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

FOXBORO — Linebacker Jerod Mayo missed three practices last week against the Eagles — as well as the preseason contest against Philly — but said Tuesday afternoon that when it comes to his health “everything is good.”

FOXBORO — Linebacker Jerod Mayo missed three practices last week against the Eagles — as well as the preseason contest against Philly — but said Tuesday afternoon that when it comes to his health “everything is good.”

Mayo was back on the field with his teammates for the final day of training camp Monday, and said it was a positive experience.

“I feel good. I feel good,” he said. “I went out there [Monday], ran around a little bit. I feel pretty good.

“I always love going out there and practicing against other teams. It breaks up the monotony of camp,” he added. “Unfortunately, I was unable to go out there, but I feel good now.”

Mayo was noncommittal when asked if it was a health or personal issue that kept him away from the field. The linebacker, who missed the final 10 games of last season after tearing his pectoral muscle, also kept it vague when asked if he was going to be able to go Friday against the Panthers, joking that when it comes to questions about his health, his go-to answer is always “Ask Coach [Bill] Belichick.”

As far as a timetable for his return to the field, Mayo — who is entering his seventh season in the NFL — made it sound like it will be sooner rather than later.

“It’ll be a step-by-step thing,” he said. “It’s kind of like riding a bike, though — I think once I get a couple of plays under my belt, I’ll be OK.”

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

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

While on the air Saturday, I opened up the show with a little Patriots talk following Friday night's preseason win over the Eagles. For the most part, I liked what I saw from the Pats in their second preseason game. I also offered my opinion on what to expect from the team during the regular season.



CHRIS VILLANI

BIO | ARCHIVE


Here are 10 things we learned about the Patriots over the course of 2014 training camp, which came to an end of Monday:

1. If he stays healthy, Julian Edelman looks like he’€™s going to have a terrific year.

Throughout camp, it was clear that there were occasional miscommunications between quarterback Tom Brady and his pass catchers — a pass would be a little too far ahead of a receiver, or a timing route would be just barely off. None of that happened with Edelman, who appears to be in perfect sync with Brady as the season nears. He took part in all 17 practices, which could be taken as an optimistic sign when it comes to his 2014 season. Last year was the first year of his career where he stayed healthy enough to play in all 16 regular-season contests, and he responded with 105 catches, 1,056 yards and six touchdowns, all of which were career bests. (He became just the third receiver of the Brady era to top 100 receptions in a season — Troy Brown and Wes Welker were the other two.) Based on what we’€™ve seen from him this summer, if he stays healthy, he should top at least 70 catches, depending on what Rob Gronkowski and newcomer Brandon LaFell can offer the passing game.

2. Ditto for Darrelle Revis.

There was much ado made about the fact that Revis gave up a big pass to Jeremy Maclin in the joint practices with the Eagles, but as he explained after the session, it’€™s no worries. Revis has had a very good summer, and he apparently been happy to lay low while other cornerbacks go back-and-forth on Twitter arguing about contracts, interceptions and the like. There have already been several analogies made between Revis and Randy Moss, circa 2007, and right now, the cornerback appears to be on that same path when it comes to being an impact player in his first season with the Patriots.

3. The back end of the wide receiver depth chart has some interesting possibilities.

Based on what we saw over the course of the summer, it seems safe to say that the Patriots will Edelman, Danny Amendola, LaFell, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins at wide receiver. Given the fact that they’€™ve had an average of 4.8 receivers on the roster (not counting Matt Slater) the last five years, where does that leave 2013 fourth round pick Josh Boyce? Or Brian Tyms, who has become the people’€™s choice in his relatively short time with the team? Because of his four-game suspension, Tyms has some roster flexibility (he can stick around during his ban and not count toward the 53-man roster), but what to make of Boyce, who has been underwhelming to this point in the summer? Truthfully, Tyms has shown more than Boyce at this point, but maybe Boyce gets a four-game window to show what he can do while Tyms is sidelined, or maybe the Patriots carry one less skill position player at another position on the roster. Regardless, cutdown day promises to be interesting as it relates to the wide receiver position.

4. Versatility remains paramount.

All over the field — on both sides of the ball — there are players who are capable of lining up at multiple spot. Offensive lineman Jordan Devey has played both guard and both tackle positions, while Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline and Dan Connolly have displayed the same level of positional flexibility up front. Taylor McCuller has moved from fullback to linebacker and back again. James Develin has lined up as a fullback and tight end, while Nate Solder has also gotten work as what Bill Belichick has called an ‘€œend of the line’€ player, or tackle eligible. On defense, defensive end Chandler Jones has dropped into coverage, playing a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end spot once patrolled by old friend Willie McGinest. And at defensive back, the lines continue to be blurred between cornerback and safety, as corners like Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan have seen extended stretches at safety, both in practice and in games. The more you can do, the more you can do for us is a common mantra around Foxboro, and that is true again this year.

5. When it comes to Rob Gronkowski, there’€™s a real feeling of optimism, but also a slight sense of deja vu.

Gronkowski was on the field on Monday, running routes in full pads with the rest of his teammates in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. And while there wasn’€™t much contact, the sight of him knocking around on the field is certainly a reason for optimism for New England football fans. In many ways, Gronkowski is a separator for the Patriots — if he’€™s healthy at the right time, there’€™s the very real chance New England wins those last two games and gets over the hump for ring No. 4. At the same time, his appearance should be taken with a grain of salt. Granted, he wasn’€™t nearly as far along last season as he was this year, but it’€™s easy to recall the sight of him running around on the lower fields at Gillette Stadium last summer, teasing everyone with the possibility that he’€™d be back for Week 1 of the 2013 regular season. Not to sound overly conspiratorial, but it’€™s important to remember that there are no coincidences around Foxboro, and given the fact that it was the final public practice for the fans and the final opportunity for the media to watch and record every detail of the complete workout, it was hardly a surprise he was out there. Now, every defensive coordinator from Denver to Buffalo has it in the back of his mind that Gronkowski is closer to a potential return.

6. They are thin at linebacker.

The Patriots’€™ starting trio of Jamie Collins, Dont’€™a Hightower and Jerod Mayo are as good as almost anyone in the league, and it appears that veteran free agent pickup James Anderson has settled nicely into the role of coverage linebacker/third-down presence who will likely see the field on passing downs at the expense of Hightower. However, New England doesn’€™t have many NFL-ready players past that point, as the offseason departures of Dane Fletcher and Brandon Spikes thinned its depth since the AFC title game. A handful of youngsters have cycled through over the course of the summer, and the best backup outside of Anderson might be Darius Fleming, who missed his first two seasons because of injury. If a veteran suddenly drops out of the sky and into their laps when the upcoming cuts are released, don’€™t be surprised if the Patriots try and add a dependable presence at the back end of the depth chart.

7. They have been fairly lucky when it comes to avoiding injury this summer.

Several playoff contenders have already been hit by injury — the Niners (Glenn Dorsey, Kendall Hunter), Colts (Vick Ballard, Donald Thomas), Giants (David Wilson), Broncos (Danny Travathan) and Seahawks (Anthony McCoy) have suffered some severe injuries to this point in the summer. In addition, the Jets continue to see cornerbacks go down at a rapid rate. Meanwhile, New England’€™s health issues have been limited to backup defensive linemen, as Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones have missed an extended stretch of time because of injuries suffered prior to and during the game against the Redskins earlier this month. While not everyone was at 100 percent, their health was on full display Monday in the final camp session of the summer, when players like wide receiver Jeremy Gallon saw the field for the first time, while players like tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (who had been banged up earlier in the summer) were back with the team in full pads.

8. No one has stepped up and taken the role of kick returner.

The Patriots have gone through several different candidates for the role of kick returner — including Matthew Slater, Shane Vereen, Josh Boyce and Roy Finch — but none of them have made the sort of declarative statement in practice or in one of the two preseason games that you’€™d like at this point in the summer. Finch had a pair of returns and averaged 26 yards in last week’€™s game against the Eagles, but he fumbled away one of his chances in the first preseason contest against the Redskins. It’€™s important to remember that the guy they found to do the job last year — LeGarrette Blount — had just one return over the course of the four preseason games. Then, he went out and had a better-than-average 2014 before departing this past offseason for Pittsburgh as a free agent. So there’€™s still time.

9. There are still trying a lot of different combinations when it comes to strong safety, as well as right guard and center.

In truth, these are the three positions that still remain up in the air at this point in the summer. New England has run several players through the strong safety spot, including cornerback Kyle Arrington, as well as Ryan, Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung. And as of Monday afternoon, they were still doing the same thing. Based on the number of game reps, it appears that Belichick might be leaning slightly toward Arrington, at least at this point. (The coach has talked on a couple of occasions this summer about the similarities between playing the slot as well as strong safety, and so that might make sense, at least from the perspective that he offers you a relatively similar skill set.) Then, there’€™s right guard and center, which has seen several different possibilities, including Ryan Wendell, Connolly and Bryan Stork at center, as well as Connolly, Josh Kline and Devey at right guard. (Cannon has also seen some time at guard as well.) While it was initially believed that Wendell might have been secure in retaining his old gig, it’€™s clear the Patriots are taking a long look at Connolly as the new starter, and considering the possibility of a few different candidates at the right guard spot. Two areas really worth keeping an eye on as far as game reps go between now and the end of the preseason.

10. The Patriots are going to go into the season with three quarterbacks.

There’€™s no debate about the starter, but when it comes to the rest of the depth chart, there’€™s been a lot of talk about how Jimmy Garoppolo may have surpassed Ryan Mallett for the No. 2 job. From this viewpoint, while the rookie has shown a lot over the course of the summer, he’€™s still behind Mallett on the depth chart. For what it’€™s worth, we can divide Garoppolo’€™s summer into two parts — his inconsistent and underwhelming performances that dotted practice prior to his contest against the Redskins, and everything after. Since that night, he’€™s appeared more comfortable in the offense and more consistent while on the practice field. But while he continues to progress, it would be rash to move Mallett down the depth chart. (And don’€™t read too much into the fact that Garoppolo got the call in front of Mallett last week against the Eagles — remember that Mallett missed two practices in the days leading up to that preseason game. When it comes to dividing up game reps, attendance can play a large role in dictating who gets more action that week.) Mallett is still the second-stringer on this team. That’€™s not to suggest that Garoppolo won’€™t eventually surpass him, or that Mallett is particularly special at what he does. Only that right now, it’€™s unlikely the Patriots have enough confidence in the rookie to move him ahead of Mallett on the depth chart. That means three quarterbacks for the first time since 2011.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — The Patriots secondary is a crowded one with plenty of moving parts.

There’€™s no question Darrelle Revis has one cornerback spot locked down and Devin McCourty one safety spot, but the other positions are seemingly up for grabs — especially with cornerback Brandon Browner being suspended for the first four games of the season.

It’€™s been hard not to notice the number of players playing along side McCourty at safety during training camp — Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and even cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan have seen time there.

Belichick noted the cornerbacks could be seeing time at the safety position this year based on the opponents offensive formation.

“€œLogan’s played some safety for us in the past, so has Kyle,” Belichick said on last Saturday’€™s conference call. ‘€œThey’€™ve both played that position ‘€“ that fourth defensive back. It’s not really anything that’s that new to them. It definitely has a lot of carryover for them from when we are in our nickel defense and they play in the slot.”

The two players’€™ versatility certainly gives them more value than strictly playing the cornerback position, but the team does have two other cornerbacks — Alfonzo Dennard and rookie Malcolm Butler.

Dennard hasn’€™t appeared in a game after working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, while Butler — an undrafted free agent out of West Alabama — has made the most of his playing time.

After a strong Week 1 performance against Washington, Butler recorded seven tackles and a forced fumble in last Friday’€™s win against the Eagles. He’€™s also made a number of plays in practice, including forcing a fumble against Rob Gronkowski on Monday.

“€œI come out to compete every time I step on the field — practice, game time — I’€™m ready to compete every time,” Butler said. “€œI made a couple good plays, but there is still things to work on. There were two good plays that I think helped the team out, but I think I can do more and we’€™re just trying to get better as a unit. If you make a couple good plays and then you make a couple of bad plays, you really erased your good plays.”

While there is a competition between the players in the secondary, many still take the time to help one another out, especially a rookie like Butler — something he never thought would ever happen while he was at playing Div. 2 West Alabama.

“They help you out. We help each other out. They help the rookies out,” said Butler. “€œAt the same time it’€™s still business. It’€™s still a job and everyone is competing. It’€™s an honor to be playing with Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington — I was watching those guys when I never thought I would be here. I was looking up to all of them.”

With only 12 days until the final 53-man roster is finalized, there is plenty to consider with Browner’€™s suspension, the versatility of some corners as well as the emergence of Butler.

“€œI only can control the things that I am allowed to so I’€™m just staying focus on what I have to do, which is doing my job being a cornerback,” said Butler.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — With only one healthy tight end on the roster for last Friday’s second preseason game with the Eagles, it was tough to watch for the other tight ends.

Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams did not suit up — and after the team released Ben Hartsock last Thursday, it left Steve Maneri as the only healthy tight end on the roster. Gronkowski had been practicing, but not cleared for contact, while Hoomanawanui and Williams missed the entire week of practice.

After re-signing rookie tight end Justin Jones, the Patriots got another tight end back when Hoomanawanui returned to practice on Monday. While 26-year-old returned to practice, he did not take any contact. After stretching he went down to the lower fields to get some conditioning work in — all part of the process in making a full return.

“I feel good,” he said. “Being out there a little bit — with what I did do today — there’€™s not much you can simulate being out there in real time situations, but there’€™s other ways we can try and stay with it. It’€™ll take a little bit. I’€™ll get back to that.”

Hoomanawanui admitted it was hard to watch Friday night, especially seeing Maneri play almost 70 snaps after being signed by the Patriots just five days before.

“Especially feeling for your position, knowing what they’€™re going through, taking that many reps, but I’€™ll be out there as soon as I can and be back there with them,” Hoomanawanui said.

“It’€™s obviously disappointing. You never want to be hurt,” he added. ” You watch from the sidelines or inside, watching film is hard when you’€™re not out there. There’€™s a competitive spirit in all of us. You never want to be out. It’€™s unfortunate, but I’€™ll be back. I’€™ll be fine.”

Hoomanawanui seemingly has the upper hand on the other tight ends on the roster in the fact he spent both 2012 and 2013 with the Patriots — thus having a better idea of how the offense works, etc. With no definitive tight end to play along with Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui is the leading candidate to be that guy, which makes him even more eager to get back onto the field healthy.

“Whether it be one day or a half a day or two weeks, with the hunger, you love this game and want to be out there whenever you can,” Hoomanawanui said. “That’€™s the passion I still have and will always have for this game and for this position. To watch other guys go out there and take all those reps, you want to be out there helping them and helping this team. Our number one goal is to win.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — Stevan Ridley is sick of fumbling and tired of answering all the questions that seemingly come with it.

After having fumbling issues last season — to the point where he was even a healthy scratch for Week 13 against the Texans — Ridley once again put the ball on the ground in last Friday’s second preseason game against the Eagles.

Although the Patriots recovered the fumble and on a second-look it appeared he may have been down first, the fact of the matter is he fumbled once again.

“It’s too close to call, man. Either way, I need to avoid those plays in general,” Ridley said. “There’s nothing really else to be said about it. I hated it. It was a sick feeling for a second. We looked at the play, it is what it is, but either way one out is too many. But I’m not going to harp on that. I’m going to learn from it.”

The running back didn’t play a snap following the fumble — something all too familiar for the fourth-year running back out of LSU.

“When I go back and watch the play, and the ball is out again, Week 2, it kind of sucks,” Ridley said. “But it’s football, man, and I can’t get down about it. I can’t harp about it. That’s why you have preseason. I’m just going to keep on working and keep on pushing.”

Ridley was having a good game until the fumble as he finished with 45 yards on nine carries.

“I had a nice little workload early on, and I think the coaches saw what they wanted to see,” he said. “For me, I came on out when they told me to come out. Like I said, we’re moving on. This week’s Carolina. There wasn’t too much said about it — just get back to work, learn from your mistakes just like everybody else and keep on pushing.”

Even with the frustration of fumbling on a seemingly regular basis, Ridley is always there to answer the questions from reporters and understands where the questions are coming from.

“That’s part of your job. I know it’s coming, you all have to write articles and do what you all do,” said Ridley. “It’s part of it. You take the good with the bad, every time. I’m just thankful it’s preseason. It was a close call and the ball was out, but it could have been down, could not have been down.

“Guess what? If it’s in my hands, you don’t have to answer that question. Either way, I’m man enough and am going to stand up here and do what I do. Like I say, it’s another Monday that I’m out here and I’m in pads and I’m back to work today. So I just have to learn from it and keep it moving and not sulk on that. I will try not to have the issue and this be the topic the whole year this year because I think I can do a few other things that you all can write about, and hopefully have some good things to say. Either way, I have to own up to it and that’s what it was.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
We sit down with the head coach on a Patriots Monday and discuss training camp progression, the officials, and much more with Bill Belichick.
We check in with Big Vince on a Patriots Monday as we approach week three of the NFL pre-season.