Stephen Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the game. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the game. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’€™€™€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the offensive side of the ball and then the defense, now we close with special teams.

Depth chart: Kicker- Stephen Gostkowski, Punter- Ryan Allen, Long snapper- Joe Cardona


1. Gostkowski is one of the best. In 2014 he hit 35 of his 37 field goal attempts for a career-high 94.6 percent mark, leading to his third Pro Bowl selection and a second-team All-Pro honor. He also led the league in scoring with 156 points, booted 53 kickoffs for touchbacks (tied for fifth most in the league) and hit all 51 PATs he attempted. He was rewarded with a new four-year contract extension worth $17 million after being hit with the franchise tag earlier in the offseason.

2. New coaching staff. After Scott O’Brien’s retirement following last season, there will be a new face leading the unit. Joe Judge will take over as the special teams coach and the team hired former Patriot Ray Ventrone as his assistant. Judge served as O’Brien’s assistant for each of the last few seasons, so he is used to the system. Although O’Brien is gone, it would appear much of what he preached will still be implemented. The players who have spoken so far seem excited to work with the new coaches.

3. New long snapper in town. The Patriots moved on from long snapper Danny Aiken and drafted Cardona out of Navy in the fifth-round, the highest-drafted long snapper in NFL history. His Naval assignment has been delayed until after the 2015 NFL season so that he will be able to play for this year and possibly beyond. It appears from the spring he has developed a good connection with Gostkowski and Allen.


1. How will the unit respond without O’Brien? The biggest question with the group will be if they will be any different without O’Brien. He was very hard on his players and demanded a lot, but the results were apparent. It’s hard to imagine this will change too much, especially with their leader being captain Matthew Slater. While the team will certainly miss having O’Brien around, it’s hard to imagine much will be affected on the field.

2. Can they perform like last year? The Patriots’ special teams unit played a major part in their Super Bowl winning season, seemingly making a game-changing play almost every week. Whether it was a big punt altering field position, a blocked punt, a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, the unit did it all last year. It’s extremely hard to get game-changing plays each and every week from special teams, so while the team likely won’t have as many big special teams plays as a year ago, they should make a few plays over the course of the season to help the team win a few games.

3. Will new extra-point rules impact team? Starting this year extra-points will now be snapped from the 15-yard line, so it will be a 32-yard attempt as opposed to a 19-yard attempt. It’s unlikely this will change much with the Patriots, as Gostkowski nailed all his extra-points last year and was 10-for-11 from 30-39 yards out. The Patriots won’t have much to worry about with this.

By the numbers: 35. The number of field goals Gostkowski connected on last season — the most in the NFL.

Key new player: Cardona. He’s the only new player to the unit, but it appears he has fit right in with Gostkowski and Allen. He was the ultimate Bill Belichick draft pick, coming out of Navy as well as being a lacrosse player.

The skinny: Arguably more than any other team in the league, the Patriots put a great deal of emphasis in special teams. Belichick, a former special teams coach himself, is not afraid to use heavily used positional players on special teams and values versatility, which sometimes decides whether a fringe player makes the final roster or not. When it comes to the kicking game they are in good shape with Allen and Gostkowski and with their recent new contracts, should be in good shape for the years to come.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Rob Gronkowski speaks to media after Thursday's camp practice in Foxboro. (Mike Petraglia/

Rob Gronkowski speaks to media after Thursday’s camp practice in Foxboro. (Mike Petraglia/

FOXBORO — When it comes to adjusting to working with Jimmy Garoppolo as opposed to Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski said that it boils down to a simple formula.

“It’s just (about) going out there and working hard,” Gronkowski said following practice Thursday. “When we get our reps together, we have to go out there and get our chemistry down. Obviously, every quarterback throws a little different, and going out there and knowing the way he throws and knowing where the ball is going to be (is key). But it’s just about working together and getting the reps in together.”

Gronkowski, who wouldn’t comment on the possibility of whether or not Brady will open the season, was more interested in talking about his own situation. Thursday marked the first training camp of the summer for Gronkowski and the rest of the roster. This is a unique camp for the tight end, as it marks the first one since the year following his rookie season where he hasn’t had to worry about rehabbing an injury.

Instead, he’s been freed to get in as much work as possible. On Thursday, he was a frequent target of both Brady and Garoppolo, as the two quarterbacks got in plenty of reps throwing to a variety of pass catchers.

“It feels great to be back out on the field with the team — doing individual drills, team drills,” he said. “Just getting back out there together. Just going out there and working with all the tight ends.

“It felt great. It always feels great to get back out on the football field,” he added. “It’s definitely a refreshing feeling to get back out here and play some ball.”

Gronkowski is getting used to working alongside veteran free-agent pickup Scott Chandler, who arrived from Buffalo in the offseason.

“Working with Scott is great — a hard worker,” he said. “He bring a lot of attitude to the field. As a tight end group, we love to come out here and work hard.”

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Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Bill Belichick speaks Thursday at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/

Bill Belichick speaks Thursday at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick was in predictable form Thursday.

Asked to expand upon Robert Kraft’s comments from Wednesday and the uncertainty facing quarterback Tom Brady, Belichick said he was only ready to focus on getting prepared for the first day of practice.

“Right now we’€™re preparing for today, practice today,” Belichick said.

But that didn’t stop the line of questioning.

Q: But you have to think ahead, right? How do you plan for that?

“Right now we’€™re practicing for today,” Belichick repeated. “That’€™s all I’€™m thinking about. I’€™m not thinking about a month from now, a year from now, 10 years from now, six months from now. I’€™ll leave all that up to you guys and the experts. Just today.

Q: Do you find any sign of distraction or is getting to the field a welcome avoidance of distraction?

“Today we’€™re doing what we always do. We’€™ll prepare for practice and we’€™ll go out there and practice and evaluate it and make corrections and move on to this afternoon and tomorrow. It’€™s training camp,” he added.

Belichick was asked about whether he needs to remind players that last year’€™s Super Bowl season is in the past.

“We don’€™t talk about last year. We talk about today,” Belichick said. “Again, I’€™m not really worried about some other year or some other time. I’€™m trying to do the best I can to get our team prepared today to have a good practice, to take another step forward in our preparation so that we’€™ll be able to stay on schedule and do what we need to do tomorrow and the following day.

“That’€™s really what I’€™m worried about. I’€™m not living in the past or dreaming about something in the future. I’€™m trying to do a good job with our team today, and that’€™s what each of our players should be doing as well is making the most out of this opportunity that’€™s right in front of us because that’€™s the only thing we can do anything about.”

Q: Clearly at this point you’€™re not making a lot of comments on the Brady situation. At what point do you think it will be appropriate for you to address those questions again?

BB: I think Robert [Kraft] addressed that yesterday.

Q: Is there a point in the future where you think you’€™ll want to talk about this ever again?

BB: I think Robert addressed that yesterday. You can go back and read the transcript. I think you can read what he said and that’€™s what we’€™re going to do.

Q: Do you agree with everything he said?

BB: You can go back and read what he said.

Q: But that doesn’€™t tell me whether you agree with everything he said.

BB: You go back and read the transcript of what Robert said, he advised everybody in the organization not to talk about it, and so we’€™re not talking about it. You can go back and read that yourself. It’€™s in the transcript.

Here are some other takeaways from Thursday:

Q: Last year, the phrase was ‘€œOn to Cincinnati.’€ This year, it sounds like it’€™s, ‘€œWe’€™re focused on practice and we’€™re preparing for today.’€ Does the adversity you overcame last year help in dealing with it this year?

BB: I’€™ve coached in this league for a long time. I’€™ve been a head coach for a number of years. It’€™s the way we’€™ve gone about it every training camp, every practice in training camp.

Q: Yesterday the player’€™s union filed an appeal for Tom Brady‘€™s suspension. Would you prefer to know that you’€™ll be playing without him for the first four games or have the uncertainty with the possibility he will be able to play the whole season?

BB: I’€™m worried about today’€™s practice and how our team performs. I don’€™t have any control over all the other questions that have been asked here about the weather and a bunch of other stuff. So, you’€™re asking the wrong person.

Q: What is it about Tom Brady’€™s ability to put blinders on and focus on the task at hand?

BB: Look, right now everybody is in the same exact situation. It’€™s the first day of training camp as a team. We’€™ve had some meetings. We’€™re all going to go out there and try to establish our performance for the 2015 season. That’€™s the head coach, the assistant coaches, all the players. Nobody has done anything for five, six months, depending on the individual, whatever it happens to be.

“We’€™ve all got a lot of work to do, and today is the first step as a team after the spring. We’€™re in a little different stage now. We’€™ve done some things that are important from the spring, but now is our first opportunity to do that as a team as it’€™s going to lead directly into the 2015 season. We’€™re all in the same boat. It doesn’€™t make any difference what anybody did or didn’€™t do, whether they’€™re a 15-year veteran or whether this is their first season. We all are going to have to perform in 2015, and we all need the preparation to do that. So, today is one step in that preparation process, and that goes for everybody.

Q: Jimmy Garoppolo was never asked to do three, five, seven-step drops at Eastern Illinois. How quickly do you pick that up and where do you think he is in the development?

BB: Well, I wouldn’€™t totally agree with that first statement, but he’€™s made a lot of progress, like probably most all players make in their first year. Now we’€™re into a second year and we’€™ll see where that continues and where we’€™re able to pick up on the learning from last year, and that goes for all of our second year players. We’€™ll see. It’€™s different being out there in pads, different being out there in a competitive situation, which we haven’€™t gotten to yet but that will be coming shortly. We’€™ve had a lot of work in the spring of what we’€™ll be doing today, particularly at that position. We’€™ll see how that goes as we go forward for everybody.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
The banner flying over Gillette Stadium Thursday read, "Cheaters look up!" (Joe Zarbano/WEEI)

The banner flying over Gillette Stadium Thursday read, “Cheaters look up!” (Joe Zarbano/WEEI)

The talk of the day at Gillette Stadium was the plane flying over the Patriots’ first training camp practice with a banner that read, ‘€œCheaters Look Up! @JETSFANMEDIA’€

Tyson Rauch, the website’s media relations representative, joined Middays with MFB on Thursday to discuss what the group did — something that has been in the works for a few weeks.

“For a couple weeks now,” he said. “We figured the New England Patriots are the most hated team in professional sports, so we tried to spark up some interest.”

“We got our money’s worth, I think,” he added.

The plane originated in New Jersey and the pilot was a Jets fan more than willing to fly the plane.

Rauch said the group did not do this for attention.

“We don’t need attention,” he said. “[The Patriots] get the attention by the way they cheat, break the rules, bend the rules, things like that. The Patriots are the most hated team in sports.”

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After Minnesota judge Richard Kyle ruled the Tom Brady/NFLPA lawsuit against the NFL the case would not be heard in Minnesota, rather in New York, New York Judge Richard Berman released an order to both sides.

After Minnesota judge Richard Kyle ruled the Tom Brady/NFLPA lawsuit against the NFL the case would not be heard in Minnesota, rather in New York, New York Judge Richard Berman released an order to both sides.

In that order he states, “While this litigation is ongoing, it is appropriate (and helpful) for all counsel and all parties in this case to tone down their rhetoric.”

Kyle also states he would like the two parties to come to an agreement.

“If they have not already done so, the parties and counsel are directed forthwith actively to begin to pursue a mutually acceptable resolution of this case,” he wrote.

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Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — The Patriots just wrapped up their first practice of training camp, a hot and steamy morning session on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. It was a practice that went for two-plus hours, with players in helmets, sweats and shorts. It’ll be a dicey practice report because players were not wearing numbers. In addition, as the newest CBA dictated, there were no pads for the first day of camp. As a result, the workout results need to be taken with a massive grain of salt. But there were a few things that really stood out on the first day.

Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo got a nice hand as they walked on the practice field, with Brady drawing the biggest cheers when he hit the top stop on his way out to the workout. Brady drew big applause throughout the morning, regardless of whether or not he was working in individual throwing drills alongside Garoppolo and firing passes to a ballboy or taking part in 11-on-11 drills. He got an especially big cheer toward the end of practice when he took off on a play and ran for a touchdown in a short-yardage situation.

At least initially, it appeared that Brady was working with the starting offense at the far end of the field, while Garoppolo was with the No. 2 offense. Later in practice, Brady and Garoppolo alternated, moving from one practice field to another. Garoppolo was picked off on one of his pass attempts in a 7-on-7 session, but he bounced back and managed to deliver some nice throws, including a sweet fade on a touchdown pass to an unidentified receiver in the corner of the end zone. (Later in that same drill, Brady hit Gronk on a crossing route over the middle, a really impressive throw.)

In 11-on-11s toward the end of practice, the two quarterbacks traded snaps. In the first series, Brady went 5-for-6, including a really nice pass over the middle to Edelman and a trick play where the quarterback ended up coasting into the end zone for a touchdown. Garoppolo them took over and went 5-for-5 on a sequence that was punctuated by a touchdown pass to Gronkowski where he wrestled the ball away from a defensive back. Brady them jumped back in and went 4-for-6 on a series that ended with a touchdown pass to Edelman. Garoppolo went 3-for5 to wrap things up.

The two quarterbacks were then separated in two-minute work. In the first series, Brady appeared really sharp, going 7-for-7 with a touchdown pass to Gronk. On the other side, Garoppolo went 7-for-8 on a drive that saw an unidentified offensive linemen jump offsides. After a quick break, they came back in the other direction, and Garoppolo was 5-for-6, including a deep ball for Brian Tyms that was overthrown.

However, this is important note: when the real difference-makers in the passing game were assembled in the corner of the field working on red-zone situations, it was Brady and not Garoppolo who was leading a group that included Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. (It was also interesting to see that without Brandon LaFell on the field, Aaron Dobson was with that grouping as well.)

It was difficult to discern just who was out there, but when the No. 1 offense was on the field, the Patriots were rotating different bodies at both guard spots. (It’€™s important to note that last year’€™s starting right guard Ryan Wendell opened camp on PUP.)

It was interesting to see that linebacker Dont’€™a Hightower was on the field. The veteran, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery, was considered by some to be a question mark heading into camp. But he was not placed on PUP this week, and while there were no pads (and no contact) on Thursday, the sight of him on the field with the rest of his teammates is a positive sign in the overall recovery process. Alan Branch, Dominique Easley and Dane Fletcher ‘€” who were all placed on PUP earlier in the week ‘€” were also spotted on the sidelines with the rest of the defense. Meanwhile, the offensive players who were placed on either the NFI or PUP lists that weren’€™t spotted included wide receiver Brandon LaFell. (Quarterback Matt Flynn and running back LeGarrette Blount, both of whom were classified as NFI, were spotted on the field working with teammates, but not engaging in drills.)

Owner Robert Kraft appeared roughly halfway through the workout, and got a standing ovation from the fans who were in attendance. Kraft spent roughly 10 minutes talking with Brady during a break in the workout (Garoppolo was working in goal-line action with some of the coaches.) Red Sox pitcher Wade Miley was also spotted on the sidelines.

Fullback James Develin had to run a penalty lap for a perceived infraction early in practice. Edelman also had to run a lap later in practice as well.

Roughly midway through practice, a plane flew overheard trailing a big banner that read ‘€œCHEATERS LOOK UP,’€ with a Twitter handle following after implying that it was from a Jets fan.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — The public relations assault on the Patriots became aerial Thursday on the first day of training camp.

A plane circles over Gillette Stadium Thursday with a banner that reads "Cheaters look up" (Mike Petraglia/

A plane circles over Gillette Stadium Thursday with a banner that reads “Cheaters look up” (Mike Petraglia/

FOXBORO — The public relations assault on the Patriots became aerial Thursday on the first day of training camp.

A New York Jets fan site ( hired a plane to fly over Gillette Stadium and the Patriots training fields with a banner that read “Cheaters Look Up.”

The plane began flying as the Patriots worked out in the summer heat on the fields below.

The Patriots have been embroiled in the Deflategate drama since the AFC championship. But the Jets’ link is interesting as the Patriots were accused of cheating in the “Spygate” scandal of 2007.

Mike Kensil, a former Jets team president, now works in the NFL office and has been a key figure in the league’s investigation of the Patriots during Deflategate.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — It’s hot and humid this week in Foxboro. The perfect conditioning weather for Bill Belichick as training camp begins.