O-Line demonstrates depth


O-Line demonstrates depth

FOXBORO -- Just 90 minutes before the opening kickoff of Saturday's game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium, Patriots players were informed that offensive tackle Matt Light wouldn't be playing because of an ankle injury.

So the first thing Bill Belichick did was move guard Logan Mankins to the outside, into Light's usual role as left tackle. The next thing Belichick did was inform Donald Thomas that he'd be making his first start since 2009, in Mankins' position.

Turns out, Mankins didn't last long, leaving the game -- and never returning -- late in the first quarter with a knee injury. That forced New England's hand to move Nate Solder to left tackle, and place Marcus Cannon at right tackle.

"Matt's ankle was, he just wasnt able to push off on it, so we were scrambling around there," said Belichick after the game. "And then Logan played a few plays and then he went out, so we had to take what was left."

As you would expect, the game of musical chairs on the Patriots' offensive line wasn't a perfect transition. Brady was sacked twice and knocked down three times in the first quarter.
Thomas described the first half as "chaotic."

"I was just told before the game to be ready to go," said Thomas after the game. "And then we went out there and it's game time, and you're up. That was it, basically. I don't know what's going on with anybody. I was just told to be ready to go when I got in this morning. And I just had to roll with it."

The Patriots' offensive line struggled in the first half, just like the rest of the team, and Miami went into halftime with a 17-0 lead.

Tom Brady was pressured at times in the second half, but clearly had more time to make plays, thanks to the improvements made on the offensive line.

Those improvements came in a three-step process. First, get the communication in order. Second, trust each other to do your own job. Third, trust the system.

The new-look offensive line did all three in the second half, and it helped New England's offense surge to a 27-24 win, securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.

"To lose Matt Light an hour-and-a-half before the game, and then to lose Logan Mankins the first or second series of the game, a lot of guys really stepped in, played hard, and played for 60 minutes," said Brady after the win. "That's what it took today.

"They're tough, they're very well coached," added Brady on his offensive line. "They have a lot of pride and work extremely hard. So anytime you have those qualities as players or as a group, you learn to fight through adversity, and they've done that all year."

They did it with different personnel in different positions on Saturday. And they did it because, in New England, and especially under offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, everybody was prepared as if they were going to play. And once they got the communication down, it was all about trust.

"If you've been around here this year, the one thing that you should know -- and again, it goes to the depth of this football team, and the professionalism of this football team -- is, you never know when it's your turn," said Patriots veteran offensive lineman Brian Waters. "If you're dressed, you prepare all week. You've got to be prepared to play, no matter what position you're in, no matter where you are on the depth chart.

"If you put those pads on, you've got to respect that, at some point of the season, you're going to be asked to play. You just never know when it is. So you've always got to be prepared.

"Everybody on this offensive line really cares about the other guys, because that's the way they prepare," added Waters. "At some point, you're going to be called on. If you're not prepared, and you're not ready to go, that means you don't care about the other guys next to you. And on the flip side, you've got to trust that guy. And that's what happened in the second half."

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There's nothing like a visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars to make the Tennessee Titans remember how to protect their home field.

Marcus Mariota threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns to end his home struggles and the Titans had their highest point total of the season in a 36-22 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night.

Click here for the complete story

Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up


Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up

FOXBORO -- Once the Patriots traded AJ Derby to the Broncos for a fifth-round pick earlier this week, they were left with just two tight ends on their roster. While those two tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett -- have played as two of the best tight ends in football this season, it's a position group that has been considerably thinned. 

Until coach Bill Belichick adds another player at that spot, James Develin would be the logical "next man up." A position group unto himself as the team's lone active fullback -- the other fullback in the locker room is practice-squad player Glenn Gronkowski -- Develin meets with Patriots tight ends and coach Brian Daboll on a daily basis because the fullback and tight-end responsibilities in the Patriots offense are similar, particularly in the run game.

As much time as he spends with that group, Develin tries to absorb what he can when it comes to the nuances of the position. 

"I always kind of try to prepare, obviously, for my fullback role, but then in any other role that I might be called upon for," Develin said on Thursday. "A couple years ago, we had a bunch of injuries during the offseason program, during OTAs, and I filled in a little bit at tight end. I try to keep myself familiar with all those techniques and that tight end role so if the day were to come where I needed to go out there and do it, I'd be able to go out there and do it."

When the Patriots began the season relying more on the run, Develin was called upon to play a relatively significant role in the offense. He averaged 21.3 snaps per game through the first three games of the season, but that number has fallen to 13.6 since Tom Brady's return from a four-game suspension. Still, his role can be a critical one. 

The Patriots' running game faltered last season after both Blount and Dion Lewis went down with season-ending injuries. Having Develin in the mix as an extra blocker would not have guaranteed a more efficient attack, but it may have helped the team's running-game woes late in the year. 

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels now has the luxury of bringing Develin onto the field when he wants some added muscle for his blocking schemes, and should the Patriots need a tight end in a pinch, Develin could do that too.

"A lot of times, especially in the blocking game, really the only difference [between fullback and tight end] is that I'm five yards off the ball in the backfield and they're up on the line," Develin said. "The angles are a little bit different. But a lot of times the assignment is typcially the same thing. It's just the technique of getting there and the angles that you take.

"Then in the passing game, as a tight end, there's just a lot more routes and stuff like that. I try to work on that to help me as a fullback to be a little bit better in space . . . It's a sybiotic relationship." 

As it is, Develin will line up occasionally outside. Though not a threat as a receiver in that spot in the same way that Gronkowski or Bennett would be, he understands some of the different looks tight ends have to be comfortable with.

If an emergency arose and he was asked to fill that role, he wouldn't hesitate.

"There's a little bit of carry-over depending on what we're doing or whatever play we have called where I'll line up on the line," he said. "But that's kind of what a fullback has to do. You kind of have to be able to be thrown into whatever position on the field that you gotta do and you gotta just do your job."