Edelman showing toughness as a returner

594808.jpg

Edelman showing toughness as a returner

FOXBORO -- On Sunday, special teams coach Scott O'Brien was asked what qualities make up a good punt returner. The first he named was toughness.

"It's like having to run through a door and you don't know what's at the other end," he said.

The metaphor could be applied to Julian Edelman's NFL career.

A college quarterback, he became a receiver in the pros. Last year, his third, he had just four catches, playing most snaps as a defensive back instead. He should at least have 'D' off his plate to start 2012, as a source says the plan for Edelman is "all offense."

Still, his most consistent progression might be in the return game.

"He's like a lot of examples through the history of the National Football League," said O'Brien. "Had no experience doing it, had some natural instincts, pretty good ball skills.

"But there is a learning process with all returners, no matter what experience they've had in the past because of the schemes and the coverage principles that we have to deal with here. It becomes a learning process of how they do things besides just the physical skills they do have."

Not just any talented player can step in on returns. Aaron Hernandez botched a fair catch on Friday. Pat Chung misjudged one -- fielding a punt near his own 2-yard line -- during minicamp.

Edelman said special teams work takes patience. Even in the offseason, even on his own time.

"I do find punters though, wherever I'm at. When I was in Los Angeles I found this kid and he would punt the ball to me Tuesdays and Thursdays. There's little drills that you can do where you're throwing towels, tennis balls, whiffle balls, just to get your vision where it needs to be. I'd have a buddy out there who'll try to run and put pressure on me."

O'Brien sees Edelman's biggest progression in field awareness. It's a big step forward for the 26-year old, just not the last step.

"This will be my fourth year -- not that Ive played in a lot of games and not that Im where I want to be, and I have a long way to go -- but anytime you get a lot of reps at something, youre naturally going to feel a little more comfortable with it," he said. "Were going in the direction we want to."

Overall team improvement is needed.

New England's 21.4-yard kick return average in 2011 ranked 29th in the league. Edelman returned 12 of the 46 team attempts. As the Patriots have rotated various guys in for reps since minicamp -- Donte' Stallworth, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Devin McCourty, Chung -- competition could heat up in search for the right fit.

Edelman? He'll keep hanging tough.

"I'm confident, but never comfortable."

Easley on character concerns: 'It's all rumors' until sources step forward

easley.jpg

Easley on character concerns: 'It's all rumors' until sources step forward

When Dominique Easley was released by the Patriots this spring, it wasn't because he wasn't productive when he was on the field. In fact, on a per-snap basis, he was one of the most productive interior pass-rushers in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Instead, there were some off-the-field factors, as well as injury concerns, that led to the Patriots choosing to cut ties with their 2014 first-round pick. 

As our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran put it, there were "philosophical differences" between Easley and the team.

Other, more scathing reports of Easley's impact in New England were released, including one report from the Boston Globe that included a quote from a former teammate saying he was a "locker room cancer."

Since then, Easley has landed with the Rams and has a chance to contribute to one of the most talented defensive lines in football. In an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Phil Savage and Amber Theoharis, Easley said he hopes that his new team will get to see that he's a better person than some have indicated.

"Just really," Easley said, "just hopefully that the Rams get to see what a great person and a great hardworker I am, and really, just a great person."

Easley went on to say that he's not sure who would speak of him negatively or why. He explained that it's not his "main goal" to prove there's nothing to worry about with his character, but clearly it's somewhere on the list. 

"There's been, obviously, stuff said about me," Easley said. "We don't know where it came from. I would say the person doesn't want to come out and say it, neither. As far as I know, it's all rumors until that person comes out and say that it was from them, and they can prove that they actually know who I am, or been around me long enough to know who I am and how I am as a person."

PFT: NFL plans to interview Manning about Al Jazeera PED allegations

broncos-peyton-manning-012016.jpg

PFT: NFL plans to interview Manning about Al Jazeera PED allegations

Peyton Manning is retired, but that doesn't mean he's exempt from the interviews that the NFL plans to conduct as it looks into the allegations made by Al Jazeera's December PED documentary. 

It was reported last week by USA Today that the league's senior vice president of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch informed the NFLPA that players named in Al Jazeera's report would be interviewed in July. 

Among those scheduled to be interviewed are Packers linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews and Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Former Packers linebacker Mike Neal will also be interviewed.

(Harrison has taken issue with the league's request, and said on social media that he would only meet with the league if commissioner Roger Goodell showed up to his home.)

Manning was not mentioned in the letter obtained by USA Today detailing the league's interview plans, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk followed up on Monday to see if the NFL intended to speak with Manning. It does.

The former Broncos and Colts quarterback has been very vocal about just how strongly he denies Al Jazeera's claim that his wife, Ashley, received HGH for his use. Despite the fact that he's no longer playing, it will come as no surprise if, given his stance, Manning cooperates fully with the league as it seeks more information regarding the report. 

As Florio points out, if Manning hopes to return to the NFL at some point as an executive -- as many believe he will -- this is something he'll want to put to bed beforehand. That process will start with an interview.