Patriots

NFL Draft 2012 positional breakdowns: Cornerback

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NFL Draft 2012 positional breakdowns: Cornerback

Each weekday, from now until the week of the draft, we'll take a position-by-position look at the Patriots' draft needs and which players they may be looking at. Today: Cornerbacks

POSITION OVERVIEW
The 2012 cornerback class has a nice group of varied talents. The small waterbug type, the rangier cornersafety hybrids. But while every team values coverage skills and is often willing to pay for it in free agency, the same urgency isn't seen on draft day. A couple of reasons for that. There's a glut of guys between 5-9 and 6-1 who run really fast, have great short-area quickness and can jump. There are far fewer 6-4, 330-pound offense wreckers or 6-7, 310-pound backside protectors or 6-5, 265-pound pass rushers who can run a 4.7. And college level success is not a precursor to NFL level success as it may be with other positions. At the head of the 2012 draft class, all by himself is LSU's Morris Claiborne. He's sticky as hell and a top-10 pick. After Claiborne, there are 10 corners seen as deserving of consideration in the first three rounds.
PATRIOTS PREDICAMENT

This is a tough position to handicap for the Patriots because there's a fair amount of forecasting that needs to be done. For instance, which Devin McCourty shows up in 2012, the one that played so well as a rookie or the one who was one of the worst starting corners in the NFL in 2011? What can one expect from 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling after he lost the 2011 season to injury? Kyle Arrington is pretty well established now as a strong little player. Sterling Moore flashed enough ball skills and smarts to be intriguing even if he isn't as fast as you'd like a corner to be. With where they draft, the Patriots are going to have cracks at talented players. The chore for them will be determining which ones they can wait on - if there are a few - or figuring out how high they have to get to draft the one they want.

TOP OF THE CLASS
Morris Claiborne, 5-11, 188, LSU
The best corner in the draft by a lot. Incredibly quick and able to shadow. Ridiculously long arms (33 inches, two inches longer than ballyhooed pass rusher Melvin Ingram). Pulled an impossibly low Wonderlic score (reportedly a 4). He'll be long gone before the Patriots select.
Stephon Gilmore, 6-1, 190, South Carolina
Comes from a program that's been churning out solid cover men. Tremendous sub-4.4 speed with length and body control. More instinctive than schooled at this point and will need to refine his technique. Probably a top-20 pick.

Dre Kirkpatrick, 6-2, 186, AlabamaConfident with good length and excellent athleticism. Will play physically and jam but his lean build could cause him to be overpowered a little by bigger, stronger receivers. Not as fast as Gilmore and Claiborne and there are some maturity concerns. Might fit nicely as a "star" corner covering the slot for the Patriots but would probably not be a tremendous fit based on reviews.

Janoris Jenkins, 5-10, 193, North Alabama
One of the draft's most intriguing players because he's got first-round skills but a red flag history of irresponsible behavior that got him kicked out of Florida. Can play all techniques and is willing to be physical. Has excellent ball skills and is slippery when he gets it in his hands. Also has four children by three different women and, while he's pledged he's going to be responsible and dependable, he needs a cocoon of support. The Patriots may be a team that can afford him that if they feel the risk-reward is there.
Trumaine Johnson, 6-2, 204, Montana
His size and range make him an interesting prospect because he could play safety or corner and versatility has become such a valued trait among defensive backs. Plays the ball very well and was dominant as a four-year starter, albeit against lesser competition than the other highly-rated corners. Needs some personal direction.
BEST PATRIOTS FITS
Jenkins. If he's on the board in the second round when the Patriots pick at 48, he could be a tough player to pass on. But he has to check out with their personnel people.

Brandon Boykins. A Georgia product with excellent return skills, he's not seen as one of the top prospects but he's seen as a guy who can come in and cover the slot right away and brings special teams ability. A tempting guy in the late-second or early-third.

Ron Brooks. A sleeper who can absolutely fly (4.39 40) and has great special teams ability. Can play all over the place in the secondary and is a very good tackler. The kind of player the Patriots may value ahead of other teams.

Patriots cut ties with Cassius Marsh, sign Eric Lee to help front-seven

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Patriots cut ties with Cassius Marsh, sign Eric Lee to help front-seven

Cassius Marsh was brought to New England to help a depleted defensive end group and play in the kicking game. The Patriots wanted him badly enough that they parted with two draft picks -- a fifth and a seventh -- to acquire him in a trade with the Seahawks just before the start of the season. 

Less than three months later, they've decided to part ways with the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder. 

Marsh played in nine games for the Patriots this season, providing the team with an edge defender and someone with special-teams experience. He blocked a kick in Week 7 against the Falcons that earned him an enthusiastic attaboy from coach Bill Belichick. 

Coming off the edge, Marsh recorded one sack and 13 hurries. Against the run, he was used more sparingly, and he was one of the Patriots on the scene for Marshawn Lynch's 25-yard run in the second quarter on Sunday. He played in just two snaps in Mexico City after missing the previous week's game in Denver due to a shoulder injury. 

Without Marsh the Patriots remain thin at defensive end. In order to help bolster that spot, the corresponding move the Patriots made to fill the open spot on their 53-man roster was to sign defensive lineman Eric Lee off of the Bills practice squad. 

Lee entered the league with the Texans last season as an undrafted rookie out of South Florida. Listed at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, Lee has bounced on and off of the Bills practice squad this season since being released by the Texans before this season.

The Patriots got a good look at Lee during joint practices last summer with the Texans at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. In the preseason game with the Texans that week, Lee played 40 snaps and according to Pro Football Focus he had two quarterback hurries. The Patriots have a history of snagging players they've practiced against, and with Lee, that trend continues

Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

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Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

BRIGHTON -- Coming off a pair of back-to-back wins from backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are still undecided about what they’re going to do between the pipes Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils.

On the one hand, the Bruins are very tempted to ride the hot goaltending hand with Khudobin a strong 5-0-2 record on the season and a .935 save percentage that currently leads all goaltenders across the league. There’s a school of thought that the B’s should simply keep plugging Khudobin into the lineup until he actually loses a game, and begins to cool down a little bit between the pipes after stopping 63-of-65 shots against LA and San Jose.

At the same time it will be over a week since Tuukka Rask has played in a game if the Bruins go with Khudobin on Wednesday night against the Devils, and Bruce Cassidy was clear to stress that Rask is still their No. 1 guy. So that’s the dilemma the Bruins are facing with Cassidy calling it “a good problem to have” based on Khudobin’s strong play from the backup spot.

That is a far cry from what the Bruins experienced a year ago with the same goalie, and a reason for optimism that their goaltending situation will be better off throughout a long season.

“Do you go with the hot hand and leave your No. 1 sitting where he’s beginning to wonder what the hell is going on? That’s the decision,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We need to keep them both in a good place, and not lose out on [Khudobin’s] good run while keeping Tuukka focused and confident in his game. That’s what we’re battling and I talk to Goalie Bob [Essensa] about it every day. We’ll make our decision [on Wednesday] and we hope it’s the right one.

“It’s a long year so no matter who we use there are a lot of starts. I don’t think Khudobin is going to go ice cold if he use Tuukka tomorrow, and I don’t think Tuukka is going to blow a gasket if we go with the hot hand. For me I don’t think it’s that big of a decision.”

Perhaps Rask blowing a gasket wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given the way he’s played this season.

The one underlying concern for Rask beyond the .897 save percentage this season is that his game has really been in a different place for the last three seasons. While his .922 career save percentage mark is among the best in the NHL, he has been below that mark in each of the last three seasons while struggling to maintain consistently behind a changing roster that’s turning over to youth and inexperience.

It certainly seems like the Bruins feel it’s premature to label Rask as anything but their No. 1 goaltender, but the pause they’re giving on Wednesday night’s starter speaks volumes about their current confidence level in each of their puck-stoppers.

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