Belichick works closely with athletic linebacker at Vanderbilt pro day

Belichick works closely with athletic linebacker at Vanderbilt pro day

The Patriots were able to re-sign Dont'a Hightower to a four-year contract earlier this week, but that doesn't mean they won't be taking a look at linebackers in this year's draft class. 

Bill Belichick was spotted at Vanderbilt's pro day on Thursday where he kept a close eye on linebacker Zach Cunningham, who many have projected as a first-round pick. The Patriots coach even took the opportunity to personally run Cunningham through drills near the end of the session. 

"Pretty crazy," said Cunningham, who grew up a Patriots fan. "I met with him yesterday to do a film session. Just being in the same room as a guy that I watched growing up, him grilling me and asking me questions about our defense and all that, that was definitely a crazy experience for me."

Every year around this time, Belichick travels through SEC country to take in some of the more high-profile pro days and to run through workouts with potential draft picks.

Two years ago at Georgia, Belichick ran Bulldogs center David Andrews through some drills. He was at Alabama's pro day last year -- as he was this year -- and took Cyrus Jones with his first pick in the second round. 

That Belichick spent so much time with Cunningham is noteworthy because he's expected to be off the board long before the third round, which is currently when the Patriots are scheduled to make their first pick. 

The Patriots would likely try to get back into either the first or second rounds of the draft -- perhaps by trading Malcolm Butler -- and would need to do so in order to have an opportunity to take get Vandy's top prospect.

Cunningham is a 6-foot-3, 234-pound two-time All-SEC player who earned first-team AP All-American honors last year. He's considered an mobile sideline-to-sideline 'backer with a nose for the football who offers teams a player who can be a force against the run as well as someone who can cover ground in the passing game.

Cunningham was one of the more impressive linebackers at the NFL Scouting Combine this year, jumping 35 inches in the vertical and 10-feet-5 in the broad jump. He clocked a 4.67-second 40-yard dash.

To compare Cunningham to the last two linebackers the Patriots selected in the first two rounds of the draft, he wouldn't give the team quite the combination of frame and explosion that either Hightower (ran a 4.68 40-yard dash and jumped 32 inches at 6-2, 265) or Jamie Collins (ran a 4.64 40-yard dash, jumped 41.5 inches in the vertical, and jumped 11-feet-7 in the broad jump at 6-3, 250) did.

Still, he's an intriguing process with good size and athleticism. And Belichick seems to be a fan.

Report: New catch rule coming to NFL

Report: New catch rule coming to NFL

A new catch rule is coming to the NFL.

So, controversies such as the Jesse James' touchdown reversal in the Steelers' loss to the Patriots in December and the Kelvin Benjamin call in the Bills-Pats game a week later likely would have resulted in upheld TDs under the new rule.

According to the Washington Post, Troy Vincent, the NFL VP of football operations, said competition committee members plan to propose getting rid of portions of the rule related to a receiver going to the ground while making a catch and to slight movement of the football while it’s in the receiver’s hands. Vincent also said the committee also intends to raise the bar by which an on-field ruling of a catch could be overturned via replay review.

That apparently was what was done in Super Bowl 52, when the Eagles' Corey Clement's juggling TD catch was not overturned via replay. 

“We worked backward,” said Vincent told the Post. “We looked at plays and said: Do you want that to be a catch? And then we applied that to the rule.”

The rule modifications could be approved by the competition committee as early Tuesday, the Post reported, and owners will meet next week in Orlando to vote on it. Rule changes must be approved by at least 24 of the 32 franchises. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been pushing for the catch rule to be modified. 



Pats' 2017 draftee Garcia cleared to play

File photo

Pats' 2017 draftee Garcia cleared to play

The Patriots' depleted offensive line got a boost today . . . 

Offensive tackle Tony Garcia, 24, missed the entire 2017 season because of blood clots in his lungs. He was the Patriots' third-round draft choice -- their second overall pick -- last April out of Troy, and was seen as a potential starter, but came became ill in training camp and was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list in September.