AFC East: New England Patriots

Reviewing some of Ty Law's top moments

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
2:40
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cornerback Ty Law will be inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame today (4:30 p.m. ET). As Law dons the signature red jacket, we take a look back at Law’s greatest plays and moments of his 10-year career in New England.

[+] EnlargeTy Law
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellTy Law recorded nine career picks against Manning, including three in the 2003 AFC Championship Game.
Three interceptions against Peyton Manning in the 2003 AFC Championship Game. The Manning-led Colts had dominated the AFC playoffs in the first two games of their quest to reach Super Bowl XXXVIII. But Manning threw three interceptions to Law and the rest was history. Law intercepted Manning for the first time as he hauled the ball in with one hand as he cut in front of wide receiver Marvin Harrison. With the Colts down by two touchdowns, Law struck again with a quick interception in Colts' territory, though the offense could not turn it into points as Tom Brady was intercepted in the end zone by Walt Harris. On Law's final pick, Manning marched the Colts down the field and into Patriots territory when Law record the final pick. Law’s three interceptions on Manning make him just one of eight players with three or more interceptions in an NFL playoff game.

Pick-six on Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XXXVI. How the Patriots might slow down the “Greatest Show on Turf” was one of the big questions leading into Super Bowl XXXVI. The Patriots needed someone to step up and Law made one of the biggest plays in Patriots postseason history at the time. Quarterback Kurt Warner, facing pressure from linebacker Mike Vrabel off the edge and forced to throw off his back foot, lofted the ball toward Issac Bruce as Law undercut the route. Law raced down the sidelines in front of his cheering teammates for a 47-yard pick-6. The interception gave the Patriots a 7-3 lead and more importantly, provided the defense with some early confidence.

Nine interceptions in his first Pro Bowl season in 1998. Law's fourth NFL season was one of his best as he tied the Patriots’ franchise record of nine interceptions in one season. That also led the NFL that season and sent him to his first of five Pro Bowls, where he would be named a Co-MVP alongside Jets wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

2003 defense and physicality that contributed to NFL rule changes. Law’s physical style of play anchored the 2003 record-breaking Patriots defense, as the unit led the NFL in four categories, including interceptions, opponents’ passer rating and fewest passing touchdowns surrendered. Law’s aggressive use of his hands and contact set the tone and also contributed to the NFL changing some of its rules to favor the offense.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With three top draft choices atop the depth chart in Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins , the New England Patriots have the potential to field one of their best linebacker groups in Bill Belichick’s 15-year tenure as coach.

Strong play at the linebacker level has been a consistent theme through six training camp practices, with Mayo (first round, 10th overall, 2008) leading things in the middle as players have credited his presence for keeping everyone on the same page.

“It’s been great. He knows the defense better than anybody here,” said Hightower, one of the team’s two first-round picks in 2012. “It’s very important to have communication with all the checks we have. If one guy hesitates or makes the wrong check, that’s one hole in the defense and that can make a big play. I feel like we’ve been doing a pretty good job of communication, but there’s always room for improvement.”

Hightower
As is often the case in NFL training camps at this time, the Patriots' defense has seemed to have the upper hand in drills. Specific to the linebackers, they have been especially competitive in coverage drills, with Collins (second round, 52nd overall, 2013) a standout.

The group is enjoying working together, and it shows. Hightower sees the potential for great things.

“Most definitely,” he said. “I said it before, it’s all about having fun. When you have fun, you can go out there and fly around. Something is going to happen, you never know, you might be in that cutback lane to make that ball pop out. You might be around for a tipped pass to intercept it. Whenever you’re out there having fun, and you have enthusiasm, it’s contagious.”

Some have wondered if the Patriots’ linebackers might miss Brandon Spikes , who signed with the Bills in free agency, in that regard. Spikes brought plenty of energy and was arguably the team’s most physical linebacker against the run.

But the page has been turned and the new-look linebacker trio of Mayo, Hightower and Collins is out to make its own mark.

Their success through the early part of training camp has been hard to miss.

LB Jamie Collins gets job done in coverage

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
3:45
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots' second-year linebacker Jamie Collins put on a show with his coverage skills in Wednesday's practice in full pads. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Collins broke up two passes and shut down most every running back and tight end he matched up with during practice.

Collins
Despite his success in coverage, Collins remains focused on his overall development rather than his performance in one practice.

"It was OK, you know, there is always room for improvement," Collins said. "Just coming out here, hopefully I'll get better tomorrow."

Collins has already come a long way from his days at Southern Mississippi where he was a raw, jack-of-all-trades type of a player. Now he is settling in as an outside linebacker who specializes in coverage by using his long frame and agility.

"I hope it's another tool for us to win," Collins said. "All 11 guys need to help us and that's what we need to come out victorious. We all need to bring stuff to the table and hopefully I'm doing it."

Among Collins' notable plays Wednesday were a signature pass break-up on a Tom Brady pass to tight end D.J. Williams during 7-on-7 drills. He also prevented a touchdown by sticking with running back Shane Vereen from the line of scrimmage and forcing Vereen out of the end zone on a Brady pass in the right corner.

In addition to Collins' coverage skills, the Patriots linebackers have a variety of skill sets with Jerod Mayo quarterbacking the defense and Dont'a Hightower stopping the run and even rushing off the edge at times. Collins recognizes that this year's linebackers have potential to be something special, describing the trio and depth of the group as a "brotherhood."

Collins was asked what areas he'd like to focus on as training camp progresses.

"Just to play a little faster, man," he answered. "Just get the playbook down all the way down so I can just go out here and go all out."

Patriots Camp Report: Day 6

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
6:00
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New England Patriots training camp:
  • Tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to work only in individual drills, and one of those drills today came as he caught passes from quarterback Tom Brady while being covered by cornerback Darrelle Revis at a walkthrough-type pace. "It’s good to get that work in. It’s good to have him around you so you know what it’s like to have a defender right up on you for when you go full speed," Gronkowski said after practice. Brady, Revis and Gronkowski -- that's a terrific trio that in many ways holds the keys to the team's high hopes in 2014.
  • As is often the case in training camp, injuries and absences are starting to accumulate. Most notable was rookie center Bryan Stork leaving Tuesday's practice midway through with a member of the athletic training staff. Stork, the team's fourth-round draft choice from Florida State, walked to the locker room under his own power. A potential extended absence could represent a turning point in the highly-anticipated competition at center with incumbent Ryan Wendell, which is one of the Patriots' top positional battles in camp.
  • Receiver Julian Edelman put on a show with a one-handed/one-arm highlight reel catch on a fade pass in the end zone, and maybe that explains why he was all smiles after practice. Seems like a good time to point out that Edelman, who led the team with 105 catches in 2013, has put together a strong camp as Tom Brady's go-to guy.
  • In a variation of a live tackling Oklahoma drill (ball-carrier vs. defender in a confined space), safety Devin McCourty delivered one of the defensive plays of the day by forcefully ripping the ball out of the grasp of rookie running back Roy Finch. The play reflected what a significant portion of the practice was all about -- the fundamentals of tackling, continuing to get players acclimated to contact, and the defense practicing with an edge.
  • With cornerback Alfonzo Dennard being actived off the physically-unable-to-perform list, the Patriots' secondary continues to take shape. Dennard, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery, participated mostly in individual drills on Tuesday. He is a top candidate to start in place of Brandon Browner while Browner serves his season-opening four-game suspension, along with second-year player Logan Ryan, who took extended reps as the top nickel corner in this practice.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick's annual sit-down with Sirius XM NFL Radio usually enhances one's knowledge of the New England Patriots and this year was no different. Belichick was interviewed by co-hosts Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan, with the segment airing Monday, and the biggest takeaway was how public perception of rookie running back James White (4th round, Wisconsin) might differ from the internal view.

[+] EnlargeJames White
AP Images/Michael DwyerPatriots coach Bill Belichick says rookie running back James White will compete in "both the running game and the passing game."
Specifically, White has been labeled by some as more of a "passing back" in the mold of Kevin Faulk. But that doesn't mean he won't be part of the consideration in more traditional running situations as well.

"It’s been good working with James White. He’s a very interesting and versatile player," Belichick said on the program. "He does a good job in the passing game and in the running game -- both inside and outside. Blitz pickup -- we have a pretty extensive offense for him to learn, but he’s working hard at it. We’ll just let him go and see how it goes, but I think he has the ability to compete on all three downs, in both the running game and the passing game."

White is listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds on the Patriots' roster, which might be slightly generous height-wise and puts him closer to the physical profile of Ravens running back Ray Rice (5-8, 206).

Traditionally, the Patriots' "lead" back has been a bit bigger than that, with Stevan Ridley (5-11, 220) the most recent example. LeGarrette Blount (6-0, 250) was the biggest of them all, and when he signed with the Steelers in free agency this offseason, it was easy to assume the Patriots would look for another big back to fill the void.

Instead, they went the smaller route with White, who gives the Patriots a potential different look in that he can sometimes be tough for defenders to locate behind bigger blockers. We've seen that early in training camp, such as the time White squirted through the right side with a strong burst, something he did often at Wisconsin in averaging 6-plus yards per carry.

So while White's pass-catching ability has been noted often in recent months, Belichick's remarks about him competing on "all three downs" remind us that White should also be part of the consideration when it comes to early-down running plays.
By claiming rookie running back Tyler Gaffney on waivers Monday, the New England Patriots showed willingness to a pay a short-term price for a potential long-term gain at a position where there is an uncertain future.

In doing so, they essentially added an additional draft choice, as Gaffney was selected in the sixth round in May. The cost: Gaffney's $420,000 base salary for 2014.

Gaffney, who was part of our "Beyond the first round" series leading into the draft in part because of his excellent 6.78 time in the 3-cone drill, could help the Patriots in 2015 upon his return to health. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in a practice Friday.

The Patriots' top three running backs -- Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden -- all enter the final year of their contracts. Rookie James White, the team's fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin, is signed through 2017. Gaffney's contract also extends through the 2017 season.

When the Patriots did the same thing with tight end Jake Ballard in 2012, some said it was against "unwritten" rules in the NFL. That drew a somewhat fiery response from coach Bill Belichick.

This is essentially Ballard, Part II.

The Patriots hope this one works out with more favorable results, as Ballard never emerged with the team and landed with the Arizona Cardinals, where he's had more success.
Examining the New England Patriots' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Not reading too much into Garoppolo's handful of interceptions in the early days of camp. Mallett, as expected at this point, looks like he has the edge for the No. 2 job.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Bolden, who has struggled at times early in camp with ball security and catching the ball, still sticks because of his important role on special teams.

FULLBACKS (1)

When the pads came on Saturday for the first time, the hard-charging Develin was part of some of the biggest collisions as he brings an edge to the offense.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

We went light with just two tight ends in the initial projection but add Williams in this time because we're somewhat intrigued with his potential as a "move" option in the two-tight-ends package.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The top four are solidified, and then it comes down to LaFell ($3 million signing bonus) and Boyce (2013 fourth-round pick). Does the team have enough room to keep both?

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

There's a long way to go, but in this projection, Stork (fourth round, Florida State) beats out incumbent Ryan Wendell for the starting job at center.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

There is always a surprise cut, and 33-year-old Tommy Kelly, coming off a torn ACL that limited him to four games last season, would qualify as one in this projection.

LINEBACKERS (6)

With White and Hull potentially serving as core special teamers, it could threaten 2013 seventh-round pick Steve Beauharnais' place on the roster.

CORNERBACKS (5*)

Because Browner is suspended for the first four regular-season games, he won't count against the initial 53-man roster limit. But he is included here because he is obviously a significant part of the team's overall planning for the 2014 season.

SAFETY (4)

Veteran Patrick Chung could always come back during the season in the event of injury. With rookie Jemea Thomas (sixth round, Georgia Tech) sustaining an undisclosed injury on the first day of training camp, he is edged out in this scenario by Wilson, who also contributes on special teams.

SPECIALISTS (4)

One of the under-the-radar training camp competitions is at snapper, where incumbent Aiken is being challenged by rookie Tyler Ott of Harvard.

Julian Edelman: 'I love returning punts'

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
6:00
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With youth in the Patriots' receiving corps and some other injuries in 2013, wide receiver Julian Edelman emerged as quarterback Tom Brady's go-to guy. While Edelman will continue to have a major role in the passing game, he also wants to keep contributing in another part of the game -- return punts.

Edelman
The Patriots' special teams drills focused on the punt-return during Sunday's practice in full pads and Edelman broke free down the right sideline on one return.

"That's a part of the game [punt return] that gave me an opportunity to make this team," Edelman said. "I love returning punts. I want to do that and if they ask me to do that, I'm going to do it."

Wide receiver Danny Amendola and undrafted rookie running back Roy Finch of Oklahoma also took reps in the return game. Finch had one bobble but still managed to haul in the Ryan Allen punt.

Finch's process of learning punt returns reminded Edelman of his early days with Patriots.

"You guys remember when I was a rookie bobbling the ball around everywhere and getting booed by the crowd," Edelman said of one training camp practice. "But he's just got to get some experience, repetition."

This recollection of how much work it takes to be an effective punt returner fuels Edelman's desire to hone his craft.

"You got to work on catching punts, finding the tip of the ball -- if it turns over, if it doesn't -- what foot punter it is, the trajectory of the punt, what return you have -- if it's a return, if it's not a return -- the situation in the game," Edelman said. "All that stuff. It comes with experience. I still have to try in practice every day to improve what I have to do because it's a craft. If you don't do it every day, it will slip away."

In the past, Edelman has been an elite punt returner -- cutting and juking his way through punt coverage units. Though last season, when he averaged 10.7 yards per return, Edelman was forced to call more fair catches (23) than in other seasons.

"When you get 10 yards that's your goal and when guys are working together you get a little more which is great," Edelman said about the importance of punt returns. "But our number one job on that unit is to get the ball in the offense's hand and make the right decision."

Observations from Patriots camp: Day 4

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
1:35
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observations from the New England Patriots' fourth practice of training camp, which was held in full pads and was cut about 10-15 minutes short because of heavy rains and the threat of lightning:

Legion of Boom moment with Browner: The play that had many buzzing came when cornerback Brandon Browner de-cleated rookie running back James White in an 11-on-11 running drill, with the crunching pads and thud of White hitting the deck audible to the 10,000-plus in attendance. Browner, who at 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds took pride in being part of the Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary, then looked to the sky and roared. On the play, White had attempted to bounce outside to the left side, where Browner was awaiting him with the strong run force. In a credit to White, he held on to the football.

Backup quarterbacks deliver a few gems: Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Garoppolo had two of the offensive highlights, both coming in 11-on-11 drills. Mallett delivered a beautiful deep ball down the left sideline to streaking receiver Josh Boyce, who had raced past Browner. It can be a challenge to get the ball over the rangy Browner, but Mallett dropped it in the bucket and Boyce caught it in stride for what would have been a touchdown. Prior to that play, Garoppolo had a sweet 15-yard pass to tight end D.J. Williams along the right sideline, arcing it over 6-foot-6 defensive end Michael Buchanan, who was in coverage. Great touch by Garoppolo.

Rookie TE Jones makes his presence felt: Undrafted tight end Justin Jones is an intriguing prospect at 6-foot-8 and 275 pounds, and undrafted linebacker Cameron Gordon (6-3, 240) had the difficult matchup of going up against him in 1-on-1 tackling drills. Jones, who later caught a touchdown from Garoppolo in goal-line drills, ran right over Gordon in an impressive effort.

Who’s winning 1-on-1s? There was one set of pass-rush drills in the practice, with a total of 15 repetitions. Defensive end Chandler Jones stayed on a hot streak and appeared to get the best of left tackle Nate Solder on the opening rep, with Vince Wilfork digging in and powering into left guard Logan Mankins and pushing him back on the next rep. That’s the type of rush we’ve been looking forward to seeing from Wilfork as he continues to gain comfort in coming back from a ruptured Achilles, as he showed some notable explosion from the lower-leg area. ... Center Ryan Wendell, scrappy as always, angled off defensive tackle Marcus Forston. ... There was a heavy collision between right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and veteran defensive end Will Smith that looked like a stalemate. ... Guard Josh Kline stayed hot by standing his ground against defensive tackle Joe Vellano, while rookie center Bryan Stork stood up Forston. We look forward to seeing how Stork (three strong reps in the drill over two days) fares against some higher-level competition. ... Some improvement from rookie right guard Jon Halapio, who had his best rep of camp (on L.T. Tuipulotu) before he was pushed back into the pocket by Sealver Siliga. ... One thing that caught the eye was third-year defensive end Jake Bequette using a nice spin move to record a victory over right tackle Cameron Fleming. Bequette, from our view, most often tries to win with a speed rush to the outside, so the spin was an effective change-up. ... Fleming later had what looked like a nice rep on defensive end Michael Buchanan, using a strong punch to push him out wide, likely behind where the quarterback would have dropped. ... Guard Dan Connolly (against Chris Jones) and reserve offensive linemen Jordan Devey (over Eathyn Manumaleuna), Braxston Cave (over Tuipulotu) and Chris Barker (over Zach Moore) all held their ground on a day in which the offensive line was better than it was Saturday.

Punt returns the focus on special teams: A specific segment of special teams is worked on in each practice, and today was punt return. Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Roy Finch were the returners. It seemed like a good day for second-year punter Ryan Allen, who was crushing the ball (the wind might have helped a bit).

Offense does well on the goal line: While the defense has had the upper hand at practice, which is often the case for most NFL teams at this time, the Patriots’ offense fared well in end-of-practice goal-line drills. We counted three touchdowns (two passing, one running) in four attempts, the lone stop coming when undrafted running back Stephen Houston (Indiana) was stopped short of the goal line on a run to the left side.

Cleaning out the notebook: Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and rookie linebacker Taylor McCuller got into a minor shoving match at the end of a tackling drill, with Hoomanawanui taking exception to McCuller’s overly aggressive approach after the play was over. ... Penalty laps were taken by linebackers Steve Beauharnais and Cameron Gordon (for offsides), as well as Garoppolo and Stork (fumbled snap). ... Reserve offensive lineman Chris Barker, who was on the 53-man roster throughout last season and is competing for a roster spot this year, got some repetitions at left tackle. ... Receiver Brandon LaFell, whose inconsistent hands have drawn notice, had a one-handed catch while working on pass routes (no defense). Undrafted Wilson Van Hooser also had a nice one-handed catch (followed up by a drop). ... Kenbrell Thompkins had another dropped pass after dropping two on Saturday. ... Bill Belichick spent a portion of the practice speaking with assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi, who has been a consistent presence at practice. ... Running back Brandon Bolden and Garoppolo had a miscommunication on a handoff in half-line running drills, and Bolden also had the ball ripped away from him at one point in ball-stripping drills. ... In a light moment during warm-up stretching and running, Wilfork tugged on the back of Tom Brady's jersey to give Mallett a head start as Brady and Mallett continued a playful competition on who is the fastest quarterback. ... Cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted Mallett, who was looking for Van Hooser. ... With heavy rain ending practice early, many of the receivers stayed behind to work on catching wet footballs.

Who returned: The only new players at practice were receivers Cole Stanford (No. 14) and Brian Tyms (No. 84), who were signed Sunday. To make room on the roster, the Patriots waived injured receiver Greg Orton.

New absences: None.

Who else didn’t practice: Receiver Aaron Dobson (foot/PUP), special teams captain Matthew Slater (unknown/PUP), linebacker Deontae Skinner (non-football injury list), cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder/PUP), offensive tackle Chris Martin (non-football injury list), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (non-football injury list), receiver Jeremy Gallon (unknown/PUP), defensive back Jemea Thomas (unknown, only practiced Day 1) and cornerback Daxton Swanson (practiced the first two days).

Notable injuries/health-related incidents: Thompkins, who required some attention late in Saturday’s practice, participated in full and didn’t appear to have any issues. ... Hoomanawanui walked off with members of the athletic training staff after the practice, but it didn’t seem to be anything too serious.

Who’s talking with the media: Edelman, running back Stevan Ridley and fullback James Develin were players drawing the largest media crowds, with Ridley conducting his interview while seated. Safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung and rookies Jon Halapio and Justin Jones also drew some attention. The interviews took place in a tunnel underneath Gillette Stadium because of the rain.

Kraft on another title: 'We want it real bad'

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
11:36
AM ET
video New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft appeared on the ESPN "SportsCenter" set this morning in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and spoke with anchor Hannah Storm and analyst Tedy Bruschi about a number of topics.

On the start of training camp. "You feel reborn. ... It's great to see football back."

On the team's upgraded football facilities. "We've invested over $25 million to try to get our facilities top-notch. In this business, if you aren't always pushing -- whether it's in the area of developing software or getting the right free agents or doing all the little things that can help, hopefully, put you in a good position to try to win. It's so hard, as you know.

"I probably speak for every owner in the league that this time of year we're all excited. We think the sky's the limit. We've made our offseason moves. We've had our draft. It's 0-0 wins and losses. So optimistic."

It's going on 10 years now since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl. Does he get impatient? "Absolutely. Especially as the years start creeping up and you realize how delicate everything is. Look at last year: We thought we had a great team and then Vince [Wilfork] goes down in Week 4 and Tommy Kelly in Week 5 and Jerod Mayo in Week 6. So that solid defense … that's the beauty of this game, no one knows what's going to happen.

"We want it real bad. In the end, like everything in life, it is about execution. You have to make it happen, and you also need good fortune not to have injuries and then have the ball bounce right."

On the importance of the NFL putting a team (or teams) in Los Angeles. "I think we've gone almost a generation, almost 20 years I think, without a team in L.A. … It isn't good for the NFL. We have a generation of young people growing up not really branded or tied to a team. I think that kind of passion only comes when you have a team you can root for. I think it's very important. I'd like to see us get two teams in L.A., personally ... then we have the AFC and the NFC."

Kraft talks more about Los Angeles in the video above, saying he would love to see a team come to the city within the next two to three years.

Patriots camp report: Day 1

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
9:30
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A daily review of hot topics coming out of training camp:
  • The team's first practice provided a snapshot of how the team plans to manage tight end Rob Gronkowski as he works his way back from surgery on his torn right ACL on Jan. 9. Gronkowski participated in individual drills, but not in any of the 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills. Gronkowski had a brace over the knee, and is still wearing a protective cover over his previously injured left forearm. He didn't seem reluctant running, cutting and planting, and at the end of practice spent some extra time on the field catching passes from quarterback Tom Brady. At the same time, it's clear that this is going to be a gradual process in bringing Gronkowski along.
  • Receiver Aaron Dobson, the 2013 second-round draft choice who the Patriots hope can provide a downfield thread and size (6-foot-3) on the perimeter, has opened camp on the active/physically unable to perform list after undergoing surgery March 10 for a stress fracture in his left foot. Dobson spent the practice working with strength coaches Harold Nash and Moses Cabrera, at one point doing some pretty aggressive running. This is supposed to be a big year for Dobson after a full year in the system, yet in his absence, second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins stepped in and made a few notable catches. One of them -- a diving grab in the back right-hand corner of the end zone, had quarterback Tom Brady heaping praise on him after the practice.
  • While Dobson is among a small handful of players not yet cleared for practice, it is significant that defensive tackle and captain Vince Wilfork was a full participant as he is coming off a ruptured Achilles on Sept. 29, 2013. Wilfork looks like he might have shed some weight.
  • Quarterback Tom Brady, Mayo and Wilfork drew huge media crowds on a day that NFL.com, the New York Daily News, the New York Post and the Toronto Sun were on hand to cover the team from more of a national perspective. One of the more notable comments came from running backs coach Ivan Fears, who touched on how rookie James White (fourth round, 130th overall) has made a strong first impression. "I like his running style," Fears said, via the Boston Herald. "He runs like a big guy for a little guy (5-10, 205). He plays big. He works hard. Right now, he's doing everything right. It's hard not to be in love with him."
  • By the time players and coaches arrived on the field for the 9:45 a.m. ET practice, the bleachers surrounding the two practice fields were filled. The team announced an official attendance of 7,822. This was an increase from last year, when 6,390 fans showed up in a heavy rainstorm. The Patriots' single-session record for a training camp practice is 12,163, set in 2012.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A few takeaways from Bill Belichick’s morning news conference on the first day of training camp, and a quick practice note:

Revis
Impressed with Darrelle Revis. A reporter from the New York Post asked Belichick to share his thoughts on cornerback Darrelle Revis. “He has worked hard. Smart guy. I’ve been impressed with him. Very professional. Has a good understanding of the game. He’s a smart player. He has a real good focus and instinct. He’s a smart player scheme-wise, but he knows how to play. He’s a very instinctive player. … On a personal level, I never really had a personal relationship with him. So I’ve enjoyed that part of it.”

Reflective entering his 15th season. Belichick was reflective in his opening remarks, thinking back to his first year in 2000 when the team trained at Bryant College and played at the old Foxboro Stadium. In doing so, Belichick noted some capital improvements made at Gillette Stadium this offseason to expand the team’s coaching offices, meeting rooms, training facilities and weight room, crediting owner Robert Kraft for his commitment. “Robert has given us a great opportunity to field a competitive team,” he said. “With some of our new facilities in place, it’s kind of the start of a new year here. We’re excited to get going.”

Historical view of training camp and the game. Belichick had detailed remarks on how the game has changed over the years – from X’s and O’s, to the size of rosters and coaching/athletic training staffs. Specialization was also part of the discussion. For the real football junkies, we’ll circle back and link those remarks when they are transcribed.

All players in the house. No surprise, but Belichick confirmed that every player under contract has reported for camp.

Finch on the field. Rookie running back Roy Finch has been removed from the active/non-football injury list, as he was spotted at the start of practice today.

Expect Gronk to be eased in

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
2:35
PM ET
video

Wednesday’s news that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been cleared by doctors was a significant step, as it means he will not begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

It’s now in the hands of Bill Belichick and the coaching staff to determine how quickly they want to work Gronk into the mix. It’s a football decision rather than a medical one at this point, and that’s good news for Patriots fans.

So when can we expect to see him practicing with his teammates? He’ll likely be out there for Thursday’s first practice, which will be held without pads. The first real question comes Saturday, when the team is scheduled to be in pads for the first time.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Gronk is eased in rather than going full bore from the get go because you are talking about a player who had surgery for a torn ACL less than seven months ago. They’re going to want to bring him along slowly.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's never too early to get into nitty-gritty football talk, and with that in mind, one area that has been pinpointed by players to improve is defending the screen pass -- especially on third down.

The New England Patriots ranked 26th in the NFL on third down last season, with opponents converting 42.2 percent of the time, and screens on third-and-long were a notable part of the problem.

"One of the big things is just getting to the ball. You try to get the linemen to rush up the field, guys are dropping in coverage, so just effort and everything on that simple basis can help improve the screen game," safety Devin McCourty said.

[+] EnlargeDevin McCourty
AP Photo/Jim MahoneyDevin McCourty says the Patriots should pay close attention to screens on third-and-long in order to improve from last season.
The process of hopefully turning things around has been ongoing.

"That started in the spring, trying to develop those things and look at them, just so all the players can be aware of what hurt us last year and what we need to be ready for this year," McCourty said. "Third down is always a key. A lot of times it comes down to your season."

A few more sound bites from McCourty:

If he now considers himself solely a safety: "I still try to look at myself as just a football player. I always feel like you never know what can happen. Being able to play safety and corner has helped me in my career so far, so I don't think I should ever get to the point where I just lose one of them. In the offseason, I'm always doing drills for both so I can be a complete football player."

Training for a few weeks with Darrelle Revis in Arizona before training camp: "A lot of that stuff we did was working on technique, working on your conditioning, being ready for training camp. It's not as much when we're up here going over scheme and all of that. I think it's always good when you work out with your teammates. You just develop a stronger friendship, a stronger bond. It was really good for all of us to be out there [Revis, McCourty, Logan Ryan and Tavon Wilson] because we all got to work hard together and get better as player and doing it together as teammates."

On third-year safety Tavon Wilson: "I'm excited for him. I think sometimes guys get killed from the outside view and they're still putting in the work. That's why I'm excited. Tavon never budged at any second and just got down on himself and stopped working. This offseason in the spring time he's been working incredibly hard just to get out there and play more. Each year guys come in and it's a new year. You have new opportunities, new chances to get out there and play more. He's just one of those guys that have come in here and I think he's put himself in pretty good position to come in here and compete and try to get on the field."

On second-year safety Duron Harmon: "Same thing [with] Tavon, a younger guy who works incredibly hard, too. From the spring time until now going into training camp, he's pushed himself, he's done everything he could do just to be in this position and get himself a chance to be on the field as well. A bunch of guys on this team come back ready because they know if you don't go out there and work hard, there's somebody else on the team that's working hard to get on the field. I love this time of year. It's going to be so competitive at camp each and every day, not just one position, but really every position across the board. Guys want to get out there and play. I'm ready and I think Duron along with Tavon and other guys on the team have pushed themselves to be ready for training camp."

Ninkovich: 'Going to be a better defense'

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
12:00
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Defensive end Rob Ninkovich recognizes that the rest of the NFL knows the New England Patriots should have a better defense this season. But with training camp set to start on Thursday morning, Ninkovich is ready to put the work in with his teammates to accomplish that.

With the signings of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and veteran defensive end Will Smith, the focus has been around the new additions to the defense. Even Ninkovich cannot ignore that having a player like Revis gives the team the ability to shut down any receiver it wants.

Ninkovich
While the Patriots added key players this offseason, they also lost a significant number of players to injury in 2013, especially along the defensive line. Ninkovich is looking forward to having his teammates healthy around him to start training camp.

“Last year it was tough when we lost [Jerod] Mayo and Vince [Wilfork] and Tommy [Kelly],” Ninkovich said. “Having those guys next to you definitely gives you more confidence.”

The injuries hurt the depth of the line, which contributed to Ninkovich playing more than 90 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Only teammate Chandler Jones took more defensive snaps among all defensive linemen in the NFL last season. Ninkovich has nine years of experience, but he is still feeling young after a long 2013 season.

“Whatever it is, I’m going to be out there,” Ninkovich said of his playing time. “If it’s 90, 100, if it’s 80, I’m going to be out there playing just as hard.”

The Patriots will need Ninkovich as the team looks to improve on third down and get off of the field. After ranking 26th in the NFL in defensive third-down conversions last season, Ninkovich emphasized working together in coverage and the rush, especially in third-and-long situations.

As a returning veteran, Ninkovich knows what to expect at camp after going through the hard days.

“This is where you kind of set the tone for the season,” Ninkovich said. "I think that the NFL knows we’re going to be a better defense. But we have to put the work in."

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