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


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."

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.