It's that time of the year again when football starts to take precedence over all other sports and jobs and responsibilities- not that it's a bad thing. The new deal means that teams are allowed to pick-up players and NEPatriotsDraft.com has been doing a stellar job with the updates, not just concerning the Patriots, but the entire league. Bravo, sir.
The Patriots hadn't been twiddling their thumbs in the "down time" and were ready to pounce once the starting flag was drawn. They were ready to sign players (like Logan Mankins), cut players (Later Tully Banta-Cain), and start delving into the undrafted free agent waters.
It's clear that the Patriots went into this period of time with a mission and they've signed players to three key roles:
1. Offensive Line
2. Outside Linebacker
3. Special Teams
Let's look at all the players and where the can fit on the defense.
1. Offensive Line
Players signed: Mike Berry (OL, Auburn), Kyle Hix (OT, Texas), Corey Woods (OT, Akron), Will Yeatman (TE/OT, Maryland)
Berry looks to be a challenger for the Right Guard spot. He's able to sustain blocks well and can open lanes. However, he won't blow defenders away with his strength so he'll have to work for a year with an NFL strength and conditioning before he's ready to handle professionals. He has the added benefit of being a potential center, but he won't stop the team from looking in other directions for a solution.
Hix is definitely a tackle and can play both the Left and Right side. He has two years of starting experience on the Right, and one year on the Left. He was a three+ year starter at Texas because he started seeing the field at the end of his freshman season. His value dropped because he was injured at the end of the season, but could have been a late round pick. He is a strong player with great size and run blocking ability. He seems to have the characteristics of a strong right tackle and should be able to step in and compete for a back-up job.
Woods has the size of a guard and could be the Nick Kaczur-like swing player. He's not particularly dominant, but has plenty of experience with two years at Right Tackle and two years at Left Tackle. He may not currently be in the same class as Solder, or even Hix, but Woods could develop into a solid utility lineman. However, like Berry, he'll need a year of growth before contributing.
Yeatman is an interesting story. He started out at Notre Dame, but underage drinking hurt his chances and he eventually transferred to Maryland. He has the athleticism to play lacrosse, yet was used most as a blocker. He will compete with Lee Smith for the 4th blocking tight end role and for a chance to learn from Alge Crumpler. However, if Smith beats Yeatman out, Yeatman still has a chance to sign on as a potential Tackle prospect since the Patriots enjoy transforming tight ends into tackles.
Thoughts: Out of the four, Hix certainly seems to have the advantage in my eyes and looks to be the prime candidate who could make the roster. Don't be surprised if any of the other three end up as projects on the practice squad.
2. Outside Linebacker
Players signed: Ryan Coulson (DE, Nevada), Clay Nurse (DE, Illinois), Alex Silvestro (DE, Rutgers)
Coulson is a 6'3, 255 lbs defensive end who can run a 4.7. He is a former linebacker who is a strong tackler. He's definitely a project, but he's no further behind the learning curve than Markell Carter, the Patriots' late round draft pick. Coulson should be able to compete and has the size to contribute on special teams as he learns his position. He has a lot of upside and should be fun to watch this summer.
Nurse is a foreigner from Guyana and just started playing football when he turned 15. Unlike Coulson, Nurse is meant to be a backfield pain-bringer. He had sporadic explosions of production, posting a four sack game as a junior in '09 and a three sack game this past season. Nurse has an explosive first step and should be honed into a true pass rusher under Bill Belichick. However, I believe that, as a rookie, Nurse will be limited to an "Eric Moore" type role as a pure pass rusher- and there's nothing wrong with that.
Silvestro is Belichick's pet from Rutgers. He's 6'3, 260 lbs and ran a 4.8 in the 40. He is a hard worker, a solid athlete, and a steady contributor. I'm willing to dub Silvestro as "Cunningham from Jersey". Hopefully Silvestro will have a chance to show his ability this summer because he does seem to have the makings of a solid outside linebacker in the mold of Jermaine Cunningham.
Thoughts: All three players are extremely intriguing and they all bring different skills to the table. Coulson should compete with Rob Ninkovich and Markell Carter for the faster/coverage outside linebacker. Nurse will battle with Eric Moore as the heavy pass rusher and 3-4 sub-package defensive end. Silvestro could mirror Jermaine Cunningham's style of play and become a valuable member of the defense.
3. Special Teams
Players signed: Jeremy Ross (WR/KR, Cal) Jeff Tarpinian (LB, Iowa)
Ross will not only compete with Matthew Slater on special teams, but could even push Brandon Tate as the deep threat and kick returner. Ross' name is next to "DeSean Jackson" in the California record books for his return game and he should fight for a roster spot. Ross put on a show during his Pro Day by exhibiting his impressive athleticism.
Tarpinian is on the smaller side for a Patriots 3-4 ILB. However, he has the tenacity to be an excellent special teams player. He was hampered by injuries in college, but due to fellow-injured-Iowan Pat Angerer's success with the Colts, Tarpinian could still shine. He's a smart player who has a powerful skill set, but he needs to grow and stay healthy in order to have an impact on defense. As of now, Tarpinian is prime to be a special teams ace with defensive starter upside.
Thoughts: I really like Tarpinian as a prospect and I wouldn't be surprised if Ross supplanted Slater on the roster. Ross has more upside than Slater in the return game and Slater isn't irreplaceable in the return defense game. Look for Tarpinian and Ross to both make the roster as special teams players and look for Tarpinian to push for back-up ILB time once he bulks up.
I'm pretty excited with these UDFAs and this is just the beginning. I believe players like Hix and Tarpinian have a high chance of making the roster and could even become top back-ups in the mold of Dane Fletcher. There's a lot of upside in all of these players and it's clear that the Patriots are trying to flesh out their weak points in order to find a diamond in the rough.
Congratulations to these new prospects in the Patriots' farm and let's hope they put on an impressive show this summer!