. Two of the top safeties available are Alabama’s Clinton HaHa Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor both of whom are free safeties and may end up as first round picks and gone before the Patriots pick.

One interesting player to watch will be Washington State’s Deone Buchanan who is big at 6’1, 212 and has a knack for making huge hits in the secondary. With a 4.49 time in the 40, Buchanan has good straight line speed but is a bit stiff-hipped which may hinder him in coverage. Buchanan projects to be an early to mid-second or third round draft pick which begs the question; will the Patriots invest in another early round pick for the third year in a row? I say no.

Some players who may be available in the mid to later rounds in the draft include Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois, Ahmad Dixon from Baylor, Craig Loston from LSU and a late riser, Brock Vereen from Minnesota, brother of the Patriots Shane.

This is one position that will bear some watching as the team has some decisions to make, will they stick with Harmon whom they thought enough of to draft in the 3rd round last season and who played a significant amount of snaps (433) as a rookie, or bring in a veteran free agent and/or dip in the draft again.

While most fans would love to see a Ward or a Whitner here in 2014, those chances are pretty remote. If the Patriots do dip into free-agency they may target Clemons who will come much cheaper and is better known among the coaching staff.

Don’t be shocked if they stand pat with Harmon however and maybe add a late draft pick to add some depth at the position. The priority for the secondary will probably be to re-sign Talib at corner or replace him with another veteran as a Plan B and make do with the Pro Bowler in McCourty and the 2nd year Harmon. Let the speculation begin….

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