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Watch List: Seven players for Patriots fans to keep an eye on at combine

Tight end Jace Amaro led the Texas Tech offense in 2013. (AP)

Tight end Jace Amaro led the Texas Tech offense in 2013. (AP)

With the combine just around the corner — and keeping in mind the Patriots needs this offseason, as well as their overall draft location — here are seven players we’ll be watching when we get to Indy in just under two weeks.

Tight end Jace Amaro, Texas Tech:
Amaro is a pass-catching tight end who has already been linked to the Patriots in the first wave of mock drafts. As a junior in 2013, the 6-foot-5, 260-pounder broke the NCAA all-time record for receiving yards in a season by a tight end with 1,352. Expected to be a first rounder, and someone who could help replace some of the impact in the passing game that was lost between the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Tight end Eric Ebron, North Carolina:
Another pass-catching tight end (sensing a trend here?) this 6-foot-4, 245-pounder has some positional flexibility, and his game is probably closer to Jimmy Graham than Rob Gronkowski. He finished the 2013 season with 62 catches for 973 yards and three touchdowns — much of his production came when he was split wide. Expected to be a first rounder.

Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa:
A bigger, bulkier body who made his bones at Iowa — playing for former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz — the 6-foot-6, 262-pounder projects as a second-day pick. He had 30 catches for 299 yards and six touchdowns in 2013 with the Hawkeyes, and is known just as much for his blocking skills as his work in the passing game.

Offensive lineman Zack Martin, Notre Dame:
A 6-foot-4, 308-pounder, he played tackle as a collegian, but lined up at both guard and tackle during Senior Bowl week, and apparently wowed everyone in attendance. The occasionally nasty Martin — who has drawn plenty of comparisons to Logan Mankins in technique, playing style and overall attitude — could eventually find his way into the first round.

Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota:
The 6-foot-6, 318-pounder has tremendous positional versatility — he’s played nose tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end — and has done very well wherever he’s ended up playing. Hageman had 34 tackles last season, including 11 for losses, as well as one interception, and eight pass deflections. Like Martin, Hageman could find his way into the first round by the time May rolls around.

Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska:
Call it the Richard Sherman Effect: if teams are going to be looking for the next great long-limbed corner in an attempt to copy the Seahawks blueprint for success, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jean-Baptiste could be the guy. The Nebraska product had four picks as a senior, but could ultimately find himself at safety in the NFL because of his size. Right now, many have him as a second-day pick.

Defensive lineman Louis Nix III, Notre Dame:
The 6-foot-2, 342-pound Nix has played multiple spots on the Notre Dame defensive front, and that level of versatility and size has certainly drawn the attention of the Patriots, who would love to find the heir apparent to Vince Wilfork sooner rather than later. It appears that he’s a late first-round possibility at this point.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Mike Lombardi out as Browns GM in front-office shakeup

Michael Lombardi

Michael Lombardi

One year after being hired as Browns general manager, Mike Lombardi was replaced by assistant GM Ray Farmer as part of an overhaul of the team’s front office announced Tuesday.

The team said CEO Joe Banner will step down in the next couple of months. Banner was hired in 2012 after Jimmy Haslam won approval from the league to purchase the team.

“First of all, we wanted to capitalize on the knowledge, experience and character we’re fortunate to have in Ray Farmer,” Haslam said in a statement. “Ray has a tremendous football IQ, he’s compelling, and he understands the types of players we need to acquire and develop in order to win in Cleveland. He embraces his partnership with Mike Pettine, which is critical in helping build the right team. Ray will provide excellent leadership in our front office.”

Added Haslam: “We’re also grateful for Mike Lombardi’s efforts and commitment since rejoining our organization. He is an experienced and creative NFL executive with a unique ability to see the big picture. He has tremendous instincts and I know he’ll be a valuable addition to any NFL organization. We simply wanted to give Ray this opportunity that he’s earned. We wanted to move forward under his leadership and capabilities.”

The Browns last month hired Mike Pettine as coach following the firing of Rob Chudzinski after one season.

“The purpose of these moves is to unify our team with one, unequivocal goal: Provide our fans with the winning organization they have long deserved,” Haslam said in a statement.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

Bill Belichick visits a Cold Stone Creamery

In the latest example that we have truly reached the NFL offseason, here’s Bill Belichick standing in line at a Cold Stone Creamery. (Picture via the Twitter account of @court_hanlon77.)

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Players offer mixed reaction to Michael Sam announcement

Would Michael Sam be a fit with the Patriots? (AP)

Michael Sam (AP)

Just over a day after NFL draft prospect Michael Sam announced that he is gay, individuals affiliated with the NFL have shown polarizing views over whether or not the league is ready for a gay athlete.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam said in an interview with The New York Times. “I just want to own my truth.”

In New England, both Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick came out in support of Sam, who would be the first openly gay athlete in any of the four major sports if he is drafted.

They’€™re words went along with horde of current and former NFL players who stood by Sam, including former Patriots receiver Donte’ Stallworth.

On Sunday evening, Herm Edwards asked during an ESPN interview, “Can the players handle the media attention they are going to get when they get the question asked, ‘€˜Are you OK with a gay teammate?’ €™” Stallworth responded with 20 tweets arguing that NFL players were already losers if they could not handle the media coverage of drafting Sam.

 

 

Not every reaction was positive, though, as one club official said in an interview with Peter King that it would depend on the team’€™s leadership.

“A team with strong leadership at coach and in the locker room, like New England, I would imagine, would be OK,” a scout said. “I could see Belichick say, ‘This is the way it is. There’€™s no story.’€™ And guys would just accept him. There’€™d be no choice. But without that strong leadership, I could see it being divisive, and I could see a team saying, ‘€˜We don’€™t need this.’ €™”

One GM also told King that a team would not even select Sam, who was projected as being picked in the middle rounds of the 2014 draft.

“We talked about it this week,” the GM said. “First of all, we don’€™t think he’s a very good player. The reality is he’€™s an overrated football player in our estimation. Second, he’€™s going to have expectations about where he should be drafted, and I think he’ll be disappointed. He’s not going to get drafted where he thinks he should.

“The question you will ask yourself, knowing your team, is, ‘€˜How will drafting him affect your locker room?’€™ And I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time, I think it’s going to affect most locker rooms. A lot of guys will be uncomfortable. Ten years from now, fine. But today, I think being openly gay is a factor in the locker room.”

King offered both the scout and the GM anonymity in order to get honest reaction to the topic.

Some former and current players did not use that same amount of anonymity as they said on Twitter that they were against having a gay player in the NFL. According to the New York Daily News, Giants defensive back Charles James tweeted his opinion before eventually deleting his comments.

James said on Twitter: 1.) your business is your business I don’t care! 2.) When did this become a heroic act? 3.) I’m pissed because I can’t even watch ESPN

Former Cowboys and Chargers receiver Patrick Crayton also voiced his opinion, saying over the course of multiple tweets: Oh wow!!! There goes the NFL! … Stay in the closet and keep … To urself!!!

Crayton went on to defend his previous tweets:

 

 

 

 

While Crayton and other executives may think that this issue will remain a topic in the NFL for several more years,  the league released a statement Sunday evening showing support for Sam.

“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

Blog Author: 
Meredith Perri

Video: BC’s Dennis Clifford hits full-court trick shot

Boston College junior Dennis Clifford is done for the season due to knee and ankle issues, but that hasn’t stopped the 7-footer from Bridgewater from showing up at the gym with his teammates.

During a recent practice, Clifford fired a ball from the baseline directly into the net at the other end of the court, and it was caught on video.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

Tuesday’s Morning Mashup: Derek Jeter says Yankees want to ‘move on’ from Alex Rodriguez controversy

Welcome to Tuesday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

TUESDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS:
NBA: Kings at Cavaliers, 7 p.m. (NBATV)
NBA: Thunder at Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. (NBATV)
College basketball: Florida at Tennessee, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
College basketball: Oklahoma State at Texas, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
College basketball: Wake Forest at N.C. State, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
College basketball: Marquette at Seton Hall, 7 p.m. (FS1)
College basketball: Michigan at Ohio State, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
College basketball: Mississippi at Alabama, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
College basketball: Xavier at Butler, 9 p.m. (FS1)
College basketball: Utah State at Colorado State, 9:15 p.m. (CBSSN)
College basketball: San Diego State at Wyoming, 11 p.m. (ESPNU)
Soccer: Premier League, Chelsea at West Bromwich, 2:55 p.m. (NBCSN)
Olympics: Men’s, women’s cross-country, 6 a.m. (NBCSN)
Olympics: Figure skating, 10 a.m. (NBCSN)
Olympics: Women’s ski jumping, women’s speedskating, 1:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Olympics: Men’s, women’s cross-country, women’s luge, women’s freestyle skiing, 3 p.m. (NBC)
Olympics: Women’s curling, United States vs. Britain, 5 p.m. (CNBC)
Olympics: Men’s snowboarding, figure skating, women’s freestyle skiing, women’s ski jumping, 8 p.m. (NBC)
Olympics: Women’s speedskating, women’s biathlon, 12:05 a.m. (NBC)
Olympics: Women’s hockey, Switzerland vs. Finland, 3 a.m. (MSNBC)

AROUND THE WEB:

Derek Jeter is at the Yankees‘ spring training complex in Tampa, Fla., and Alex Rodriguez is not. The questions about the suspended slugger persist, but the captain made it clear that the team wants to move on from the controversy.

“For us, we don’t have to deal with it,” Jeter said Monday. “It’s over and done with. He’s not going to be here this year, so you have to find ways to get it done. ‘€¦ It is what it is. He’s not here for this season, so we’re going to have to find ways to win with the team we have.”

Jeter said he exchanged texts with Rodriguez after A-Rod dropped his lawsuit against Major League Baseball and the players union and accepted his suspension, but he offered no insight regarding the third baseman’s frame of mind.

“It’s not my job to answer for him,” Jeter said. “I can’t tell you what he’s thinking. You’ve got to ask him.”

Added Jeter: “For us, look, we show up and we do our job. The situation that he’s in is a situation that affects him. You have to ask him how he feels about it, if he’s glad that it’s over with. But it’s not something that’s weighing on our mind when we’re playing games. It’s a situation that he has to deal with. Now it’s over and it’s done with and we move on from there.”

– Angels first baseman Albert Pujols dropped his defamation lawsuit against Jack Clark on Monday after he received an apology and retraction from the former Red Sox slugger.

Clark, during an appearance last summer on his since-canceled St. Louis sports talk show, claimed he had information that a trainer had given Pujols performance-enhancing drugs.

“I would like to address Albert Pujols’ pending defamation lawsuit and re-confirm that I have no knowledge whatsoever that Mr. Pujols has ever used illegal or banned PEDs,” Clark said in a statement. “I publicly retract my statements that Albert Pujols used such substances. During a heated discussion on air, I misspoke and for that I sincerely apologize.”

Said Pujols in a statement Monday: “I have accepted Jack Clark’s retraction and apology to resolve my lawsuit against him and clear my name.”

– The fight over the Redskins nickname heated up again when two politicians wrote a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell pushing for the league to change the name. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) hinted that the league’s anti-trust exemption could be in jeopardy if the nickname persists.

The Redskins responded with a statement saying: “Don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name?”

According to The Washington Post, D.C-area lawmakers support a name change but don’t appear ready to support congressional action to force one.

“I think it would be wise and appropriate for Dan Snyder to consider changing the name,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement. “I hope there will continue to be conversations that lead to resolution on this issue.”

Oneida Indian Nation spokesman Ray Halbritter has less patience. In a statement Monday, he said: “The NFL is a publicly subsidized $9 billion-a-year brand with global reach, and it is using this public resources and that brand to promote a dictionary-defined racial slur.”

ON THIS DAY TRIVIA (answer below): On Feb. 11, 1973, which 35-year-old rookie goalie recorded his first NHL shutout in the Bruins’ 2-0 victory over the visiting Kings?

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We’re about winning. And anyone who can come in here and help us win, I personally don’t care what their ethnic background is, their racial background, the gender preference. If they can help us win, and they’re about team first, then I’m happy to have him here.” – Patriots owner Robert Kraft, on the possibility of the team drafting Missouri’s Michael Sam, who announced Sunday that he is gay

STAT OF THE DAY: 88 – Combined points by which the 76ers lost their last two games, with Monday’s 123-80 loss to the Warriors following Sunday’s 123-76 setback vs. the Clippers

‘NET RESULTS (mobile users, check the website to see the videos): LeBron James puts on a dunking exhibition after a Heat practice.

ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe climbs up on the scorer’s table to get an interview with celebrating Kansas State players following their upset of Kansas.

From a soccer game in Italy, a goal-scorer takes his celebration too far, head-butting a hole in the side of the dugout, and is ejected from the game.

TRIVIA ANSWER: Ross Brooks

SOOTHING SOUNDS: Bobby “Boris” Pickett, who died in 2007, was born on this day in 1938 in Somerville.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

Nine New England prospects invited to NFL combine

With the combine fast approaching — one of our favorite offseason events on the NFL calendar — the NFL released the complete list of invitees. Mixed in with the group of the must-see national prospects like Johnny Manziel are plenty of New England prospects. Here are the nine local players who were invited to Indy for the proceedings later this month:

Boston College: running back Andre Williams, offensive linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, offensive tackle Matt Patchan, defensive end Kasim Edebali, defensive end Kaleb Ramsey.

UConn: defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, outside linebacker Yawin Smallwood.

UMass: tight end Rob Blanchflower.

Maine: cornerback Kendall James.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Fast Break: Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger help Celtics stop Bucks

Jeff Green scored a game-high 29 points, Jared Sullinger recorded his sixth straight double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) and the Celtics won their fourth game in five tries, 102-86 against the dreadful Bucks.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Bass kicking: If not for Bass, the Celtics would have been in serious trouble early against the Bucks. While the rest of his teammates shot a combined 6-of-17 from the floor (35 percent) in the opening 12 minutes, Bass finished 5-of-8 for 12 points to go along with four rebounds, and the Celtics led 26-24 after one.

Crash course: Perhaps motivated by the few Milwaukee fans in attendance who constantly chanted “Ger-ald,” Wallace filled the stat sheet starting in place of the injured Avery Bradley. He compiled eight points on three shots, three boards, three steals and two assists by halftime, helping the C’s take a 49-46 lead at the break.

Green thumbs up: After scoring just two points on four shots in the first quarter, Green progressively improved throughout the night, saving his best for the last quarter. He scored eight points on five shots in both the second and third quarters, and then erupted for another 11 on eight attempts in the fourth to close out the win.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Tank top: The Bucks sat Larry Sanders (eye), Ersan Ilyasova (back), O.J. Mayo (illness) and Caron Butler (ankle), and the Celtics countered with Rajon Rondo (knee), Bradley (ankle) and Vitor Faverani (knee) on the bench. If a February game against the NBA’s worst team in Milwaukee could get any uglier, it just did.

Oh, shoot: Midway through the third quarter, the Bucks were shooting exactly 50 percent from the floor (22-44 FG), taking a 61-59 lead after consecutive buckets by Khris Middleton (a 3) and Zaza Pachulia (a bunny). Milwaukee entered the game shooting a league-worst 42.1 percent from the field.

Phantom Phil?: This Phil Pressey foul call had Jackie Mac doing her best Tommy impression.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Patrick Brown’s late goal gives BC fifth straight Beanpot in thrilling win over Northeastern

Boston College was the clear favorite entering this year’s Beanpot, so it should come as no surprise that the Eagles ended up winning the annual tournament for city bragging rights, the fifth year in a row they have done so. It should also come as no surprise that the title didn’t come easy. It rarely does on the first two Mondays of February.

A week after getting pushed to the limit by Boston University, the Eagles found themselves in another dog fight against Northeastern, a school desperate to end what is now a 26-year Beanpot drought.

The game had everything you could want in a title game. The teams played fast. They hit hard. The passing was crisp. And both goalies played outstanding. For 54 minutes, the teams matched each other chance for chance, each rush feeling like a potential game-breaker.

Yet the score remained deadlocked at 1-1 until Isaac MacLeod threw a seemingly harmless shot on net from the left point with 5:30 left in the game. The shot turned quickly turned deadly, though, as Patrick Brown — sitting on the ice after being knocked down in front — got the blade of his stick on it and deflected the puck past Clay With to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead. Johnny Gaudreau added an empty-netter and Brown scored again in the final minute, giving the game a 4-1 final that in no way reflects just how close the game was.

The first period felt like college hockey at its best, but that was only because the second period hadn’€™t happened yet. The teams went up and down the ice trading chances, and Northeastern’€™s Witt and BC’€™s Thatcher Demko each made several great saves. BC got on the board at the 8:40 mark on a 180-degree turn of momentum. Northeastern had a goal waved off two minutes earlier because the net came off its moorings before the puck crossed the line, but the Huskies did come out of the ordeal with a power play. They failed to score, though, and 19 seconds after the power play expired, Gaudreau fed Kevin Hayes in the slot for the senior’€™s 21st goal of the season.

The Huskies had another power play a couple minutes after that. They mounted better challenges, but Demko stood tall, most notably squeezing a shot from the always-dangerous Kevin Roy between his left arm and his body. At the other end of the ice, Witt denied Gaudreau on a 2-on-1 with six minutes left in the frame and then stoned Hayes on a clean breakaway in the period’€™s waning seconds.

There was no way the intensity of the first period could’€™ve continued much longer, but somehow it did. If anything, the second period even took it up a notch. Northeastern’€™s Mike Szmatula flipped a rebound toward a yawning net, but Demko dove across and covered the puck before any Husky could knock it in. Roy had another great chance, but freshman defenseman Scott Savage got his stick on it at the last second and deflected the puck into the netting. Classmate Chris Calnan made a diving block on a Northeastern 3-on-2.

While Northeastern came close to tying the game, BC threatened to take a two-goal lead. Patrick Brown beat a defenseman down the right wing, but Witt kicked his shot away. Gaudreau led another 2-on-1, but Witt once again turned him away. When Austin Cangelosi tracked down the rebound, Husky captain Josh Manson went to his knees and made a save of his own. Then there was the point shot from Michael Matheson that popped into the air, only to be swatted away by a goalie-turned-hitter.

Finally, with 1:24 left in the second, Northeastern tied the game. Roy collected the puck off a turnover and fired low. Demko made that save, but John Stevens was there to flip the rebound into the cage, sending Northeastern’€™s eight sections of students into a state of delirium.

When the third period rolled around, it only took 49 seconds to get another great chance. Torin Snydeman got behind the D and put a shot on Demko from in close, but Demko trapped the puck against his pad and held on. Witt made several nice saves at the other end before BC finally got the winning tally past him.

Blog Author: 
Scott McLaughlin

Bill Belichick releases statement on Michael Sam

Patriots coach Bill Belichick issued the following statement Monday on Michael Sam:
‘€œWe evaluate all the players, including Michael Sam, based on the totality of who they are and who can best contribute to our team and organization, regardless of the matters being discussed today. They all have strengths, they all have weaknesses and no two human beings are identical. Our scouting staff has performed extensive work on Michael, both this season and going back throughout his career. That work will continue through the draft process this spring.’€
Blog Author: 
Christopher Price