Michael Lombardi

Michael Lombardi

FOXBORO — There are few people in the NFL with a background as varied and experienced as Mike Lombardi. And there are few people Bill Belichick trusts more.

So, when defensive lineman John Hughes became available this week after being released by the Browns, the Patriots head coach knew right where to go to see if he might be a good fit with the Patriots.

Hughes 27, is just the latest member of Lombardi’s Browns from 2013 that has found a spot on the Patriots. Jabaal Sheard and Dion Lewis joined the Patriots last year and both had very productive seasons until Lewis tore his ACL in November.

This year, there was the addition of linebacker Barkevious Mingo in the third week of preseason. Why such an active pipeline of talent?

“Mike has been a good source of information on a lot of levels but certainly players that he is familiar with, like guys that were on that team,” Belichick said. “I mean he gives you insight into guys that you don’t get if you’re not there.”

Lombardi and Belichick have a well-chronicled relationship that goes back to 1992, when Lombardi was promoted to Director of Player Personnel in 1992 where he worked under Belichick and was responsible for all college and pro personnel decisions, managed salary cap and player personnel issues, oversaw staff of 13 college and pro scouts and handled all player contracts and advised head coach on all football matters.

That’s a lot of responsibility that earned the respect of Belichick. When Lombardi left the Browns in 1996, he moved onto the Rams and Eagles before landing with Al Davis and the Raiders in 1998. It was there where he helped Davis rebuild the Raiders into one of the forces in the AFC, reaching the AFC title game in 2000, losing to the Patriots in the ’01 Snow Bowl and falling to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII.

He then spent the next six seasons spreading his wisdom in the media before re-joining the Browns as general manager and VP of player personnel in 2013.

The Browns did Lombardi somewhat of a favor when they let him go in favor of Ray Farmer after the ’13 season. Lombardi, still getting paid from the Browns, earned his second Super Bowl ring with the Patriots in 2014 when he joined Belichick’s staff again as a coaching assistant. His first Super Bowl ring came as a scout with the 49ers in 1984.

He formally left the staff after last season but remains in touch with Belichick. He now serves as a Fox Sports analyst and can be heard on WEEI’s Kirk and Callahan every Friday morning.

As for Hughes and Mingo, both could see bigger and bigger roles as the season goes on. Hughes originally entered the NFL as a third-round draft pick (87th overall) of the Browns out of Cincinnati in the 2012 NFL Draft. He played in the 2016 season opener for Cleveland in a reserve role before being released on Sept. 20. The 6-foot-2, 320-pound interior lineman has played in 53 NFL games with 10 starts and has 123 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

“John’s an experienced player,” Belichick said Wednesday. “He has played a little bit inside and outside. We’ll see how it goes with him. Again, I think he’s a big guy with some skill, can run a little bit and has a good level of playing experience. So we’ll see how it turns out. I don’t know.”

In three games this season, Mingo has only been on the field for five of 196 defensive snaps but has played 64 of 79 special teams snaps.

“I think each week it’s a different week so I don’t really know,” Belichick said. “This week is different from last week and next week will be different from this week. But we’ll see what our game plan is, how we match up, what we want to try to do. That could be different, like it always is, with different players every week. He has done a good job. He has come in and learned a lot about our system both in the kicking game and defensively.

“He’s really involved in all four downs. We can play him first, second, third and fourth-down so he has had a lot to pick up. We’ve thrown a lot at him. He works hard at it and he’s in good condition, can take a lot of plays so he has gotten a lot out there at practice. I’m glad we have him.”

Belichick could still say the same about Lombardi.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — For the second straight week, who starts at quarterback for the Patriots is a mystery.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo

FOXBORO — For the second straight week, who starts at quarterback for the Patriots is a mystery.

Both Jimmy Garoppolo (right shoulder) and Jacoby Brissett (right thumb) were officially limited at practice on Wednesday. Garoppolo was limited Tuesday and Wednesday last week, but then didn’t play Thursday against the Texans.

It’s worth noting both players threw passes during the media availability of practice.

Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) and Dont’a Hightower (knee) were also limited. Gronkowski played last Thursday night, but only 14 snaps, while Hightower has missed the last two games.

Marcus Cannon was added to the injury report with a calf ailment, while Trey Flowers (shoulder) was removed.

Here is the complete Patriots practice report:

LIMITED PARTICIPATION

QB Jacoby Brissett (thumb)
OL Marcus Cannon (calf)
OL Jonathan Cooper (foot)
LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring)
LB Dont’a Hightower (knee)
CB Eric Rowe (ankle)

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — For the second straight year, Bills coach Rex Ryan got upset with the New England media on the weekly conference call with the opposing coach.

Rex Ryan didn't like some of the questions he was asked on Wednesdays conference call. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Rex Ryan didn’t like some of the questions he was asked on Wednesdays conference call. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — For the second straight year, Bills coach Rex Ryan got upset with the New England media on the weekly conference call with the opposing coach.

Ryan was first asked about him saying the Bills won the offseason. The coach said his quote was misinterpreted, but he doesn’t regret what he said.

“No, I would regret something I said? No, I’m never doing that,” Ryan said. “What I meant was, going into the offseason — that thing has been a great comment by the way — but what I meant was our guys did a great job in their commitment. They were totally committed to what they were doing. They were focused. They came in, they worked out. Beyond that, it was guys were in early, out late. That’s basically what I was trying to say. We had a great offseason that way. It had nothing to do with players that went to other teams, or came to our team. It had nothing to do with that.

“Of course it was blown up that we won the offseason, or whatever. I get it. I said it so, I’ll take it. No problem, I said it. I think everyone missed the intent of what I was saying, but who cares anyway.”

Ryan was then asked about him being on record saying he’s an “above-average” coach, but yet he has a 35-48 record since 2011.

“I don’t know. I guess that’s the way it is,” he said. “You guys would know better than me.”

The next question was a general one about quarterback Tyrod Taylor and his play over the first three games.

“Above-average quarterback,” Ryan said. “You guys just fill in the blanks, whatever you want to say. Above-average quarterback.”

He was then asked about fumbles where it was brought up that the Bills have fumbled 32 times in 19 games.

“I have no idea, man,” Ryan said. “We have to do a better job obviously of protecting the football.”

Finally, Ryan was asked about his Bill Belichick impersonation before Monday’s press conference and perhaps if it causes he and the team to lose focus on the actual game.

“I don’t know, man,” he said. “It’s more of a this is still a game. It’s really a billion dollar industry and things, but it’s still a game and you have to be true to yourself. I’m try to myself. To me it’s just a thing where I enjoy Belichick’s press conferences and everything else because he’s true to himself and he does a great job. It’s pretty funny to me. You guys can never get anything out of him. I think it’s great. It’s kind of funny that way. Knowing that every question is going to be about who is the quarterback.

“The one thing I do know for sure is Tom Brady’s not the quarterback and I feel good about that.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — The oddsmakers have come around on the Patriots.

FOXBORO — The oddsmakers have come around on the Patriots.

After seeing their odds fluctuate over the course of the offseason because of the uncertainty regarding quarterback Tom Brady, according to Bovada, New England currently has the best shot at winning Super Bowl 51 at 15/4. The Packers are second at 8/1, and the Steelers (9/1) and Seahawks (10/1) round out the top four. (By way of comparison, at the other end of the spectrum, the Bears are 500/1 and the Browns are 1,000/1.)

Predictably, New England is at the top of the list when it comes to the AFC at 2/1, with the Steelers (9/2) and Broncos (11/2) just off the pace. The Patriots are also far and away the favorite in the AFC East at 1/5.

And despite not having a taken a single snap yet this season, Brady is at 16/1 odds to win the MVP. Aaron Rodgers is currently the favorite at 9/2, while Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton (both 6/1) are next in line.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Jamie Collins endured a rare session with the media on Wednesday.  (Elsa/Getty Images)

Jamie Collins endured a rare session with the media on Wednesday. (Elsa/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — No high-level performer on the Patriots roster does a better job at keeping a low profile than linebacker Jamie Collins.

Collins, who is regarded by many as one of the best and most versatile defenders on the team, has absolutely zero interest in the art of self-promotion. His sessions with the media are few and far between, and when they do happen — like Wednesday — they are punctuated by two- and three-sentence responses. So when he talks, it’s a special occasion.

In his fourth year, the Southern Miss product takes criticism and praise the same way. Like when someone informed him that former teammate Jerod Mayo proclaimed that Collins was the MVP of the team through the first three games.

“I appreciate it, but I’m doing me,” Collins shrugged. “I’m trying to get it, regardless.”

That means always trying to find places he can improve.

“There’s always room for improvement. Like I said, I’m trying to get there every day by coming in here and doing what I do,” he said. “Getting faster, stronger, bigger. Seeing things quicker. Everything. Whatever it may be to make me get better.”

“Jamie’s an impact hitter. He’s got a lot of explosion, a lot of power,” said Bill Belichick. “He can certainly deliver a solid blow, and he’s long, and he’s athletic (and) he has got good range. So yeah, he’s a good player.

“He brings a lot to our team both in his talents and also in his playing style and his aggressiveness and ability to do whatever we ask him to do. Whether that’s playing zone-coverage, playing man-coverage, rush the passer, play on the end of the line, play in the middle of the line. With [Dont’a] Hightower out he’s had a lot of communication and play-calling responsibilities and he has not only handled those well, but it hasn’t affected any other parts of his game; that added responsibility.”

Whether you agree with Mayo’s assessment, it’s hard to argue with the results. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder leads the Patriots in tackles (23) and interceptions (2), and is tied for the team lead in passes defense (3), all to go along with one sack. Picking up some of the slack in the wake of the knee injury sustained by Hightower, he’s also worn the green dot on the back of his helmet.

But don’t tell him he’s unique because he gets to wear the communication device from the sidelines.

“Everybody makes too much of the green dot,” he said. “It ain’t really nothing. It ain’t nothing. It ain’t nothing.”

Collins also dismisses talk of added pressure on his shoulders because he’s in a contract year.

“No, man. I ain’t worried about none of that,” he said. “Like I said, man. I’m going to come in here and do what i do, regardless. Regardless.”

Would that include playing some quarterback? He lined up under center in high school, and the Patriots do have some uncertainty at the position going into Sunday’s contest against the Bills.

“I can play whatever,” he said with a small smile. “Whatever it is. I don’t care what the level is. Whatever it is you need me to do, I’m doing.”

Quarterback included?

“Yeah.”

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Martellus Bennett was cracking jokes in the locker room again Wednesday. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Martellus Bennett was cracking jokes in the locker room again Wednesday. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett is one of the most outgoing personalities in the Patriots locker room and he was at it again on Wednesday.

Bennett was asked about the “calling card” of a Ryan brother’s defense as the team will face Buffalo on Sunday.

“Calling card? I think you can dial a bunch of different numbers to get the Ryan brothers,” Bennett said. “They do a lot of different things. It’s hard to have one phone number for them. It’s hard to track them down. I played with Rob when I was in Dallas, but I think overall you can’t just call it one thing.”

The jokes didn’t stop there as he was asked about “flying around” the practice field on Tuesday after getting the weekend off following the Thursday game against the Texans.

“I fly around every day,” Bennett said. “Can’t land this jet. It’s like having a private plane, wherever I want to go, I just go. I’m not worried about no jet fuel. I would say Gatorade, but they don’t sponsor me so I am going to get a good ole’ sip of that drink. Gatorade could have had a plug.”

Much has been made of the Patriots’ uncertainty at quarterback this season, but it’s not bothering Bennett.

“No, we just go do our job,” he said. “Just get open. They’ll get it to you. They are here for a reason.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — What’s the latest with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett? Is Rob Gronkowski close to 100 percent? And what are the latest shenanigans of Rex Ryan? All this and more as WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price preview Patriots Bills inside Gillette Stadium.

Blog Author: 
WEEI