Patriots will have their hands full with Jones

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Patriots will have their hands full with Jones

FOXBORO -- When Texans kick returner Danieal Manning returned four kicks for a combined 216 yards in New England's 41-28 Divisional Round win last week, alarm bells went off around Gillette Stadium. Both coach Bill Belichick and special teams captain Matthew Slater stated the obvious: The Patriots needed better coverage.

That's especially true this week considering the Ravens will be in town Sunday for the AFC Championship Game. Baltimore's Jacoby Jones was one of the NFL's most dynamic kick returners during the regular season, putting up a 30.7 yards per return average, which was the best in the league.

On Thursday, Slater said that Jones' size -- he measures in at 6-foot-3 and 192 pounds -- combined with his speed make him tough to tackle on kickoff returns.

"Hes got tremendous speed," Slater said. "Jacobys actually a taller, bigger guy for a returner. He breaks a lot of tackles. He has a great feel for their scheme and what theyre trying to do. He runs hard, theres no hesitation, when he sees something he goes. Hes very aggressive. He takes chances, but they pay off. He does a lot of things well. He handles things well; handles situations great. Well have our hands full trying to cover him."

Jones is the kind of player that is almost impossible to simulate in practices, making him even more difficult to prepare for.

"The guys have been working hard all week to kind of give us a look at him," Slater said. "But I think a guy like that, hes so unique that its hard to really know what its going to be like until we get in the game. Weve watched a ton of film on him and the guys on the scout team have done a good job of giving us a good look. Like I said, Jacoby, his skill set is really unique. I dont really think theres a returner in the league with his physical presence because hes such a big guy and the speed that he has. Its tough to simulate but hopefully were getting a good look at it in practice and well be ready on Sunday."

The Patriots kick coverage team lucked out against the Texans. When Manning broke the game's opening kick for 94 yards, he ran out of steam and was caught from behind by Patriots safety Devin McCourty. The Texans were held out of the end zone during their subsequent offensive series and had to settle for a field goal.

McCourty said that the kick team knows if something similar happens against Jones, they aren't going to be able to bail themselves out.

"We have to just be sound," McCourty said. "We cant allow him to run around and make those big plays. He's a very fast guy. If he breaks out I doubt well be able to catch him, so it will be key to just try to contain him and keep him away from making those big plays on special teams because this time of year you really cant afford to give up those huge plays."

But that was last week. The Patriots will come into their AFC Championship rematch with Baltimore with a new outlook as they try to recapture the form that made them one of the best kickoff units in the league during the regular season. They allowed just 20.5 yards per return, which was third-best in the league.

"Weve put the Texans game behind us," Slater said. "Once we got in here and watched the tape, we understand we didnt perform the way we wanted to. We are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to go out and get that fixed. Theres no time to hang our head now going against arguably the best returner in the league after the year he had this year and a good special teams unit all around. Weve been working hard to correct the issues that we had and hopefully weve got them fixed and we can go out and perform well on Sunday."

Tatum 'can't wait' for new challenge with Celtics

Tatum 'can't wait' for new challenge with Celtics

BOSTON – While the newest Boston Celtics were scattered about while at a community service event, 19-year-old Jayson Tatum was sitting in a really comfortable-looking chair, resting. 

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind unlike any he had ever experienced, beginning with the pre-draft process, to workouts, to the draft itself and all the appearances and media engagements that have followed. 

“It’s a lot,” Tatum, grinning, told CSNNE.com. “But I’m taking it one day at a time.”

That steady-as-she-goes approach served him well during his lone season at Duke. 

Keeping an even-keeled approach will bode well for him as he gears up for his first taste of NBA basketball beginning with summer league practice this week in preparation for next week’s summer league action which begins in Salt Lake City. 

Boston’s summer league opener will be July 3 against Philadelphia and the top overall pick Markelle Fultz, at the University of Utah’s Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Tatum, who has not played in a five-on-five game since Duke’s loss to South Carolina in the NCAA tournament, is admittedly excited to get back on the floor this week. 

“I can’t wait,” he said. 

Celtics Nation feels the same way about Tatum, selected with the third overall pick in last week’s NBA draft. 

Although it’s only a preseason game, there will be expectations and with that, possibly some added pressure for Tatum to show he was such a coveted player by the Celtics. 

“That’s why Duke helped me a lot,” he told CSNNE.com. “Duke, the best program in college basketball, we were always on the national spotlight good or bad, whether we were winning or losing. That will help me a lot preparing for the Boston Celtics.”

And like Duke, Tatum will have to fight his way on to the court although he readily admits the challenge is much greater in the NBA. 

“Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown, Jae Crowder … we didn’t have those guys at Duke,” Tatum said. “It’s gonna be tough; just try my best and get in where I fit in.”

Tatum said he will at times lean on his more experienced teammates, one of which was a former teammate of his – sort of – in Jaylen Brown. 

“I’ve known Jaylen for a while,” Tatum said. “We played with and against each other in high school at AAU camps. 

Tatum added, “at the AAU camps, sometimes we were on the same team and sometimes we were not.”

While much has been made about how the two are similar, Tatum sees both having strengths that complement, rather than compete, with each other. 

“He’s further along than Jaylen was skill-wise and he’s not as far along as Jaylen physically,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations. “Again, he’s 19 years old. I don’t want to put any expectations … I want to give him time to grow. We’ll see. He’ll definitely have a role, get a chance to play. And how well he performs is up to him.”

Tatum’s assessment of his game and Brown’s goes as follows:

“He’s a lot stronger, bigger than me,” Tatum, who is 6-foot-8, 204 pounds, acknowledged. “He’s much more athletic. Offensively, I think that’s what I excel in, being smooth and my ability to score. I can just learn from him, the things that he went through last year.”

One of the things he has already picked up on, is that Brown is a pretty smart – and at times clever – dude. 

Not long after Tatum picked jersey number 11, Brown, who wears number 7, took to social media and came up with a 7-11 theme that has already lead to some pretty snazzy t-shirt designs. 

“I thought it was funny,” Tatum said. “It’s catchy; I like it.”

And the Celtics really like Tatum’s game which has been compared at times to former Celtic great Paul Pierce. 

“I hate to make those comparisons when kids are 19 and let his game evolve into whatever it is,” Ainge said. “The similarity is they have good footwork. They both have really good ways to create space for shots. But the similarity … they’re both very good defensive rebounders. Those are two things that stand out to me with Jayson that are Paul characteristics.”

Tatum knows he’s a long way from being in the same company as Celtic royalty such as Pierce. 

Before then he must first earn minutes on the floor which will not be an easy task. 

But Tatum’s demeanor, much like his game, has seemingly always been a bit more mature than most of his fellow basketball brethren. 

Tatum credits his parents, Justin Tatum and Brandy Cole.

“They raised me to be different, be more mature and stand out above the crowd and be my own person and be comfortable in my skin,” Tatum said. “That’s how I’ve always been.”

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: How does the Chris Paul trade affect the Celtics?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: How does the Chris Paul trade affect the Celtics?

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0:41 - Tom Curran, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith discuss the Rockets acquiring Chris Paul and how that trade can actually have an affect on the Celtics plans.

5:06 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to talk about if the Celtics are the front runners for Paul George, what would be too much to give up to the Pacers, and why it’s important to sign Hayward before trading for George.

11:21 - Evan Drellich joins from Fenway Park to discuss Rick Porcello getting his 10th loss of the season and if the struggling offense might be a season-long problem. 

14:58 - Tom Curran and Kayce Smith give their thoughts on Nate Burleson saying that Julian Edelman is the most under-appreciated receiver in the last 10 years.