Tedy Bruschi (Getty Images)

Tedy Bruschi (Getty Images)

Several former Patriots are among the preliminary nominees for the 2015 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was revealed late Tuesday.

All of the nominees who made it who have New England ties were on the defensive side of the football. Linebackers Tedy Bruschi (who played with the Patriots from 1996-2008), Willie McGinest (1994-2005) and Junior Seau (2006-2009) are all on the list. In addition, Rodney Harrison (2003-2008), Ty Law (1995-2004) and Shawn Springs (2009) made it as well. And defensive lineman Fred Smerlas (1991-1992) and Ted Washington (2003) were also named as nominees.

A total of 99 players and 14 coaches comprise the 113 nominees. A modern-era player or coach must be retired at least five consecutive seasons to be eligible. The selection committee will choose 25 candidates as semifinalists in late November. That list will be reduced to 15 modern-era finalists in early January. The 2015 class will be voted on the day before the Super Bowl.

One senior committee nominee, former Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff, also will be on the ballot.

Several former Patriots have already reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including offensive lineman John Hannah, linebacker Andre Tippett and cornerback Mike Haynes.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

After initially deciding to activate running back Adrian Peterson on Monday, the Vikings gave in to public pressure and announced early Wednesday morning that the running back would be placed on the exempt-commissioner’s permission list, a move that will keep him away from the team while he deals with child abuse charges.

“While we were trying to make a balanced decision [Monday], after further reflection we have concluded that this resolution is best for the Vikings and for Adrian,” owners Zygi and Mark Wilfs said in a statement. “We want to be clear: We have a strong stance regarding the protection and welfare of children, and we want to be sure we get this right. At the same time we want to express our support for Adrian and acknowledge his seven-plus years of outstanding commitment to this organization and this community.”

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar
We check in with Peter King from SI/MMQB for our weekly look at the National Football League and more.
Led by 37-year-old Charles Woodson, the Raiders have a formidable pass defense. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Led by 37-year-old Charles Woodson, the Raiders have a formidable pass defense. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick has made a living in the NFL by not taking any single opponent for granted. With the 0-2 Raiders coming to Foxboro this Sunday, he showed again his respect for every opponent by giving praise to the Raiders for bringing in veterans.

While he’s very familiar with the likes of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Carlos Rogers and Charles Woodson, he has not seen them play together that much on defense. That’s where the work begins for Belichick and his staff.

“Obviously we have a lot of work to do here to get familiar with the Raiders,” Belichick said. “It’€™s a team that we don’€™t know very well and haven’€™t played against this coaching staff. Even though we’€™ve seen a number of these players on different teams, this is kind of our first shot at them with the Raiders. There are certainly a lot of very good, very experienced players on this team. But you know, guys like Woodley and Tuck, [Tarell] Brown and Rogers we saw at San Francisco, [Charles] Woodson, guys like that coming from other teams, guys that are very experienced, have had good careers.”

To Belichick’s point, Woodson leads a group on defense that collectively has four Super Bowl rings, 12 Pro Bowl selections and an average age of 34.

That’s a lot of experience for third-year head coach Dennis Allen to work with and draw from. What has he done with it?

“They’€™re very aggressive,” Belichick said. “They have a lot of good players, a lot of very experienced players. They give you multiple looks and different blitzes and pressures, mixtures of man and zone, man, zone and pressure, man pressure, zone pressure. It’€™s a lot of four-man line but they use [Khalil] Mack as a defensive end at times. He’€™s sort of a linebacker, defensive end, whatever you want to call him. There are times when he’€™s involved in coverage as well from the defensive end position, so that gives them some flexibility as well.”

The experience has apparently paid off, at least in defending the pass, so far this season, as the Raiders enter Foxboro tied with Washington in allowing the second-fewest passing yards (164.5 yds/game) in the NFL.

Everyone knows how much Belichick thinks of Ed Reed, calling him one of the best ball-hawking safeties he’s ever seen in the game. Woodson, even at 37 years of age, has some of the same qualities.

“I think [Allen] gives his players the ability to play instinctively and be able to, like Woodson, just doing things, like reminiscent of Ed Reed type of things ‘€“ just making instinctive plays. There’€™s a level of discipline to the defense but at the same time there’€™s a level of instinctiveness.

“It looks like he’€™s given his players the opportunity to see and react and make plays based on their experience and their ability to instinctively react on the field. You see that from guys like Woodson and Tuck and Carlos Rogers and guys like that. Sometimes they don’€™t quite do it by the book because they’€™ve seen something they recognize, anticipate, whatever it is, and are able to do the right thing that they need to do to make the play or to mess up the offensive play.

“I’€™d say those are some of the things that we’€™ve noticed about their defense. And they’€™re big, they’€™re fast, they’€™re athletic and they’€™ve very experienced. Obviously Mack, but [Tarell] Brown, Rogers, Woodson, [Tyvon] Branch. I don’€™t know, that must be 40 years of experience in the secondary. It’€™s like 17 with Woodson, so it’€™s probably over 40 years. Tuck, [Pat] Sims, Antonio Smith, [LaMarr] Woodley, there’€™s, has to be 35 years of experience there, whatever it is. They have a lot of experienced players on the field. I think that works into the coaches’€™ favor, to be able to do some things with the confidence that those guys can handle it.”

Here are some other takeaways from Belichick on Tuesday:

On the Raiders offense:

BB: Kind of the same thing on the offensive side of the ball with [James] Jones, [Donald] Penn, [Maurice] Jones-Drew, guys like that. We’€™ve got a lot to study up on. I think they also have some very good draft choices: [Derek] Carr, [Gabe] Jackson, [Khalil] Mack, have all had positive impacts for them; [TJ] Carrie defensively and in the return game; [Justin] Ellis, [Keith] McGill. They’€™ve got some good, young players as well as obviously a very experienced group of guys on that team. Those are some of the things that we have to work on here to be ready this week.”

Q: How do you view the distribution of targets in the receiving game? One line of thinking is that if Julian Edelman is playing as well as he is, keep throwing it to him. Another is you don’€™t want the majority of the balls going there. How do you view it based on the first two games?

BB: I think offensively we could certainly stand to get a lot more balance into our attack overall, period. We didn’€™t have it in the run-pass ratio in Miami and we didn’€™t really have enough of it in the passing game last week or really for Miami for that matter. We have to do a better job as a coaching staff. I have to do a better job of creating a little more balance on our team offensively with our personnel, our play calling, our plays and so forth. We have a lot of good players. We have to be more effective utilizing all of them.

Q: What are some of the challenges Derek Carr presents your defense? How do you prepare for a rookie quarterback when it’€™s so early in the season? Is there enough tape to go off of through two weeks of the season and the preseason or will you go back and mine your pre-draft evaluations as well?

BB: I’€™d say definitely both. We had a good evaluation of all the players coming out in the draft and we got a good look at Derek at Fresno [State] and his athleticism, arm strength, just ability to get the ball down the field and avoid negative plays in the pocket with his athleticism, mobility and some running ability too are all things that we saw in college that I’€™d say are showing up this year in the NFL as well. He’€™s only been sacked a couple times. He’€™s an athletic guy back there. He can certainly get the ball down the field. We know he’€™s a smart kid. I think all the things that we saw from him at Fresno and when he’€™s had an opportunity to do them in this league have continued to show up. Obviously the systems are different but from a skill standpoint, I think his skills are his skills and they’€™re pretty good.

Q: Do you treat it differently? Maybe there’€™s a higher degree of difficulty in catching a punt in traffic so there’€™s a higher acceptance level there. Do you attach a degree of difficulty to plays when you assess ball security in those areas?

BB: That’€™s probably a lot longer discussion than we have time for. But I would say to summarize my personal philosophy, first of all, ball possession and ball security is at the absolute top of the list when it comes to winning and losing football games. So, we’€™re going to do everything we can to get it and we’€™re going to do everything we can to protect it. So that would be number one. That means above all else. So there’€™s nothing more important than taking care of the football. Whatever else is happening on the play, ball security and ball possession doesn’€™t fall below anything else. We’€™re at the National Football League. It’€™s a pretty high level of proficiency at this level. I don’€™t think we would send somebody out to catch a punt that we didn’€™t think could catch it. We’€™re not going to put Sealver Siliga back there to return punts.

I mean, the guys that go back there to return punts and catch kickoffs and catch passes and take the ball from the quarterback and snap it to the quarterback or the punter, whoever it is, those are all highly skilled players. We wouldn’€™t put them in those positions if they weren’€™t accomplished at doing it. Part of their job is to take care of the ball. I don’€™t know how to put it any other way. That’€™s their job. I don’€™t think you put a pitcher out on the mound in the major leagues if you don’€™t think he can throw it over the plate. I don’€™t think that’€™s asking too much.

There are some plays in football that are, maybe the ball possession is, I don’€™t want to say unavoidable, but maybe it’€™s part of football. Sometimes there are going to be certain plays, certain situations where the ball is going to come out. Maybe when you take every precaution that you can possibly take to secure it, maybe it comes out anyway. But I would say over the long haul, those situations are few. The more common occurrence is either poor or sloppy ball handling or ball security or in some cases, an exceptional defensive play maybe with a combination of less than ideal ball security. Like I said, that’€™s the way I see it.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Nate Ebner

Nate Ebner

From the moment he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft, Nate Ebner has always been looked at as a special teams player who could play safety in a pinch.

That approach may be changing in the minds of Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. In addition to playing 20 of 28 special teams snaps, Ebner – the former MVP of the US junior championship squad – saw action in 14 of 66 defensive snaps playing free safety.

Is that a sign of growing confidence and growth in the 25-year-old Ebner?

“I’€™d say it’€™s yes on both accounts,” Belichick said Tuesday. “We certainly have a lot of confidence in Nate. We’€™ve seen Nate grow and improve. I would probably put him in the, not the all-time top, but maybe in the top five percent all-time of players that I’€™ve coached from where they were in college to how they grew in the NFL.

“Nate had almost no defensive experience at Ohio State. He’€™s adapted in a relatively short amount of time ‘€“ going into his third year so it’€™s really two-plus years ‘€“ adapted very well to the knowledge of our defense, to the understanding of opponents’€™ offenses, to instinctiveness and reading and recognition at a position that he plays right in the middle of the field, which is among the most difficult ‘€“ inside linebacker and safety where the volume and the number of things that can happen are the greatest, where you have to really see everybody on the field, all 11 guys. His development has really been outstanding.

Ebner was a “preferred walk-on player” for Ohio State and did not start playing football until 2009, but quickly became their most valuable on special teams. Even though he played only a handful of plays from scrimmage at nickel back as a back up, Ebner was a special teams standout.

In 2011 he was voted the team’€™s most inspirational player, receiving the Bo Rein Award, and the team’s best special teams player, earning the Ike Kelley Award. He was a three-time Big Ten Conference All-Academic honoree. In his 36 career games he had 30 tackles from 2009′€“11.

On Ohio State’s Pro Day, he had an unofficial 4.47 40-yard dash time, and 39-inch vertical jump. He also bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times, ran the 60-yard shuttle in 10.99 seconds, recorded a broad jump of 10 feet 8 inches, and had a short-shuttle time of 4.04 seconds and a 3-cone drill time of 6.59 seconds.

The raw talent was there. It was the football technique that needed work and Belichick was confident that with the right training and teaching, Ebner had the brains and desire to pick up his defensive system.

“I think [safeties] Coach [Brian] Flores has done an excellent job training him,” Belichick said Tuesday. “I think Nate has worked very hard and the play time that he’€™s earned defensively has come through his hard work and performance and consistency. It’€™s really been good. We have, I think, a number of good players at that position. There’€™s a lot of competition there and there’€™s not an unlimited number of opportunities for all those guys but we have a lot of confidence in that position. They all played solid roles for us last week, defensively as well as in the kicking game.

“I think we’€™re very fortunate to have the quality of players that we have at that position. Nate has, I’€™d say, far exceeded our expectations defensively based on what he had coming out of college. Players like Steve Neal, with zero experience, [Matt] Cassel, very little playing experience at Southern Cal, guys like that, Nate, very little defensive experience at Ohio State, for those guys to become the type of players that ‘€“ I’€™m not putting him in that class yet, but I’€™m saying the evolution and development for guys like that is pretty significant relative to a lot of other players who have just had a lot more opportunity than guys like that have.”

Patricia didn’t get into particulars but noted that players like Ebner are always valuable.

“What we’€™re going to try to do is get as of the many guys out on the field that we think can put us in good situations and help us be a good, solid fundamental defense versus whatever situation comes up that we’€™re seeing,” Patricia said. “Certainly we have some guys in the secondary position, the safety position, that we want to get on the field and have a role here on defense and [to] be able to get those guys out on the field in different looks and situations is certainly something we’€™re trying to do. It’€™s a blessing for us to have those types of guys we can get out on the field that can give us different looks and different multiplicity when they’€™re out there.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Darius Fleming

Darius Fleming

The Patriots announced Tuesday they have signed linebacker Darius Fleming, offensive lineman Caylin Hauptmann and defensive lineman Kona Schwenke to the practice squad. Fleming was released by the Patriots last Saturday. In addition, the team released defensive lineman Cameron Henderson and running back Marcus Thigpen from the practice squad.

Here’s a portion of the release issued by the team on the moves:

Fleming, 25, was signed by New England as a free agent on May 16, 2014. The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder, was originally drafted by San Francisco in the fifth-round (165th overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. He spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons on injured reserve with a knee injury and was released by the 49ers on May 12, 2014. Fleming was inactive for the season-opener at Miami (9/7).

Hauptmann, 23, originally signed with the Cleveland Browns as a rookie free agent out of Florida International on April 30, 2013. The 6-3, 300-pounder, was released by Cleveland at the end of training camp and was signed to the practice squad. Seattle signed him to the 53-man roster on Sept. 23. Hauptmann was inactive for 10 games and dressed, but did not play in three others and was inactive for all three postseason games. He was released by Seattle on Aug. 30, 2014 and claimed off waivers by Cleveland on Aug. 31, 2014. The Brown released him on Sept. 2, 2014.

Schwenke, 22, originally was signed by Kansas City as a rookie free agent out of Notre Dame on May 19, 2014. The 6-foot-4, 297-pounder, was released by the Chiefs on Aug. 30, 2014 and spent 10 days on the practice squad before being released on Sept. 11, 2014.

Henderson, 24, was signed by New England to the practice squad on Sept. 9, 2014. He originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Atlanta Falcons on April 29, 2013 out of Central Florida. The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder, was released by the Falcons on Aug. 25, 2014 and was signed to the Cleveland Browns practice squad on Dec. 4, 2013. He went to training camp this past summer with Cleveland, but was released on Aug. 25, 2014. He played two seasons at Central Florida after beginning his college career at Vavarro College.

Thigpen, 28, was signed by New England to the practice squad on Sept. 3, 2014. He is a veteran of two NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins (2012-13). The 5-9, 200-pounder, originally signed with Philadelphia as a rookie free agent out of Indiana on April 27, 2009. He spent part of the 2009 training camp with Philadelphia and Denver before playing in the Canadian Football League for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 2009 through 2011. Thigpen was signed by Miami as a free agent on Jan. 30, 2012. In two NFL seasons, he has played in 32 games and has returned 77 kickoffs for 1,910 yards and one touchdown and returned 60 punts for 580 yards and one touchdown. In addition, he has seven rushing attempts for 26 yards and nine receptions for 112 yards with one touchdown. He was released by Miami on Aug. 30, 2014.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Through one game, the Patriots have been flagged for 24 penalties (second-most in the league) for a total of 263 yards (most in the NFL). For comparisons sake, the Patriots didn’t pick up their 24th penalty last season until the sixth game of the year. Here’€™s a breakdown of the calls that have gone against the Patriots this year, not including penalties that were declined or offset:

Most penalized players, listed by total flags and with total yardage lost:
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 3 penalties (roughing the passer, defensive offsides, unnecessary roughness), 35 yards
OL Nate Solder: 3 penalties (offensive holding, illegal block above the waist, false start), 10 yards
ST/DB Logan Ryan: 2 penalties (illegal block above the waist, defensive pass interference), 44 yards
DL Chandler Jones: 2 penalties (2 roughing the passer), 30 yards
WR Brandon LaFell: 2 penalties (offsides on free kick, offensive pass interference), 15 yards
CB Malcolm Butler: 1 penalty (defensive pass interference), 24 yards
OL Ryan Wendell: 1 penalty (facemask), 15 yards
ST/DB Don Jones: 1 penalty (offensive holding), 10 yards
OL Marcus Cannon: 1 penalty (offensive holding), 10 yards
WR Aaron Dobson: 1 penalty (offensive pass interference) 10 yards
OL Jordan Devey: 1 penalty (offensive holding), 10 yards
TE Rob Gronkowski: 1 penalty (offensive holding), 10 yards
DL Dominique Easley 1 penalty (neutral zone infraction), 5 yards
DL Sealver Siliga: 1 penalty (illegal use of hands), 5 yards
CB Darrelle Revis: 1 penalty (defensive holding), 5 yards
Team: 1 penalty (offsides on free kick), 5 yards
OL Cameron Fleming: 1 penalty (false start), 5 yards

Most penalized by position
Offensive line: 7 penalties, 65 yards
Defensive line: 4 penalties, 40 yards
Cornerback: 3 penalties, 63 yards
Wide receiver: 3 penalties, 25 yards
Linebacker: 3 penalty, 35 yards
Special teams: 2 penalties, 20 yards
Tight end: 1 penalty, 10 yards
Team: 1 penalty, 5 yards

Most frequently called penalties
Offensive holding: 5
Roughing the passer: 3
Offensive pass interference: 2
Defensive pass interference: 2
False start: 2
Illegal block above the waist: 2
Offsides on free kick: 1
Neutral zone infraction: 1
Facemask: 1
Defensive offsides: 1
Defensive holding: 1
Illegal use of hands: 1
Unnecessary roughness: 1
Offsides on free kick: 1

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

The NFL is about to adopt a new and improved drug policy for its players but Bill Belichick has no idea if and how it impacts two of his currently suspended players.

Dont'a Hightower

Dont’a Hightower

Every week over the course of the 2014 season, we’€™€™ll€™€ provide a look at the Patriots pass rush numbers. Like all stats, the numbers have to be placed on context of game-situations and personnel. And while sacks can be overrated, when evaluated as part of a bigger picture that includes quarterback hits and quarterback pressures (the latter courtesy of Pro Football Focus), it should provide a good picture as to which defenders are consistently able to get after the quarterback. Currently, the Patriots are tied for fourth in the league in sacks with seven. Based on the official NFL game books and PFF, here’€™€™€™€™s a look at the pass-rush numbers for the Patriots after two games for the 2014 regular season:

Sacks (via gamebooks)
LB Dont’a Hightower: 2 (22 yards)
DE Chandler Jones: 2 (7 yards)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 1 (10 yards)
LB Jerod Mayo: 1 (9 yards)
DB Kyle Arrington: 1 (0 yards)

Quarterback Hits (via gamebooks)
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 3
DE Chandler Jones: 3
LB Jerod Mayo: 2
DE Rob Ninkovich: 2

Quarterback Hurries (via PFF)
DE Chandler Jones: 5
LB/DE Rob Ninkovich: 3
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 2
DL Sealver Siliga: 2
DL Joe Vellano: 2
DL Vince Wilfork: 2
LB Jerod Mayo: 1
DL Chris Jones: 1

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Bill Belichick. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Bill Belichick. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

The NFL is about to adopt a new and improved drug policy for its players but Bill Belichick has no idea if and how it impacts two of his currently suspended players.

How this will impact the players and how the NFLPA will guide their players through the new policy is still to be determined, as evidenced when union spokesman George Atallah told the Associated Press Monday that the “drug policies are currently getting finalized.”

League and NFL Players Association attorneys and officials are reviewing the documents and could approve them this week.

One key element is how the changes affect players currently under suspension, including Denver receiver Wes Welker (four games) and Browns receiver Josh Gordon (entire season). Their bans would be reduced, and the union would naturally like to see reductions before Week 3.

The Patriots have two players – defensive back Brandon Browner and wide receiver Brian Tyms – currently under suspension for violation under the old policy. Could Belichick and the Patriots get them back in time for the home opener this weekend against the Raiders? The Patriots coach says he has no idea and is not about to begin guessing.

“Certainly not anything I could share with you because I don’€™t have any idea,” Belichick said in a conference call Tuesday. “I have no knowledge of it at all ‘€“ zero. You’€™d have to talk to the league and other people that are involved with that. The drug policy in the NFL is an extremely confidential and sensitive area. I would say that in most cases, [the media] probably knows more about it than I do and certainly more in advance because of the great sources that [the media has].”

Belichick said he has not been in touch with the NFL to ask for any guidance or hints as to whether the players might be eligible to return.

“We don’€™t have any knowledge, input or really involvement whatsoever in the league’€™s drug policy. Any information that we get comes from wherever it comes from ‘€“ I don’€™t even know where it comes from. I’€™m not even sure exactly how the process works from the other end. I just know that when we receive information, then we act on it as we receive it. It’€™s not anything that I’€™m involved in whatsoever other than being the recipient of the information of suspension or if it’€™s revoked or amended or adjusted or you know, whatever. I’€™m just the recipient of that information.

“I’€™m not in any way, shape or form whatsoever involved in any part of the process. So, whatever happens, when it’€™s announced, when we know about it, then we’€™ll deal with it. Until then, it’€™s 100 percent out of our hands. That’€™s something that you should address with league people and not with an individual club, certainly not our individual club because we have no part in it whatsoever.”

Tyms tweeted his reaction to the pending new drug policy Tuesday morning, an ambiguous message that had three crying emoticons.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia