New England Patriots Field Goal Finish: OTAs, Quarterbacks and Player #54

1. Any big news from today's Organized Team Activities?

Here are some highlights from today's OTAs:

Rap Sheet

QB coach Bill O’Brien was especially vocal today.

– LB Shawn Crable is interesting to watch. Big, strong and fast, the third-year project still looks awkward doing simple things like hitting a tackling dummy. But there’s so much talent…

– I wouldn’t be surprised if CB Devin McCourty sees serious playing time… At least in the nickel. He seems to be getting some good looks. And he batted down a ball in team drills.

– CB Darius Butler drew the biggest roar when he stepped in front of a Brady pass intended for Edelman. Essentially, he jumped the route and started taking it back. Butler also ran stride-for-stride with Tate, thwarting one long bomb attempt.

– Without McGowan (or maybe even with him), Patrick Chung appears primed for playing time. He was out there a lot. [S Brandon McGowan was absent from OTAs]

A couple more points I left out so you go check out his article!

I'm glad to hear that the front runner for the Offensive Coordinator, Bill O'Brien, was stepping up and being more vocal. This isn't the first time that O'Brien's appeared more vocal this off-season. Hopefully he can get his originality up to a reasonable level...

This isn't the only point about Crable: Outlook is not good so far.

The pair of McCourty and Butler should provide an excellent tandem for the next decade, or so. One thing I noticed out of all of these OTA updates: nary a mention of Jonathan Wilhite. Is this a good or a bad thing? In my opinion, if Wilhite gets bumped down to dimeback, after "filling" our #2 spot last season, I'll be very happy about our secondary depth.

Talking about the secondary, I was hoping that Chung would step up. Unprompted, fellow safety Brandon Meriweather talked about Chung's leadership. I'm loving this type of news. A sophomore being a leader? Excellent.

More OTA news and 2 additional points after the jump!

Mike Reiss


Aaron Hernandez among those not practicing. Not there: Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, guard Logan Mankins, Cornerback Leigh Bodden, safety Brandon McGowan, offensive tackle/guard Nick Kaczur, rookie receiver Taylor Price, and defensive linemen Kade Weston, Kyle Love and Ty Warren. (note: Price and Warren are at school, Love was working inside with the trainers)

Significant time spent on special teams. For all the talk about Bill Belichick working more with the defense, at one point in practice he spent an entire session with special teams players. Punt returners Julian Edelman, Buddy Farnham, Brandon Tate and Kevin Faulk had the tough task of catching punts with a football already in their grasp.

Tom Brady and being precise. One aspect that stood out from this practice was how precise Tom Brady wants his receivers to run routes. He talks to them throughout the practice. It’s a practice like this that crystallizes why Brady likes having David Patten on the field, as "Chief" always seems to be in the right place. Meanwhile, it’s a work in progress with second-year receiver Brandon Tate, who lined up opposite Randy Moss and Julian Edelman and is getting coached up quite a bit by Brady.

A chance to assess depth on the interior of the line.  Dan Connolly took the reps at left guard. George Bussey, a 2009 fifth-round draft choice, was the next man in. That might have been viewed as bad news for 2009 fourth-round draft choice Rich Ohrnberger, but it was later learned that Ohrnberger is limited as he recovers from an undisclosed ailment.

Big grouping here. Hard to leave any nugget of information out of the highlights. Seeing rookie 7th rounder Kade Weston missing another camp has me wondering about where he is- he doesn't appear to have an excuse like Taylor Price. I think McGowan needs to show up, unless he's okay with dropping to #4 on the safety depth chart.

Tate was the best punt returner, from what I've read. Glad to see he's making a niche on the team. Also, Farnham's going to have to be a special teams all star to make the roster.

Does this seem like Brady's "disconnected?" My foot. Brady's engaged as ever- he just wanted to see his sons. Tate seems primed to see plenty of field time this upcoming season, on both special teams and first team offense. Let's see his standing when rookie Taylor Price returns from school.

On the offensive line, there aren't very many surprises. Hopefully Ohrnberger shapes up and heals up to be the 4th guard in the depth chart (behind Mankins, Neal and Connolly (Kaczur?)). If not, and if Bussey actually is earning snaps over Ohrnberger, I wouldn't expect Ohrnberger to make it through to the season. With Vollmer, Light, Kaczur and LeVoir/Welch having the tackle position down, and with Mankins, Koppen, Neal and Connolly having the interior line under control, Ohrnberger MUST separate himself from the pack.

Boston Globe part 1 and part 2

* It cannot be a good early sign for Shawn Crable that he was with the scout-team defense when the first-team offense was going through run-game work -- especially since rookie Jermaine Cunningham was with the first- and second-string defensive players on the other field working with the scout offense.

* Thomas Williams once again took a couple of snaps at fullback before returning to his duties as a linebacker with the defense.

* Torry Holt seems to always be moving - when he was waiting for his turn in the rotation at one point, he was doing toe taps and quick hops back and forth over one of the yardage lines; at another point, he did a handstand. Similarly, Edelman tried some handstand pushups.

* With Leigh Bodden out today, rookie Devin McCourty spent some time with the starters. And lined up at left corner, where teams generally put their best corner. That meant Darius Butler was over at right corner, with Jonthan Wilhite in the slot. It could be that the Patriots want to get Butler reps on the right – He’s the leader to be the left corner opposite Bodden – since the dynamics of playing on that side are different, with the receivers you face and the fact that teams run that way more often generally. Or it could be that McCourty’s moving up the depth chart, earned those reaps and he’s got a shot to compete with Butler for that position.

I said that we had some news about Crable. It's generally accepted that this is Crable's last chance to make the roster, after spending the previous two seasons on the injured reserve. If generally unheralded Jermaine Cunningham is already playing with the top starters, while Crable's with the scout team, it doesn't look good for Crable. He needs to step up, or he's gone.

Just like the last updates, it seems like Williams is fighting to prove his spot on the roster. Don't count him out just yet.

I enjoy hearing things about Torry Holt and how well he appears to be meshing with the team. He is an absolutely different kind of veteran from Joey Galloway. Holt's taken on a mentorship and leadership role with the young players and, I hope, should stick around for this upcoming season.

In respect to Butler and McCourty, I think that the team was giving Butler reps on the right side of the field. I hope McCourty is pushing Butler for playing time, but I think that the absence of Bodden has allowed the team to temporarily shift all the players up a spot in the depth chart. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Bodden and McCourty get rotated at #2 corner, depending on the skill set of the opposing team's #2 receiver.

–Though he struggled catching passes last week, Fred Taylor didn’t appear to drop any on Monday.

–Bryan Anderson, a rookie free agent out of Central Michigan who seemed to struggle din rookie mini-camp, has looked much better in OTA work. For what it’s worth the 6-5, 215-pounder has shown much better hands over the last few weeks.

–Both Zoltan Mesko and David King struggled with their punting. King, the Australian rules guy who’s still learning the American game, seems to shank far more kicks than he hits squarely. Mesko, the fifth-round pick, is just really inconsistent. He alternates between nice bombs and mis-hit shanks. Both have a long ways to go if this competition is to heat up. Mesko once again worked the bulk of the holding duties for Stephen Gostkowski. Right now it’s a bit scary to think about either guy taking the snap in a crucial situation in an actual NFL game.

Glad to hear Taylor is shaking off the rust. I'm expecting him to be a large part of the committee, with Taylor splitting first and second down duties with Laurence Maroney. The sooner he gets his game under control, the better.

While Anderson only has an outside shot, and most likely as a pure receiver (I haven't heard that he can contribute on return teams, due to his impressive size), it's always good to find a diamond in the rough during OTAs. Perhaps Anderson can become this year's Terrance Nunn- and maybe Anderson will stick around on the practice squad.

Bad news with our punters. Mesko needs to prove that he's worth the draft pick we used on him. I hope the problems are due to nerves, and not skill. Mesko's taking over the holding duties, which means that King is on the outside looking in. Someone needs to step up.

2. Monday Rank'em: NFL Quarterbacks

  1. Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning was the regular season MVP. He's solid for around 16 games a season, not including the 2 games the Colts sit out after they've clinched a first round bye.
  2. New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees was the whole season MVP. He led a Super Bowl team to victory and, for his tremendous aerial display against the Patriots in 2009, he's the #2.
  3. New England Patriots: Tom Brady is still one of the best in the business. He'll be back with a vengeance this seaon.
  4. San Diego Chargers: Phillip Rivers is annoying and no one outside of San Diego likes him, but he can definitely throw the football with expert skill.
  5. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers has developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
  6. Houston Texans: Matt Schaub had fantastic regular season statistics, but was unable to push the Texans into the post-season.
  7. Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo used to be a joke...well, he still is, but at least he got the Cowboys a playoff win.
  8. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger may not have any fans anymore, but he's still one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
  9. New York Giants: Eli Manning is a baby and is tremendously overpaid, but he can throw the ball well enough, every once in a while.
  10. Washington Redskins: Donovan McNabb delivers the Redskins' their only top 10 ranking and he hasn't thrown the ball in a game.
  11. Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco is still young, he still makes mistakes, but he's learning and now that he has receiving weapons he should flourish.
  12. Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan is just like Flacco, except Ryan was injured last season and was unable to get into a real groove.
  13. Denver Broncos: Kyle Orton quietly put together an excellent football season.
  14. Oakland Raiders: Jason Campbell had a good season with the Redskins, except they're, well, the Redskins. Maybe Campbell will have better luck with the Rai- oh, nevermind.
  15. Cincinnati Bengals: Carson Palmer is extremely up and down. He could put together a masterpiece of a game, or he could be nonexistent.
  16. Minnesota Vikings: Brett Favre was one of the best quarterbacks in the league next year...but is he playing? Most likely yes, but how will his ankle surgery affect him? Until it's known that he'll play, the Vikings find themselves smack dab in the middle of the rankings.
  17. Kansas City Chiefs: Matt Cassel gains my fan bias, but I believe that a year behind a solid offensive line will prove doubters wrong.
  18. San Francisco 49ers: Alex Smith definitely took the long road, but he may yet prove not to be a complete bust.
  19. Miami Dolphins: Chad Henne suffered by not having a top flight receiver, but let's see how he does with Brandon Marshall.
  20. Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler is a mildly accurate gunslinger, but he has no one to throw to.
  21. New York Jets: Mark Sanchez put together a good managing job in the post-season, after a less than mediocre regular season.
  22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kevin Kolb needs to step up and prove that shipping away McNabb was the right choice- and with his past regular season snaps, I think he'll do well enough.
  23. Tennessee Titans: Vince Young is overrated as a quarterback, but he finds ways to win. I just am completely unimpressed with his quarterback skills.
  24. Carolina Panthers: Matt Moore closed out a tremendous season, after Jake Delhomme left the team in shambles; Moore still has to beat rookie Jimmy Clausen for the starting spot.
  25. Jacksonville Jaguars: David Garrard is less than average as a quarterback and has gained his fame by not turning the ball over (which is good), but he also doesn't risk the ball and rarely throws for a touchdown.
  26. Seattle Seahawks: Matt Hasselbeck will most likely start, but who knows how well he'll do? He's a mystery.
  27. Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford had an uneventful rookie season, but he needs to do better as a sophomore.
  28. Arizona Cardinals: Matt Leinart (a lot of Matt's are quarterbacks for some reason) hasn't been worth the 10th overall pick the Cardinals used on him and now has to beat Derek Anderson for the starting spot.
  29. St. Louis Rams: A.J. Feeley has been getting first team snaps, and he's been okay at the starting job, but I feel like Sam Bradford must get the starting job at some point.
  30. Buffalo Bills: Trent Edwards is looking to start for the Bills again, but that shouldn't strike fear into anyone outside of high school football- where Edwards belongs.
  31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman was no better than Stafford or Sanchez, but I feel like the other two players have been in better situations to develop.
  32. Cleveland Browns: Jake Delhomme is their projected #1 quarterback. Hah.

3. Player #54

I'm going to do my best to countdown a list of players I think will end up making the final 53 man roster. Why is there Player #54? I'm still including Wes Welker, even though I believe he'll be on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start the season.

54. C Ted Larsen

Ted Larsen was the Patriots' 6th round pick and, I believe, is the hopeful player to replace Dan Koppen down the road. I don't expect Larsen to play this year, or even make the active game-day roster, but I do think he'll make the active player roster. Koppen didn't allow a sack this past season, according to Pro Football Focus, but he allowed a number of players to hit Brady, or get near to Brady. Compared to 2007, Koppen (who gave up 0 sacks that year as well) nearly doubled the QB pressure allowed as well as nearly tripled the number of QB hits. Unless Koppen can go back to his 2007 numbers, he may be on his last legs with the Patriots.

Larsen clearly has skill as a center, but his rawness (he was a defensive tackle up until his junior year of college) caused teams to pass over him. He will be able to learn from offensive line coach Dante Scarneccia as well as current center Dan Koppen. If an injury should befall Koppen, look for utility man Dan Connolly to step into center, but Larsen should provide additional insurance.

I believe Larsen will make the roster due to his position specialty (he's a pure center) and because he's a young player in an uncrowded position. If a game is a blowout, and Larsen was activated for that day, he could be able to see some playing time. Some other players who were on my bubble would have been behind other players who would be looking at additional playing time- I didn't see a way for them ever to play.

Hopefully Larsen learns the professional game quickly and becomes a star player down the road.

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