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

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said Tuesday that Vikings running back should be suspended until his child abuse cases have been resolved.

Dayton, who was a staunch supporter of the team’s new $1 billion stadium being constructed in Minneapolis, questioned the team for announcing that Peterson would play in Sunday’s game.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said Tuesday that Vikings running back should be suspended until his child abuse cases have been resolved.

Dayton, who was a staunch supporter of the team’s new $1 billion stadium being constructed in Minneapolis, questioned the team for announcing that Peterson would play in Sunday’s game.

“It is an awful situation,” Dayton said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Yes, Mr. Peterson is entitled to due process and should be ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ However, he is a public figure; and his actions, as described, are a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the state of Minnesota. Whipping a child to the extent of visible wounds, as has been alleged, should not be tolerated in our state. Therefore, I believe the team should suspend Mr. Peterson, until the accusations of child abuse have been resolved by the criminal justice system.

“However, I will not turn my back on the Vikings and their fans, as some have suggested. The Vikings belong to Minnesota — and in Minnesota. This has been the team’s only home, and our citizens, including myself, have been its most dedicated fans.”

Meanwhile, Houston television station KHOU reported that Peterson was involved in another case last year involving another 4-year-old son with a different mother. According to the report, the child’s mother filed a report with Child Protection Services but no charges were filed, despite texts in which Peterson allegedly admitted striking the boy while he was in his car seat, leaving the youngster with a scar on his head.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison checked in with Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss the Patriots’ offensive issues. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison checked in with Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss the Patriots’ offensive issues. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Tom Brady appeared on edge after Sunday’s 30-7 victory over the Vikings. Although he did not reveal precisely what made him upset, there has been speculation that he’s frustrated with the offense.

“I don’t know what’s going on with Tom,” Harrison said. “From Tom’s perspective, he hasn’t played like Tom Brady the first couple of weeks of the season. He’s frustrated. Anytime you have a certain expectation of yourself you want to be able to reach it. I think Tom, I think he sees some opportunities that he left out on the field, and it’s one of those things where he’s never satisfied. That’s the thing that makes him great.

“So, I wouldn’t worry about Tom. Tom is very competitive. He’ll work hard, he’ll watch a lot of tape, he’ll get back to where we’re used to seeing Tom, and he’ll be fine.”

Added Harrison: “Just because he has a name — Peyton Manning, all these quarterbacks, they go through struggles. They go through times where their confidence level might not be where it was before. We’re human, we all go through certain situations. But I wouldn’t get too worried about Tom. You look at his history, you look at everything, his work ethic, everything he brings on a daily basis. Tom will work himself out of it.

“It’s two games, they’re 1-1, they know what they did wrong in Miami. That was a game they could have easily won. They come back, they improve in some areas against Minnesota, and that’s what Bill [Belichick] always talks about, he talks about one game at a time. And I don’t think you get too high, too low if you’re the Patriots. You understand the areas in which you need to get better — both as a team and as well as an individual.

“And I think that’s something that, I don’t worry about Brady. There’s other areas I might concern myself with. But when it comes to Tom Brady, I know his work ethic, I know his focus level, and I know he’ll be fine. He hasn’t looked the way we all expect him to look. But it’s two games. And it’s something that the rust eventually wears off, he’s going to gain more confidence in his players and maybe in himself, and he’ll be fine.”

The Patriots continue to struggle to bring in wide receivers who have been able to pick up the offense and form a connection with their quarterback. Brady seems more reliant on veterans like Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski and less trusting in the other players.

“I don’t think it’s a problem. I think it’s common sense,” Harrison said. “If you don’t have a certain chemistry, if you don’t have a comfort level with the wide receiver or a tight end, you’re not going to go to him. I think it’s their job to get open. It’s their job to make sure that they’re running the right routes at the precise yardage. And it’s their job to make Tom throw them the ball.

“Tom’s going to continue to go to Edelman, he’s going to continue to go to guys that he’s very comfortable with. It’s only the second week of the season. It takes time when you bring new guys in, chemistry time and them getting familiar with the offense. I wouldn’t necessarily worry about it. But those young guys should work extra hard to try to get familiar with Tom and his ways.”

Sunday’s win came against a Vikings team that was without suspended running back Adrian Peterson. Harrison said that can’t be overlooked.

“You have to look at that,” Harrison said. “Coach [Mike] Zimmer came out and said it had nothing to do with Adrian Peterson, and that was a bunch of crap. How could you say something like that? You lose your best player and he’s not on the field, it’s just like the Patriots losing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick saying it had nothing to do with Tom. That’s crazy. When you lose your best player, it affects the offense. Especially when you have a quarterback who’s a veteran that’s not very good. Let’s face it, [Matt] Cassel‘s not a very good quarterback. He’s OK, he’s done some good things in this league, he’s made himself a good living, but he’s nothing that guys are losing sleep over before the game.

“At the same time, you don’t have to worry about the run, so you can focus on the pass, you can line guys up and you can change defenses where you’re more prone to intercept or watch for the pass. It’s one of those things, when you lose an Adrian Peterson, that physical presence in the run game and his ability to draw that extra defender in the box, then it opens up so many opportunities for Matt Cassel down the field. And they didn’t have that.”

Harrison had no interest in discussing Peterson’s off-field issues or any other NFL disciplinary problems.

“I have no thoughts about any of those dudes and what they’ve done,” Harrison said. “I talked about that last week, I’m not dealing with it. If you want to talk football, we can talk football. But that’s not my concern. My concern is watching these teams, analyzing these teams and talking football. That’s where I’m at.”

After being pressed on the matter, Harrison briefly elaborated on his frustration and confusion with the issue.

“As the commissioner, as the National Football League, you do have a responsibility and an obligation to punish players. You do,” he said. “And they got it wrong against Ray Rice, I think everybody could agree with that. And then this Adrian Peterson situation comes out and it just devastates the entire country. I don’t know what the commissioner should do at this point in time. I don’t know all the evidence. I don’t know. I’m just — I don’t know. And that’s kind of where I’m at. I’m not going into that situation. I’m not going into that situation with Greg Hardy and I’m not going into the situation anymore with Ray Rice. If you want to talk football, I’ll talk football. If not, I’ll talk to you guys later.”

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar