Burned-out on business, Pats happy to be back


Burned-out on business, Pats happy to be back

By Tom E. Curran Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - My suspicion throughout the 136-day lockout was that a large percentage of players didn't much care about the details. They wanted to get back to work and would do so under most any terms. That the NFLPA extracteda good deal for a rank-and-file that had checked out is remarkable. "I paid attention a little bit but I got sick of it just like everyone else," admitted Wes Welker Tuesday morning as players reported to Gillette Stadium for physicals and "paperwork" in advance of Wednesday's start to camp. "I got sick of hearing about it and all that stuff. For me, I just tried to concentrate on what I could control and that was staying in shape and training. "I have all the trust in the world in the guys who negotiated the deal," Welker pointed out. "I know some of the details but not all. I'm happy with everything that's happened and everything that's taken place. The owners are happy, we're happy and we're ready for some football."Earlier, when asked to characterize how heultimately felt about the new CBA, safety Patrick Chung said,"I'll leave that to our representatives. I'm just here to come here and make sure all the guys are ready to practice and work and go hard. Leave the big guy stuff to the big guys. They'll discuss that with you. I'm just happy to be back."Chung and Welker were the only Patriots made available by the team on Tuesday. Wednesday there will be a conditioning run and meetings. Practices on Thursday and Friday will be at 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. and are open to the public. Tuesday morning, media was hustled to an overhang above a players entrance to film stadium arrivals. Even though players weren't supposed to be in the building before 10 a.m., several players were seen leaving after 10 who weren't seen going in before the clock struck 10. Most didn't stay long. And when they were inside, they did not meet with head coach Bill Belichick. With the ability to negotiate contracts with rookies, sign undrafted free agents and begin talking to unrestricted free agents, Belichick was likely in dispose. "I'm, happy to be back, I've been working out, I missed the guys, I missed the fans, I missed (the media). ... I'm glad to be back," said Chung. Asked the tenor of the buildingon Tuesday morning, Chung said,"Everyone was happy. It felt like I hadn't seen my brothers in a while. It's hard not to be able to communicate with the guys you're playing with and the guys that are going to be taking care of your body and guys that are teaching me the playbook. Now that we're back, it's like we haven't missed a beat."Welker is happy to know his cash flow is returning. "At this time of year, money starts running low so we'll be getting paychecks again. We're excited and it's good to have football back. Fans are excited and players are just as excited."Conditioning is going to be a major concern early in camp. With time short,players losing practice time because they didn't work out hard enough during the lockout will be unacceptable. "I'm pretty confident that most guys worked out," said Chung, who was part of a crew working out at Foxboro's Edge Performance with trainer Brian McDonough. The learning curve for rookies, Chung said, can be managed. "If you come in focused, ready to go, pay attention to the veteran guys who know what they're doing, it can be an easy transition or it can be very hard for you," he said. "The veterans will help them to be where they need to be." Welker believes getting the simple stuff correct is the most important -- and most difficult -- thing to conquer early in camp. "I think everybody getting on the same page, knowing where to line up (will be the hardest thing to overcome after the layoff)," he explained. "I think hearing the play calls is the main thing. Knowing how to run routes and techniques and having your body learn all that stuff over again and hearing all that stuff over again. The main thing is being able to hear all the calls and remember those."Because of changes to the new collective bargaining agreement, there will be no classic "two-a-day" practices in pads. Teams are allowed just one padded practice each day during camp. The secondgatheringis pad-free."Just because there aren't two padded practices doesn't mean you can't go hard (in the one without pads)," said Chung. "We work hard, regardless if it's one practice, two practices, three practices, 1,000 practices, we're gonna work hard and Bill's gonna make sure that happens and the leaders on the team are gonna make sure that happens." With Tuesday just a day to clear up details, the message from Belichick heading into this unique camp has yet to be delivered. "We're meeting (Wednesday). I'm sure(Belichick) willhave an array of things to go over from the offseason."Tom E. Curran can be reached at Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Former Patriot Mike Vrabel named head coach of the Tennessee Titans


Former Patriot Mike Vrabel named head coach of the Tennessee Titans

The Titans job was rumored to be the first pick of Josh McDaniels, but as details have come to light, that is not the case.

The Tennessee Titans have agreed to hire former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel as their Head Coach tonight.

The team publicly announced the hire tonight across all of their social media platforms.

Vrabel won the Super Bowl with the Patriots three times in the early years of the New England dynasty. 

Despite having limited experience as a coach, he has attracted much attention in this past offseason for openings across the NFL. He has just one season's experience as a coordinator. 

Vrabel steps in to fill the role of Mike Mularkey, who was fired just one night after many believed he was receiving an extension. Despite the rumor of the extension, Mularkey and the Titans agreed to part ways just one day later.


Who will be Patriots unsung hero Sunday?


Who will be Patriots unsung hero Sunday?

FOXBORO -- We've hit on Tom Brady's hand. Over and over. And over again. We've also dissected just how good this Jaguars defense really is, and how Rob Gronkowski might be able to exploit it

But what about the games within the game? What about the so-called bit players who could make a significant impact in the AFC Championship Game? 

It seems to happen every year in the biggest games. No one predicted James White would put together an MVP-level performance in Super Bowl LI. No one saw Malcolm Butler coming - least of all Russell Wilson - in Super Bowl XLIX. And who would have guessed that Marquis Flowers, Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise would've had key roles in helping the Patriots dominate the Divisional Round against the Titans?

Let's try to get out ahead of those storylines before the Jaguars and Patriots meet at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Here are five of our under-the-radar keys to the game: 

1) James Develin's incorporation into the game plan could seemingly pop up out of nowhere like a neck roll.
But if you've been following along this week, you know that it would be a good idea for the Patriots try to throw out of formations that employ their fullback. If Josh McDaniels figures out a way to keep Jacksonville's base defense on the field, that should give Brady all kinds of room to throw. That means getting Develin onto the field with Dion Lewis. It could also mean having Dwayne Allen (or Jacob Hollister) on the field with Rob Gronkowski. Two-back sets and two-tight end sets should have the same effect: The Jaguars will respond by leaving an extra linebacker and an extra defensive tackle on the field. (In all likelihood, run-stuffing linebacker Paul Posluszny would remain, as would defensive tackle Marcel Dareus. In sub situations, those players are more likely to come off, bringing nickel corner Aaron Colvin and pass-rusher Dante Fowler on.) That bigger stop-the-run grouping makes the Jaguars slower. When they're slower, they're less-equipped to defend the pass. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars allowed a quarterback rating of 99 and an average of 9.6 yards per attempt against offensive groupings with two backs, two tight ends, or both. Against three-receiver sets, they're much more effective, allowing a rating of 73 and an average-yards-per-attempt of just 4.9. One issue with Develin's usage could be - wait for it - Brady's hand. If it's clear Brady can't take snaps from under center, then the Patriots will either simply have to huddle up with Develin in the mix and align in some sort of spread look when they break, which they've done in the past. Or they could concede the threat of running behind Develin is non-existent if Brady can't get under center, and then you may simply see more two-tight end looks. Using tempo with this bigger personnel could also be wise. If the Patriots get defenders on the field they want to throw against, they could prevent the Jags from subbing by hurrying to the line of scrimmage. 

2) Joe Thuney's ability to handle power rushes on the interior could determine how smoothly the Patriots offense runs.
The Jaguars front is their biggest threat to Tom Brady. Jacksonville's coverage players are talented, but there should be windows to throw. If Brady doesn't have time to find the windows because of a dogged pass-rush, though, it won't matter. Thuney could be the key. Why? Calais Campbell, a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, has seen 58 percent of his pass-rushing snaps come from the defensive right, according to Pro Football Focus. If that continues, he'll see his fair share of Nate Solder and -- in sub situations when he kicks inside -- Thuney on the offensive left. Along with the vastly underrated Yannick Ngakoue (12 sacks and a league-high six forced fumbles, but he's not a Pro Bowler or All-Pro), who rushes off the defensive right 77.5 percent of the time, Campbell helps form as imposing a duo as Thuney and Solder have faced all season. Campbell is the real-life response to the blue beings in James Cameron's "Avatar." He's 6-foot-8, with 36-inch arms, and if he can extend on Thuney, that's a one-on-one matchup that doesn't favor the Patriots. Thuney, who carries around a green notebook full of secrets to help him on game days, has been solid of late. He hasn't allowed a sack or a quarterback hit in his last three games, but he'll have to put together one of his cleanest performances of the season to keep Brady upright Sunday.  

3) Johnson Bademosi will have big shoes to fill in the kicking game. 
When Jonathan Jones suffered a season-ending injury against the Titans, that should thrust Bademosi - who was a healthy scratch last week -- back into the mix as a kick-coverage player and reserve corner for the Patriots. The Jaguars have a talented return man in Jaydon Mickens, and as a gunner, it could be on Bademosi's shoulders to make sure that the Patriots don't allow Mickens to make a game-changing play. With the focus on Matthew Slater, that should leave Bademosi with some one-on-one matchups to win on the outside. Why, you ask, is this important? The Jaguars are not a threat to consistently string together scoring drives offensively, so -- aside from scoring defensively, which they've been known to do -- they may need to exploit a breakdown in the kicking game in order to have a shot. "Mickens," Bill Belichick told this week, "as a returner, very explosive player...He's very, very explosive in the open field...They're a very explosive special teams unit."

4) For the second consecutive week, Marquis Flowers could play an important role in the defensive game plan.
His two best games with the Patriots have come against mobile quarterbacks, and Blake Bortles -- though not as athletic as Tyrod Taylor or Marcus Mariota -- would qualify. The Jaguars quarterback has recorded 123 yards rushing on 15 carries (an average of 8.2 yards per run) in two playoff games this season, and against the Bills in the Wild-Card Round, he actually ran for more yards (88) than he picked up through the air (87). Flowers has shown a knack for being able to mirror passers as he spies them from the second level, and it would come as no surprise if he was asked to do so again this weekend. The Patriots are a man coverage team. If you've watched closely, you've noticed they've played less true Cover-2 this season than they have in some others, partly because their corners are better-suited for man-to-man assignments than covering zones. By deploying Flowers (or Kyle Van Noy or someone else) as a spy, that allows Patriots defensive backs to play man-to-man on the back end. Without a spy, that would typically require more true zone in the secondary so that defensive backs could have their eyes in the backfield and spot when a quarterback takes off. If Flowers is tapped to spy again this weekend, he allows his teammates in coverage to play their game: Lock-down man-to-man.

5) Let's stick with the Patriots linebackers for this final key.
Discipline at the second level will be of vital importance against the Jaguars. Matt Patricia's unit should have little trouble stopping the run. It's a numbers game in the box, and if the Patriots commit enough resources to stoning Leonard Fournette, they should have success. Especially with the way Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Ricky Jean Francois and Trey Flowers have been playing of late. But the Jaguars are adept at using an opponent's aggressiveness against them. Whichever Patriots are at the linebacker level -- whether it's Elandon Roberts, Van Noy or Patrick Chung -- will have to be sure they read their keys and remain patient. Leaving Bortles wide-open throwing lanes is one of the few ways the Jaguars will be able to create chunk plays on Sunday, and if the Patriots are too eager to step up and fill lanes against the run, they could open themselves up to be stunned by the 23rd-rated quarterback in the NFL this season. The Jaguars passed on three of their first four plays from scrimmage against the Steelers in the Divisional Round. They picked up 53 yards on those three throws due in large part to Bortles' use of play-action.