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Patriots Report: Personnel News and Notes

<p>Hot news on the New England Patriots personnel and some of the strategy they've employed in achieving their success. Updates on who will play and more on this Insiders report for the game against the San Francisco 49ers.</p> <p>Check out this week's Insider Report. <a href="https://secure.scout.com/store/view.aspx?s=121&p=6" target="_blank">Get Inside with the Free Trial.</a></p>

Patriots Report: Personnel News and Notes
Player News and Notes for Week 17

Tom Brady has been sacked just 25 times. Corey Dillon has rushed for 1,519 yards and 11 touchdowns. Yet the Patriots offensive line remains unheralded. But is it being shortchanged in the credit department, or do the Patriots just have enough talent around the line to make the front five look better than it actually is?

That's difficult to say. Antowain Smith never approached 1,500 yards during his three years in New England, and he had most of the same linemen in front of him for at least part of his time with the Patriots. If the line was blocking the same for Smith as it now is for Dillon, then the upgrade at running back has made a huge difference and made the line look better.

But has Dillon made it look better than it is or did Smith make it look worse? Is Dillon simply hitting creases and holes that were there before and that Smith was unable to take advantage of? Probably, since he's not just running over defenders every week.

Dillon became the Patriots' all-time single-season rushing leader last week in the win over the Jets, and while he has been terrific in making yards after contact, he hardly did it alone.

"I think it's great (that he set the record) because we're not known as one of the top lines in the league," guard Joe Andruzzi said. "We're trying to make a mark for ourselves. Most of us are guys that weren't supposed to make it in this league -- at least four out of five of us. We stick together and play real well together. We communicate real well; we have the guys here that play together as a group."

The group as it is currently constituted is made up of two undrafted players, a fifth-round pick, a seventh-round pick and a second-round pick, yet it has paved the way for an offense that ranks eighth in the league in rushing and 13th in passing.

But pass protection has been more of a problem than the 25 sacks allowed indicate, and teams have thrown some different things at the front that the Patriots haven't been prepared for at the start of games.

After some sideline adjustments, things usually settle down. But in the team's two losses this year, pass-protection problems have directly and indirectly led to turnovers, either because of a strip sack or because Brady has rushed a throw that gets intercepted.

"I think, for the most part, we handle things well," center Dan Koppen said. "We can still get better, and we're always working on our techniques and our communication. But I think as long as we can keep Tom clean and receivers are getting open, things are good. There are breakdowns and things we need to work on, and we do."

"I think we keep improving," guard Stephen Neal added. "The more looks we see, the better we get. We had a couple of free rushers and mental errors in this last game against the Jets, which we need to fix."

They need to get those things fixed quickly. During last year's postseason, the Patriots did not allow a sack. Some of that was because of the line's play while some had to do with Brady's knack for avoiding pressure in the pocket and his ability deliver the ball quickly.

But Brady has been hit plenty this season, and it has taken its toll on his body.

"I'm sore," he admitted. "I'm getting out of the bed like a 60-year-old man, just hobbling to put my clothes on. I think it's just normal bumps and bruises."

Maybe so. But his protection needs to step up in January for the Patriots to have the kind of success for which they are hoping.

PLAYER NOTES

  • DL Jarvis Green will likely draw the start for New England at right defensive end in place of Richard Seymour on Sunday. Green is a 2002 fourth-round pick out of LSU who has steadily improved since joining the Patriots. He's been mostly a role player with some spot starts, but he will be pressed into action this week. "I think Jarvis has been productive on a per-play basis since he's been here," head coach Bill Belichick said. "He's had a lot of production for the amount of plays he's been in there. He shows up positively, and he's done that consistently for three years."
  • DL Marquise Hill, a 2004 second-round draft pick out of LSU, hasn't played in a game this season. He's been active twice, including Sunday, but has yet to step foot on the field after leaving LSU a year early -- probably a year too early. There is a good chance he sees his first action Sunday against the 49ers. "I think he's developing well," coach Bill Belichick said. "He's continued to take his reps in practice, and he's worked on his fundamentals."
  • FB Patrick Pass has been a valuable performer for New England this year, and like many of his teammates, he has played a variety of roles. He's been a lead blocker as a fullback, he's carried the ball as a tailback, he's caught the ball out of the backfield and he's contributed in the kicking game as a returner and in kick coverage. His contributions don't necessarily show up on the stat sheets. He's rushed for 125 yards and has 23 receptions for 193 yards, but he also has filled in adequately for Kevin Faulk as a third-down back when Faulk has been out with two different knee ailments. Belichick believes that Pass' best pay of the year came when he stopped a fake punt vs. the Jets.
  • LB Willie McGinest was drafted by the Patriots in 1995 and is second in consecutive years of service with the club behind Troy Brown, who was selected in 1993. Both players have seen it all in New England, from five-win seasons to Super Bowl titles, and McGinest is proud to have been part of an organizational resurgence that took place after Robert Kraft hired Bill Belichick. "I think it's an honor to be considered part of a model organization," McGinest said. "We just work hard, do what we're supposed to do and play team ball." That attitude has helped the team go 27-4 in its last 31 regular-season games.
  • QB Tom Brady vows to play and start Sunday against the 49ers even though the game is meaningless for both clubs. Asked about the risk of injury in a game with so little at stake with the postseason looming, Brady said, "You could (get hurt) in practice and you could do the same thing driving home. You can hurt yourself on the practice field just as easily as you could on the game field. We just go out there and do what we have always been doing. Nobody wants to get hurt, but playing football, the reality is that you can get hurt the first playoff game on the first play."

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