The news of Rob Gronkowski's potential availability for week one was a positive sign on Monday, and his brief availability last season, while being short-lived, was still a reminder of what a difference maker he really is in this offense.
Gronkowski changed the offense quite a bit during his brief time last season. (USA TODAY Images)
Looking back at how things went during the first six weeks of the season, between Danny Amendola missing games 2-4 along with Gronkowski's absence, it's amazing that New England was able to lose just one game over that span considering who Tom Brady had to work with.
Through the first six games Brady completed 136 passes on 239 attempts (57% completion rate) for 1480 yards along with 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Â He was also sacked 13 times.
Julian Edelman carried much of the weight of the offense, catching 41 passes for 411 yards and two touchdowns. Â Brady also leaned on him quite a bit on third down, with the receiver catching 12 of 16 targets, including 3 of 4 in the red zoneÂ along with his two scoring receptions.
When Gronkowski returned to the line-up in Week 7 against the Jets, things changed, although it didn't start out for the better. Â Brady targeted the veteran tight end 17 times with just eight completions, including connecting just once on five tries on third down. Â His interception in the third quarter on a pass to Gronkowski ended up being one of the key plays of the game, after Antonio Allen picked the ball off at the Patriots own 23 yard line and took it in for a touchdown. Â That got the Jets back in the game and played a big part in New York's win.
But from there, things certainly came together. Â Over the next six games Brady completed 160 of 238 attempts (67% completion rate) for 1977 yards along with 13 touchdowns. Â However, one of the biggest changes was down in the red zone where heÂ had previous struggled. Â Through the first six games Brady completed just 16 passes on 33 attempts (48%) with seven touchdowns and one interception.
With Gronkowski back in the line-up, Brady's success down in the red zone improved. Â Over the next six contests he completed 20-of-32 attemptsÂ (63%) with 10 touchdowns, threeÂ of which were caught by Gronkowski. Â Overall he completed over 60% of his passes during that stretch, connecting on 182-of-284 for 2205 yards along with 13 touchdowns.
After seeing Gronkowski carted off the field against the Browns following his torn ACL, Brady downplayed the loss of the tight endÂ leading up to the Miami game, and said that having already been without him for much of the season they'd just have to adjust.
"Itâ€™s disappointing to lose anybody," said Brady that Wednesday. "But weâ€™ve faced that before this year and at different times, so Iâ€™d say at least weâ€™re adjusted to it a little bit. We still have confidence that we can go out and win games. "
They ended up losing that game in Miami, which cost them a shot at the number one seed in the playoffs and saw Brady so frustrated after it was over that it ended in him dropping an expletive during his press conference before he walked away from the podium after just two questions. Â
Looking back at the numbersÂ over the final three games after Gronkowski was lost for the season, they really struggled. Â Brady was just 6-of-18 down in scoring territory (33% completion rate) with just three touchdowns and an interception, and dropped back below 60% overall throwing the football whileÂ completing 62 passes on 105 attempts (59%) over that span along with four touchdowns and two picks.
Needless to say the news of a potential return to start the season is certainly good news. Â Brady can downplay Gronkowski's importance but it's obvious that he's such a big difference maker when he's on the field. Â It's been a couple of years since he last played a full season, and hopefully 2014 will be the start of a better stretch for him moving forward.
DOUG FLUTIE FEELS THE NFL IS BECOMING LIKE THE CFL:
Former Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie wrote a column in Tuesday's MMQB's "Canada Week" about his time in the CFL, and after seeing the changes in the NFL in recent years believes the style of play is becoming very similar.
"The game in Canada was more exciting, more explosive, more wide open," Flutie wrote. "It was what the NFL is now becoming. We were going no huddle, over the ball, from the time I got up there. No-back sets, six wide receivers, throwing the ball all over the field. There is a 20-second clock between plays rather than 40. It just creates a pace that the NFL is now realizing to be more exciting-and actually more effective. The NFL is turning into a no-huddle, up-tempo, fast-paced, throw-the-football type of game now. The CFL has been that for the past 30 years."
Flutie remains bitter over the lack of opportunity he received early in his career, and believes that had the NFL adjusted to this style of offense when he first arrived that his career may have turned out differently.
"I'm pretty sure the trajectory of my career would have been different today," he wrote. "I would have been in a position to be more successful in the NFL running some of these current styles of offenses, and I think an NFL team would have been more open to turning me into a franchise guy if things went well."
TROY BROWN AMONG FACES IN A NEW SECURITY SYSTEM:
There was an interesting article in yesterday's New York Magazine that took a look at the potential future of passwords, which could see a move toward using faces as an alternative to conventional passwords.
According the article, the study, which was conducted by researchers at the Universities of York and Glasgow, tested the feasibility of a "facelock" that blocks access to a given program or device until the user can recognize several familiar faces in a sea of unfamiliar ones. Users selected faces familiar to them, and then both they and hypothetical "attackers" were asked to try to get into their accounts by successfully selecting the right face out of a grid of nine four times in a row.
One of the big keys to the system was the fact that users were asked to select photos of people they could easily recognize, and one of the players who surprisingly made the listÂ was Troy Brown, who is apparently a favorite of author Jesse Singal, as well as a Patriots fan. Â Singal linked to the blocked field goal in the AFC Championship game by Brown as a favorite memory.
The study overall was interesting as the usability saw 97.5 percent of users being able to have success recognizing the faces they picked a week later, and one year later it only dropped to 86 percent. Â Also pointed out was the fact thatÂ neither strangers (0.9 percent) nor close friends and family members of the person who chose the photos (6.6 percent) had much luck cracking facelocks, and those numbers dropped even further when it came to succeeding on the first attempt.
We'll see if it ends up coming to fruition in the years to come.
ANDRUZZI CONTRIBUTING IN A LIMTED ROLE:
Accoding to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, former offensive lineman and fan favorite Joe Andruzzi was spotted at the recent offseason practices while working as an assistant coach with the team's strength and conditioning staff.
While Andruzzi doesn't officially have a title, being around the players and trying to provide some guidanceÂ is something he says he enjoys doing and it's an opportunity for him to "pay it forward".
"I had good numbers coming out of a small school, which I think helped get me in the league, and then I think it helped me stay in the league," Andruzzi told Reiss. Â "I enjoy it, I love being a part of it, and this is a way for me to pay it forward."
His Charitable foundation is hosting its annual golf tournament on MondayÂ at Pinehills Golf Course in Plymouth, Mass. Current PatriotsÂ Rob NinkovichÂ andÂ Matthew SlaterÂ are reportedly expectedÂ to be co-hosts of the tournament.
QUESTIONS CONTINUE ABOUT ARMOND ARMSTEAD:
There have been plenty of questions surrounding Patriots defensive lineman Armond Armstead, and for fans hoping to see him contribute, it appears those hopes may be fading.
Mike Reiss held his weekly mailbag this week and one of the questions touched on whether or not Armstead would ever suit up for the team after missing the recentÂ mini camp practices. Â According to Reiss, it's beginning to sound like the health issues he's been dealing with may ultimately prevent him from contributing at this point, which is bad news for someone who many thought could potentially make an impact.
Reiss also points out a recent article by the Providence Journal's Mark Daniels, who noticed a Tweet from Armstead's father during the week Armstead wasnâ€™t seen at OTAs. Â According to Daniels his father Tweeted that ArmsteadÂ was in Boston, and then three days later, on July 9, wrote the following:
â€œRough week for our family, God spoke to me and said continue to live out your faith. So as for me and the Armstead house we will [praise the Lord].â€
It's hard to know exactly what that all may mean, but the overall picture doesn't appear to be promising.
Belichick talked about Armstead prior to the team's first minicamp practice and had positive things to say about him, but the question will remain whether or not he'll be able to contribute moving forward.
â€œArmondâ€™s really worked hard. Heâ€™s had a lot of adversity personally that heâ€™s had to deal with. Unusual compared to most other players,â€ Belichick said. â€œHeâ€™s had a great attitude, worked hard. Heâ€™s really done everything weâ€™ve asked him to do.â€
Julian Edelman was extremely effective as his first season as the team's go-to receiver. (USA TODAY Images)
Taking a quick snapshot of what Julian Edelman accomplished last season, it's interesting to take a look at his numbers over the course of his 105 catches in 2013.
We saw big things from Edelman in his first season in an expanded role, with the receiver finishing not only as the team's overall leading receiver with 1056 yards and a team best 6 touchdowns, but he was also their leading third down receiver with 30 receptions for 247 yards including 18 first downs and 3 touchdowns.
Overall last season he was also effective in helping move the chains, accumulating a team-best 54 first downs in 2013.
Here's a breakdown of his reception totals from last season by distance:
0 or less yards: 3 receptions
1-5 yards: 29 receptions
6-10 yards: 37 receptions
Over 10-yards up to 20-yards: 27 receptions
Over 20-yards and up to 30-yards: 5 receptions
Over 30-yards and up to 40-yards: 2 receptions
Over 40-yards and up to 50-yards: 2 receptions
Over 50 yards: 0 receptions
Edelman lead the team in receptions of over 20-yards among wide receivers in 2013 after finishing with 9, with tight end Rob Gronkowski as the only player who had more (he had 10).
One of the biggest surprises was the difference in yardage over every other receiver in the fourth quarter last season. Edelman finished 2013 with 410 yards receiving during the fourth quarter, significantly more than the next closest receiver, which was Aaron Dobson with 249 yards. Edelman also had three fourth quarter touchdowns, the most of any other receiver.
Edelman's biggest performance of the season came in Week 15 down in Miami where he finished with 8 receptions on 12 targets in a tough loss against Miami that cost them the top seed in the playoffs.
It was an impressive performance in his first year taking on a bigger role in this offense. Now the bigger question will be how he'll follow that up in 2014, which will obviously be something to watch for during the upcoming season.
TRAINING CAMP DATES, JOINT PRACTICES ANNOUNCED:
The team announced the dates for the first practices of next month's training camp, with the Patriots set to begin practice on Thursday July 24th, one day after veterans are required to report. From there they'll hold practices on Friday July 25th, Saturday July 26th, and Sunday July 27th.
They'll also hold joint practices with both the Redskins and Eagles in advance of their exhibition match-ups. The Redskins announced the sessions will be held on August 4th-6th in Richmond, Virginia, while the sessions against the Eagles will take place from August 12-13 at Gillette Stadium.
This is the second straight year the team will hold sessions with the Eagles, which were held last year in Philadelphia. They also practiced against the Buccaneers last year at Gillette Stadium prior to their preseason game.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden told reporters recently that he felt the sessions give them a chance to work against some better competition.
"It's a great opportunity for us to see how our players both offensive line, how we pick up different stunts and different fronts and defensive line, different blocking schemes, obviously route combinations against different coverages and different type meets in the secondary," said Gruden. "And how people adjust and how our quarterback adjusts and how they see things, so it's good for everybody."
ALEX MARVEZ TALKS ABOUT MINICAMP REACTIONS:
Marvez gave a quick rundown on all 32 teams in a piece released on Monday, with a quick synopsis on each one. When it came to the Patriots, Marvez talked about the status of Ryan Mallett and the speculation surrounding his future, while he believes that potential free agent Michael Bush could be a possibility to join the running back group by the time training camp arrives.
"Will the Patriots seek to sign a big-bodied running back before the regular season to fill the opening created by the free agent departure of LeGarrette Blount to Pittsburgh? One option could be 245-pound veteran Michael Bush, who took a free-agent visit early this offseason. Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden - smaller backs all in the final year of their contracts - are the current leaders to head a committee approach for New England in 2014."
Marvez also points out the fact that what's complicated the situation with Mallett is the fact the Houston Texans went with the University of Pittsburgh's Tom Savage in Round 4 as their hopeful quarterback of the future.
Former Patriot and Jets RB Curtis Martin Says Patriots Having Playbook a Big Advantage
Since Greg Bedard wrote his MMQB article on Browns head coach Mike Pettine where the coach had an anecdote with a comment from Brady suggesting the Patriots had a copy of the Jets' playbook, it's been downplayed by most people who believe it wouldn't be a big advantage.
However, former Jets RB Curtis Martin disagrees, and feels it would be a tremendous advantage.
"Oh, tremendously, to be honest with you," Martin told ESPN.com at the Big Daddy Celebrity Golf Classic at Oheka Castle in Huntington, New York. "What most people don't understand is that football is a science. There are little signals and little movements from one person that can give an indication on where the entire play is going. I think it can have a tremendous effect on a game. If we're playing chess and I understand all of your moves before you make them, my probability of winning is pretty high."
Martin historically has remained loyal to all things related to the Jets, and it appears his opinions remain protective of the uniform despite efforts by current coach Rex Ryan, who has since defended Bill Belichick.
JAMES DEVELIN GETS SOME WORK AT TE DURING MINI CAMPS:
An interesting note from Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, who pointed out that fullback James Develin recently spent some time during mini camp getting work in at the tight end position.
How much work did he see? According to Daniels, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw to him more times than he did Michael Hoomanwanui. Brady also had praise for Develin, who he said also brings a great attitude into the locker room.
“James is great. I love being out here with him. He’s been such a great player, performer for our team,” Brady said. “Whatever role we’ve asked of him, he’s done it to the best he possibly can do. He brings a great attitude, emotion. He’s a positive guy. He’s a great teammate in the locker room. I can’t say enough great things about him. He’s been such a great person and player for this team. Every time you put him out there, good things happen, so it’s fun to be a part of that.”
Most people remember Develin's best moment, and this TD run which was certainly one of the more memorable plays for the Patriots:
DOLPHINS MAY BE WITHOUT POUNCEY VS PATRIOTS:
With the Patriots set to battle the Dolphins in week one, it sounds like Miami might be a little weaker on their offensive line thanks to an injury to one of their key players.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, center Mike Pouncey is anticipated to miss "at least three months" after undergoing hip surgery on Monday. He reportedly has a three-month recovery timetable, which likely may mean he won't be available when the Patriots open the season down in Miami on Sunday, September 7th.
That's a good sign for a Patriots team who got after Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill quite a bit last season, sacking him 10 times in 2013, the most of any quarterback within their Division.
“Yeah, I’ve always had okay hands. Decent. I’m always working on them and trying to go out there and catch every ball that comes my way. That goes along with every part of my game. I’ve got to be the best in every aspect and try to do what I need to do to help the team win.” - James Develin via Mark Daniels, Providence Journal
“He’s definitely out there with something to prove because of all the guys getting the big contracts, and he was down in Tampa Bay as a forgotten guy. He’s still thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I’m still top dog.’ And he wants to win, that’s the most important thing.” - Ty Law via the Boston Globe on cornerback Darrelle Revis
QB coach: Tom Bradyâ€™s throwing mechanics can get too â€˜longâ€™ - Ben Volin: Volin has an article with comments from Brady's throwing coach Tom House, who talked about some of the things he's worked on this offseason.
Where are the Patriots Strongest? - Erik Frenz: Frenz has this week's mailbag and discusses a variety of topics, including what he believes are the strengths of this current roster.
What Tom Brady works on with Tom House - Mike Reiss: Reiss also has an entryÂ on House's interview, while also highlighting additional comments from a recent article in the Providence Journal.
Darrelle Revis: I Have â€˜Nothingâ€™ To Prove In First Year With Patriots - Nick Solari: Solari has an article on Revis, who believes the only people he has anything to prove to is his teammates.
Breer: Wilfork pivotal to Patriots - Albert Breer of the NFL Network was on Sports Tonight and talked about the difference that the return of Vince Wilfork will make for New England's run defense.
A Different Mold: Examining Patriots Linebacker James Anderson - Oliver Thomas: Thomas has a good read on newly acquired James Anderson, with a good look at what he may able to do in New England's defense.
Gisele bails on Cannes to be home with hubby Brady - Here's a quick article on the fact Brady's wife bailed on an event to spend time with both he and their sons.
Rodney Harrison shook things up when he joined in 2003. (USA TODAY Images)
The debate may go on about which team between the Patriots' 2003 and 2004 was the better team, but after going through the numbers, it's hard not to appreciate how dominant the 2003 group was on the defensive side of the football.
What they accomplished was pretty impressive. They finished the season having allowed just 238 points during the regular season, including three shutouts (12-0 against Dallas, 12-0 against Miami, 31-0 vs Buffalo). They lead the league in points-per-game allowed with 14.9, along with finishing with an NFL best 29 interceptions.
Ten players finished with interceptions that season, with Ty Law and Tyrone Poole leading the way with six. Here's a look at the list:
Ty Law: 6
Tyrone Poole: 6
Eugene Wilson: 4
Tedy Bruschi: 3
Rodney Harrison: 3
Asante Samuel: 2
Mike Vrabel: 2
Aric Morris: 1
Willie McGinest: 1
Larry Izzo: 1
The secondary that season had quite a year, finishing with 121 passes defensed, 13 better than the next team in that category, which was the Houston Texans with 108. That's the most of the Belichick era, and the fourth highest total over that same span behind the 2001 Browns (130) and the '05 and '06 Eagles (129 and 124 respectively).
Law lead the league in passes defensed that year with 23, while Poole was third with 21.
The group up front was solid as well, with New England finishing the year ranked 4th in rushing yards per game allowed with 89.6, also their best performance of the Belichick era. Ted Washington and Richard Seymour did a good job inside, while Jarvis Green (2.5 sacks in the postseason) Mike Vrabel (3 postseason sacks), Tedy Bruschi, rookie Ty Warren, and Roman Phifer were some key names from that group who made significant contributions during the postseason.
Rodney Harrison enjoyed a terrific first season in New England, finishing 2nd in the AFC during the postseason with 24 tackles and was tied with the Colts David Macklin with 2 interceptions, which was the 2nd most behind Law's NFL best three. Harrison also had three passes defensed along with a forced fumble.
As we all know, Harrison' arrival preceded the end of Lawyer Milloy's career in New England. Everyone knows the story of the 31-0 opening loss to the Bills and the subsequent media reactions that followed. There's always the famous "they hate their coach" comment by ESPN's Tom Jackson, which Harrison later said wasn't the case.
That was a tumultuous time, and the week before the Super Bowl that season Harrison reflected on what it was like when he first arrived, where he admitted he wasn't well liked in the locker room.
“When I first came in, I really didn’t make any friends, I made enemies. No one really wanted to talk to me once I got in the locker room," said Harrison. "I didn’t care about that. It wasn’t about me making friends. It was about me proving to people that I still had gas in my tank and that I can still play. As I spent some time with the guys, I realized they respected me and wanted me here. After that, I calmed myself down.”
Overall he said he was always fueled by the doubters who didn't believe in him. That season ended up being a memorable one, and one that made him a valuable asset in the years to follow until he finally walked away from the game.
“Once again it was about people not believing that I was able to do it," said Harrison. "I was too small, I wasn’t good enough to play in the Big 10 or any of the other schools I wanted to go to. I think that’s why I play with such rage. No one has ever given me credit or any sense that I was able to play at this level or even the college level. They always doubted me and that’s just driven me to prove people wrong.”
That he did, and he was a big reason for their success in a season that capped off their second championship. It's a defense that will be remembered as one of the best during Belichick's tenure, with a group that looking back on paper didn't appear impressive at first, but collectively simply played really well together. They even managed to do it with additional players like defensive backs Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel, who were both rookies at the time.
This season, with the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, it's a secondary that on paper should be a big improvement from where they were in past seasons. It will be interesting to see if this current group is able to approach the level that made this team one of the most dominant ones of those championship years.
Those were big shoes to fill, and looking back those players were all big reasons why that was definitely one of the more memorable defenses in Patriots history.
HARRISON MADE NOISE IN PRESEASON THAT YEAR:
Fans may also remember that Harrison's arrival in New England wasn't immediately met with adoration from his fellow players, a fact that he obviously admitted at the end of his first season. The veteran got into some squabbles during training camp, including against fellow teammates Troy Brown and Kevin Faulk after making his presence known by some big hits on each of the two players.
At the time Belichick dismissed it as part Harrison's competitive nature.
"We know how competitive Rodney is and we have a lot of other competitive players, highly competitive players on defense," said Belichick following a practice that July. "So I think he’s a good addition into that group. Mixing it up in training camp, that’s part of training camp. It’s hot. Everybody’s tired. There are some short fuses and that’s going to be part of it.
"But in the end we are all wearing the same jerseys on Sunday afternoon. We’re a team and we’ve got to work with each other and compete against each other. But at the same time we’ve got to take care of each other and really put our energy into our opponents. That’s who the true opponents are, not ourselves. But there’s a fine line on that in training camp, because everyone is trying to earn their job and establish their level of play. It is competitive. So sometimes it turns into a little thing."
Harrison's approach and intensity were two qualities Belichick admitted he liked about him, saying he wished all his players had the same competitiveness.
"I think when he steps on the field, he has a business attitude. Rodney prepares well," he said of Harrison. "Football’s important to him and he’s going out there to do a job. That’s his job. I don’t have any problem with that. I wish all of our players had a good, competitive approach to the job at the highest level. Some guys you are trying to push up to a higher level, competitively. Other guys, maybe you have to slow them down just a little bit. Sometimes it’s a little bit easier to put the brakes on than step on the gas."
We've heard a lot of talk recently about Tom Brady talking about the fact that he was a sixth round pick because he didn't necessarily possess the physical attributes to be taken higher. But one thing that Harrison did point out leading up to the Super Bowl was that it wasn't about where a player was taken that mattered. It was the heart and determination, which are two intangibles that simply can't be analyzed on paper.
"Who really cares? It doesn’t matter if you’re a first round draft pick," said Harrison. "A bunch of people say this guy has the height and size for a first rounder, it doesn’t matter. That’s just paper work. This guy has intangibles. He has the heart, the determination. He’s tough, he’s gritty and he wants to win. Look at the road he took. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t a first rounder. Look at me, I wasn’t a first rounder, this is my tenth year. It’s about what you have inside. You can’t judge a person’s heart."
Days later, that's likely one of the reasons why the Patriots won their second championship.
REISS: RB JAMES WHITE ONE TO WATCH:
Interesting note from Reiss' Sunday notes column regarding rookie running back James White, who Reiss believes may be flying under the radar:
With so much attention focused on Patriots top picks Dominique Easley and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (second round), I think running back James White (fourth round, Wisconsin, 130th overall) has slipped under the radar a bit. Everything I've heard is that the 5-foot-9, 204-pound White has made a strong first impression, both from a skills and approach standpoint, and even though it's early I don't think it's a stretch to say he will contribute in 2014. Bill Belichick has compared his style of play to fourth-year Patriots running back Shane Vereen.
The running back position will be interesting to watch this year as it is, with Stevan Ridley looking to bounce back from a frustrating 2013 performance, while Vereen is looking to hopefully have a healthy 2014 campaign. Both players are free agents at the end of this season, so if White can establish a role for himself, it may help him when the team starts making decisions moving forward.
GRONKOWSKI HAS DONE SOME GOOD THINGS THIS OFFSEASON:
While the cameras may have caught him in Las Vegas recently, it's hard not to appreciate the amount of charity events and appearances that Rob Gronkowski has been involved in this offseason. He's shaved his head to raise money to help fight children's cancer, donned waiter attire to help Danny Amendola raise money for his foundation, and also did a recent meet and greet at Wegmans to raise money for his own Youth Foundation.
Otherwise it's hard to fault him for the opportunities he's gotten on the big screen with his Entourage cameo, or his appearance on "Who's Line is it Anyway?", as those are opportunities which certainly don't hurt anyone.
As a result it's pretty obvious that his focus has certainly shifted as he continues rehabbing the torn ACL he suffered against Cleveland last season, and a recent report suggested even suggests he may be ready to go by Week 1.
After seeing his football mortality flash in front of his eyes one too many times, it's been nice this offseason seeing him turn a corner and he's done some terrific work locally. Unfortunately it doesn't get mentioned as much as it certainly should, but kudos to him for what he's done and hopefully he has some better luck this season.
- "I haven't called a play in five months. I have to rebuild all that myself. We all do." - Bill Belichick talking about the fact he and the coaches have to get re-acclimated to calling plays via Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston
- "When you get him off the media and doing all that stuff, and he gets more into his comfort zone where it's him up there teaching football and teaching guys life lessons, you get to see a different side of him. I think that's the joy of playing for him -- you learn things football-wise and he does a good job for each one of us of just trying to give us some lessons that will help you in life." - Devin McCourty on Bill Belichick via Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston
“I’m just really proud of him. I’m really proud of who he is as a player. But more importantly as a man, as a husband, as a future father. He’s setting a good example for a lot of people.” - Former Patriot Ben Watson speaking about his brother and current tight end, Asa Watson - via Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald
“He’s proven it time and again. The only person you can debate it with is Sherman. I’m not taking anything away from Richard Sherman, but in my eyes, Darrelle is the superior of the two. Sherman is a close second.” - Ty Law talking about Darrelle Revis via Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe
Every season winning the AFC East is always theÂ first step in setting themselves up for success in the postseason, but the last couple of seasons that task has certainly gotten a little more difficult within the Division for the Patriots.
Last season what has traditionally been anÂ easy win againstÂ the Bills was more difficult than expected. In fact, things actually came down to the wire in the opening week, requiring a last second 35-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to allow New England to escape with a 23-21 victory.
Just four days later it didn't get any easier, as the offense struggled against a tough Jets defense but managed to do enough to win that game 13-10. Â That night the weather and the fact the Patriots offense struggled themselves kept New York in the game, but New England made just enough plays to ultimately come away with the win.
However, when the two teams met again in week 7, it ended up being a different story. Quarterback Geno Smith played better in front of the home crowd and the Patriots found themselves on the wrong side of a 30-27 loss at the Meadowlands.
Against Miami the next week, the Patriots beat the Dolphins 27-17, but Miami got even in the rematch in week 15 after beating them 24-20 in a game that squandered the chance at the number one seed in the postseason for New England. Brady was beyond frustrated after the game, finishing off his brief press conference with an expletive before walking away.
Two weeks later to finish out the season, they beat the Bills by 14 points with a 34-20 win at home, ending the season with aÂ 4-2 record overall in the division on the year.
That 4-2 record obviously looks good on paper, but we're seeing a gradual improvement at the quarterback position across the division. With training camp just over a month away, here's a closer look at how each of the quarterbacks from each team within the division stacked up last season as we start pondering what we may expect to see this year from each of them:
Game 1: 22-of-42 (52%) for 192 yards 2 TD's 2 INT's
Game 2: 25-of-37 (68%) for 312yds 3TD's 0 INT's
Overall: 47-of-79 (59%) 504 yards, 5 TD's, 2 INT's
Tannehill's best performance during the two meetingsÂ came in their second one on December 15th where he finished 25-of-37 for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Â Their first match-up didn't go quite as smoothly, as the Patriots defense made him miserable after sacking him six times along with 10 recorded quarterback hits.
Overall Tannehill struggled throwing the football on first down, finishing 12-of-26 (46%) for 116 yards along with an interception. Â However, he was much better on second down where he completed 20-of-29 (69%) for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Â The more disturbing number was his success on third down, where he finished 14-of-22 (64%) passing for 176 yards and three touchdowns. With the Patriots improvement in the secondary, that should be an area that we'll hopefully see some improvement the next time these two teams meet.
Game 1:Â 18-of-27 150 yards, 2 TD's
Manuel played reasonably well against the Patriots in week one, finishing 18-of-27 (67%) for 150 yards and two touchdowns, including 2-of-2 passing down in the red zone. Â Looking closer,Â a lot of his successÂ in that gameÂ came on early downs, withÂ the quarterbackÂ finishing 6-of-8 (75%) for 63 yards and a touchdown on first down, and 6-of-8 (75%) for 37 yards and a touchdown onÂ secondÂ down. On third down he was just 6-of-11 (55%), including 1-of-4 down in the red zone.
A lot has changed since they last faced him considering that match-up took place all the way back in Week 1. Now the question for the Bills will be whether or not he can build on what he did the first time against them. It's been a long time since Buffalo has reached the postseason, and having success against the Patriots is something they'll need to be able to do in order to get there.
Game 2:Â 16-of-29 for 247 yards, 1 TD
Lewis' overall numbers weren't terrible, butÂ one of the stats that sticks out is the fact New England held him to just 5-of-11 (45%) on first down last season, but from there he was 7-of-8 (88%) on second down including a touchdown, but like Manuel dropped off again on third down while completing 4-of-8 (50%) for 99 yards.
Looking closer, his quarter-by-quarter numbers are interesting:
1st QTR:Â 2-of-5 (40%) 49 yards
2nd QTR: 1-of-3 (33%) 13 yards
3rd QTR: 4-of-7 (57%) 81 yards 1 TD
4th QTR: 9-of-14 (64%) 104 yards
One would have to believe the Patriots won't face Lewis again should Manuel stayÂ healthy.
Game 1: 15-of-35 (43%) 214 yards, 0 TD's, 3 INT's
Game 2: 17-of-33 (52%) 233 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Overall: 32-of-68 (47%) 447 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT's
NOTES:Â Game one against the Patriots didn't exactly go well for Smith, and had it not been for a sub par performance in the rain that night by the Patriots' offense, it may have been worse for him. Â He struggled to complete passes that night, especially on third down where he completed just 4-of-12 (33%) attempts for 71 yards and two interceptions.
Game two was a different story, and Smith performed better. Â New England did a reasonably good job on early downs after holding him to 3-of-12 (25%) passing on second down for just 34-yards, whichÂ left the JetsÂ facingÂ 3rd-and-7 or more 11 times with four conversions.
But on third down overall in that game, Smith had a decent success throwing the football after finishing 10-of-15 (67%) passing with eight first downs including a touchdown. Â Overall he completed 14-of-27 (52%) on third down in 2013, and that will likely be an area they'll want to focus on should Smith be on the field when the two teams meet again this season.
While the performances weren't necessarily stellar for any of these players, they were good enough to at least be a concern in 2014 as competition in the AFC East appears to rising. Hopefully with some of the moves we've seen this offseason the Patriots will be ready for it.
FIRST ROUND PICK EASLEY FINALLY HITS THE FIELD:
Some good news on Thursday as Patriots first round pick Dominique Easley was on the field for the first time in spring camps.
According to reports, the rookie took part in stretching and individual drills and he was also a limited participant, although he reportedly was sporting a full-leg sleeve but took part in most of the drills. Â NESN's Doug Kyed posted a video of him in one of them.
From the sound of things Easley was moving well and appears to at least off to a good start in his recovery. Â Obviously it's a little too early to read too much into the fact he's taking part in drills during the month of June, but it's at least a sign that he'll potentially be on the field next month when training camp starts.
DENNARD RECOVERING FROM SHOULDER SURGERY:
According to the Boston Globe's Ben Volin, Dennard's recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, stemming from an injury he suffered against the Browns back on December 8th.
That was a rough afternoon overall, as that was also the game in which Rob Gronkowski suffered his season-ending knee injury.
Dennard also suffered a knee injury last season that reportedly forced him to undergo arthroscopic meniscus surgery during the team's bye week. Â He didn't play at all during the team's loss in Carolina after being inactive, but did play in a limited role in the their win the following week against Denver after playing 21 of the team's 90 defensive snaps (23%). Â He played 25 of 73 (34%) the following week against Cleveland, but played in 57 of 64 (89%) one week later in Miami.
However, it was clear he wasn't himself, as he only took part in 6-of-76 snaps in Baltimore after that before ending up inactive during the final regular season game against Buffalo.
The veteran defensive back also had to serve 35-days in prison in Nebraska stemming from his conviction on charges of assaulting a police officer in 2012 after being arrested last summer on suspicion of drunken driving, which violated his probation.
CLEVELAND'S MIKE PETTINEÂ CAUSES A STIR:
Greg Bedard of MMQB has a good article on Browns head coach Mike Pettine, which was written to highlight the building of a competitive team as theÂ head coach in Cleveland.Â Â During the interview with Bedard, the former Jets defensive coach made some comments that he's likely now kicking himself for.
During a segment where he discussed the simplification of the playbook, Pettine insinuated that the Patriots may have been doing some questionable tactics as he talked about how he and the coaching staff simplified the playbook while trying to install the new system.
â€œThey were able to refine it even more and make it more player-friendly from the beginning,â€ Pettine told Bedard. â€œI think anytime you can install anew, if you can step back instead of just blowing the dust off, here it is, to look at it again and see if it still continues to make senseâ€"they did a good job.â€
Pettine also told Bedard a story of how, at Wes Welkerâ€™s wedding, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady bragged a little bit to Jets outside linebackers coach Mike SmithÂ (Welkerâ€™s college roommate) that the Patriots may or may not have had possession of a couple Jets defensive playbooks.
The initial playbook itself is actually quite thin, and thatâ€™s by design. â€œI donâ€™t put a lot of graduate-level information in it,â€ Pettine says. â€œWe know in places like New England, itâ€™s only a matter of time that they somehow mysteriously end up with our playbook.â€
That set up a firestorm of reaction, specifically from Rex Ryan, who fired off some shots at his former coach.
"One thing I know for a fact, No. 1, I think it's disrespectful to New England to say, 'Oh, they did this,'" Ryan told reporters when asked about them. "I can tell you every single game we've ever had with New England has been decided on the field. Nobody's had a competitive advantage. Nobody's had anything else. And that's a fact."
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick didn't sound happyÂ when asked after practice Thursday if the Patriots have ever possessed a Jets playbook.
"Go talk to Mike Pettine,'' Belichick told reporters. "I don't know."
Former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was asked on Thursday if he knows anything about Pettine's accusations, and he downplayed it, saying it was still up to his team to go out and beat them.
"I donâ€™t know anything about that. I donâ€™t know," said Revis via the Boston Herald. Â "I donâ€™t even know how to answer that. If they did, they did. If they didnâ€™t, they didnâ€™t. At that point, it really donâ€™t matter. You still got to go out and game-plan and compete and try to win the game.â€
As a result, an article that should have been a highlightÂ about the rejuvenation of the Browns has created a mess for a team whichÂ already has a myriad of issues as they try and start becoming a contender in that Division. Â This likely didn't make things any better.
AGENT FOR PATRIOTS QB TOM BRADY SPEAKS OUT ON THE DEATH OF TONY GWYNN:
Tom Brady's agent, Don Yee, published an article in the Washington Post discussing the loss of San Diego Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, writing that the loss of Gwynn came simply because he couldn't resist the urge to continue chewing tobacco.
"If ballplayers know smokeless tobacco is addictive and dangerous, why do they keep using it? But the unsatisfying answer continues to be: Because itâ€™s baseball, and the peer pressure is impossible to resist."
Yee talks about the environment in baseball from experience, having been a batboy for a Triple A minor league team in his hometown of Sacramento when he was just 13 years old. Â Using "snuff" between hisÂ lower lip and gum, or having a wad of tobacco leaves stuffed into hisÂ cheek, even at that age, was his badge of honor and made him feel more a part of the team. Â However, Bob Lemon, who was the manager at the time, pulled him into his office after noticing Yee chewing and that meeting caused him to quit. Â Yee writes that he thanks Lemon to this day for that talk.
"I thank Lemon to this day. Itâ€™s a gross habit; itâ€™s addictive; and it makes you high. Most of all, it could have killed me. But ballplayers continue to do it for the same reasons I didâ€" it helps you assimilate into baseball culture. Itâ€™s part of fitting in. You want to be one of the guys. If everyone is spitting at a target in the bullpen, you donâ€™t want to be left out."
In the end Yee points out the oral fixation ballplayers have isn't reason enough to expose them to what Gwynn went through. Â Unfortunately the Hall of Famer paid the price for the habit, and YeeÂ believes it's a problem that baseball needs to address.
WILFORK READY TO PROVE THE DOUBTER'S WRONG:
From the moment he went down last season and the injury was revealed to be a ruptured Achilles, there were some who wondered if he'd ever come back from it and even went so far as to say the Patriots should move on from him.
After an offseason that was contentious due to the fact the team asked him to take a pay cut, cooler heads ultimately prevailed and the veteran accepted a cap-friendly extension that now has him poised with an opportunity to prove Â everyone wrong.
Wilfork, who came back late in the year on the sideline and supported the team off the field, told the media on Thursday that he never had any doubt that he'd work his way back.
"I'm not surprised," Wilfork said Thursday. "I know there are a bunch of stats and everything going against a person my size with the injury. Right now, I can't ask for it to be any better."
"It was never in my mind that I thought I could never come back from this. From the time they told me I did, from the time I had the surgery, I knew that I was going to be back ready to rock and roll. I knew it was going to be tough. I know how tough the injury is, but I tell myself over and over again, I'm not the average person. I just do things a little differently than most people that had this injury, or the size of people that had this injury.
As far as the contract dispute was concerned, Wilfork calls it a "dead issue" and said he's not holding any type of grudge toward the team.
"I'm here for a reason," said Wilfork. "If I didn't believe the things that were brought to me, I wouldn't have signed it. I'm not upset. I'm not holding any type of grudge. Business is business and everybody handles business in different types of ways."
ADDITIONAL NOTABLE QUOTES:
â€œThe skyâ€™s the limit. Â But at the same time, weâ€™ve got to continue to keep working. I felt that we improved every day, but at the same time we are taking time off, and when we get back to training camp, weâ€™ve got to be ready to go.â€
- Patriots Cornerback Darrelle RevisÂ - via Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal
â€œThere are so many things that you can do to bring a team together and I think Bill does a great job of that â€" finding whatever it may be that he can do to bring this team together."
-Â Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork -Â via the SportsXchangeÂ after Bill Belichick brought out soccer balls at the end of practice to lighten the mood Thursday.
â€œAs long as I have the drive and ambition and still want to go out and compete each day and win, as long as I want to win, Iâ€™m going to be out there playing.â€
- Defensive End Will Smith - via Steve Balestrieri of PatsFans.com
â€œI mean at the end of the day it is a competition. Â Browner is a lengthy guy with really long arms and it helps (wide receivers) us out. We just have to come out with the ball.â€
- Wide Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins - via Steve Balestrieri of PatsFans.com
The New England Patriots kick off their mandatory Mini-camp on Tuesday morning starting with a Bill Belichick press conference at 8:30 followed by practice from 11:15 to 1:15 with certain players meeting with the media after each practice. The practice schedule will continue for Wednesday and Thursday as well.
Rob Gronkowski's return from injury will be a big factor for the Patriots in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
With the team going through the final tune-up prior to training camp starting in July, here are five of the things weâ€™ll be looking for this week:
With so many players returning from serious injuries, this will be a big test for many of the players in a mandatory setting. Vince Wilfork has seen some action in OTAs which is a good sign that his rehab is going well. Rob Gronkowski has been on the field for part of the workouts but has mainly worked out in the bubble away from prying eyes.
First round draft pick Dominique Easley is recovering from a second ACL injury and weâ€™ll be monitoring whether he can make an appearance on the field this week. Other defensive line players to monitor include Tommy Kelly and free agent addition Will Smith.
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson is doubtful to participate as heâ€™s still on the mend from off-season foot surgery but Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer will bear watching as well. And on the subject of watching, Armond Armstead who was looked to in 2013 to provide depth along the defensive line and subsequently developed an infection that required season ending surgery will be a popular subject. He has been seen very rarely since being signed last spring. This will be a big test.
Wide Receiver/Tight End:
Danny Amendola will be looking to make a splash after a injury filled 2013. (USA TODAY Images)
With Dobson probably out, it will allow other players an opportunity to shine. Reports thus far have 2nd year players Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins shining in OTAs. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola have been working hard with Tom Brady, building their chemistry and trust factor, going so far as to working alone off to the side during special teams activities.
A key player to watch will be Brandon Lafell, the big wide receiver that was signed from the Panthers this off-season. Lafell can provide a big target to move the chains for Brady especially in the red-zone but has struggled to pick up the Patriots system. Weâ€™ll be watching his progress closely this week.
With the team likely taking a cautious approach with Gronkowski, who steps up in mini-camp will be a barometer to gauge how training camp unfolds. Michael Hoomanawanui has stated heâ€™s ready to take on a larger role. D.J. Williams, Asa Watson and Justin Jones will be competing for reps also.
Rookies, Especially Garoppolo:
Rookie QB Jimmy Garoppolo will be under close scrutiny this summer. (USA TODAY Images)
While weâ€™ve already mentioned Easley, all of the rookies will bear watching this week but none will be under more scrutiny than QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Two weeks ago Garoppolo had his struggles, not at all uncommon for rookie signal callers in their first taste of the NFL but he was reported to be much sharper last week, a good sign in his development. Will he be able to push Ryan Mallett for the backup QB position this summer? Here will be his first big test.
Center Brian Stork got a lot of work during the OTAs and drew the ire of Brady and the coaches for forgetting the snap count in one sequence resulting in some laps being run. All of the offensive linemen have been there, but weâ€™ll be watching him to see if he can push Ryan Wendell for the starting position.
Cameron Fleming hasnâ€™t been on the field because of the rules pertaining to his schoolâ€™s graduation so heâ€™ll be mixing it up for the first time. Pint-sized wide receiver Jeremy Gallon who was very productive at Michigan will have a tough road to make the roster in 2014 but weâ€™re interested to see what he can do against what promises to be a tough secondary.
Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan may push Alfonzo Dennard for starting reps early this season, and has been rumored to move to safety. (USA TODAY Images)
With the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the Patriots cornerback position has received a huge boost of talent. But with Browner facing a mandatory four-game suspension to start the season, who steps up to take his reps once the games begin? Logan Ryan has been the rumor of many to move to safety but thus far heâ€™s been at corner. Will Alfonzo Dennard be able to step in and wrest the starting job, albeit for now away?
With the release of Steve Gregory, the Patriots need a safety next to Devin McCourty. Right now most seem to think that second year player Duron Harmon will assume the mantle, but there always remains the possibility of Ryan being slid back, as well as former Pat and recent free agent signing Pat Chung and Tavon Wilson. This will be an interesting position to watch going forward.
Shane Vereen may be an option for a wide open kick returning position in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
LaGarrette Blount left via free agency for the Pittsburgh Steelers so the Patriots are again in need of a viable kick returner. There should be some great competition here, as of right now Josh Boyce seems to have the edge but there is no shortage of players vying for reps.
Jeremy Gallon, Roy Finch and Reggie Dunn all seem intriguing prospects in the return game as well as running back Shane Vereen. There wonâ€™t be a ton of opportunities for each of them so theyâ€™ll have to shine quickly and in training camp in July.
Follow me on TwitterÂ @SteveB7SFGÂ or email me atÂ email@example.com
Listen to ourÂ Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.
Perhaps no player on the New England Patriots is expected to improve more in his second season than linebacker Jamie Collins. The Patriots saw a flash of what Collins can bring to the table in 2013 and now expectations are high for the 2nd year player from Southern Mississippi.
The Patriots are expecting bigger and better things from Jamie Collins in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
With a year in the strength and conditioning program, heâ€™s a bit stronger and thicker. Collins was already a freakishly athletic specimen at 6â€™3, 250 when he was drafted by the Patriots last season with the 52nd pick in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Heâ€™s now much more comfortable with the Patriots playbook and the defense as a whole. And after a year of playing in the NFL including two playoff games, heâ€™s primed to be an even bigger contributor as a starter this season.
â€œIâ€™m just trying to pick up where I left off from. Always try to get better every day,â€ he said. â€œI know a lot more, playing faster. Last year I had to learn everything, but now I know most of it. But you know, thereâ€™s always more room for improvement.â€
Collins started off slowly and in reality wasnâ€™t expected to make a big impact in his rookie season. But a season-ending injury to Jerod Mayo forced him into the starting lineup down the stretch. His stats were good but far from eye-popping until the playoff game against the Colts.
The full measure of what kind of potential he has came to bear in that game with six tackles, a QB sack, three QB hits and an interception leaving fans begging for more. Now as a starter, heâ€™ll be looked to for increased production in his second season.
Bill Belichick stated during training camp last season that the biggest jump in a playerâ€™s development is between the first and second year. Â â€œI think the second year is an opportunity for a player to take all of his experiences in the first year â€" on the field, off the field â€" having in our case, a second year in the sameÂ systemÂ and be able to build on that, know what to expect, know how different situations or things apply in various situations, what theyâ€™re used for.â€
Collins has already drawn raves from veteran Dontâ€™a Hightower for his maturity and intelligence.
â€œWith Jamie I feel like he's blossomed a lot sooner than anybody. I feel like he was a lot more mature than some people are in their third year,â€ Hightower said. â€œHim coming in and learning the way he did his first year, you couldn't tell that he wasn't a third or a fourth year player. He's helping out a lot; He's getting the younger guys in there, watching film, and getting everything situated with them. Just like Mayo said: We have old souls. We mature a lot faster."
Collins told the media on Thursday that the plan was for him was to play faster this season. Â Collins is the kind of versatile player that Bill Belichick loves on his defense. He can do it all, rush the quarterback, cover tight ends deep in the middle of the field and be fast enough to cover backs out of the backfield.
And fans can expect him to be doing a lot more in the new-look Patriots defense. One of the reasons they can cut him loose more is another added piece to the puzzle.
The recent addition of linebacker James Anderson will have a big impact on the Patriotsâ€™ defense and Collins this season. A full time starter with the Panthers and then the Bears last season, Anderson had over 100 tackles and four sacks for the Bears in 2013. Andersonâ€™s forte is coverage, heâ€™s not a run thumper in the Brandon Spikes mold but with the 270 pound Hightower in the middle, the Patriots needed some added depth and coverage skills for their sub-packages.
"I'm a little bit smaller (6â€™2, 235), than most of the other guys around here so, to make up for that, I'm going to have to be fast and be able to cover," Anderson said after OTAs on Thursday.
Anderson 30, has always been thought of as positive influence for the rookies and younger players and thus far in New England, heâ€™s been saying all the right things, repeating the Patriots mantra of team over self as if heâ€™s been here three years instead of two weeks.
Collins and Anderson now give the Patriots a pair of athletic linebackers that can cover or rush the passer. With the added depth, it improves their options and makes the defense that much more potent.
With the earlier additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner for the revamped secondary, it should allow Belichick to be much more aggressive on defense, especially in their sub-packages, which they played in approximately 67 percent of the time in 2013.
The return of Tommy Kelly from injury and the drafting of defensive tackle Dominique Easley should give the Patriots the interior pass rush it has been searching for the past several seasons. Defensive End Will Smith was signed to bolster the depth at the edge.
One of the players who can expect to get cut loose much more this season is Collins as he can rush off the edge and with his speed and athleticism be a difficult man to stop. The pieces are all in place, now they just have to produce on the field.
Follow me on TwitterÂ @SteveB7SFGÂ or email me atÂ firstname.lastname@example.org
Listen to ourÂ Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.
Pats players serve tables for charity -
Mark Shanahan & Meredith Goldstein: Here's a good article about Danny Amendola's charity event last night.
Patriots Notebook: Progress of Vince Wilfork, wounded is early key - Jeff Howe - Howe files his notebook this morning and looks at the progress of Wilfork, among other players coming off of injury.
Rob Gronkowski pours it on at charity dinner - Gayle Fee: Fee has her report from last night's charity event lead by Danny Amendola, which also included some additional big name player attendees.
Closer look at Patriots financials - Mike Reiss: Reiss has an article spotlighting the Patriots current financial situation, noting that while they have one of the lowest payrolls in the league, it's an unusual situation for them.
Rookie OT Fleming reports to Patriots - Mike Reiss: Reiss reports that the rookie recently reported to the team on Tuesday.
DALLAS MORNING NEWS:
New England Patriots DT Dominique Easley the star of Jason Garrett's annual Princeton football camp - Jon Mochata: Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett held his 12th annual football camp at Princeton University in New Jersey on Saturday and Easley was part of it because he actually attended it 5yrs ago.
Rob Gronkowski lands at No. 41 on NFL Network 'Top 100 Players - Christopher Price: Price looks at where Gronkowski ranks among the top players in the league, with the tight end landing in the top half of the list.
Report: Free-Agent Pass Rusher Quentin Groves Visited Patriots - Here's a note on the visit by Groves as the Patriots appear to still be exploring free agent options.
Myra Kraft Legacy Fund Recipients Honored - On Wednesday night, the Kraft family recognized the recipients of the Myra Kraft Legacy Fund, with Myraâ€™s husband, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, saying itâ€™s further proof her spirit is very much alive.
Patriots Journal: Healthy Boyce ready to make an impact - Mark Daniels: Daniels has an article on Boyce, who has been hard to miss so far during OTAs
Gronk at a Crossroads - Gregg Rosenthal: Rosenthal looks at Gronkowski's ranking and wonders how he'll bounce back this season.
Bill Belichick brought in another LB for his defense Wednesday. (USA TODAY Images)
Patriots sign linebacker James Anderson - Shalise Manza Young: Manza Young files her notebook this morning, which leads off with the signing of Anderson by New England yesterday.
Borges: Tom Brady's stock just soared - Ron Borges: Borges has a column this morning and feels Brady won't "take one for the team" in 2015.
Pats sign former Bears LB Anderson - Mike Reiss: Reiss has his report on the addition of Anderson, who is apparently known for his effectiveness in coverage.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft turns 73 today - Mike Reiss: Reiss points out that today is Kraft's birthday, comparing his age against other NFL owners.
Closer look at Pats' linebacker corps - Mike Reiss: Reiss looks at the linebacker position by alignment.
Catching up with some former Patriots - Mike Reiss: Reiss has notes on former Patriots and how they'll be settling into their new roles.
Deep thinking at these spots for Patriots - Field Yates: Yates looks at several positions for the Patriots and gives some great analysis on each one.
Patriots look to improve protection of Brady - Mark Daniels: Daniels looks at the Patriots protection for Brady in 2014, and feels it needs to be better this season.
Source: Mark Harrison was late to OTAs before being released - Nick Underhill: Underhill reports that Harrison's release may have been fueled by more than just his injury status.
How will Kaepernick's contract affect Brady? - Kevin Paul Dupont joined Sports Tonight and gave his thoughts on how Colin Kaepernick's new deal might effect Brady's contract situation.
McDaniels: Danny Amendola was like a rookie in 2013 - Kevin Patra: Patra looks at comments by McDaniels from the Boston Globe that talked about what Amendola's first season was like.
Pressure is on Danny Amendola to produce now - Ben Volin: Volin has his "On Football" column for this morning, and feels that this season is a critical one for the veteran receiver.
Borges: Tom Brady's slipping, but still elite - Ron Borges: Borges has a good column this morning on the fact that while Brady's skills may be slipping, he's still among the best in the NFL.
Gronk struts on 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' - Gronk was on TV Monday night, and this article has some highlights of what went down.
Weekly Patriots mail is delivered - Mike Reiss: Reiss has this week's mailbag, and addresses the questions from fans about Brady no longer being considered by some critics as a top-5 quarterback.
A few leftover pieces of Patriots mail - Mike Reiss: Reiss has some additional topics from his mailbag this morning, with one fan wondering why the free agent signings aren't immediate when free agency begins.
Ninkovich: Revis, Browner fitting right in - Mike Reiss: Reiss has comments from Ninkovich on the newest Patriots defenders, and is happy the two are in their secondary.
Details of Jimmy Garoppolo's contract - Field Yates: Yates has additional details on Garoppolo's new deal, which includes $250,000 of his $578,359 2015 salary in 2015 being fully guaranteed.
Creating the link between Revis & Dillon - Mike Reiss: Reiss has an interesting connection between Revis and former Patriots RB Corey Dillon.
Kenbrell Thompkins Among Patriots Players Possibly On Roster Bubble - Doug Kyed: Kyed writes that Thompkins may be facing a tough battle in camp and may not survive the final roster cuts if he doesn't produce.
Is Rob Ninkovich The Patriots’ Solution To Lack Of Linebacker Depth? - Doug Kyed: Kyed looks at the importance of Ninkovich and feels that could be why the Patriots aren't deeper at that position.
Danny Amendola Hangs Up On Adam Jones After Two Injury Questions - Amendola apparently appeared on 98.5 The Sports Hub Tuesday night and hung up after two questions regarding injuries.
5 Things We Learned from the New England Patriots' OTAs - James Christensen: Christensen has a good read recapping the team's recent OTA's.
Asa Watson on Patriots playbook, potential role, Tom Brady conversations - In this video Asa Watson discusses several topics, including what it's been like for him so far as an NFL rookie.
PRO PLAYER INSIDERS:
New England Patriots’ DB Kyle Arrington: The Family Man - Emmanual Benton - Benton has a good article on Arrington, who talked about family and more in this article.
A quick round up from this morning:
Patriots officially sign Jimmy Garoppolo - Shalise Manza Young: Manza Young has a quick article this morning on the signing of Garoppolo, leaving the team with now just one remaining rookie still unsigned.
NFL Notes: Jimmy Garoppolo signs with Patriots - Karen Guregian: Guregian has her notes column this morning, which leads off with the signing of Garoppolo and also looks at a few other NFL stories.
Idiotic ESPN Report Claims Patriot Tom Brady is No Longer a Top Five QB in NFL - Adam Kaufman: Kaufman is upset - and rightly so - with an ESPN report claiming Brady is no longer among the game's elite quarterbacks.
Tom Brady is no longer a top-5 QB - Sam Monson: Here's a direct link to the Brady article on ESPN Insider, with Sam Monson looking at Brady's inability to remain accurate under pressure as his reason why he's no longer among the league's best.
Report: Free-Agent Tight End Jermichael Finley Visited Patriots Last Week - Doug Kyed: Kyed follows up on a report from last week on the visit by Finley to the Patriots.
New England Patriots: Early Rookie Progress Reports - James Christensen: Christensen has his analysis of each of the rookies so far, with a good read on them in this article.
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels believes that Tom Brady is still improving - Nick Underhill: Underhill has comments from McDaniels, who cites Brady's work ethic and his desire to always continue getting better.
WICKED LOCAL CAMBRIDGE:
2014 SQUAD Wilson named Patriots cheerleader - For those following the additions on the Patriots cheerleading roster, Madelyn Wilson of Cambridge is among the 28 women chosen for this season and there is a photo of her in this article.
WICKED LOCAL MELROSE:
Patriots' Gronkowski kicks off Melrose Football Clinic - Christopher Hurley has an article on Gronkowski's clinic, with a great photo of Gronkowski working out with a group of participants at Melrose high school from last Saturday.
The Patriots locked up one of their final two remaining rookies on Monday, with rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo agreeing to a four year deal with the team.
According to Shalize Manza Young of the Boston Globe the deal is worth $3.3 million, with a signing bonus of $853,744. Garoppolo was the 62nd overall pick out of Eastern Illinois, and his signing now leaves New England with just one remaining draft choice unsigned in first round pick Dominique Easley.
The New England Patriots were in fact the “mystery team” that hosted former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley on Friday, as was reported by NFL insiders Ian Rapoport, Adam Caplan and others.
Finley suffered a serious neck injury in 2013, bruising his spinal cord, leaving him briefly without movement and feeling. A month later, he had his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae fused together.
Finley has since been cleared by his doctors that performed the surgery but not by any NFL team as yet, although he did stop in recently and visit the Packers medical staff. Green Bay has been rumored to be in the running to bring back Finley as are the Patriots and others. Recently the Seattle Seahawks dropped out of the running for Finley’s services.
Finley, 6’5, 247 has 223 career receptions for 2785 yards and 20 touchdowns, all as a member with the Packers.
Finley if healthy, combined with Rob Gronkowski would give the Patriots a dynamic 1-2 punch at tight end for the first time since 2012 when Gronk and Aaron Hernandez roamed the field together. However, that is a big “if” considering both are coming off serious injuries.
The Patriots are also still rumored to be interested in Dustin Keller as well. He too is coming off of a nasty injury sustained in the pre-season last year against the Houston Texans.
Their interest is buoyed by the fact that the depth chart after Gronkowski consists of Michael Hoomanawanui, D.J. Williams and UDFA rookies Justin Jones and Asa Watson.
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