Pats' free-agent forecast: Linebackers


Pats' free-agent forecast: Linebackers

This is the third in a series of position-by-position looks at the Patriots heading into free agency. Today's position: Linebackers.
Wbo's on the roster? Dane Fletcher, Gary Guyton, Niko Koutouvides, Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes, Tracy White, Markell Carter, Jermaine Cunningham, Jeff Tarpinian. Patriots need level? If we're talking outside linebacker, it's a 7. Inside? 4. Position overview? Let's start inside, where the Patriots are pretty well stocked. Jerod Mayo is the quarterback of the defense from the middle, a sure tackler and one of the best in the league when he's fully healthy. Brandon Spikes is one of the best downhill run-stoppers they've had since Ted Johnson. If his head is in it, he'll be good for a while. Dane Fletcher is a nice, fast complement to those two. On the outside? Rob Ninkovich is still riding the crest of his performance wave and is a reliable guy. Jermaine Cunningham? Incredibly non-impactful. Markell Carter, a late-round 2011 draft choice, seems to be a player the team is intrigued by. The team is still yearning for a guy to bring pressure off the edge from the linebacker level. As for guys on last year's team who are hitting free agency, Gary Guyton's play has slid precipitously. Niko Koutouvides and Tracy White are primarily special teamers. Who's out there? Stephen Tulloch, Lions. A short (5-foot-11), sturdy (240-pounds) downhill plugger, the Patriots don't really have a spot for him on the inside.Jarret Johnson, Ravens. A nine-year veteran of the edge spot in the Baltimore 3-4, the underrated Johnson would be a fit for the Patriots. But the Ravens and Jets may have dibs.Kamerion Wimbley, Raiders. I had to asterisk Kam because - as of Friday afternoon - the Raiders still hadn't released him. But with a huge guarantee kicking in on March 17, the Raiders are going to lop him if he doesn't take a pay cut. And when they do, Wimbley will become the best outside pass-rusher on the free agent market.Manny Lawson, Bengals. Maybe better suited to a 4-3 because he's on the lean and long side, it's not a stretch to use Rosey Colvin as a comp. Lawson is 6-5, 240 and can drop in coverage. Other names of note? Niko Koutouvides, Gary Guyton, Tracy White, Tully Banta-Cain, Lofa Tatupu,Free agent forecast? Johnson, Wimbley and Lawson are the names you may recognize. The Patriots' pro personnel department does a remarkable job of cycling through the bottom of the roster names that aren't on our radar, though, so you can expect a "Who's he?" moment in the coming weeks.

Rask ends injury absence, returns to Bruins practice

Rask ends injury absence, returns to Bruins practice

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins welcomed back Tuukka Rask to the Warrior Ice Arena practice sheet on Friday morning after he took more than a week off the ice after re-aggravating his lower body injury in last week’s win over the Devils. 

Rask took part in 3-on-3 battle drills for a large chunk of the practice while backups Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban, both still with the team, practiced at the other end of the ice for most of the session. 

It remains to be seen if Rask can go against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, while troubled early in the season by the reported hamstring/groin issues, but the Finnish netminder was clearly practicing like he was going to play in Motown. 

It’s just as clear they desperately need him back given the shaky state of their defense after allowing a ghoulish 11 goals in their past two losses to the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers. 

David Backes was still missing from the practice ice while recovering from his elbow procedure, so Claude Julien was again mixing and matching the lines amid a three-game losing streak. 

Here are the line combos and D-pairings from practice: 









Liles-C. Miller







Belichick: Dion Lewis is ‘on to the the next step’

Belichick: Dion Lewis is ‘on to the the next step’

FOXBORO - Dion Lewis was on the practice field for the first time on Thursday afternoon. The running back, who tore his ACL last season then sustained a patella stress fracture over the summer, will now have a maximum of three weeks to work out with the team before the Patriots decide whether to activate him or put him on injured reserve. 

Predictably, Bill Belichick was not particularly revealing when asked about Lewis' re-entry. 

"Well, he's been out there doing things with the training staff for a long time, so now it's on to the next step," Belichick explained, adding, "Dion works really hard. No one works harder than Dion."

It's a 53-man tie for the title of "Patriot Who Works Hardest" between Lewis and every other player on the roster who's been described as having nobody ahead of him in the "Works Harder" category. 

Anyway, Lewis will not be listed on the injury report until he's activated and that would seem an extreme longshot for this week, though the team would have until Saturday to make that move.