Patriots

Harrison makes good first impression on Patriots

Harrison makes good first impression on Patriots

FOXBORO -- James Harrison was certain he had more football left in his aging but powerful body. The Steelers thought otherwise, letting the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year rot on the bench or sending him home, inactive week after week. 

The Patriots were the only team to offer Harrison a contract after he cleared waivers last week and were almost immediately rewarded Sunday, just a handful of days after the edge setter arrived. 

"I don't really listen for what people say I can do," said Harrison. "I listen for what they say I can't do. I want to prove them wrong. I want to show them I'm able to still do it."

PATRIOTS 26, JETS 6

Admittedly, Harrison can't do it like he used to. The man is 39, after all. But he did enough Sunday to make you think he can help the Pats when the playoffs roll around in two weeks.

Harrison played 28 of 57 possible defensive snaps, setting the edge, dropping into coverage when needed and then finishing with a flourish, recording a pair of sacks. 

"He worked really hard to get things down and to handle the roles that he was in today," said Bill Belichick of Harrison. "Very professional, has a lot of experience, but not in this system so he had to do a lot of things to try to acclimate himself to what we do, and terminology, and adjustments and so forth. He really worked hard on that. He got better every day. You could see that through the course of the week. Sometimes it piles up and the load just becomes -- there's a diminishing return effect. In his case, I would say that wasn't the case."

Harrison has been used to playing essentially one way for the better part of his 16-year career. His brief immersion into the Patriots' way of playing defense was a shock to the system and Harrison doesn't feel as comfortable as Belichick tried to make it sound.

"I'm not acclimated," he said, cutting off a questioner. "I was getting a lot of help. The guys that were out there that have been here were helping me out."

It's been odd for Patriot players to grow accustom to having Harrison as a teammate. In his previous lives with the Steelers and even the Bengals, Harrison made his dislike of the Patriots known whenever he had the opportunity. And it wasn't the run-of-the-mill, "I hate them because we're rivals." No, it went to a different level, invoking "Spygate" and more. 

"It's certainly different," admitted Matthew Slater. "Hard-nosed guy. Great competitor. But it's easier seeing him wear 92 for us than someone else."

Lawrence Guy also had to stare at Harrison from the opposing sideline for a few seasons in Baltimore. Again, those two teams don't like each other, but for different reasons. I asked Guy about those days, saying I couldn't imagine Harrison was well-liked by the Ravens.

"I plead the Fifth," smiled Guy.

As for how Guy feels now, "He's a great dude. An awesome teammate."

Laughter ensued, but you get the point. This is unusual because of the player, not the circumstance, which -- as Harrison reminds us -- happens all the time in any line of work.

"it's like you going to report for a different news channel or paper," he said. "This is no different."

Harrison will have an some extra time to prepare for the Pats' next game. They've got the first-round bye. That means plenty of time to study and learn this defense. But in the not-to-distant future, Harrison has something else in mind.

"My focus right now . . . it's Sunday, right," he asked. "That means tomorrow is Monday. Monday is leg day."

And to Harrison, probably another opportunity to prove those that doubted him they were wrong.

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Georgia the new Rutgers? Contingent of Bulldogs growing in New England

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AP Photo

Georgia the new Rutgers? Contingent of Bulldogs growing in New England

FOXBORO -- David Andrews was excited. He just had a hard time showing it.

The Patriots center stayed up long enough to see his team pick at No. 23 in the first round of the NFL Draft, long enough to see his Georgia teammate Isaiah Wynn have his name called.

But the Thursday night prime time event isn't for everyone, and so Andrews wasn't fully conscious by the time the Patriots picked a second Bulldog, Sony Michel, at No. 31.

"I was in bed. My wife stayed up and watched it," Andrews said last week. "I was in bed and I saw Isaiah get drafted, and then I passed out. She came busting in th'.;e room about Sony getting drafted, and at that point, I really didn’t care. I was just trying to get to sleep, but . . . No, I was very happy for them. It was awesome to talk to them. They were here the next day. I didn’t really get to see them, but it’s good to see them around, see some familiar faces"

Suddenly, with five Georgia players on the roster -- Andrews, Wynn, Michel, Malcolm Mitchell and undrafted free agent John Atkins -- they now make up one of the largest contingents of players from one school in Bill Belichick's locker room.

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Iowa is right there with Georgia at five players (Aidrian Clayborn, Cole Croston, James Ferentz, Riley McCarron, Matt Tobin). Vanderbilt is next on the list with four (Adam Butler, Andrew Jelks, Jordan Matthews, Ralph Webb), even with Rutgers (Devin and Jason McCourty, Duron Harmon, Kenny Britt). Arkansas follows closely behind with three (Trey Flowers, Dietrich Wise, Cody Hollister).

If you look at the coaches involved in helping certain groups of players develop, the Patriots connections become even a little more clear.

At Iowa, it's Kirk Ferentz, who served as a Belichick assistant in Cleveland back in the 90s. At Vanderbilt, Belichick thinks highly enough of Derek Mason that he gave Mason and the Vandy coaching staff a behind-the-scenes look at spring workouts in New England last year. At Rutgers, Belichick's relationship with former Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano has been well-documented.

Then there are the coaches who've bounced around a bit and impacted multiple players on the Patriots roster at different spots.

Bret Bielema, who's been helping the Patriots this offseason (and was spotted with Belichick at The Preakness this weekend), coached all three Arkansas products as well as James White during his time at Wisconsin. Bo Pellini has coached three Patriots (Vincent Valentine and Rex Burkhead at Nebraska, Derek Rivers at Youngstown State).

Then there's that Georgia connection. Kirby Smart coached all three Bulldog rookies as well as the two Alabama products on the Patriots roster (Dont'a Hightower, Cyrus Jones) when Smart was coaching defense for the Crimson Tide. Former Georgia coach and current Miami sideline boss Mark Richt recruited all five Georgia players currently on the Patriots roster, and he coached both Miami rookies now in New England (Braxton Berrios, Trent Harris).

Asked why Belichick and the Patriots front office would be so interested in acquiring so many players from the same school, Andrews replied, "That’s a psychology question. Man, I don’t know . . .  

"You know, no, I don’t think there’s really like one thing. I think those are some great guys. They all work really hard. They’ve been great teammates to me, so that’s something you can always respect, and it’s guys like that you love having in your locker room and playing with.

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No matter how you look at it, the Georgia connection in New England is as strong as ever.

"Georgia the new Rutgers? Oh, I’m going to have to talk to Dev and Du about that and all those guys," Andrews said with a smile. "We might be now. We’ll have to see."

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Johnny Manziel signing with Hamilton of the CFL

Johnny Manziel signing with Hamilton of the CFL

Johnny Manziel won't be in the Patriots' plans at quarterback anytime soon.

The former Browns QB, Heisman winner in 2012 and first-round pick in 2014 announced on Saturday morning that he had decided to sign a contract to play in the CFL in order to "further my football career after a long break."

"I believe this is the best opportunity for me moving forward and I'm eager for what the future holds," Manziel tweeted. 

Manziel also announced that he'll be co-hosting the "Comeback Szn" podcast for Barstool Sports alongside his agent Erik Burkhardt and our buddy, former "Boston Sports Tonight" and "Football Fix" co-host, Kayce Smith.

"It's just a really good fit," Burkhardt said on "Comeback Szn." "Good offense. It's a really good league. It's been around forever, we vetted it well, and at the end of the day, like Johnny said, he wants to play ball."

Manziel, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems, has battled bipolar disorder. He will play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats under head coach June Jones, who has also coached in the NCAA and NFL ranks. Jones served as offensive coordinator of the Falcons (1991-93) before becoming their head coach (1994-96). He was also quarterbacks coach and interim head coach for the Chargers in 1998 before heading to the college ranks. Jones coached at Hawaii then at SMU, where he was the first person to offer Manziel a college scholarship. 

CFL rookie contracts are for two years, meaning the Tiger-Cats will have his rights through the end of the 2019 CFL season. 

Earlier this year, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie reiterated the league's stance that they're not in the business of letting players break their contracts to pursue NFL opportunities.

The Patriots took a look at him this spring, but even if they had interest, the possibility of which we discussed on Quick Slants the Podcast last month, any marriage will have to wait. 

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