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Patriot moves no great shakes

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / November 11, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH—Roster turnover is a part of every NFL season. But once the lockout ended and teams were able to go about the business of acquiring players, Patriots coach Bill Belichick began stocking up.

As he waited for the owners and players to settle their differences, Belichick had extra time to look at his team and determine how to proceed. He wanted to change some personnel on the defensive line to those who could play a four-man front.

He also looked to the offense, where another receiver was necessary, and there was the matter of filling the hole on the right side of the line left by guard Stephen Neal’s retirement.

As a result, New England acquired 13 veterans (some with great fanfare) who have played at least two games this season. So far, the results aren’t great:

Head of the class

G Brian Waters, signed to a two-year contract Sept. 4 - Far and away the best acquisition, the 12-year veteran came into a new system, switched from left guard to right, and has missed but one snap - when his shoe came off. He’s playing at a Pro Bowl level, and for a good chunk of the season has played alongside rookie tackle Nate Solder.

DE Andre Carter, signed to a one-year contract Aug. 8 - The Patriots still struggle to generate pressure, but Carter has been the best at consistently getting to the passer. He’s been credited with a team-high eight quarterback hits, and has 4 1/2 sacks. He also has proven to be strong against the run, which has allowed him to stay on the field; he’s played 84 percent of the defensive snaps over the last month.

Work in progress

WR Chad Ochocinco, acquired from Cincinnati July 29 - The most exciting new face when he was brought aboard, to say that Ochocinco has struggled is an understatement. Within the last month, teammates could be seen telling him where to line up before the snap, and because of that he hasn’t been able to contribute when the Patriots go to the no-huddle, which is a significant part of their offense. He hasn’t had a catch in three straight games, though he was targeted five times against the Giants. Tom Brady again expressed confidence in Ochocinco this week, and privately teammates say he’s putting in the work. With Deion Branch unable to get open like he used to and defenses starting to show more attention to Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have little choice but to get Ochocinco ready for a bigger role.

DE Mark Anderson, signed to a one-year contract Aug. 5 - When he arrived, it was with the reputation as a pure pass rusher, but Anderson has mostly been used in garbage time. He’s been credited with six quarterback hits and has 4 1/2 sacks.

DL Shaun Ellis, signed to a one-year contract Aug. 8 - It opened eyes when the Patriots signed Ellis to a contract that paid him four times what the Jets offered, but the most recent memory was of him sacking Tom Brady twice in New York’s playoff win last January. Unfortunately, the Patriots haven’t gotten that kind of performance out of Ellis, and he’s had knee and rib injuries.

LS Danny Aiken, claimed off waivers from Buffalo Sept. 4 - Long snapping demands one thing: consistency. The Patriots haven’t had it since Lonie Paxton signed with the Broncos as a free agent before the 2009 season. Aiken is the third long snapper used since, and he’s been off the mark a couple of times this year.

S James Ihedigbo, signed to a one-year contract Aug. 19 - Ihedigbo was known as a special teams ace when he was brought aboard after being cut by the Jets, but the Amherst native was pressed into a bigger role after James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather were released and Josh Barrett got hurt. He’s been praised for his smarts, but ultimately his best role is as a situational player, not a starter.

Improvement needed

DB Phillip Adams, originally signed to a one-year contract Sept. 21 - Adams has been signed, released, and re-signed since the season began, but right now he is the best option as the third cornerback. He is tougher than Antwaun Molden and replaced him in the second half against the Steelers when Molden struggled. Adams was the nickel corner last week against the Giants.

TE Dan Gronkowski, originally signed to a one-year contract Sept. 7 - Gronkowski was released for the second time earlier this week. With the team preferring to use an offensive lineman when it goes to a three-tight-end set, he became expendable. But as of Thursday, his locker was intact, so he could be back.

CB Antwaun Molden, claimed off waivers from Houston Sept. 1 - Molden had fewer than 24 hours from the time he arrived to the time he played in the preseason finale, drawing kudos from Belichick for being competitive. But when he was the nickel back in Pittsburgh after Leigh Bodden was released, he played nervous, and has since been supplanted by Adams.

Flunked out

DE Albert Haynesworth, acquired from Washington July 29 - Came with a caveat: If he wanted to play hard, he could dominate. He didn’t want to. Belichick gambled on Haynesworth, who has never loved the game the way it loves him, and had to cut his losses this week after it became clear that Haynesworth had no interest in giving full effort.


OL Donald Thomas, signed to a two-year contract Sept. 14 – A former part-time starter in Miami, Thomas has played just four snaps, and with Sebastian Vollmer (back) returning, he has been inactive for the last two games. But Thomas has had the good sense to attach himself to Waters and soak up whatever knowledge he’ll offer, which can only serve him well.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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