Patriots don't let injuries stop them

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Patriots don't let injuries stop them

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Tucked into an out-of-the-way corner in the Patriots locker room -- down where the cooler full of water and Gatorade used to be -- are four blue metal lockers.

Down there, three recently-signed players Chevis Jackson, Louis Leonard and Thomas Clayton have their football offices.

In a locker room as sprawling and well-appointed as the Patriots', isn't there room in the main joint for these guys?

No. There's not.

Between active players, practice squad guys and players who've been sent to injured reserve, the Patriots have 74 players currently on their team. So Clayton, Jackson and Leonard are relegated to the manger, as it were.

There are many fascinating aspects to the 2010 Patriots, but the way they've inconspicuously faced down the attrition of an NFL season is one of the most interesting.

When Jonathan Wilhite went to injured reserve on Wednesday, he became the 12th Patriot this year to have his season ended by injury, joining key players like Leigh Bodden, Kevin Faulk, Stephen Gostkowski, Nick Kaczur, Brandon McGowan, Stephen Neal and Ty Warren in NFL limbo.

With three games to go, the 12 players sent to IR exceeds the totals of the Super Bowl seasons of '01, '03 and '04 (10, 11, 11) and approaches the totals of 2008 and 2006 (14 and 13). The Patriots have already used 37 different starters, a total approaching the 2003 team (42), which was the highest number of starters used by a Super Bowl winner.

Two of the prominent IR guys Bodden and Warren were on IR before the season began. Kaczur never got on the field before he was sent there around midseason. As a result, you forget that these are starters that went down. Also overlooked is that would-be starters like Laurence Maroney and Derrick Burgess were traded and released (same with Randy Moss, but there's been no overlooking that).

The Patriots' locker room door is a revolving one but that hasn't stopped them from becoming again the league's best team.

"Every team knows that whoever the 53-man roster is that you have in September, it's probably not going to be who it is at the end of the year," shrugged Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a man who's proven incredibly adept at negotiating roster upheaval.

"It's a long season and there's certainly attrition to it . . . but, that's part of your depth: your roster, your practice squad, players that have been on your team that didn't make the final cut or other players that are available from within the league for one reason or another. That's part of the league," Belichick noted.

Hank Poteat, Kevin Kasper, Earthwind Moreland, Freddie Coleman, Brian Kinchen, Mike Cloud . . . remember those names? Those are ex-Patriots that jumped on a moving bus that was on its way to a Super Bowl championship. Guys who'd been cut or virtually scrap-heaped. Guys like Danny Woodhead, Eric Moore and, really, Deion Branch.

Aside from the guys they've added are the guys who've ascended. Guys like corner Kyle Arrington, guard Dan Connelly or running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

A player like Kevin Faulk, IR'd after Week 2, knows what's going on.

"It's a tribute to the scouting department and a tribute to the players they're bringing in," said Faulk. "Guys want to work. They want the jobs. That's what you want as a football team. As a scouting department, that's what you recruit these backups for. A starter goes down, you're able to have someone go in and do the same job the starter does. Look at Danny. He was cut the week before he signed with us. Guys stepping up know that the opportunity is there. Once you know that the opportunity is there, you gotta be able to go for it. Reach for it and you're gonna get it."

It's interesting to hear Faulk note that incoming players and scrubs understand that "the opportunity is there."

The Patriots are not a team married to its depth chart or to playing individuals based on draft position. The best prepared, the most effective, will play, even if he just drove in from the airport.

"It's somewhat unusual," acknowledges defensive lineman Gerard Warren, a man who's been in Oakland, Denver and Cleveland before coming to New England. "The only other place that came close to being this prepared was Denver when I was out there. The professionalism is what stands out in Denver and New England. In Denver, it's we called 'carrying no dead weight.' Everybody better be prepared to roll, your number could be called tomorrow."

And when it is, you won't necessarily get a watered-down level of expectation. Or be treated like a seat-warmer.

"Every team has a personnel department that has to keep on top of available players and has to make roster moves, whether it's from their practice squad or somewhere else," said Belichick, pointing to the branch run by Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio. "It's something you have to be able to do. The more your players can play multiple positions and do multiple things, then that gives you some degree of depth, but ultimately, you're going to have to fill players' spots with players. So, theyve got to come from somewhere. You have to try and figure out how to get the best out of those guys that are available."

The expectations for backups are high. And, at least in Faulk's case, the personal expectations for a player whose season has ended are high as well.

"There's a big influence," Faulk said when asked what an IR'd player can do for a callup. "It's all on you, it's all on them. They can ask you questions and you tell them what they need to hear. Maybe you're watching a game at home and you see something that may affect them later on in the season. You gotta be aware, you gotta be prepared."

And few do it better than New England.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Report: Patriots sign LB Jonathan Freeny to two-year extension

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Report: Patriots sign LB Jonathan Freeny to two-year extension

The Patriots have signed backup linebacker and special teamer Jonathan Freeny to a two-year contract extension through 2018, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported.

Freeney, 27, was originally signed by the Patriots to a one-year free-agent deal in March 2015 after spending the first four years of his NFL career with the Miami Dolphins. He then earned a one-year extension last September and played 13 games, seven starts, with 50 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. 

"Jonathan is a very dependable player," Bill Belichick said on a conference call Saturday. "He is able to do a lot of different roles for us. He can play inside, outside, on the line of scrimmage and off the ball defensively. He has been a very valuable player for us in the kicking game, obviously with some size, a four-phase special teams player.

"He is one of our overall top workers in terms of the offseason program, preparation, training. He always does things right. He works hard, doesn't really say a lot, but is very dependable and consistent. I think everybody in the organization looks up to him."

 

49ers' Colin Kaepernick refusal to stand for national anthem ignites controversy

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49ers' Colin Kaepernick refusal to stand for national anthem ignites controversy

Colin Kaepernick was already a noteable NFL player as the one-time, and now apparently former, face of the San Francisco 49ers.

The quarterback likely will gain even more notoriety for his stance on refusing to stand for the national anthem at a preseason game on Friday:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told Steve Wyche of NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

In a statement released Saturday, the NFL said players "are encouraged but not required to" stand for the anthem.

More here from Mike Florio of NBCSports.com's Pro Football Talk on Kaepernick and Florio on the NFL's statement in response.

 

 

Curran: Impact of Brady's suspension already being felt on field

Curran: Impact of Brady's suspension already being felt on field

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth that can’t just be blissfully ignored.

The pound of flesh Roger Goodell extracted from the Patriots in the form of Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension is starting to hurt.

Friday night, we watched the less-than-ideal quarterback rotation between Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo unfold. 

Garoppolo completed a 17-yard dart to Aaron Dobson on his first throw of the night. He completed eight of his next 14 for 40 yards – an ugly yards per attempt average of 3 – took a sack, threw a would-be pick and had a fumble. He looked skittish, indecisive and a thousand miles away from being in total command.

The Brady suspension was designed to punish the Patriots and it is.

Garoppolo played three ineffective series at the start of the game. He got the hook after that and the predictable power surge that came when Brady was on the field instead of the guy who – on this night – couldn’t get anything done was almost tangible.

Garoppolo’s first pass went to Dobson went for 17? Brady dialed up the same player and the play went for 37. Three of Brady’s six incompletions were drops (one was a near pick) and his 33-yard touchdown throw would have given every quarterback in the league except maybe Aaron Rodgers inadequacy issues.

I asked Garoppolo earlier in the week about trying to take command of the team while still remaining deferential to Brady’s status as TFB, future Hall of Famer. Garoppolo admitted it was tough.

How can it not be when the reminders are everywhere, including the pregame exit from the locker room and the trot onto the field. 

Brady is the leader. Jimmy is the long-term substitute. Substitutes don’t have it easy.

There is no solution for what’s going on. It is the ultimate, “Is what it is…” scenario. Can’t do anything about it, so everyone’s got to deal with it.

For Brady on Friday night, that meant staying apart from pretty much everyone for most of the first quarter.

When the Patriots offense was on the bench, he stood with arms folded and jaw set staring onto the field with the occasional glance up at the replay board or over at the area where Garoppolo, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and rookie Jacoby Brissett were going over plans.

When the Patriots offense took the field, Brady retreated to the bench and sat alone. There were two interactions during the first three series came when strength coach Moses Cabrera went to Brady and clapped him on the shoulder pads then rubbed his head as Brady sat on the bench. The other came when Brady sidled up to Brissett and asked him to play catch.

This is not open hostility. This is not Brady trying to undermine Garoppolo. But anyone expecting to see Brady putting an arm around Garoppolo every time he came off the field and publicly lend an ear to Jimmy isn’t getting that. Who knows, maybe Garoppolo doesn’t want that, maybe Brady thinks it’d be counter-productive, maybe McDaniels wants there to be one voice in Garoppolo’s ear during games. The fact is, it’s not cozy.

And you shouldn’t expect it to be. Brady is a quarterback who – while still at the height of his powers – is being forever reminded that the party for him is almost over.

Belichick himself did it the day he drafted Garoppolo. Consider again what was said: 

“The situation we have at quarterback, I think that we felt as an organization that we needed to address that to some degree in the future, so we’ll see how all that works out,” Belichick said during the 2014 draft when Garoppolo was taken in the second round. “I think we’re better off being early than being late at that position. We know what Ryan [Mallett’s] contract situation is. We know what Tom’s age and contract situation is. I don’t think you want to have one quarterback on your team. I don’t think that’s responsible to the entire team or the organization."

Age? Contract? Rather be early at that position than late?

Brady’s best method for combating speculation about when he’d be put out to pasture has been to own his position with peerless play and turn in – in my opinion – the best Super Bowl performance a quarterback’s ever had.

Not only is Brady miles away from being ripe for the picking, the only reason Garoppolo’s playing at all is because of a BS investigation and punishment that turned Brady’s life upside down and besmirched his name.

Garoppolo taking Brady’s reps, taking Brady’s team for a month is the punishment for Deflategate. Watching Jimmy G. play is the punishment Brady was handed. No wonder he’s standing with arms folded and jaw set.

If you simply look at the dynamics between players of Brady’s ilk and their would-be successors you realize that expecting Brady to go merrily along and show no signs of agitation is absurd. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, Joe Montana and Steve Young, Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. In each, the incumbent wasn’t real keen on wet-nursing the new guy.

Garoppolo’s case is a little different, though. He has no illusions about being better than Brady (that little 25-for-25 day from Brady in the intrasquad scrimmage earlier this month probably helped put that to bed). 

Garoppolo just wants to come in, play well, do his job and not step on any toes. He’s not looking to create a quarterback controversy. But he can’t afford to be deferential anymore or concerned about how the legend in his shadow feels or how he feels about the legend in his shadow.

He just has to go play. Something that Brady – very soon – won’t be able to do.