Patriots' Mesko gets his kicks from working hard

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Patriots' Mesko gets his kicks from working hard

FOXBORO -- Attend a Patriots training camp session and you'll see various bits of football activity scattered all over the fields. In one spot, there are linebackers and running backs clashing in blitz pickup drills; in another, receivers battling defensive backs in 1-on-1s.

But with one guy, it's sometimes hard to tell what you're looking at.

Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko promises his work is important, no matter how simple it all looks.

"It's a lot of drills, a lot of fundamentals," he said. "But you have to be able to do the boring stuff to be able to enjoy the not-boring stuff, which is winning -- performing well."

He's at it from 7 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m., just like those glamorous receivers and quarterbacks. A lot of the time is spent in meetings, getting the mind refocused on football. And then he runs out, usually the first, for practice.

Mesko laughs to think of how it must look, the quartet of specialists spending so much time alone while the rest of the team draws the crowd's cheers with hard-hitting action.

"Not a lot of drills make sense," he said. "If you were to go out to see maybe track and field, like a javelin thrower or a hammer thrower, you're like, 'What's he doing?' because you're not familiar with the position. It's not in the spotlight all the time."

So what is he doing?

"I would say 90 percent of a punt is dictated by your drop, so I practice my drop a lot," he said. "And it doesn't take a lot of effort out of me to practice my drop, it's more of a skill than anything. But even if people tell you, 'Oh you're so smart, you're so smart,' it's the discipline to put in the hard work to overcome that boredom in the drills."

Yes, the punter has to stay competitive.

Mesko's spot on the team is secure; his 41.5 net average was best in the AFC and third-best in the league last year. His 46.5 overall average set a Patriots record.

But there are lots of punters looking for work, and they prey upon complacency.

"I want to be able to surpass that goal of beating the competition" he said. "There's so much competition. Because even if it's not direct, it's out there -- I just can't see it. There's so many free agents out there that want my position."

It's not fear as much as it's the recognition of reality. And Mesko knows what to do with it.

"You can take all these rah-rah speeches from all the coaches and psychiatric doctors, and read all the self-help books you can, but at the end of the day it comes from how you motivate yourself," he said. "I've had a good start in motivating myself in where I've come from in Romania, and living through what I've lived through to make the best life for myself.

Mesko grew up in Timisoara, the town that birthed 1989's Romanian Revolution. His earliest years coincided with the violence that overturned the country's Communist government. In 1997, his parents finally found a way out via America's green-card lottery.

Mesko was 10 when the trio landed in the U.S.

"There's no other formula that I look to besides hard work," he said. Then, after a thoughtful pause, he added: "Even though I've been given so much."

He's always had drive.

"I was always in love with competition, with winning," he said. "It's always been instilled in me, ever since playing soccer in the parking lots in Europe. You take off your sandals or the shirt off your back and you play 'til the night falls and your mom is screaming at you to get in the house at 11 p.m."

Mesko's father took him to professional sporting events, to soccer games especially. That's when he noticed something -- athletes were admired for their efforts. The better the talent and grind, the better they were appreciated.

He was attracted to the idea.

Now he's living it.

In the months following his sophomore season, the Patriots punter went to charity events, golf tournaments, Loudon's Sprint Cup race. He traveled. Somehow, he still considers himself a 'Joe Schmoe,' checking himself at every chance. But there's no missing the positive correlation between the success he's had and the work he's done. Even if the toil doesn't look typical.

"I love it," he says. "I love this job and I love what it allows me to do. It's cool that through hard work, things like this can be achieved."

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

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Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

PHOENIX - The Arizona Cardinals, in an anticipated move, have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The non-exclusive tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

It's unlikely that any team would express interest in Jones, however, given what it would cost.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

The Cardinals' move came two days before the NFL deadline for making franchise designations.

It also came on Jones' 27th birthday, prompting teammate David Johnson to tweet "Happy BDay to `The Man,' `Mr. Franchise' himself.....The one and only."

The franchise tag move came as no surprise.

Club President Michael Bidwill has stated all along that Jones would not be going anywhere, that the team didn't make the trade - sending guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England - to keep him just for one season.

"We're not going to mess around with that," Bidwill said in a recent interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He's a great pass rusher, but if we can't agree to terms that work for us, we're just going to franchise him, and his people know that."

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1-2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

By all accounts, the contract talks with Jones have been cordial and Jones has said he wants to stay in Arizona.

"I love it here," he said near the end of last season. "I love the vibe that the people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time."

Chandler heads a long list of free agents that the Cardinals must either re-sign or let go. That group includes starters defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.

Mayock: If I'm Cleveland, I'd be 'stoked' to land Garoppolo for No. 12 pick

Mayock: If I'm Cleveland, I'd be 'stoked' to land Garoppolo for No. 12 pick

NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock quarterbacked a marathon conference call with reporters from around the country on Monday in order to shed some light on the prospects who will compete at the combine later this week. One thing that stood out? He's not ready to crown anyone in this year's crop of draftable signal-callers.

As a result of the dearth of pro-ready talent at quarterback, Mayock recognized Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo as perhaps the top target for any quarterback-needy team. Garoppolo might interest the Cleveland Browns in particular, Mayock noted, because of the number of picks they have near the top of the draft.

"In my opinion," Mayock said, "if I'm the Cleveland Browns and I've got No. 1 and No. 12, if I came away with either [defensive end Myles] Garrett or [defensive tackle] Jonathan Allen at No. 1, and gave up the 12th pick in the draft to get Garoppolo? I would be stoked.

"I would feel like I had a difference-maker on defense and we had a quarterback on offense. Now let's get to work. We got five in the first 65 picks. Let's get to work. From my perspective, especially looking at the quarterbacks this year, if they gave up No. 12 and could get Garoppolo, I'd be all over that."