Caserio: Welker's got his quickness back

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Caserio: Welker's got his quickness back

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - There were times last year that Wes Welker acknowledged he wasn't quite back to where he was pre-ACL blowout. But inthe face of the "Wes Welker, Miracle Baby!" propaganda that followed his return from a blown ACL, the fact he wasn't 100 percent was glossed over. The numbers early in 2010 showed it, though. He didn't have more than 70 receiving yards in a game until mid-November. And his lack of acceleration and ability to power through tackles was evident as his YPC total dipped. Only once in his first eight games did he have more than 9 yards per catch. But then he averaged more than 11 YPC in six straight games. His YPC in four years with the Patriots is 10.5. Welker's built on that progress in this training camp and that's caught the eye of Patriots' Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio. "Wes is having a really strong camp," Caserio said when evaluating the wide receivers as a whole. Asked for more on why Welker's seemed strong, Caserio added, "He always competes, always works hard. He looks like he's regained the quickness level relative to where it was (prior to blowing out his ACL in the 2009 regular-season finale). Wes works hard and he's been a productive player and looks confident. He catches the eye a little bit and done some things that look real good." Caserio spent a few minutes evaluating the Patriots' personnel at safety and Brandon Meriweather in particular, saying, "He's a player with versatility. He's played corner, safety, 'star' (that's the DB lined up on the offense's slot receiver).He's been productive. He's got experience. Is it perfect? No. Is he trying hard to get better? That's the most important thing. Each year is its own entity. You're looking for improvement over the course of time and I think Brandon's done that." Despite their work done at other employers, Caserio said the Patriots can't just presume high-level play from guys like Shaun Ellis and Albert Haynesworth. "Until player is in your program and in your system you actually don't know until they actually start practicing," Caserio explained. "It's no different than Randy (Moss) a few years ago ... until the player is in your program and in your system, with all due respect to how they've played and how they've performed withtheir other team, itreally doesn't matter. ... You have an idea, just sort of a gauge, 'Here's what their skill set may be.' But until you have them under your control a little bit it's sort of hard to evaluate that. .. a player can only do what he's able to do."Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

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Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler left Sunday's win over the Texans feeling pretty good about himself. One week after being relegated to the No. 3 corner role on the Patriots defense, he played every snap and allowed just two catches for 10 yards.

“I think I’m building,” Butler said afterward. “I think I’m taking it a step at a time. There’s a lot of football to be played, so whatever you see, judge me.”

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And we have. There was the pass-interference penalty in Week 1. There was the botched pick-play coverage with Patrick Chung in Week 2. But even with those mishaps mixed in, Butler's energy and effort did not seem to wane on film.

He caught Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill for a tackle from behind to prevent a first down in the season-opener. Against the Saints, his hard pass breakup on top Saints wideout Michael Thomas was a bright spot for the Patriots secondary.

In Week 3, that effort was there again. Targeted twice while in coverage on DeAndre Hopkins, Butler did well to jam Hopkins at the line of scrimmage and then limit the game's highest-paid receiver to zero yards after the catch.

When asked about Butler on Tuesday's conference calls, both Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia struck tones that were strikingly different than the ones that made headlines when discussing Butler the week prior.

"Yeah, I think Malcolm did a good job," Belichick said. "I mean, all of our defensive backs I thought were pretty competitive. We had some scramble yardage and loose plays and things like that. But I mean, the normal passing game we were pretty competitive on. But like anything else, there are certainly a lot of things we can do better."

That goes for Butler, too, who admitted last week that he hadn't been playing up to his standards.

On one of those scramble-drill plays Belichick referenced, Deshaun Watson found tight end Ryan Griffin for a 35-yard gain, which included several yards after the catch when Butler was among the defenders who missed the chance to try to wrestle Griffin to the ground.

There were occasions though -- like Watson's first-quarter third-down scramble that Butler helped to stop, forcing the Texans to kick a field goal -- when Butler's want-to was evident.

"I thought Malcolm played really well," Patricia said. "We certainly didn’t play great at all as a defense. I’m not saying that but I think the guy really tried to go out and play extremely hard. 

"This is a very competitive guy. Malcolm steps up to the challenges that you place in front of him. He goes out and competes, he works hard, he tries to do it the right way and he really tries to get better every week. Look, we had a productive week last week for him and working through. But it’s a new week and we’re going to try to get the same consistency every single week and that’s what we’re trying to do."

A week ago, when asked about Butler's performance, Belichick and Patricia weren't quite as glowing.

"I don’t think anybody’s performance this season is really where it needs to be or where it will be," Belichick said at the time. "We all need to do a better job."

"I think with Malcolm, he’s kind of in a boat with everybody else," Patricia said. "We’re trying to get better."

Part of the reason Butler may have been relied upon as much as he was could have been due to the fact that fellow corner Eric Rowe -- who started in Week 2 opposite Stephon Gilmore -- was inactive with a groin injury. 

How Butler will factor in against the Panthers in Week 4 remains to be seen, but if his work against the Texans improved his confidence, then that would seem to benefit the Patriots defense as a whole. 

"Things that we're confident in," Belichick said, "we do more aggressively, we do quicker, we do with probably better overall execution than things we're not confident in . . . 

"It’s a fine line there between confidence and overconfidence and taking it for granted, as opposed to just being right in that sweet spot of having an edge, having confidence, being alert and aggressive."