FOXBOROUGH -- Things that are cause for alarm in New England football: Injuries to Tom Brady (see: Clayborn, Adrian) and the lack of viable receiving options (see: Welker, Wes).
That, we know.
Almost halfway through the season, the Patriots are still trying to find the magic antidote that will somehow resurrect the team's dominant passing attacks of 2011 and 2012. Part of the team's problem has been its young receivers, who have combined for 26 drops thus far, second most in the NFL.
But there is growing evidence that part of the problem has been Brady himself, who is on pace to complete one of the most inaccurate seasons in his 14-year career. He's completing 66.9 percent of his passes that haven't been dropped, thrown away, spiked, or batted down, according to the statistical website ProFootballFocus.com. Among the 23 quarterbacks in the league who have taken at least 75 percent of their team's dropbacks, he ranks 22d when all of these factors are considered.FULL ENTRY
Rob Gronkowski is expected to make his long-awaited return to the football field after being cleared by his medical advisers, according to his agent.
He’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. And if Bill Belichick is anything like the Patriots’ fervent fanbase, he can’t wait to unleash his prized offensive weapon.
The best way to understand what the Patriots have missed in the first six games of this season without Gronk is in considering how big of a difference he means to the team’s ability to score points. (Does anything else matter?) Gronk scored touchdowns so frequently, sometimes people fail to realize how miraculous he was. In 48 career games, including the playoffs, he has reached the end zone a little under a touchdown a game (0.85). Had he played in this first leg of the season, he would have at least five right now at that kind of pace.FULL ENTRY
One play encapsulates what Patriots rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson has brought to the team.
It just so happens that it came in Week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
On an in-cut from the left, Dobson entered the vacuum in the middle of the field created by a Cincinnati blitz before being hit in stride by Tom Brady. He had just cleared traffic brought on by a post route run by Julian Edelman. As Dobson made the catch, Bengals cornerback Adam Jones trailed from his man-to-man coverage of the rookie while Cincinnati safety George Iloka made a break on the ball.
Iloka misjudged Dobson’s speed on the play, missing the tackle after taking a poor angle. Dobson easily beat him to the spot and had room to run.
Jones, still trailing, couldn’t catch him either, diving for a tackle. That's when Dobson put on the moves, racing along the middle of the field for a 53-yard gain. But as he was looking to make one final cut, with open field inches away and a touchdown almost assured for his hard work, Iloka caught up to him and swiped the ball out of his arms. Dobson, still in full control, scrambled to get the ball back, ending the most electrifying play of his four-game career.
The Patriots only have a few elder statesmen. Tom Brady (2000), Vince Wilfork (2004), Logan Mankins (2005), and Stephen Gostkowski (2006); in that order.
Jerod Mayo, Matthew Slater, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell all came in 2008, followed by Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Ninkovich, Julian Edelman and Kyle Arrington in 2009.
That’s a good chunk of your core players who are respected on this team and league-wide. Take out one name, any name, and it’s an entirely different football team. And as you might suspect, each of those super veterans are at, or near, the top of their positions.
Imagine the surprise then, when the numbers come out after film review and one player in particular, who has been one of the most consistent players in the league at his position and lauded by his peers (voted the 30th best player in the Top 100), is having a pretty tough stretch in his career.
What, exactly, is up with Wilfork?FULL ENTRY
There is something special about a defense that returns 10 of its 11 starters.
Call it steady, consistent, or even reliable (gasp!). You know what you’re getting in terms of talent, smarts, and headaches, all in one batch. That’s the 2013 Patriots defense after adding only defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to its core group.
And similarly, the team’s performance has not changed dramatically over the past three years, ranking 25th or worse in total defense and 29th or worse in passing defense. But over the past year, the defense has gone from a leaky cauldron of everything-in-the-pot stew, to a cream of mushroom soup, with much of its success being traced to a more consistent secondary, and in particular cornerback Aqib Talib.FULL ENTRY
It’s a small sample size, but the trends are there.
Two weeks into the regular season, the enthusiasm and hype for a new group of wide receivers and a revamped offense appears to be wearing thin. It seems that poor chemistry and offensive rhythm is something Patriots Nation cannot yet stomach, despite being 2-0.
But there’s more, of course. So what have we learned?FULL ENTRY
To reach the pantheon of pro football, and in doing so regain an aura of invincibility, the Patriots will need more than a flawless Tom Brady in 2013.
The goal is always the same in these parts: win the Super Bowl or bust. It’s what the Patriots expect of themselves.
This is Bill Belichick’s 14th season in New England as head coach. It’s Brady’s 14th season. The fantastic duo needs much more than a breezy schedule and a playoff bye to claim their fourth Lombardi Trophy. What the Patriots need, more than anything else, is playmaking in the postseason.
Mobile users unable to see the video, click here.FULL ENTRY
When breaking down the Patriots’ moves to get down to their final 53-man roster -- which is likely still a fluid situation -- the more and more one digests the roster fluctuation, the more one can determine the root causes of certain actions.
For the team’s brass, a lot of decisions appear to be traced back to the health and availability of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
After missing the entire offseason while rehabilitating from back and forearm surgery, Gronkowski returned to practice Sunday in full pads, going through drills.
With Gronkowski at his disposal, Bill Belichick was able to release veteran tight ends Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells without remorse. While the timeline for Gronk’s recovery has him ready to play by Week 2 or 3 of the season, it appears the team is much more comfortable about when he’ll return than initially expected, giving credence to the view that the initial timeline reported was skewed toward precaution. That precaution now appears tossed aside.FULL ENTRY
FOXBOROUGH -- Not every training camp battle is front and center. Take, for instance, the competition at punter, right now a prolonged battle between veteran Zoltan Mesko, an affable and humorous presence in the locker room, and Ryan Allen, a strong-footed rookie out of Louisiana Tech.
Arguing the merits of one punter over the other can sail right past the casual fan, but on a team so invested in doing special teams right, it’s imperative to explore this position battle.
Through three preseason games, Mesko and Allen have gone back and forth with their opportunities, with Mesko getting the majority of punt attempts.
Mesko, born in Romania and raised in Ohio, was picked by the Patriots in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. He has the second-highest punting average in Patriots history (44.2 yards). In three preseason games, he has managed to pin two of 10 punts inside the 20.FULL ENTRY
FOXBOROUGH -- Training camp has come to a close with the team more squarely focused on whittling down its roster from a bloated number of 87 than worrying about the health and availability of Tom Brady.
That’s a huge positive since Wednesday’s scare.
And as the Patriots move forward, the team still needs to figure out roles for a number of players going into the 2013 season. The position battles are alive and well. And injuries, while thankfully not connected to Brady, will still affect roster decisions.
In the team’s second preseason game tonight against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there are quite a few offensive players who are competing for positions that deserve more attention. Here are three of high importance:FULL ENTRY
It’s not Day 1, but it sure feels that way for a lot of people.
The Patriots are in Philadelphia to take on the Eagles in their first preseason game of the 2013 season. They do so as much changed team, particularly on offense. There are questions about the team’s receivers, tight ends, right guard, and much more.
So let’s not waste our time. Here are 10 things that you should be looking out for in Friday’s game.
1. How many snaps will Tom Brady get? -- Coach Bill Belichick has not said what kind of playing time Brady will receive in the preseason opener, if any at all. Brady has been tearing up the Eagles secondary in joint practices this week but he surely still needs more repetitions with his new receiving group. All of these reps before the regular season are precious, but not nearly as precious as Brady’s health. We’ll see how Belichick weighs these issues Friday night.
2. Who will shine at tight end? -- Pay attention to Zach Sudfeld, Jake Ballard, and Daniel Fells. Which of the three will get the start? And how will they perform. Sudfeld has looked fantastic in practices. But Fells has quietly had a solid training camp this offseason. Ballard, who has looked stiff at times, has fallen behind in the team’s competition. We’ll know more after the first game.FULL ENTRY
Recently signed wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei, in his first practice with the team Thursday, surprised observers by blowing past a Patriots cornerback for an easy touchdown grab on a deep throw from Tim Tebow.
The cornerback he beat so easily? That would be third-round pick Logan Ryan. And while Tuinei isn’t a name so readily known around these parts, he is one of the many questionably talented wide receivers on the team’s roster that have consistently schooled Ryan during training camp.
But Ryan’s not the only Rutgers defensive back being humbled by the NFL experience. Fellow rookie and college teammate Duron Harmon – who was also a third round pick – has suffered some tough setbacks in practice too, coming off the field and appearing at times as if his head was spinning. And then there’s the undrafted rookie Brandon Jones, who has lost more than his fair share of one-on-one battles.
It’s been enough to warrant asking how the Rutgers rookie contingency – consisting of Ryan, Harmon, Jones, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, wide receiver Mark Harrison, and now defensive lineman Scott Vallone – are faring after a week of Patriots training camp.
This is, after all, Rutgers North. With the Patriots’ signing of Vallone Thursday, the Patriots have nine former Scarlet Knights on the roster.FULL ENTRY
This Patriots offseason isn’t all about the misdeeds of Aaron Hernandez, Alfonzo Dennard, and the recovery of Rob Gronkowski. Although those three have dominated the headlines, and deservedly so, their stories are only pieces of what the 2013 season has in store.
With the team’s training camp just a week away, here’s a look at 10 burning questions we have about the team right now.
1. Is the circus over yet? – Can Patriots fans expect the dialogue to be only about football going into training camp? No, and they shouldn’t want as much. Bill Belichick has yet to speak out about any of the issues involving Hernandez or Dennard. His comments on these issues will help clarify what he understands of each situation and hopefully bring closure to this never-ending story. Belichick will be asked about both players in training camp and he’ll have the opportunity to either keep the conversation going, or end it once and for all. But it’s not just about him. The players, most notably Gronkowski, have all declined to talk about these off-field issues. They’ll be approached about it as well. Whether or not anyone says anything of substance is another matter entirely. All you need to know is that the circus is not over yet. There’s at least two more acts.
2. What will the Patriots do with Tim Tebow? – He’ll have his opportunity to get an extensive showing in camp and through the preseason. We’ll be able to see if he plays in a Wildcat role, which will indicate a willingness on the team’s behalf to cater to his unique skill set. We could also see him play another position. Who knows. How he plays will certainly affect teammate Ryan Mallett as well.
3. Can Shane Vereen step up? – Vereen has the opportunity to step into a pivotal role as the team’s third down and no-huddle running back. With all his talent and speed, the potential excitement he could bring to the game would be without limit. But he has to stay healthy and consistent. We’ll see if he can do that.FULL ENTRY
Ultimately, the Patriots did exactly what they were supposed to by cutting Aaron Hernandez immediately for his connection to a murder investigation.
And like drips and drabs, more details keep coming out about the team’s former tight end. He’s now being investigated in connection with a double homicide in Boston in 2012. He’s also being sued by a former associate for allegedly shooting the man after an altercation in Florida.
That’s three incidents of alleged shootings in which Hernandez is connected. No one apparently really knew who he was outside of his inner clique. And with his banishment -- and more than appropriate incarceration for the time being -- the Patriots now have to turn turn to figuring who will replace his varied skillset.
The balance of the team’s roster has gaping holes in the tight ends department. The team will already be without Rob Gronkowski for an extended period, so the options going into training camp and preseason may appear to be lackluster for the uninitiated. But there’s actually some pretty good players left.FULL ENTRY
All everyone wants to know is what the Patriots plan to do with their new lefthanded Swiss Army knife, Tim Tebow.
Will he lead the team into uncharted waters as a wildcat QB? Will he show up in the backfield, behind Tom Brady as a fullback? Will he show off his pass catching ability, maybe as a tight end?
Will he be the team's backup quarterback? (What of Ryan Mallett?)
Daring to ask Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to specify one or the other is as humorous as it is useless. Thus feeds the Tebow fire. Therefore, we don't just term it a circus because what it is comes across as clear as stripes on a zebra.
It's a project. And one that Belichick is quite ready to take on, with all the hoopla that comes along for the ride. But it is one that has reasonable expectations, or aspirations, and low risk (2 years, base $1.36 million).
Why is that? Because there is reason to believe that Tebow can function in the Patriots offense in a subset of plays that will make him a useful addition. And although Tebow may be rated on the low end of mobile quarterbacks, no one is questioning his mobility, or the trend that is occurring in the NFL at his position.FULL ENTRY
Change is constant.
In Foxborough, where the offensive mastery has been defined by Tom Brady's magical reign for 13 seasons, the yearning for balance comes and goes. From the early 2000s, when the team featured running backs Antowain Smith, Kevin Faulk, and Corey Dillon, the impact of the running game was integral to the team's first three Super Bowls. Those years were followed by mostly modest tenures between Laurence Maroney and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, whose stints were far overshadowed by Brady's brilliance.
With the latest class, most recently featuring Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead, the Patriots once again attempted to close the balance gap. Even with Woodhead's departure, a player who has the ability to make defenders miss in small spaces and is a dependable third-down receiver, this position group is a source of strength for the offense, especially after the team has overhauled its wide receivers group. The Patriots' running game accounted for 2,184 yards last season, or 31.9 percent of the offense. Ridley (1,263 yards, 12 touchdowns) is obviously a big part of that.FULL ENTRY
If Rob Gronkowski is going to miss some time for back surgery – quite possibly the first six games of the season depending on how the Patriots play their cards – there has to be some consensus on who does what in his stead.
Luckily, there's plenty of game tape from 2012 to give us an idea of how the Patriots will handle the loss of their all-pro tight end. There are plenty of new bodies to consider who can be useful substitutes.
Gronkowski led the Patriots last year with 750 snaps as the team's primary tight end, or "Y." Aaron Hernandez was right behind him with 723 snaps as the team's flex tight end. Michael Hoomanawanui (363) and Daniel Fells (338) trailed afterward. Hoomanawanui worked as both a primary and flex tight end. Fells' role appeared to be solidly as a Y, used mainly in blocking situations.
While all are still on the roster, the group has swelled. Throw Jake Ballard into the mix after he sat out 2012 with an ACL tear. He started 13 of 14 games he played for the New York Giants in 2011. During organized team activities, he's been working as the first team Y. Then there's rookie free agent signee Zach Sudfeld. The Central California native has a bit of a scary health history too, receiving a medical redshirt to play a sixth season at Nevada after going through shoulder, leg, knee, and wrist surgeries while in college. At 6-7, 225 pounds, he's also deemed to be a Y tight end. Then there's Clemson product Brandon Ford, who also signed as a rookie free agent. He's 6-3, 240 pounds and comes with an impressive resume (40 catches for 480 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2012).FULL ENTRY
The world turned upside down on Kyle Love Wednesday. Within the span of a few weeks, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and then waived by the New England Patriots, his medical status seemingly a prop used to dispose of the veteran defensive tackle.
While Love had a fairly successful run with the Patriots – he was an undrafted free agent who started 25 of 41 games in New England – he was most certainly not in the team's plans going forward. After beginning the 2012 season with 11 straight starts at defensive tackle, he worked as a substitute for the team's remaining seven games partly because of a knee injury.
At the time, Love's injury wasn't considered to be serious despite being labeled as "questionable" for five straight weeks. He was most notably taken out during passing downs and was supplanted by Brandon Deaderick on others. Deaderick, who was cut by the team on Monday, will join him in Jacksonville after both were claimed by the Jaguars.FULL ENTRY
The Patriots now have 12 wide receivers on their roster after signing free agent Lavelle Hawkins to a 2-year deal. The addition makes for an interesting mix as the group of players competing to make the team swells to a number worthy of the show “Survivor.”
The clarity of the group’s rankings isn’t helped by Julian Edelman’s status, who is back in a walking boot after re-injuring his right foot. He is one player who can not afford to have an unhealthy training camp while the team has plenty of options – both cheaper and younger – to turn to in his stead. Without Edelman, who will possibly miss OTAs because of the injury, the Patriots are looking at a full-blown overhaul in the position group. That will lead to training camp battles as both veterans (Hawkins, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones) and rookie free agents (T.J. Moe, Kenbrell Thompkins) fight for the remaining spots on the team’s roster.
But as history under Bill Belichick will tell you, the odds do not favor the veterans. For instance, just last season Belichick brought in free agents Brandon Lloyd, Donte’ Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, and Anthony Gonzalez in the offseason. Lloyd was the major free agent grab for the team, replacing Chad Ochocinco/Johnson, so his spot was secure. But Stallworth and Gaffney were returning to the franchise after sputtering out at their last stops. Neither made it through training camp, while Stallworth latched back on after injuries. Gonzalez didn’t even make it into training camp, with his career succumbing to his own injuries. Despite all three having respectable careers, they were no match for a healthy and entrenched group.
When the NFL draft concludes, the Patriots arguably do some of their best work of the offseason.
After South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham was selected with the final pick of the 2013 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts -- ergo dubbed Mr. Irrelevant -- the Patriots wasted no time burning up the phones looking to sign rookie free agents and fill out the team’s 90-man roster allotment. The process of signing and securing rookie free agents has been a particularly fruitful endeavor. New England is one of the few teams in the league with a strong track record of identifying those who are talented and yet overlooked -- and then developing them into role players.
Before this class of rookie free agents was added to the pool, the Patriots roster included 10 players who came to the team undrafted or as first-year free agents. That includes quality contributors in the last two years like defensive lineman Justin Francis and running back Brandon Bolden, and more seasoned veterans like offensive lineman Ryan Wendell, linebacker Dane Fletcher and defensive tackle Kyle Love. But there’s been plenty more that have worked out well for the team in spurts (Sterling Moore) and have moved on. And there are others (i.e. Kyle Arrington) who somehow made their way to the Patriots and have found themselves to be a valuable addition.
“I think that’s been an important part of our team through the years,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said last week. “Once again, last year we had several players either make our team or make our practice squad or in a couple cases, some combination of both. Maybe they were on one or the other for part of the year, but other guys came in that weren’t drafted and contributed to our team, like [Marcus] Forston, like [Brandon] Bolden, Justin Francis and other guys like that in the past – the Brian Hoyers and the Mike Wrights, you can go right on down the list. So that’s still an important time in the team building process.”FULL ENTRY
FOXBOROUGH – You probably were hoping the Patriots would cave to the closeness of a sexy selection and pick one of the fantastic wide receivers tumbling down the draft board in the first round.
Nope. Not now, not ever. Instead, history and precedence won out again with the Patriots trading down for the 16th time under Bill Belichick's tutelage, his 51st draft-day trade with the team.
The Patriots traded No. 29 to the Minnesota Vikings for four picks, Nos. 52 (second round), 83 (third), 102 (fourth, from Detroit), and 229 (seventh). The Vikings ended up picking Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at that position.
But there's no reason to be disappointed. Luckily for the Patriots, this was a depressed draft board that was begging for some of Belichick's second-round magic. The options at wide receiver are still sexy enough to satisfy the fan base, and the Patriots have enough clout with eight picks remaining to move up and grab someone they may really want.
So who could that be? Well let's take a look at three receivers still available and worth the attention.
1. Robert Woods, USC – Great production in college and an amazing ability to turn it up the field and make plays. He's going to be a great receiver.
2. Terrance Williams, Baylor – Good speed and size, an NCAA-leading 1,832 yards in 2012 to go along with 92 catches and 12 touchdowns. Yeah, he can do the job.
3. Justin Hunter, Tennessee – Tall (6-4) and fast (4.44 40-yard dash), Hunter is arguably just as talented as Patterson, his teammate with the Volunteers. He caught 73 balls for 1,083 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2012.
Here are the three they missed out on:
– Tavon Austin, West Virginia (selected No. 8 by St. Louis)
– DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson (selected No. 27 by Houston)
– Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee (selected No. 29 by Minnesota)
There are also several other high-quality wideouts worth mentioning: Cal's Keenan Allen, West Virginia's Stedman Bailey, Oregon State's Marcus Wheaton, and Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers. I'm sure there's plenty more the Patriots have their eyes on.
However, with 20 picks on the board until the Patriots find themselves on the clock again, they could be spurred to make something happen if a player they covet is within reach. There are now eight picks to dangle, making Thursday's draft-day trade worthy of plaudits, not stones.
Zuri's Top 5 needs for the Patriots in the draft (revised)
1. Wide receiver
3. Defensive end
4. Guard/interior lineman
5. Nickel linebacker
Some interesting tidbits from the first round:
– The movement by the Raiders represents a shift by the Silver and Black. The Raiders traded out of the No. 3 spot with the Miami Dolphins. At No. 3, Miami picked Oregon DE/LB Dion Jordan. The Raiders picked up the Dolphins' Nos. 12 (cornerback D.J. Hayden) and 42 (second round). These aren't your turn-of-the-century Raiders, who under Al Davis' reign valued speed over all. This trade showed prudence. We'll see what Oakland does going forward.
– AFC East rival Buffalo traded its No. 8 pick to the St. Louis Rams, and the Rams proceeded to select West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin. In return, the Bills got picks 16 (quarterback EJ Manuel), 46, 78, and 222 while St. Louis also gave up No. 71. The Bills were obviously filling a need, but they also provided one of the few real draft-day surprises in picking Manuel. As the first quarterback off the board, Manuel upstaged the likes of Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, and Geno Smith, whose names were tossed about endlessly in connection with the Bills for weeks. Manuel was, as the NFL Network's Mike Mayock put it, the dark horse.
– Three Alabama football players were taken in a row, Dee Milliner (Jets) at No. 9, Chance Warmack (Titans) at No. 10, and DJ Fluker (Chargers) at No. 11. Roll Tide, roll.
– A total of 11 players from the SEC were taken in the first round, as if the best conference in college football needed more to brag about.
Tweet of the week
This one comes from Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, who was congratulating former Syracuse teammate Justin Pugh after he was drafted by the New York Giants 19th overall.
WOW I'm in legit tears! So happy for you @justinpugh67 !!! You did it bro!!!!— Chandler Jones (@Chan95Jones) April 26, 2013
First round winner
Try the Minnesota Vikings. Despite giving up four picks to the Patriots, the Vikings came away with three first rounders, including defensive studs in Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes before picking up Patterson. Floyd was projected to be a top 10 pick and Rhodes could have been selected at least 13 spots ahead as the second corner. Talk about quality and quantity going hand-in-hand.
Reader "spaceray" writes:
It's refreshing to hear a "football analyst" admitting that he has no clue what BB will do because let's face it, historically speaking that's totally true! With that said we all know that BB is a defensive minded coach so if you were to bet on who he's going to pick that odds are in your favor if you go with a defensive player. I for one believe that the Pats need to shore up and develop defensive talent and the D-line needs to be addressed from a long-range perspective. Drafting college level WR is all about the sizzle and again, we all know that our favorite hoodie is not about the sizzle. Since the Pats revolutionized the concept of dual tight end receiving threats, other teams have followed. As a result, there now exists a REAL need for a LB with size, speed and experience to cover these mobile behemoths. Therefore, logically, that's where the Pats need to draft.
I suggest Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene. He's a converted defensive back and runs a 4.61 40-yard dash. But he's bulked up enough to handle the run at 241 pounds. We're on the same wavelengths, Spaceray.
The Patriots have plenty to do Friday in the NFL draft, with four picks in the second and third rounds. The draft resumes at 6:30 p.m. and the Patriots have the Nos. 52 (from Minnesota), 59, 83, and 91 picks.
Before the release of the Patriots and NFL schedule, which draws no shortage of hype, and before the NFL Draft, which draws no shortage of hoopla, we have this amazing opportunity in Boston to shower attention upon the elite endurance runners of the world.
As much as the Boston Marathon is an international contest, it's also very much a family event for those in the Greater Boston Area. It's a community gathering, one in which we can recognize the amazing perseverance of our family members and neighbors in the same field as world-class athletes.
The sanctity of this event that we all cherish and enjoy was scarred on Monday with bombs planted at the finish line, killing three and injuring more than 170 others. Brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev (killed) and Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev (captured), the suspected perpetrators, were tracked down in a massive manhunt Friday.
But in the aftermath of such a tragic event, one which played out breathlessly for five days, it was heartening to see so many of the Patriots players respond to the bombing with acts of kindness and charity. It started with new wide receiver Danny Amendola, who pledged to donate $100 for every pass he caught and $200 for every pass dropped to "whatever Boston Marathon Relief Fund there is."
He was quickly followed up by Vince Wilfork, who asked fans to text "VINCE" to 50555 for a $10 donation on their phone bill that would help benefit victims through his foundation. As of April 17, at least 1,700 people had donated to Wilfork's foundation.
Defensive back Devin McCourty offered a $100 donation for each tackle he makes in 2013 and $200 for each interception.
It's times like these that professional athletes realize their own potential to have a positive impact in their community and live up to it. These Patriots players should be applauded for their philanthropy. But what's more, their charitable works have endeared them to a region that is still emotionally raw from the past week. There will be plenty of time to dissect their play on the field and process the X's and O's of Patriots football, but right now let's shower them with a little more praise for being good people. They deserve as much.
Tweet of the week
5 takeaways from the schedule release
1. The Patriots' 2013 regular season schedule is much tougher than last year. They've got top-tier competition in the Falcons, Broncos, Steelers, and, to a certain degree, the Ravens. With arguably only three top-tier games last year (Ravens, 49ers, Broncos), it's no surprise the team's strength of schedule rating was boosted. But it went up rather dramatically this year to .509 after being dead last in the NFL at .453 in 2012. I think we'll all appreciate the level of competition ahead.
2. The good games are spread out. Falcons in Week 4. Saints in Week 6. Steelers in Week 9. Broncos in Week 12. Ravens in Week 16. Every other week, the competition is going to be mediocre so the Patriots are going to have to stay vigilant. And that's not even mentioning division opponents Miami or New York.
3. With five prime time games – an NFL maximum – the Patriots still represent one of the top draws in the NFL on television. The other teams with five games? 49ers, Broncos, Falcons, Giants, and Redskins.
4. The Patriots' Week 12 matchup with the Denver Broncos is already being pitched as one of the best games of the season. There's star quality across the board, of course, but all eyes will be on Wes Welker's return to Foxborough. While I expect fireworks, I think the Falcons will be more of a challenge in Week 4.
5. If I could pick a trap game for the Patriots, it would most certainly be the Buccaneers. After a 7-9 season, Greg Schiano will surely have had the opportunity to upgrade his roster with eight picks in the NFL draft. And the team is littered with weapons on offense. Add to the fact the Patriots face the Bucs early on in Week 3, and I like Tampa Bay's chances for an upset.
Zuri's Top 5 needs for the Patriots in the draft
1. Wide receiver
3. Defensive end
4. Nickel linebacker
Former Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi and linebacker Matt Chatham picked up a woman and escorted her away from danger after the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday. You may have read about it. Our readers certainly disagreed with Andruzzi's characterization of his role, calling him a bona fide hero despite his statement that he was not a hero.
With all due respect Mr. Andruzzi...you and your family have pulled strangers from bombed buildings and you yourself carried a stranger to safety after your city was attacked. You sir, are the definition of a hero. A hero isn't an actor or an actress or a sports star...its men and women like yourself who put others ahead of themselves when tragedy strikes. Men and women like yourself who carry injured out of battle zones. You Joe...are most definitely a Hero.
I happen to agree with our readers.
- The Patriots pre-draft news conference is now scheduled for noon on Monday. It had been pushed back twice because of the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio will be made available to the media for the press conference.
- The NFL draft is now just 5 days away, April 25-27.
- Patriots will have on-field organized team activities (OTAs) May 20-21, 23, 28-30, and June 3-4 as well as June 6-7.
- The team's mandatory mini-camp will be June 11-13.
- While no date has been set, the Patriots will likely begin training camp in the final week of July.
- The NFL season opens Thursday Sept. 5 with the Broncos hosting the Super Bowl champion Ravens. The Patriots will open the season on Sunday Sept. 8 in Buffalo. Only 141 days away.
The Patriots benefit greatly from cornerback Alfonzo Dennard's delayed jail time.
Convicted of felony assault on a police officer in Nebraska and misdemeanor resisting arrest, Dennard was facing up to 5 years in jail for his crimes. Instead, he's getting 30 days in jail and 2 years of probation, along with 100 hours of "law-enforcement related" community service.
But the kicker is he doesn't have to do any jail time in the near future, forced to report to jail March 1, 2014, allowing him to take part in the entire 2013 NFL season. Maybe even the Duck Boat parade if it comes to that.FULL ENTRY
Editor's note: This is the first in a weekly installment of Patriots and NFL related notes; a potpourri of both buzz-worthy and overlooked topics.
The Patriots are all over the map with their wide receiver group, making the buildup to the NFL draft an interesting one.
On one end, they let Wes Welker go and picked up Danny Amendola to replace him. If you haven't heard, it was an arguable series of moves. But with the changes, it was clear that Amendola's addition has plenty to like on the upside (read: younger) – after considering the downsides (read: durability).