Chopping Price means another miss at wideout


Chopping Price means another miss at wideout

FOXBORO - Nine NFL drafts have come and gone since the Patriots drafted Deion Branch and David Givens. And in those nine drafts, the Patriots have failed to find a wide receiver who can stick with their program for the long term. The latest to get flushed out came Saturday when Taylor Price, a third-round pick out of Ohio in 2010, was released. Price, like so many other receivers the Patriots have selected, was a bit of a project. Coming out of a run-based system at Ohio, he had a lot to learn about playing in a sophisticated and ever-evolving NFL passing offense like the Patriots'. The fact he wasn't able to join the Patriots until after his class at Ohio graduated put him three weeks behind going into the 2010 offseason training programs and head coach Bill Belichick cited that as a reason Price was slow to develop. He played in one game last season, the season finale, and had three catches. Those were the only three catches he made for the team. Belichick and offensive coordinator praised Price in August, saying,"He knows the offense better. His conditioning, his experience in the system last year. Of course, the offense that we run is quite a bit different than what he ran in college, so there's a lot of learning and technique work there. I think he's definitely way ahead of where he was last year."But he still couldn't get on the field. Last week against the Eagles, with Chad Ochocinco down because of a hamstring injury, the Patriots put Tiquan Underwood on the field instead of Price. Underwood's experience in New England was a cup of coffee at the end of training camp. So Price, who seemed to have the build and physical skills to be a player similar to Givens, washes out of the system. He joins Bethel Johnson, P.K. Sam, Chad Jackson, and Brandon Tate as wideouts New England's drafted with minimal returns on the investment. The other two wideouts they've taken - Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman - are still on the team and, thanks to their versatility, are making contributions elsewhere. What are the reasons for the Patriots' inability to develop wideouts? They've done great with their two young tight ends. They can pluck defensive linemen at the end of the draft and get terrific returns. They've done an outstanding job developing offensive linemen and running backs. But wideout is a blind spot. One reason is they don't put high value on the position and they always seem to be buying on the cheap. Sam was only 20 when the Patriots took him in the fifth round in 2004. He was immature. Tate was a third-round pick coming off a blown ACL when the Patriots took him in 2009. He didn't pan out and was released at the end of camp this year. The Patriots traded up to take Chad Jackson in the second round in 2006 but he was a disaster, uninterested in giving max effort and seemingly overmatched by the NFL. And Price was another dice roll. Living in the bargain bin has not yielded great results. The Patriots haven't really suffered. They are, after all, 22-5 since the start of last season. But with Wes Welker in his 30s and in the final year of his contract (he'll no doubt be franchised if the Patriots won't meet his contract demands) and Ochocinco a total non-factor, the wide receiver cupboard is virtually bare. Will this cause them to re-evaluate their stance and take awideout with a solid collegiate resume and a bright future in the NFL instead of taking projects and crossing their fingers that it works out? That's a question for after the season. Until then, we are in the Tiquan Underwood Era.

Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract


Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have signed free-agent tight end Rob Housler to a future contract. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound target last played for the Bears but was released at the end of training camp.

Housler won't be eligible to participate with the Patriots during the postseason, but he will be available for the offseason program and training camp leading up to the 2017 campaign. 

Housler taken in the third round by the Cardinals with the 69th overall selection in 2011. In 65 career games, he has 109 catches for 1,166 yards and one touchdown. 

The Patriots may have been intrigued by Housler's skill set last summer when he caught one pass for 52 yards -- making two Patriots defenders miss in the process -- during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots and Bears held joint training camp practices in August that would have given Patriots coaches and scouts a closer look at everything Housler has to offer as a player. 

Housler was one of the better athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2011, running a 4.55-second 40-yard dash (fastest among tight ends), posting a 6.9-second three-cone drill, and recording a 37-inch vertical leap.

Bill Belichick and his staff hit big on a future-contract signing two years ago when a running back with a significant injury history was available to scoop up at the behest of then-assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi. Since then, the Patriots still have never lost with Dion Lewis in uniform. 

Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity


Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

FOXBORO -- On a daily basis, Patriots players are in the presence of perhaps the best late-30s player to ever lace up cleats. That's why it's noteworthy when those who inhabit the same locker room as Tom Brady marvel at another player playing at a high level despite being one of the oldest in the league. 

That's exactly the case with Steelers linebacker James Harrison, 38, who is the oldest non-quarterback, non-kicker in the NFL. 

Since the Patriots last saw Harrison, he's become an every-down player for Pittsburgh's improving defense, missing just nine total defensive snaps for the Steelers since Week 14. He's saved his best football for the postseason -- three sacks, two quarterback hits and seven quarterback pressures in the last two weeks, per Pro Football Focus -- and the Patriots have noticed.

Julian Edelman, who wears the same Kent State t-shirt to every Patriots practice, raved about his "fellow Flash."

"He’s an unbelievable stud," Edelman said of Harrison, who went undrafted seven years before Edelman was taken in the seventh round. "The guy has been doing it consistently for a long time.

"I’ve been a huge fan of him before I got in the league, and just to see and kind of have an idea where he came from, it’s unbelievable to show how hard he’s worked to get to where he’s got. He’s a large man that is fast, explosive, and if he’s coming my way, it’s going to be a 'get down.' "

While Edelman will do his best to avoid the 6-foot, 242-pounder, Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett will likely be asked to block Harrison at some point. The Steelers defense will move Harrison to different spots at times, but he does much of his work on the outside where Bennett will be situated. 

"Harrison is playing well," Bennett said. "He’s almost as old as my pops, and he’s still playing like a beast out there."