Patriots

Which coaches will slide in as Belichick's top assistants?

Which coaches will slide in as Belichick's top assistants?

Now that we know, officially, that the Patriots have lost both of their coordinators of the past six seasons to head-coaching gigs, let's peek ahead to see who could slide in as Bill Belichick's top assistants for the 2018 season. 

OFFENSE
Chad O'Shea, wide receivers coach: O'Shea has been given the preseason play-calling responsibilities in the past, an indication that he would be called upon to serve as offensive coordinator should anything happen that would prevent Josh McDaniels from carrying out his game-day gig. O'Shea is instrumental in not only tutoring a position group that gets its cues from one of the most demanding quarterbacks in history, but he also makes critical contributions in game-planning and has been responsible for putting together the team's red-zone packages. O'Shea just finished his 15th NFL season and his ninth in New England.

Offensive notes: Jerry Schuplinski, who received some hard-earned recognition last season for his work with rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett, was a potential candidate for the offensive coordinator duties. Perhaps he would have been named quarterbacks coach and taken on the coordinator duties. (The Patriots went without an offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010 and Bill O'Brien served as quarterbacks coach.) As the assistant quarterbacks coach, Schuplinski has been in meetings with Brady and McDaniels, and his work in helping young quarterbacks Brissett or Jimmy Garoppolo has been valuable. However, ESPN has reported that Schuplinski is expected to join McDaniels in Indianapolis. Schuplinski played his college football at John Carroll University, where he was teammates with McDaniels, Nick Caserio and director of pro personnel Dave Ziegler... Dante Scarnecchia will be 70 later this month. He told NBC Sports Boston that he could envision himself coaching next season, but he would not commit to 2018. Should he depart, coaching assistant Cole Popovich would be among the favorites to replace Scarnecchia.

DEFENSE
Brian Flores, linebackers coach: Flores already received interest from the Cardinals to interview for their head-coaching job before Arizona hired Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks for the job. He could be due for a promotion. Like O'Shea for the offense, Flores has previously taken on play-calling duties for the defense in preseason games, indicating he would have been relied upon in Matt Patricia's absence. Flores joined the Patriots as a scouting assistant in 2004 after finishing up his playing career as a two-year starter at Boston College. He's in his 14th season with the Patriots and his 10th season as a coach. For the past two seasons, he's led the linebackers after serving as safeties coach for four seasons. During Super Bowl week last year, Flores reportedly had interest from the 49ers to take over their open defensive coordinator spot. 

Defensive notes: It has been reported that Greg Schiano could take on defensive coordinator duties for the Patriots. The former Rutgers and Buccaneers head coach has plenty of experience running a program and his most recent gig has been as the associate head coach/defensive coordinator/safeties coach at Ohio State. Schiano has a long-time supporter in Belichick and it would come as no surprise if Belichick found him a place on the staff. Schiano coached Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and safeties coach Steve Belichick in their Rutgers days...Belichick could opt to go without a coordinator and spend more (a lot more) time focusing on that side of the ball. In 2010 and 2011, the Patriots did not have a defensive coordinator. 

Special teams notes: It has been widely reported that Joe Judge could join Josh McDaniels in Indianapolis, but if he does not, he'd be expected to return to his role running the kicking game for the Patriots. His official title in 2017 was special teams coach. Perhaps, if he has an offer elsewhere and the Patriots want to keep him in-house, he could be named special teams coordinator. Should Judge end up with McDaniels, assistant special teams coach Ray Ventrone would be the logical choice to fill in. Ventrone just finished his third season as a coach. He spent nine seasons as a player, including parts of three seasons with the Patriots. 

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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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