Patriots

Pats' free-agent forecast: Linebackers

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Pats' free-agent forecast: Linebackers

This is the third in a series of position-by-position looks at the Patriots heading into free agency. Today's position: Linebackers.
Wbo's on the roster? Dane Fletcher, Gary Guyton, Niko Koutouvides, Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes, Tracy White, Markell Carter, Jermaine Cunningham, Jeff Tarpinian. Patriots need level? If we're talking outside linebacker, it's a 7. Inside? 4. Position overview? Let's start inside, where the Patriots are pretty well stocked. Jerod Mayo is the quarterback of the defense from the middle, a sure tackler and one of the best in the league when he's fully healthy. Brandon Spikes is one of the best downhill run-stoppers they've had since Ted Johnson. If his head is in it, he'll be good for a while. Dane Fletcher is a nice, fast complement to those two. On the outside? Rob Ninkovich is still riding the crest of his performance wave and is a reliable guy. Jermaine Cunningham? Incredibly non-impactful. Markell Carter, a late-round 2011 draft choice, seems to be a player the team is intrigued by. The team is still yearning for a guy to bring pressure off the edge from the linebacker level. As for guys on last year's team who are hitting free agency, Gary Guyton's play has slid precipitously. Niko Koutouvides and Tracy White are primarily special teamers. Who's out there? Stephen Tulloch, Lions. A short (5-foot-11), sturdy (240-pounds) downhill plugger, the Patriots don't really have a spot for him on the inside.Jarret Johnson, Ravens. A nine-year veteran of the edge spot in the Baltimore 3-4, the underrated Johnson would be a fit for the Patriots. But the Ravens and Jets may have dibs.Kamerion Wimbley, Raiders. I had to asterisk Kam because - as of Friday afternoon - the Raiders still hadn't released him. But with a huge guarantee kicking in on March 17, the Raiders are going to lop him if he doesn't take a pay cut. And when they do, Wimbley will become the best outside pass-rusher on the free agent market.Manny Lawson, Bengals. Maybe better suited to a 4-3 because he's on the lean and long side, it's not a stretch to use Rosey Colvin as a comp. Lawson is 6-5, 240 and can drop in coverage. Other names of note? Niko Koutouvides, Gary Guyton, Tracy White, Tully Banta-Cain, Lofa Tatupu,Free agent forecast? Johnson, Wimbley and Lawson are the names you may recognize. The Patriots' pro personnel department does a remarkable job of cycling through the bottom of the roster names that aren't on our radar, though, so you can expect a "Who's he?" moment in the coming weeks.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?

0:43 - Tom Curran, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley talk about Bill Belichick saying it’s “incomprehensible” that people expect the Patriots to be on the same level as last year at this point in the season.

11:55 - Tom Giles, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley discuss J.R. Smith’s comments about the Celtics not being a threat to the Cavaliers.

15:38 - Abby Chin, Chris Mannix, and A. Sherrod Blakely join BST from Cleveland to talk about Marcus Smart and the Celtics failing to agree to a contract extension, making him a restricted free agent in July. They also preview Tuesday’s Celtics-Cavaliers season opener.

19:25 - Reports say Alex Cora is the frontrunner for the Red Sox managerial position, but Brad Ausmus interviewed for the position on Monday. Who is the right man for the job? Tom Giles and Michael Holley discuss.

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

BOSTON – When Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics job in 2013, he knew what he was getting into.
 
Yes, the Celtics at that time were rebuilding which usually means years and years of slow but steady progress – if you’re lucky.
 
And then after maybe a few years of struggling to win games, a breakout season occurs and just like that – you’re back in the playoffs.

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 But here’s the thing with the Celtics.
 
While most rebuilding teams spend years working their way towards being competitive, Stevens hit the ground running and in just four years, he led the Celtics from being a 25-win team to one that was just three wins away from getting to the NBA Finals.
 
He has the kind of basketball resume that’s impressive on many levels.
 
But Stevens knows good isn’t good enough in this town.
 
“We’re here in Boston,” he said. “Winning is good, but hanging one of those (banners) up is what it’s all about. That’s what makes this such a special franchise.”
 
And for Stevens, a franchise where the expectations for success under his watch have never been greater than they are now.
 
Boston only returns one starter (Al Horford) from last year’s squad which advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after having won an East-best 53 games.
 
However, they added a pair of All-Stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to join Horford. In addition, they drafted Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
 
Boston also has a slimmed-down Marcus Smart (he lost 20 pounds from a year ago) as well Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who will both benefit from having another NBA season under their belts.
 
And while it’s a small sample size and consists of just two teams (Philadelphia and Charlotte), the Celtics breezed their way through the preseason with a flawless 4-0 record which included at least one game in which they did not play their usual starters which shows how impactful their depth may be this season.
 
That success can only help, especially with a challenging schedule that includes seven of their first 11 games being on the road. 
 
Still, the potential of this Celtics team has never been greater than it is right now since Stevens took over in 2013.
 
And just like the increased expectations of the team, the same can be said for Stevens who is considered one of the better coaches in the NBA.
 
Marcus Morris will begin his first season with the Celtics, but had a lot of respect for Stevens well before he was traded to Boston from Detroit this summer.
 
“You hear a lot of good things about him from other players,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “And once you get in here and start working with him and seeing what he does every day, you see what they’re talking about. He’s a good coach, man.”
 
This team’s success will hinge on how the players perform, but there’s an added element of pressure on Stevens to find the right combinations that will position the Celtics for success.
 
“We have a lot more guys who can do a lot more things on the court, so it will be a little more challenging for us to figure out how to best play with each other, and for Brad to figure out which combinations are the best ones,” Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “But we’ll figure it out. Brad’s a really good coach, a really smart coach. And on our team, we have a lot of players who are smart, high basketball I.Q. guys. We’ll be OK.”
 
Basketball smarts aside, the Celtics’ success will hinge heavily on how quickly they can bring a roster with 10 new players up to speed quickly.
 
It’s still early, but players like what they’ve seen from the collective body in terms of team chemistry.
 
“I think that’s the beauty of a lot of guys on the team,” said Gordon Hayward. “It’ll be different each night with some of the different roles we play.”
 
Which is why the Celtics, while lacking experience as a team because of so many new faces, are still seen as capable of winning because they have a number of players who can impact the game in many ways.
 
But as good as they are, it still comes back to Stevens doing a good job of putting them in the best positions to find success individually as well as for the Celtics team.
 
When you look at how time with Stevens jumpstarted Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder’s careers, or how it helped revitalize the career of Evan Turner, it’s obvious that he has the Midas touch when it comes to getting the most out of players.
 
For Boston to have the kind of success they believe they are due for, it’s going to take the contributions of many.
 
And even that might not be enough.
 
But having the path being bumpier than expected is something Stevens embraces.
 
“Here in this league,” he said, “you have to love challenges.”

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