Patriots

NFL journeyman Carpenter looks to bring best to Patriots

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NFL journeyman Carpenter looks to bring best to Patriots

FOXBORO -- You probably don't know much about Bobby Carpenter the linebacker.
New England is his fifth team in what will be his seventh year in the league.
"You understand a lot about the NFL," he said this week, of his journeyman role. "You know a lot of people, you know a lot of systems -- which I think helps you out in your preparation. It just kind of gives you a healthy respect for the league and the game and how tough it is to make it."
What you do know about Carpenter wouldn't make him proud.
Maybe you saw that 2008 episode of "Hard Knocks" when Cowboys teammate and right tackle Marc Columbo dubbed him "Barbie Carpenter." Columbo had beaten up on him all practice.
Maybe you remember Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff raising his voice when Dolphins STC John Bonamego was fired. "It's interesting that there was one particular guy that was involved in two of those major breakdowns," Westhoff said. "Frankly, I don't think he could play. I don't want the guy either." Review of the film revealed Carpenter was on both plays.
And you might have heard the term "bust" used in reference to the former first round pick. Several teams had been interested in the Ohio State product. Teams like the Patriots.
"This is one of the places I came up and visited," Carpenter recalls. "Had a good connection here, really liked it. Just ended up going someplace else, but this was a place that was interested in me."
He had met with the lot: linebackers coach Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, Bill Belichick.
Dallas snapped him up with its 18 overall selection in that 2006 NFL draft (New England picked at 21). What the Cowboys got in return was three starts, 96 total tackles, and 3.5 sacks in four years.
Carpenter was traded to the Rams and released at the end of training camp. Miami picked him up for the first five games of 2010 then cut him.
That's when the Lions gave him new life.
Never a fit in a 3-4 defense, Carpenter appeared more comfortable in Detroit's 4-3 scheme. There he could read and react, use his quickness, know he'd be protected. He played all 16 games in his second year, first full season in Detroit. An interception of old pal Tony Romo and 34-yard touchdown return in 2011 must have been sweet.
Yet he still played less than a quarter of the defensive snaps.
Despite taking steps forward, Carpenter couldn't shore up a starter spot. The Lions dragged their feet when free agency rolled around. New England saw an opening in April and pounced; Carpenter had to pack his bags yet again.
He's dismissive of stability's elusiveness.
"It's not too bad. Each season is kind of a separate year. You take it as it approaches: offseason, training camp, it's all in each individual segment so you try to look at what's in front of you and not too far ahead."
Patriots training camp looms large. Though he's gotten solid snaps off the line during mini-camp, it's in late July that player evaluation gets serious.
Linebackers coach Pepper Johnson likes the potential.
"He's a guy that's a workaholic. He's constantly going. You have to slow him down on the field. I don't want to slow him down, but... " Johnson laughed.
"He's going to be a plus for us -- he already is a plus for us."
If only Carpenter can translate the words into something meaningful. So much of what's been said about him in the last six years has not been kind.
"I just try to go out there and play best I can," said the linebacker. "I don't know if you want to put tags on it -- reporters kind of do better with that. It's a tough game. You try to make plays. However you do it, someone else can say that."
They will. But that hasn't really been the trouble.

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.