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Patriots sign first-round draft pick Easley

AP - Sports
Patriots sign first-round draft pick Easley
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New England Patriots rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley (74) runs during a stretching session …

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- The New England Patriots have signed first-round draft pick Dominique Easley, their surprise choice who is coming off two major knee operations.

On the day the Patriots drafted the defensive lineman from Florida with the 29th pick early last month, he said he was healthy. And coach Bill Belichick said the team feels he'll be all right.

The Patriots also signed rookie free agent Chris Martin. The offensive lineman from Central Florida was signed by the Houston Texans on May 16 and released on May 27.

Easley can play end and tackle. The Patriots can afford to bring him along slowly with veteran tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly back after being sidelined most of last season.

They also have veteran defensive ends Chandler Jones, who led the team with 11 1-2 sacks, and Rob Ninkovich and also signed 10-year veteran Will Smith from the New Orleans Saints as a free agent.

Easley started 26 of the 32 games he played during four years at Florida with 81 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks. He played just three games as a senior before being injured.

He had an outstanding junior season after recovering from a November 2011 injury, a torn ACL in his left knee. He considered entering the draft after the 2012 season but stayed at Florida. Then he tore his right ACL and medial meniscus in a non-contact injury.

But Belichick had seen enough of him against outstanding competition in the Southeastern Conference.

''You can put on just about any film and watch him against quality players. There was plenty of good competition,'' Belichick said after drafting Easley. ''Real good program, they're well-coached down there. I can see him playing against a lot of good players in that conference.''

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