Versatile Fletcher draws high praise from Belichick

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Versatile Fletcher draws high praise from Belichick

By Danny Picard
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @dannypicard
FOXBORO -- Second-year linebacker Dane Fletcher could get some moreplaying time in the near future, now that Jerod Mayo is expected to miss an extended period of time with a sprained MCL.

On Monday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick commended Fletcher on theimprovements he made from his rookie season.

Belichicks obvious confidence in Fletcher most likely meansmore playing time in Mayos absence.

I think Danes taken a big jump from where he was lastyear, said Belichick. Last year he came in as really a defensive lineman, andmade an impact for us in the kicking game. At other points in the year, he didsome things situationally, on defense.

But this year, he came in and played inside linebackerright from the beginning of the year. Hes way ahead of where he was last year.Theres really no comparison. He had a good year of experience and hedefinitely built on that. Hes a smart guy. He works hard. Hes in goodcondition. Hes a good athlete. He runs well. Hes physical."

Belichick's a believer, obviously.

We have a lot of confidence in Dane, Belichick said. SoIm sure that whatever we ask him to do, hell try to do it. I have no doubtabout that.

Thats been evident over the last couple of weeks, as thePatriots have used Fletcher on the offensive side of the ball as well, makinghim the fullback in goal-line situations.

Dane kind of has a good feel for that, said Belichick.Its different, but similar to linebackers. Linebackers, youve kind of got tosee the hole. You dont want to fill where your guys are. You want to fillwhere theyre not, and fill in that space. And thats the same space therunning backs seeing.

Fletcher said he has slim to none experience on offense,but did say he played tight end in high school. Either way, hes willing todo whatever Belichick assigns.

If they tell me to go run my face into some people, Ill doit, said Fletcher. They tell you a certain thing, they want you to run in acertain direction and fill a hole, and hit somebody on the way. In a lot of thesame sense, its like linebacker. So far Ive been doing alright at it.

His presence on the offensive side of the ball may bringback memories of former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, who was also used ingoal-line situations. But Belichick isnt ready to put Fletcher on that levelyet.

Youre talking about a guy who might have had the besthands on the team in that group when he was on the field, said Belichick aboutVrabel. Im saying, when Mike was on the goal line, offensively, all theplayers that were on the field, he probably had the best hands of anybody weput out there.

Danny Picard is on twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard.

Report: Patriots asked Seahawks about a trade for Richard Sherman

Report: Patriots asked Seahawks about a trade for Richard Sherman

PHOENIX -- The Patriots pulled off what many considered a surprise free-agent signing when they acquired corner Stephon Gilmore. As it turns out, before they picked up the former Bills cover man, they inquried about a separate move that would have been even more eye-opening. 

According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, ahead of coming to a deal with Gilmore, the Patriots were among the teams that spoke to the Seahawks about a potential trade for Richard Sherman.

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During the NFC coaches breakfast on Wednesday morning at the Arizona Biltmore, Seattle coach Pete Carroll acknowledged that multiple teams have contacted the Seahawks about Sherman. But, Carroll said, "I don't see anything happening at all."

Sherman, who turns 29 next season, will make $11.431 million for 2017. He's due $11 million in the final year of his contract in 2018.

Rivera: Ealy 'a gifted young man,' can reascend 'if he listens'

Rivera: Ealy 'a gifted young man,' can reascend 'if he listens'

PHOENIX -- The Patriots picked up Kony Ealy, who a year ago put together one of the best defensive performances in Super Bowl history, by exchanging a second-round pick for a third-rounder earlier this offseason.

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How exactly was a 25-year-old defensive end with loads of talent available at that price? Apparently he had some trouble listening to the coaching staff in Carolina.

During the NFC coaches breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore on Wednesday morning Panthers head coach Ron Rivera praised Ealy for his ability, but he acknowledged that Ealy's production waned in part because the Carolina coaching staff had a hard time getting through to the player involved. 

"I think sometimes when you have success, you kind of fall back into a little bit of something," Rivera answered when asked if Ealy had difficulty taking coaching. "But at the same time, for us, we looked at [the trade] as an opportunity -- as [general manager] Dave [Gettleman] said -- to find some gold. We moved up in the second round. We have two picks in the second round . . . We feel we'll be able to fill a need so we're pretty excited about that opportunity."

Ealy, who has one year remaining on his rookie contract, figures to factor heavily into the rotation at defensive end for the Patriots since Bill Belichick and his coaching staff watched both Jabaal Sheard (Colts) and Chris Long (Eagles) depart via free-agency, leaving Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich as the primary holdovers on the edge from last year's Super Bowl-winning roster. 

In Super Bowl 50, Ealy tied the Super Bowl record with three sacks. He also recorded an interception and forced fumble in the game -- becoming the only player in Super Bowl history to record multiple sacks and a pick -- and he did it all in 23 snaps.

Last season Ealy started the first six games of the regular season for the Panthers, eventually coming off the bench for the final 10. He saw 58 percent of Carolina's defensive snaps and recorded five sacks as well as an interception. He had nine regular-season sacks combined in his first two seasons as a pro.

So what kind of player will the Patriots be getting in Ealy, I asked Rivera? A good one, he replied, if he's willing to learn everything Belichick throws at him.

"I think they got a guy that has the skill set, that's flashed in opportunities to show people what he's capable of doing," Rivera said. "And at the end of the day, if he listens and does things that coach asks of him, I think he's got an opportunity to reascend and be that type of player. I mean, he is a gifted young man."

Rivera added: "There's nothing physically that kept him from being [more consistent]. You saw the flashes. If you watch the tape, you see these flashes throughout. Sometimes when you see those, you wonder, 'Eh, did we make the right decision?' But at the end of the day, the proof will be in the pudding. We'll know -- once we get through this draft, as to what we were able to accomplish -- whether we did or didn't."

Will Ealy be able to turn those flashes into more consistent production? Will the Patriots coaching staff be able to reach him in a way that those in Carolina apparently could not? 

All that remains to be seen, but Belichick may have had an opportunity to hear a little more about his new defensive end Wednesday when he spoke to Ealy's college defensive line coach for about a half-hour while scouting prospects at the University of Miami pro day, according to the Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter.