Patriots still working it out at cornerback

Patriots still working it out at cornerback

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Darius Butler was in time out on Sunday.

The cornerback had a rough night at New Meadowlands Stadium versus the Jets in Week 2, missing half-a-dozen catches, giving Braylon Edwards a touchdown, and later letting Edwards catch a conversion over his head. Back-to-back pass-interference penalties added to Butler's troubles and earned him a seat on the bench this Sunday. Instead, second-year player Kyle Arrington got the start opposite rookie Devin McCourty. And when the Patriots used a nickelback, it was Jonathan Wilhite.

Butler only saw three plays in the game and neither helped his cause.

During Buffalo's second drive of the second quarter, the CB promptly surrendered a nine-yard completion to Roscoe Parrish that was good for a first down. It could have been worse had Brandon Meriweather not turned the juking receiver back toward Butler's direction.

Butler failed to set the edge again just two plays later and allowed C.J. Spiller to rip off a 19-yard run. Belichick yanked his struggling corner immediately.

And so Arrington -- who learned he would start just late Friday -- and McCourty were left to shoulder the load. They did all right. Right after Butler left the game, Arrington played a little jump ball against Lee Evans in Buffalo's end zone to successfully keep the ball away and six points off the board.

But the Bills got those points on the very next play. After showing such great awareness, Arrington got blocked next time out and allowed the Bills to run a touchdown in along the edge.

Belichick said after the game that divvying up minutes was simply about going with what works. "Kyle has been practicing well, so we thought we'd give him an opportunity there to get in the game," the coach said. "He made a couple plays, so we kind of stayed with it.''

Some things were definitely working for McCourty. The CB had a physical first half. As the clock ticked down in the second half, he posted a solid open-field tackle of Evans after a gain of four.

If nothing else, the Patriots needed to make sure there were no big gains after a Buffalo reception and McCourty did well to read routes and stay on his man to ensure this. A thunderous hit on Marshawn Lynch in the fourth quarter for no gain further asserted his skill as an open-field tackler. Only linebacker Jerod Mayo and safety Patrick Chung had more tackles than McCourty's five.

So while it's not surprising that Darius Butler was a no-show for the post-game media scrum, it's surprising that McCourty dodged reporters as well. Belichick praised the first-year player, however cautiously.

"Devin's playing hard," Belichick said. "He's a tough kid, really studies the material and tries to play the defense the way we want it to be played. There are things he or any rookie needs to learn but . . . he tackles well, runs well. He's done a good job, but there's a lot to learn and a long way to go."

The Patriots coach might have been thinking of Buffalo's fourth-quarter touchdown. It was McCourty, with Chung, whose coverage of Steve Johnson got blown for 37 yards and six points. Arrington agreed that he and the other corners have plenty of work to do this week.

"Our offense can't score 38-40 points a game so we'll just have to work hard this week, even harder than we have in the past weeks,'' he said. "Miami is a good team. They have good backs as well, they're going to run the ball and try to take their shots on us as well. ''

One place for the young defense to turn when looking to improve game-play is to veterans. Arrington said that, though Leigh Bodden can no longer lead by example, the veteran corner has given out advice.

"Bodden just told me the most important thing I could do is relax, let the game come to me and told me I've been doing this since I was in little leagues,'' he smiled. "At the end of the day it's still football. It was definitely great words of encouragement."

And Belichick is there for his guys as well, "We have confidence in all those guys; Darius, Jonathan, Devin, Kyle,'' the coach said.

I'm sure they're happy for the public approval, but Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington both know that a coach's confidence is truly translated into field time. Ask both who is really feeling the love and you'll probably get two different answers. The cornerbacks certainly had very different days.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

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Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

FOXBORO -- When a new player arrives to the Patriots, there's a familiar refrain that's recited from behind the podium at Gillette Stadium: "Football is important to him."

Whether the subject is a rookie or an established veteran, those five words can serve as Bill Belichick's stamp of approval. It means the player cares. It means the player is willing to put in time.

Belichick hasn't gone on the record on any of the members of this year's class of undrafted free agents just yet, but linebacker Brooks Ellis seems to fall into that category of players to whom football is important.

If it wasn't, he would probably be putting all of his energy into getting accepted into medical school right now.  

Ellis was a two-year captain at Arkansas and one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the "Academic Heisman." He maintained a 3.82 grade point average as a pre-professional exercise science major with a minor in biology, he was the first two-time Academic All-American in program history, and he was the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the year for 2016.

All that is to say, Ellis had options upon graduation.

Football won out. He agreed to a deal with the Patriots soon after the draft, and he's spent the better part of the last month trying to learn defensive terminology and special-teams techniques. 

But eventually Ellis hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon, and later this summer he'll submit his applications to medical schools in order to kick-start that process for whenever it's time to pursue his next plan full-throttle.

"I'm putting my all into this right now," Ellis said, wearing Patriots gear while standing on the Gillette Stadium turf last week. "But when I get some spare time, I'm finishing applications, and then when I get back in July I'm sending those in.

"If I get accepted somewhere, I'm going to tell them I need to defer until I know for sure what the football situation is going to be. So I'm all in on football, and just in case, I'm going to have that ready to go when I get out of it."

If all goes well for Ellis this spring and summer, it could be a while before he's taking the Hippocratic Oath. The Patriots have a long history of giving worthy undrafted players a shot at the 53-man roster, and Ellis plays one of the few positions on New England's loaded roster that might have room for a newcomer or two.

On paper, he certainly looks like their type.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was his team's leading tackler for two seasons. He played all three linebacker positions in Arkansas' defense -- strong-side, middle and weak-side -- and he started 31 consecutive games to finish his career. Ellis also has extensive special teams experience, and he recorded one of the quickest three-cone drills among linebackers at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.

That he learned under Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema can't hurt his chances, either.

Bielema began his coaching career at Iowa under former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz, and Belichick has dipped into Bielema's programs at Wisconsin and Arkansas several times over the course of the last few seasons. Running back James White, defensive end Trey Flowers and former tight end AJ Derby all played for Bielema, and Ellis joins fellow Arkansas rookies Deatrich Wise (fourth-round pick) and Cody Hollister (undrafted) on this year's squad.  

"He came in, started about halfway through his true freshman year -- we weren't a really good football team, we were 3-9 -- threw him in the middle of it, didn't bat an eye, and he got better every game," Bielema said of Ellis on Quick Slants the Podcast. "Sophomore year, [he] really began to mature, develop. He's another guy that the potential -- because we never redshirted him -- to grow in this year is going to be huge . . .

"He's just truly very, very intelligent, compassionate. And the value that he brings is he could be an unbelievable role player. I'm not saying he's going to be a four-time All-Pro or anything like that, but he'll be reliable, dependable, in every phase of the game."

Robb Smith, Arkansas defensive coordinator from 2014-16, believes Ellis landed in the perfect spot. Prior to his time at Arkansas, he worked under Greg Schiano at Rutgers, where he coached Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, former Patriots corner Logan Ryan, Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny and safeties coach Steve Belichick.

"He's one of those guys that's not only going to know his job, but what the other 10 guys around him are supposed to do," Smith said of Ellis. "He'll be able to be a leader from that standpoint in terms of helping guys with the system and the scheme. He's very good instinctively . . ."

"This guy's going to be replacing my knee someday. I'm serious. He's going to be an orthopedic surgeon that's outstanding. I know that's what his goals are. But hopefully he gets to play a lot of football between now and then."

There's one more Patriots link connecting Ellis to New England. His agent, Neil Cornrich, has counted Belichick as a client and also represents Bielema, Ferentz, Flowers, Derby, undrafted Patriots rookies Cole Croston and LeShun Daniels (both of whom played under Ferentz at Iowa) and Patriots running back Rex Burkhead. 

It may come as no surprise then that when Ellis signed with the Patriots, no one knew. He didn't announce it on Twitter, as is the norm for undrafted players when they come to an agreement with a team. And the news wasn't leaked. Instead, he waited for the team to announce it, which his new employers probably appreciated.

Ellis, who according to the Boston Globe received the fifth-most guaranteed money of the 19 undrafted rookies the Patriots signed, said he received some simplie advice from Cornrich before making his way to New England.

"He just said that you'll fit in well there," Ellis said. "You're the type of guy they like, and you're the type of guy that succeeds in that organization. Don't do anything special. Just go out there and work like you do every day, and it'll turn out for the best."

Even if it doesn't, Ellis will have medical school. But he acknowledges there's some unpredictability with that path, just as there is being an undrafted player in the NFL. He still has to be accepted. His application, including personal statements, interviews and MCAT results -- "It was horrible, I don't want to take that ever again," Ellis said -- still has to be deemed up-to-snuff.  

Whenever Ellis starts, it will be the beginning of almost a decade of training between schooling and residency. It will be a challenge, he knows, and it's one that he looks forward to. But he's hoping it can wait because football is important to him. 

"It just makes you work harder," he said of his uncertain future. "It makes you really focus on right now, and make sure that you're doing all you can in this area because even the next area might not be there.

"That's what I've done. I'm just working as hard as I can on this, and if that doesn't work out, then I've got the next thing, and I'm going to work as hard as I can in that area."

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”