Patriots

Ten most important Pats heading into 2015: Chandler Jones

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Ten most important Pats heading into 2015: Chandler Jones

Starting today, and leading up to the first day of training camp, we’re going to look at the most important Patriots, counting down from 10 to 1. I went through my vast reservoir of contacts in the league and in the Foxboro offices to come to some sort of consensus.

Okay, I didn’t even come close to doing that. I trust my eyes and this is what they tell me as we head into the 2015 season.

10. CHANDLER JONES

Why? It’s time. This should be his Front Four. Jones has the most talent in that group, the most explosiveness. He’s entering the prime of his career. He can also set himself up for a megadeal when his current contract expires in two seasons (the Pats picked up the fifth-year option this offseason).

Previous Performance: In 2014-15, before he injured his hip in week 7 versus the Jets, the former Syracuse product had 4 1/2 sacks and 15 QB hurries. Impressive, especially when you consider the fatally flawed game plan that had him playing inside in the season opener at Miami and made him a non-factor.

The year prior, in just his second season in the league, Jones looked like he was developing into one of the most well-rounded defensive ends in the NFL. He finished with double-digit sack totals and, for the most part, was solid versus the run. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia kept him on the field in all situations. Jones was quickly becoming a foundational player, and played more defensive snaps than anyone on the roster.

Questions surrounding the player: Injuries, for starters. Jones missed a huge chunk of games last season, and when he returned he lacked his usual burst off the edge. He did have a sack in the Super Bowl, but spent a fair portion of the offseason on crutches and rehabbing that hip. He was not available during OTAs, although for a player with his experience, that’s not a huge red flag unless the healing has been slowed.

Also, to be an elite DE, which Jones has the tools to become, you want to see him give the business to the game’s best left tackles. That hasn’t been the case, unless you count D’Brickshaw Ferguson has one of the best of the best (Jones usually gets the better of DBF).

Overall Outlook: Jones is a player ascending. If he can avoid a serious injury, this should be the year he post career-bests in sacks, pressures and QB hits, especially when you consider the addition of Jabal Sheard, who should help keep both Jones and Rob Ninkovich a little fresher than they’ve been because of depth issues the past two seasons. Sheard > Zach Moore and Andre Carter (admit it, you forgot he was on the 2013 roster).

Bortles silencing critics while earning respect from teammates, Patriots

Bortles silencing critics while earning respect from teammates, Patriots

Blake Bortles doesn’t care that you think he sucks. Why should he? “It’s a waste of time,” says the Jacksonville quarterback. He’s just one win away from playing in the Super Bowl and is set to earn 19 million dollars next year. Life is good. But man oh man, the vitriol sent his way via fellow NFL defenders is rather staggering.

MORE - Getting ready for the AFC Championship Game

Bottles has been called a choker by Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, subpar by Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, and Texans edge rusher JaDaveon Clowney trashed the Jags QB by calling him trash. Yet all three of those guys are on vacation while Bortles is still working, preparing for the AFC title game in Foxboro Sunday afternoon. 

“He’s a dog,” shouted defensive tackle Malik Jackson in the immediate aftermath of last weekend’s win at Pittsburgh. “I want to know what Jurell Casey has to say about him choking in big moments while you sit at home and watch us next week.”

Jackson’s fiery defense of Bortles is not an uncommon event in the Jacksonville locker room. Yes their quarterback has flaws - we’ll get to those in a minute - but he’s their ride or die, at least for now.

“Blake is a rockstar,” said defensive lineman Calais Campbell. “He doesn’t let any of that get to him. He keeps showing up every day, having fun, preparing as hard as he can. We have a lot of respect for him. He’ definitely loves the game. He handles his business."

“One thing I learned about Blake is when you talk negative about him he proves you wrong over and over again,” said cornerback A.J. Bouye. “He did it against Seattle, he did it versus Pittsburgh the first time, he did it again versus Pittsburgh this time. That’s who he is.”

As you would imagine, that support is everything to Bortles.

“I don’t care much about what is said outside our locker room,” said Bortles. “What I care about is inside that locker room. Those are the opinions I care about. When other people say stuff, it doesn’t bother me. But to see guys in that locker room stand up for me and say stuff, it’s pretty cool. Because those are the opinions I value and the guys I want to impress and do well for.”

Bortles was hardly the star Sunday in Pittsburgh. He barely completed over 50% of his passes one week after running for more yards (88) than he threw for (87) in a Wild Card round win over the Bills. But Bortles didn’t turn the ball over in either game, something that has been a problem for him not only in years past but late in the regular season. Yes, he was inaccurate at times and appeared nervous at others but the Patriots could only shake their heads and laugh when told about the comments other players have directed at the 25-year old.

“It’s kind of crazy,” smiled Devin McCourty, “you know, the guy is still playing football. All those guys that said that, I’m sure they want to be in his spot right now playing in the championship game…the guy is a winner. Whether it’s dropping back and throwing the deep ball in a drive where Pittsburgh cuts it to seven and you need to make a big play and he stays in the pocket and finds [T.J.] Yeldon after surveying the field. Or in other games, against Buffalo, he drops back, they drop into coverage, everybody has their back to him, and he scrambles for 15 yards [and] a big first down to keep the drive going. To me, you see a winner.”

“He’s a good quarterback,” said Duron Harmon. “He does what they want him to do. He checks them, gets them in the right place, makes the right throws. Just try to do his job effectively and he did it at a high level yesterday. Made a lot of plays on third down. Made them with his arm, made them with his feet. He’s obviously somebody who feels comfortable in the system. Plays well and has been making plays for them all year. We know he’s going to come ready to play…”

Hard to believe Bortles is ready to lift the Jags past the Pats all on his own. He needs a good running game, he needs his receivers to make plays for him, and he needs that defense to figure out a way to slow down Tom Brady. That’s a lot to ask, but the Jags with Bortles at quarterback are this close to something few thought possible before the season started, just a win away from a trip to the Super Bowl. Maybe that belief in Bortles is about to be rewarded…

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Patriots place CB Jonathan Jones on injured reserve, sign PR Bernard Reedy

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Patriots place CB Jonathan Jones on injured reserve, sign PR Bernard Reedy

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will have to go the remainder of the season without one of their top special teams players. 

Jonathan Jones was placed on injured reserve Wednesday after suffering what appeared to be an injury to his left leg during the Divisional Round against the Titans. Jones was in coverage on Eric Decker in the fourth quarter when he broke with Decker to move toward the sideline before crumpling to the turf. He reached for his left foot/ankle area after the play and remained down for several moments. He did walk off the field under his own power after medical 

Without Jones, the Patriots will have to find another gunner for their punt units. Jones is also one of the better kickoff coverage players on the Patriots. The move the Patriots may make without him will be to activate Johnson Bademosi on game day. Bademosi was a healthy scratch against the Titans but has ample experience on special teams and will serve as a reserve corner, as Jones did. 

Matthew Slater said it won't be one player, though, who makes up for Jones' absence. 

"He does a lot of things for us and he does a lot of things well," Slater said. "And he’s done that since he’s gotten here. He’s been consistent. He’s improved day after day. It’s going to take a lot of guys stepping up, doing their job just a little bit better. A few guys in different roles. You don’t replace him with one guy."

The Patriots added punt-returner Bernard Reedy to the roster to take Jones' open roster spot. Reedy was signed to the Patriots practice squad in November and elevated to the active roster soon thereafter. He was later released, re-signed to the p-squad, and released from the p-squad earlier this month. He played in nine games with the Bucs and returned 14 punts and seven kicks for averages of 10.2 and 20.7 yards, respectively. 

Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis are the team's primary punt and kick-returners, but Reedy could serve as insurance for both in those roles. 

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