Curran: What to look out for during Patriots-Jaguars

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Curran: What to look out for during Patriots-Jaguars

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Football. Finally. Here a few storylines to look out for during Thursday's preseason clash with the Jag-wires of Jacksonville. 1. Mind-Bendingly Early ProclamationsLast August 27, the Patriots lost a preseason game to the Rams 36-35. Devin McCourty looked bad, twice biting on double-moves and appearing every bit an overmatched rookie cornerback. Less than five months later, he was a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro. Remember that when Nate Solder gets turnstiled for a sack or Ryan Mallett goes 9 for 11 for 141 yards and a touchdown. This is a snapshot of where they are now, not where they will be. In fact, if the 4-3 defensive set gets no pressure and Blaine Gabbert shreds the Patriots defense, that's not so terrible. It shines a light on what needs tweaking. 2. The Talented Mr. RidleyOne of the consistent standouts to the early practices in Foxboro has been third round rookie running back Stevan Ridley. Every practice he's out there taking rep after rep and his combination of lateral quickness, hands and acceleration are a very nice surprise given I thought he was going to be more of a between-the-tackles runner. I'm very interested in watching him carry against the Jags defense. 3. Mallett vs. HoyerThe one thing that leaps out when anyone not named Tom Brady is taking snaps? How loooong it takes them to make a decision in the passing game. Just an observation. Brady is really good at what he does and Hoyer isn't even out of the NFL quarterbacking womb yet. And Mallett just showed up. But it will be worth watching the way the two younger quarterbacks run the offense. Mallett is just a pure, downhill thrower, the ball coming right over the top with a little loop inhis delivery. His motion reminds me of Randall Cunningham (NOT his mobility). Hoyer is a little more Jeff Garcia-like in decisions and throwing style (not his mobility, either). Hoyer should play a lot better than Mallett. But if Mallett plays well, that's a very good sign for the competition at backup quarterback. 4. Secondary rotationFigure the starters at corner will be McCourty and Leigh Bodden. Who is the nickel? Figuring it should be Kyle Arrington. Where do Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite fit in the mix? And rookie Malcolm Williams? If Butler or Wilhite are on the field in the closing minutes, that's not a good sign for either. Meanwhile, with James Sanders likely down because of missed practice time recently, Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather figure to be the starters. Chung's had an outstanding camp. Meriweather has not. 5.Practice success to game resultsBeyond Ridley and Chung looking so solid, the entire tight end crew has been impressive. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez figured to make strides in their second years but some of the catches they've made have been ridiculous. And the inability of the secondary tomatch up successfully has been just as eye-opening. Undrafted Will Yeatman and fellow rookie Lee Smith are massive players both apparently more suited for the in-line blocking role of the tight end. But both of them have shown excellent hands in practice as well. 6. One gap or twoFirst sampling. Let's take a hard look and see whether the Patriots are having their defensive linemen hold up the Jags' linemen on first and second down or whether they try to shoot gaps. 7. Embrace the scrubsThere are currently 90 players in camp. There are a lot of down-the-roster decisions to be made and there are several players in states of disrepair -- Sanders, Albert Haynesworth, Brandon Tate, Ras-I Dowling, Shaun Ellis, Brandon Spikes, Kevin Faulk, Matt Light and Dan Connolly among them. Bill Belichick indicated this week players who hadn't practiced by Tuesday may not play. He also said to not expect starters to play big minutes. So look for a cavalcade of young guys. And the sloppiness that may accompany their presence. Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Collins gets his pay day as Patriots prepare for Super Bowl

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Collins gets his pay day as Patriots prepare for Super Bowl

NFL Siberia can’t be all that bad. The Cleveland Browns have signed Jamie Collins to an extension that keeps him off the free agent market.

The former Patriot, stunningly shipped out of town on Halloween, has agreed to a reported four-year, $50 million deal with $26M in guaranteed money.

As eyebrow-raising as the move was at the time, this is an all’s well that ends well story.

Collins, a reluctant Patriot once it came clear the team wouldn’t to aim a confetti cannon of money at him, gets the desired big-dough deal. He didn’t drape himself in glory with his level of play this year in New England, but his agitation over making $900K this year was understandable.

The Patriots -- who made the deal not knowing exactly how it would work out with Collins’ fleet of replacements (primarily rookie Elandon Roberts and, October acquisition Kyle Van Noy) -- have played better defense since Collins has been gone and are headed to the Super Bowl.

Would they have been better if Collins stayed? The answer to that is a question: Which version of Collins, the irked one or the motivated one?

Collins did nothing to veil his desire for a huge contract, saying at the end of the season he’d stay with the hapless Browns if the money was right. Now that he’s decided the money was right, what kind of Collins will the Browns get? With $26M guaranteed, the Browns have tethered themselves to the 27-year-old Collins for a chunk of his prime. The shorter term is ideal for Collins because -- if he performs to his capability -- he’ll be able to see another lucrative deal before he’s too aged.

The deal will certainly be noticed by Collins’ former teammates, primarily Donta Hightower who will be a free agent at the end of the season.

The Patriots could franchise Hightower (last year’s tag number was more than $14M) but that’s not going to be ideal for either side. Hightower will want to get the windfall of guaranteed money that comes with a long-term deal and the Patriots may be reluctant to pay that much to a player that’s got an injury history and plays one of the game’s most violent positions.

A lot’s going to happen between now and the time the Patriots have to make their decision. A good deal of it will happen in the next 12 days. If Hightower stealthily saves the Super Bowl as he did in 2014 with his first-down tackle on Marshawn Lynch … how do you put a price on that?

Andy Dalton named Tom Brady's Pro Bowl replacement

Andy Dalton named Tom Brady's Pro Bowl replacement

With Tom Brady spending this week and next preparing for the Super Bowl, Andy Dalton has been named his replacement in the Pro Bowl. 

This will mark Dalton’s third Pro Bowl appearance. He finished fourth in the AFC in passing yards (4,206) and tied for 10th with 18 passing touchdowns. Brady threw 10 more touchdowns in four fewer games. 

Though he’s often skipped the actual games, this was the 12th season in which Brady was named to the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster. He’s been named to the Pro Bowl in each of the last eight seasons.