Patriots, Ninkovich must beware of the 'trap'

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Patriots, Ninkovich must beware of the 'trap'

FOXBORO -- Most Patriots who spoke after the Jets game told a version of the same story: Everything leading up to that day was "extra." Cold off a two-game slide, New England went into preparations for its AFC East rival desperately trying to stoke some flame. The players said they watched more film, conditioned harder, put in longer days and pushed themselves to the limit to win.

They did, 37-16, and it was the team's best game in weeks. 329 yards and three touchdowns for Tom Brady. Mark Sanchez was hounded by the defense all day. It wasn't just a win; it was their first triumph over truly stacked odds this season.

"The feeling that you have after that game, how great everyone felt, that's what keeps you going because you want to have more of those great feelings," said linebacker Rob Ninkovich. "Going into the Jets home territory and their backyard, it's a great feeling to get a win out there, so you want to continue with that success. Obviously, we put in extra work so we've got to continue to do that."

The question is how.

How do the Patriots maintain an elevated level of play? How to they keep everything "extra" going from the Jets . . . to the Chiefs? Even beyond divisional storylines, the matchups couldn't be more different. If the Patriots limped into enemy territory on three legs last week, the Chiefs are dragging themselves to Gillette on two.

Ninkovich claims the Patriots will keep their guard up.

"The thing about the NFL is, every week there's so much talent on every team, that week-to-week you never know what's going to happen. You've got to prepare with each team the best that you can because every Sunday there's great teams, great players that can make plays on you. So you've got to do your best and not let that happen."

It's not a crazy idea. There's been plenty of bi-polarity in the NFL this season: the Eagles, Chargers, Ravens, Falcons, and Bills are some that have experienced the spectrum. How does it affect the Patriots? Inconsistency leads to unpredictability, which could spell trouble for a high-flying opponent coming off a huge rivalry game.

A trap.

This could be a week that Bill Belichick hangs little red mouse traps all over the building -- a trick learned from Bill Parcells. If so, defensive captain Vince Wilfork says they won't be surprised. The key is not simmering in old success.

"We turned the page real quick," said Wilfork. "We can't really sit back and think about the win. There's just so much stuff that goes into it each week. We approach this game with the same motto, that we want to win, but the whole game plan is different, so you have to be able to turn the pages quick.

"When you beat a divisional rival you want to be able to sit and enjoy it. But the only enjoyment you have is that plane ride home. Once we touch down, it's back to work."

One has to wonder about the new kids.

A veteran and defensive captain like Wilfork talk about staying grounded makes sense, but the Patriots are working with a mixed bag these days. Two practice-squad players, safety Sterling Moore and linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, started against the Jets. Cornerback Antwuan Molden and linebackerspecial teamer Tracy White -- two more guys who don't have jerseys in the team store -- also got significant time. While none of the four had a breakout performance, nobody turned out to be a major defensive liability, either.

These "scrubs" no doubt understood the gravity of the situation. Even with limited experience, once a player dons a Patriots jersey he understands what it is to hate the Jets. Turning it on against the Chiefs won't be so instinctual. That's where it comes back to guys like Ninkovich, Wilfork and Brady.

"I think the reserves are hungry," said Jerod Mayo. "They'll follow the lead of our veteran players."

An example must be set in practice. According to Wilfork, the newcomers will have to battle through preparation first before getting the reward of game day, "the fun part." His job is to put them, as well as the rest of the team, through hell on the field. There won't be a whole lot of chit-chat. It's November; there shouldn't have to be.

"For the most part these guys understand," Wilfork said. "It's not hard to get 'em to play. It's not hard. They know what we want to do and in order to do that we have to continue to keep preparing well."

We're back to that fundamental issue again: keeping the prep elevated. New England hasn't often been an underdog in recent years. The team's now dispatched of the Jets twice in 2011 and is returned to the top of the AFC East. Difficult to have your back against the wall from that perch, no?

The combined win total for the rest of New England's opponents -- Kansas City, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Washington, Denver and Miami -- is 21.

21 wins out of 64 games.

But the Patriots said all the right things Wednesday. When asked about finding motivation to fight statistically neutered opponents, cornerback Kyle Arrington took a moment. Then he laughed; the answer seemed so simple once he landed on it.

"It's our job. It's all about attitude and 'want to'. We're going to watch the same amount of film week in and week out. It's on the players when we're at home, when it's not asked of you -- when no one's looking -- to put that time in yourself and prepare week-in and week-out like that."

It's about attitude.

The season doesn't end when you beat the Jets, especially not for this Patriots team. One win, even a great win, doesn't prove the offense won't struggle without a downfield option. It doesn't mean the secondary won't get gashed again. Winning the games they're supposed to might be just as important because this stretch, largely devoid of drama, will test of New England's 'want to' in a different way.

"We always say, whoever can play the best football from November on will have the best chance at winning it," said Mayo. "So that's our mindset."

Easier said than executed? We'll find out in the coming weeks.

Report: Patriots sign nine undrafted free agents

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Report: Patriots sign nine undrafted free agents

The Patriots have reportedly added nine undrafted free agents after selecting nine players in the 2016 NFL Draft.

DJ Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State
Shaquille Powell, RB, Duke
De’Runnya Wilson, TE/WR, Miss State
Steven Scheu, TE, Vanderbilt
Woodrow Hamilton, DT, Mississippi State
CJ Johnson, LB, Mississippi State
V’Angelo Bentley, CB, Illinois
Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn
Cre’Von LeBlanc, CB, Florida Atlantic

Foster is arguably the highest profile player the Patriots signed and was filmed celebrating the moment.

Foster has the versatility the Patriots looks for. He played running back over his first three collegiate seasons before shifting to wide receiver. He finished his career at Arizona State with 666 total touches for 4,813 yards and 32 touchdowns.

Stay tuned for more…

'Football makeup' central to Pats draft picks

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'Football makeup' central to Pats draft picks

FOXBORO – The Patriots added nine players through the draft this weekend.

And when you looked at their resumes and backstories, almost all of them had one of those “Patriot markers” on them. Some had a character trait. Some were from a program that the Patriots particularly trust. Some showed the ability to overcome adversity or be adaptable. And there weren’t any guys that seem to present off-field risks.

None of these markers, of course, are guarantees of anything. They’re all in their early 20s, still in their formative years. There’s no way to project how money, geography, opportunity and competing at this level will change them.

The football, said Nick Caserio, obviously comes first. But who a young player is has to be a big part of the equation.

“It’s everything,” said the Patriots Director of Player Personnel. “I mean, it really is. We try to look each position on the board, each position they have their own particular factors and position skill set that we evaluate and we go through and we assign a grade …There’s certain things that a corner’s going to have to be able to do. There are certain things that a tight end’s going to have to be able to do. Everyone has their own particular skills that they’re going to have to do. Will he check every box? Well maybe not but does he check enough?

“The most important thing is to take the strengths of a player and try to put him into position to where he can utilize those strengths. Not ‘well he doesn’t do this’. Then we won’t put him in that position hopefully. So [we] try to identify what the skill is, how well they do it, and then put them in a position where they can actually see it. So there’s the physical component.”

Then, Caserio said, there’s the projection of how the person will perform.

“Call it ‘football makeup’ component is a central part of it as well,” he said. “Look, we’re not perfect. Some players work the way we think (others don’t). It comes with the territory. But you’re trying to create a profile of the player within our building and then how he’s going to handle everything that comes along with being a New England Patriot. Being in the program, the demands that we place on those players, so you factor everything in. Some players, they may check every single place both from a physical standpoint and from a football-makeup standpoint and you have others that maybe they check enough of them and then you feel comfortable about that level.”

Rolling through the players they took, it’s interesting to try and see what may have been a “football makeup” draw with each. Second-round corner Cyrus Jones played for Nick Saban at Alabama. He’s played in the biggest games and shown well in them. He’s a film junkie. He tackles well. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s not the biggest corner. But he’s got an edge and he excels on special teams.

Third-rounder Joe Thuney is “very productive, very durable, very bright; probably as intelligent as anybody at that position,” said Caserio. He also can play anywhere on the line. Smarts and versatility are highly valued by the Patriots.

Third-round quarterback Jacoby Brissett is a gifted, charismatic leader who’s had a relationship with Bill Parcells since Brissett was in high school. “I can't even describe what type of person he is and what he's meant to my life,” said Brissett. “Just him grooming me as a man and preparing me for tough times, hard times, good times. He's been so helpful to me throughout this process and just keeping my steady and keeping a good head on my shoulders and you know I just can't thank him enough.”

Third-rounder Vincent Valentine from Nebraska? Versatile big man who can play all over the defensive line.

Malcolm Mitchell, the Georgia wide receiver? You couldn’t find a more likable and genuine kid, it seems. And the scouting report offered by longtime draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki? “A tough, passionate, crafty slot receiver who can be trusted to move the sticks in critical situations … Brings similar energy, toughness and attitude as Steelers 1998 third-round pick Hines Ward. Smart and versatile enough to contribute in multiple roles perhaps even at cornerback where he began his Georgia career and could be most attractive to a veteran coaching staff such as the Patriots or Steelers.”

Kamu Grugier-Hill? A safety who can play at the linebacker level and has huge special teams upside that comes with a recommendation from Eastern Illinois college teammate Jimmy Garoppolo. Another sixth-rounder, Elandon Roberts? Big-time character guy who doesn’t have great measurables but had great production. Seventh-rounder Ted Karras? A four-year starter at guard in the Big Ten with Illinois. Seventh-round wideout Devin Lucien? Dedicated student who was able to switch from UCLA to Arizona State as a graduate transfer and still go out and be very productive with the Sun Devils in his final collegiate season.

There aren’t any real injury dice rolls.

There aren't any character dice rolls.

The “football makeup” seems to be there.

Now?

“They have no idea what they’re getting into,” said Bill Belichick on Saturday night. “It’s not their fault. We all had to go through it at some point or another. They’re going to get a big dose of what they probably haven’t had a whole lot of, certainly any time recently. It’s a big load. The competition level is going to step up. The volume is going to step up. It’s not a scholarship. In college they can’t take them away from you. In the NFL you’re fighting for a job so it’s a whole new ball game.”

In the end, football ability will be the main determinant as to whether they stay or go. But the Patriots made sure that – at least on the surface – they all appear to have the ability to withstand what’s going to be coming at them.