AP NEWS

Patriots notebook: Tackle John Hughes replaces Anthony Johnson on defensive line

September 27, 2016 GMT

The Patriots tinkered with the 53-man roster yesterday for the first time in nearly three weeks to alter the defensive tackle depth chart for schematic reasons.

They released Anthony Johnson and signed John Hughes, according to sources, to complete their first transactions involving the active roster since Sept.?7 when they acquired cornerback Eric Rowe from the Eagles and cut offensive lineman Josh Kline.

Hughes is 6-foot-2 and 320 pounds, so he is more space eater than pass rusher. The Browns released Hughes last week, just 18 months into a four-year, $14.4 million contract extension. The 2012 third-round draft pick backs up a group of defensive tackles that includes Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and Vincent Valentine.

Johnson had a terrific preseason with a pair of half-sacks, five pressures, one fumble recovery, one pass breakup and one run stuff in the last three games. However, his 43 defensive snaps in the regular season were the 18th-most on the roster, and he was a healthy scratch in Week 2 against the Dolphins. Johnson could potentially return to the practice squad if he clears waivers.

The Pats have used defensive ends Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard as interior pass rushers, so there’s some overlap in Johnson’s strengths. It appears the Pats want an extra big body for this week’s game against the Bills, who rushed for 208 yards Sunday against the Cardinals.

Kicking it

Bill Belichick has recognized the importance of forcing his opponents to return kickoffs this season because of the rule change involving touchbacks, which now are spotted at the 25-yard line.

Just check the numbers across the NFL. Not including last night’s Saints-Falcons matchup, there were 58 drives that started exactly at the 20-yard line, and they resulted in eight touchdowns (13.8 percent) and four field goals (6.9 percent) for a 20.7 scoring percentage.

Meanwhile, there were 303 drives that opened exactly at the 25-yard line, and 66 ended with touchdowns (21.8 percent) and 49 with field goals (16.2 percent) for a 38.0 scoring percentage. The extra 5 yards of field position have increased teams’ chances of scoring by 17.3 percent.

As a result, Belichick has preferred to force teams to return kickoffs whenever possible.

“I think that’s part of it,” Belichick said of the stats. “I’d say also part of it is just the matchup with your opponent and what their strength is in the return game and so forth.”

The NFL competition committee changed the touchback rule last offseason to entice returners to take a knee and clearly never forecasted the strategy change involving kickoff coverage units.

Belichick seemed as though he has appreciated the fallout from the rule change because it has increased the competition on kickoffs. He noted field goals, punts and kickoffs were competitive areas of special teams when he entered the league in 1975, but various changes to the sport have lessened the competition on field goals and kickoffs in recent years, at least until this season with the touchback experiment.

“We’ll see how it all plays out, but in looking at a few other games, it looks like there are a lot of teams that are doing some of the directional, corner-type kicking with good hang time,” Belichick said. “Just kind of popping the ball up in the air and making teams bring it out, which isn’t surprising. That’s exactly what happened with the college rule.”

Not tipping his hand

The Patriots return to the practice field today for the first of four consecutive workouts, but they don’t need to release an injury report until tomorrow.

Belichick played coy yesterday when addressing the injuries to quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo (sprained AC joint in right shoulder) and Jacoby Brissett (right thumb).

“We’ll give out the injury report on Wednesday like we always do,” Belichick said on WEEI.

It should at least be viewed as a good sign the Patriots didn’t add a third quarterback yesterday, but it will be more telling if they don’t add anyone before today’s practice at 12:50 p.m.

Brady praises Bill

Tom Brady isn’t surprised by the Patriots’ 3-0 start to the season without him, and he knows a lot of it has to do with Belichick.

Brady, who said he’s “at a good place with a week to go” in his four-game Deflategate suspension, made his weekly appearance on Westwood One’s Monday night pregame show, and he was asked straight up by Jim Gray if he thinks Belichick is the greatest coach of all time.

“Yeah, I definitely think so,” said Brady, who just spent a vacation in Italy with wife Gisele Bundchen. “I think whatever hand he’s been dealt, he finds a way to win, and that’s the mark of a great coach. Sitting in those meetings for the last 16 years and watching him prepare the team, there’s no (other) coach I’d ever want to play for. He’s just remarkable in every aspect. It’s a privilege to play for him. I look forward to being back out there and getting yelled at by him.”