FOXBORO -- While most of the defensive backs around the league are holding their tongues when asked about the new points of emphasis regarding illegal contact and defensive holding -- and the flurry of flags that are going with it -- Darrelle Revis doesn’t sound too concerned.

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick hasn’t seen much losing in his career as a head coach, especially in New England.

The only sub-.500 season Belichick has endured with the Patriots was his first, when the 2000 team went 5-11. The next season, his team started 0-2 but ended up as Super Bowl champions. He’s been a record-setting winner ever since.

In Cleveland, of course, it was different. He had losing seasons in four of his five seasons by Lake Erie and endured the most arduous end to a season imaginable. So, Belichick does remember what losing was like. And he remembers something else, a bad feeling in training camp and preseason usually is never followed by a successful regular season.

On Tuesday, he explained why.

“I think it’€™s probably just an overall feeling,” Belichick said. “Just the way that the team works, the way they respond to the things they’€™re asked to do in camp and how they handle some of the tests that they’€™re put through. It’€™s a grind. It’€™s tough. It’€™s a very competitive situation. It’€™s a challenge for the team ‘€“ not just the players – but the entire organization to handle all the things you have to handle in training camp, without something kind of internally being a problem and being ready to go.”

There was no bigger potential distraction than what the 2013 Patriots had to deal with heading into camp, when star tight end Aaron Hernandez was released after being charged with the June 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. But that was dealt with on the first day. There was the forearm injury of Rob Gronkowski and whether he would be ready to start the season. That actually became a bigger soap opera but eventually he returned and the team rolled to a second straight 12-4 season and a third straight trip to the AFC championship.

In 2011, owner Robert Kraft lost his wife Myra over the summer after helping negotiate the end of the labor impasse. That year, inspired from the start, the Patriots overcame the Ravens in the AFC championship and nearly overcame Rob Gronkowski‘s bum ankle in a heart-breaking Super Bowl loss to the Giants. The seed of toughness of the 2011 and 2013 teams were sowed in the summer.

“You have to be able to show some mental toughness, some ability to block out distractions and focus on your job and improving individually and as a team and all those things,” Belichick reminded everyone Tuesday. “If you can do those over a training camp period of, call it six weeks, then it’€™s probably a pretty good indication that you have a chance to do it during the year. If you don’t, then it’€™s probably an indication that when the pressure really comes on during the season, which the pressure is going to mount for the team as the season goes, I’€™d say the likelihood of it all just magically coming together without a legitimate foundation, I haven’€™t had a lot of great experience with that.”

In 2001, the Patriots started 0-2, lost their starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe to a life-threatening injury and had an offensive lineman in Joe Andruzzi, whose brother helped save lives at Ground Zero on 9/11. The Patriots somehow managed to overcome the distractions and play with the right kind of emotion, finishing 11-5 en route to a stunning Super Bowl win that started a dynasty.

Of course, Belichick has seen the flip side when his 1995 Browns were submarined by owner Art Modell‘s mid-season announcement he was moving to Baltimore in 1996. The City of Cleveland was devastated and that Browns team could never recover, finishing 5-11.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Devin McCourty looks to lead the Patriots secondary with a hands-off approach this season (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Football fans, Devin McCourty feels your pain.

He tried to watch Monday night’s game between the Browns and Redskins just like a fan. And like a fan, he found it really hard to not change the channel with the number of flags thrown, especially on defensive backs.

“I think as a DB, you’re trained to never to look for a flag,” McCourty said. “It’s makes them throw it more. But even [Monday] night, watching the game, it’s just seems like every couple of plays, there’s another flag. It’ll be tough for people trying to watch the game who have work in the morning and stuff like that.”

All joking aside, McCourty has the unique perspective of having started out as a cornerback before transitioning to safety full-time last season. He knows he won’t be able to get away with as much tugging so technique, even for a safety, will be key this season.

“I think it’s a little different but we have some of the same issues as far as how we’re covering guys, too, like guys coming off the line of scrimmage, things that you might have gotten away with you may not get away with [this season],” McCourty said. “But I think it’s hard to try and change your whole game. We don’t want to start to giving up long passes and touchdowns just to say, ‘I didn’t want illegal contact.’ Hopefully, they reduce the [number of] flags and we get to play a little bit.”

Bill Belichick never stops playing mad scientist with his secondary, like on Friday night against the Eagles, when he had Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan taking snaps at safety.

“I don’t it’s that much tougher,” McCourty said of watching and playing with new players rotating at safety. “I think a lot of it is putting your rules and what you do as a defense into what they’re doing so it’s just guys just talking about it and seeing stuff the same way and being on the same page. As long as you can do that, you just put your rules toward that.

“Anytime you get out in the game atmosphere and you’re playing, and the refs out there and playing together, I think that’s always key going into the season. It’s always better the first time when it’s live bullets. I always think it’s good to get some of the preseason reps in there and hopefully, we don’t see as many flags as we’ve been seeing this preseason throughout the game.”

McCourty said Tuesday that another newbie to the secondary – perennial All-Pro Darrelle Revis – looks very comfortable with the rest of the defensive backs.

“It’s been cool,” McCourty said. “He’s fit in pretty good. Communication has been going good. I just think as a unit, we’ve been taking the right steps each day, just trying to get better, working on things we’ve made mistakes on. I think that’s what’s been great about our unit. We haven’t made a lot of the same mistakes. When you can do that, it keeps giving you room to grow and get better as a unit. I think we just have to continue to do that as we head into the season.”

Another difference this week is preparation. The Patriots are practicing against themselves again, not the Redskins or Eagles. For McCourty and the defensive backs, it’s back to the traditional method of watching it in the classroom and then replicating on the field.

“You just have more conversations,” McCourty said. “It’s not as easy as playing it live. I think when you’re doing it at practice against a team, you can talk about it right there on the field. Sometimes, two guys can come off and say, ‘I saw this.’ Then I say, ‘This is what it really was.’ When you are in film [study], you might see something and think it’s similar but it might look a little different in two different games for one team so you just have to talk about it and make sure you get on the same page as far as how we want to see it going into the game.

“The first two weeks, I think the hard thing for the rookies is that you get used to practicing against a team and then going to play it’s a lot easier than trying to watch film, just going off scouting reports. That’s the biggest difference now is we actually really get into a regular season mode, as far as watching film together, trying to get things adjusted from film and go into the game that way. It’s starting to really get us prepared for the season.”

It’s not just McCourty getting back to the traditional methods. It’s Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. Those two pieces of the defense have been back on the field together this week after Mayo missed last week.

“It was just exciting to have him back out there,” McCourty said of Mayo. “I think they do a lot to help us as a defense and as a team. Everybody is excited. Two guys in the middle that plug things up, and having Mayo control everything just helps our defense out a lot.”

Maybe the most significant sign of the importance of the secondary is that McCourty and the defensive backs have kept their places in the locker room while others, like Vince Wilfork, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater, among others, have been shifted.

“Shows our importance,” McCourty said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “They came to us and we said we’re not moving, and they left us. Nah, I don’t know why they did that.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO —’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price assess the comfort level of Brandon LaFell, the readiness of Darrelle Revis and the “game-ready” approach the Patriots are taking toward Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in their third preseason game Friday at Gillette Stadium.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — The NFL announced Tuesday that the practice squad for each team will be expanded from eight to 10 players in 2014. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said that the idea of having a a couple of extra practice squadders on the roster is a good thing:

“I think the reality of it is that those are probably the players that are going to get signed in the first few weeks of the season when teams have needs at that position,” Belichick said Tuesday afternoon. “If they’€™re not with any team and they’€™re available then those are the kind of guys that you can go out and add on to your team — some of them.

“Now, there are some older veterans that you would do that with too, but certainly those first, second-year guys that maybe made the team last year so their practice squad eligibility is up and this year they don’€™t make the team or a team and you get into the season, three, four weeks into the season and instead of going with a rookie, you look at a player like that. So, ‘€˜Here’€™s what he did last year. He’€™s got six, eight, 10, 12 games of experience, whatever it is, didn’€™t quite make the roster.’€™ That guy might be the roster.

“That guy might be a guy over the rookie, might be over a rookie on your practice squad too. I think keeping those guys in the system, it’€™s probably a lot of the same guys that are going to be signed. The only reason they weren’€™t on the practice squad last year was because they weren’€™t eligible, not because they weren’€™t wanted but they just, by rule, you couldn’€™t do it. I would imagine a lot of those guys would show up there.”

The league has also announced some changes when it comes to practice squad eligibility. From the press release:

The criteria for Practice Squad eligibility has been expanded in two respects.

First, a player must have a minimum of six games ‘€“ up from the current three games ‘€“ on a Practice Squad in order for that season to count as one of the player’€™s three permissible seasons of Practice Squad service.

Second, each club will be permitted to sign a maximum of two Practice Squad players who have earned no more than two accrued seasons of free agency credit. Absent this exception, a player who has earned one or more accrued seasons would not be eligible for a Practice Squad unless the player spent fewer than nine games on a club’€™s 46-player active list in each of his accrued seasons.

All other practice squad rules under Article 33 of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement will remain in effect during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — Sebastian Vollmer was not on hand as the Patriots began their first day of post-training camp practice Tuesday on the grass fields outside Gillette Stadium.'s Chris Price and Mike Petraglia discuss the performances of Brandon LaFell and Darrelle Revis, among others, as Patriots training camp comes to a close.

[0:00:32] ... guys like Brian -- starting to put on Jersey's. That represent the Carolina Panthers offensive skill position players the -- guys -- replicate the work of Kelvin Benjamin Greg Olsen. To try to give the regular ...
[0:01:43] ... weeks Chris of course they've been practicing against the Redskins. And the Philadelphia Eagles leading up to their respective pre season games this is different your practicing against one another like you were at the beginning of training camp. And there's a lot more intensity certainly -- trying to beat if you're Darrelle Revis beat the offensive. Team in front of viewing the the wide receiver or in this case Tom Brady because that Tom Brady competition. According to derail Revis today has been a very significant factor in terms of his development his picking up things here ...
[0:03:04] ... the fact that he didn't see any attention. Last week from the Philadelphia Eagles -- polls really didn't even look in his direction once how many snaps does he need to feel ready for the regular ...
[0:04:27] ... Revis is that way. Other side of the ball somebody who knows Carolina Panthers this Friday's opponent. Here inside Gillette Stadium very well would be one wide receiver Brandon -- fell he spoke glowingly of course about Cam Newton but there and I thought very interesting. Chris that he spoke so highly of Tom Brady everybody knows Tom Brady's hall of fame quarterback that's not what he was talking about. He was talking about the fact that Tom Brady has certain expectations. That you learn very quickly when -- new player in New England that is you don't run a route one yard too deep. One yard too short it better be precise because as we saw last weekend. When tight -- Steve and Mary said he ran a route two yards deep and it was turned for six points by Carrie Mo Williams. Tom Brady's gonna throw that ball where he expects you to be and that's something for Angela fell said he's been working on with Brady and Brady has been helping him. -- -- the finger really jumped out for me was look felt that looked. The guy you got to take care but not -- -- Tom Brady you know their their nor the coaches out there -- Bill Belichick has not out there the offensive coordinator your position it ...

FOXBORO — Sebastian Vollmer was not on hand as the Patriots began their first day of post-training camp practice Tuesday on the grass fields outside Gillette Stadium.

It was the second straight day the starting right tackle was not spotted with the team in practice. Vollmer started and played 22 of 91 snaps on Friday against the Eagles with the starting offensive line, as did starting left guard Logan Mankins.

Teams are not required to disclose medical or injury issues during preseason so it’s not clear why Vollmer has been out the last two days.

If Vollmer is dealing with a significant injury issue, then it’s likely Marcus Cannon, who played some left tackle against the Eagles, could step in and fill the void at right tackle.

Another option for right tackle could be Nate Solder, who has played both tackle positions in the past, including on Friday when he reported as a tackle-eligible on the right side. Vollmer is coming back from a gruesome broken right leg, suffered against the Dolphins last October.

Other players missing Tuesday were tight ends D.J. Williams and defensive linemen Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, linebacker Cameron Gordon and offensive lineman Chris Martin did not practice with the team at the beginning of media availability but did work on the lower field with the team’s training staff.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — There’s nothing like one of the greatest quarterbacks in history to help you get acclimated to new surroundings.

FOXBORO — There’s nothing like one of the greatest quarterbacks in history to help you get acclimated to new surroundings.

To Brandon LaFell, Tom Brady has been the ultimate security blanket as he has gone from being overwhelmed in May to feeling like a confident, productive receiving weapon in the Patriots offense.

“From OTAs, if I had to put it on a scale from 0-to-10, it’s like an ’8′ now,” LaFell said when asked about his comfort level with the Patriots offense. “In OTAs, I was shellshocked. I didn’t know what to expect. Everything was all new to me. I was in Carolina for the last four years so I got used to that routine, got used to that playbook. Everything is new here and since the beginning of camp, I feel way more comfortable, just being in the huddle with Brady, hearing him call the plays and stuff like that, I’m way more comfortable.

“For me, it was just language. Everybody in the league pretty much runs the same plays, just terminology, different language.”

“It’s going to be a little weird, just going out there and seeing some of my old teammates and looking at those jerseys and knowing I was just in those jerseys last year. It’s going to be a little weird but I have to do my job.”

LaFell, who signed for three years and $9 million in March, said he’s been paying close attention and that focus has paid off in the last two weeks, including four catches and 45 yards, including a TD grab in the back of the end zone last week from Jimmy Garoppolo.

“We’ve been getting better and better, each and every day, each and every week,” LaFell said of working with Brady. “The more and more reps I get with this guy, our timing is better and also, he’s trying to find me more.”

As tight end Steve Maneri found out last week, if you run a route a yard off, he can cost the team dearly, when Brady threw a pick-6 to Cary Williams.

“He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be every route, not a yard off, not a yard too deep, not a yard too short,” LaFell said of Brady’s precision. “He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be because he’s going to put the ball placement exactly right.

“In practice, you have the coaches out there on the field but on game day I’m listening to Tom. What he says in the huddle is the only thing that matters.”

“I learned in this game when you force, force, force, every time you force something, something bad happens. If you go out there and do your job, be patient, things are going to happen for you.”

LaFell is going from one of the most athletically gifted quarterbacks in the game in Cam Newton to one of the most decorated in Brady. LaFell considers himself a lucky guy.

“I’m blessed, man. I’m real blessed, man. I go from Cam, who’s doing his thing. He’s up and coming, real good quarterback, a top quarterback. Then I come over here with Brady, it’s great, man. I’ve been blessed.”

“With Cam, everybody always says a football play is about eight seconds but with Cam, he is a big body, he can move, he can get up there and stiff arm a defensive end and that eight seconds turns to 12 seconds because he broke the pocket. You turning back the play or you’re running deep because he’s rolling out. He always extends plays. With Brady, he’s not the fastest guy out there but he has a little elusiveness in him also to make a play extend.”

LaFell is looking forward to catching up with Newton this Friday night when the Patriots host the Panthers in Foxboro.

“If you were around that guy through all those injuries, [you knew how tough he was],” LaFell said. “When I first got there, he tore his ACL in OTAs and that’s a guy, you never see him down. He was always around, always kept everybody else motivated and the made the guys behind way better, just being around them and giving them the knowledge that he knows.

“It’s night and day. When he first came in, he just did everything off talent. Once he got with Coach [Mike] Shula, he really worked on his game, his fundamentals, that guy started to blow up. Now he’s one of the best in the game.”

“I tell everybody the same story – he has everything you wish for in a football player. He has size, he has speed, he has ability, toughness, he can do it all.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia