Geneo Grissom was taken 97th overall by the Patriots. (Brett Deering/Getty Images)

Geneo Grissom was taken 97th overall by the Patriots. (Brett Deering/Getty Images)

When Oklahoma defensive end Geneo Grissom was taken in the third round of the NFL draft earlier this month by the Patriots, Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was maybe the least surprised guy on the planet.

“When I heard about the pick, it just kind of made sense, because he can do so much and he’s going to a team that asks their players to do a lot,” Stoops said of Grissom, who was taken 97th overall by the Patriots.

“I think that there wasn’t one thing or one game that really stood out. With Geneo, it’s a combination of things that he does that enthralls you — that’s what I ultimately think attracted the Patriots to him,” Stoops added. “Their defensive staff probably saw him rush and play well against Alabama and what he did in the Sugar Bowl as a four- and a three-technique against some of the best players in the country. They saw him stand up this past season. That’s really where his value is, and I know that’s what important to the Patriots, more so than most teams. Just the versatility that he brings.”

Over the course of his collegiate career, the 6-foot-3, 262-pounder didn’t put up overwhelming numbers. At Oklahoma, he played in 39 games with 11 starts, and finished with 88 tackles (55 solo) with 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks and a pair of picks. His finest season came as a junior in 2013, when he had 40 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and one interception.

Instead, as Stoops suggests, Grissom made his name with the Sooners as a versatile presence who can do plenty of things as an edge defender, including work with his hand on the ground as a defensive end or more of a stand-up presence. He played both defensive end and outside linebacker over the final two years of his career, and was named All-Big 12 honorable mention linebacker in his final year with the Sooners while he was making the transition from defensive end to linebacker. He played in 10 of 13 games with starts at linebacker in all 10 of those. (He missed three games because of injury.)

Any way you slice it — defensive end, outside linebacker, hand up, hand down — Grissom is best as a “five-technique outside edge guy, whether he’s standing or with one hand down,” according to Stoops.

Added Stoops: “I think when you look at New England, it’s a defense that offers multiple looks, and Geneo gives you a little bit of that, in that he can contribute at different positions. With us at Oklahoma, he played with his hand on the ground and standing up, and he did both real well.

“He can also drop into coverage, and help work against tight ends. I don’t even see him being an inside guy, but you never know — I mean, [New England] did some of that with [Jamie] Collins last year, moving him around a little. To me, Geneo had his best success outside, but at the same time, with the Patriots, you never know. Those guys can coach him up — Bill Belichick, I’m not telling him anything he doesn’t already know. Geneo can do a lot of different things, and I’m sure Coach Belichick has a lot in store for him.”

The scouting report from Stoops would certainly make him an intriguing prospect. Much of it depends on how he makes the adjustment come training camp, but at this point, it sounds like Grissom would be a part of the conversation when it comes to finding backups for either Chandler Jones and/or Rob Ninkovich. (It’s a colossal leap to put him in the same sentence as Ninkovich, but it’s hard not to look at the multiple skill set and the body type — Ninkovich is 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, while Grissom is 6-foot-3, 262 pounds — and see some very general similarities.)

At the same time, there’s always the possibility he could also work occasionally on the other side of the ball. Belichick acknowledged Grissom’s work as a tight end at Oklahoma’s pro day. (He had a short stint at tight end as a sophomore before switching full-time to the defensive side of the ball.) Stoops said that while it might be too much to ask him to play both sides as a rookie — he’s going to have enough to worry about trying to get his head around the defensive playbook as a rookie — it’s certainly something to look for down the road.

“He can play tight end now in the NFL physically,” Stoops said of Grissom. “There’s no question that right now he could help the Patriots in goal-line situations as a third or fourth tight end, and he would be a valuable asset in that area.

“But to be successful in the NFL on one side of the ball takes a lot more training,” he added. “I think he could do it physically — there’s no question about that. But it might take away, at least early in his career, what he needs to focus on defensively. He could be really valuable to them on offense, but right now that’s a personnel decision they have to make with him and how much they want to put on his plate at the start of his career. But there’s no question with his ability.”

Ultimately, the arrival of Grissom gives the Patriots another defensive chess piece to consider. Stoops admits he’s a bit biased, but he says Grissom is “walking into a great situation” in New England.

“He’s a laid-back guy who really came into his own the last couple of years,” Stoops said. “He’s someone who matured and realized his talents, and that was really helpful for us. He can take coaching. At the next level, he’s going to be able to play the edge and set the edge for them, and do a good job with that.

“Geneo is just a really good person who wants to do well, and I believe his best football is in front of him.”

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
We talk to the newest inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame, linebacker Willie McGinest.
Willie McGinest (right) congratulates Bill Belichick after Super Bowl XLIX. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Willie McGinest (right) congratulates Bill Belichick after Super Bowl XLIX. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

To think Willie McGinest almost never came to the Patriots.

As he was elected to the team’s hall of fame Tuesday, one of the greatest defensive players in franchise history took a look back on that fateful day in the 1994 NFL draft when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones almost moved up to the No. 4 spot and drafted the stud defensive end/linebacker out of Southern Cal.

As it turned out, the Cowboys couldn’t sweeten the pot enough for Patriots coach Bill Parcells and the organization to make it worth their while. The Patriots drafted McGinest and the rest is history.

“It’s a funny situation because Parcells never really called me or kept in touch. I had one visit and I thought I was going to Dallas just because of the all representatives I had in the room and what was about to take place,” McGinest recalled on conference call. “They were going to trade [Alvin Harper] and move up and I happened to be in New England. I really didn’t watch a lot of New England football. The only way I knew about it was because Drew got drafted No. 1 overall the year before. We’re in the same draft class. It all worked out pretty well.”

In Parcells, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick, McGinest had the privilege of playing for three head coaches in New England who have won a remarkable seven Super Bowl titles while going to another four. He spoke at length about all three Tuesday, paying particular respect to Parcells and Belichick.

“Parcells is a different animal, of course,” McGinest said. “But his knowledge of the game at every position, what he expects out of every player, how he pushes you. I had coaches with his mentality and his demeanor growing up as a kid so it didn’t bother me at all. I was actually attracted to his style as well as Bill Belichick’s style. You can’t have thin skin but the one thing that he does is he prepares you, he teaches you and he expects a lot out of you. You have some success, but to get his approval you have to have consistent success. That’s why he’s won Super Bowls, he’s in the Hall of Fame and I think Bill Belichick carried some of those same traits as a head coach.”

As for Belichick?

“The preparation. Definitely one of the smartest, not just coaches but one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around, putting you in a position to succeed, knowing and understanding all the players’ strengths and weaknesses and not leaving any detail unturned,” McGinest said. “There’s been more times than not where he’s sat in the meeting room and told us what exactly was going to happen and that Monday morning guys are turning around looking at each other because some of the things he said would happen definitely happened and took place.

“So, both of these coaches are highly intelligent. Their football IQ as well as just being smart individuals and they see both sides of the ball. I think that’s the one unique thing about both coaches. They’re not just one-dimensional when it comes to coaching offense and defense. They can see and understand how to coach every single position and put those players in position to succeed.”

It was Belichick who reminded McGinest and the Patriots what it took to win the Super Bowl after they failed to make the playoffs in 2002, one year after winning their first.

“I think when we won it in 2001 and didn’t make the playoffs the next year, I think that was the thing that really let us know that regardless of what happened the year prior, you have to hit the reset button and you have to start all over,” McGinest said. “You just can’t show up and win Super Bowls. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of offseason preparations. The other thing is free agency, trying to keep a nucleus together, the foundation together. In today’s game, it’s tough because when the players have success, they want to be paid accordingly. There’s a lot of things that factor in.”

Belichick’s message is what leads McGinest to think this 2015 bunch will have what it takes to repeat.

“I think the biggest thing that was helpful for us was when we didn’t go to the playoffs [in 2002], we went back to work like we never accomplished anything. Bill Belichick set a precedent that it doesn’t matter what you did last year. It doesn’t matter what you did last week. Nobody cares. It’s the all about going forward and you have to play each game like it’s your last game. You have to have that mindset and you have enough guys that buy into that and don’t get caught in everybody telling them that they’re the best and the whole Super Bowl thing because it can last the whole offseason. The faster you forget about it and get on and start prepare for what’s coming, you have the best chance [to repeat].”

McGinest went to the playoffs in his rookie season, the Super Bowl in his third and wound up playing for three Super Bowl winning teams in New England.

“Pretty quickly. We went to the Super Bowl in my [third] year with the Patriots,” he said. “We had some success early. I knew when Mr. Kraft bought the team he had a lot of expectations to grow the organization and make this one of the best premiere organizations in the league. The coaches and everybody there were determined to get the best players on the roster,” McGinest said. “Just being around some of the guys I played with, after that first Super Bowl in ’96, I just knew we had an opportunity to do something great. Of course, I didn’t imagine it would be one of the most winning franchises in history and everything its accomplished. And where the organization is now, it’s exceeded all my expectations. I had success early in my career with the Patriots so the expectations for and for the organization were always set high.

“I just want to say I’m honored to be the 24th inductee into the Patriots hall of fame. I want to thank, first of all, the Kraft family, the entire Kraft family, the writers, all my teammates and coaches along the way and of course the fans for making all this possible.

“I was one of a couple of a really, really talented players who were also deserving. Just paying my respects to all the players that put on Patriots uniform that also deserve this honor. I’m just happy and blessed to be in this position and humbled by being inducted.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Deflategate has made for some strange bedfellows.

Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger wants to see Tom Brady in the opener. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger wants to see Tom Brady in the opener. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Deflategate has made for some strange bedfellows.

While he didn’t come out and voice his support for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Tuesday that if Brady isn’t on the field opening night for the New England-Pittsburgh opener, it wouldn’t be the same.

“He’s a guy, I’ve said for a long time, he’s the best in the business. And he proved it again last year winning his fourth (Super Bowl),” Roethlisberger told ESPN on Tuesday.

“If he’s not out there, it’s not the same. I have a lot of respect for him on the football field and some of the unbelievable things that he’s done. I guess we’ll wait and see what’s finally going to happen.”

Brady was suspended for four games for his role in Deflategate — if it stands, he would miss the opener against Roethlsiberger and the Steelers. His appeal is pending.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

The Patriots announced Tuesday afternoon they have signed linebacker Dane Fletcher and wide receiver Zach D’€™Orazio. Here’s a portion of the statement issued by the team on the moves:

The Patriots announced Tuesday afternoon they have signed linebacker Dane Fletcher and wide receiver Zach D’€™Orazio. Here’s a portion of the statement issued by the team on the moves:

Fletcher, 28, is a veteran of five NFL seasons with New England (2010-13) and Tampa Bay (2014). The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with New England out of Montana State on April 29, 2010. He signed with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent on March 16, 2014. Fletcher has played in 54 NFL games with 10 starts and has registered 101 total tackles, 4½ sacks, one interception, three passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He has also added 41 special teams tackles, including a team-high 15 special teams tackles with the Patriots in 2013. He has played in six postseason games with one start for the Patriots, accumulating 14 total tackles. Last season in Tampa Bay, Fletcher played in all 16 games with four starts and finished with 30 total tackles and 10 special teams tackles.

D’Orazio, 23, was a two-year starter at Akron, appearing in 28 games at wide receiver and finished his career with 119 receptions for 1,422 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 212-pounder had his most productive season as a junior in 2014, registering 62 receptions for 658 yards and one touchdown. D’Orazio began his college career as a quarterback before switching to wide receiver in 2012.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — One of the early building blocks of the Patriots dynasty is headed to the team’s Hall of Fame.

Willie McGinest talks with his former coach Bill Belichick before Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Willie McGinest talks with his former coach Bill Belichick before Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale. (Elsa/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — One of the early building blocks of the Patriots dynasty is headed to the team’s hall of fame.

The Patriots announced Tuesday that Willie McGinest, a three-time Super Bowl Champion and two-time Patriots all-decade team member, has been voted by the fans as the 24th person to enter the Patriots Hall of Fame.

“Just a few months after I bought the Patriots, we drafted Willie McGinest in the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft,’€ said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft in a statement. ‘€œWe came into the NFL together and will always share a special bond. During his 12-year Patriots career, Willie played a critical role in transforming us from a cellar dweller into a championship-caliber team. He was a leader of a defensive unit that propelled the Patriots to our first Super Bowl Championship in 2001.

“His leadership during the season and dominance in the postseason proved principal to our success in winning back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004. Willie was a part of so many memorable moments for Patriots fans during his career. Now, I am looking forward to Patriots fans giving Willie a memorable moment as we celebrate his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame.”

McGinest will join defensive lineman Houston Antwine, who was selected on April 2, 2015, by the senior selection committee, as the 2015 Patriots Hall of Fame inductees. The induction ceremony will be held on the NRG Plaza outside The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon this summer.

The date of the ceremony will be announced once it is confirmed. The outdoor hall of fame ceremony is free and open to the public. Fans of all ages are welcome and encouraged to attend. In addition, McGinest will be honored during a halftime ceremony this year.

McGinest was the fourth overall selection in the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft out of Southern California. He played 12 of his 15 NFL seasons with the Patriots and was one of the cornerstones of the team’€™s success in winning the Super Bowl in the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons. He ranks third in team history with 78 sacks and led the team in sacks six times, including a career high 11 in 1995.

McGinest owns the NFL record with 16 career postseason sacks and set the NFL mark for most sacks in a postseason game with 4½ in a 2005 Wild Card win vs. Jacksonville. One of his most memorable plays came in a 2003 regular-season game when he stuffed Indianapolis running back Edgerrin James on the goal line with 11 seconds remaining to preserve a 38-34 win.

McGinest was considered one of the most versatile defensive players of his era, playing defensive end and linebacker and earning Pro Bowl honors in 1996 and 2003. He helped the Patriots post nine winning seasons in 12 years, and led the team to six division titles, four conference championships and three Super Bowl championships during his career.

Beginning in 2007, the Patriots started a new hall of fame tradition, inducting one player or head coach to The Hall each year. The process for induction involves a panel of media, alumni and staff who collectively nominate the players or head coaches most deserving of induction. After the nominations are made, the committee votes and the top three tallies become that year’€™s finalists. The Patriots then give their fans the opportunity to vote online to select each year’€™s winner.

The Patriots held their annual nomination committee meeting on April 1 to nominate this year’€™s candidates for induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame. Those votes were tallied and the three finalists for 2015 were (listed in alphabetical order) cornerback Raymond Clayborn, offensive tackle Leon Gray and defensive end/linebacker Willie McGinest. McGinest was a first-time finalist, while both Clayborn (2014) and Gray (2013) were second-time finalists.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Tom Brady won a title after the age of 35. Which senior signal-caller has the best chance to match him? (Elsa/Getty Images)

Tom Brady won a title after the age of 35. Which senior signal-caller has the best chance to match him? (Elsa/Getty Images)

Last season, Tom Brady entered into select company on a couple of levels. He wasn’t only the third quarterback to win four Super Bowls as a starter, joining Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw — he became the fifth quarterback to win a Super Bowl after his 35th birthday, joining Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach, Jim Plunkett and John Elway.

In truth, this could be considered a pretty good time to be an older quarterback. This season, six projected starters will be 35 or older (Peyton Manning, Brady, Drew Brees, Josh McCown, Carson Palmer and Tony Romo), and while it’s early to handicap the field, it seems to be a safe bet that at least four of them will make the postseason. But which one of them has the best chance of joining Brady in that exclusive company and being able to boast of winning a ring after his 35th birthday?

Here’s a look at the field:

Peyton Manning: Despite the fact there was talk he wouldn’€™t return for an 18th season, Manning is back in camp with the Broncos. After seeing how he struggled to the finish line last year with Denver, there are questions about his health, as well as a few members of his receiving corps. At 39, he’s slated to be the oldest position player in the league this season, and if he wins a Super Bowl this year with the Broncos, he’d be the oldest quarterback in NFL history to win a title.

Drew Brees: The Saints’ signal-caller turned 36 in January, and while he’s talked about playing into his 40s, he shown little sign of slowing down. He led the NFL in several major passing categories in 2014, including passing yards (4,952, first), completed passes (456, first) and passing yards per game (309.5). Despite the fact that New Orleans was 7-9 last season and underwent some serious personnel changes in the offseason, as long as he stays healthy, Brees will certainly be able to keep the Saints competitive for the foreseeable future.

Josh McCown: Truthfully, we’re just including him on this list because he’s become the default starter for the Browns this season. McCown, who will turn 36 in July, has had some nice moments for the six other teams he’s played for over the course of his career, but at this stage with Cleveland, is a longshot at best to become the next plus-35 quarterback to win a title.

Carson Palmer: The former Bengal, who will turn 36 in December, was looking good as a possible darkhorse last season, as he led the Cardinals to a 6-0 start. Then, he wrecked his knee and had to watch the rest of the season from the sidelines. If he stays healthy this year, it’s reasonable to think that Arizona has progressed to a point where it can be a serious playoff threat in the NFC West.

Tony Romo: Well, he’s certainly not lacking for confidence when it comes to the 2015 season. The Cowboys quarterback, who celebrated his 35th birthday last month, was able to get the first playoff win of his career last year against the Eagles, and if a catch is truly a catch, then there’s the very real chance that Dallas pulls the upset on Green Bay in the divisional playoffs and is going against the Seahawks in the NFC title game. If the Cowboys can keep the running game moving after losing DeMarco Murray and Romo is truly over any past late-season or playoff meltdowns, then Romo has a chance to join fellow Cowboy Staubach and the rest of the over-35 crowd that took home a title.

For some historical perspective, this current group is good, but it likely pales in comparison to the plus-35 quarterbacks from 1997 and 1998. In 1997, Elway (37), Boomer Esiason (36) and Steve Young (36) topped the plus-35 QB club, with Elway winning the first of back-to-back Super Bowl titles. The following year, there were eight quarterbacks age 35 or older, a group that included Elway, Young, Bubby Brister (who went 4-0 with Denver in relief of Elway), Doug Flutie, Randall Cunningham and Vinny Testaverde. Those plus-35 QBs from 1998 were also successful — Elway won another Super Bowl, while Cunningham led a passing game with Randy Moss and Cris Carter to the NFC title game. Meanwhile, Testaverde got the Jets to the AFC title game, while Young and Flutie also guided their teams to the postseason.

One more thing: While we included just the projected starters for 2015, there are a few other quarterbacks who also have an excellent chance of joining the over-35 championship club sooner rather than later. Eli Manning, who already has a pair of Super Bowl wins on his resume, will turn 35 in January. Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger are 33, while Aaron Rodgers is 31. While we are celebrating the current crop of over-35 quarterbacks, given the skill level and resume of some of their counterparts in the 30 to 35 age range, there’s the possibility that we’ll have to wait a few seasons for the next senior signal-caller to be the last man standing on the postgame podium.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price