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New England Patriots News 5-24 and Notes Around the AFC East

Pat Tillman
Pat Tillman (left) with his brother Kevin in Afghanistan in 2004 turned down a three-year $3.6 million dollar deal to join the US Army Rangers and fight in the War on Terror. (USA TODAY Images)

Good morning, we hope you’re enjoying your holiday weekend, here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division:

Tillman A Hero And Story That Needs Remembering: With Memorial Day weekend here and people enjoying their time away from home with their families, it is also important to remember why we’re celebrating the holiday. Many men and women have fought and died for this country and this being a football column, we’ll recognize some of those who have both played in the NFL and served their country in time of war.

The NFL has had its share of men who took up arms during our country’s wars, including Eddie LeBaron and Sid Luckman, Ralph Wilson, Chuck Bednarik, even Tom Landry who became an icon for the Cowboys flew over 30 combat missions over Europe in World War II. Among more recent veterans, Roger Staubach won a Heisman Trophy at the Naval Academy before embarking for Vietnam.

One of my favorite players of my youth, Rocky Bleier was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968 and after his rookie season was drafted again…this time by the United States Army. Fighting with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade in 1969 Bleier suffered severe shrapnel wounds in his leg where doctors told him he’d never play football again.

But he did and by 1971 was back with the Steelers and had a fantastic career of 10 more seasons where he was a member of four Super Bowl winning teams.

But none of the above men had the story and tragic ending of Pat Tillman. Tillman was only 25 and had an All-Pro season under his belt. He had a contract in hand that would pay him millions of dollars. But the terrorist incidents of 9/11 affected him deeply and prompted him to enlist in the Army and volunteer for the Rangers, some of the toughest training in the Army.

During a second combat tour in 2004, Tillman was tragically killed in a friendly-fire incident and any dreams about returning to the NFL died on a barren hill in Afghanistan. Tillman wasn’t a draftee but a volunteer and gave up fame and a big dollar contract to fight in a war far from home.

The Patriots have an exhibit in their team Hall of Fame at Patriots Place honoring Tillman for what he stood for, showing some of his football and military uniforms.

At a time when we tend to hear about the players who are in the news for all the wrong reasons, this weekend is a time to remember those for the right ones. Tillman is a player who should be remembered and honored everywhere.

Goodell  Says He’ll Hear Brady’s Appeal: At the conclusion of the NFL Owners Meetings in San Francisco this week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was talking like he fully intends on hearing Tom Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension handed down by the league.

Goodell also stated that the decision by Robert Kraft and the Patriots would have no bearing on the appeal by Brady. The commissioner also stated that Brady’s decision to not cooperate by turning over his cell phone and emails were a major factor in his punishment being so severe. He also said he would continue to protect “the integrity” of the game while providing fair and uniform discipline.

But there has been nothing uniform in the way Goodell has handled this case thus far. In case anyone was wondering if there was another case of a player refusing to turn over his phone…back when Brett Favre was with the Jets, he was accused by a Jets staffer of texting a picture of his private parts to the woman. At the time, Favre refused to turn over his phone and was punished with a $50,000 fine. Seems uniform, fair and balanced there…

NFL Trolls Patriots: On the subject of fair and balanced, the NFL…the league who doesn’t make biased observations or investigations took a huge shot across the bow towards the Patriots on Thursday.

NFL Troll tweet

The Official Twitter Account for the NFL sent out a picture of  “Head Coaches tell us what it takes to be a franchise QB. Just above the tweet was a picture of Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts. And to the left side of the screen were the words,
Precision
Strength
Intelligence

In an obvious attempt to ridicule New England over the PSI fiasco, the official twitter of the NFL comes out with this only two days after Robert Kraft and Goodell supposedly kiss and makeup? There’s your olive branch Bob…

Eastbound and Down…..News from around the AFC East:

Revis Joins in to the Chorus of Patriots ‘Shady Stuff’: Chalk this one up to “that didn’t take long”, as Darrelle Revis CB of the NYJets wasted little time in giving his take on the Patriots and Tom Brady in a NY Daily News piece.

“Everybody is blowing it up because it is Tom Brady,” Revis said on Wednesday. “I understand that. But if the NFL feels he did the crime or he did something and they want to penalize them, then that’s that. The Patriots have a history of doing stuff. You can’t hide that…Tom was there when they did that stuff in the past.”

Revis didn’t stop there, stating Brady “is going to go down as one of the greatest – if not the best – quarterback that’s ever played” and “he’s definitely a Hall of Famer,” but can’t say for certain if the man is a cheater.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. If people want to judge him as a cheater, that’s their opinion.”

Bills Dareus Suspended For Season Opener: The Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcel Dareus was suspended for the Bills opener against the Indianapolis Colts for failing a drug test, it was announced on Thursday.

Dareus’ suspension was not believed to be PEDs but a test for marijuana.

“Last year, I made a mistake involving possession of a banned substance,” Dareus said in a statement. “The NFL’s discipline for this conduct is part of the drug policy, and I apologize to my family, my teammates, the entire Bills organization and Bills fans that I will miss one game as a result of my mistake. I will work intensely that week and will be extremely happy to contribute to a win in week two for the Bills.”

Dareus had two legal issues in 2014, but this one will cost him the opener against the Colts. Last season Nigel Bradham also was suspended for the opener due to a drug test as well.

Tannehill Cashes In: Miami QB Ryan Tannehill signed a six-year, $96 million dollar extension this week according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

“We are thrilled that we were able to sign Ryan to an extension,” Dolphins vice president Mike Tannenbaum said in a statement. “He is an ascending talent, a team leader and checks all of the boxes you are looking for at the position.”

Last season Tannehill set career high in attempts, completions, completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns and quarterback rating while cutting down on his turnovers.

The Dolphins believe that Tannehill is ready to take that next step and elevate those players around him and push Miami into a playoff berth.

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 Roster – Safety Competition Will Be Intense

2014-AFC-Divisional-Duron-Harmon-INT-600w
Duron Harmon will be looking to earn more reps with the philosophy change by the Patriots in 2015. (USA TODAY Images)

While much of the talk surrounding the Patriots defense this spring has centered (and rightfully so), around who isn’t returning at cornerback in 2015, the safety position should be an interesting one to watch once training camp begins.

The New England defense that won the Super Bowl just four months ago has lost four starters including all three corners and will be facing a possible shift in philosophy. While they were mainly a man-coverage unit in 2014, the losses of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and most recently Kyle Arrington may have the team playing more zone coverage in 2015. If that is true, it should greatly impact the safety position.

Roster Breakdown: Right now the roster consists of Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner and rookie 2nd round pick Jordan Richards. One interesting player to watch will be rookie UDFA Jimmy Jean out of UAB. The 6’2, 205 Jean played cornerback in college but he may make the switch to free safety in the pros and would back up McCourty.

McCourty is entrenched as the FS and he’s rapidly becoming one of the better centerfielders in the NFL. He was courted in free agency but the Patriots made a concerted effort to retain his talents and he signed a five-year, $47 million dollar contract this spring.

Where the competition begins this season will be at the strong safety position.

With the one-deep safety look in man coverage of last season, it allowed Pat Chung who was brought back from the Philadelphia Eagles to play towards his strengths in the box and closer to the line of scrimmage. Chung with the Patriots earlier in his career had struggled in the two-deep safety and was a large part of the reason he was allowed to walk in 2013.

With the Patriots choosing to play more zone coverage in 2015, this may not be Chung’s strength and it could open the door for Duron Harmon to get more snaps this season. Harmon was thought to have the inside position on the SS position last season, but couldn’t hold off Chung in training camp and was then relegated to sub-packages.

But Harmon shined when it mattered most in the playoffs. His interception of Joe Flacco in the closing moments of the Divisional Round of the playoffs sealed the Patriots victory. With the Super Bowl on the line, late in the fourth quarter Harmon was again on the field as the coaches showed plenty of confidence in his ability.

Wilson and Ebner are standouts on special teams but have played only sparingly on defense.

Richards is the wildcard here; the Patriots invested a 2nd round pick (64th overall), so he is a lock for the roster in 2015. He plays strong safety and is an intense, physical and very competitive player. Richards was considered a coach on the field for Stanford and is a coachable player as well as a leader on and off the field.

Richards excels closer to the line and has some limits in deep coverage although he does have good hands and will attack the ball at the high point. It will be interesting to see how quickly he picks up the defense and how the team decides to utilize his talents.

With McCourty locked into one safety position, the battle will be an interesting one to watch for the other. Chung was the starter in 2014 and has the inside track to start but don’t count out Harmon who was thought to have the position last season. Richards may have to be a backup initially until he gets some experience but should see more and more of the field as the season progresses.

Is it July yet?….

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Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.2014-AFC-Divisional-Duron-Harmon-INT-600w

Goodell, Kraft’s Decision Has No Bearing on Brady Appeal

goodell-presser2
Roger Goodell answers questions at the press conference Weds. at the conclusion at the NFL’s Owners Meetings. (USA TODAY Images)

No surprise as Goodell sidesteps questions and stands behind Wells Report

If you were waiting for a bombshell from Commissioner Roger Goodell at his press conference on Wednesday concerning the suspension of Tom Brady, you were surely disappointed.

Goodell, speaking at the conclusion of the owner’s meetings in San Francisco was quite clear stating the decision by Patriots owner Robert Kraft to accept the league’s Deflate-gate punishment will have no bearing on deciding Brady’s appeal.

Goodell attempted to show that the he and the NFL were open and transparent (we hear lots of that these days), but in the end, he stonewalled and hid behind the Wells Report.

While the NFLPA and Brady’s legal team has requested that Goodell recuse himself from the appeal, Goodell sounded like a man who has no intention of stepping aside, more than once referencing the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement and the appeal process as he considers it his duty to “protect the integrity” of the game.

“I look forward to hearing directly from Tom. If there is new information or information that could be helpful to us in getting this right, I want to hear directly from Tom on that,” Goodell said.

Getting it right would’ve been getting it right from the outset but Goodell basically skipped over a question from Tom E. Curran from Comcast Sports New England that called into question the bias on the part of the league which the Patriots questioned.

“Ted Wells did address that in his report,” Goodell answered. When pressed by Curran on what the league could have done differently, i.e. the Titanic-like self-serving leaks that emanated out of the league offices, Goodell gave the usual double-talk without ever answering Curran’s question.

“I asked him specifically when I engaged him to evaluate the league’s conduct to determine what we could have done differently and I think he made his views very clear in the report, so I would disagree on that point,” Goodell said.

“Whenever we have an incident, we look at it and say, ‘What could we have done differently, how can we improve?’ And we’ll continue to do that.”

That was an outright misrepresentation, the Patriots and their attorneys sent an email to NFL lawyer Jeff Pash dated February 7, that specifically complained about how Wells was to investigate the Patriots only, that the league will investigate itself. Curran referenced the letter in his piece on CSNNE Wednesday and it is in the link above.

Returning to the Brady situation, Goodell said “I have great admiration and respect for Tom Brady, but the rules have to be enforced on a uniform basis. They apply to everybody. They apply to every club, every individual coach, every individual player,” Goodell said.

We put the game ahead of everything.”

Sounds great, makes for a superb sound byte on the NFL Network but if where is the consistency Mr. Commissioner? Why weren’t the Colts ever questioned on how their ball attendant could measure the Patriots football intercepted by D’Qwell Jackson on the sidelines during the game when the league rules specifically forbid the possession of needles or gauges?

The integrity of the game certainly must not have suffered much in Minnesota where warming towels, in direct violation of the NFL rules where openly used in the game between the Vikings and Panthers. There was no gray area there, no “more probable than not”, it was plain to see. There’s your uniform basis.

So what can Brady expect in his appeal? Goodell made it clear, he’s standing by the Wells Report as the basis for everything and that Brady’s “refusal to cooperate” by turning over texts and emails were considered highly in his suspension.

Since the league already had the phones of McNally and Jastremski and therefore any and all text messages and/or phone calls from Brady on this issue, why would they continue to push this redundancy will be a question that won’t be answered in the appeal.

If anything the timing of Kraft’s capitulation of the punishments will hurt rather than help Brady’s appeal as the Commissioner and the NFL have no reason to lessen any punishments now. Goodell reading the tea leaves will have his original decision justified by the Patriots throwing in the towel.

Asked when the Brady appeal will be heard, Goodell said that he had no idea.

That sums up his leadership as the league’s head in a nutshell.

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.

Bad Decision By Patriots, Kraft Caves To Deflate-gate Punishment


Robert Kraft at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, “reluctantly” accepted the league’s punishments for Deflate-gate. This ends any chance of the Patriots recouping their draft picks (1st Rd 2016, 4th Rd 2017). (USA TODAY Images)

After months of rhetoric on both sides concerning one of the sloppier pieces of “independent investigations”, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said that he would “reluctantly accept” the punishment levied by Roger Goodell and the NFL at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

You could paint this in a number of different ways, but no matter which way you paint it, this was a bad business decision for a very savvy businessman.

“Although I might disagree what is decided, I do have respect for [commissioner Roger Goodell] and believe that he’s doing what he perceives to be in the best interests of [all 32 teams],” Kraft said, at the NFL owners meetings. “So in that spirit, I don’t want to continue the rhetoric that’s gone on for the last four months.”

The Patriots were docked $1 million dollars, a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-round draft in 2017 because for the first time in the history of the NFL, someone decided to test the amount of air in a football at halftime.

After months of proclaiming their innocence, holding press conferences, demanding an apology, publishing a web-site that spelled out their grievances, the Patriots blinked first and caved.

Kraft stated that, “This is the best thing for the New England Patriots, the fans and the NFL.”

Maybe for the NFL, most definitely for Roger Goodell, whose leadership can best be described as non-existent. But for the New England Patriots? No, this decision is not.

This is basically a mea culpa, an admission of guilt, no one is going to remember the “reluctantly” part. The public, most of whom are outside New England, will remember just that the team accepted its guilt and moved on.

When talking about the legacy of your team, the Patriots should have gone to the wall, using any and all means at their disposal to fight the one-sided and prejudicial Wells Report and the ridiculous punishments handed over by Goodell in what was a poorly proven case. If the NFL has to take an even bigger bloody nose over this fiasco, then so be it.  But you never sell out yourself and never accept punishment for something that you didn’t do. Regardless of trying to protect the brand of the league, Kraft’s first responsibilities are to his team, his players and coaches and the fans that pay their salaries.

You don’t fight for fighting’s sake, you fight the fights that need fighting.

While the case of the Patriots and Tom Brady are looked upon as different, they are most assuredly linked. And while Brady will continue his appeal of his four-game suspension, the league and Goodell now have the ammo to uphold the ban.

With the Patriots “reluctantly” accepting their punishment, this is Goodell’s chance for a complete knockout and set himself up as the league’s unquestioned boss. There’s nothing to stop him now from upholding Brady’s entire suspension. In a schoolyard brawl the toughest kid in the neighborhood just got dropped to the canvas by Urkel.

Some are reporting that this admission by Kraft is a possible precursor to Goodell halving Brady’s suspension to two games. If that is the case, then that is a very bad trade by the Patriots. Losing a potential decade-long impact player to accept a two-game suspension for your quarterback who you believe to be innocent?

Appeasing the league and the commissioner in the best interests of said league over your own brand is not a sound choice.

For such a savvy businessman, this was a very bad business decision.

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 Bring Back Brandon Spikes, Fifth Year a Charm? Cut Three


After a year in Buffalo, Brandon Spikes has signed with New England. Spikes returns to the team he spent his first four years in the league with. (USA TODAY Images)

In a somewhat surprising move the Patriots have signed linebacker Brandon Spikes. The move brings back the player who spent his first four seasons as a member of the Pats, before leaving last season for Buffalo.

Spikes signed a one-year deal according to ESPN’s Field Yates and Adam Schefter and will help solidify the Patriots middle of the run defense which lost Vince Wilfork during free agency.

In other news, the Patriots released three players, linebacker Cameron Gordon, wide receiver Devin Gardner and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa.

Gordon was an undrafted linebacker from Michigan in 2014 and was considered a priority free agent, signing for a guaranteed $35,000. The 6’3, 245 lb OLB was hurt in training camp last year, never having the opportunity to take the field.

Gardner, the 6’4 rookie UDFA from Michigan was attempting to transition from quarterback to wide receiver.

Chekwa, 26, is a 6’0 cornerback was signed by the Patriots just two months ago during free agency. Chekwa spent the first four years of his career with the Raiders.

His release brings to the forefront the issue of what the Patriots are doing at the cornerback position. Having lost their three starters from the Super Bowl winning team in 2014, the position is wide open for camp competition. Chekwa was still considered a longshot to make the team but, one would have to assume more moves are pending.


Spikes TC
Spikes, here at training camp in 2013 was always quick to interact with fans. (SBalestrieri Image)

Reunion For Spikes: But the Spikes signing, while a fit schematically, is a surprise mainly because of the way he left town after signing with Buffalo.

Spikes had been playing hurt in December 2013, when he was late for a team meeting early in January during a snow storm. He was placed on injured reserve and missed the playoffs. The Patriots made no effort to re-sign him and Buffalo swooped in with an offer.

Once he signed with the Bills however is when the fireworks began, Spikes always an active user of social media took to his Twitter account to unload on both the Patriots and the New England fanbase. Spike tweeted, “Four years a slave” and that he was “blocking all the Massholes” soon after signing with the Bills, promising to hand the Patriots two losses in 2014.

Spikes has always been a down-hill, run stuffing linebacker and with Wilfork now a Texan and both Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo recovering from injuries, his signing makes sense from a depth standpoint.

He brings that element of swagger and toughness to the defense as a two-down run stopper and at 27 still has plenty of tread left of his tires. He was the ninth best run stuffing linebacker according to Pro Football Focus, joining Jamie Collins (#1), and Hightower (#5). Slow recovering from his own knee woes, Spikes came on after the quarter mark of the season last year and was solid down the stretch.

How Will Spikes Fit In the Defense: Spikes remains an elite run stuffer in the middle but has never been particularly strong in pass coverage. His signing immediately upgrades the depth and is insurance in the event that either Mayo or Hightower is slowed in their recovery.

With the trend in the NFL going towards smaller more athletic linebackers, Spikes will probably see action with mainly the base defense and short yardage. Mayo, Hightower and Collins will see the majority of snaps on passing situations.

But for some of his former teammates, they’re thrilled to see Spikes back in a New England uniform. Rob Ninkovich spoke at his charity ping-pong event in Boston on Monday night.

“I’m excited for that,” Ninkovich said. “I saw him this morning and almost lost it. I love Brandon. He’s a great friend of mine. Great teammate. Unfortunately, he went away for a year and now he’s back.

“That tenacity, that toughness at the linebacker spot — running backs really don’t want to run in his way.”

Spikes was always one of the more colorful Pats players to cover during his four-year tenure here earlier. It seems that he and the Patriots have buried the hatchet and are able to move on.

His signing upgrades the depth of the unit, that when everyone is healthy gives New England one of the more talented linebacker units in the league. Maybe the fifth year is the charm for the mercurial Spikes with the Patriots and proof that you can go home again.

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.

If Brady Appeal Fails, Patriots Won’t Miss a Beat With Garappolo


If Tom Brady’s suspension is upheld, the Patriots offense with Jimmy Garappolo will look the same with the same philosophy. He’ll require little tailoring of the play calls to be successful. (USA TODAY Images)

Much of the talk around New England centers on the appeal of the four-game suspension for QB Tom Brady. However they face the chance that the process won’t include the vacating of the suspension and must look to 2nd year QB Jimmy Garappolo.

If Brady’s appeal results in only a reduced suspension, or worse no reduction at all, Garappolo will be looked to lead the team for up to a quarter of the 2015 NFL season. While this may make many fans nervous, the team will continue to function normally and there’ll be no worry coming out of 1 Patriots Place.

These aren’t exactly uncharted waters; when Brady was injured in the first quarter of the 2008 opener, they turned to Matt Cassel, now with the Bills and the Patriots went 11-5. This was after Cassel struggled in pre-season and was looked at as a possible cut at the end of training camp. But Belichick showed faith in Cassel and they played to his strengths and the team missed the playoffs due to a tie-breaker.

When Garoppolo was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft, many criticized Bill Belichick for “wasting” the pick. Now the selection of Garappolo may seem like another master stroke by Belichick of looking forward.

Coming out of Eastern Illinois last season, Garappolo boosted his draft stock with a good performance at the Senior Bowl and the Patriots pounced on him in the 2nd round, taking him with the 62nd overall pick.

Not Much Tape To Evaluate: Garappolo didn’t see the field much as a rookie in 2014, throwing only 27 passes but completed 19 for 70.4 percent, good for 182 yards and one touchdown for a 101.2 quarterback rating.

We watched Garappolo closely in training camp and for the most part we saw what one would expect from a rookie signal caller. Garappolo’s camp had some good, some bad as he tried to ingest all of the Patriots playbook.

A couple of things that stood out were his good footwork and a lightning fast release. Once he made a decision, he got the ball out very quickly and was able to see the field well enough to dump it off to his secondary receiver if the primary was covered.

His accuracy was very good for the most part and his athletic makeup, the ability to move around the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield and make a play was excellent.

The question this season will be not whether Garappolo can handle the spotlight, because with Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola at wide receiver and Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler at tight end, he’ll have plenty of good options to throw the football to. In limited looks as a rookie, Garappolo showed he can run the offense.

The real question will be how many snaps will Garappolo get in training camp? Brady has always been a notorious hard worker who wants to take every meaningful snap. But with him approaching age 38 regardless of his suspension, the Patriots would be looking to reduce his workload in camp to keep him fresh for a late season push.

Belichick will have find a delicate balance of getting both quarterbacks enough work with the first team offense to get both ready to start the season. Brady won’t be thrilled with losing snaps but if his suspension holds or is just reduced; Belichick won’t hesitate to do what’s best for the team.

How Much Would the Offense Change With Jimmy G?: Not very much, Garappolo showed in his limited snaps last season that he can handle the Patriots playbook just fine. He worked the middle of the field, using timing routes and led the receivers so that they were able to catch the ball on the run.

Look for Josh McDaniels to create a game plan around Jimmy G’s strengths but the offense won’t look very different. Expect a lot of “12” personnel looks (1RB, 2WRs, 2TEs), which will allow the Patriots to run or make those quick throws, (slants, bubble screens) that will keep the Patriots out of long-yardage situations.

Play-action passes to tight ends Gronkowski and Chandler should be a staple of the offense regardless of who is under center. If teams bring pressure, look for McDaniels to call for a controlled roll out and take advantage of Garappolo’s athleticism.

The play book may get pared down a bit to simplify things at least initially, but the offense won’t look very different with Garappolo under center.

Looking Ahead to Pittsburgh:The Steelers are going thru major changes on defense; with long-time defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau gone, many of the zone blitz schemes he was so known for may be gone as well.

The Steelers are looking to re-tool a defense that was a far cry from the Steel Curtain defenses of fame. Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Jason Worilds are gone and with the team releasing Brett Keisel back on March 9, the defense will look vastly different, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a unit ranked 30th last season according to Football Outsiders.

The Steelers did get a nice edge rusher in Bud Dupree from Kentucky in the draft. Dupree will fit very nicely as an outside edge rusher and will upgrade the Pittsburgh pass rush.

With two new cornerbacks in the draft, the secondary may go thru some growing pains but they selected two ball hawks in May. Senequez Golson (2nd Rd, 56th overall), is an undersized (5’9,176), but very aggressive corner who will be tested early in the NFL with bigger receivers. Doran Grant (4th Rd, 121st overall) from Ohio State is another talented corner. Both combined for 15 turnovers in 2014. With an improved pass rush, Pittsburgh will get these two rookies baptized quickly. This is a matchup that would favor the Patriots if Brady is on the field going against a pair of rookie corners. It will be interesting to see how they fare against Garappolo on Opening Night.

So if Brady’s suspension holds up, don’t expect much gloom and doom to come out of Foxboro. Many pundits are saying the Patriots should hope for a .500 start, as the team is a normally a notoriously slow starter anyway and with Brady possibly out, could be a best case scenario.

Some are even calling for a possible 1-3 start against a tough slate of Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Dallas the first four games. While entirely possible, don’t sell Garappolo short. The team drafted him in the 2nd round for a reason. While no one foresaw him possibly having to start this soon, he’ll be ready. Bill Belichick has always done a great job of putting players in a position to succeed. He’ll do the same with Jimmy G. ….if he has to.

 

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.

New England Patriots News 5-17 and Notes Around the AFC East


Tom Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension will be heard by Commissioner Roger Goodell which will probably end up the courts. (USA TODAY Images)

Hope everyone is enjoying the spring weather here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division:

Deflate-gate Going to Goodell for the Appeal: With Tom Brady retaining Jeffrey Kessler and having the backing of the NFLPA, the four-game suspension is heading to the appeal process, with Commissioner Roger Goodell presiding.

Goodell, far from an independent arbitrator and Troy Vincent were included in the NFLPA’s appeal letter, stating that Vincent, according to the 2011 CBA doesn’t have the authority to hand out Brady’s punishment, that the NFLPA was seeking to have Brady’s suspension rescinded not reduced and that the Wells Report contained insufficient evidence to find Brady of any wrongdoing.

The NFLPA asked for Goodell to recuse himself and appoint a truly independent arbitrator and stated that they planned to call both as witnesses. ESPN reported that it was “very unlikely” that Goodell steps aside. And with Brady unlikely to accept any reduction in suspension, even if one is forth coming, this case appears headed for court which will be a lose-lose for everyone involved.

PatsFans.com Sits Down With Duron Harmon: Make sure to tune in on Monday to PatsFans.com and listen in to an interview with Patriots safety Duron Harmon. On Thursday this week both Russ Goldman of PatsFans.com and myself had a chance to chat with Harmon in a telephone interview.

Some things we chatted about were his game sealing interception in the AFC Divisional Round against the Ravens, the dramatic ending of the Super Bowl, some of the community activities he’s involved with and a special showdown he had with fellow safety Pat Chung. So check back Monday…

NFL.com – “Patriots Running Back Situation Worst Since 2009”: Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com projected the AFC East’s Week 1 starters and said the Patriots running back depth is the worst since 2009.

“This is the worst running back depth chart we’ve seen in New England since Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan led the team in 2009. LeGarrette Blount will return in Week 2, but the Patriots will need a surprise to emerge from guys like James White, Tyler Gaffney or Travaris Cadet,” Rosenthal said.

Among the corner backs, Rosenthal had Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler as the Week 1 starters.  He also has Jonas Gray leading the way for the running backs.

Patriots Release Arrington, Another CB Gone: The Patriots released 7th year CB Kyle Arrington who was due to earn $3 million in 2015 and counted $4.6 million in the salary cap. Arrington worked his way up from the practice squad in 2009 to become the starting slot corner for the past several years.

Arrington was quickly scooped up by the Baltimore Ravens, signing a three-year $7 million dollar deal where the first season, ($2 million signing bonus, $800K salary) is fully guaranteed. Arrington will man the slot for the Ravens between Ladarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.

Patriots Add TE Davis, LB Watson: In somewhat of a surprising move the Patriots added Fred Davis to the roster on Monday, signing the tight end to a one-year deal. Davis was just re-instated into the NFL just four days before signing with New England.

Davis, 29, hasn’t played in the NFL since 2013 after being suspended indefinitely for his second substance abuse violation. Davis has played in 72 games and has162 career receptions for 2,043 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The Patriots are deep at tight end, with Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler, Michael Hoomanawanui,Tim Wright and rookie AJ Derby. The team signed Chandler also this off-season and Davis, if healthy and ready to resume his career will be looking to lock down the 3rd tight end position.

The Patriots also added LB Dekoda Watson, a 6th year player who played with the Buccaneers, Jaguars and Cowboys. His best season came in 2013 with the Bucs, Watson produced 42 tackles, two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one pass defensed, three tackles for loss and one blocked kick.
Eastbound and Down…..News from around the AFC East:

Ryan “Lost Jets Locker Room” in 2014: Well this didn’t take long…several Jets players spoke about the marked difference between new head coach Todd Bowles and the recently fired but immensely popular Rex Ryan.

One unnamed veteran said that many players had tired of Ryan’s schtick last season, adding, “There was some significant “tuning out” of Ryan last year,” the player said, as their old head coach was seen “more like a friend than a coach.” That hurt discipline and accountability, something that won’t be an issue with Bowles.

For the complete piece from Kristian Dyer, click here:

Former Dolphins Kicker Garo Yepremian dies at 70: Garo Yepremian who helped the Dolphins win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1972-73 has died from cancer at the age of 70.

According to his wife Maritza, Yepremian, who played between 1966 and 1981 contracted cancer in May of 2014 and died last night in Media, PA. Yepremian broke into the NFL with the Lions in 1966 before joining the Dolphins in 1970. He also played for the Bucs and Saints.

His 37 yard field goal against Kansas City ended the longest game in NFL history in 1971. But he’s best remembered for his gaffe at the end of the Super Bowl during Miami’s 17-0 season. With the Dolphins up 14-0 against the Washington Redskins in the closing minutes, Yepremian lined up for a field goal that was blocked.

Picking up the ball he attempted a pass that wobbled and fell out of his hands and right into those of Redskin Mike Bass who returned it for a touchdown.

Funeral arrangements are still pending.

Bills Rookie Mini-camp Done, Darby Shines: With the Bills rookie mini-camp in the books, ESPN’s Mike Rodak reports that cornerback Ronald Darby was shining in 7-on-7 drills in press coverage.

Rodak reported that Darby’s speed stood out, he may become an integral part of Rex Ryan’s defense pretty quickly. Darby was one of the corners I liked during the draft process. Rodak also reported TE Nick O’Leary was a frequent target in the passing game. Read Rodak’s complete report here:

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Patriots Secondary May Take Time To Gel in 2015


With changes at all three cornerback positions in 2015, the Patriots will be leaning heavily on safety Devin McCourty to be the steady hand until the new unit gels. (USA TODAY Images)

We now take a break from our regularly scheduled Deflate-gate coverage to bring you some football talk.

With the release of CB Kyle Arrington this week, the Patriots have parted ways with their three starting corners from  Super Bowl XLIX. Had not the Deflate-gate hysteria been in full swing, this latest move would probably be looked at a lot more closely.

Arrington had a $3 million dollar salary in 2015 with a cap hit of $4.6 million. It is easy to see why the Patriots weren’t going to pay that kind of money, although Arrington was always one of Bill Belichick’s favorites.

Arrington blanketed T.Y. Hilton in two games against the Colts but was benched in the Super Bowl after Chris Matthews, who had a seven inch height advantage was having his way with him. Still, Arrington was a very productive member of the secondary in the slot and joined Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner as former Patriots secondary members that have moved on since Feb.1.

So Now What Do They Do?: There is no doubt the Patriots secondary will look markedly different in 2015 when the team hits the field, and most fans worry that the secondary will have big time issues stopping offenses from throwing all over the field.

To paraphrase a bit, Bill Belichick has always said that pass defense is a combination of pass rush and coverage, that they go hand-in-hand. With the selection of some versatile players picked in the 2015 NFL Draft that can play on the edge as well as signing Jabaal Sheard in free agency, the outside pass rush should be improved.

The healthy return of last season’s #1 pick Dominique Easley along with this season’s top choice Malcom Brown should give the Patriots an improved inside push of the pocket; something that’s been missing for the past several seasons…but what about the secondary?

The team brought in Bradley Fletcher from the Eagles with the hope that a clean slate with a fresh start will erase some of the bad memories he had in 2014. Fletcher won’t be left out to dry as he was with Philly last season, and with over the top help from Devin McCourty should be in-line for plenty of first round reps.

Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler will definitely be vying for reps on the other side. Butler was no flash in the pan. He earned his way onto the roster with solid play during training camp and didn’t get a ton of snaps because he was behind Revis and Browner.

Those two will compete with Logan Ryan for the outside slots. Both are comfortable with man coverage, so the days of strictly zone of 2011 shouldn’t be returning as many feared. Expect to see the Patriots play both, much like 2014.

What about the slot?: The Patriots brought in Robert McClain from the Falcons during free agency and he and this season’s sleeper candidate Darryl Roberts will compete for the inside position. McClain has been a productive player in his career and he’ll provide the veteran presence that Belichick loves in his teams. But don’t go to sleep on Roberts; he was initially viewed as kind of an afterthought being selected with the 247th pick in the 7th round, but has the potential to be much more.

A shade under six feet and slightly spindly at 182 pounds, Roberts is extremely gifted athletically. At Marshall’s Pro Day, he ran a 6.66 Three-Cone Drill which would have been 2nd best of all corners at the NFL Combine. He posted a fast 4.36 time in the 40, a 39 inch vertical leap and a 11’1” Broad Jump.

He too is comfortable playing man coverage and at some point may take over starting duties in the slot in 2015.

The off-season workouts, OTAs and mini-camps will show who is ready to step up initially once training camp begins in earnest in July and who isn’t. But whoever is getting first team reps in July shouldn’t be anointed as the starting secondary just yet.

McCourty is the glue that holds everything together on the backend and his partner at the second safety position will have plenty of competition. Last year’s starter Pat Chung will get pushed by newcomer Jordan Richards (2nd Rd Pick), Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner.

Much like Belichick did in the first quarter of 2014 with the offensive line, expect the Patriots to mix and match with different combinations in the secondary early in the season looking for the right fit.

With an improved pass rush, and a vastly different secondary, the defense will look much different in 2015.

Now back to Deflate-gate and the Brady appeal….

 

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NFL Commissioner Goodell Names Himself To Hear Tom Brady’s Appeal

Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell attends the game between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
What’s next Commish? Roger Goodell announced thru the NFL offices that he will hear Tom Brady’s appeal of his four game suspension. (USA TODAY Images)

File this one under, bad news if you hoped that Tom Brady’s appeal would signal the end of the fiasco known as Deflate-gate.

Tom Brady and his legal team officially appealed his suspension with the league office but in a not-so-surprising turn of events, the Commissioner has determined that he will hear the appeal.

The NFLPA demanded to the league that they appear “before someone who is truly independent.” Brady and the NFLPA can’t be pleased to hear that Goodell is the one hearing the appeal. This case likely appears heading for court.

Thursday was a busy day on the latest saga involving Brady, the Wells Report and his suspension. Prior to Brady officially filing an appeal with the league office and the Commissioner’s decision to hear it personally, the Patriots released a scathing rebuttal against the Wells Report, refuting many of the issues they have questions about.

“Commissioner Goodell will hear the appeal of Tom Brady’s suspension in accordance with the process agreed upon with the NFL Players Association in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement,” the NFL said in a statement released late Thursday night.

While it is certainly within the Commissioner’s rights to hear the appeal, the CBA gave him this power. But with Brady’s camp logging charges of pre-conceived bias against him and the Patriots by the league perhaps Goodell in a show of good faith in his punishment of the QB should have appointed someone else.

That in itself begs the question, is the Wells Report and its inconsistencies that weak of a document in presenting the NFL’s case that Goodell has no faith in an independent arbitrator hearing the appeal?

His insistence to hear the appeal, while within his rights will be interesting to watch. If he upholds the punishment he agreed with in the Troy Vincent letter to Brady, it lends credence to the Patriots claim that he has an axe to grind with them.

The Patriots rebuttal is contrary to what Robert Kraft had stated prior to the Brady suspension where he stated that the Patriots would accept the league’s ruling on punishment. With the rebuttal, the team and Kraft are going to fight this one to the limit.

Some good points of the Patriots piece are the scientific questions that call into question the validity of the Wells Report. Using the Ideal Gas Law, that by now everyone in the country has heard of, even three of the four Colts footballs measured were below the league mandated PSI. The officials’ curious decision not to weigh all of the Colts footballs further lends credence of a league sting.

With the footballs all of which were losing PSI, it is entirely possible that no deflation by McNally occurred at all. But using Exponent, the Wells Report sets itself up as self-serving. Exponent used shaky scientific data that isn’t going to fly in front of a true independent arbitrator. They have a well-deserved reputation of manipulating evidence to favor their client; unless you believe second-hand smoke isn’t dangerous, asbestos isn’t dangerous and Toyota’s acceleration problems were caused by floor mats which were all cases Exponent tried to make.

The league’s insistence on having Brady’s cell phone is another sticking point. Already having McNally’s and Jastremski’s phones gave them all of the texts coming from Brady to either of them concerning the handling of the footballs. They may be trying to paint Bill Belichick or other Patriots coaches into the mix.

Included in the Patriots piece posted on their website Thursday is an explanation that can only be described as quite a stretch. As to Tom McNally addressing himself as “the Deflator”, the report states that it didn’t have anything to do with footballs or air pressure but with McNally’s attempts to lose weight.  Seriously, that dog won’t hunt, even in the most pro-Patriots circles.

So now Goodell will hear the appeal within the next 10 days and there is little wiggle room for the Commissioner. On one hand, if he reduces Brady’s punishment, what happens to the hammer he dropped upon the Patriots with the first and fourth round draft picks loss. By his investigation within the Wells Report, the Patriots organization and Bill Belichick had no part in the manipulation of the footballs, if it even occurred at all.

A reduced punishment could paint Goodell as the guy who diffused a bad situation but would then throw his own Troy Vincent and Ted Wells under the bus. On the flip side, if Brady accepts a reduced suspension, it will be admitting guilt in the situation.

If Goodell upholds Brady’s punishment, the case is likely heading to court. Having the Super Bowl winning quarterback, who just slightly more than four months ago was being hailed as one of the greatest ever at the pinnacle of success suing the league isn’t a good image for the league.

Goodell had the chance to make all of this go away with some firm leadership back in January. Instead he allowed leaks and innuendo to make this a much bigger story than it should ever have become. There isn’t going to be any winners in this one.

Everyone loses, and the other 31 NFL owners will be watching.

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Questions About The Wells Report That Still Must Be Answered


There are many questions about the Wells Report that Tom Brady’s legal team should ask, and expect the league to answer. (USA TODAY Images)

After an angry and defiant Ted Wells took to a conference call with national media calling out the Patriots and specifically Tom Brady’s agent Don Yee for attacking his independent investigation, while questions continue to surface regarding his report.

“This the first time that after I’ve issued my report that I find somebody is questioning my independence and in some way suggesting I was influenced by the league office,” Wells said, “and I think that is wrong …”

Wells defended his conclusions pointing his finger at Brady and Patriots employees John Jastremski and Tom McNally. He said it was based on the preponderance of evidence that all pointed to the Patriots QB being guilty of being aware of or ordering the deflation of the game footballs. This is a fact he said despite his conclusions on page 228 of his report stating that finding the truth was not possible.

Wells Report caveat

To Sting or Not to Sting: When asked about the Patriots concerns about the league conducting a sting operation against them, Wells scoffed at the idea, stating the Colts concerns weren’t taken seriously.

“When the Colts made the complaint, no one at the league office took the complaint seriously,” Wells said during a conference call. “[The NFL] flipped the complaint by email to the operations people so they knew about it. They told the refs. [Referee] Walt Anderson thought it was just a normal complaint. You get these types of things all the time. Nobody paid that much attention to it.

“There was no sting operation.”

If we’re to take this at face value, and no one in the NFL took these complaints seriously, then why tell referee Walt Anderson? If it were not important, why bother the referee prior to a conference championship game. And if it was deemed inconsequential, but important enough to tell the referee, why the Patriots weren’t at least notified that the Colts had made these concerns to the league?

The second part of this equation has to do with the complaint in general. Rumors persist that the Colts first made this allegation after the Patriots visited Indianapolis in November. How can this be possible? If the Patriots were deflating the footballs as the league and Wells have alleged, McNally doesn’t travel with the team, so how could it even be possible?

After the game and initial reports began to surface, the leaks coming out of the league office were coming fast and furious. Dan Wetzel from Yahoo Sports penned an interesting piece on the league’s behavior and it lends credence to the sting scenario.

ESPN reported on the Monday after the AFC Conference Championship citing “league sources” that 11 of the 12 Patriots footballs measured at halftime during the game were found to be more than two pounds of PSI under the league’s minimum of 12.5. That ignited the media frenzy that got completely out of control and where Deflate-gate became the lead-in story of the three national networks.

We now know that the initial report was bunk, that none of the footballs were even close to being that deflated. ESPN quietly pulled that story off the web days later, but the damage was already done.

Goodell Asleep at the Wheel or Worse?: Where were Roger Goodell and the league office to state that the report was false when it this inflammatory piece was igniting a firestorm that called in question the “integrity of the game”?

After all, they claim to ensure to protect the integrity of the game when they handed out this punishment to Brady and the Patriots. They had all the facts in hand. Anderson dutifully made measurements with two different gauges that although each varied widely in pressure, he marked them down and gave them to the league office.

So either we’re left to only assume that either the league cooked up this scenario based on false accusations to defame the Patriots organization by leaking out bad information, which Wells stated was ridiculous. Or Goodell and the league stood by and did nothing to “let the air out” of a non-story by releasing information they already had, which forever tarnishes the legacy of one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history.

Regardless, at best it shows an alarming lack of leadership at the top of the league office and for Commissioner Goodell. At times of crisis, leaders lead. And he failed…again.

Goodell is always talking about protecting the shield, the brand of the NFL. While this was brewing and taking away the lead-up to what turned into a great Super Bowl, all the media wanted to talk about was air pressure and whether Bill Belichick and Tom Brady should be suspended from the game itself. Like Nero, he fiddled while Rome burned. That isn’t protecting the shield, it is an absence of control, good judgment and having the best interests of the league in mind.

Based on Wells, “preponderance of the evidence” argument, it is more probable than not…much more probable than not that Goodell was at least generally aware of an operation to defame the Patriots, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. It is unconscionable and goes against everything that one should stand for while protecting the shield. He needs to answer for this.

Air Pressure Questions (not again?): There are still some questions about the entire air pressure fiasco that don’t make sense. We’ve gotten countless email and texts from our reader forums that ask the same questions we still search for.

First if Anderson found that three of the four footballs Colts footballs were under the prescribed league limit, why didn’t they test the rest? The argument that halftime was ending is ridiculous, self-serving for the league and contrary to what the investigation claims to be about. When the integrity of the game is in question, a few seconds to test eight footballs shouldn’t take precedence over the second half kickoff.

After all, according to Wells’ own calculations, McNally had time to enter a bathroom, lock the door, take a dozen footballs out of the bag, let air out of each, place them all back in the bag in 100 seconds.

Anderson, with other referees and league officials on-hand to make notations, had only eight more footballs to measure, and since three out of the four Colts footballs were already under the minimum PSI, prudence should dictate they test the remaining ones. Or was it an inconvenient truth coming to light? One has to wonder, why that wasn’t done. And you can rest assured Jeffrey Kessler will ask that question.

On the subject of the Colts footballs, were the ones tested used in the game or just sitting in the bottom of the ball bag on the sidelines? It makes a big difference when taking into consideration the atmospheric conditions during the game. We will explain why below…

A Final Question on Atmospherics: As we noted earlier, many of our forum readers continue to ask this question and it should have been delved into in more detail in the Wells Report.

If the pre-game PSI levels for the Patriots footballs were somewhere close to 12.5 and the Colts around 13.5 which were in-line with league mandates, then more parts of the Wells reports again don’t add up.

Wells states McNally let the air out of the Patriots footballs in the bathroom in his report. He would have had to let at least half a pound of PSI out, otherwise what would be the point correct? So if he had indeed done that, then using the ideal law of gas theory the Patriots footballs should have measured in the low range of 10.3 – 10.8 PSI range…exactly what the original ESPN reports stated.

But they didn’t, they measured in the mid-11 to low 12 PSI range which doesn’t make sense. With three out of the four Colts footballs under the league limit, why weren’t the rest tested to see if all of theirs were varying in levels of deflation, in accordance with their amount of use in the atmospherics during the game. It is entirely possible that had the Colts footballs had all been gauged, the results may have shown that the Patriots footballs weren’t deflated at all prior to the game. Unless of course, from a league standpoint that is an inconvenient truth as well.

We would expect Kessler and Brady’s legal team to address these and other questions that are still out there in regards to the very draconian punishment by the league. And once they do, expect some big reductions in Brady’s suspension. Could the Patriots punishments be next?….Stay tuned.

Thanks to AndyS. and others from the PatsFans Forums for all the emails and messages.

 

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