Patriots

More time for Bademosi? Belichick says those who play best will play most

More time for Bademosi? Belichick says those who play best will play most

FOXBORO -- It's not a bad problem to have.

The Patriots just put together what was perhaps their best defensive performance of the season, limiting Atlanta to seven points at Gillette Stadium to move their record to 5-2. Yet they did so without two of their top three corners.

With Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe out, Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones helped fill the void. Matt Ryan threw for only 233 yards -- the first time the Patriots held an opposing quarterback to under 300 yards this season -- and Julio Jones was essentially a non-factor until the game was already in hand.

MORE ON THE DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD


The next question for Bill Belichick and his defensive coaching staff is . . . now what? Keep rolling with what worked in Week 7, with Bademosi playing starter's snaps? Or go back to Gilmore once he's healthy, relegating Bademosi to his previous role as a core special-teamer? (Rowe is still dealing with a groin injury, and though he's done some light running as part of the rehabilitation process, the injury continues to linger.)

On Tuesday, Belichick was asked about Bademosi's role moving forward after two weeks as an emergency starter opposite Malcolm Butler.

"The guys that play the best play the most," he said. "The guys that don’t play as well continue to keep working until their performance either moves ahead of somebody else’s or they get an opportunity because of circumstances. I mean, it’s pretty fundamental the way it works. When the players get that opportunity, then it’s up to them to perform in that situation that they’re called to play on.

"Depending on how the performance goes, then that will probably either lead to less or more playing time eventually once it declares itself. So, that’s up to each individual player. Not every player can control the opportunities that he gets. Sometimes, I mean, those are coaches’ decisions, and sometimes those opportunities become available through the unavailability of other players. So, in other words, a guy doesn’t necessarily go out there and beat somebody out in training camp competition, but because of circumstances, an opportunity arises and then the player does whatever he does with the opportunity. That’s up to each individual player. That’s why each player needs to always be prepared, always be ready, so that when that opportunity comes, he’s able to take advantage of it and not miss the opportunity and then that will hurt his chances the next time, but also he loses the chance to improve his value to the team.

"All players want to be valuable to the team, all players want to contribute, all players want to play, all players want to increase their role, but it’s a very competitive situation. This league’s very competitive, and we know we’re all judged on our performance and our production, so when those opportunities come, you’ve got to take advantage of them."

Bademosi has done just that, showing up in the right place at the right time consistently against the Jets and Falcons -- something that several Patriots defensive backs struggled to accomplish through the first month of the season. He had a pass-breakup playing underneath coverage on Jones with Duron Harmon "topping" (doubling and protecting against deeper routes). Bademosi also made a pair of strong tackles on wide-receiver screens, putting to use some of the physicality that has made him a standout in the kicking game over the course of his career. 

Brought aboard to help fill a special-teams gap left primarily by captain Matthew Slater, who was dealing with a hamstring injury to start the season, Bademosi has long been on the Patriots radar. Former director of pro personnel Bob Quinn showed an interest in Bademosi as the Patriots prepped for the 2016 free-agency period. When Quinn took the general manager job in Detroit that year, he beat his old club to the punch and signed Bademosi before the Patriots could.

"Bademosi was," Belichick explained, "probably one of our top-ranked guys for the roles that we projected him in."

After the Lions loaded up in the defensive backfield, Bademosi became a more expendable piece, and the Patriots picked him up for a sixth-round pick just before the start of this season. 

He's done nothing but impress, and now he may be in position for a larger role defensively than many expected him to have when he first arrived in New England. 

"He prepares hard every week and he’s ready to go whatever his role is, whether it be on special teams or a unit on defense or last week it was a starting role on defense," Belichick said. "But, he’s very professional. He’s smart and he takes his job seriously and really has a good work ethic and goes through all the steps and preparation that he can to prepare himself for the game, whatever that role happens to be. So, he’s done a good job of that for us."

Gilmore, who has been out with a concussion, will still have a role in the Patriots defense when he returns. And, in my opinion, a significant one. 

He's being paid as one of the top corners in the game for a reason, he's the team's most physically-gifted corner, and even if he had his issues through the first month -- he was benched to start the second half in Week 4 against Carolina -- the Patriots will provide him opportunities to show that he's figured things out. After helping limit Tampa Bay's Mike Evans in Week 5, it's clear Gilmore is a capable corner when he's confident in his understanding of the defense. 

But in his absence, Bademosi seems to have earned himself continued playing time. That means that when Gilmore returns the Patriots will have to figure out how all of the pieces fit together in their secondary. 

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With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

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 at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at the position group that received more attention than any other during Super Bowl 52: Cornerback. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


No single position group experienced as many dips, climbs and dives as Patriots corners did during their rollercoaster season. In September alone, the communication was a mess, Malcolm Butler got benched, Stephon Gilmore got benched, and Eric Rowe suffered a serious groin injury that allowed Gilmore to quickly get his job back. Second-year special teams standout Jonathan Jones might've been the team's best cover man at that juncture. Then, as soon as Gilmore started to find his footing, he was diagnosed with a concussion. The group started to put it together in the second half with solid performances against the Raiders in Mexico City and the Bills in Buffalo. Gilmore was particularly strong as the season wore on, showing the man-to-man cover skills and the knack for getting his hands on footballs that made him one of the highest-paid players at his position last offseason. But in the end, in the Super Bowl, with Butler benched again, the group (outside of Gilmore, who played well against Philly) had too many letdowns in what was arguably the team's worst defensive performance of the season.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Gilmore, Rowe, Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz

WHO ISN'T?
Butler, Johnson Bademosi

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?

The Patriots played Rowe in prominent roles in each of the past two Super Bowls and he seems to be first in line to take over No. 2 duties with Butler certainly headed on to a new chapter in his career. Jonathan Jones showed in spurts that he could be an effective slot corner, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the Divisional Round and it's unclear what the Patriots will be expecting from him in 2018. Cyrus Jones is coming off of a torn ACL, and even before his injury, it looked like he may have a hard time cracking the regular rotation. This is one position -  like tackle  - that the Patriots don't want to be left thin. If we had to rank it, the need for another capable body would probably come in at about a 7 out of 10. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There are a handful of relatively big names who will be on the market come March, including Butler. Trumaine Johnson of the Rams figures to be at the top of the class. Vontae Davis of the Colts is 29 and often injured, but in a corner-needy league, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a team. EJ Gains of the Bills could leverage his inside-out versatility to come away with a deal worth almost $10 million per year. Aaron Colvin of the Jaguars, Patrick Robinson of the Eagles, Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams and Leonard Johnson of the Bills give teams in need of slot help some options. Kyle Fuller of the Bears and Morris Claiborne of the Jets are two former first-rounders who've had up-and-down careers but showed last season they have still value on the outside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?

It feels like the best athletes at the high school and college levels are getting smarter. Or their coaches are. Once again, there's a deep group of athletes peppering the incoming draft class at corner, which is, of course, one of the highest-paying positions in football. (Why so many top-tier athletes are still playing running back, on the other hand, is beyond me.) Alabama's hybrid star in the secondary Minkah Fitzpatrick will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Same goes for Ohio State's undersized burner Denzel Ward and Iowa's ball-hawking 6-foot-1 cover man Josh Jackson, in all likelihood. At the bottom of the first round, though, players like Auburn's Carlton Davis (who has drawn comparisons to Richard Sherman because of his length and ball skills) and Colorado's Isaiah Oliver (a one-time Pac-12 decathlete with a 6-foot-1 frame) could be available. Would the Patriots want to invest a first-round pick at that spot? If they feel like they have good depth at the position already on the roster but want to take a flier on a mid-round selection, they could hope Louisville's Jaire Alexander (who dealt with injuries in 2017 that will probably hurt his draft stock) lasts into the third round. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


One name that's sort of intriguing on the free-agency market is Davis'. You've heard tales similar players ending up in New England before. He's spent the majority of his career without much of a shot at a title - though his Colts made the AFC Championship Game in the 2014 season. He should be low-cost. He had season-ending groin surgery last year, was released in November and went unclaimed. He'll be 30 before the start of next season, but he may be worth a roll of the dice to help a relatively young Patriots secondary. If he doesn't pan out, no harm done. Hard to envision Belichick and Nick Caserio investing big money into this position with Gilmore on the roster, but maybe they'll deem one of the free-agent slot options worth a shot if he's cost-effective. Otherwise, the Patriots may try to take advantage of a draft that seems - at least right now - as if it's deeper at corner than it is at some other spots on the defensive side of the ball, like on the edge.

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Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

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File Photo

Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

James Harrison was a larger than life figure during his time in Pittsburgh. 

It was as if God molded him to be a member of the Steelers: massive, physical, and an absolute bruiser.

But at the end of the day he is a football player. And athletes in this sport don't particuarly like time on the bench.

Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers organization were reminded of this fact in a very harsh manner.

At the end of the December, Harrison made a late season move to sign with the Patriots. It left his former teammates in Pittsburgh frustrated, and his former fans confused.

But at the end of the day he just wanted to be on the football field again. And that's exactly where Belichick put him.

Harrison had the opportunity to appear in many more situations, and had several sacks at the end of the season.

Now there is a new report from Christopher Price of the Boston Sports Journal that he could re-sign with the Patriots in 2018.

A source close to Price and Harrison said "there's a reasonable chance" that he could be on the roster next year.

He will be playing this upcoming season at age 40, and has previously stated he'd like to play one or two more seasons.

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