Unlike last year, Rob Gronkowski won't be a specator during the start of training camp. (USA TODAY Images)
So far things are off to a better start for Rob Gronkowski and it appears that unlike last year he'll be able to get a full training camp under his belt heading into the 2014 season.
During his meeting with media on Wednesday Patriots head coach Bill Belichick revealed that the veteran tight end "has been cleared to play", which is a great sign as he continues coming back from a torn ACL last season.
"Rob’s always worked hard," Belichick said via the Boston Globe. "He worked hard as a rookie. When he’s here. I can't speak to when he's not here. It’s good to see all the players out there. And the ones that aren’t out there that are working to get back, we’re looking forward to getting them back."
Gronkowski missed the first six games of 2013 and played in seven games before tearing his ACL against the Browns at home in Week 14, which ended his season. Overall he finished the year with 39 catches for 592 yards along with four touchdowns.
As the players report this morning, here are this morning's links:
Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots report this morning before Thursday's public practice session. (USA TODAY Images)
Do Patriots finally have a premier secondary? - Shalise Manza Young: Manza Young has an article on the Patriots secondary, which now may be among the NFL's best.
Patriots training camp â€" what to watch for - Sean Leahy: Leahy looks at what to keep an eye on as camp begins, including whichÂ injured player will be the most important to watch.
Money may dictate Patriots' roster moves - Â Ben Volin: Volin looks at several players who may be in trouble due to their contracts.
Bill Belichick, captains meet with media today to open training camp - Jeff Howe: Howe has a quick entry this morning with Bill Belichick set to meet with the media this morning.
For Patriots new season starts now - Jeff Howe: Howe has his article previewing training camp, with some thoughts on several players and positions.
Patriots' evolving D keys Super hopes - Mike Reiss: Reiss has a quick article on the defense, which will likely be the biggest key surrounding their success this season.
Wake-up call: Bill Belichick gets it started - Mike Reiss: Reiss notes this morning's media schedule, with Belichick set to meet with the media, along with several other players.
Patriots report: Will Super Bowl drought end at 10 years? - Lorenzo Reyes: Reyes has a spotlight on the Patriots and wonders if this will be the year they're finally able to win it all.
Five Areas to Monitor as Camp Opens - Oliver Thomas: Thomas has his thoughts on what to watch for with the players reporting today, including how the linebacker position comes together with the return of Jerod Mayo.
Patriots Offensive Line Preview: Can Stork, Rookies Deliver An Added Boost? - This morning's position preview focuses on the Patriots' offensive line, which will hopefully do a better job of keeping Tom Brady upright this season.
Gasper: Is Gronk's health the biggest concern? - Christopher Gasper: Gasper appeared on CSNNE and wondered about the overall health of the team, which obviously includes Gronkowski.
Danny Amendola had a rough first season in New England and will be looking for a better year in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
For Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, he faced a monumental uphill battle from the time he agreed to termsÂ with New England back on March 14, 2013.Â Â The news of his signing came just hours after fans learned Wes Welker had joined Peyton Manning in Denver, which led to expectations that were far higher than Amendola could have ever hoped to live up to given who he was replacing.
To make matters worse,Â he was essentially battling himself and his own body, which was the one thing that so far had let him down duringÂ each of the two seasons prior to becoming a member of the Patriots. Â That had the doubters wondering if he could stay healthy for an entire season and unfortunately for Amendola, 2013 didn't prove to be any better after he suffered a groin injury late during training camp that would ultimately hamper him for most of the campaign.
He put together a memorable outing after re-aggravating it in the first half during their Week 1 battle in Buffalo, but still some how managed to come up with an impressive performance in the final two quarters. Â He finished with 10 catches for 104 yrds, including a huge second half where he caught 7-of-8 passes for 64 yards along with six first downs, three of which came on the final drive of the game to help seal the win.
Unfortunately gutting out that contest cost him the next three games and for the most part he never seemed like himself for the rest of the year. Â He finished the season with 54 catches for 633 yards and two touchdowns, but was nearly non-existent in the postseason after catching just three passes for 77 yards against the Colts in the Divisional round, followed by none against the Broncos during the AFC Championship Game in Denver.
Best Game of 2013:
Amendola's best overall performance of the seasonÂ was his week one showing, although his performance down in Miami in Week 15 was nearly equal after he hauled in 10 passes for 131 yards in a disappointing road loss. Â However, the latter ended in frustration after he wasn't able to come up with what would have been the go-ahead touchdown with just under 30-seconds left in the game.
Against Buffalo, it was his performance on third down that played such a significant role. Â He caught 7-of-8 passes thrown his way, all of which moved the chains, including two he caught during their final drive that helped them run out the clock during the win. Â That was a game that should have been a springboard for his season but ended up simply being his best all-around outing of 2013. Â However, little did Amendola know that hadÂ he caught that pass in Miami (pictured above), that might have been the play that could have given theÂ Patriots an opportunity to battle the Broncos in Foxboro instead of in Denver back in January.
Notable Stat of 2013:
It's interesting to note that down in the red zone, Amendola was targeted just six times in 2013, the second lowest total among all receivers with just Austin Collie trailing him (1 target, 0 receptions. From there, it was Aaron Dobson (9 targets, 4 receptions, 2 TD's), Rob Gronkowski (8 targets, 5 receptions, 3 TD's), Shane Vereen (12 targetes, 7 receptions, 3 TD's), Kenbrell Thompkins (10 targets, 5 receptions, 4 TD's) and Julian Edelman (23 targets, 15 receptions, 5 TD's) who lead the way. Â Amendola finished with three receptions along with one touchdown.
What to Watch For in 2014:
In a perfect world, Amendola would have been out there with tight ends Rob GronkowskiÂ andÂ Aaron Hernandez in 2013, giving him the opportunity to establish himself in what likely would have been a much more prolific offense had things not turned out the way they did. Â Gronkowski's return was delayed and ultimately ended in disaster when he suffered a torn ACL against the Browns and ended up on injured reserve. Meanwhile, Hernandez was released in June after being charged with multiple murders.
Had the offense returned their two key parts of 2012 for the entire season, that may have taken some of the pressure off of Amendola as he got acclimated but obviously things didn't quite work out that way. Â He fought hard and it was obvious he was never able to get back to 100%, which given some of the explosive moments he was able to produce (a 57-yard reception in Week 9 against Pittsburgh) should have most fans looking forward to what will hopefully be a better year from him in 2014.
However, there are a lot of people who have already written Amendola off, which will likely be to their detriment should he come out of training camp healthy. Â He's extremely athletic and he's been spotted with his offensive teammates numerous times this offseason, so behind the scenes he's been doing all the right things. After having had a full year in the system, he's at least had the opportunity to work on the things he potentially may have not been comfortable with in his first year.
At this pointÂ it's just a matter of taking the next step because in the end, Amendola'sÂ got the physical tools and he's got the talent. Â Now if his body can come through for him the Patriots might find themselves with a pretty good weapon that could hopefully make them a little more productive in 2014.
Heading into training camp the Patriots have questions at the tight end position, but they added additional depth on Saturday after adding former Buccaneer Nate Byham.
Nate Byham rounds out a competitive group heading into the start of training camp this week. (USA TODAY Images)
According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston Byham agreed to terms on a contract with the team and pending a physical, he'll fill the 90th spot on the roster after the Patriots also added receivers Derrick Johnson and Tyler McDonald on Friday.
Byham's style of play has him as more of a blocking tight end, although that's a label that he previously said he was trying to shed.
"Thatâ€™s my strong suit," Byham said via the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2012 when he was with the 49ers. "I wouldnâ€™t say thatâ€™s all I am. I donâ€™t want to be labeled just a blocker because I feel like I can do a lot more. But that is definitely my strong suit and I think I can fill that role in the offense as a blocking tight end."
He'll add to a competitive group behind Rob Gronkowksi and Michael Hoomanawanui that includes D.J. Williams, Justin Jones and Asa Watson. ByhamÂ had six receptions for 56 yards in two seasons in Tampa Bay along with a touchdown.
He was originally drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the sixth round out of Pittbsurgh in 2010 and played in 14 games, finishing with 5 receptions for 27 yards. Â He tore his ACL just two days into the 2011 training camp with the 49ers and missed the season. Â He was waived on August 16, 2012 before later reaching an injury settlement with them.
His bad luck continued after calf and knee injuries ended his seasonÂ just four games into 2013Â in Tampa Bay and he was placed on injured reserve on October 1st. Â He became a free agent back on March 11th and alsoÂ worked out for New Engalnd previously back on May 21.
Tom Brady and the Patriots are looking for another long run in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
With Training Camp only about 10 days away, the New England Patriots have re-tooled the roster and are now on a short break before the pre-season begins and the competition at many positions commences in earnest.
What a difference a year makes. On the opening day of camp in 2013, coach Bill Belichick had to answer questions about the arrest of Aaron Hernandez, quarterback Tim Tebow and seemingly endless questions about the availability of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The team has made some splashes on the free agency front as well as the draft. Did they do enough to put themselves over the top this season? We have five questions concerning the team heading into training camp and the 2014 season.
The Patriots are looking for a safety to play opposite Devin McCourty. (USA TODAY Images)
5. Who Steps Up Next To Devin McCourty At Safety?
While the team released veteran safety and starter Steve Gregory in the spring, the job appears to be Duron Harmon’s to lose at the outset of training camp. But there is a long way to go before the team suits up to take on the Miami Dolphins in September.
Harmon impressed the coaches at times during his rookie campaign and played in about 36 percent of the team’s snaps on defense. And in the June mini-camp, Harmon was indeed getting the most reps next to McCourty, but there are others vying for playing time as well.
Veteran Pat Chung who started his career in New England re-signed with the team this spring and is well versed in the Patriots system. If Harmon falters, Chung would be a known commodity for the coaching staff.
Others in the mix include Nate Ebner, Tavon Wilson and Shamiel Gary. The team has reportedly tossed around the idea of using cornerback Logan Ryan at safety, which still may happen at some point but not until the suspension of Brandon Browner is completed.
The sleeper in this group to watch in training camp is rookie Jemea Thomas, who is versatile and can play safety or cornerback. Thomas is instinctive, competitive and plays bigger than his size (5’10, 195) and will compete for reps.
A healthy Vince Wilfork is vital for a Patriots defense to rebound in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
4. Defensive Line Health, Will Wilfork, Kelly and Easley Be Ready To Go?
In 2013 the Patriots interior of the their defensive line took two big blows in back-to-back weeks, losing Vince Wilfork and then Tommy Kelly to season-ending injuries. In their absence, rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano stepped up and started and performed fairly well. Sealver Siliga was brought in mid-season and played well down the stretch.
The team drafted Dominique Easley with their first pick (29th overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft. Easley was projected to be a possible Top 10 pick but he suffered a torn ACL last season, which allowed the Patriots to grab him late in the first round. Now Wilfork and Kelly are back and were participants during the recent June mini-camps, as was Easley on the final day back on June 19th.
It can’t be overstated how important the three of these players are to the interior of the Patriots defensive line. Wilfork has always been a space-eating, two-gap presence in the middle that helped shut down opposing team’s running games. Kelly provides that as well, and is a penetrating disruptor in the passing game. Easley is perhaps the most intriguing of the three.
The Patriots have always favored the big, physical two-gap read and react interior defensive linemen. Easley is a far cry from that. He's a slightly undersized penetrator who has explosive quickness and is versatile enough to play over the nose, or over the guard and tackle. His versatility is something that Belichick will likely be tinkering with as the team looks to become much more aggressive on defense. With the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at the corners, this is something that has been in the works for a long time. Now the pieces are in place.
With a healthy Wilfork, Kelly and Easley and to a lesser extent Will Smith at defensive end, this gives the Patriots a strong, rotational group that can get after the quarterback and keep fresh legs on the field and could vault this unit into one of the top defenses in the league.
The Pats need a healthy and resurgent Logan Mankins at right guard. (USA TODAY Images)
3. Can the Offensive Line Rebound and Keep Tom Brady Upright?
It is no secret that the Patriots offensive line struggled at times in 2013 after Tom Brady was sacked 40 times. Guards Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly and center Ryan Wendell all suffered from subpar seasons. Mankins and Connolly both battled health problems as well. The Patriots were at times overpowered up the middle and it showed, especially in the AFC Championship Game in Denver.
To make matters worse, long-time Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia retired after the 2013 season. His propensity for taking unheralded players and molding them into a cohesive unit will be missed, but fortunately the team has a talented replacement in Dave DeGuglielmo to take his place.
Mankins and Connolly are healthy in 2014 and Wendell is looking to rebound back into his 2012 form. But the team took no chances after dipping into the NFL Draft three times to look for a needed injection of youth and physicality along the offensive line.
Center Bryan Stork should push Wendell for starting reps in camp this season. He’s an experienced starter that was the anchor for the national champion Florida State offense for the past four years.
Jon Halapio is a tough guard who played all of 2013 with a torn pectoral muscle at Florida. He and 2nd year player Josh Kline will battle Connolly for reps and a roster spot in training camp. The team also selected offensive tackle Cameron Fleming from Stanford in the draft this spring. Fleming and Marcus Cannon will vie for backup duties at swing tackle in camp and provide depth behind starters Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer.
A big second year jump is vital for Aaron Dobson and the New England offense. (USA TODAY Images)
2. Can the Wide Receivers Become Difference Makers in the Offense?
The Patriots wide receivers in 2013 were facing an uphill battle from the outset as a completely revamped core who was expected to replace production of 338 receptions, 3984 yards and 30 touchdowns missing from the year prior.
Rookies Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce all battled to find a comfort zone in the playbook and each dealt with injuries as well. Danny Amendola was signed to replace Wes Welker and after a hot start in camp was injured in the opener and struggled to regain his chemistry with Brady.
As a result, Brady’s numbers were down from what has traditionally been a norm for him and the Patriots offense struggled to find its rhythm especially in the red-zone. The Patriots receivers weren’t difference makers in the offense in 2013. Fortunately, Brady was the guy they needed to lead the way.
That’s not to say that they didn’t produce at times nor that they have the potential. Julian Edelman turned in a career year in 2013 with over 100 catches and 1000 yards but overall the position was one where they didn’t have anyone that could carry a team on his back.
With a new year comes new opportunities. All three rookies now have playing experience and a year in the books. Dobson is recovering from foot surgery in April and one he's healthy is expected to provide a vertical and horizontal threat to stretch the field.
Both Thompkins and Boyce had solid springs and look like a more confident crew that took the field last September. Amendola is healthy and the team brought in big target Brandon LaFell during free agency. LaFell, 6’2 is expected to provide a bigger target for Brady to move the sticks and in the red-zone. The team drafted the diminutive but very productive Jeremy Gallon during the draft as well. Look for all of these players to make some noise during camp.
Can Rob Gronkowski stay healthy for the season and into the playoffs? . (USA TODAY Images)
1.Can Rob Gronkowski Be Ready to go and Stay Healthy in 2014?
The Patriots 2013 season on offense can be broken down into three parts, prior to Gronkowski returning, while he was on the field and after he was lost for the season.
It is no surprise that the Patriots offense struggled in the first and third parts and was on fire during the period that Gronkowski played.
Simply put, when Gronkowski is on the field with Brady, the New England offense is Super Bowl caliber. When he isn’t, they have struggled to move the ball and score points. Gronkowski provides Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. He can stretch the field vertically down the seams and open the short and intermediate routes over the middle for players like Edelman and Amendola to thrive.
After rehabbing his torn ACL this off-season, Gronkowski is reportedly ready for a Week 1 return. A promising sign during the mini-camp was that both he and Matthew Slater didn’t join other rehabbing players in the bubble with the training staff. Instead, they were running wind sprints on the hill at the rear of the Patriots practice fields.
If Gronkowski is ready to go in Week 1, the Patriots offense should return to a Top 5 unit. He and Brady make everyone around them better and will take a lot of pressure off of the second year players.
Stay tuned to PatsFans.com during training camp as we’ll bring you daily updates and photo galleries of the day’s events. Be sure to check out the immense stats data base as well as many new features that will be available soon.
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at email@example.com
Listen to our 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.
(This continues a series of individual player spotlights over the next few weeks leading up to training camp. So check back frequently as we go down the roster. Â This edition focuses on Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanwanui:)
Michael Hoomanawanui remains as one of the more dependable players the team currently has at the tight end position heading into 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
2013 must have been an interesting experience for Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. Â The veteran tight endÂ went from being the team's third tight end to becoming a starter very quickly after Aaron Hernadnez' double life caught up with him and quickly ended his tenure in New England. Â With Rob Gronkowski still recovering from a forearm injury and offseason back surgery, Hoomanawanui ended up finding himself as the go-to guy for the majority of last season.
Paired with Matthew Mulligan, Hoomanawanui saw the lion's share of the offensive snaps in 2013, and for the most part did about as much as could have been expected. Â He was utilized quite a bit in the running game, and through the first six games was relatively productive. Â He caught eight passes on 11 targets for 95 yards over that span and overall finished with 12 catches on 19 targets for 136 yards including one touchdown.
He's not a great player by any means, but he's one of those players who has proven to be a terrific fit in an offense that suddenly values him a little more given what's transpired over the past year.
Best game of 2013:
Hoomanawanui's most productive outingÂ came against the Saints in week six after he finished having caught all four targets for 57 yards and three first downs during the Patriots' dramatic last-second win over New Orleans. However, his most memorableÂ moment of the year came Â against the Dolphins in Week 15Â when he made a very cool one-handed touchdown, which unfortunately occurredÂ in a losing effort.
Notable Stat of 2013:
When Rob Gronkowski returned to the line-up in Week 7, Hoomanawanui's production dropped off dramatically. To make matters worse, he also suffered a knee injury in Week 11 against the Panthers that kept him out until their week 15Â lossÂ down in Miami. Â But from Gronkowski's first game back up until that loss in Carolina, Gronk caught 24 passes for 343 yards, while Hoomanawanui saw just three targets with two receptions and 19-yards. Â Over the final three games, aside from the touchdown, he caught just one other pass but he did have three receptions for 39-yards in the playoffs, two of which came in the AFC Championship loss to Denver.
Another significant stat that stands out for Hoomanawanui is the fact that he caught just one of Tom Brady's 112 fourth quarter completions during the 2013 regular season, which came in that week six win over New Orleans.
What to Watch For in 2014:Â
Expect more of the same from Hoomanawanui in 2014. Â He's been a terrific asset since he was signed, although he's better suited as a number three tight end and obviously isn't at the level of what Gronkowski gives them, nor is he quite the dynamic player that Hernandez was. Â But since the team wasn't able to bring in an upper-echelon player this offseason, the job behind Gronkowski remains his to lose and they're lucky to have him. Â For now he remains as the most dependable player the team has at that position, andÂ there's no doubt that the amount of playing time he experienced last season will certainly help him in 2014.
Another quiet morning, but here are some news and notes on this Friday:
Bill Belichick making a move for receiver Andre Johnson seems unlikely. (USA TODAY Images)
DON'T COUNT ON ANDRE JOHNSON IN NEW ENGLAND:
There are plenty of fans who would love to see Andre Johnson catching passes from Tom Brady, but as it currently stands, the Patriots would have to be considered a long shot to acquire him.
Johnson has told the Texans that he no longer wants to be there and wants to be traded, which reportedly stemmed from an earlier situation where the star receiver missed the early portion of the offseason workouts and cost him a $1 million bonus. Â According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Johnson requestedÂ the opportunity toÂ workout extra to make up for the time he missed, but the team told him no.
That sets up where he is now, which has the two sides in a standoff and Johnson at the center of trade rumors.
Looking at the implications of him coming to New England, the numbers don't really work out too well. Â As our colleague Miguel Benzan points out,Â Per the CBA, the Patriots would have to be under the cap by $10,580,000 in order to take on Andre Johnsonâ€™s 10 million salary and 1 million roster bonus. Â According to Benzan, the team is currently below the salary cap by $6.4 million, which would require a series of moves to squeeze Johnson under and he goes over a series of movesÂ to shave off the additional $4.2 million that might make it work. Â Some of those moves would involve extensions for Devin McCourty along releasing Dan Connolly or even Logan Mankins, among other necessary transactions.
That's a lot of work for one player and doesn't exactly fit how the Patriots have previously done business. Â Not to mention the fact that it leaves them without any breathing room or the ability to adjust in the event of disaster from an injury standpoint, and puts them in tough shape cap-wise heading into 2015 unless Johnson would be willing to take a pay-cut in order to make it work. Â Rapoport reports that Johnson is willing to restructure, but it doesn't sound like lowering his salary is something he's willing to do.
Needless to say it seems unlikely that he may end up in a Patriots uniform. Â Granted stranger things have happened, but the numbers don't add up and that's one of the bigger reasons why he'll probably end up elsewhere ifÂ Johnson and the TexansÂ can't work out their issues.
CHUNG HOLDING A PEP RALLY:
According to the Boston Herald, Patrick ChungÂ and his wifeÂ CeceliaÂ recently threw a pep rally withÂ JAMâ€™NÂ 94.5â€™sÂ Maverik, croonerÂ Louie Bello, and hip-hop dancersÂ Phunk PhenomenonÂ andÂ Fame or Juliet to kick off his free summer music academy,Â SMART at the Josiah Quincy School.
â€œWeâ€™re excited to welcome music students from all levels and backgrounds to join us once again for SMART,â€ Patrick Chung said in a recent press release. â€œBoth of my parents were music professionals â€" my mother a singer and my father a producer. Because they followed their passions, they were able to give me the opportunities Iâ€™ve had to succeed. Iâ€™m thrilled we can offer the same opportunity for music students to follow their passions.â€
The academy is designed for music students between the ages of 12-15 and from the Greater Boston area. Â The program is currently taking place from July 7 through August 15th, but the application process is closed.
GRONK SPENDS TIME AT THE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL:
It's probably only a matter of time before photos appear of Rob Gronkowski at a recent Katy Perry concert, but for now it's nice to see him giving back to the community, which is something he's spent a lot of time this offseason doing and those things don't tend to get enough press.
Gronk recently visited the Boston Children's Hospital and brought some ice cream to some of the patients there, and the Hospital tweeted a photo of him:
Our friend James Christensen has a good article on how the Patriots defense will be better without Brandon Spikes - READ MORE
Nick Underhill of MassLive continues his series of ranking the Patriots, will Darrelle Revis coming in at number two - READ MORE
Erik Frenz of Boston.com looks at the battle potentially looming between Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce for the final roster spot at the receiver position heading into training camp -Â READ MORE
Frenz has another article on the back-up tight end position and the upcoming competition heading into training camp. - READ MORE
Have to love thisÂ title of an article on Gisele in the Daily Mail "Gisele Bundchen shows lean legs in skin-tight faded skinny jeans while shooting commercial for Falabella in Miami". Â Purely for clicks, but it obviously worked - READ MORE
Kenbrell Thompkins is looking for a solid follow-up performance in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
(This continues a series of individual player spotlights over the next few weeks leading up to training camp. So check back frequently as we go down the roster. This edition focuses on Patriots receiver Kenbrell Thompkins:)
2013 Summary: Undrafted free agent receiver Kenbrell Thompkins caught everyone's attention during training camp and the exhibition season in 2013, with the former University of Cincinnati standout looking like quite a find after an impressive preseason. Tom Brady missed him just twice during the exhibition season, with the two connecting on 10-of-12 passes over that span.
However, that success didn't carry over into the season opener out in Buffalo. Overall Brady went Thompkins’ way 14 times, while connecting on just four of them for 42 yards. Those troubles carried over into week two against the Jets, after Thompkins was targeted seven times with just two receptions. The following week during the team's win over Tampa Bay they also had trouble connecting after Brady hit him just three times on seven targets. However, the good news is two of those receptions were touchdowns, so there at least appeared to be some progress.
He had some good moments in 2013, including his exciting game-winning touchdown grab against the Saints in week six in what was certainly his best moment of the season. However, that would be the first of just three fourth quarter catches for him for the rest of the year, proving that it takes more than one play to define a season.
Looking back at the first half of the season, Thompkins finished with 23 receptions on 55 targets (42% completion rate) over the first eight games. Over the second half of the season, Thompkins caught 9 passes on 14 targets, but appeared to wear down as the year went on and didn't appear to be anywhere near as quick or explosive as he had looked early on in the season.
He was inactive in three of the final four games and despite playing 34-of-75 snaps, Thompkins finished without a reception in the season finale against the Bills.
It was quite a slide for a player who started off with so much promise. Hopefully with a year of experience under his belt and a better understanding of what it takes to keep his body conditioned for a 16-game regular season, he'll be able to play at a high level for an entire season.
Best game of 2013:
One of his better overall performances came in week four down in Atlanta when Thompkins caught six passes on 11 targets for 127 yards along with a touchdown. He also caught a 49-yard pass in the second quarter that helped set up a field goal, which at the time put the Patriots up 10-3 in what ended up being an exciting 30-23 victory in a nationally televised outing. Three of Thompkins' receptions also came in the fourth quarter and included his touchdown. That was his highest reception total in that quarter in all of 2013.
Notable Stat of 2013:
Thompkins clearly fell out of favor late in the game as the season went on, finishing with just one target and one reception (an 11-yard reception in week 12 against the Broncos) in the fourth quarter over the final eight games. That stat alone was a bad sign, and should he fight his way back onto the roster in 2014, it will be interesting to see if he earns back Brady's trust enough to look his way in critical situations.
What to Watch For in 2014:
Thompkins is up against an incredibly crowded group, with eleven receivers set to participate in training camp. So far this offseason all indications are that he's once again shined and has impressed during spring camps, and appears stronger than he was last season. One area that he struggled with was battling against physical corners, and that's something he'll need to be better at in 2014. Battling cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in practice should help with that, and should also force him to be more precise with his routes and use his body to create better separation. As a result, that should make him a more effective target for Brady this time around.
He started off strong last year, but it's probably going to take a little more to ensure he's still standing when the final cuts are made before the regular season. Considering the leading incumbents are Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, and Julian Edelman, that sets up an interesting battle between Thompkins, Brandon LaFell, and Josh Boyce. That is, of course, unless someone out of the remaining group of Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Johnson, Wilson Van Hooser, or Reese Wiggins outshines one of them during the preseason.
Those are players who are all trying to do exactly what Thompkins did last year. One advantage Thompkins has is the luxury of a full season under his belt and a better understanding of what's expected of him. However, should he come out of training camp playing well, hopefully this time around he'll carry that over for an entire season. He finished 2013 with two of the 10 longest pass plays the Patriots had last year, and they could certainly use more of those in his second season.
A quiet morning on this Thursday, but here are some quick news and notes from this morning:
The offseason criticism of Tom Brady continues, with critics doubting whether or not he's still one of the best in the NFL. (USA TODAY Images)
CRITICISM OF BRADY CONTINUES:
Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz of USA TODAY apparently isn't happy with how the NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2014 turned out, especially when it came to where Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fell in the rankings:
Tom Brady's ranking would be disputed no matter what, given his tumultuous season. But the Patriots quarterback finished No. 3 on this year's list, behind Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. It's clear players who voted found some explanation for Brady's struggles at the start of the year.
Peyton Manning actually came in at number one overall, while Brady came in at number three.
Whether it was on Brady or not, the Patriots' early offensive woes were evident. A thin receiving corps contributed to an eight-game slump for Brady, which he then seemed to break out of. But he still finished with a pedestrian 6.9 yards per attempt (easily his lowest in a full season since 2006) and unremarkable numbers both downfield and on third down.
USA TODAY's Nate Davis pegged Brady as the No. 3 QB and No. 12 overall player two weeks ago. The Washington Post's Neil Greenberg went further by claiming the Patriots' star doesn't belong as one of the league's top-five signal-callers. That's probably a step too far; Brady's entire season didn't definitively indicate a fall from the elite.
There has been plenty of criticism surrounding Brady's play this past season from those who didn't watch every game and were purely looking at numbers on paper. Â The offense evolved over the course of last season before injuries, once again, simply set them back and made it too much for them to overcome. Â That's something that most critics seem to overlook, and that appears to be the case, once again, with this piece as well.
LOOKING AT THE TITLE WINDOWS FOR THE NFL'S ELITE:
Field Yates has a good piece in ESPN's Insider looking at the title window for some of the older elite quarterbacks in the NFL, which included Brady along with Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
Yates feels that a regression in 2014 is unlikely, but that it's fathomable that his play will slide at some point before he reaches 40, but either way if Bill Belichick remains as head coach, he still believes they'll remain a contender.
As stated, a Brady regression is far from a guarantee. He's under contract for four more seasons, and while there's little precedent for quarterbacks playing into their 40s, he's a rare player.
As for the Broncos and Steelers, he believes Denver is in tough shape without any real answers in the post-Manning era, while he also feels Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is "underrated".
Moreover, while the sample size is small, we've seen the Patriots without Brady in 2008, and they won 11 games. Even if it was against a watered-down schedule, that's hard to do in the NFL. Belichick is the preeminent coach of his generation (perhaps of all time), and the organization is strong in all the foundational positions. (Their front office ranked seventh overall in our FPR, and the coaching staff ranked first.) Few teams adapt to change better than New England, and if Belichick stays in it for the long haul, the Patriots cannot be counted out.
FORMER PATRIOT SEYMOUR MAKING RUN AT WORLD SERIES OF POKER:
After retiring in 2012 from the Oakland Raiders, it appears that former Patriot, Richard Seymour, is looking for a new challenge and has decided to focus his competitive energy playing poker.
"Now that I'm done playing football I realize that poker is competitive,"Â Seymour told Pokerlistings.com. "A lot of the qualities I had on the field I can use on the poker table."
According to SilverAndBlackPride.com,Â Seymour survived day one and is currently still alive on day two in the tournament. There were 2,571 players stillÂ leftÂ at the beginning of the day, which may seem like a lot but considering the Main Event had 6,683 entries and the entire tournament began with a record 82,360 entries.
Seymour has reportedly played poker his whole life, so this isn't new to him asÂ he often played with his teammates in Oakland on plane trips.
For now it appears he's trying to compete in something with much higher stakes, with the big prize being $10 million should he be able to survive and win it all.
Mike Reiss continues his "Checking the locks" series, with this morning's edition focusing on the cornerbacks - READ MORE
Nick Underhill of MASSLIVE continues his series ranking the Patriots players, with Rob Gronkowski coming in at number three in this entry - READ MORE
Erik Frenz of Boston.com has a piece this morning on Bleacher report pondering whether or not Ryan Mallett has become a forgotten man in New England - READ MORE
James Christensen also has an article looking at a lot of the recent buzz surrounding the team - READ MORE
Patriots LB Jamie Collins' finished strong in 2013. (USA TODAY Images)
(This continues a series of individual player spotlights over the next few weeks leading up to training camp. So check back frequently as we go down the roster. This edition focuses on Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins:)
One of the areas addressed in recent years has been Bill Belichick finally moving toward infusing youth and speed at the linebacker position, which early in New England was something he had been reluctant at addressing early in the draft.
Going back to 2001, Belichick never took a player at that position higher than the fifth round (2005, Ryan Claridge) until 2008 when he took Tennessee's Jerod Mayo in round one, followed by Michigan's Shawn Crable in round three. That was the beginning of a trend that has continued in recent years, including South Florida's Tyrone McKenzie in round three in 2009, followed by Florida's Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham in the second round in 2010, along with Dont'a Hightower in round one in 2012.
It's a position he's committed to improving, and last year saw him grab Southern Mississippi's Jamie Collins with their first pick in the second round.
Collins had a season that went exactly how one could only hope every rookie would have. He just kept getting better and more comfortable with each passing week, seeing his snap totals increase from the 3% he saw in week one to playing in 68% of the snaps by week 17. He was one of the bright spots for this defense last season, and heading into training camp it's going to be fun to see how much more he can grow before he hits the field in 2014.
Best game of 2013:
Collins played well during the team's win over the Browns in Week 14, playing 53 defensive snaps, the highest regular season total of 2013 while also finishing tied with Rob Ninkovich and Steve Gregory with seven tackles, including one tackle for a loss along with a pass defensed. However, the image of the play he made during the Divisional round against the Colts while battling against tight end Coby Fleener was one that definitely encompasses his athletic ability. On the play, Collins lined up over Fleener, who was split out, and played him just like a defensive back, staying step-for-step with him down the field before leaping up and batting the ball away for the incompletion.
That was one of Collins' most memorable outings, with the rookie finishing tied for second on the team with six tackles. However, the rest of his stat line was ridiculous compared to everyone else that afternoon. He finished with a sack, two tackles for a loss, three quarterback hits, and an interception along with a pass defensed.
Games like that are the ones that fans can only hope he'll carry over into his sophomore season. But it was obviously a terrific look at what he's capable of.
Notable Stat of 2013:
A recent mention of Collins by NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal called Collins a “cornerback trapped in a 250-pound body”, and looking at his numbers in 2013, it's hard not to agree with that notion. Despite his limited playing time through most of the early part of his rookie year, Collins still finished with 4 passes defensed, tied for sixth with safety Duron Harmon. In the postseason his two passes defensed were more than every other defensive back other than Alfonzo Dennard (4), with every other corner and safety finishing with zero. Dont'a Hightower, who has also shown some good athleticism, also had one.
What to Watch For in 2014:
Collins joins Logan Ryan as one of the more pleasant surprises of 2013, and it's hard to not have the expectations to be extremely high for him heading into this season. He's got freakish speed and body control, and actually looks more like a tight end playing linebacker. One area this team has been lacking in recent years is having linebackers who can handle themselves against bigger tight ends, and at 6'3", Collins' size and speed had made him a terrific asset in New England's defense. If he can start 2014 the way he finished 2013, it's hard not to be excited about what the season holds for him.
Some news and notes on this Wednesday:
A recent ESPN Insider article believes Darrelle Revis may help put the Patriots over the top in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
DOBSON UNSURE OF STATUS HEADING INTO CAMP:
Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson will likely be a big key to New England's success in 2014, but for now it sounds like it may be difficult to say exactly when he'll be available to hit the field.
According to Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe, Dobson's availability heading into training camp appears to be up in the air after Dobson downplayed his status on Tuesday. Â The receiver was taking part in his annual football camp for kids at Merrimack College, and just said he's continuing to work on getting healthy after undergoing foot surgery.
â€œI donâ€™t know, itâ€™s hard to say,â€ Dobson said. â€œIâ€™m taking it one day at a time, rehabbing hard, just to get back out there as quick as I can.â€
The second-year receiver said that he's been trying to work on his strength and doing what he can to stay mentally prepared as well.
â€œItâ€™s frustrating but Iâ€™m just trying to stay humble and do what I can do to stay fresh on everything," said Dobson.Â "Still thinking about plays, upperbody lifting, core, everything that I can do that can help me benefit on the field while I was down, but like I said, Iâ€™m just trying to get better every day.â€
TALIB ON BEING A PATRIOT, "IT WAS A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE"
Talib is also taking part in running the football camp with Dobson, and he spoke about his time in New England, saying he learned a lot while he was there.
â€œIt meant a lot," Talib told the Boston Globe. Â "I learned a lot, learned a lot about just being a professional, learning from Bill [Belichick], seeing how Bill ran his building. It was a wonderful experience for me.â€
So far he's already been through minicamps as a member of the Denver Broncos, but he said that so far he's happy with how things are going.
â€œItâ€™s definitely good work,â€ he told the newspaper regardingÂ OTAs. â€œEvery day itâ€™s either Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders coming out there, so itâ€™s definitely good work, Peyton [Manning] is the quarterback, man, a lot of fun. Great locker room. No complaints.â€
JOYNER: PATRIOTS WILL HAVE NUMBER ONE SECONDARY IN 2014
Joyner has a piece for ESPN Insider this morning looking at New England's secondary, and believes that after the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner that the Seahawks title reign may come to a close much sooner than expected due to a strong challenge from the Patriots.
In the article Joyner points out that looking at the metrics, the addition of Revis over Talib will make a dramatic difference in their defense.
A detailed analysis of their relative metrics indicates that replacing Aqib Talib (who signed with the Denver Broncos) with Revis will save the Patriots somewhere in the range of 200 yards this season. Revis is not known as being quite as accomplished a ball hawk as Talib, but that study illustrated how Revis is likely to generate just as many pick chances, and possibly more interceptions, than Talib posted last season.
One can only hope Joyner is right.
As significant as that upgrade would be, it likely pales in comparison to the impact Browner will have. Browner had a lower YPA than Sherman in 2012 (6.2 for Browner, 7.4 for Sherman) and should provide a huge coverage improvement over Alfonzo Dennard (9.3 YPA) and Kyle Arrington (9.2 YPA). Browner has nearly as many career interceptions (10) as Dennard and Arrington combined (13) and thus could improve the turnover total as well. Any impact will be delayed until at least Week 5, as Browner will start the season by serving a four-game suspension, but that may not be an issue given that New England begins the season with games against Miami, Minnesota, Oakland and Kansas City -- teams that all have issues in the passing game.
GIRL TRADES FIRST CLASS AIRLINE SEAT IN EXCHANGE FOR GRONK'S BOXERS
File this under one of those stories you wish you hadn't heard, but apparently a girl emailed into Barstool Sports about a recent encounter with Gronkowski.
According to the story, after asking for her first class seats during a recent flight where his ticket was in an extra leg room aisle in coach, Gronkowski was propositioned by the girl who asked, "what's in it for her?" Â Apparently a pair of boxers and a chance to touch his junk.
"I gave up first class seats to grab gronks d&*k. His ticket was in an extra leg room aisle, I was in first class and he asked for our seats. I told him Iâ€™d do it but asked whatâ€™s in it for me. He signed his boarding pass and gave it to me, we shot the shit for 20 minutes in the air and he gave me his boxers after. Win win, no??"
There are photos from the encounter here -Â READ MORE.
Mike Reiss continues his "Checking the locks" series, and this morning focuses on the linebackers - READ MORE
Erik Frenz of Boston.com believes running back James White is a threat for major touches heading into training camp. - READ MORE
The National Football Post looks at the 10 most expensive tickets for 2014, with the Patriots match-up against Denver in Week 9 among that list - READ MORE
MASSLIVE's Nick Underhill continues his series ranking Patriots players, and has Devin McCourty coming in at number four - READ MORE
James Christensen has his Top 5 Sleepers for the Patriots to watch in camp - READ MORE
Nice piece from Oliver Thomas with a look at Josh Boyce's performance last season - READ MORE
Stevan Ridley has a lot to prove in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
(This continues a series of individual player spotlights over the next few weeks leading up to training camp. So check back frequently as we go down the roster. This edition focuses on Patriots running back Stevan Ridley)
2013 Summary: Last season was certainly a forgettable year for Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, but years from now he may look back on it as one of the more important seasons, and lessons, of his career.
Coming off of a season where he finished with 1263 yards rushing, the 4th highest single season total in franchise history, Ridley was riding a pretty good wave heading into the team's opener out in Buffalo to kick off 2013. After taking an early 10-0 lead against the Bills early in the game, the Patriots were off to a great start and seemed poised to easily dispose of a team they've had their way with for most of the last decade. But Ridley committed his first turnover of the season just minutes into the second quarter after he lost the football at the Bills' 25-yard line, and safety Da'Norris Searcy picked it up and took it 74 yards the other way for a touchdown for Buffalo.
That game was a bad omen for Ridley and a sign of things to come. Overall he had a rough year in 2013, fumbling four times, all resulting in turnovers. Three of them came while he was carrying the football, and another came after a reception. Ridley's last miscue came against the Broncos in Week 12 where he coughed up the football at the Denver 40, and Von Miller took it 60 yards the other way for a touchdown to put Denver up 7-0 and he watched the remainder of that come-from-behind win by New England from the sidelines.
However, after sitting out against Houston the following week, Ridley managed to turn things around. He carried 43 times for 197 yards over the final four games, as well as 19 times for 69 yards and two touchdowns during the postseason. He's actually got a pretty good streak going at this point, and has carried 62 straight times without losing the football heading into 2014.
Best game of 2013:
Ridley's best performance came in week six during the team's incredible last-second win over the Saints. In that game he carried the football 20 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn't his highest yardage output (that came in week 9 against the Steelers where he finished with 115 yards and also two touchdowns), but he finished that game turnover-free in one of his better all-around performances of 2013. One play he made was a fourteen yard reception on a 2nd-and-14 following a 4-yard loss on first down by LeGarrette Blount early in the second quarter. That play helped move the chains and extend the drive, and resulted in a touchdown which at the time put New England up 17-7.
Notable Stat of 2013:
Ridley actually improved on an area that the team seemingly hoped Blount, being the bigger running back of the two, would fix for them. Down on the goal line in 2012 Ridley carried 10 times for -1 yards but had 4 touchdowns, having been stopped for no gain twice and losing yards four times. In 2013 he carried five times for three touchdowns, a much better success rate than he had the year before.
What to Watch For in 2014:
It's pretty obvious that Patriots running back Stevan Ridley is facing a critical campaign heading into 2014, and this may be one of the most important training camps of his young career.
The running back position is one of the more competitive ones heading into training camp, with Ridley suddenly among a crowded group of players vying to line up behind Tom Brady this season. The team currently has seven players on the roster, with Brandon Bolden, Roy Finch, Jonas Gray, Stephen Houston, Shane Vereen, and James White rounding out what should be an interesting competition over the next month.
In the end one would believe that when the dust settles, Ridley will be in the final running back mix when the season starts. However, after what transpired last season, his margin for error will likely be slim. It's worth noting that Bill Belichick stood by him through the year and never completely gave up on him, but Ridley has to know that he'll need to be better this time around. Hopefully 2014 will see him make last season nothing more than a rough learning experience that will make him better moving forward.
Today marks the start of our series of Pre-Camp Player Profiles where we'll be releasing at least three player spotlight pieces each day throughout the week leading up to the beginning of training camp later this month.
Kyle Arrington has made the most of his opportunities since becoming an important part of the Patriots' secondary. (USA TODAY Images)
One will run each day at 8am, noon, and 3pm, with the first one spotlighting Stevan Ridley now available. So be sure and check back throughout each day for the next few weeks as we make our way down the roster heading into training camp. You can also follow us via our official Twitter feed at @PatsFans to be alerted to when they're posted.
But in the meantime, here's a quick rundown of today's stories:
ARRINGTON MAKING THE MOST OF HIS OPPORTUNITY:
Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington has worked hard since arriving in New England, and he's quietly become an important asset to the Patriots' secondary.
The former standout from Hofstra recently admitted that coming from a small program in college and living the dream of playing of the NFL proves that anything is possible. He's going to be hosting his newly formed "Kamp Kyle" football camp, which will take place July 19th in Plainfield, Connecticut working with players from ages 7 to 18 years old.
â€œTo be in this position, I am a prime example, a real-life example of whatever your dreams are or aspire to be, with undeniable faith, determination, resilience, what can happen. It is possible,â€ Arrington told Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal. â€œTo be in a situation where I can have a positive impact on just one life, it makes it all worthwhile.â€
Heading into training camp Arrington knows that the competition will be tougher than it's been in recent years with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner now in the mix, but he told the newspaper he's looking forward to it.
â€œOh man, thatâ€™s what itâ€™s all about in this game. Itâ€™s all about competition, and we have a great group of guys,â€ Arrington said. â€œThe guys you just mentioned, Revis, Browner â€¦ their body of work speaks for itself. Iâ€™m definitely looking forward to training camp. When things get full throttle, things should get interesting and be fun.â€
EDELMAN SET TO DRIVE THE PACE CAR FOR A NASCAR EVENT:
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman will be taking part in an upcoming event this weekend in New Hampshire for NASCAR's Camping World RV Sales 301 Sprint Cup Series.
Edelman will reportedly be driving the pace car for the event, although unfortunately for the Patriots receiver he won't be driving a glitzy race car during the event. Edelman will be driving a Toyota Camry SE, but he's still excited about participating.
As a punt returner in the NFL, I know all about teamwork, high-speeds and collisions on Sundays," said Edelman in a media release. "But my goal on Sunday, July 13 will be to get those guys around the track safely before they drop the green flag for what is sure to be a highly-competitive race. I am honored to be chosen to drive the pace car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and I can't wait to take in my very first NASCAR race from what will certainly be the best seat in the house.
GRONK ON TRACK FOR WEEK ONE RETURN, SPOTTED IN CHICAGO RECENTLY:
After the uncertainty that surrounded him in the early part of last season, the Patriots were forced to live without Rob Gronkowski as he continued recovering from an infection in his forearm, as well as offseason back surgery at the start of 2013.
The good new is the torn ACL he suffered against the Browns sounds like it's continuing to recover well and according to Paul Perillo of Patriots.com, Gronkowski may be on the field for New England's opener in Miami.
Perillo, in his examination of the tight end position, writes, "At this point all signs point toward Gronk being ready to go in Week 1," which would certainly be good news for an offense that struggled in the early part of the season without him.
In the piece Perillo wonders what most fans are also thinking, and that's whether or not Gronkowski can make it through an entire season healthy and move on from his injury woes. According to the Chicago Tribune, the veteran tight end apparently spent the fourth of July weekend in the windy city, hanging out with DJ Dante The Don, along with WWE developmental talent Mojo Rawly:
JIM BROWN SAYS '64 TITLE RING WAS STOLEN:
File this under a story that's certainly bizarre, but Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown spotted his 1964 NFL Championship ring being auctioned online, a ring that Brown claims was stolen from him more thanÂ 40-years ago.
The ring is reportedly up for biddingÂ on lelands.com until July 25th, with the highest bid on Monday at $33,275. Â Brown told cleveland.com that a claim by the auction company that he authenticated the ring is "a lie" and that he was unaware the ring was being auctioned off.
A spokesman for the online auction house, Lelands.com, told ESPN's Darren Rovell thatÂ the company would be issuing a statement in response to the claims made by Brown, who said he believed a police report was filed when it was first discovered that it was stolen.
Lelands.com claimsÂ the ring has actually been sold several times after it was passed down from Brown to a family member. It'sÂ currently owned by Josh Evans, the owner of the auction house, which first sold it to a bidder in 1998 before buying it back again.
The obvious question now is whether or not Brown will be able to recover it.
Jordan Jennings of the Postgame blog for Yahoo! Sports has a nice entry on Devin and Jason McCourty teaming up for Sickle Cell awareness, which is a cause close to both of them because their father carried the trait - READ MORE
MassLive.com continues his series ranking the Patriots, and has Chandler Jones coming in at No. 5 in his latest entry - READ MORE
Patriots.com's John Rooke has some notes this morning, and wonders how Darrelle Revis will fair along with a couple of other bits in this piece - READ MORE
Boston.com's Erik Frenz looks at the quarterback position, and feels that Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Garoppolo are in a battle this preseason to lead the team in the event the Patriots face a worst-case scenario with Brady getting injured - READ MORE
Patriots.com's Paul Perillo has a good look at the Patriots' defensive line, and believes health will be a major factor up front for the Patriots' defense. - READ MORE
ESPN BOSTON'S Field Yates highlights a couple of pieces focusing on the NFL's top 100 players, which obviously contains some Patriots on each list - READ MORE
ESPN BOSTON'S Mike Reiss continues his series on who he feels are locks to make the roster, with this morning's edition focusing on the defensive ends. - READ MORE
It sounds like WR Aaron Dobson could be ready to go by the time training camp begins. (USA TODAY Images)
Some news and notes on this Monday:
PATRIOTS ARE THE SMARTEST NFL SPENDERS:
USA Today has an article this morning looking at the fact the Patriots have compiled a 61-19 regular season record from 2009-2013 and did it with payrolls that ranked, on average, in the bottom half of the league.
Of course they credit Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, calling Belichick "not only one of the best in the league, but among the best in any sport, anywhere."
"How did they do it? It starts with two people who've been with the franchise over a decade - and one of them doesn't count toward the team's payroll at all. The latter, of course, is Bill Belichick, the head coach universally regarded as not only one of the best in the league, but among the best in any sport, anywhere. No matter how much the Patriots retool their roster, Belichick remains in complete command of the franchise, and his steady stewardship (though not so steady that he won't make adjustments on the fly as needed) has produced a 163-61 regular season record with the Patriots, as well as 11 straight seasons of 10 wins or more. Grantland's Bill Barnwell suggested in 2012 that top coaches are undervalued, since they play a vital role in a team's success without costing a cent against the salary cap. For that reason, no matter what the Patriots pay Belichick - and no one outside the organization has much of an idea - he's worth every penny."
You can read more here - CLICK HERE
DOBSON OPTIMISTIC ABOUT BEING READY FOR TRAINING CAMP:
After missing spring practices following offseason surgery on his foot, it sounds like Aaron Dobson may be making enough progress to potentially be out on the field in a few weeks for the start of training camp.
According to MASSLIVE's Nick Underhill, there is now optimism the second-year receiver may be ready to hit the field later this month, which is good news for a player who will likely be a big key to the Patriots success this season.
Dobson suffered a foot injury against the Broncos in week 12 that caused him to miss three games, but then he reaggravated it against the Bills in the season finale. He initially avoided surgery after there was a belief it would heal on its own, but clearly that wasn't the case and he underwent the surgery in March.
Fortunately it sounds like he's making progress. Hopefully he'll be ready to go and won't suffer any setbacks.
JAMIE COLLINS MAKES THE "MAKING THE LEAP" LIST:
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com continues his series of top 25 players he believes will "make the leap" in 2014, with Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins coming in at number five on this list.
Rosenthal calls Collins a "cornerback trapped in a 250-pound body", and writes that, "while most linebackers are forced into pass coverage duties, Collins looks at home on an island."
"As a rookie, Collins played inside and outside linebacker. He lined up at defensive end occasionally to rush the passer, and could blitz up the middle. Moving forward is typical of a guy his size, but it's not typical to see the same player line up one-on-one outside the numbers against receivers, and win.
Bill Belichick has found a new sort of prototype. Nearly 30 years removed from establishing what NFL teams look for in a 3-4 linebacker, Collins is the right player for this era. Once a safety at Southern Mississippi, Collins can go entire games without going after a quarterback. (Week 16 against Baltimore was a great example; he shut down their tight ends on passing downs.)"
One interesting comment is the fact Rosenthal believes that "Collins is the player that Adalius Thomas was supposed to be." He also feels that Collins is much like a five tool player, making a baseball reference and believes that while teams love hybrid linebackers, the Patriots may have finally found one.
MCCOURTY BROTHERS MAKE A CASE FOR RUTGERS:
Dan Duggan of the Star Ledger has an article with Devin McCourty and his brother Jason among former players making a case to recruits as to why Rutgers is their best choice to come and play college football.
"You get an opportunity to be in a program where you can go talk to a coach about anything in life," said Devin, a Patriots safety. "He's a very open guy where he can laugh, he can joke with you, he can be strict. I think just on a personal level it's a great fit. But like I always say, Rutgers has to be a fit for you. I don't know if every guy can go there and work hard and be willing to put in that work and sacrifice. I think it has to be a good fit. I think for guys that are young and hardworking and want to be the first guys to do something under a great coach that might not have a huge name, but you can be the first just like he'll be, it would be a perfect fit for you."
Linebacker Steve Beauharnais also had high praise for coach Kyle Flood, calling him a "players coach" and believes that he's just as tough as former coach Greg Schiano.
Duggan writes that Rutgers hasn't landed any of the top 17 recruits in New Jersey's class of 2015 according to Rivals.com's rankings, and has just three in the top 35. Then again, it's not always the biggest names that necessarily become the brightest stars. However, it never hurts to get some endorsements by former alumni who have been there and have proven that players from that university can go on and do great things in the NFL.
BOB KRAFT COMMITS FUNDS TO CROSSROADS CAMP PROGRAM:
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is a Brookline resident, surprised Crossroads for Kids last month with a commitment of up to $100,000 to send 100 young people to its residential "Camp Wing" program.
From Wicked Local Brookline:
"Through the program, they will meet mentors and friends who will stand by them for the next 10 years as they learn to dream big and travel the path to a safe and successful future.
It costs $1,000 to send a child to a 20-day session of overnight camp, a cost Crossroads subsidizes through fundraising to ensure 1,000 kids have the opportunity to experience a safe and happy summer each year."
According to the article, Kraft's commitment entails that he will match all donations by new donors and past supporters who will increase their support to send a child to camp, and will mtch them up to $100,000.
Jarrrett Bell of USA TODAY has this piece in the Detroit Free Press looking at the Patriots and writes the franchise is at the milestone 10-year mark and believes it's time for a reunion - READ MORE
Nick Underhill of MASSLIVE continues his series raking the top 10 Patriots heading into training camp, with this morning's edition focusing on Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer - READ MORE
ESPN BOSTON'S Mike Reiss looks at some of the top plays in Patriots history, with today's entry focusing on the infamous "Snow Plow Game" - READ MORE
He also continues his series looking at players who he feels are "locks' to make the roster heading into training camp, with this morning's edition focusing on the defensive tackles - READ MORE
Oliver Thomas of NEPATRIOTSDRAFT.com has a nice write-up on Devin McCourty, looking at the rise of the former Rutgers standout. - READ MORE
James Christensen has a good read on Bleacher Report looking at five "dark horses" he believes may make the final 53-man roster. - READ MORE
For those who enjoyed watching him play here, Ricky Henne of Chargers.com has a nice feature on former Patriots RB Danny Woodhead - READ MORE
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