Wilfork: Sideline adjustments will be key against Niners

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Wilfork: Sideline adjustments will be key against Niners

FOXBORO -- Don't be surprised on Sunday to see a lot of this: Vince Wilfork and the rest of the Patriots defensive line on the sideline, huddled on a bench and listening to defensive coordinator Matt Patricia bark instructions, or with Bill Belichick crouched in front of them diagramming what should happen on the next series. Same for every defensive positional group.

It's a short week for the Patriots. After Monday night's game, they have one less day of preparation time than they normally might, and because of the number of different formations employed by the Niners, it will be difficult to prepare for all of them by kickoff on Sunday night.

That's why Wilfork believes making the correct sideline adjustments will be critical. The Patriots are going to have to learn on the fly against San Francisco's myriad offensive looks.

"This week is going to be very, very crucial for us getting back to the sidelines every series to go over things they're doing differently," Wilfork said. "It's impossible to try to cover everything they do because they do a bunch of things -- two-back formations, three-back, sometimes four guys. Four tight ends. It's a lot of work. We have to prepare well and make a sideline adjustment. It's going to be crucial for us this week."

Aside from the number of formations the Niners use, they change personnel and make frequent substitutions, which adds another layer for which New England must prepare.

"When you turn on the film, you see a bunch of formations, different numbers come in and out," Wilfork said. "They change by the play, every other play, people coming in, running in and off the field. It's going to be some work. This week's going to be very, very crucial for us on sideline adjustments. Probably biggest one of the year so we'll have to do a good job on sideline adjustments and in practice also."

One player Wilfork expects to be on the field and the focal point of those unusual multi-back sets: his old college teammate, Niners running back Frank Gore.

In his eighth year in the league, Gore is over the 1000-yard mark for the sixth time and averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He's the No. 1 reason San Francisco has the second best rushing attack in the league at 167.8 yards per game.

"Frank is Frank," said Wilfork, who played with Gore for three years at the University of Miami. "Ever since I played with him till now. Still running the ball hard. He's one of those backs. He's an old school back. He could care less running sideline to sideline. He'd rather duck his head and get the hard 2, 3, 4 yards, and he's pretty shifty."

Then there's new Niners quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who's also a threat to run out of the backfield. Wilfork lumped Kaepernick with the new era of NFL quarterbacks -- like Weashington's Robert Griffin III -- who can run and throw with accuracy. Though a headache for a defensive tackle, Wilfork admitted that they're likely "the future" of the position.

"I get tired of chasing quarterbacks around," Wilfork said. "Chase running backs and then you have to worry about the quarterback's rush lanes and things like that. You can't set a front to a certain way. There are certain ways you have to play those guys and you have to be very cautious of how you play them. We're gonna have a test this week, I'll tell you that."

Wilfork said (a little sheepishly) that the Niners offense may have even more varied sets than the Patriots.

"We don't have more than three running backs in at a time," he said. "We don't have lineman in the backfield all the time. Like I said, these guys run some plays like, man, you can give an offensive lineman the ball. You never know. You can't be surprised what they show you because they show you so many things, and I'm pretty sure they have a lot more. So we're going to expect the kitchen sink."

When they get it, they'll head back to the sideline, talk it out, and hope that they're ready for whatever comes next.

With Thomas drawing attention, Rozier rises to occasion to send Celtics to overtime

With Thomas drawing attention, Rozier rises to occasion to send Celtics to overtime

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

BOSTON – Saturday was yet another night when the opposing team – this time it was the Portland Trail Blazers – that up the Boston Celtics with an avalanche of points that ended in a 127-123 overtime loss.

And yet through the rubble of all those lay-ups and put-back baskets and mid-range jumpers, Stevens saw something he has not seen in a while – hope that better days defensively were coming sooner rather than later.

“As crazy as it sounds with them scoring (127) … I actually thought we were a lot closer to defending the way we want to defend," said Stevens. "I thought we were really locked into those guards, and I thought we tried to make it as tough as possible. Those guys are really good players, obviously, but I thought, I thought we did a lot of good things in that regard.”

For the most part, Boston and Portland played a relatively even game that wasn’t decided until the final minute of overtime.

“They just made more plays down the stretch,” said Boston’s Al Horford.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday’s game.

 

STARS

C.J. McCollum

He tends to get second billing to Damian Lillard, but he was a first rate problem for the Celtics. He led the Blazers with 35 points on 11-for-21 shooting.

Damian Lillard

After a foul-troubled first half, Lillard stepped up like the All-Star he is in the second half to finish with 28 points and seven assists which included seven of Portland’s 14 points in overtime.

Isaiah Thomas

It was another dynamic scoring night for Thomas, finishing with a game-high 41 points which included 21 in the fourth quarter and overtime.


STUDS

Terry Rozier

Making the most of his chance to play due to injuries and illnesses, Rozier came up with a number of big shots all night. He finished with 15 points which included a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds in the fourth that forced overtime.

Mason Plumlee

In addition to doing a solid job protecting the rim, Plumlee also tallied a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds while dishing out a game-high eight assists.

Meyers Leonard

Easily the big X-factor of the game, Leonard had 17 points off the bench on 6-for-7 shooting.

 

DUDS

Celtics Turnovers

This is the one area where the Celtics have been really good all season. Saturday? Not so much. Boston turned the ball over a season-high 21 times which accounted for 34 points for the Blazers.