Undrafted players making mark on 2012 Patriots

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Undrafted players making mark on 2012 Patriots

FOXBORO-- There are 29 players on the Patriots 53-man roster drafted by the team. Tom Brady is the earliest (2000) and Alfonzo Dennard is the latest, drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

The Patriots went through a bit of a dry spell during the Draft from 2004 to 2008. Just five players remain from those classes none from 2007 (in their defense, they traded three early ones that year).

Since then, they've hit some home runs. Seven draft picks from 2010 should play major roles this season, while last year's rookies like Nate Solder, Ras-I Dowling, and Stevan Ridley look to make a leap.

This year? Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower look like absolute steals based on what we've seen, and rugby sensation Nate Ebner has beaten out a number of safeties that had much more experience than he.

But all that said, it's the Patriots' eye for talent unseen by others -- at all -- that has really helped shape the team into contenders each year.

Get this: Of the active 53-man roster, 17 of those players were undrafted in the NFL. That number doesn't include undrafted special-teamer turned linebacker Dane Fletcher, who is now on season-ending IR.

That's nearly a third of this season's active roster filled with players passed up by every single team time after time . . . after time. No, the Patriots didn't sign them all out of college, but they saw enough out of some early on in their careers to scoop them up before they established themselves in the NFL.

So what do these undrafted players taken in by Bill Belichick have in common over the years?

"They've come in and they've performed to a good, competitive level and show us that they can possibly get higher," he said. "That they've been competitive and that there's upside for them to continue to develop as a player and get better. How far does that take them? How high do they go? I don't know, but I'd say that would be the common thing with those players going all the way back to Patrick Pass and guys like that even from the beginning that were late round draft choices or undrafted free agents."

In all, the Patriots have eight players that were at one point rookie and first-year free agents with the Patriots: Ryan Wendell (2008), Kyle Arrington (2009), Kyle Love (2010), Sterling Moore (2011), Mike Rivera (2011), Brandon Bolden (2012), Marcus Forston (2012), and Justin Francis (2012).

Arrington has had a major role in the team's defense over the past couple seasons, and Love has really come into his own on the defensive line. Wendell is certainly a late bloomer, but a player that Belichick seems particularly proud of in terms of progress made.

"Hes been very well coached. Obviously Pat Hill and his staff at Fresno State did an excellent job with him and Logan Mankins and all the other linemen that have come out of there," Belichick said of Wendell. "When we first had Wendy, we actually released him off the practice squad and then brought him back to the practice squad so thats a guy whose level has risen dramatically from when he first started here. Hard work, hes gotten stronger, hes improved his athletic skills, his numbers, his quickness, explosion, power, strength, all those things Hes done a good job for us all the way through. Hes always been a solid, dependable player. Hes earned it; hes definitely earned it."

Earning it - perhaps a bit more than players drafted in the higher rounds is something each and every undrafted free agent must do throughout their careers.

Wes Welker was undrafted out of Texas Tech and had a subpar career before he was traded to New England from Miami in 2007. He's undoubtedly earned his place and then some in the NFL. Danny Woodhead was undrafted out of Chadron State College and has found success in the running game with the Pats. And versatile offensive lineman Nick McDonald, undrafted out of Grand Valley State University, has drawn praise from Bill Belichick in camp.

So, no, a coaching staff probably doesn't go into camp with the expectation that an undrafted free agent will bounce out a more established player, but if the right ones come in the competition will be fierce, and it's up to the coaching staff to realize it before it's really too late.

"They played well in training camp and you evaluate the player and say, 'This guy, really with a little more experience and a little more time he might be even better' -- the Matt Cassell's and the Steve Neal's of the world and all that. I think that's what they need to show to get to that next opportunity that they've got to keep getting better or they just fizzle out and somebody else will move along with kind of the same resume and nudge them out, get ahead of them."

And so the process repeats itself.

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

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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

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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.