FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski has heard the rumblings that his surgically repaired right knee could be a target this season.

FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski has heard the rumblings that his surgically repaired right knee could be a target this season.

But he’s heard those rumblings before, even before his right knee was assaulted by a hit from Cleveland’s T.J. Ward last December.

“It’s the NFL,” Gronkowski said. “You’re hitting every single play, every single down. You an be hit anywhere. So, you just have to be aware of who’s coming at you, where they’re coming at you, you have to make your move, dive, get out of the way, you have to put your shoulder down. Whatever it is, you have to be prepared for anything. It’s the NFL. Everyone’s big, everyone’s fast and everyone can hit.

“Everyone knows that if you’re catching the ball, you can lit up at any time. Up the middle, anywhere, a guy coming from anywhere. You just have to make the play by looking at the guys around you.

“I’m not more conscious about it. Just go out there and do what I do and just basically try to make some plays and just get to the point where I’m not thinking about anything, and just out there and keep on rolling.”

Gronkowski practiced again in pads on Tuesday but was held out again from full 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills, instead continuing his work on individual drills, including red zone work with Tom Brady as Bill Belichick looked on closely. Gronkowski said he is really looking forward to the day when he can fully participate again in practice.

“It’s a lot different,” Gronkowski said. “Once you put the pads on, you’ve got to be well conditioned. It’s so much different running around, having all the equipment on. It adds a couple of extra pounds on your body and you’re not used to that. That’s what training camp is for, getting used to everything again and being conditioned and getting your body for the long haul of the season.

“It’s just tough always siting out, whatever drill it is, whatever period it is. You just have to keep working through, working hard so that when it comes down to it, I can be out there with my teammates in those drills.”

Most significant Tuesday was the acknowledgement that he won’t be playing in a game until he is cleared to take part in contact practice.

“Always expect to take a hit before you step out on the field before any game,” Gronkowski said. “You have to be prepared and ready and whenever that is. I’m obviously going to take some hits in practice before I step out on the field [for a game].

“The side work is going good. Getting used to everything I can do, getting in conditioning, which is my number one factor right now. If that’s what I can work on to the max, that’s what I’m going to be working on to the max, running around and getting my body used to everything and just working on individual, listening to my coaches, getting individual routes down and get my individual blocking down to the best of my ability that I can.

“I feel like I have been making a lot of improvement week to week, no setbacks, just every single week doing more, running more, putting more pressure on my legs so it’s coming along well and every single week, it’s about just picking up more.”

“Even doing walkthroughs or anything that with the whole offense as a whole, just getting timing down, getting Brady’s cadence down, getting off the ball with the tackle, getting off the ball with the wide receiver, everything like that, it all comes together, and it’s all big, just to be a part of it, even if you’re not a part of [the offense].

“As of right now, just listen to the trainers and whatever they have for me at practice, that’s what I’m going to do. We don’t have a timetable. Just take it day-by-day right now and just pick it up more and more.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO -- If the Patriots end up winning it all this year and the defensive backs play a major role in their success, the franchise might want to think about cutting Will Sullivan in for a playoff share.

FOXBORO — Brandon LaFell is hardly the first offensive player to come to the Patriots and struggle to get with the system. Even last season, Danny Amendola needed several regular season games under his belt before he was comfortable. It’s no secret that learning the Patriots playbook can be a challenge for any player coming over from another organization.

With the complex offense quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels run, training camp is one of the most important times of the year, especially for wide receivers to get on the same page as their quarterback.

For four-year veteran Brandon LaFell, he is still in the learning process phase after he was signed by the Patriots on March 17 coming over from Carolina after spending his first four seasons in the NFL with the Panthers. Although it’€™s only the fifth day of training camp, LaFell feels he is getting better with each passing day.

“I’€™m getting better and better everyday,” he said. “We put in a lot of plays, every night is study night for me, something I am not used to because in Carolina we ran the same offense for three years so I knew it. It’€™s a ton of work every night. The more and more I get reps — I started feeling good at the end of minicamp and then we took the long break so now I am trying to get back in the swing of things.”

LaFell, self-admittedly, had a rough first few days of camp with several drops in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 situations, but he’€™s aware of it and followed that up with a productive day on Tuesday.

“I think I’€™ve been OK,” said LaFell. “I haven’€™t been consistent. I started out slow the first couple of days with a few drops, but I picked it up from there so as of now I think I am getting better, but it is still early in camp. I have to learn to be consistent and put good days together back-to-back like the rest of this offense. We need to start putting good days back-to-back and if we continue to that we’€™ll get better.”

The 6-foot-3, LSU-grad, made possibly the catch of training camp thus far on Tuesday when during passing drills on a deep ball from Brady, he split Malcolm Butler and Nate Ebner in coverage taking the ball away from them in the end zone. The play fired up the offense, Brady in particular, as he met the receiver on his way back to the huddle emphatically patting him on the back.

“It makes me feel good,” LaFell said. “It makes the offense feel good every time a receiver goes up on top and makes a play like that. It’€™s not just me, it’€™s the whole offense. If we continue to make these plays, we’€™re all going to feel good and have a good day.”

As for the drops in the first few days of camp, the 2010 third-round pick acknowledges they happened, but isn’€™t too worried about what people might say, as long as he has the trust of the players and coaches inside the organization.

“Man, people are going to say what they want, but as long as I got the rest of these guys in the locker room behind me and the coaching staff behind me I really don’€™t care,” said LaFell. “They know I can make plays and I am going to make them.”

For LaFell, who has only missed two games in his first four seasons — if he can master the playbook and get on the same page as Brady, he could be poised for a career year as he hauled in 13 touchdown passes in Carolina with Cam Newton, Matt Moore Jimmy Clauden and Brian St. Pierre as his quarterbacks.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — To many who paid close attention to the Patriots offensive line in 2013, it was not a season to remember for Ryan Wendell. His quarterback – Tom Brady – was sacked 40 times in 2013, one shy of his career high of 41 in his first full season of 2001. Many of those pressures came over center where Wendell is not only responsible for calling out protections but helping to protect the middle of the line.

Even Wendell, a man of few words, acknowledged as much Tuesday when asked about it after the team’s third padded practice this summer.

“There’€™s always room for improvement,” Wendell said. “There’€™s more than two things, but I think you need to ask coach Belichick about what I need to improve on.”

Bill Belichick obliged Tuesday.

“I think every year you start all over again,” Belichick said when asked about Wendell’s 2013 season. “We all do. Within any year certainly we all have our moments that are good and we have some that aren’€™t so good that we’€™d like to have back. So, I’€™m sure you could find good and bad plays from all of us that have participated ‘€“ players, coaches, every position, every year.

“I think when you look at the overall performance, the overall projection of where you think the player is going to be based on whatever ‘€“ his age, his experience, his work ethic, his training or age, whichever way it’€™s going, there’€™s a certain projection there but you wait and let it play out. I think that’€™s where we are in training camp now for really all the players. They’€™ve all trained, they’€™ve all been through the spring. They’€™ve all worked to put themselves in this position. Now we go out there and let them compete and see how it unfolds. I don’€™t know how it’€™s going to happen.

“Certainly if we would have projected Ryan Wendell and Steve Neal their rookie years; none of us would have thought [Tom] Brady for that matter. His rookie year, he didn’€™t do anything either. None of us would have thought that those guys would be the contributors they ended up being. That’€™s why we go out there and have training camp. That’€™s what competition is about. Sometimes you find out things differently.”

In other words, Belichick still sees significant value in Wendell is a leader on the offensive line.

“I just try to do my job,” Wendell said of calling out the protections for Brady. “Tom does a great job putting us in the right position. My job is, just because I’€™m in the middle of the line, to communicate with guys on both sides, let them see what I see and what I see. But every guy on that offensive line knows their assignments, they know what to do. My job sometimes is to clear some gray area.”

Belichick raved about Wendell’s improvement from an undrafted lineman out of Fresno State in 2008 to the starting center for one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game. Quite a leap, indeed, for the 28-year-old lineman. Dan Koppen was in attendance at practice Tuesday. It was Koppen whom Wendell supplanted as starting center in 2012.

“When Ryan first got here, he couldn’€™t even make our practice squad. He was a camp player, wasn’€™t on our practice squad at the beginning of the season. We brought him back to the practice squad during his first year, I want to say in like October or somewhere in there. He has worked his way from there on to a consistent practice squad player to a roster player to playing more plays, or whatever it was, played as many plays as anybody in the league did.

“I’€™d say it’€™s been about as big of a progression as really any player could have, any player I’€™ve had or any player could have ‘€“ maybe Steve Neal, but it’€™s the same kind of thing, guys that weren’€™t even on the practice squad that eventually became starting players in the NFL. That’€™s a pretty big jump. It took a lot of time, a lot of hard work and he’€™s certainly done his part and worked hard. He’€™s a very smart football player and doesn’€™t have many missed assignments, does a good job with communication from the center position with the offensive line.

“He had very good coaching in college with Pat Hill. He had good coaching here with [former offensive line coach] Dante [Scarnecchia], now Googe [offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo]. He’€™s also been the beneficiary of people that have been able to train him well, like [Patriots assistant strength and conditioning coach, formerly at Fresno State] Moses [Cabrera] did out at Fresno [State] or [head strength and conditioning coach] Harold [Nash] and Moses are doing now. Physically he’€™s developed. So, he’€™s had a lot of good people to work with. He’€™s taken advantage of that. He’€™s put in a lot of sweat equity himself and he’€™s got a good result to show for it. It’€™s a great story. It’€™s a great example of perseverance and dedication and hard work with good results; I love to see it.”

What made Belichick and the Patriots stick with Wendell early in his career, even when he couldn’t make the practice squad?

“I think the improvement. I think as long as the player is improving you keep working with him and see how much more improvement they make. If they continue to improve then you continue to work with them. At whatever point you think it’€™s kind of leveling off or you’€™ve reached the high water mark, then you have to decide whether that’€™s good enough.

“If it’€™s not and you don’€™t feel like it’€™s going to get any better and it’€™s not good enough, you probably need to look for somebody else. But as long as that arrow keeps pointing up ‘€“ you’€™re never really sure exactly how high it’€™s going to go and we all know that there’€™s a lot more to playing football than just straight physical testing abilities. We see that with a number of players on our team. Testing and all is relevant, I’€™m not saying it’€™s insignificant and ability is certainly, a certain level of it is required. But we’€™re playing football, we’€™re not track athletes, we’€™re not individual test athletes. We’€™re football players on a team. [If] a guy can improve and contribute to the team, then he’€™ll eventually have a role for the team.

Now, Wendell has come full circle. Bryan Stork has been brought in to provide some competition for – and depth behind – Wendell, who was re-signed in the offseason to a two-year, $6.85 million contract, including a $850,000 signing bonus, $850,000 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $3,425,000. What does Wendell think of helping Stork?

“I just do what the older guys when I got here did for me,” Wendell said. “Guys like Dan Koppen, Steve Neal, Russ Hochstein, Logan Mankins when I got here. All those guys, they helped me so much by telling me what was expected of an offensive lineman [with] the New England Patriots and I try to do the same thing for Bryan. And he helps me because he’€™s got eyes on me too. We just try to give each other as much feedback as we can.

“Both of us are just trying to do our jobs the best we can. I think he’€™s going to approach it the same way I approach it when there were other guys in the position which is you come and do your job every day. We’€™re all on the same team until somebody tells us we’€™re not.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO —’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price talk about Darrelle Revis dominating Patriots camp on Tuesday as the team returned to practice in full pads for a third time. Tommy Kelly returned to full pads for the first time since his season-ending injury in 2013 and Ryan Wendell steps up on center stage for the Patriots’ offensive line.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia's Mike Petraglia and Chris Price discuss the latest development at Patriots training camp. Chris says Darrelle Revis has looked great, and that his impact on the defense is actually being underplayed nationally.

[0:00:50] ... defense -- look like he's fitting in very naturally we talked to Tommy Kelly after practice the veteran defense attack we -- what can -- bring to this team that maybe they didn't have before is ...
[0:01:27] ... and for good reason in the National Football League. But picking off Tom Brady. Do you think that's important for Burrell in his confidence coming in -- New England in this first year yeah I do and I think he said the other day it was interesting he said look there's some butterflies here. Some a new guy I'm coming into this team -- you know this is the -- -- my first practice is only because good impressed with my teammates -- do think. That there is something to that I I don't think that he's not confident but I do think that that helps with his overall acclimation process to this defense. I had a chance to talk to Ty Law on Monday he is obviously going into the patriots. Hall of fame on Friday here at Gillette Stadium more specifically the hall at patriot place. The -- off -- actually was asked about one Darrelle Revis they went to the same high school western. Pennsylvania Alec put a high school and Ty Law obviously went there many years before Darrelle Revis but they stay in close contact. And -- Lott told us yeah he did recommend coming to New England because Bill Belichick will give you freedom. That he won't give other players and entire law admitted to us essentially. Bill Belichick does treat players differently especially when you have the skill set and you are the star caliber player that Darrelle Revis is. ...
[0:04:55] ... I practiced and picked off one other note none other than that Tom Brady was a nice. Sit pattern needed -- -- march but it was Logan Ryan reading Tom Brady. Off the snap and a good sign. For number 26 as the as we've said -- fights for a spot also. Aaron ...
[0:05:56] ... today that's certainly figures to have huge role on this team and Bill Belichick spoke about him at length. On Tuesday morning with Ryan when -- a senator and he said that look I know that ...

Alfonzo Dennard

Alfonzo Dennard

FOXBORO — After not practicing with the Patriots for the first four days of training camp and being on the PUP list, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard practiced with the Patriots on Tuesday morning, albeit on a limited basis. He was in pads with the team for the first time since the end of last season as the 24-year-old was recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

The University of Nebraska product, who has played two seasons and 23 games in the NFL, was limited as he participated in one-on-one drills, but not 7-on-7s or 11-on-11s. Once practice really got going with an emphasis on physical drills, Dennard was off to the side doing sprints and other agility work with a strength and conditioning coach.

Regardless of how much he participated, it was a good sign to have him back on the field.

“It’s good because we all know he is a good player,” safety Duron Harmon said. “I am more worried about him being healthy. He’s a good player, so anytime you get a good player back it’s good.”

It is a crowded Patriots secondary with a number of skilled players battling for playing time. The group includes newcomers Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, who are highly skilled players but are new to the team, so it will take some time for the group as a whole to to jell as one cohesive unit. Getting Dennard back on the field certainly helps that advancement.

“It’s a work in progress,” Harmon said. “We’re just getting better each and every day. We’re dealing with new people so we have to feel out each other, know where they are going to be at and when they are going to be there. Like I said, it is a work in progress, something that we have to continue to get better at each and every day.”

Unlike past years when the team has been forced to use wide receivers Julian Edelman and Troy Brown in the secondary, this year’s team has a lot of depth at the position, meaning the Patriots do not need to think about rushing Dennard back and can take their time with getting him back to full strength.

Dennard has showcased his skills on the field with four career interceptions and 16 career starts, which could give him the upper hand over a few other members of the secondary when it comes to playing time. With Browner suspended for the first four games of the season, Dennard, if healthy, could have the inside track to starting on the opposite side of Revis at cornerback in the first quarter of the season.

Even though the cornerback didn’t come close to any physical action Tuesday, it was a big step in the right direction as the members of the Patriots secondary continue to get to know one another with the hope of being one of the best secondaries in the league.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Tommy Kelly is back for a second season with the Patriots. (AP)

Tommy Kelly is back for a second season with the Patriots. (AP)

FOXBORO — Tommy Kelly knows that at this point in the process, it’s all about trust.

The 33-year-old defensive tackle, who suffered a season-ending knee injury just five games into the 2013 season, is back in pads for the first time since he went down last October against the Bengals. But he acknowledged after Tuesday morning’s session at Gillette that when it comes to getting all the way back, he needs to prove himself again in the eyes of his coaches and teammates.

“To me, it’s all about gaining their trust. Getting that trust back,” he said. “That’s the only thing I would try and do — just assure Bill (Belichick) and assure (head trainer Jim Whalen), ‘Baby, I’m ready to go.’ They want to do it the way they want to do it, and I’m going to do it exactly the way they want to do it with no problem.

“You have to gain their trust back. I have to get to the point where (Jerod) Mayo knows, if he calls a certain call, I’m going to be where I need to be. Or if (defensive coordinator) Matt (Patricia) is going to make a call or Bill, you know what I’m saying? That’s all I’ve been trying to do — just go out there and just practice as hard as I can and show them I don’t have any restrictions on nothing. I can do anything you need me to do. But it’s a process, and I’m going to do the process.”

Of course, Kelly has some experience in this area. In 2007, he suffered another serious knee injury that limited him to seven games. He said Tuesday he knows what’s it’s been like to travel to that “dark place” where an athlete can start to let doubt creep in. But to this point in his rehab, while he understands that’s it’s been to take it too slow than too fast, he said every step in his return has been “positive” when it comes to creating an optimal outcome for his return.

“At the end of the day, (the team is) looking out for your best interest,” he said. “But you know, I’€™m a vet ‘€“ I want to get out on the field. I’€™m the type of guy that I can’€™t roll out of bed and my game’€™s going to be great. I have to go out there every day and work on my hands, work on my get-out, work on my explosion, read my keys, so I’€™m the type of guy, I love practice.”

As for the traditional rehab process, it will occasionally involve two steps forward and a step back. But Kelly said he doesn’t have time for that.

“Oh noooooo ‘€“ we don’€™t plan on taking any steps back, baby,” he said. “We’€™re planning on taking one, two, three steps forward.

“But at the same time, I’€™m just trying to get Bill’€™s trust, get Matty P’€™s trust, get Mayo’€™s trust, get (Vince Wilfork‘s) trust (and) get back in that good position.”

Kelly doesn’t seem to have any fears about regaining his old spot in the lineup. While he wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s secure with his standing on the roster — “Here, you can’t be secure with anything,” he said with a smile — he did say he’s confident about returning to his old form.

“I believe in myself a whole lot and I know what I can do, so I don’t really worry about (competition),” he said. “I know if I can just go out there and be Tommy and play hard as I can, I’ll be fine. I just try and go out there and get better and better and push myself.

When the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder first signed with the Patriots last offseason, he welcomed the chance to get out of Oakland and play for a team that had a genuine shot to go deep into January. (In his nine seasons with the Raiders, he had never played on a team that had finished better than .500, let alone reached the postseason.)

But now, that desire to win has been compounded by the wish to show people that he can still be the same sort of disruptive presence he showed himself to be at the start of the 2013 season, when he had 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hits in limited action.

“I’ve never been a weak link in my career, and I’m not going to start being a weak link,” he said. “So I’ve been working my tail off every day and rehabbing on the side with my conditioning to make sure when it’s time for me to get out there, they see the same player when I left against Cincinnati — a better player. I’m not trying to come back and be the player that I was. I’m trying to come back and be a better player than I was.

“This is a very hard team to make, so if you don’t go out there and put it on the line every day, you ain’t going to be here. Simple as that.”

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — The Patriots just wrapped up their fifth training camp session of the summer and third practice in pads Tuesday morning on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. After taking Monday off, New England held a session that ran for roughly two hours in warm temperatures. Here are a few quick notes:

– Former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was in attendance, and stopped to talk with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady before the start of practice. Owner Robert Kraft strolled out to watch practice 45 into the session.

– The following players were not in pads with the rest of the team: tight end Michael Hoomanawwanui, offensive lineman Dan Connolly, linebacker Deontae Skinner, offensive lineman Chris Martin, defensive lineman Dominque Easley and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon.

– The biggest names to return were cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and cornerback Daxton Swanson. Dennard appeared limited, and didn’t spend any time in the 7-on-7s or 11-on-11s, working off to the side once practice really got started.

– The rest of the players were working out off to the side: Gallon, Dobson, Easley, Slater and Skinner. (Their session included some time on the bike.)

– It appeared that Marcus Cannon got the bulk of the work in place of Connolly at the guard spot.

– There was some great theater in a series of one-on-one drills between wide receivers and defensive backs. Brandon Browner and Brandon LaFell engaged in a nice one-on-one matchup in a goal-line passing drill that was won by LaFell. Later on, Kenbrell Thompkins had his defender beat, but a miscommunication with the quarterback left everyone confused. Shortly after that, Darrelle Revis had a TERRIFIC pass breakup on a ball for Thompkins, reaching in and knocking the ball away at the last minute.

Then, Edelman had a great catch, despite the fact that Kyle Arrington knocked into him in the air — Edelman came down with the ball and his feet inbounds on a really nice play. Logan Ryan got some revenge shortly after that for the defensive backs when he stepped in front of a Brady ball for Edelman.

– No 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 work for Rob Gronkowski, but he was working extensively in the team drills. He also spent time in what has become fairly regular routine, working with Brady off to the side. There was one great scene where Brady was throwing to Gronkowski, with Revis working in coverage — arguably the three of the four most important players on the roster working as a group.

– In one-on-ones between the offensive linemen and defensive linemen, for the most part, the defense appeared to be ahead of the offense, with Will Smith and Chandler Jones appearing to get the best of their offensive line counterparts.

– In a series of passing drills just over an hour into the workout, Edelman beat Revis on a long ball. Then, Brady connected on a GREAT deep ball for LaFell, splitting Malcolm Butler and Nate Ebner in coverage. It was the best play of the camp for LaFell, who wrestled the ball away from the defensive backs, and set off a celebration on offense.

– In kick return drills, Josh Boyce again got a ton of reps, along with LaFell and Shane Vereen.

– In one-on-one drills where players started on their backs (one with the ball) and then flipped over and had to square off, Devin McCourty made a really nice play to strip Roy Finch of the ball. Edelman slipped past Browner, drawing ohhhs and ahhs from the crowd. And Rob Ninkovich had a nice takedown of James White.

– In a safety drill where defenders were tracking a ball thrown over their heads, Patrick Chung got conked in the head, Jose Canseco-style, when he couldn’t find the ball in the air.

– In 7-on-7 passing drills at the end of practice, Vereen dropped a pass from Brady in the corner of the end zone, but Edelman and Thompkins caught a couple of crisply-delivered passes from the quarterback.

– At the end of the workout, Travis Hawkins had a really impressive pick of a Jimmy Garoppolo deep pass.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price