Julian Edelman's sudden departure from camp was the most dramatic moment of the two-plus weeks this summer. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Julian Edelman’s sudden departure from camp was the most dramatic moment of the two-plus weeks this summer. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

The curtain came down on our chance to watch training camp practices this week, so it’s time to hand out 10 camp awards for 2016.

1. Most Consistent Performers (and best quotes): The tight ends — When they were on the field, Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski were a handful to deal with. Bennett caught just about everything thrown in his direction, while Gronkowski has spent most of the summer doing Gronkowski-type things. Provided they can stay healthy, they will be as dynamic an offensive combination as the Patriots have ever had. AJ Derby’s continued ability to show up, combined with his standout performance against the Bears, also gives him the early lead here in the race to land the third spot. (The two also consistently provided the best quotes, from Bennett’s take on developing chemistry with two quarterbacks to Gronk’s breath.)

2. Best Rookie: Joe Thuney — The third-round pick out of North Carolina State has stepped into the left guard spot and made the most of his opportunities. Technically sound with good footwork and good versatility (at least at the collegiate level), he’s been able to put plenty of pressure on the rest of the incumbents along the offensive line. At this point in the summer, he’s pushed himself to the front of the depth chart, and distinguished himself as the finest first-year player on the roster so far. Rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell also showed plenty of flash before he went down with an elbow injury in the preseason opener against the Saints.

3. Most Dramatic Moment: Julian Edelman leaving practice — On Aug. 9 in a joint practice with the Saints, the receiver was enjoying a great start to the workout before he tossed his helmet in disgust and wandered over to a medical cart with what appeared to be some sort of left foot or ankle issue. He stood talking with a trainer for a stretch before leaving the field. For a guy who has had left foot issues over the last year-plus, the idea of Edelman going down again was a ghastly thought. By now you know that the story has a happy ending — he’s return to what appears to be full strength. For what it’s worth, Edelman was absolutely electric when he was on the field this summer. The cuts he was making when facing opposing defensive backs were ridiculous. (The injuries to Gronkowski and Rob Ninkovich were a close second, but neither were as overly dramatic as Edelman’s departure.)

4. Biggest Surprise: Tom Brady sitting out the Bears game — Pretty much everyone, including Bill Belichick, said that the veteran was going to be playing against Chicago, even if it was just for a few snaps. And so when the quarterbacks rolled onto the field Thursday for warmups with no Jay-Z and no Brady, it was a big surprise. Everyone knows the thumb story by now, and while anyone who knows the truth about what might have happened isn’t talking, we do know that Belichick relishes the chance to throw a curveball at his team in the preseason on a fairly regular basis. Jimmy Garoppolo faced the curveball, and while he didn’t hit it out the park, the way he responded was certainly positive. (“You have to be ready for anything, at any time. “That’s part of football,” Belichick shrugged after the game. “Things happen that are unexpected.”) If there was ever a circumstance that fit the definition, it was what happened last Thursday.

5. Biggest Disappointment: Bryan Stork — Hard to find a higher profile guy who had a camp like Stork. The center struggled to stay on the field because of injury, one of the reasons he’s No. 2 on the depth chart right now to David Andrews. That, compounded with an inability to keep his cool in a recent throwdown with a Chicago defensive lineman, have him in a fight for a roster spot. New offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper hasn’t been spotted on the field for almost two weeks. Third place goes to the performance of the New England media against the New Orleans media.

6. Lifetime Achievement Award: Brady — Not breaking any news here, but Brady was really sharp for much of the two-plus weeks of camp. In his 17th career NFL training camp, he’s managed to serve as an excellent example to his young teammates when it comes to preparing for another season.

7. Worst narrative: Brady and Garoppolo dislike each other — Make no mistake: The two aren’t the best of friends, but the idea that Brady and Garoppolo are locked in some sort of blood feud is ridiculous. There’s a competitive (and territorial) streak there especially with Brady, especially when you consider that he ascended to the job in 2001 because he took advantage of an opportunity when the starter was out. And Garoppolo has had a few noticeable moments where he’s deferred to Brady at the start of drills. But the idea that Brady hates Garoppolo is absurd.

8. Biggest Question: Does the running game need help? — For those who were questioning the state of the ground attack, the performance of LeGarrette Blount against the Bears was an encouraging sign. And Tyler Gaffney’s effort against the Saints was also positive. But without Dion Lewis on the field to this point of the summer (and Donald Brown’s presence being spotty at best), there remains a vague sense of unease as to the state of the running game at this point on the calendar. Another strong week from Blount, the continued upward trend for Gaffney and at least a token appearance by Lewis would go a long way toward easing any fears. But there’s still a reason why so many folks were at least curious about Karlos Williams when the Bills cut him loose over the weekend.

9. Best Fight: Malcolm Butler vs. Alshon Jeffery — This was one of the best training camp dustups in recent memory in New England. Butler and Jeffery locked up on Monday of Bears week, sparking a battle that spilled over to the sidelines and included several teammates on both sides. It was one of several skirmishes between the two teams over the course of the first two days of joint practices. Given what happened, it’d be a shock to see the Patriots and Bears schedule another round of joint practices in the future.

10. The Zach Sudfeld Award: Gaffney — Every summer, we wildly overrate a new face based on a handful of performances. This year, it’s Gaffney. This isn’t a knock on the running back, who has done very well with the opportunities he’s been given — before it’s all said and done, he could end up pushing his way toward the middle of the depth chart. It’s only to say that he seems to be the people’s choice at this stage of the summer based on a relatively small sample size. At the very least, he’s distinguished himself as someone to watch going forward.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Brandon Spikes and Aaron Hernandez were teammates at the University of Florida and with the Patriots.

Brandon Spikes was a teammate of Aaron Hernandez in college and the NFL.  (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Brandon Spikes was a teammate of Aaron Hernandez in college and the NFL. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Brandon Spikes and Aaron Hernandez were teammates at the University of Florida and with the Patriots. And despite the fact that Hernandez is now behind bars after being found guilty for the killing of Odin Lloyd, Spikes still considers him a friend.

In a recent interview with NewYorkUpState.com’s Matthew Fairburn, Spikes — now with the Bills — discussed his relationship with Hernandez, and how he tried to help put him on the right path.

“I’m not going to turn my back on Aaron Hernandez,” Spikes said. “I see his situation. You know, we use to talk about this all the time. Like, ‘Hey, change your life, you’ve got the wrong people around you.’ I know that because of my older brother. I watched him keep these people around. Look where it got him. It’s like, ‘Don’t be that guy.’”

Spikes compared Hernandez to his own brother, Breyon Middlebrooks, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2003 after being found guilty of murder.

“I can’t really feel sorry for you, because you knew!” Spikes said. “How else can it end? You can change them? Nah, I mean, they don’t have anything to lose. You have everything to lose. I just think about that. We still talk and he’s in a good place mentally. That was necessary for him. Whatever it may be, even though it’s a bad situation. Some people might look at that as a bad situation. But you never know. He’s alive, but it was necessary.”

He added: “It’s like my brother. He’s behind bars, that was part of his cause. You can’t change that. They know. They know how to live right and do the right thing.”

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

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Cyrus Jones picks off a pass against the Bears in a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)If last year taught us anything it's that a dominating defense can win championships.



MIKE PETRAGLIA

BIO | ARCHIVE


FOXBORO — Nearly 24 hours later, Bill Belichick isn’t changing his approach on the way the Tom Brady matter was held before Thursday’s preseason game with the Bears.

FOXBORO — Nearly 24 hours later, Bill Belichick isn’t changing his approach on the way the Tom Brady matter was held before Thursday’s preseason game with the Bears.

Bill Belichick said he made the decision not to play Tom Brady vs. Bears. (David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Belichick said he made the decision not to play Tom Brady vs. Bears. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Nearly 24 hours later, Bill Belichick isn’t changing his approach on the way the Tom Brady matter was held before Thursday’s preseason game with the Bears.

About 60 minutes before Thursday’s game, Belichick told the team’s pregame radio broadcast that the quarterback would be making his preseason debut and that “all three” quarterback would see playing against Chicago. Then, during warmups, only Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett appeared. Brady had left the building with what was reported as a scissors cut to his thumb.

After the game, Belichick did not acknowledge the report of Brady cutting his finger with scissors before the game. He only said that he “made a decision before the game to play just Jimmy and Jacoby.”

On Friday, he reiterated that position during his traditional day-after conference call with reporters.

“As I said [after the game], I made the decision. I don’t really have anything else to add,” Belichick said at the end of the call.

After warmups, Brady was spotted leaving the Gillette Stadium facility in street clothes. Garoppolo started the game and Brady missed his second straight game.

Belichick would only address the story as it pertained to how Garoppolo, (16-for-21 for 181 yards and a touchdown pass to AJ Debry) handled himself filling in at the last moment.

“That’s part of football,” Belichick said. “Things happen that are unexpected and he’s been prepared for that the day he got here. I think all of our players are. Sometimes things happen and they change and you have to adjust to them. On offense and for the quarterbacks, we refer to that as an audible.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Former Patriots executive and current Fox NFL analyst Michael Lombardi joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday to talk all things Patriots, especially Jimmy Garoppolo.

Michael Lombardi said the Patriots don't need to trade Jimmy Garoppolo after the season. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports)

Michael Lombardi said the Patriots don’t need to trade Jimmy Garoppolo after the season. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports)

Former Patriots executive and current Fox NFL analyst Michael Lombardi joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday to talk all things Patriots, especially Jimmy Garoppolo. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Lombardi felt Garoppolo looked good Thursday night in his second preseason game against the Bears where he went 16-for-21 with 181 yards and a touchdown.

“I think he looked like he was making progress,” Lombardi said. “He only had five incompletions. He threw a couple of balls he would like to have back that the Bears had the opportunity to intercept, but they didn’t make the play on. It’s a growing process for Jimmy. Jimmy has to get comfortable and there is going to be an evolution of the offense around Jimmy. It’s not going to be the Tom Brady offense because only Tom Brady is going to run that offense. Jimmy Garoppolo is going to run an offense that suits his skill set.

“That’s what makes the Patriots so successful, is to be able to take what a player can do an utilize their skill set at the best they can. I think Jimmy will do that. Jimmy is going to keep getting better and better as the year goes along. I think he was very confident last night. You could see when the ball is in his hands and he knows where he’s going with the football, he’s very confident and a quick-decison thinker.”

Garoppolo will start the first four games and if he plays well, many feel the Patriots will trade him after the season as he still has one year left on his rookie deal and Brady is signed through 2019. Lombardi doesn’t think that is a guarantee because of how valuable quarterbacks are in the NFL.

“I don’t think they have to do anything,” he said. “Certainly there will be a lot of offers for Jimmy if that situation plays out the way you described it. Quarterbacks are the most important thing to have in football. There are franchises all over that don’t have one and are searching for one. If you happen to have two good ones, you better keep them and find a way to keep them. I think that is the secret to the Patriots.

“If Jimmy has a chance to be really good, and he can be who everyone in the building thinks he can be, they need to keep him because Tom is 39 years old, he’s not going to play until he’s 50. You have to have a quarterback and they have spent a lot of time developing Jimmy and a lot of time working on him. I would be very cognizant of that and I wouldn’t rush to judgment on that.”

Lombardi brought up the team potentially signing him to an incentive based deal to keep him around until Brady retires.

“There are a lot of ways to work around that,” Lombardi said. “You can sign him to a contract with incentives to build into a starter and what is the market value for him? Brock Osweiler got over $16 million a year and he started very few games. We know the quarterback market is going to be really lucrative. Kirk Cousins couldn’t even get a deal with the Redskins and have to sign a franchise tender. We know deals are going to lucrative if they play well and I think that is what will come down. If Jimmy plays well, he controls a lot of this situation. If he doesn’t play well, the Patriots control it.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
The offensive line looked better against the Bears than they did against the Saints. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

The offensive line looked better against the Bears than they did against the Saints. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — One of the most open positions on the team at this point in the preseason is the offensive line, especially on the interior.

Overall, it was a much better showing than the first preseason game against the Saints as Thursday the offense was able to rack up 114 yards on the ground.

“It’s always a nice feeling when you walk away feeling good from the game, no bumps or bruises or anything and you owe that to those guys up front,” Jimmy Garoppolo said. “Running backs and tight ends included, they all blocked really well for me tonight. It’s always a nice feeling having that.”

Here is how they looked on each drive (left-to-right) in Thursday’s second preseason game against the Bears.

1. Nate Solder-Joe Thuney-David Andrews-Josh Kline-Marcus Cannon
2. Solder-Thuney-Andrews-Kline-Cannon
3. Solder-Thuney-Bryan Stork-Kline-Cannon
4. Solder-Thuney-Stork-Kline-Cannon
5. Solder-Thuney-Andrews-Kline-Cannon
6. Solder-Thuney-Stork-Kline-Cannon
*Jimmy Garoppolo out*
7. LaAdrian Waddle-Chris Barker-Ted Karras-Jon Halapio-Cameron Fleming
8. Fleming-Barker-Karras-Halapio-Keavon Milton
9. Fleming-Barker-Karras-Halapio Milton
10. Fleming-Barker-Karras-Halapio Milton

ANALYSIS: The biggest surprise of the game was offensive guard Shaq Mason not dressing, which comes after he was a full participant in practice all week, including Wednesday’s walkthrough. Kline took his place and had an up-and-down game, really struggling along the goal line. … As a group they struggled early on, but picked it up as the game went along and made some big holes for LeGarrette Blount and Tyler Gaffney to run through. … Once again Andrews started over Stork. It’s unclear why they brought Andrews back after Stork’s second series, but they each finished with three drives apiece. It’s worth noting Andrews was in there for the touchdown drive. … Thuney started at left guard once again and it appears that will be the case Week 1 in Arizona. … If Sebastian Vollmer (PUP) isn’t ready for Week 1, it looks like Cannon would get the nod at right tackle.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable