By Tom E. CurranWhen and if the labor situation gets settled, the NFL's free agent shopping period will follow soon after. Who's out there? What do the Patriots need? What do the Patriots have? We'll go position-by-position to bring you up-to-speed. RUNNING BACKStatus Report: The Patriots running game in 2010 wasat its most efficient since the departure of Corey Dillon.New England generated 1,973 yards on the ground (4.3 YPC) and 19 touchdowns, but it was the timeliness and consistency of the contributions that made the Patriots rushing attack take heat off of Tom Brady in 2010.Who They Got: The Patriots got a 1,008-yard season out of hard-running and surehanded BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Classic feature back? Maybe not. But he'll more than do. He's a restricted free agent who's been tendered at a second-round level and is sure to be around.Danny Woodhead was even more of a bonus than Benny. He generated 926 yards from scrimmage, scored sixtouchdowns and is a worthy successor to the great Kevin Faulk. Faulk is a free agent after an injury-marred 2010. Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris are free agents as well. What They Need: Depth behind both BJGE and Woodhead will be essential. Benny's backup probably should be someone more durable than Taylor or Morris at this stage of their careers; Woodhead's backup figures to be Faulk if the Patriots bring him back andthey ought to. He was the team's best back in 2009 and his presence and professionalism is a continued touchstone for the youngPatriots. Ideally, the Patriots would get a 220-plus pounder to complement the other two guys. Who's Out There: Darren Sproles (Chargers), Ricky Williams (Dolphins), Jerious Norwood (Falcons), Ronnie Brown (Dolphins), Cedric Benson (Bengals), Mike Tolbert (Chargers), Tim Hightower (Cardinals), DeAngelo Williams (Panthers), Michael Bush (Raiders), Joseph Addai (Colts). Possible Targets: Norwood, Tolbert, Hightower, Bush, Addai. The explosive Norwood is coming off a torn ACL and injuries are mounting. Still, he's only 28. Tolbert is a RFA and got a second-round tender from San Diego. He's a 243-pound short-yardage force. The 222-pound Hightower is being fazed out in Arizona. He's only 25. Finally, if the Ravens let go of Willis McGahee, his power and short-yardage skill could make him a target in New England.
Greg Bedard from the Cumberland Farms Lounge thinks the Baltimore Ravens will be a tough match-up for the New England Patriots this week.
When Kyle Van Noy was traded to the Patriots in late October, he had a lot to learn. He needed to understand the layout of his new team's maze-like facility. He needed to adjust to a new locker room. He needed to adapt to a new home.
He also had to become fluent in a new language.
The former Lions 'backer was inactive for two weeks before he was comfortable enough with the Patriots system -- and the coaching staff was comfortable enough with him -- to get on the field. He played 29 snaps against the Niners in first game with his new club, then saw 28 plays against the Jets. On Sunday he saw his role expand as he played 40 of a possible 51 plays, which was more than Shea McClellin (38) or Dont'a Hightower (33).
"Kyle has done a great job of working really hard to acclimate to what we’re doing, and he has had to learn really fast as far as the system, the communication, the language," said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on a conference call Tuesday. "It’s like when you go to a different system, offensively or defensively, a lot of times it’s just learning the vernacular and the verbiage . . . That’s a big part of it. Then getting more familiar with that kind of terminology and the communication is critical because there’s a lot of calls and adjustments, things like that that we’ve got to do on the field."
Van Noy was making some of those calls himself on Sunday as he wore the green dot on his helmet when Hightower was on the sidelines. Even with the added responsibility, Van Noy was able to play freely enough that he put together what might have been the best game of his three-year career.
Used at the end of the line of scrimmage as well as in a more traditional off-the-line linebacker role, Van Noy was effective in defending both the pass and the run: He stuffed three Rams rush attempts, he recorded a quarterback hit that led to an incompletion, he drew a holding call, and he recorded an athletic interception when he tracked a wobbling Jared Goff pass that floated over the middle after Jabaal Sheard hit Goff's arm as the rookie released his throw.
After several of his stand-out plays, Van Noy was visibly excited on the field and later on the sidelines. It was the culmination of six weeks of work, learning as much as he could from a coaching staff that was eager to teach him.
"He’s extremely prideful in his work and his approach to the game," Patricia said. "He’s very cerebral. He’ll ask a lot of questions. He really wants to understand what we’re doing and why, which is great. We’re trying to give him those answers and insight into kind of where some of this either came from or developed or situations like that so that’s really good."