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Patriots reportedly interested in RB Bilal Powell

The Patriots reportedly are interested in running back Bilal Powell. (Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports)

The Patriots reportedly are interested in running back Bilal Powell. (Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports)

It’s clear the Patriots would like to improve their running game for next season and with free agency officially kicking off Wednesday afternoon, one of their targeted players has been learned.

According to the New York Daily News’ Manish Mehta, the Patriots are interested in former Jets running back Bilal Powell. New England isn’t the only team interested, as the report adds the Jets, Ravens and Cowboys are also interested.

Powell’s rookie deal expired with the Jets at the end of last season and he’s now a free agent for the first time in his career.

The former fourth-round pick is coming off a season where he rushed for 313 yards on 70 carries for one touchdown. His best year came in 2013 when he ran for 697 yards and a touchdown. He’s never been a feature back as the most carries he’s received in a given year was 176, also in 2013.

The Louisville product has been successful catching passes out of the backfield with his best year coming in 2015 when he finished with 47 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns. The ability to catch passes out of the backfield is almost a requirement for Patriots running backs with Tom Brady at quarterback.

It appears the Patriots may be focusing their attention towards second-tier running backs, as the top tier backs are likely out of their budget with Chris Ivory reportedly getting more than $6 million a year from the Jaguars and Doug Martin reportedly getting just over $6 million a year from Tampa Bay.

It’s worth noting these reported deals aren’t official until the new league year begins Wednesday afternoon.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

5 things we learned: Jonas Gustavsson shuts out Lightning in huge overtime win for Bruins

Jonas Gustavsson

Jonas Gustavsson

They needed overtime once again, but the Bruins completed a perfect Florida back-to-back with a 1-0 overtime win over the Lightning Tuesday at Amalie Arena.

After the teams played a frenetic 60 minutes of scoreless regulation, Brad Marchand took a feed from Patrice Bergeron off the rush 10 seconds into overtime and beat Ben Bishop to give Boston the win. The goal was Marchand’s 34th of the season.

In assisting the goal, Bergeron continued his recent hot streak, as he now has seven points (five goals, two assists) over his last five games. Furthermore, the Bruins are now 4-0-1 in five games since the trade trade deadline, a stretch that has seen them defeat three of the four playoff teams they faced.

The victory pulled the Bruins even with the Atlantic-leading Lightning with 83 points, though Tampa remains ahead of Boston in the division due to a game in hand. Tampa has 15 games remaining to Boston’s 14.

The Bruins will return to Boston to host the Hurricanes on Thursday. Because Tampa does not play until Friday, the Bruins can overtake first place for the first time all season if they are to secure a victory against Carolina.

Here are four more things we learned Tuesday:

GUSTAVSSON SHINES

Because we haven’t watched every game of Jonas Gustavsson’s career, we can’t say that Tuesday’s performance was the best of the veteran netminder’s NHL tenure. At the very least, it’s safe to say he played his best game as a Bruin.

Gustavsson made a career-high 42 saves, surpassing his previous best of 40. While Tampa pretty much threw the puck on net every time they got it, Gustsavsson also had to rob the likes of Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov at various points to keep the game scoreless.

The move to not start Rask in back-to-backs proved to be the wise one for the Bruins, as Rask had played in seven straight games for Boston. No rust showed for Gustavsson, however, and his shutout performance allowed the Bruins to get two huge points while being able to play Rask against the Hurricanes and Islanders in the coming days before the B’s head out west for a three-game road trip.

PUCKS GALORE

Of course, the Bruins probably shouldn’t get into the habit of giving up shots like they have of late. Tuukka Rask had to face 51 shots Monday against the Panthers before the Lightning put 42 pucks on Gustavsson.

POWERLESS

The Bruins did not have a power play Tuesday, but they managed to be a perfect 4-on-4 on the penalty kill. Marchand nearly made it 1-0 on a shorthanded breakaway in the first period, but his backhand bid was gloved by Bishop.

Boston has now gone three games without a power play goal, a span in which they are 0-for-7 on the man advantage.

MORROW IN, TROTMAN OUT

Joe Morrow got back in the lineup in place of Zach Trotman, who had played Monday against the Panthers.

In sitting a righty (Trotman) for a lefty (Morrow), the only right-shot defenseman the B’s had Tuesday was Adam McQuaid. Lefties Dennis Sedeinberg and John-Michael Liles played the right side.

In another lineup tweak, Claude Julien put Loui Eriksson back up on David Krejci’s line with David Pastrnak, moving Matt Beleskey to the third line in the process. Boston’s lineup Tuesday looked as such:

Marchand-Bergeron-Stempniak
Eriksson-Krejci-Pastrnak
Beleskey-Spooner-Hayes
Ferraro-Acciari-Connolly

Chara-Liles
Morrow-Seidenberg
Krug-McQuaid

Gustavsson

Blog Author: 
DJ Bean

Source: DL Akiem Hicks being pursued by several teams

Akiem Hicks

Akiem Hicks

As expected, Akiem Hicks is a man in demand.

The defensive lineman is set to become a free agent this week, and he’s being courted by more than 10 teams, according to a league source. That group includes the Patriots, who are hoping to retain the services of the 26-year-old they acquired last September in a trade with the Saints.

After he was picked up from New Orleans, Hicks played in 13 games last season and had three sacks. In addition to showing some pass rushing skills, he held up nicely against the run, and became a key part of New England’s defensive front down the stretch and into the postseason.

If he doesn’t return to Foxboro, the 6-foot-5, 318-pounder could find a home in Chicago. The Bears need help up front, and Hicks was drafted by the Saints in 2012 when Bears general manager Ryan Pace and director of player personnel Josh Lucas were in New Orleans.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Source: DL Akiem Hicks being pursued by several teams

Akiem Hicks

Akiem Hicks

As expected, Akiem Hicks is a man in demand.

The defensive lineman is set to become a free agent this week, and he’s being courted by more than 10 teams, according to a league source. That group includes the Patriots, who are hoping to retain the services of the 26-year-old they acquired last September in a trade with the Saints.

After he was picked up from New Orleans, Hicks played in 13 games last season and had three sacks. In addition to showing some pass rushing skills, he held up nicely against the run, and became a key part of New England’s defensive front down the stretch and into the postseason.

If he doesn’t return to Foxboro, the 6-foot-5, 318-pounder could find a home in Chicago. The Bears need help up front, and Hicks was drafted by the Saints in 2012 when Bears general manager Ryan Pace and director of player personnel Josh Lucas were in New Orleans.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Celtics preparing to take on ‘a stud’ in Tony Allen and his short-handed Grizzlies

Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) dunks against Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) in the second half at FedExForum on Jan. 10. (Justin Ford/USA Today Sports)

Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) dunks against Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) in the second half at FedExForum on Jan. 10. (Justin Ford/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM – If ever a team needed a timely reminder that a wounded team is a dangerous team, the Celtics got one Monday night when they watched the short-handed Memphis Grizzlies take out the Eastern-leading Cavaliers in Cleveland.

The 38-25 Grizzlies, who currently stand in fifth place in the West and would face Doc Rivers’ LA Clippers in the opening round of the playoffs, took the court Monday night without the likes of Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Matt Barnes and Chris Anderson. All four of those players are regular starters in the lineup.

But it was Tony Allen, the fifth starter for Memphis who stepped in and stepped up his game. The 2004 first-round pick of the Celtics has become one of the most reliable players on the Grizzlies and a 34-year-old leader. Allen, along with Vince Carter and Lance Stephenson gave the Grizzlies enough Monday night to overcome LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

“You take any team for granted that has Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Chalmers, Zach Randolph, Matt Barnes down the line, you haven’t been watching basketball for a while,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after Tuesday’s final tune-up for Memphis Wednesday night at TD Garden. “We have to play well against these guys. They’re physical, long, big., They physically manhandled us the last game. They’re a team that’s won, regardless of who’s been on the floor, pretty much all year. It’s a credit top them. Dave’s done a great job with the team regardless of all the curveballs they’ve had to hit.

“You don’t respect the game you don’t win. We have to play well to win. We can’t be focused on all of the things we can’t control. We have to do it the right way, we have to share the ball, otherwise we’ll get beat. That’s the same across the league. Any time guys aren’t available, they’re usually being replaced by someone who is awfully hungry to play. That’s enough in this league with this level of talent.”

Certainly the Celtics respect Allen and the Grizzlies, who beat Boston, 101-98, at the FedEx Forum on Jan. 10. In that game, Allen had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds as Memphis overcame a 34-16 hole after the first quarter to come back and win.

When Allen was helping the 2008 Celtics win their 17th NBA title and the 2010 team reach Game 7 of the NBA finals, he was considered a defensive specialist and a role player off the bench behind Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. Allen said he felt somewhat “overshadowed” in Boston and signed a three-year, $9.7 million contract with Memphis.

Remarkably, he’s in his sixth season with Memphis, averaging 7.1 points and 4.7 rebounds a game while still playing defense at a high level. On Monday, his first game back from a left knee injury, Allen scored a season-high 26 points in a 106-103 Memphis win.

“He’s a stud,” Stevens raved Tuesday. “[Monday] was the first game he’s played in eight games. He was sitting out with a sore left knee, but he dominated the game. He was everywhere, he was 11-17 from the floor, he ended up with 26 or 27 points. His impact was probably greater than that. He converts steals to points better than anybody. They lead the league in turnovers forced and he’s a big reason why. And then his cutting and rebounding are a problem. It’s hard to put smaller guys on him because he’s so active and so physical.”

Marcus Smart shares a lot in common with Allen. He was drafted in the first round by the Celtics 10 years later. Smart went to the same college (Oklahoma State) as Allen. And both are known for their defensive tenacity on the court.

“They show a lot of film about him [at Oklahoma State], especially on the defensive end,” Smart said after practice Tuesday. “Offensively, just how he’s able to score points and do the things that he does and not being able to shoot, as they say. He moves very well off the ball and his defense is tremendous.

“I talked to him a little bit when I was at Oklahoma State when he came back. Just keep playing [he would say] and keep playing hard, keep playing the game the right way. The game rewards guys who play the right way and respect the game. So, I just try to take what he said and then apply it every day on the court.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Source: DB Tavon Wilson moving on from Patriots after 4 seasons

Tavon Wilson

Tavon Wilson

It doesn’t look like the Patriots’ 2012 second-round pick will get another contract with the team.

According to a source, safety/special teamer Tavon Wilson will be moving on from the Patriots after four seasons. Wilson is an unrestricted free agent and has already been contacted by a few teams.

The Illinois product played in nine games this past season, as he was passed by rookie Jordan Richards on the depth chart by the end of the season.

In his four years as a Patriot, he made 79 tackles.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

BC basketball falls to Florida State in ACC tournament, records worst record in conference history

BC guard Eli Carter shoots during Tuesday's loss to Florida State. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

BC guard Eli Carter shoots during Tuesday’s loss to Florida State. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

The Boston College basketball team’s miserable season mercifully came to an end Tuesday with an 88-66 loss to Florida State in the ACC tournament at the Verizon Center in Washington, leaving the Eagles as the first team to go 0-19 in conference play.

“It’s been real difficult losing, obviously, setting history and all that stuff,” BC guard Eli Carter said after scoring 21 points. “But guys just kept playing. As much [talk] as is out there, we didn’t really pay too much attention to it. We just kept kind of playing.”

The Eagles are the sixth ACC team go through a season with a win — the first since Maryland went 0-14 in 1986-87 — but with conference expansion teams now play more games, so the record is theirs.

Second-year coach Jim Christian said it wasn’t for a lack of effort.

“These are kids, and they cared and played hard every single night,” he said.

With the football team going 0-8 in conference play in the fall, BC becomes the first team in ACC history to go winless in two sports in the season school year.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

Takeaways from Red Sox simulated game: Rick Porcello, Craig Kimbrel, Junichi Tazawa take steps forward

Rick Porcello and Blake Swihart teamed up for a simulated game. (Bryan Brennan/NESN)

Rick Porcello and Blake Swihart teamed up for a simulated game. (Bryan Brennan/NESN)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was a step in the right direction, even if just a handful of people saw it.

Pitching in a simulated game, Rick Porcello threw 55 pitches (33 strikes) over the equivalent of three innings. The group of opposing batters consisted of Rusney Castillo, Ryan Hanigan, Sandy Leon a few minor leaguers.

For Porcello who was batting, or even what they did, was of little consequence. What mattered was how his pitches arrived in catcher Blake Swihart’s glove.

“He was able to get it inside and down,” Swihart noted. “A lot of the batters were saying, ‘Man, that thing is coming back on the plate.’ It has good movement right now and is down in the zone.”

“I felt like it was sinking more today,” said Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis when talking about Porcello’s fastball.

Besides the added inning, and lack of crowd or fielders, the biggest difference between this outing and his first spring training test — against the Twins in Hammond Stadium — was the use of all of Porcello’s pitches.

Porcello threw what he estimated at six curveballs, with some changeups and a few two-strike four-seam fastballs, where against the Twins it was just heaters and changeups.

But the most important takeaway clearly was the action of his bread and butter — the two-seam fastball.

“It was definitely better, much improved from last time out,” he said of the sinker. “I’m feeling better and better every day, starting to get some extension in my arm, getting it out front. I threw some good ones down in the zone, so it’s coming along.

“I basically have tried to make sure I’ve left no stone unturned as far as my delivery is concerned and preparing myself to move forward in the season and go out there and have a solid, consistent year. Just taking small steps, taking it slowly and not try to jump into everything. Not start throwing all these pitches without having the foundation in my delivery, and feeling comfortable with that.”

Porcello will throw next in Port Charlotte Sunday, when he faces off with the Rays.

– Also getting his work in during the simulated game was closer Craig Kimbrel, who finished his day throwing 20 pitches, 13 for strikes.

“Good velocity,” Willis noted. “He threw some breaking balls. Some good breaking balls, and threw some while the action was OK the location wasn’t right where it’s going to be. At this point in spring training, that’s kind of what you expect. But in comparison to where that breaking ball was 10 days ago and where it is now, it’s trending in the right direction and that location is going to come.”

Besides his unorthodox set-up, what jumps out in watching Kimbrel is a fastball that seems to have a bit of jump at the end. It’s the same kind of back-spin heater that the Red Sox enjoyed in Jonathan Papelbon’s early years.

“It’s a tremendous carry to the ball,” Willis said. “My eyes aren’t good enough to tell you how many feet are left when it just seemingly hits another gear. That’s what we’re seeing, and that’s why he does get over bats. The baseball is deceptive. It’s not his delivery, it’s actually the action of the pitch and the back-spin that he generates.”

– The Red Sox are convinced Junichi Tazawa, who had to be shut down for the final month of the 2015 regular season after posting a post All-Star break ERA of 7.08, is back to his old form.

“He threw all of his pitches today,” Willis said of Tazawa, who also threw an inning in the simulated game. “The splits were down. First hitter he faced, Hanigan, 1-1 count, fastball in that he missed off the plate. That’s critical for him. We want to get strikes inside, but if you miss, miss just off the plate and for him that allows his plate to get so much wider with his ability to spin the breaking ball and use the slider. I think he’s been predominantly more of an away pitcher to the right-handed hitters, so we’re hoping to spread that plate out a little bit and get a little bit wider.

“Even right now, and we’re only a couple of weeks in, I just think his strength is back. There is more life to his pitches. The action is later. The gun readings don’t always tell the story as much as what happens that last 15 feet of the travel of the baseball. The action of the pitches were getting a little lazy and it’s just because physically he was getting a little tired. Right now we’re seeing that finish to his pitches that makes him so successful.”

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Afternoon Delight: ‘Kevin Spacey, King of Dialogue Mashup’

(NSFW, language)

I have one beef with this mashup and one beef only: length. This is way too short. I appreciate the inspiration to put it together, but Kevin Spacey is too much of a national treasure to limit his genius to under two minutes. So this feels like the teaser trailer to a feature length compilation of his best lines. Hopefully someday we’ll get one. But for now, you can click on the movie posters at the end for extra scenes. This, along with the new season of “House of Cards” that just dropped on Netflix, will have to tide us over.

I am so voting for Frank Underwood for president.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Thornton

Kelly Olynyk (shoulder) ’50-50′ for Wednesday

Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk

WALTHAM – It’s wait-and-see time for Kelly Olynyk and the Celtics.

The 7-footer who’s been out since injuring his right shoulder in the second quarter of the Feb. 10 game against the Clippers went through practice Tuesday and was cleared for contact.

“Kelly did everything in practice, will probably do a little bit more with the young guys, we’ll reevaluate [Wednesday],” Brad Stevens said after practice Tuesday. “He’s day-to-day. I just asked him how he was doing and he said he was a little bit tentative. He didn’t play that way. He played five-on-five and did all of that stuff, and that was encouraging.

“I would say based on [practice], it would be 50-50, questionable, that he goes [Wednesday].”

Stevens said that if cleared, sitting out four weeks won’t affect Olynyk.

“Other than the shoulder, sure,” Stevens said. “He takes pretty good care of himself, takes care of his body, pretty diligent in that regard. Anytime you haven’t played in a few weeks that first wind might hit you. He shouldn’t have a problem.”

Olynyk admitted that he’s still sore after taking some contact in practice.

“It’s still not quite there, so we’ll see where it is. It’s all right. It’s still sore, a little discomfort, but it’s good to get back out there,” said Olynyk, who just shot around on Monday. “It’s still sore. There’s discomfort and pain, so obviously I’m a little tentative. I don’t feel like I’m at full strength or at full motion.

“The conditioning wasn’t bad. [Bryan Doo] kept me in pretty good shape. I’ve been riding the bike non-stop, treadmill stuff, swimming. I don’t think that’s too big of an issue. Obviously basketball is a different kind of conditioning and game conditioning is a little bit different, but you’ll get that back pretty quick.

“It’s good to feel what it can take and where it’s at. Hopefully keep improving. I don’t want any setbacks or anything like that. Keep going at the right level.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia