AFC East: New England Patriots
“Well, we’ll all be sweating like that, I’m sure,” McDaniels said on a conference call Tuesday. “I know this: It’s probably not going to affect [us] once we get in the game and we begin to play the game.
“Ultimately we have to play the Dolphins and beat the Dolphins, and they’re going to be doing the same thing. We’re all going to be hot. We’re all going to play the guys that are active -- maybe different numbers of plays per person depending on who may or may not need it the most.”
Aside from the weather, McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are preparing for the challenge of facing a tough divisional opponent.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a good defense, and I think their front definitely gives you a lot of cause for concern,” McDaniels said. “They definitely created some negative situations for us last season. It’s a very active front.
“We’re definitely going to have to do a good job of taking care of the line of scrimmage and eliminate those opportunities for them, but we know it’s going to be a great challenge for us on Sunday.”
While McDaniels' challenge is dealing with Miami’s defensive front, Patricia sees the Dolphins’ improvement at skill positions as his defense’s biggest challenge.
“Certainly, obviously what I think they’ve done a great job of this year through the preseason is the quarterback position,” Patricia said. “With Ryan Tannehill being able to control and run the offense and do a good job with the different looks and the different problems that they set up with this type of offense and really trying to do a great job of being good decision-makers as a quarterback and get the ball distributed to a lot of their skill players, obviously with [Mike] Wallace and [Brian] Hartline and [Brandon] Gibson, [Jarvis] Landry and [Rishard] Matthews at the receiver position.
“They have excellent talent out there along with [Charles] Clay at the tight end position, who is a very good skill player for them, a very multiple type player. And then through the preseason you get to see their other tight end, [Dion] Sims, and the different positions he’s kind of been in and moved around at. I think they’ve done a good job to implement the system that Coach [Bill] Lazor has brought with him and done a good job through the preseason of efficiently running that offense.”
Patricia and the Patriots' defense will try to slow down Miami’s new quick, Chip Kelly-style of attack on offense, led by third-year quarterback Tannehill.
“I think they’re trying to do a great job and they’ve done a great job of making quick decisions, getting the ball distributed, getting it out, the accuracy increase as far as the passing game is concerned,” Patricia said. “So they’re definitely spreading the ball around with good, smart, accurate passing games and concepts, and it has definitely benefited the quarterbacks in a positive way.”
"Well, I hope so. The more guys we get out there the better," Brady said. "We just started the week of practice, so I think everyone is trying to get out there, learn each other and the final roster has finally been picked. Whoever is on the active roster has to be ready to go. We are going to need contributions from everybody.
"If Gronk can be one of those guys then I think that makes our team better. But, we have a lot of playing and contingency plans for everybody being out. That's just what we have to do. ...
"Being [Gronkowski's] teammate for the last four years we know what he can bring to the team -- what his ability is out there, what he is capable of by not only his own ability but how it helps the other guys out there too. We have a good group of guys, so that if they are going to cover Gronk then we have to throw to the other guys and when he is out there he is obviously a great target."
Ready to get the season started. With the preseason in the books, Brady is fired up for the regular season to start.
"Absolutely. These count. This goes in the final standings," Brady said. "This is when you are expected to be at your very best and every bit of preparation that we have done for the last six months -- the end of last season -- comes down to this particular day. Yeah, there is a lot of urgency to this week. You can't afford any mistakes. The guys that are out there, those guys have done the best job over the course of the offseason to put themselves in the best position to help our team. I'm excited. I think it's a different feeling yesterday than all year because we have been off for so long and finally we get an opportunity to go out there and do something that really counts."
"I watched him a lot last year because we had a lot of games where we saw Tampa play in and said who is this young No. 81 who looks like a good player?" Brady said. "So, I am excited to have him on our team. He's a good player. ... Hopefully he can go out there and keep making [plays] because we are going to that position to be a big contributor on the team this year."
Let the defense prove itself. The Patriots' potential for improvement on defense has people abuzz. But, Brady adds perspective that every team feels excited heading into the season:
"Everyone thinks this time of year the whole team is improved -- we have made all these changes and this player is gone, thankfully, and now we have this guy coming to save the day. Everyone thinks every year their team is better. There's 32 teams that are very hopeful when in reality that's probably not the case -- just hope and opinion. That's why we go out there and play and put everything out there on field. You go out there and give everything you have got every single week to see where you are at. My opinion doesn't matter because [the defense] is going to get a chance to go out there and prove it anyway."
“It hasn’t really sunk in,” he said.
Garoppolo was balancing the excitement of earning the job with the short-term goals of the team, which are preparations for the regular-season opener in Miami on Sunday.
“We’re on the Dolphins right now. It’s one of those things, the game goes on,” Garoppolo said. “We just have to be ready for the Dolphins and prepare like it’s a normal week for us.”
Asked what it means to have the vote of confidence from the coaching staff, Garoppolo said, “It always helps, giving you confidence. But it’s one of those things, you have to have confidence in yourself and if you don’t have that, you don’t have anything really. …
“I feel confident, but I have a long way to go still. I’m still a rookie, still have a lot to learn, the whole playbook, defenses and everything.”
Looking back on the preseason, Garoppolo’s confidence started to rise after his performance in the opener Aug. 7 against Washington.
“I don’t know if everything changed for me, but it was definitely a stepping stone,” he said of that game. “It gave me some confidence and got me ready for everything else that came after it.
“I thought [the preseason] was good. It was a good first experience. Training camp, overall, went well. We’re on to the season now and these are the games that really count. Everything steps up a notch really.”
ESPN.com New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Miami Dolphins
The Patriots' ability to handle the heat and humidity will be critical, and conditioning has been a big part of training camp. The Dolphins have a new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor, so there will be a bit of a new twist to preparations of a familiar foe. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at Minnesota Vikings
Week 3: Oakland Raiders
Don't see the Raiders being able to come into Gillette Stadium and beat the Patriots, even though I think Derek Carr is the better option at quarterback over Matt Schaub. That's a tough spot for the Raiders, who travel to London the next week. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Kansas City Chiefs
Arrowhead Stadium is a tough place to win. When the schedule was initially released, I figured the Chiefs would get this one, but I'm reversing course now. Prediction: Win
Week 5: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals got the Patriots last year in Cincinnati. I don't think they pull it off again, even though this is a good spot for them coming off the bye and with the Patriots on a short week. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Buffalo Bills
Looks like the Bills still have big questions at quarterback. In that case, it's hard to invest in them in this game. Prediction: Win
Week 7: New York Jets
The Jets' defense could play New England tough, but I'm not betting against Darrelle Revis in this one. Prediction: Win
Week 8: Chicago Bears
With a long week to prepare, it's hard to pick against the Patriots. The Bears could be a tough matchup with two top-flight receivers, but the Patriots are always tough to beat at home. Prediction: Win
Week 9: Denver Broncos
Next year's game will be in Denver if the teams both finish in the same spot in the standings. Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady -- it never gets old. Prediction: Win (in overtime)
Week 11: at Indianapolis Colts
This is the iron part of the schedule. I think Andrew Luck finally breaks through against the Patriots, in part because the game is at Lucas Oil Stadium. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Detroit Lions
Tough spot for the Lions, following up a road trip to Arizona and then playing the following Thursday on Thanksgiving. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Green Bay Packers
Not easy to win at Lambeau Field. This could be one of the most entertaining games of the season. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: at San Diego Chargers
Asking a lot of the players in this tough, back-to-back road stretch. The Chargers are one of the more underrated teams in the NFL. Prediction: Loss
Week 15: Miami Dolphins
The Patriots always seem to fair well against the warm-weather Dolphins at home in December. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at New York Jets
There's always one game that surprises us and we never saw coming. Could this be the one? Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Buffalo Bills
Another season finale against the Bills, just like last year. Should be the same result. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 12-4
"There's nowhere I'd rather play, I know that," Brady answered. "I love playing for this team and I love representing this team and hopefully I can do that for as long as I can. When I suck, I'll retire, but I don't plan on sucking for a long time. So hopefully that leads me to being here and there's no place I'd rather be.
"Like I said, I love this game and I love working hard at it. I've had a lot of people over the years tell me the things I couldn't do. I think that's always been great motivation for me to try to go out there and accomplish things I think I can do. Hopefully it's to continue to play at a really high level for a long period of time."
When asked if it bothered him to see boyhood idol Joe Montana of the 49ers in a Chiefs uniform at the end of his career, Brady said: "That goes back to the business side of football. I don't know what that situation was, I wasn't really around when those decisions were made.
"You know, you're expected in this business to perform. That's what football is about. This is not a personality contest. This is a very highly competitive game where your physical skill set and what it means to the team, they place a value on that. If that value fits within the range, then great. If it doesn't, they don't want you and then you go somewhere else to play.
"Once no one else wants you, or you don't want to play anymore, that's when you retire. Some guys make the decision to retire early. So I like working hard at it and I'm going to try to be the best I can be for as long as I can be that.
"Hopefully the team values that and if they don't, then I'll probably have a tough day at some point. But that's what football is all about."
When host Gerry Callahan remarked to Brady that he seemed like the type of player who would have to have his jersey taken away from him, Brady said, "Yeah, probably. But at the same time, I mean, you have long-term goals in your head because those are the things that motivate you and sustain you when you think long-term. But the reality is, in football, it's a contact sport and anything can happen at any time. Anybody's career could end on one particular play, so you have to temper that with your short-term goals, too.
"So you have long-term goals because those motivate you over the course of the year. Then you have short-term goals, where in moments like this, you're not focused on your football mortality. You're focused on what you can be this particular week. This game changes so quickly and things happen all the time, every week, that change the course of people's careers and lives, and the course of the team, and if you can just focus on the short-term when you focus on the short-term, and focus on the long-term when those are the things to focus on, then that serves you best. You always have goals in the back of your mind, personal goals. Certainly this time of year you put aside whatever personal goals you have for the success of the team, because it's a team sport.
"Our guys have worked really hard to get ourselves in this position to go out there and be at our best this year, because that's what matters. This year is most important. It's the only year we have. ...I'm excited for this year and what we have. Anything after this year, that's to be dealt with at a later time. That's kind of the point where I'm at now."
Here is the Patriots' initial practice squad:
DE Jake Bequette -- 2012 third-round draft choice has appeared in eight games over two seasons with the Patriots but hasn't registered any statistics.
WR Josh Boyce -- 2013 fourth-round draft choice out of TCU. Played in nine games with the Patriots last season, totaling nine catches for 121 yards and returning nine kickoffs.
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson -- The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Sacramento State alum has been with Miami (2011), Minnesota (2012-2013) and San Francisco (2011, 2013-2014) after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He does not have any regular-season stats.
LB Ja'Gared Davis -- Davis was claimed on waivers from the Texans in August of 2013 and played in one regular-season game and two playoff games last season on special teams.
S Kanorris Davis -- In his first year out of Troy, Davis appeared in three regular-season games and two playoff contests last season for the Patriots in a special-teams-type role.
RB Jonas Gray -- First-year running back out of Notre Dame, a bigger presence at 5-foot-10 and 230 pounds, did some good things in the preseason for the Patriots.
LS Charley Hughlett -- The first-year snapper was with the Patriots for a few months this offseason and has also spent time with Dallas and Jacksonville. He has not snapped in a regular-season game.
OL Chris Martin -- Rookie offensive tackle from Central Florida joined the team in June as an undrafted free agent and spent training camp on the active/non-football injury list.
LB Deontae Skinner -- Undrafted middle linebacker from Mississippi State was with the Patriots until the cut down to 75 players and adds some depth in practice at a position where the Patriots are thin on their 53-man roster.
CB Daxton Swanson -- The first-year cornerback from Sam Houston State, who stands at 5-foot-11 and 191 pounds, was with the Patriots in training camp and showed good ball skills in practice and games.
No players were missing from practice other than cornerback Brandon Browner and wide receiver Brian Tyms, who are both serving four-game suspensions for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones rejoined his teammates after doing some conditioning work at the start practice. He had been out since the Aug. 7 preseason opener against Washington after sustaining a sprained left ankle.
Rookie offensive lineman Chris Martin, who spent training camp on the non-football injury list, also returned after signing on the team's practice squad.
Meanwhile, for those keeping tabs on jersey numbers, defensive end Zach Moore switched from No. 71 to No. 90; linebacker Darius Fleming swapped from No. 44 to No. 55; and Martin changed from No. 72 to No. 69.
The Patriots were wearing shorts and shells for the practice.
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson signed to the #Patriots practice squad, per league source. Worked out for them on Saturday.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) August 31, 2014
Bethel-Thompson is a third-year player out of Sacramento State who has been with the Vikings (2012-2013) and 49ers (2013-2014). At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he is a bigger player at the position and was with the 49ers this past training camp before being released in the cut to 75 players.
In three preseason games this year, Bethel-Thompson was 11 of 18 for 113 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and doesn't have any regular-season statistics.
A few other notes relative to the Patriots' practice squad:
- Wide receiver Josh Boyce cleared waivers and has practice squad eligibility.
- Linebacker Ja'Gared Davis has agreed to join the practice squad, ESPNBoston.com's Lee Schechter confirmed earlier in the day. Doug Kyed of NESN had initially reported Davis' agreement.
- Running back Jonas Gray has agreed to join the practice squad, per Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal.
- One name to keep an eye on is long snapper Charley Hughlett as a possibility for the practice squad. Hughlett was with the Patriots briefly earlier this offseason.
The team announced those transactions, in addition to the previously reported moves of claiming rookie defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and trading quarterback Ryan Mallett to the Texans.
Gaston, who was featured in our "beyond the first round" series leading into the draft as a possible Patriots fit, was a team captain at Purdue who played in 50 games over his college career. The 22-year-old Gaston was originally signed by the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent on May 12.
The 6-foot-2, 310-pound Gaston might have caught the Patriots' eye in the preseason finale when he totaled six tackles and a quarterback hit against the Chargers. Up to that point, Gaston had only played nine defensive snaps over the first three preseason games.
Between Quarles and Gaston, the Patriots are stocking up on young defensive defensive tackles, an area where they already had a deep stable of personnel with Vince Wilfork, Dominique Easley, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano and Zach Moore.
As for White, he played on all four of the team's core special-teams units -- kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return and punt coverage. The Patriots are thin in that area, and there could more roster juggling ahead to account for that role.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Boyce, whose speed was one of his main assets coming into the NFL, could potentially return to the team's practice squad if he clears waivers.
In addition to Boyce, the Patriots have informed rookie guard Jon Halapio that he is also being waived. That move was expected, although it's a bit of a disappointment for the Patriots after they selected Halapio in the sixth round of the draft (179th overall) out of Florida.
Similar to Boyce, the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Halapio is a possibility for the practice squad if he's not claimed on waivers.
Others reportedly told of their release, per reports include defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, defensive end Jake Bequette, linebacker Steve Beauharnais and safety Shamiel Gary.
NOTE: While players are informed of their release, nothing is official until the team turns in paperwork to the NFL. There is always the outside chance of a late change, or another team seeing news of a player being informed of his release and approaching that team about a trade.
I'm told the #Patriots had a meeting with the veteran offensive linemen yesterday and told Vollmer about moving to guard, Cannon to tackle— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) August 30, 2014
Considering this possibility brings us back to Thursday's blog post on the balance between a team playing its best five linemen versus picking the best overall combination.
Four-year veteran Marcus Cannon is a starting-caliber lineman, but with Vollmer (right) and Nate Solder (left) locking down the tackle spots, it pushes him out of the top-unit line unless he's at guard.
And from this view, Cannon isn't as effective at guard. He doesn't seem as comfortable at that spot.
Maybe Vollmer would be. And then the Patriots wouldn't lose much, if at all, in the Cannon-for-Vollmer swap at right tackle because Cannon has already proven he's capable of playing there and at a high level.
It's something the Patriots, according to Volin, are at least considering at this point.
Stork's shotgun snaps. This was our first look at rookie center Bryan Stork, and one thing that stood out was his solid delivery of the shotgun snap, which is a staple in the Patriots' offense. We counted 16 of them from Stork and they were mostly (if not all) on the mark. In contrast, first-year center Braxston Cave had one low delivery in the red zone that made things harder on Jimmy Garoppolo on a play that ultimately was an incomplete pass. In terms of his blocking, Stork showed promise (e.g. nice seal on James White's 9-yard run up the middle) while also enduring some standard rookie hiccups, such as losing his feet while getting into his pass set at one point.
Ball skills show up in the secondary. Patriots defensive backs had five pass breakups in the game as Logan Ryan totaled two, followed by Daxton Swanson, Tavon Wilson and Brandon Browner. Ryan and Swanson appeared to be fortunate to avoid pass interference penalties in the end zone, but overall, the coverage in the defensive backfield was competitive and tight. When Swanson is making plays like he did (pass breakup, forced fumble and recovery), and undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler is blanketing receivers, it reflects some quality depth.
Aaron Dobson does the little things, too. While the second-year receiver's preseason debut was productive with a big touchdown catch, he showed up in another area, too. On running back James White's 29-yard catch and run, Dobson effectively rubbed the linebacker assigned to cover White, helping to create some significant separation for White. It might have been a penalty on Dobson, but from this view, it still reflected a receiver doing the little things necessary that are often overlooked.
Head coach Bill Belichick provided some insight on the effectiveness of his offensive line's blocking in Thursday's preseason finale with the New York Giants.
"Overall offensively we had not very many problems in pass protection, a couple, but overall not very many," Belichick said in a conference call on Friday. "We didn't run the ball as well as we would like, or need to.
"That was a combination of things. Sometimes it was multiple people or a combination block or the back and the offensive linemen with the read or whatever it happened to be."
Belichick likes the effort in pass blocking, but still needs to see more consistency from all of his offensive linemen. Second-year guard Josh Kline, who projects to assume the role of Mankins after playing all 70 offensive snaps on Thursday, is one of those players in the spotlight.
"I'd probably say it's about the same thing with all the players that played," Belichick said about Kline. "There were a lot of good things out there and there were some things that at times weren't so good, need to be corrected, need to be improved.
"When you talk about the whole line, you're probably going to have similar comments on all of them: a lack of consistency in the running game, pass blocking [was] not perfect but certainly manageable."
Although Marcus Cannon did not play Thursday, he possesses the versatility that can provide some consistency to the line. Belichick confirmed that Cannon has lined up at every spot except for center.
"He's [Cannon] obviously got great size and strength, and he's very athletic for his size," Belichick said. "He moves well. He has excellent feet, balance. He's a powerful player in the running game ... [with] his length and size."
Most of Cannon's snaps have come at tackle, but Cannon did play guard last year and has seen some action there this year. Belichick is trying to find the right spot for Cannon's skills.
"He [Cannon], I think, physically can play any position on the line," Belichick said. He probably could play center too but definitely could play guard or tackle. It's just a question of refining his skills at one position."
This has two trickle-down effects on the Patriots:
1. Kelly no longer a post-Week 1 option. When the Patriots released Kelly on Sunday, one line of thinking was that he could return after the first week of the season when his contract wouldn't be guaranteed, similar to what happened with veteran defensive lineman Gerard Warren in the past. While that was always a possibility, the Patriots obviously knew there was no guarantee he would be available and weren't counting on it as they turn to a younger group of linemen. That's the way it unfolded, as the team's early release of Kelly helped him land a new job perhaps quicker than had the Patriots waited until the final cutdown on Aug. 30.
2. Cap relief from Sopoaga could be lost. The Cardinals had previously signed defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga to a one-year contract, and if he makes their roster, the Patriots will receive an $855,000 credit on their 2015 salary cap. The credit would be a result of the contract the Patriots inherited when they acquired Sopoaga from the Eagles last season, which included a $1 million guarantee for this season. Now that the Cardinals have signed Kelly, it could impact if Sopoaga sticks on the roster and if the Patriots receive their credit.
Josh Kline (6-3, 295). The second-year player from Kent State has lined up at both guard spots, and was the first option to step in to Mankins' spot Dec. 22 against the Ravens when Mankins was moved out to tackle. Kline entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and quickly won over teammates with his flat-line approach. Prior to the Mankins trade, he was a contender for the starting right guard spot, and also was being used as a blocking tight end. Kline would be our choice as the most likely candidate to step into Mankins' left guard spot.
Jordan Devey (6-6, 317) -- The first-year blocker from Memphis played more than any Patriots offensive lineman through the first three preseason games (203 of 219 snaps), lining up at both guard spots and also left tackle. Bill Belichick previously cited his improvement from 2013 when he was on the team's practice squad. The 6-foot-6, 317-pound Devey could now make the roster and potentially compete for a valuable role.
Dan Connolly (6-4, 305) -- The nine-year veteran has shown he's capable at center, right guard and left guard. Entering training camp, one line of thinking was that his $3 million base salary could put him in jeopardy of losing a spot on the roster, but there would be an added risk for the Patriots to go that route now after losing Mankins.
Marcus Cannon (6-5, 335) -- The four-year veteran has played both tackle spots and right guard, and to our eye, looks more comfortable at tackle. But Mankins' departure, and some other potential moving parts, could warrant another look at right guard.
Ryan Wendell (6-2, 300) -- The team's center the past two seasons, he has been engaged in a competition with Connolly and fourth-round draft choice Bryan Stork for the top job this summer. With Mankins no longer on the club, and the potential for Connolly to move back to guard as Stork still recovers from an undisclosed injury that has sidelined him since July 29, it could strengthen his chances to stick.
OTHERS TO MONITOR: Second-year guard Chris Barker, first-year center Braxston Cave, rookie guard Jon Halapio.