Patriots

Wise, Butler able to avoid rookie wall as sack numbers pile up

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Wise, Butler able to avoid rookie wall as sack numbers pile up

FOXBORO -- When Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler celebrated a sack back in Week 16, their celebration gave away their age. They went back to back, pressed their hands together, and locked out their arms in unison as if engaging in some aggressive tai chi.

They explained later that they were acting as Goku and Vegeta, two characters from the cartoon "Dragon Ball Z," which aired on Cartoon Network from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.

Both rookie defensive linemen are 23, two of the youngest players on the roster, and they're in the middle of the longest football season of their lives. They've played in all 17 Patriots games this season, and both seem to have blown their way through the rookie wall.

Wise has four sacks in his last four games, including two against the Titans, while Butler contributed one of his team's eight sacks -- a franchise postseason record -- in the Divisional Round. The two found each other after Butler's for a flying chest bump. 

After Wise and Butler played 12 and 13 games respectively as collegians last season, Bill Belichick has been pleased with how they've handled the workload foisted upon them in their first year as pros.

"I think that's, honestly, that's been pretty impressive to me," Belichick said. "Those guys have done a good job. A lot of times you see the rookies [have] the length of the season affect them a little bit. I'd say with those guys, in particular, they've done a good job of every day coming through, coming here with a lot of consistency, work ethic.

"They get here early. They do extra. They don't act like it's too much for them or the season is too long. They have a good energy level every week and that's been impressive and they've continued to improve. I would say they haven't leveled off."

After Saturday's win, Butler explained that part of avoiding the rookie wall is simply ignoring it. When you're too busy with your responsibilities at work, that can help sustain you.

"We're just gonna come back and grind like we always do," he said. "We're not gonna get too high, we're not gonna get too low. We're gonna stay in the work zone."

For Wise, having veterans around who set an example for what it means to be a professional has been crucial as well.

"Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Trey [Flowers], they always tell us how we should take this process," Wise said. "That's why I never really believed in the rookie wall because of that. I knew if you keep doing your job, and keeping your body healthy, everything will work out . . .

"Hot tub, cold tub, roll out massages, stuff like that. Keeping the body loose, keeping the body fresh, practicing well, taking care of your body afterwards. Eating good. Nutrition. That's keeping our bodies [fresh]."

For some first-year players, that off-the-field approach can be one of the most difficult transitions from the college game. Maybe it's because of how Wise and Butler have taken to the advice of their coaches and their more experienced teammates. Maybe it's because they both have come from the SEC, which is about as close as it gets to the NFL in the college ranks. Whatever the reason, the work away from the field has come relatively naturally for Wise and Butler. 

"The work in the film room, the class room and kind of the concepts of what we do defensively are a little bit more familiar now than they were maybe at the beginning part of the year when it was all kind of new," said Matt Patricia. "I think the best thing that we kind of get into as the season goes on is once you kind of get into that rhythm of what your weekly schedule is -- Monday is this, Tuesday is this, Wednesday is this and as you go through the week -- I think kind of being on that schedule helps all those young guys get into a rhythm of how they prepare for the games week in week out."

"They've gotten better, both individually, and in their preparation and understanding what our opponent does and so forth," Belichick added. "That's really not an easy thing to do because as the season goes on there is a lot more information to digest. There's more games, there's more situations, they've run more plays, we run more plays, we have more things that we have to match up against that. 

"It's really the preparation part of the game increases as the year goes, on and that's sometimes hard to really keep piling it on week after week because each week really gets a little bit harder to prepare for the next team because the volume has increased a lot more from what it is in the early part of the season."

The Patriots have been able to manage the volume for both players by providing them with more defined roles of late. Both have been staples of the team's third-down defense, allowing them to expend their energy when they're in pursuit of opposing quarterbacks. And if they have a little extra in the tank that can go toward their next celebration. 

"You have to have fun out there," Wise said after beating the Titans. "You can't play stiff. That's one thing that we kind of learned throughout this whole process. Have fun out there, relax, and good things will happen."

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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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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