Patriots' defense has improved; time to find out if Gilmore has


Patriots' defense has improved; time to find out if Gilmore has

DENVER -- With news that Stephon Gilmore has made the trip to Denver, the Patriots have a decision to make. Insert Gilmore right back into the lineup, or continue to start Johnson Bademosi and pick and choose when Gilmore gets his snaps?

It’s not a bad problem to have. Bademosi has created far more depth at the position than previously assumed, even with the injuries to Gilmore and Eric Rowe. What makes the choice more difficult is how Bademosi and the defense have performed since his insertion into the lineup.


A unit that looked lost the first month of the season has allowed 37 points over its last three games - all wins. It’s 51 over the last four if you go back to Gilmore’s last -- and best -- game in Tampa. The defense’s performance comes in sharp contrast to that unrecognizable group we saw in the opening month, which ran around the field like a dog seeking an unseen squirrel. 

“I think we started off in a hole and we have a long way to go,” cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer said to me during the bye week. 

Boyer has been at this with the Patriots for over a decade. He’s seen the good (mostly), bad and ugly (rare) during his time here. He, like you, was disappointed with the way the season started but wanted to remind us -- as coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have at various points this year -- that 2016 has nothing to do with 2017, even though you think it could/would/should.

“Each year takes a different turn and each year is different for players,” Boyer said. “Players change from year to year and sometimes scheme changes a little bit and it’s always hard. You have to restart the continuity. It’s not the same when you pick up from six months ago. It’s different. It’s different for everybody, even for the same cast of characters. You got to get used to making your calls again. Okay, this coverage is this, this check is that, this adjustment is this, and I think over time when you have some poor execution in play you go back and look at it and say what we’re doing? Is it the right thing to do? Or is it a technique thing? Or this guy didn’t get it? It all goes back to execution. As a team, as an individual, when those things are good we have better results.”

It still hasn’t been perfect over the last four games -- it never will be, if you ask Belichick -- but no longer are receivers running unchecked down the field. Bademosi has played a role in that. He’s been targeted infrequently and hasn’t had the big busts that have colored the way Gilmore’s been viewed. 

“The thing I would say about Bademosi is he’s a hard worker,” said Boyer. “He spends extra time on the game plan. I think he’s done some good things for us. He’s competitive.”

But it’s not been solely about Bademosi. The fits are better now. The communication is better. Has he played a role in that? Absolutely. But the better results are about all players, not just one.

“At times, when you see it, when we’re working collectively as group, you may see one player make a play but there’s 10 other guys help him get that play,” said Boyer. “We started off in a hole. We weren’t playing very well. We all had work to do. I think everyone has done that. But we gotta keep working, keep improving.”

That’s been harder for Gilmore because of the concussion that kept him out of the last three games, but he proclaimed himself “good to go” earlier in the week and all signs point to him getting snaps Sunday versus the Broncos. Gilmore’s practice habits are good, according to teammates and members of the coaching staff, and despite some big-game busts, his understanding of what they’re teaching has been good as well. It just hasn’t consistently translated on game-day. 

“There’s always stuff you can do to get better,” said Boyer. “Steph’s in that process right now. The expectations would be that when he comes back to kind of build on some of things he’s been able to do, even though he hasn’t been able to be out on the field with us on Sunday.”

Gilmore had another good week of practice. Now it’s up to him to seamlessly make the transition from a Wednesday or Thursday on the back fields at Gillette to the big stage, as Bademosi has. It won’t be easy but what we’ve seen of Gilmore has not been a true representation of what he is. The Pats still believe. Now it’s up to Gilmore to reward that faith this Sunday and beyond.


Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

If Rob Gronkowski is serious about leaving football to become a wrestler, it probably won't be for the kind of money the Patriots are paying him, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer tells WEEI.

“I think that is more of a Gronkowski is going to make the call himself and I don’t think it is WWE is trying to — they are not going to outbid him," Meltzer told WEEI "Dale and Holley with Keefe" show on Thursday. "They are not going to spend $10 million a year on him. But, if he’s done with football, are they interested in him? Yeah, it is pretty clear they are."

Meltzer reported last week that World Wrestling Entertainment was interested in signing Gronk to a "similar style" deal to that of Ronda Rousey, who left UFC to join WWE for a reported $5 million a year. Gronkowski is scheduled to make $8.6 million from the Patriots in 2018. 

Meltzer cited NFL-turned-wrestling examples of James Laurinaitis, Kevin Greene and Brock Lesnar as the footsteps Gronk could follow. 

"Now, can you do it on a Brock Lesnar schedule of 10 matches a year? Yeah, probably. Lesnar was a unique type of character. He made probably $5 million-plus a year in wrestling the last couple of years.

Gronkowski is also said to be contemplating a career as an action movie star. 

Here's more on Gronk from NBC Sports Boston Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran. 


Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent to that area, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today we're looking at a spot where the Patriots are completely set . . . we think: interior offensive line. 


HOW THEY PERFORMED: It wasn't always pretty, particularly at the outset of the season when Tom Brady was being hit at a rate that rivaled years when he was most battered. And the way the season ended for this group -- with Shaq Mason allowing a sack to Philly's Brandon Graham that helped end the Super Bowl -- was obviously less than ideal. But that shouldn't overshadow how this group performed, particularly in the second half. Mason was a borderline Pro Bowl talent (Pro Football Focus' fourth-best grade at right tackle for 2017), pairing his devastating run-blocking with a vastly-improved ability to protect. David Andrews continued to play solidly and effectively make calls from his place as the line's pivot, getting through the season as PFF's No. 4-graded center. And while Joe Thuney had occasional issues with power rushers, he graded out as PFF's seventh-best left guard. Three top-10 players at their respective spots? And a reliable all-around backup in Ted Karras (three total pressures and one bad snap in two starts at center)? Plenty of teams around the league would love to be as solid up front. 


WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018: Thuney, Mason, Andrews, Karras, James Ferentz, Jason King

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED: Not dire. At all, really. It's a 1 out of 10. They have three young, relatively healthy, improving players who will come back in 2018 and should slot in as immediate starters. The No. 1 backup at all three interior spots, Karras, is back as well. Ferentz is veteran depth piece who spent last season on the team's practice squad and was given a future contract by the team soon after the Super Bowl. Jason King (and Cole Croston who can play both guard and tackle) will also be back with the team when offseason training begins. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY: The best guard on the market was one of the best guards in the league in 2017: Carolina's Andrew Norwell. Other veterans who will garner interest on the market? Colts 2014 second-round pick Jack Mewhort and former Patriots starter Josh Kline. Jonathan Cooper, briefly a Patriot, will also be back on the market this offseason. Will the Patriots be interested in any of them? My guess is no, unless the team is put in an impossible situation at left tackle and they want to try Thuney on the outside, freeing up their left guard spot . . . but that's a pretty far-fetched scenario at this point. Even though Thuney played tackle in college, the Patriots drafted him to play on the inside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT: Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson will be fascinating to track on draft day. The 330-pound guard is considered by some to be one of the two or three best football players in the draft. He's touted by experts as a surefire longtime starter with All-Pro potential. But he's a guard. Are teams going to be willing to spend a top-10 or top-15 pick on a position that is ably filled by late-round picks and undrafted players all over the league? Nelson's an interesting case study in that regard. It's a pretty strong draft class at the top, it seems. Georgia's Isaiah Wynn and Texas-El Paso's Will Hernandez have received first-round buzz, as have a few centers: Iowa's James Daniels, Arkansas' Frank Ragnow and Ohio State's Billy Price. Then there are the tackles-who-may-be-guards-at-the-next-level. Texas' Connor Williams, who we mentioned in our tackle assessment, is the biggest name who could end up getting kicked inside. 

HOW THE PATRIOTS CAN ADDRESS IT: There really isn't much to address, in my opinion. However, there's a little wrinkle here that's worth keeping in mind. The Patriots were reportedly interested in drafting Indiana's center/guard prospect Dan Feeney in the third round last year. They had the 72nd pick. He ended up going to the Chargers at No. 71. The Patriots traded down for a pair of picks when Feeney was gone. One was used to get defensive end Derek Rivers. The other helped them snag tackle Tony Garcia. Why the interest in Feeney? His size (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) and athletic profile (7.52-second three-cone, 101-inch broad jump) actually compared somewhat favorably to those of Logan Mankins (6-4, 307, 7.52-second three-cone, 95-inch broad jump). The idea of having him at center, between Thuney and Mason, could've been enticing. So will the Patriots jump at the chance to add a similarly-gifted player to play in the middle if the opportunity presents itself? Never say never, but I don't think so. Andrews received an extension after the draft, keeping him in New England through 2020, and he was named a captain before the 2017 season.