Young Patriots running backs learning from veteran Woodhead

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Young Patriots running backs learning from veteran Woodhead

FOXBORO -- Without Kevin Faulk roaming through the Patriots locker room and in running back meetings at Gillette Stadium, Ivan Fears needed a veteran presence.

He needed someone who was going to show second-year running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and rookie running back Brandon Bolden, that being a successful player in the NFL is more than just what you do on Sundays.

As the Patriots enter their bye weekend with a 5-3 record midway through the regular season, Fears' young -- and now very successful -- running back group is benefiting from the message of his eldest back: 27-year-old Danny Woodhead.

"Oh, I love to have a veteran around. Woody's my veteran," said the Patriots' running back coach on Thursday. "Ya, he's my veteran. Shoot, he keeps everything going in that room. He keeps the guys in tune and shows them how it's done, and how to be a professional athlete. Ya, that's my big dog right there. He's the boss of the room there."

Woodhead is in just his fourth NFL season. It wasn't too long ago that he was an undrafted fee agent who wasn't even invited to the NFL Combine.

He signed with the New York Jets in 2008 and spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve. In 2009, Woodhead played in 10 games for the Jets, rushing for 64 yards on 15 carries, and making eight catches out of the backfield for 87 yards.

Once he was released by the Jets in September of 2010, the Patriots signed him four days later, just a day before New England's Week 2 game against those same Jets.

Now, Woodhead seems to be a constant option for the Patriots' offense, especially in critical third-down situations. And the 5-foot-8 running back seems to move the chains almost every time you ask yourself, "Why are they giving it to Woodhead on third down again?"

Woodhead's reliability on the field is something for any running back on the Patriots' roster to admire. But his coaches see Woodhead's off-the-field mentality as a major asset to a team with such a young, inexperienced backfield.

"I think it helps to have some senior leadership, a veteran guy," said Fears. "For young guys coming in, this is a different game. This is not the college game, this is a different game. So, it helps to have somebody around. You've got to remember, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were both here with Kevin Faulk and those guys last year, so, they got a chance to learn from those guys about little things about being a professional athlete. I mean, that's what it's all about. How you have to take care of your body, all the things that are important, off the field.

"None of those guys have a problem on the field," added Fears. "They practice, they play hard, but it's the little things they do off the field, that makes them successful, that gives them a chance for longevity in the league. Those are the things that they learn from the veteran guys."

And as Fears so adamantly and pleasantly points out, Woodhead is his "veteran guy".

"They watch him train," said Fears. "You've got to train off the field. You've got to prepare yourself to play. And they watch him study, and figure the importance of all those things. And those are a couple of things they have to figure out.

"These guys, they're used to everybody telling them everything to do. That doesn't happen anymore. They're men now. They're running their own life, you should say. So, they've got to make some decisions on their own, about what they're going to do off the field, in their free time. When they finish with us, at 3:30-4 o'clock in the afternoon, what are they doing? What are they doing? Man, that's the kind of stuff they have to learn from older guys. That's important."

For those who aren't in the Patriots team meetings or on the sidelines, it might be tough to grasp the fact that the seemingly soft-spoken Woodhead is such a leader amongst his peers. But in fact, he nearly defines the "Patriot Way".

Every answer he gives the media is as generic and by-the-book as you can possibly get. And given his history of being a Division II football player that's had to claw his way to the pros, it's clear that Woodhead is as humble as they come. Nothing has been handed to him. He's earned everything he's ever received in this game.

Now, in just his fourth full season in the league, he's giving back to a successful running corp that is clearly following his lead.

"What really opens their eyes is the success he's had on the field," said Fears. "That's what they're looking at. I mean, this guy's successful. He's not just on the bench. He's not watching the game. He's playing the game. They're saying, 'He's doing what I want to do, playing the game. So how's he get it done? That's what I want to do.'"

Celtics report card: Isaiah Thomas gets high marks

Celtics report card: Isaiah Thomas gets high marks

BOSTON -- The first quarter of the NBA season is about over for the Boston Celtics, a team that like so many in the league is far from a finished product.
 
When you look at where this team is versus where they could be if not for a slew of unfortunate injuries to key players, there’s a sense within the organization that they have weathered the early season storm and are in good shape going forward.
 
And while there’s plenty of fodder that would help explain away some of the team’s early season issues, the bottom line is the Celtics have been an inconsistent bunch at times regardless of who has been healthy enough to play.
 
Still, they Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season, third in the Eastern Conference and by all accounts are nowhere close to being as good as they should be this season. Which is why the evaluation of this team has to be about their sum parts as well as their individual success. 

And with this group returning so many key performers from a year ago along with adding Al Horford to the mix, expectations were realistically high.
 
So naturally, how close they have come to achieving those expectations is a factor in both their collective and individual grades as well.
 
Here’s a grade breakdown for the Celtics’ guards, wings and bigs at the quarter-way mark of the season.
 
GUARDS’ OVERALL GRADE: B
 
ISAIAH THOMAS: Showing last season’s all-star appearance was no fluke, Thomas has made a strong case to be considered among the top guards in the NBA. His 26.3 points per game ranks ninth in the league, and he’s at his best in the fourth quarter (his 7.9 points which trails only Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard) – a trait that often separates good players from great ones. He’s the star of this team, without question. GRADE: A-

AVERY BRADLEY: The season began with Avery Bradley putting together a legit campaign to be a first time all-star. He’s still playing at a relatively high level, but he’s no longer deeply entrenched in that conversation in part because the Celtics haven’t won more games and his numbers have tailed off. After averaging 18.5 points and 8.6 rebounds through the first 10 games, Bradley’s numbers since then have been 16.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. But to Bradley’s credit, this was yet another season in which he came back and showed tremendous growth in a specific facet of his game. That would be rebounding. The 6-foot-2 guard is currently the Celtics’ leader with 7.9 rebounds per game. GRADE: B
 
MARCUS SMART: He is the Celtics’ best defender not named Avery Bradley, and before his career is over he will be named to one of the NBA’s all-Defensive teams. His shot-making remains sporadic, although he has shown a knack for hitting big 3s late in games. Shooting struggles aside, his defense and much-improved playmaking have been good for the Celtics this season. GRADE: B- 
 
TERRY ROZIER: He was so impactful this summer and in training camp, it created expectations that he could easily slide in and fill the void left by Evan Turner who signed a four-year, $70 million deal with Portland during the offseason. Rozier has a ridiculously high assists-to-turnover ratio, but he doesn’t make as many impactful plays as the Celtics would like. The second-year guard hasn’t been bad out there, but the difference-making talent he showed earlier has not materialized yet. GRADE: B-
 
DEMETRIUS JACKSON: My initial thought was the sample size is too small to give Jackson a grade. But looking back at the three games he has played in for the Celtics as well as those stints in the D-League, Jackson has a bright future in this league. To his credit, he has made the most of his opportunities to play whether it’s with the Celtics or the Maine Red Claws. Still, he hasn’t done enough to knock any of the team’s more seasoned guards out of the rotation … yet. GRADE: B-

WINGS’ OVERALL GRADE: B-
 
JAE CROWDER:
This is one of the tougher players to grade (see Al Horford). I absolutely love the fact that Crowder is such a jack-of-all-trades kind of player who is all about helping teams win. But the fact that he has missed eight games has to be factored into his grade thus far. Aside from missing games with injuries, there’s a lot to love about Jae Crowder and his role on this team: B+

JONAS JEREBKO: Aside from Isaiah Thomas, Jerebko is probably the most improved player who was on the roster a year ago. He doesn’t take many shots, but when he does he makes them at a ridiculously high rate. And his overall effort defensively and on the boards has solidified a spot in Brad Stevens’ regular rotation. GRADE: B+
 
JAYLEN BROWN: There are always off-the-charts expectations when you’re a high draft pick, and Brown is no exception. But he joined a playoff-ready team which means getting on the floor as a rookie has not been easy. Brown has shown tremendous athleticism and a willingness to learn, but like most rookies he hasn’t been as consistent as he needs to be and does more thinking than just playing when he’s on the floor. But he has shown progress on that front of late.  GRADE: B-

GERALD GREEN: Having signed a veteran’s minimum contract at a time when the salary cap exploded should have been the first sign that Green wasn’t going to make much of an impact. He has a very simple job with this team and that’s to be an adequate defender and a shot-maker. Unfortunately, he has struggled on both fronts in his second tour of duty with the Celtics to the point where he has not played in eight of Boston’s last 11 games. GRADE: C-
 
JAMES YOUNG:
He barely beat out R.J. Hunter for the final roster spot and frankly, hasn’t done much since. From the time he arrived in Boston until now, there’s no question he’s a better player. But the former first round pick still hasn’t done enough to secure a spot in the rotation. And barring a couple injuries, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. GRADE: C-
 
BIGS’ OVERALL GRADE: C+
 

AL HORFORD: There was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding Boston signing Al Horford in the offseason. And to the surprise of many, the Celtics have been exceptional when he has played. But that’s the problem. He has missed half of the still-young season primarily due to a concussion. There’s an old saying that one’s availability can be their best ability. And with Horford missing so many games, those absences have to be factored into his grade thus far this season. GRADE: B+
 
AMIR JOHNSON: If there’s one player whose impact can’t be measured in statistics alone, it’s Johnson. His job is to defend at a high level, score once in a while, and grab a few rebounds when he’s not sealing off his man so that Avery Bradley and the rest of the team’s guards can come in and scoop them up. There’s no glory in what he’s tasked with doing other than the knowledge that it’s important to winning. And to some degree his impact on games is limited due to him playing limited minutes because of Boston’s desire to spread the floor with long-range shooters – something that’s definitely not a strength of Johnson’s game. GRADE: B-
 
KELLY OLYNYK: Olynyk missed the first six games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He has had some really impressive moments (19 points vs New York; 16 the following night at Indiana), but far too often he doesn’t make the most of what sets him apart from most players and that is being a 7-footer with legit 3-point shooting range. He has been solid, but he’s not having the kind of breakout year the Celtics could really benefit from this season. GRADE: B-
 
TYLER ZELLER: There were some who were surprised the Celtics signed Zeller to a 2-year, $16 million contract (team option on second year), but that’s actually below the going rate these days for a backup center. Zeller today isn’t all that different than he was when the Celtics acquired him via trade a couple years ago. And that’s kind of the problem. He’s looking to shoot the ball more facing up and from the perimeter, but that’s very much a work in progress. To his credit, he stays ready and when he does get a chance to play he usually gives good effort. But effort can only take you so far. GRADE: C
 
JORDAN MICKEY: Viewed by many (self-included) as a draft-night steal for the Celtics, Mickey’s growth has been OK but not great. He has great instincts defensively as a shot-blocker and his offensive game is definitely trending upwards. But he doesn’t do enough of the little things to get on the floor with consistency just yet, which is why his most recent D-League stint probably won’t be his last this season. But again, he still has legitimate upside and in time should get more opportunities to help. GRADE: C

Boston College to play Maryland in Quick Lane Bowl

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Boston College to play Maryland in Quick Lane Bowl

Boston College has accepted an invitation to play Maryland in the 2016 Quick Lane Bowl, the school announced Sunday. The game will be played at Ford Field in Detroit at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 26. 

"We are excited to continue our season and play in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit,” BC director of athletics Brad Bates said in a press release sent out by the school. “This is great opportunity for our program to continue to develop and gives our players one final opportunity to play together to close out the season."

The game presents a matchup of schools looking to end unimpressive seasons on a high note, as both BC and Maryland went 6-6 this season. 

This will mark the 12th meeting between BC and Maryland. They last faced one another in 2013, before Maryland had departed the ACC for the Big Ten.