Julian Edelman had 105 catches in 2013. (AP)

Julian Edelman had 105 catches in 2013. (AP)

As training camp approaches, we’€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2014 Patriots. We open with a look at wide receiver.

Depth chart: Julian Edelman (105 catches, 1,056 yards, 6 TDs in 2013), Danny Amendola (54 catches, 633 yards, 2 TDs), Brandon LaFell (49 catches, 627 yards, 5 TDs with Carolina), Aaron Dobson (37 catches, 519 yards, 4 TDs), Kenbrell Thompkins (32 catches, 466 yards, 4 TDs), Josh Boyce (9 catches, 121 yards), Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Johnson, Wilson Van Hooser, Reese Wiggins.

Overview: The wide receiver position was in a massive state of flux last year, as quarterback Tom Brady faced the challenge of incorporating a ton of new faces into the mix, all while Rob Gronkowski shuffled in and out of the starting lineup because of injury. Edelman did the best job stepping into the void for New England, putting together one of the finest seasons of recent vintage — his first month was as good statistically as almost any receiver Brady has ever had. Amendola struggled with health, and while he had two terrific games (the opener against Buffalo and the loss against the Dolphins in Miami), there were times when he dropped off the radar screen. Meanwhile, Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce progressed about as well as could be expected, but while they had their moments early, all three had problems down the stretch: Dobson played in two games after Dec. 1, due in large part to a foot injury that has cast his availability for training camp into doubt. Meanwhile, Thompkins caught just nine passes after Halloween, and Boyce’€™s season ended prematurely with a foot injury. Going forward, the group is joined by newcomer LaFell, a versatile presence known for his dependability and blocking skills, as well as a host of younger possibilities.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Julian Edelman is the closest thing the Patriots have to a No. 1 receiver.

Edelman caught a combined 69 passes his first four years in the league, and then had 105 in 2013, becoming just the third receiver to catch at least 100 passes in a single season from Brady. (Troy Brown and Wes Welker were the other two.) He was absolutely integral to the success of the New England offense last season, and the passing game in particular. While Edelman should get more help this season than last because of the addition of LaFell and the (presumed) development of the second-year receivers like Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce, he’€™ll be lead option in the passing game, at least until Gronkowski is back to something approximating 100 percent.

2. Danny Amendola is a bit of a mystery.

Amendola was terrific in some games, and absolutely nowhere to be seen in others. The Patriots probably wouldn’€™t have beaten Buffalo in the opener if he didn’€™t come away with 10 catches (almost 20 percent of his total for the season) against the Bills in September. He was banged up in that one, and a groin issue plagued him for much of the rest of the year. After a really impressive 10-catch outing in a December loss to the Dolphins in South Florida, he had six catches over the final four games of the season –€” three in the last two regular-season games and three in the postseason. (In the AFC title game, Matthew Slater was targeted as many times as Amendola.) It sparked questions as to whether or not the quarterback had lost faith in him. A strong summer, good health and a good start to the season would make a lot of those questions disappear, and give Brady another dependable target.

3. Brandon LaFell is a pretty good blocker.

As a member of the Panthers for four seasons, LaFell distinguished himself as a relatively dependable target who was versatile enough to play different spots. (Expect him to do some of that with the Patriots.) But the one thing that really stood out when talking about what he brings to the field are his blocking skills. Speaking at the owners’€™ meetings this past spring, Panthers coach Ron Rivera was effusive in his praise of LaFell and his blocking skills. “I love his tenacity. €œHe’€™s a willing blocker. He’€™s a want-to blocker. He wants to block,”€ Rivera said of LaFell, who signed a three-year, $9 million deal with New England. “€œHe won’€™t block because he has to. He’€™ll block because he has to. He’€™ll block because he wants to.”€ It will be interesting to see how the Patriots utilize that aspect of his game this year.

One more thing: He was underwhelming at times over the course of the season, but Dobson’€™s rookie stats (37-519-4, 12 games) certainly compare favorably to the numbers produced by Deion Branch as a rookie in 2002 (43-489-2, 13 games). Dobson’€™s receiving yards and touchdowns were the most for a rookie receiver in the Brady era.

THREE QUESTIONS

1. How many receivers will the Patriots keep on the 53-man roster?

As we wrote here, when you compare the number of receivers currently on the roster with the number they usually carry, it seems like someone interesting could be left out of the mix in 2014. The Patriots had six wide receivers to open the 2013 season, five in 2012 and six in 2011, 2010 and 2009. While that number fluctuated throughout the season because of scheme and injury — and is variable when you consider the fact that Slater is a wide receiver in name only — it could get dicey at the back end of the roster. Of course, some of that is dependent on other positions. (They could carry an extra receiver at the expense of another running back or tight end.)

2. Can Edelman stay healthy?

Edelman was colossal last season, and part of that was because he played 16 games for the first time in his career. Now, the question is whether or not he can build on the success of last year, and become a steady, consistent No. 1 threat over the course of several seasons. As we noted here, history is littered with receivers who suddenly flower in their mid-20s. While some went on to bigger and better things over the course of their careers (like Joe Horn and Donald Driver, who clicked in their mid-20s after a few years in the league and went on to successful careers), there have been others who couldn’€™t sustain success. Guys like Washington’€™s Albert Connell (who was out of the league two years after catching 62 passes at the age of 25 in 1999), Carolina’€™s Patrick Jeffers (who had 63 of his 98 career receptions with the Panthers during the 1999 season at the age of 26) and Chicago’€™s Marcus Robinson (he had 84 catches with the Bears in 1999 at the age of 24, but never came close to those heights ever again) are cautionary tales for Edelman.

3. Can one of the rookies crack the roster?

Of the group, perhaps the most intriguing prospect is Gallon, a 5-foot-8, 187-pounder out of Michigan who put up insane numbers with the Wolverines. The seventh-round draft choice broke program records in 2013 for receiving yards in a single season (1,373 yards) and a single game (369 yards vs. Indiana). The 5-foot-8, 187-pound speedster also posted good numbers as a return man, compiling 589 yards on 27 kick returns in 2010, and 192 yards on 31 punt returns in 2011. He faces an uphill battle — especially considering the fact that he’€™s more of a slot guy, and the Patriots already have a pretty good one in Edelman. But New England has had pretty good success with seventh-rounders in the past (Edelman, David Givens, Matt Cassell, Alfonzo Dennard and Tully Banta-Cain), and Gallon could be the latest.

By the numbers: According to Football Outsiders, Patriots’€™ receivers dropped 38 passes in 2014, more than any team except Detroit. (One more: For all the talk last year of Brady being stripped of so many of his offensive options in the passing game, the Patriots head into the 2014 season in great shape when it comes to personnel carryover from 2013. In all, the Patriots lost 305 catches between the 2012 and 2013 season — 75 percent of the output in the passing game. This offseason, it was a far different story: From a percentage standpoint, when comparing New England’€™s 2013 lineup with the 2014 roster, the Patriots had a retention rate of 97 percent when it comes to catches — 370 of 380.)

Key new player: LaFell. The positional versatility is impressive, as well as the previously noted blocking skills. There’€™s a belief he could be moved around the offense like a chess piece, as his athleticism certainly opened some eyes during the spring workouts. The biggest key, by his own admission, is making sure he’€™s got his playbook down. He acknowledged this past spring that Carolina utilized a numbers system when it came to calling plays, while the Patriots operate using code words. It’€™s a challenge, but one LaFell feels he can overcome. ‘€œThe quicker I can learn this offense, the quicker I can go out there and be reliable to play fast and know what I’€™m doing,’€ he said this past spring. ‘€œNow, I’€™m kind of playing a half-speed because I’€™m thinking so much. The quicker I can learn this offense, the better it will be for me to get on this field and help this team.’€

The skinny: While things will be helped by the (expected) return of Gronkowski and the continued evolution of running back Shane Vereen (who had 47 catches in eight games last season), the success or failure of the New England passing game will again rise and fall on the wide receivers. Edelman should be a consistent threat, and while he shouldn’€™t be expected to produce another 100-catch year, a 70-catch season certainly seems like a manageable level of expectation. As for the rest of the passing game, another year together should provide a boost when it comes to the chemistry level between the quarterback and the receivers, and that familiarity will certainly insure that the opening of the 2014 season goes a lot smoother than the start of the 2013 campaign. And if youngsters like Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce can make the leap and Amendola can stay healthy over the course of a full 16-game season, it should mean good things for the New England offense.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Aaron Hernandez will be moved from the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth to a jail closer to Boston, a judge ruled Monday.

The former Patriots tight end attended the hearing and gestured to his mother and brother in the courtroom.

Aaron Hernandez will be moved from the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth to a jail closer to Boston, a judge ruled Monday.

The former Patriots tight end attended the hearing and gestured to his mother and brother in the courtroom.

Prosecutors revealed last week that they would not object to the request to move Hernandez so that he could be closer to his lawyers. However, they dismissed accusations that Hernandez’s privacy and due process rights were violated by the jail administrator — claims that were not addressed in court Monday.

Bristol County Judge Susan Garsh also said that she was concerned that the tentative trial date of Oct. 6 for the murder of Odin Lloyd is not realistic due to the amount of evidence as well as motions she expects to be filed. She set the next hearing for Aug. 11.

Hernandez also is charged with double-murder for a 2012 shooting in Boston. He has pleaded not guilty.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

Giants linebacker and former Boston College star Mark Herzlich joined Middays with MFB on Monday morning at his charity golf tournament at the Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth to discuss his battle with cancer, his road to the NFL and the criticism that Eli Manning deals with on an almost daily basis.

Giants linebacker and former Boston College star Mark Herzlich joined Middays with MFB on Monday morning at his charity golf tournament at the Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth to discuss his battle with cancer, his road to the NFL and the criticism that Eli Manning deals with on an almost daily basis. To listen to the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Herzlich, who missed the entire 2009 college football season after being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer known as Ewing’€™s sarcoma, is in his fifth year of hosting the Liberty Mutual Invitational celebrity golf tournament. Proceeds from the event go to Uplifting Athletes, a non-profit that funds sarcoma research.

“€œIt was all kind of a whirlwind,”€ Herzlich said. “€œThe first year I was back, I said, ‘€˜OK, we want to do something to give back,’€™ so Jayme Parker at NESN was very helpful throughout the process and so Jayme said, ‘€˜Let’€™s do a golf tournament.’€™ … Liberty Mutual jumped in and said, ‘€˜OK, we’€™ll be your sponsor,’€™ and since then it’€™s just been rolling and this is our fifth one.”

After his playing days at Chestnut Hill, Herzlich signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent on July 26, 2011. Herzlich has recorded 84 combined tackles during his three seasons in New York. While the former ACC Defensive Player of the Year has carved out a solid career for himself in the NFL, he admitted that returning to the gridiron after missing a whole year battling cancer was a long and trying process.

“The first year I was back, it was night and day,” Herzlich said. “My brain was saying, ‘€˜You can do this,’€™ and my body was saying, ‘€˜You can’€™t do this.’€™ I was going in drops and breaking and missing tackles and luckily I had Luke Kuechly behind me to make all the rest of the tackles that I was missing. … Now I feel like I’€™m as good or better than I was then.

Tom Brady‘s supposed decline has been a hot topic across New England this season. While Herzlich said he still believes Brady is an elite-level signal caller, he also noted that Giants fans would not come to Eli Manning‘€™s defense the same way Patriots fans have for Brady.

“€œI think that there are Eli lovers and Eli haters. There’€™s no one who’€™s like, ‘€˜Yeah, Eli is pretty good, or whatever.’€™ … He does know when he has a bad game, and the problem is that every single person in New York and across the country knows he has a bad game, too, because they let him know. It’€™s tough, and he’€™s very strong-minded to get over that stuff, but I couldn’€™t imagine.

“Some of the stuff that’€™s on Twitter — he doesn’€™t have Twitter, and I’€™m glad he’€™s not on Twitter. As far as Brady not being an elite quarterback, that’€™s kind of ridiculous to me.”

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

It’s no surprise New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski enjoyed himself at the Beyonce-Jay Z concert Tuesday night, but it was somewhat surprising who joined Gronkowski dancing in the crowd at Gillette Stadium — Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

If it wasn’t clear in that video, Gronkowski was in the blue shirt dancing alongside Kraft.

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Jeremy Gallon is looking to be the latest steal for the Patriots in the seventh-round. (AP)

Jeremy Gallon is looking to be the latest steal for the Patriots in the seventh-round. (AP)

Seventh-round picks by the New England Patriots have actually panned out fairly well with Patrick Pass (2000), David Givens (2002), Tully Banta-Cain (2003) Matt Cassel (2005), Julian Edelman (2009), Brandon Deaderick (2010) and Alfonzo Dennard (2012).

This season, the Patriots selected Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon in the seventh-round, No. 244 overall. Being versatile, athletic and having a tremendous work ethic, Gallon could be the latest Patriots success story coming from their final pick in the draft.

“He was our rock,”€ said Jeff Hecklinski, the Michigan wide receivers coach in a phone interview. “He was the guy that you were shocked when Jeremy didn’€™t make a play or didn’€™t make a block. He was a guy that wouldn’€™t come off the field. I gave the guy his rotation and he said, ‘€˜Coach, I’€™ll handle my rotation.’€™ I said, ‘€˜When you’€™re tired, you let me know,’€™ and he would never let me know. He is a coaches dream.”

Working primarily as an outside receiver at Michigan, Gallon improved each year during his four years as a Wolverine and finished his senior season totaling 1,373 yards receiving, which broke the school record for receiving yards in a season, previously held by Braylon Edwards.

“I think at first he had a lot of skill and didn’€™t really understand the game of football, he just played the game on a lot of instinct,”€ Hecklinski said. “I think as he grew at understanding the game — the techniques and fundamental’€™s of being able to see coverages, understand coverages and really understanding the total concept of the game — how people are trying to defend, what they are trying to defend and how do I get open within that coverage. I think by the time he became a senior, he could work within the system and the coverage€™s to find openings and get open.”

Going from 450 yards receiving his sophomore season to 1,373 yards receiving didn’€™t come easy — he put in the work. Often spending extra time with his coaches in the meeting room and extra sessions in the weight room, the 24-year-old turned into one of the better players on the entire Michigan roster.

“The one thing about Jeremy, is Jeremy is going to work,”€ Hecklinski said. “He doesn’€™t know anything different. To him this is his job now and he will be there from 7:30 in the morning to whenever, as late at night as he needs to be. He is a gym-rat in those regards and I think that’€™s one of the things I loved most about him. He is one of those guys. He loves being in the office and the weight room, he loves being on the field.”

Coming to the Patriots as a wide receiver means competing with a number of veterans as the team already has Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Brandon LaFell and Kenbrell Thompkins all seemingly ahead of him on the depth chart.

The thing Gallon has going for him is his ability to play special teams, which head coach Bill Belichick has shown the more positions you can play, the better chance you have of making the team. The 5-foot-8, Apopka, Florida native returned both kicks and punts in his four years at Michigan.

With the Patriots losing their main kick returner in LeGarrette Blount to free agency, they will be looking for someone to fill the role.

“He was a punt and kickoff returner,”€ Hecklinski said. “He can do anything. He’€™s a very skilled kid — very natural punt returner. Not a go all the way guy, but a guy you can put back there and feel comfortable that the ball is going to get caught and he is going to get you positive yardage. He’€™s a tough kid too. He can hit, he can tackle. We could’€™ve played Jeremy at corner or safety and he would’€™ve been one of our best DB’€™s.”

The natural connection for Gallon and the Patriots is with Michigan-grad, quarterback Tom Brady, who was also a late-round draft pick, but according to Hecklinski, Gallon already has some of Patriots characteristics with both how he views and plays the game — a team-first, work hard attitude.

“The unique thing about the Patriots, not only with Tom there and it being a Michigan connection, but the mindset of what the New England Patriots are and the mindset of Jeremy fit together very well,” he said. “When you look at tough, hard-nosed players that play the game because they love the game. Obviously when you get to the [NFL] that’€™s their job, but if you ask Jeremy would you do this for free, he’€™d say yes. He just loves the game. Those are the guys who have made their name with the New England Patriots, guys with that type of mentality. It’€™s a good fit for a number of different reasons.”

Although it’€™s far too early to say Gallon is the latest steal in the seventh-round for the Patriots, he certainly has the tools to become one.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Despite turning 37 next month, Tom Brady hasn't lost any respect among top NFL insiders, finishing at the top in a recent ESPN anonymous league insider survey. (AP)

Despite turning 37 next month, Tom Brady hasn’t lost any respect among top NFL insiders, finishing at the top in a recent ESPN anonymous league insider poll. (AP)

Tom Brady will turn 37-years-old in a month, but that doesn’t mean the quarterback is losing any respect among top league insiders.

In an ESPN poll (insider only), NFL Insider Mike Sando anonymously polled 26 league insiders, including eight general managers, two former general managers, four pro personnel evaluators, seven coordinators, two head coaches, two position coaches and a top executive to get their ranking on each of the projected 32 starting NFL quarterbacks. The rankings were given on a 1-5 scale, with one being the best and five the worst. Sando then was able to separate the quarterbacks into tiers, 1-4.

Brady came out at the top with a 1.04 average rating, tying Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Those four and Andrew Luck (1.5 average ranking) made up the first tier. Only one voter did not put Brady in the top tier as that pro personnel evaluator only had Manning in tier 1.

“Brady did a lot of good things with limited resources, but I saw holes when they put the onus on him to carry it all, as you saw when Denver beat him,” the personnel evaluator said. “Brady has to have more of a running game at this stage. He cannot line up with five wides and win it as consistently as before. I still think Brady is a top-five quarterback, but I would not say he is the best right now.”

Another veteran offensive assistant doesn’t see things the same way and said Brady, Manning and Brees were all pretty much interchangeable.

“Brady might be the best because he does it with the least every year, just about,” the offensive assistant said. “To me, there is no falloff with that guy. If he played with what Rodgers and Peyton and Brees have played with, it would not even be close. He has not had an outside guy since Randy Moss. These other guys have outside guys coming out of their ears, especially Peyton and Rodgers. It is such a difference when you have outside guys that can stretch, like Manning had in Indy. Then he’d kill you with the inside guys. Brady doesn’t have half the skill players that Manning has. The thing that is scary is that sneakily, the Patriots were pretty good last year anyway.”

The rest of the AFC East didn’t fair as well. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had an average rating of 3.32, finishing in tier 3.

“To me, he is a manager of the game, a guy where if everything is right, he is OK,” a defensive coordinator said. “We didn’t fear him. I don’t think he has the strongest arm, the best release. When you ask me about guys, I think about how I have to game plan against them. Am I afraid of them?”

Both in tier 4, Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel (4.24 average rating) was ranked 27th and Jets quarterback Geno Smith (4.48 average rating) was 32nd, last in the entire league.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Fans of the Florida Gators turning their calendars to the month of July today may be in for a bit of a surprise when they see who is the featured picture — Aaron Hernandez.

 

The official Florida Gators football Twitter account responded to questions of the legitimacy of the photo, so it would seem to imply the calendar is in fact real. Also, a University of Florida spokesman told Fox News the school approved the calendar last spring and the calendar is just one of thousands of Gators-related merchandise the school reviews.

Hernandez was charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd on June 26, 2013 was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder related to a 2012 double homicide on May 15, 2014.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Darrelle Revis

Darrelle Revis

Although he’s only been a member of the New England Patriots for just over three months, it’s become quite apparent the organization has made a good first impression on their new cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Revis has already openly praised head coach Bill Belichick after once calling him a “jerk” and quarterback Tom Brady following being division rivals from his time with the Jets — now, following the Patriots’ mini camp he’s admiring the organization as a whole on how they operate.

“They work their butts off in New England,’’ Revis told the Tampa Tribune. “As soon as you get into the offseason program, it’s non-stop. They want to be winners. They know what I can bring to the table and at the same time, we want to win. As a Jet, we had a rivalry with (the Patriots) and from the outside looking in, I looked at them differently.

“We respected them, but you want to beat them. Inside looking out now, I’ve got way more respect because I’m there. I get to see everything, how it operates every day.’’

The 28-year-old said his torn ACL suffered in the opening month of the 2012 season is 100 percent healed after playing through the 2013 season not at full strength, but still earning Pro Bowl honors. Revis said the decision to join the Patriots was based on them giving him a good chance to win.

“I’m really excited,’’ said Revis. “I went down a list of teams where I thought I could win and New England kind of stuck out for me. It’s been great and I can’t wait for training camp.’’

Revis is entering his eighth season in the league and will return to the AFC East after spending just one season in Tampa Bay.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable