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Patriots Interior Defensive Line Play Will Be a Key to Success in 2015

The Patriots defense will have some big shoes to fill in 2015 and that doesn’t just apply to the secondary where Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington are gone. For the first time in more than a decade Vince Wilfork won’t be anchoring down the middle of the defensive line for New England.

Wilfork has been a constant and was the sole defensive player who had been a member of the 2004 Super Bowl team that won back-to-back titles, the last team to do so in the NFL.

The Patriots are going with a different approach on defense this season, opting to beef up the front seven to alleviate pressure on the secondary, they know replacing a Revis at corner isn’t an easy proposition. Replacing a Wilfork inside won’t be a simple solution either so they’ll be looking for multiple players to step up and play different roles for them this season.

Siliga Will Be Counted Upon: Perhaps the biggest player that will be asked to fill Wilfork’s shoes as the team’s dedicated run stuffer won’t be first round draft pick Malcom Brown but fourth year player Sealver Siliga.

That’s not to say the team won’t be expecting big things from Brown but he’s a different player than Wilfork despite similar size, being more of a penetrator and a disruptor. Siliga however fits the bill as a big-bodied gap eater who can be counted upon to be very stout in run support.

Siliga had a solid 2014 despite some injuries that he dealt with and limited him to just seven games with five starts. But his run-stuffing prowess was in evidence last year; Pro Football Focus gave Siliga high marks, a 12.1 run-stopping percentage, which ranked him as the #2 DT who logged at least 25 percent of defensive snaps. Siliga isn’t a pass rusher per se, but can push the pocket a little. His biggest contribution is in the running game.

The biggest question for Siliga in 2015 will be health. Can he hold up and play a full 16 game schedule? He had off-season foot surgery and missed OTAs and mini-camp. But his availability for training camp will be the big key this summer.

Joining him as one of the big bodies inside is Alan Branch the 30-year old lineman who came over from the Bills last season and played well. The 6’6, 325 Branch played sparingly but was a valuable veteran presence. He’ll be looked at to provide more of a leadership role with Wilfork now out of the picture.

Also in the mix with be eight-year veteran Antonio Johnson, Vince Taylor the rookie defensive tackle from Vanderbilt and Joe Vellano.

Easley, Brown to Provide Interior Pressure: One key item that the Patriots have been searching for several years is pressure from the interior defensive line that can push the pocket and not allow the quarterback to step up. This allows the edge rushers to be much more effective, something they’ll need in 2015.

This season they may have not one but two and possibly three players to fit the bill. Last year’s top draft pick Dominique Easley is a slightly undersized but disruptive type player. He can explode into gaps and blow up plays in the backfield as well as get after the passer. After having surgery on both knees in college, he was slowed in his rookie season, missing nearly all of training camp which delayed his progression.

Now healthy, he’ll be a player to watch to see if his patented explosion off the line is in evidence. Easley will be joined by this season’s top draft pick Brown who was a steal for the Patriots at the back end of the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Brown is bigger at 6’2, 320 but shows the same pattern of disrupting plays at the point of attack. He has a fantastic blend of size, power and quickness to excel in the NFL. He’s played everywhere from zero to five technique at Texas and is strong enough to withstand double teams but quick enough off the line to get into passing lanes.

Brown had 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks for the Longhorns in 2014 earning him Consensus All-American honors. He and Easley give the Patriots two tackles that can push the pocket and be disruptors inside. They’ll be joined by second-year DL Zach Moore who may be kicked inside more this season to help with the pass rush.

Moore is listed as 6’6, 275 but reports from spring workouts have him looking much larger.  The raw but intriguing Moore who played at small Concordia-St. Paul saw little action as a rookie but will be looking to make a big step in 2015. His size alone makes him an intriguing prospect to watch. Chris Jones the third-year player from Bowling Green has been effective inside as a pass rusher and will also be looked to again to provide some depth inside.

The interior pass rush was bolstered by linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower who attacked the A-gaps extremely well in 2014. With an improved presence at the interior DL this season, that should make them even more effective.

If all of this falls into place, the edge rushers Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich should be much more effective in 2015. Jones and Ninkovich have played far too many snaps in recent seasons and this off-season the team brought in Jabaal Sheard to help in the rotation and give the pass rushers a boost.

During the draft the Patriots added three more potential edge rushers in Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers and Xzavier Dickson. The trio can play either with their hand in the dirt as defensive ends or play standing upright as outside line backers. The competition will be fierce for snaps and roster spots this summer.

On paper this looks like an exciting season to watch the front seven for the Patriots defense. They’ll be counted upon to provide much better, more consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks to alleviate pressure on the secondary.

But replacing players with the caliber of Wilfork and Revis is much harder than simply plugging a new guy in there. It may take some time to gel. The pieces are in place, Bill Belichick will tinker with the unit until he finds a place for everyone to fit and will play to their strengths.

The 2015 version of the Patriots defense will look vastly different from the one that took the field in Super Bowl XLIX. If what Belichick can get what he’s looking for from this group, it should prove to be quite an interesting season.

Is it time for training camp yet?…

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 6-28 and Notes Around the AFC East


Tom Brady’s appeal was heard in NYC on Tuesday, now it is waiting time for him and the Patriots. (USA TODAY Images)

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

Brady Appeal Now In Waiting Mode for Goodell (to try to save face): The NFL finally got around to hearing the appeal for the four-game suspension for Patriots QB Tom Brady on Tuesday. Depending upon who is being asked, either Tom Brady was outstanding on the stand or was not believable. It will also depend on what side of the fence one was on to begin with. As the longer this case drags out, the less people will be swayed by any testimony.

The meeting took nearly 11 hours and after initial reports surfaced by ESPN’s Adam Schefter (that were backed up by emails from the league), that Brady’s defense team would only be granted four hours to prove their case, the league relented and both sides heard plenty of testimony before wrapping things up.

Now with the waiting game, Brady will probably not hear anything from the league until training camp opens.

Of course that was the last thing that the NFL and Goodell needed as they desperately try to save face in this fiasco as more and more it becomes increasingly apparent that the league was “Much More Probable Than Not” intent on finding guilt in the Deflate-gate case against New England.

After a shoddy investigation by Ted Wells and his scientific proof by Exponent was “deflated” by American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the league still hasn’t proved that either the Patriots or anyone else has tampered with the footballs or that Tom Brady had any wrongdoing in this entire overblown affair.

A four-game suspension on such flimsy evidence is unprecedented and harsh. Coupled with some out and out lies by VP in charge of Officiating Dean Blandino as to when the league first heard of the Colts suspicions make the New England charges of a sting seem more believable. Comments by Mike Kensil drive the point home.

Goodell was asked to recuse himself but denied the request by the NFLPA. Now he’s painted into a corner. If he upholds the suspension, this case is likely headed to court and a bigger black eye for the league. If he reduces it significantly, he admits that the league didn’t have much to stand on to begin with. Chalk it up to you reap what you sow.

Brady Has Hilarious Cameo in Ted2: On a light-hearted note, Brady, who has hinted he may seek out some Hollywood roles once his playing career is over has a small but outrageously funny appearance in Ted2.

In the sequel directed by Seth MacFarlane, Ted and John (played by Brady buddy Mark Wahlberg) are searching for a sperm donor so that Ted and his wife can have children. They attempt to sneak into Brady’s home in the dead of night to “get a sperm sample.”

As one can imagine, the results are typically MacFarlane-ish and hilariously funny. We found out about this last August as a close friend working on the film hinted at the Brady cameo in August around the time of the Panthers’ pre-season game. But we were sworn to secrecy and even got to visit the set and meet with some of the stars including MacFarlane, Wahlberg and Sam Jones who reprises his role as Flash Gordon.

Take the time and see the sequel as it is even funnier than the original. Brady’s cameo is bound to please Patriots fans…. Must see summer fare.

Looking For a Job, The NFL is Hiring A Legue Director of Investigations: Think the owners of the NFL were happy with Ted Wells and the Wells Report? Think again.

The league is actively hiring a new league Director of Investigations. Among the job descriptions:

  • Conducts data recovery operations in order to extract artifacts of evidentiary value, to include both hardware and software based data restoration and the decryption of protected files.
    •Recovers and examines data from computers and other electronic storage devices in support of internal investigations, potential criminal matters and e-discovery efforts.
    •Examines data from computers and other electronic storage devices in support of internal investigations, potential criminal matters and e-discovery efforts.
    •Provides detailed reporting, in verbal and written formats, in order to support investigators and key decision makers.
    •Serves as subject matter expert relative to digital forensic investigation, providing consultation to management when necessary.
    •Coordinate, supervise and manage detailed and complex investigations involving alleged impropriety or criminal conduct by League and Club personnel

So if you fit the bill and can be a true “independent investigator, click here for the details.

Broncos’ Sanders Latest With Memory Lapse: In case you missed it, Denver wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders thinks that the Patriots Super Bowl championship should be vacated due to the Deflate-gate controversy.

Sanders, who nearly became a Patriot in 2013 was speaking to a large group of kids at a Denver area football camp and said New England shouldn’t be recognized as legitimate Super Bowl champs.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m kind of mad. I don’t think that they (New England) should be the Super Bowl champion this year.”

“You aren’t supposed to cheat,” Sanders said. “Cheating is not good, especially when you’ve got guys who are working their butts off for 365 days out of the year and one person cheats — whether it helps them win the Super Bowl or not, they still cheated and shouldn’t be a champion.”

It all makes for great fodder for the press in attendance but perhaps before stepping on the soapbox Sanders should recall his own fine for one of the worst examples of faking an injury on the field. Sanders and the Steelers were fined a combined $50,000 for this back in October 2012.

Malcolm Butler OTA Snub Leads to NFLPA Charge: Malcolm Butler has had a special off-season. After getting the Super Bowl saving interception, he was the toast of many talk shows on both television and radio. But all that came to a screeching halt when he was late to the Patriots first “voluntary” OTA.

Bill Belichick, sending a message, kept Butler off the field for the first few workouts from May 28 thru June 5th. Everyone knows Belichick hates tardiness…..just ask Jonas Gray. Gray rushed for 200 yards against the Colts but overslept the next week and promptly fell off the face of the earth for the remainder of the season.

But Butler’s case is different and the NFLPA is taking up his cause. The player’s association has filed a complaint against the Patriots in this case for refusing to allow Butler to practice in a voluntary workout. In this case, other than Deflate-gate, the Patriots are clearly wrong…it is spelled out in the CBA.

Expect a ruling to come down on this sooner rather than later.

Kraft Visit to the Holy Land Ends: Patriots owner Robert Kraft wrapped up a visit with 19 NFL Hall of Famers to Israel this week as the players spread the word about the NFL to a country with a huge thirst for the game.

The players toured the country spending time at all the holy sites where three different religions find their beginnings. But the time spent on the football fields of Kraft Stadium was a highlight for many of the aspiring football players of Israel.

Kraft taped an interview for Patriots.com on the balcony of the King David Hotel overlooking the old part of the city of Jerusalem and spoke about he and his wife’s philanthropic efforts in the country and his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “My life has been enhanced by bringing people to this country,” Kraft told Patriots.com. “And in many ways, it has changed their lives so we decided to follow thru with this Hall of Fame trip.”

The Prime Minister met with the Hall of Famers and used a little football jargon in describing the efforts of Iran to procure nuclear weapons. He then used the time to practice politics as he urged the NFLers to take home with them the idea that this was a dangerous proposition.

But overall the trip was marked by some eye-opening experiences. Having worked there numerous times and even having met Netanyahu, it is a fantastic place to visit. It is chock full of religion and history. Put that down on your bucket list.

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

Is this the Year Someone takes Down the Patriots In the AFC East: A big topic of conversation among the other three teams in the division is the fact that the Patriots now minus Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Vince Wilfork, coupled with the possible suspension of Tom Brady are now maybe vulnerable.

With the improvement made by all three teams this season, the division will definitely be more interesting to watch in 2015. But QB issues still plague the Buffalo Bills and Geno Smith is still far from a lock.

Miami with Ryan Tannehill, flush with a new contract and an improved roster around him look to be the biggest challengers this season. But the games are played on the field not on paper and the Patriots have always found a way under Bill Belichick to adapt year in and year out.

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.

Tom Brady’s Appeal Ends After Nearly 11 Hours, Now the Waiting Game Begins

BRADY-APPEAL
Tom Brady seen entering the NFL HQs on Tuesday, had his appeal heard in an attempt to lessen or overturn his 4-game suspension. (USA TODAY Images)

The appeal process with the league over, Tom Brady will now have to wait for Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision on his suspension to see if he takes it to the courts.

After more than ten hours of testimony the two sides worked through the entire process and now Brady’s appeal is concluded. No further meetings are scheduled nor expected with the league.

Initially there was a bit of controversy over how long Brady’s defense team would be allowed to present their case. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported and had the emails to backup his claim that the league was going to limit Brady and his lawyers only four hours to present their defense. But the two sides worked thru the dinner hours until it was wrapped up around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night.

Brady was initially suspended on May 11 for four games and fined a total of $1.88 million dollars for being “generally aware” of a violation of the integrity of the game. The AFC Championship Game was the backdrop for Deflate-gate where after a 103 day investigation by Ted Wells, to the tune of $5 million dollars, Wells deemed that the Patriots were “more probable than not” guilty of deflating the footballs used in the first half of the game.

Brady testified under oath, which is only a factor if the case reaches federal court. If a federal court deems Brady lied under oath, he could face additional charges. The plan for the defense team was to be as open and forthright as possible but it is not known if Brady agreed to hand over his phone records and emails asked for during the Wells investigation. Patriots owner Robert Kraft was traveling back from Israel on Tuesday and was unable to attend the hearings but did give a written statement in support of Brady.

Brady’s lawyer Jeffery Kessler was seen by reporters leaving the NFL Headquarters and only stated that, “we presented a very compelling case, that’s all I’ll say”.

USA Today’s Lorenzo Reyes wrote that according to a source, “A person with knowledge of Brady’s testimony said he stuck with the story he has told since the investigation began: that if there were any scheme to deflate footballs below permissible levels for January’s AFC title rout of the Indianapolis Colts, he didn’t know about it or order it.”

Schefter reporting from ESPN, wrote on Twitter that Brady fared well in his testimony and tweeted this Tuesday night.

Schefter Brady appeal

Ted Wells was also on hand on Tuesday and told reporters outside of 345 Park Avenue that he did testify but offered no other comments.

Commissioner Goodell arrived and left via the parking garage and wasn’t available for any quotes. Goodell left at approximately 8:49 p.m.

The sidewalk outside of the NFL headquarters was packed with dozens of media members and hundreds of fans, some of whom held up signs to “Free Brady”. When the Patriots QB entered the building thru a side door around 9 a.m. he was surrounded by fans asking for autographs but didn’t stop to speak.

Now the ball is in the Commissioner’s court. It would be a surprise if he rules on this fiasco anytime soon. The Greg Hardy suspension case was heard more than six weeks ago and still nothing has been announced yet. Brady and the Patriots could very well be into training camp before knowing what Goodell’s ruling will be.

Hurry up and wait….

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.

Kraft, NFL Hall of Famers A Big Hit in Israel

Patriots owner Robert Kraft led a group of nineteen NFL Hall of Famers to Israel last week.  The eye-opening trip was a big hit for both the NFL fans from Israel but for the players from the NFL’s best who take back an experience many won’t soon forget.

Their visit to the Holy Land consisted of visiting places of historic and religious importance, meeting with various political leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The trip was arranged and paid for by Kraft, but the Americans were accompanied by Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer whose goal was to show the Hall of Famers, “the true Israel” and not one depicted in the press.

A highlight of the trip was a visit to Kraft Stadium in Jerusalem hosted by league head Steve Leibowitz, where various teams from Israel Football League met with the Hall of Famers and played a scrimmage that the former NFL players could watch first hand. The following clip was broadcast on IBA:

Hall of Famer Ron Mix spoke about the negative stereotypes of the Jewish people and about meeting a female Jewish fighter pilot and her story of fighting for her country, which Mix stated nearly moved many of the Americans to tears.

Kraft speaking to the crowd said, “Football is the ultimate team game, …the survival of Israel over the past 68 years because of a sense of team. No other country is a team the way you are and the way this country has developed,” Kraft said.

He added, “the fact that you’ve done that and we have to the privilege of having these 19 gold jackets here, the greatest players in the world coming to honor you… we thank them.” Speaking of his wishes, Kraft hopes that “one of you sitting out there will go to the NFL, and come back with a gold jacket.

The NFL players and Kraft earlier had met with and presented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a helmet and jersey from the NFL Hall of Fame. The Prime Minister spoke with the players and asked that they take home with them a message to the US to not allow Iran the ability to own nuclear weapons. Using football terminology, Netanyahu stated that “Iran is on the one-yard line of owning nuclear weapons”. He stated that the prospect of a nuclear Iran was a danger to the people of Israel and to the United States.

Kraft and the group was scheduled to leave Israel on Tuesday.

Patriots QB Tom Brady’s Appeal Set, Three Points to Watch For


Tom Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension begins Tuesday morning in New York City. (USA TODAY Images)

All eyes are on Park Avenue in New York City on Tuesday morning as the appeal for Tom Brady and his four-game suspension reach the NFL office and Roger Goodell.

Brady and his legal team will face off against the league’s lawyers in the latest episode of Deflate-gate and its aftermath. Brady was suspended on May 11 for being “generally aware” that his footballs may have been tampered with during the AFC Championship Game. Brady immediately announced thru his agent Don Yee that he intended to appeal. He hired Jeffrey Kessler and they asked the Commissioner to recuse himself from hearing the appeal since they plan on calling him as a witness. Goodell refused and in accordance with the CBA, has the authority to be the arbiter in these cases.

Ted Wells is expected to be on-hand for testimony and each side is expected to question him at length. Wells was paid $5 million for conducting what the league characterized as an “independent investigation” that took 103 days, or roughly $48,543.69 a day. Since the Wells Report has been released, it has been scrutinized by every scientific body from universities to junior high school science classes and will be attacked by the defense.

While testimony may or may not wrap up on Tuesday, don’t expect any revelations forthcoming from the league office. The appeal from Greg Hardy was heard nearly six weeks ago and a decision is still forthcoming. However, here are three major points that will be discussed during the appeal that will need to be addressed:

Does the League Have Other Evidence…i.e. a Smoking Gun?: Since the Wells Report release, many have questioned its analysis and its independence. One thing hasn’t changed, and that is the confidence of Goodell.

The Commissioner has been adamant that the Wells Report and the scientific evidence submitted by Exponent is all the league needed to suspend Brady and went further saying he welcomed any further evidence by Brady’s team and said he looked forward to hearing from Brady himself.

Could the league have in their possession evidence that it hadn’t previously produced? In the Wells Report they cited text messages by Patriots equipment assistants John Jastremski and Jim McNally referring to “the Deflator” as their evidence that the footballs had been deflated.

But since being let go by New England, the silence from Jastremski and McNally has been deafening. Considering the tone of the texts between the two during the season, especially when Brady was complaining about the air pressure in the footballs, could the NFL have reached out to either or both and got them to admit wrongdoing? That was something neither had done prior

Brady’s Non-Compliance Issue: One of the main factors of his four-game suspension according to the league was the fact that he didn’t comply with the league’s request that he turn over text messages and emails pertaining to Deflate-gate.

“I think we were very clear in the letter (to Brady), that the non-cooperation was a factor in the discipline, absolutely,” Goodell said at the league’s Owner’s meetings. “… We do expect to have that in investigations. That’s an important part of it. And when there isn’t full cooperation, that is certainly part of the discipline.”

Brady’s camp is expected to argue that after sitting with investigators for a full day he was under the impression that he had in fact complied with the league and that the failure to turn over said material was never explained to him that it was non-compliant.

Also the absolute sieve that NFL HQs has been with more leaks than a colander about this issue with many of the leaks to members of the media out and out fabrications has been a major sticking point.  Could Brady turn over the material during the appeal and have the obstruction charges removed? Possibly but with the league already having in their possession the phones of Jastremski and McNally, any communication between between Brady and the two is already in the league’s hands.

Unless of course the league is on a fishing expedition to get more people involved….i.e. Bill Belichick.

Then there is the precedent set down by the league itself. The league’s rule covering the treatment of the footballs is considered an equipment issue and the fine for said violations is $25,000. A similar violation by the San Diego Chargers netted the fine a few seasons ago when they were found to be rubbing the footballs with a towel covered in a sticky material that would aid them in throwing and catching it.

Last season in a game between the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings, it was discovered that warming towels were used on the sidelines a clear violation of the league’s rules. But no fine, no suspension and no investigation followed. The league sent each team a letter asking that they don’t do that again.

During an investigation by the league as to a supposed Brett Favre sexual misconduct allegation, Favre refused to turn over his phone and/or texts that he supposedly sent sexually suggestive pictures to Jets staffer Jenn Sterger. Favre’s punishment was a $50,000 fine, something quite different from Brady’s four-game suspension and $1.88 million dollar fine. Brady’s lawyers will argue and rightfully so that those punishments are excessive and arbitrary.

Attacking the Wells Report:Brady’s team will attack several points of the Wells Report. Among them….that the scientific data is self-serving and just plain wrong. The fact that Exponent used the data that strengthens the NFL’s case should be no surprise. They have a history of slanting their data to whoever pays for their services. In defending the tobacco industry, Exponent concluded that second-hand smoke isn’t dangerous. The science used by Exponent just doesn’t hold up. AEI and others proved that in their investigations since.

There have been several points about the true independence of Wells from the beginning. The Patriots argued that it was a sting operation. Commissioner Goodell and Dean Blandino the VP in charge of Officiating for the NFL both deny these charges. Blandino stated that the first he heard of the deflating of footballs was at halftime of the AFC Championship Game. But Colts GM Ryan Grigson sent an email to the league the week prior to the game alleging that the Patriots were not inflating their footballs to the correct PSI as handed down by the league.

The league forwarded Grigson’s email to various officials and Blandino himself told referee Walt Anderson to “ensure the proper protocols for the footballs are followed.”

Why weren’t the Patriots informed of these concerns? Wells’ reports that the Colts’ allegations were dismissed out of hand are an out and out lie considering the actions of Blandino the night prior to the game.

And the league and Wells have cleared themselves of a sting. But while Goodell said Wells investigated the Patriots allegations of a sting operation and cleared the league, it has come to light that he didn’t investigate the league at all.

An email from league attorney Jeff Pash to Wells states to Wells that he investigate the football PSI issue and the league would investigate themselves.

While no outside media or observers will be allowed inside the appeal on Tuesday morning…..it would make for some compelling television. And so it begins. But don’t expect the process to end here today, it is just the opening salvo in the process.

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.

Former New England Patriots Coach Dante Scarnecchia Honored By PFWA

Coach Scar
Dante Scarnecchia was honored by the PFWA as one of the three winners of the “Dr.Z” Award given to assistant NFL coaches for lifetime acheivement. (SBalestrieri Images)

Former Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was honored by the Professional Football Writers of America as one of three winners of the “Dr. Z” Award named after former SI writer Paul Zimmerman.

The award is given for lifetime achievement in the NFL for assistant coaches. This year’s group includes former Steelers and now Titans assistant Dick LeBeau and former Colts and now Cardinals assistant Tom Moore.

Zimmerman wrote for Sports Illustrated for 29 years as their lead NFL writer before several strokes left him disabled. His “Thinking Man’s Guide for Pro Football” is considered the bible for young aspiring writers covering the league.

Scarnecchia, retired from coaching after the 2013 season after 30 seasons with the Patriots and 32 in the NFL. However, he’s been far from invisible in his retirement. Coach Scar has been a key figure in the Patriots in the last two NFL drafts for the Pats scouting and working out numerous players along the offensive line.

His scouting and close relationship with the Florida State coaching staff was considered a key reason why the team added Center Brian Stork in 2014 and Guard Tre’ Jackson this spring. Scarnecchia also worked out Guard Shaq Mason this year, who the Patriots also drafted this spring.

In the press release for Scarnecchia’s award the PFWA wrote:  “He entered the NFL ranks with the Patriots as tight ends/special teams coach (1982-88) and moved to Indianapolis as the Colts’ offensive line coach (1989-90). He returned to New England as the Patriots’ tight ends/special teams coach (1991-92) and worked as special assistant (1993-94), defensive assistant/linebackers (1995-96), special teams coach (1997-98), offensive line coach (1999) and assistant head coach/offensive line (2000-13). His work with the Patriots helped protect quarterback Tom Brady during three Super Bowl-winning seasons in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Scarnecchia coached in the first seven Super Bowls the Patriots were involved in (XX, XXXI, XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII and XLVI).”

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 6-21 and Notes Around the AFC East

Gillette practice fields
The Patriots wrapped up their mini-camp a day early and are off until training camp begins at the end of July. (SBalestrieri Images)

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

Kraft’s Israel Visit Deepening in Tradition: On Tuesday, Robert Kraft jetted off for Jerusalem and with him were Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker and 19 Hall of Famers including former Patriots John Hannah, Michael Haynes, Andre Tippett and Curtis Martin.

Kraft is spearheading this trip, “Touchdown in Israel” as well as paying for all travel arrangements and accommodations for all of the guests on this trip to act as ambassadors for the NFL.  The guests will watch a scrimmage of the Israeli national team and host an event at the stadium that bears Kraft’s name that he built in 2000.

This kind of trip with so many Hall of Famers from all over the league is a first of its kind, bringing the NFL shield and many of its greatest ambassadors to a country that is building their own legacy. Kraft has made many philanthropic visits to the Holy Land with his late wife Myra and he also funded the Kraft Family Israel Football League.

We did a story on the league and had an interview with League President Steve Leibowitz back in 2011 and the league is remarkable as one of the few places where young Jews and Palestinians not only work together but cheer for one another. When Myra Kraft passed away the people of Jerusalem held a memorial service in the Kraft stadium attended by the former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a close friend of the Kraft family as well as other dignitaries and Kraft’s son Dan. Robert Kraft spoke via video to the crowd in Hebrew.

For Curtis Martin, he says witnessing how the game is growing outside the U.S. will be educational for him.  The Hall of Famers will also have the chance to visit various historic and religious landmarks, many for the first time and meet with Israeli government officials. “We all need a different understanding of Israel,” Martin said to the press. “And to see it in this way, it could be the most significant trip any of us has ever been on.”

After a tumultuous winter and spring where the Patriots not only won a Super Bowl but had its 2016 first round draft pick stripped away in the Deflate-gate mess, Kraft is back to doing what he does best. Bringing people together and promoting the NFL and its product.

Brady Appeal Set for Tuesday: All eyes will be looking to Park Ave. on Tuesday morning at 9:30. Tom Brady’s four-game suspension appeal will be heard by Commissioner Roger Goodell….(you really didn’t think he’d let anyone else hear this did you?)

Standing behind Goodell and the league is the Ted Wells report with the “independent investigative” firm of Exponent. Brady will have his team of lawyers headed by Jeffery Kessler and the NFLPA. Recent reports by AEI and published by the NY Times “deflate” most of Wells claims as flawed.

There is also history to be heard…in investigating former Jets and Packers QB Brett Favre who was accused of texting pictures of his private parts to a Jets staffer, Favre refused to turn over his cell phone to the league. His punishment was a $50,000 fine. Brady’s refusal to turn over his phone was cited as a failure to cooperate and was a major factor in his four-game suspension.

Then there is the league itself, VP in charge of Officiating Dean Blandino in answering the Patriots charges of a sting operation stated that he heard about Deflate-gate for the first time at half-time of the AFC Championship Game. But the facts state otherwise.

After Colts GM Ryan Grigson made his suspicions to the league about the Patriots and their footballs air pressure, he emailed the league about them. Senior VP of Football Operations David Gardi and Director of Football Operations Mike Kensil forwarded the email of the Colts to Blandino, and Alberto Riveron as an “FYI” to see the Colts suspicions.

Blandino on the day BEFORE the Championship game instructed referee Walt Anderson to ensure that the proper protocols were followed for the footballs.

The New York Post grilled Blandino on the idea of a Patriots sting operation on January 29 and he had this to say. “I don’t know where (a sting) came from,” Blandino said. “This was a problem that came up in the first half.” This is more probable than not…an outright lie. And that is from the head of officiating….the guy who protects the integrity of the game.

Michael Hurley from CBS Boston wrote an interesting piece on the entire episode that can be read here: Also why was Goodell kept in the dark…or was he?

Goodell spent $5 million for the biased and misleading Wells Report….he’s forced to either admit the league lied or stand his ground and uphold the suspension. Of course he may reduce it to a game or two, but if he does either of those, I believe this one is heading for court as Brady is unlikely to accept any penalty. If the appeal needs more time it will be held on Thursday….stay tuned.

Mini-camp Ends Early, Belichick Pleased…so far: The Patriots wrapped up their mandatory mini-camp a day early and Bill Belichick as he’s done in the past, cut the final day of camp out and got the players off for an early vacation.

The team won’t be back until training camp begins in late July, and Belichick for one was looking forward to getting some fishing in on Nantucket. But as to mini-camp he stated, “We’ve got a lot of stuff in,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of things. We’ve gotten into more situational football each day. We’ll just keep building on that. It’s good to expose it to them once and then the next time around hopefully it will come a little bit quicker.”

Early standouts included CBs Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, TEs Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler who worked on the side often with Tom Brady building up some chemistry in the red zone and Jimmy Garappolo. Garappolo was getting almost 50 percent of the reps in preparing for the possibility that Brady will be suspended for the first four games of 2015.

“We’re not going to conquer the world this week,” Belichick added.  “But we can just keep pushing forward on all the basic situations and then as many of those extra ones as we can get to just puts us that much further ahead down the road,” he said.

Brady Donates All Money From Speaking Engagement: In May Salem State University a non-profit school paid Patriots QB Tom Brady, $170,000 to speak at the school. Brady was chastised by some in the press for accepting any money at all.

The well-attended event was paid for by school’s Foundation and thru ticket sales and corporate sponsors netted the school a reported $40,000. It was the only time since the Wells Report came out that Brady has spoken publicly…..but Brady didn’t keep a cent of the money.

It was later reported that Brady donated $50,000 of the money to his favorite charity “Best Buddies” that he actively supports thru a touch football game at Harvard Stadium each year and a bike ride from Boston to Cape Cod. The remaining $120,000 was donated to other charities supported by Brady and his wife Giselle Bundchen.

So all in all it was a win-win. The school netted $40,000 and although Brady was paid a tremendous amount of money for an hour’s appearance, every dime of it went to deserving charities. There is no negative spin there even for the die-hard Brady or Patriots bashers.

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

Bills QB Carousel Shows No Sign of Slowing Down: The Buffalo Bills will have a tremendous defense in 2015, that is a given and they’ve upgraded their offense with a number of well known free agents including Shady McCoy and Charles Clay.

But for the most important position on offense, at quarterback there are still more questions than answers. All three candidates for the starting job, Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor or E.J. Manuel looked good when facing the Bills defense in 11-on-11 drills. Part of that could be attributed to the Bills pass rush, except there wasn’t one in mini-camp.

With training camp starting in about six weeks the Bills are still in limbo as to who is going to lead this offense once the season starts. Training camp will be an interesting one to watch for the Bills offense.

Dolphins – Panthers Agree to Joint Practices: The Miami Dolphins announced that they’ve agreed to conduct joint practices with the Carolina Panthers. The teams will meet on August 19-20 at the Wofford College campus in Spartanburg, South Carolina where the Panthers conduct training camp prior to the August 22 pre-season game between the two teams.

This will be the first joint practice venture for the Dolphins under Joe Phillbin. The Panthers haven’t held a joint practice since holding one with Detroit in 2000.

The Dolphins begin training camp on July 28, while the Panthers start on July 30.

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New England Patriots Sign 1st Round Pick Malcom Brown, Release TE Davis


The Patriots signed first round draft pick, DT Malcom Brown to a four-year contract today. Terms were not available. (USA TODAY Images)

The Patriots announced today the signing of first-round draft pick defensive tackle Malcom Brown. While terms of the contract were not available, Brown became the second-to-last first round pick to sign a contract this spring. Only QB Marcus Mariota of the Titans remains unsigned. The Patriots also released tight end Fred Davis.

Brown, 21, was selected by the Patriots with the final pick in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The 6’2, 320 defensive stand-out at Texas, started  26-of-39 games over his three-year career and started all 13 games he played as a junior in 2014 and finished with 72 total tackles and 6½ sacks. He was a consensus first-team Big 12 and All-America selection.

Brown is expected to fill some big shoes with the departure of Vince Wilfork this spring but although the similar in size the two are different players. Brown downplayed comparisons to Big Vince when talking to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald this week during mini-camp.

“I’m not here to replace anybody,” Brown said to Howe. “Vince was a great player, and obviously everybody sees that. Whatever role the coaches give me, I’m going to take that role and play my best at it.”

Brown got plenty of work during OTAs and mini-camp with the absence of Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch and Chris Jones. He and 2nd year DT Dominique Easley are expected to play key roles for the interior of the Patriots defense for years to come.

Davis was attempting a comeback and was signed by the Patriots as a free agent on May 11, 2015 just four days after being reinstated by the NFL. Davis is a veteran of six NFL seasons (2008-13) with the Washington Redskins but was suspended indefinitely by the NFL after failing a drug test for the second time.

Bill Belichick this week lauded Davis’ work ethic in trying to work his way back into the NFL but did hint that rust was a factor in saying that Davis, “hadn’t played in a while.”

Originally a 2nd round draft pick (48th overall) in the 2008 NFL Draft out of USC, Davis played in 72 NFL games with 43 starts and has 162 receptions for 2,043 yards with 13 touchdowns. His best season was in 2011 when he caught 59 passes for 796 yards with three touchdowns.

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Patriots Much Deeper at LB Entering 2015 Despite Key Absences in Mini-camp


Jamie Collins spearheads a deep and talented group of linebackers for the Patriots in 2015. (USA TODAY Images)

The Patriots wrapped up their second day of mandatory mini-camp on Wednesday and Bill Belichick canceled the final day of workouts on Thursday giving the players an early vacation until training camp begins at the end of July.

One intriguing area to watch once camp begins will be the linebacker position. Unlike the beginning of 2014 where the depth was practically non-existent, this season’s group seems to be much deeper, talented and versatile. That depth was tested during OTAs and mini-camp.

All three starters, Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins missed OTAs and mini-camp due to injuries and/or off-season surgery. Mayo was seriously injured for the second season in a row and only played in six games in 2014. Hightower played down the stretch and the playoffs with a torn shoulder labrum, had surgery and should be ready for the season’s start.

Top backup Dane Fletcher who spent four seasons with the Patriots before playing last season with Tampa before re-signing with the Pats as a free agent missed mini-camp as well.

Morris Makes Most of Opportunity: Their absences opened the door for second year linebacker James Morris to get a lot of reps during the spring workouts holding down the middle. He’s healthy now and is looking to work his way into one of the top substitution roles on the Patriots defense.

Morris was a highly sought UDFA from Iowa last spring and his rookie season was doomed by injury. During rookie mini-camp, he suffered a blood clot in his leg and was subsequently released. He was brought back midway thru training camp and although playing from behind, caught the eyes of the coaching staff, wearing the green dot communication device in the final preseason game against the Giants before being injured and placed on IR.

The team re-signed STs ace Chris White as well bringing in Jonathan Freeny from the Miami Dolphins. Also signed during free agency was Buccaneer backup LB and special teams Dekoda Watson. Also vying for a roster spot will be 4th year LB Darius Fleming and OLB Eric Martin. After Brandon Spikes’ release, the Patriots signed 6’0, 250 ILB D.J. Lynch from Bowling Green. Green is a run-stuffer in the Spikes mold who played OLB in college but projects to be more of a two-down ILB in the pros.

Draft Highlights Versatility: During the 2015 NFL Draft, the Patriots drafted three players who are versatile enough to play both standing up at OLB or with their hand down in the dirt as a defensive end. Geneo Grissom from Oklahoma, Trey Flowers from Arkansas and Xzavier Dickson from Alabama all have versatility and experience playing on the edge.

Belichick practically raved about the potential for Grissom after he was drafted back in May and he could be a very intriguing prospect. Dickson was the “Jack” linebacker in the Alabama defense run by coach and Belichick close confidant Nick Saban. The “jack” is another word for the Belichick “Elephant” position that Willie McGinest played so well for New England. Not to compare Dickson to McGinest, who at this point is just a rookie trying to make the squad. But having played a similar position in a Patriots-type defense, the transition shouldn’t be too hard for a player who has just scratched the surface of his potential.

The Patriots also drafted the under-sized but very athletic Matthew Wells in the draft. Wells for now is getting more reps on the STs units but could fit the bill as the “big nickel” safety when facing teams with athletic tight ends.

With an increased focus on the front seven in 2015, the Patriots will be looking to get much better, more consistent pressure on the quarterback. Defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were bolstered by the signing of Jabaal Sheard during free agency as well as having second year player Zach Moore with a year in the system.

Now with the depth to plug and play a number of other players into the mix, the Patriots can utilize plenty of different players and combinations to bring pressure from the edge. Interior pressure from Hightower and Collins was outstanding in 2014 and coupled with an increased edge presence will only make the outside pass rush more productive.

Bill Belichick loves camp competition and this deep group now gives him plenty of options and flexibility to mix and match. And while the core group of linebackers missed the spring workouts, it isn’t a cause for concern just yet. The depth of the linebackers on the 2015 version of the Patriots gives them one of the more talented and deeper units in the league.

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Four Questions as Patriots Mini-Camp Opens


The Patriots mini-camp opens today, and the team has some questions to answer. (SBalestrieri Images)

The Patriots open their mandatory three-day mini-camp starting Tuesday. It will be running through Thursday this week before the players get an early summer break that will last until the end of July when training camp starts at Foxboro.

As in OTAs, head coach Bill Belichick has stated that the mini-camp is still more focused on teaching than competition but there will be plenty of that going on as well.

The current CBA does not allow pads so the big men in the middle won’t be able to show much of what they can do yet. But there is plenty to be accomplished this week before the players return…with numbers on their jerseys in July.

Team building is a process and this is still very early in this course of action, the team we see now won’t be the same one that will emerge from training camp and won’t be the same one we’ll see in late December.

So here are four questions heading into Mini-camp that will need to be addressed: