Patriots captains show young team the way


Patriots captains show young team the way

By Mary Paoletti

FOXBORO -- The Patriots aren't taking time to reflect on 2010's accomplishments. Not yet. Even fitted with the AFC East Championship belt, they're locked into Week 17 and focused on one last regular-season game. Such mental toughness is The Patriot Way, but to see it in action is impressive for such a young team.

It comes down to leadership.

New England selected team captains in September: Kevin Faulk, Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. When Faulk was placed on the injured-reserve list just weeks later because of a torn ACL, tight end Alge Crumpler was called upon to bolster on-field support. With the exception of Mayo, who's in his third year, all have at least seven seasons of NFL experience. They're showing the way to a team with 22 first- and second-year players on the roster, many of whom have key on-field roles.

Coach Bill Belichick believes this crew of captains has a lot to do with the Patriots' success.

"I think all four of those guys five including Kevin have done a real good job this year both by example, particularly by example, but also in their overall leadership of the team," he said. "I meet with those guys on a weekly basis and they certainly provide a lot of insight and input for me in terms of helping me manage and deal with the team. I think theyve done an excellent job.''

The group meets with Belichick at the end of each week, and also on an as-needed basis. They talk to him individually, and they talk to each other.

What about? A more apt question would be what don't they talk about?

"They meet in the mornings and talk about everything,'' said running back Sammy Morris, an 11-year veteran. "Even keeping things clean in the locker room -- the showers and stuff -- so the cleaning staff doesn't have to take care of it all. It's everything. It's about intensity at practice and attention to our lines. Captaincy is really an extension of our coach."

That line of communication, the one that runs to and from Belichick, is particularly important.

"They have some input with Bill on how we're feeling,'' linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. "They kind of speak for us in the sense of what the team's going through, how we're feeling, and some of the things that are going on in the locker room. They have a voice for us."

None of the Patriots captains wear a 'C' on their jerseys, as some teams do in the NFL. On Wednesday, Belichick joked that he "forgot" to put the patches on. It's probably just as well. The players give the impression that titles are an honor, and that guidance comes from everywhere.

"I think we have a lot of people that could be captains that aren't,'' Morris noted. "The leaders that we do have . . . their play speaks for itself. Just the type of people that they are. All the guys look up to them, the veterans and young guys.''

Deion Branch is one of those unofficial resources. Though the wideout has only been with the 2010 Patriots since Week 6, he's fallen back into mentoring because of his time in New England from 2002-05. Experience is precious to this team, especially as the regular season wraps up.

"Me, Tom, Vince Wilfork, Gerard Warren; we fall in that role now," Branch said. "It's making sure we get across to the younger guys the importance of going out and taking this game, taking advantage of the opportunity we have right now. We've got a very important week this week.

"People are talking about, 'Hey, we've got this clinched and that clinched,' but that stuff is irrelevant right now. We still have a very important game this week against the Dolphins. We've also got to keep the momentum that we have going into the postseason."

Pressure to keep the team grounded is ratcheted up with the NFL playoffs looming on the other side of Sunday. The Patriots use 10 rookies. Add in players with just two years of prior NFL experience, and that makes 22 first- and second-year players. That's over 40 percent of the roster.

Its a good thing theyve got Brady.

"Tom, of course, is the biggest leader on the team," Ninkovich said. "He's a great guy to look up to. Me being a younger guy and watching him play when I was a kid, it's kind of surreal to be his teammate. But it's cool because you interact with him and he's a great guy, a good leader."

This is Brady's ninth season as a Patriots captain. A lot has changed since 2002, his first year as captain. The quarterback did add two Super Bowl titles since then, but only five players -- Branch, Dan Koppen, Matt Light, Wilfork, and Tully Banta-Cain -- are left from the Pats' last championship team in 2004 (not counting Faulk, Ty Warren and Stephen Neal, all of whom are on IR).

Branch said the personnel changes have affected Bradys style.

"When I was here earlier we had more of a veteran team," the receiver said. "He didn't have to force his will as much as you could say he's doing now, due to the age gap that we have. It's more younger guys than it was in the past. And rightfully so, he deserves to be that way.

"He could have done it back then but he didn't have to with those guys: Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Mike Vrabel, Ted Washington, Ted Johnson . . . It's a whole list of guys that we don't have here now."

This season has showcased a louder, more fiery QB. Brady makes his passion obvious every week, whether that means bawling someone out about poor play, spiking footballs, or screaming on the sideline. The physical commitment is something Belichick points to as an ideal leadership quality.

"Hes relentless in his preparation, his quest for perfection," the coach said. "He tries to continue to do things better both in preparation and then mechanics, practice habits. So, I think if you just watch him do his job, I think that's about as good an example as a player could set for another player."

The extra effort has to be taxing. But responsibility has a sweet payoff because the fight in these Patriots is the most satisfying thing the captains could ask in return.

Just take a listen to Wilfork. The nose tackle could have been mooning over his Pro Bowl selection on Wednesday. Instead, he spent most of his press conference talking about the pride he has in his teammates and the work left to be done.

Thing is, he knows they'll put in the effort. Every single one of them.

"You have a bunch of guys that give it their all. You have a bunch of guys that love this game. You have a bunch of guys that respect one another, that have trust with one another on this field. I think guys study their tails off. They work hard every day.

"They just keep grinding and thats the special thing about this team is that no matter what happens, we find a way to keep going forward, keep going forward," Wilfork added. "So, were going to need to continue that, especially this week."

To those on the outside, itll be amazing if this young New England team continues its run at the Super Bowl. But the Patriots couldnt care less about that. In their locker room, the only concern is for meeting the lofty standards set and expected by each other. Ninkovich said it's simple, really. Success comes from following the leaders.

"Our captains are basically just the definition of our team: Good, smart football players."

Mary Paoletti can be reached at Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Has Brissett removed Patriots' need for veteran quarterback help?

Has Brissett removed Patriots' need for veteran quarterback help?

FOXBORO – Talked to Jacoby Brissett on Sunday. His session with the media was as efficient and frills-free as his Friday night performance against the Carolina Panthers.

Brissett, the third-rounder From NC State, keeps improving. From 7-for-13 for 63 yards in the first game of the preseason to 9-for-13 for 87 yards Week 2 to a 9-for-9, 85-yard, one touchdown performance against Carolina.

He’s completed all manner of passes – inside, outside, checkdowns, tight windows – and looked preternaturally comfortable doing so.

Maybe I have a little recency bias working, but I don’t recall a drafted quarterback looking as poised and in command in his rookie preseason as Brissett has so far. Jimmy Garoppolo may have had more impressive game-by-game numbers, but Brissett oozes composure that that I don’t think Garoppolo matched.

Encircled by a media horde Sunday, Brissett was pleasant and perfunctory when asked about his performance.

“Definitely it was progress,” he said, adding that he’s, "still learning. I’m sure I’ll be learning until I leave here."

 Even though he was 9-for-9, Brissett said that watching film he could see “things you messed up on and could have done better.”

Asked for an example, Brissett talk about speed. At the line of scrimmage, going through progressions and delivering the ball, Brissett said all of it can improve.

The interesting question the Patriots face now is whether they are prepared to allow Brissett to be the lone backup to the still relatively green Garoppolo. Or does the team need an experienced backup to call on if Jimmy melts down?

Thursday night could be a telling evening for that. With Garoppolo unlikely to play a ton so the team can make sure he’s good to go for the opener, it comes down to who benefits more from reps against the Giants, Tom Brady or Brissett?

It shouldn’t be close. Brissett needs the reps.

Meanwhile, we made mention of Brissett’s relationship with Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells after he was drafted and I figured revisiting that on Sunday wouldn’t hurt.

Brissett said he’s circled up with Parcells “here and there” but smiled knowingly and said, “He’s not the head coach here so you kinda need to listen to what your coach here is saying.”

Ex-Patriot Ridley signs with Colts


Ex-Patriot Ridley signs with Colts

After being cut from the Detriot Lions last week, Stevan Ridely has signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

The running back played for the Patriots for four seasons (2011-2014), averaging 4.3 yards per carry while scoring 22 touchdowns in 52 games. He only played in six game in his final year with New England as a result of a torn ACL and MCL.

Ridley played for the AFC-East rival New York Jets in 2015 with a limited role in the nine games he played.


Belichick discusses risk of exposing players to waiver claims

Belichick discusses risk of exposing players to waiver claims

Bill Belichick knows the data. Knows the risk involved in exposing a player to a waiver claim at this time of the year and long ago came to the uneasy truce that you can’t keep ‘em all and somebody else might snag ‘em.

This summer, the Patriots don’t have a mass of easy releases, especially among their rookies and first-year players.

There are a lot of very intriguing players who’ve looked good either in practices, games or both. Good enough to make the Pats think twice about whether they want to leave them exposed.

Top of mind for me there are corners Jonathan Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc, linebacker Elandon Roberts, wide receiver DeAndre Carter, defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton and running back D.J. Foster who appear to be right on the roster bubble but are impressive.

“It’s something you take into consideration, it’s a hard thing to predict,” Belichick said when asked about weighing the risk of a released player the Patriots would like to re-sign to their practice squad getting claimed. “There’s going to be, I don’t know, certainly going to be a lot of players, probably over 1,000 players that will be exposed to waivers in the next eight calendar days or whatever it’ll be. I think the average claim is somewhere in the high 20s there…so that’s what the odds are. We’ve had years where we haven’t had any of our players claimed and we’ve had years where we’ve had multiple players claimed. I think at the end you just have to do what you think is best for your team.”

Belichick has given us terrific insight this week into how he and Nick Caserio strategize their roster decisions. When asked about the team’s releases in advance of the cutdown deadlines, Belichick mentioned the team wanted to have the ability to accommodate new players who may come available.

Enter the Barkevious.

He also got into projecting young players against established performance levels of veterans and weighing current contributions against future ones.

"That’s the $64,000 question," Belichick said on Tuesday. "That’s what it is. It’s been like that since the day I got into this league. From all of the personnel meetings I’ve ever been in it’s a [matter of] a player who’s more experienced [and] more ready to help the team now, versus a player that’s not as ready now but at some point you think the pendulum will swing in his favor. Will you do that? Can you do that? What are the consequences of making that move? What are the consequences of not making that move? How likely, as you said, is it that you could keep both players in some capacity?

"That’s what it’s about, trying to balance now with later. We’re going to field a team in November, we’re going to field a team next year, we’re going to field a team in 2018. Not that we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we’re going to be in business in those years, so we have to sort of have an eye on those moving forward and a lot of the other factors that go into that. Those are all tough decisions. They’re all things that you really have to think about."

As is the risk of having a player scooped.

“It’s pretty hard to predict what’s going to happen when you put players on the wire because in all honesty, you don’t know what the other [31] teams are going to do and who they’re going to put on the wire,” Belichick explained. “Even though you put a player out there that you don’t want to lose, if another team happens to put a player out there that may be a team that needs that position and would be better with your player, your player gets claimed. Sometimes we waive players that we didn’t think would get claimed and they were, so that’s really hard to predict.

“In the end, you’ve got to make the decision that you feel like is best for your football team, and if you really want that player and you just can’t bear to live without them, then you shouldn’t be exposing them to the wire,” he concluded. “That’s the reality of it. We keep an eye on them, but I don’t think it’s an overriding factor. If you’re prepared to waive them, then you’ve got to be prepared to lose them. That’s just the way it is.”