Nate Ebner Stepping into Hybrid Linebacker Role for Patriots

September 17th, 2014
Nate Ebner worked next to linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower on Sunday. (NFL Game Rewind)

A core special-teamer, Nate Ebner got to work next to linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower on Sunday against the Vikings. (NFL Game Rewind)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

There were no expectations for Nate Ebner when the New England Patriots selected him at pick No. 197 overall in the 2012 NFL draft.

The youngest ever national sevens rugby player turned Ohio State football walk-on was still learning the game, having never played a down at Hilliard Davidson High School just 20 minutes away. But it didn’t take long for the 6’0”, 210-pound Ebner to find his purpose in Foxborough, the same way he did on his way to becoming a team captain and Bo-Rein Award recipient in Columbus.

By being a core special-teamer.

Ebner went on to play 15 games as a Patriots rookie in 2012, registering 12 tackles as a big-four player. And in 2013, he registered another nine tackles to go with two fumble recoveries. Yet, heading into his third season in New England, the 25-year-old had played a total of 41 snaps on the defensive side of the ball, according to Pro Football Focus. Just five transpired over the season prior.

It remained to be seen how, or where, he would play another. With former Patriots draft choices Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson and Duron Harmon all filtering in next to free safety Devin McCourty, options abound. But, even as cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan spelled on the back end of the secondary, Ebner ultimately remained in the fold to do the same.

That was evidenced last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Ebner played 14 snaps on defense over the course of New England’s 30-7 win. Yet on 11 of those snaps, he was the third safety on the field. And he was, in a sense, not a safety at all.

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On the Edge: Tracking the Alignment of Patriots Pass-Rusher Chandler Jones vs. Vikings

September 16th, 2014
Chandler Jones merged over to the edge of the Patriots defensive line on Sunday. It made a difference. (Bruce Kluckhohn - USA Today Sports Images)

After playing primarily 3-4 defensive end in Week 1, Chandler Jones merged to the edge of the Patriots defensive line on Sunday. (Bruce Kluckhohn – USA Today Sports Images)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

Chandler Jones will play anywhere. But when the New England Patriots defense brought down quarterback Matt Cassel and the Minnesota Vikings offense Sunday, the 6’5”, 265-pounder’s versatility took a back seat to his innate ability.

He was put in position to get the most out of it.

A week after lining up primarily as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 front, Jones kicked out and stood up over the course of his 61 official snaps. And instead of occupying blocks for New England’s outside linebackers to slice through, the third-year pro received the green light to do so himself.

His length and quickness saw him to arc around offensive tackles. His strength and hand use saw him overpower tight ends.

Eight tackles and two sacks were the byproduct. It started early on. Read the rest of this entry »


Scouting Report: Leonard Williams, DE/DT USC vs. #13 Stanford

September 14th, 2014

NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken

I try to avoid reading about or watching highlights of a player that I am going to be scouting so that I can form my own opinion. When I turned on the tape of the USC vs. Stanford game and saw that Leonard Williams was dealing with a high ankle sprain and may not play, I thought I was going to have to go to plan B.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know what plan B was.  I continued to watch and was relieved to see him out there on the 1st play.

When Williams was flat on the ground and struggling to get up by play 3, I was once again thinking about my nonexistent plan B. I decided that I needed to break my rule and  look to see if I could find a snap count for Williams in the game. The first headline to pop up said something along the lines of “Williams dominant despite injury.” I knew then that I was in for a treat.

Here are my observations from the game.

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2015 NFL Draft: The Turf Report Week #2

September 12th, 2014
Javorius Allen busting off a run last Saturday in front Cardinal's sideline.

USC Trojan’s RB Javorius Allen runs past the Stanford Cardinal sideline during third quarter action of Saturday’s game. (Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports)

NEPD Staff Writer: Ken Vetrano

Javorius Allen, USC (6’1” 220lbs) vs. Stanford

This was a huge win for the Trojans that should send their trajectory skyward for 2014. Allen ran for a career high 154 yards, and set the tone for USC’s offense against a stout Cardinal defensive line. He showed his athleticism and displayed an impressive set of wheels busting off a 50 yard run down field. Going forward, Allen’s opportunities to impress should only increase as Sarkisian continues to make his role a robust part of Trojan game plans.

Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn (5’10” 210lbs) vs. San Jose State

Payne is already off to a tremendous start for his sophomore year, running for almost 290 yards in his first two games. Although a victory over San Jose St. won’t turn voter’s heads, Payne’s performance was no less impressive as he ripped off three touchdowns this past weekend. The rushing attack that  quarterback Nick Marshall and Payne offer Auburn is a potent combination that will leave defenses grasping for oxygen this year.

David Cobb, Minnesota (5’11” 229lbs) vs. Middle Tennessee

Similar to Payne, the opposition might not have been impressive, but anytime you rack up 200+ yards people are going to take notice. A week after only seeing 14 touches versus Eastern Illinois, Cobb was clearly ready to shoulder the load. Heading into his senior year, a leaner, faster Cobb aimed to become more explosive out of the backfield. If this performance was any indication of what’s ahead for him, then Big Ten foes better be prepared.

Week #2 Player to Watch: Mike Davis, South Carolina (5’9” 223lbs) vs. Georgia

What makes Davis such an offensive threat is his versatility and effectiveness in the passing game. Davis is a natural mismatch for any linebacker, and knows how to create space even when catching the ball in crowded areas. He didn’t get much of a chance to contribute in the Gamecock’s passing game during week one, but we got a glimpse of his receiving talents against East Caroline last Saturday, catching the ball 3 times for 28 yards. On top of that he rushed for 118 yards. Many eyes will be on Todd Gurley this coming Saturday, and rightfully so, he’s a beast. But my attention will be focused on the mismatches Spurrier schemes utilizing Davis.


Saturday Slate: Week 3 Matchups to Watch in College Football

September 11th, 2014

NEPD Staff Writer: CJ Sousa

The cupcakes will start going away soon, I promise. For a college football weekend that didn’t provide numerous big time match-ups, Week 2 certainly surpassed expectations.

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Without the Football: Exploring the Presence of Patriots Halfback Shane Vereen

September 11th, 2014
In a 33-20 defeat, Shane Vereen left an impact on the Dolphins defense. (Steve Mitchell - USA Today Sports Images)

In Sunday’s 33-20 loss, Shane Vereen left an imprint on the Dolphins defense. His seven carries and five catches were only part of why. (Steve Mitchell – USA Today Sports Images)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

There’s something to be said for dictating an opponent’s movements. Shane Vereen’s utilization has helped him do so.

That was on display Sunday, as the New England Patriots opened up the 2014 season against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. The 5’10”, 205-pound running back caught five passes for 35 yards, and he handled seven carries for 36 yards and a goal-line touchdown as well.

But Vereen’s impact in a 33-20 defeat was about more than what he did with the football. Over his 53 snaps, it was often about what he did without it.

Force adjustments. Read the rest of this entry »


No Gronk, No Chance

September 10th, 2014

NEPD Staff Writer: Jason Cappell 

Opening week was a rough start for the New England Patriots. They have no excuses. Miami simply outplayed New England and deservedly earned the win. The Patriots failed to execute both offensively and defensively, but if there is anything positive to take away from their crushing loss, it was the impactful return of Rob Gronkowski.

Plain and simple Gronk is a catalyst for the Patriots offense. With a substantially improved defense, the Patriots once again entered the season with a “Super Bowl or bust” attitude. But without a healthy Gronk come January, they don’t stand much of a chance.

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