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

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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.

Patriots’ beat writers were challenged by members of the Dolphins’ media to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and help raise funds and awareness to help combat the disease. (Video courtesy Patriots PR.)

Blog Author: 
WEEI

FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski took another step forward in his rehab Monday, as he got extensive work in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills while in full pads.

The tight end acknowledged that he’€™s still on the road to recovery after last year’€™s season-ending knee injury, but just the sight of him on the practice field with the rest of his teammates engaged in something more than a low-intensity walkthrough is certainly encouraging.

‘€œIt felt good,’€ he said following a practice session that went for roughly two hours on Monday afternoon. ‘€œI wasn’€™t like full,full contact or anything like that — it was just little routes and that kind of stuff. But I’€™m feeling good. Progressed a lot out there — routes versus the defense in 7-on-7, some team things. Overall, it just feels good to be back out there with my teammates and competing.

‘€œIt’€™s always a step forward when you’€™re participating in more and more. Probably [Tuesday], pick it up even more,’€ he added. ‘€œIt’€™s going well so far — no setbacks or anything. Just having a blast being back out there, having fun catching some balls and making some plays.’€

Gronkowski didn’€™t go wire-to-wire in the 7-on-7s and 11-on-11 drills, but in his first action in a padded practice since last December, he certainly didn’€™t appear to struggle with his routes. He was able to make a couple of impressive connections in the early going with quarterback Tom Brady, and while he didn’€™t take any sizable hits, there was some contact while wearing a massive black brace/sleeve on his left arm There was one play where he was stripped near the sidelines by rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler, but other than that, he appeared to be in good shape for someone who suffered a serious knee injury the first week of December.

Of course, Gronkowski has gone through this process before. Last summer, the world anxiously awaited his return from a variety of injuries, including a forearm issue that ultimately ended his 2012 season. While he wouldn’€™t compare last year’€™s rehab to the one he’€™s currently going through — ‘€œWe’€™re not allowed to do that,’€ he said with a smile — you get the feeling that he’€™s more confident in his ability to play the entire regular season this time around as opposed to last summer.

‘€œStill operating off same plan,’€ he said when asked if the goal is to play the entire 2014 season.

When asked if he feels good enough to go play in the preseason — starting with Friday’s game against the Panthers — he smiled.

‘€œI just love playing the game of football, so whenever they let me have a chance, I definitely want to play,’€ Gronkowski said. ‘€œIt’€™s up to the training staff. We’€™ll see.

‘€œWe’€™re all on the same page and we’€™re all doing a great job with it. I’€™m feeling good out there — getting in shape, catching balls and just preparing myself the best I can right now.’€

He credited some of the success he had on Monday afternoon to his side work with Brady — the two have held regular one-on-one sessions over the course of training camp, and were occasionally joined by cornerback Darrelle Revis, who provided some resistance for the tight end as he went through his routes.

‘€œIt’€™s definitely huge to get going and be on the same page with the quarterback,’€ he said. ‘€œNot just the quarterback — you want to be on the same page with the wide receivers, be on different levels on the routes. Just be on the same page with the offense as a whole.

‘€œI’€™ve been working with Tom since I’€™ve been out here, but we haven’€™t been doing it vs. the defense or anything. So it was good to be out there and boom, just like we never missed before. He hit me — I think we had a couple of passes thrown to me for catches in 11-on-11, so that was good.’€

There are questions about his overall fitness — over the course of the summer, Gronkowski could be heard grunting and wheezing as he made his cuts while doing his side work with Brady. And he acknowledged his overall fitness was ‘€œgood, but can always be better,’€ the side sessions have also helped with that as well.

‘€œIt’€™s huge. You just can’€™t hop into 11-on-11 action. You’€™ve got to do one-on-ones [and] get your body acclimated,’€ he said. ‘€œGet your legs underneath you all before that. That’€™s why it’€™s good to do everything I was doing leading up to it so when I went out there today I felt like I was prepared and I felt like I was ready to go.’€

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — The Patriots had their final training camp practice open to the media Monday afternoon, a session that ran for just over two hours in front of a large crowd. Overall, it was the 17th practice of the summer for New England, and the 12th in pads. Here are a few quick notes:

Tyler Gaffney, D.J. Williams, Cameron Gordon, Sebastian Vollmer, Tommy Kelly, Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga were not spotted at start of practice. Chris Martin was in sweats. In addition, Michael Hoomanwanui, Chris Martin, James Anderson and Bryan Stork left after stretching, and worked on the lower practice fields.

– In 7-on-7 work, the biggest news was the fact that tight end Rob Gronkowski took part in the session, working clearly and getting in and out of his routes without an issue. The big fella was only partially involved when it came to contact, but the sight of Gronkowski running routes and catching passes from quarterbacks is an encouraging sight for Patriots fans. (For what it’s worth, Gronkowski was not involved in any of the blocking drills immediately following the 7-on-7 passing drills.) Gronkowski also saw work in 11-on-11 drills for the first time all summer, and made a couple of really nice connections with Brady over the middle. Again, another encouraging sign for New England fans.

– In other 7-on-7 news, there was a really nice pass breakup by Kyle Arrington on a Brady deep ball intended for Danny Amendola. And rookie corner Malcolm Butler had a really impressive pass breakup on a pass for Gronkowski, knocking the ball away cleanly and causing a fumble.

– Later on, the Patriots welcomed first-round pick Dominique Easley to 11-on-11 work in full pads for the first time all summer. It appeared that Easley was working with a reasonable facsimile of the second-team defense. He looked very good — quick, without any issues when it came to bursting and changing direction. On his first rush, he flew past center Ryan Wendell, and beat guard Dan Connolly on his second rush. He also flashed an impressive spin move on the following play. An interesting debut for the youngster, who might be on track to get some live snaps this week against the Panthers.

– In 11-on-11 work, it was clear (as it has been all summer long) that Julian Edelman has become Brady’s default receiver. There were a handful of occasions where the quarterback found “Minitron” after looking over the field and passing on a deep option. We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating — if he stays healthy, Edelman will have a terrific year.

Bill Belichick stopped practice for a few moments about an hour or so into practice and gathered the team together in a sizable huddle. They stopped practice for a few moments before jumping back into 11-on-11 work.

Steve Maneri had a drop in 11-on-11 work. (He bounced back nicely with a catch shortly after that.) Meanwhile, James Develin continues to catch everything thrown in his direction. Also in 11-on-11 work, Ryan Mallett was picked off by Brandon Browner and James Anderson stepped in front of a pass from Brady for Amendola and took it all the way back for a score.

– There was mixing and matching along the offensive line again. It’s a spot continues to be a bit complicated for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the Patriots are low on tight ends and have been forced to utilize Nate Solder out on the edge from time to time, as well as the fact that Vollmer was not at practice. While the tackles appear to be set (provided Vollmer and Solder are healthy) as well as left guard (Mankins), there have been multiple personnel packages on the rest of the interior, as Connolly, Wendell, Marcus Cannon and Jordan Devey all got starting snaps on Monday.

– For the first time all summer, we saw some preseason game-planning during practice, as some of the Patriots’ scout teamers slipped into jerseys in hopes of replicating the performances out of some of the Panthers skill position players, including Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen.

– Brady and Gronkowski got their semi-regular work together off to the side on a couple of occasions. Meanwhile, Jerel Worthy and Devey worked together off to the side through the late stages of the afternoon.

– Amendola, Jeremy Gallon and Roy Finch were among those getting work as punt returners.

James White had to run a lap because of a botched exchange between the quarterback and running back. That’s notable, as White had only two college fumbles, and told the media when he first arrived in Foxboro that, “Ball security is job security.”

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price