FOXBORO — The Patriots made several moves Thursday before leaving for Charlotte and Friday’s preseason game against the Panthers.

Antonio Johnson, seen here recovering a fumble for the Colts in 2010, was cut by the Patriots on Thursday. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Antonio Johnson, seen here recovering a fumble for the Colts in 2010, was cut by the Patriots on Thursday. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — The Patriots made several moves Thursday before leaving for Charlotte and Friday’s preseason game against the Panthers.

The team waived offensive tackle Mark Asper and linebacker Cameron Gordon, a move Gordon’s agent announced earlier in the day. Additionally, the team released veteran defensive tackle Antonio Johnson.

The first roster cut down comes next Tuesday, when NFL rosters must be pared to 75. Final cutdown comes on Sept. 5, when rosters must be trimmed to 53.

Asper, 29, originally entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick (178th overall) by the Buffalo Bills in the 2012 NFL Draft out of Oregon. The 6-foot-6, 321-pounder, was released by Buffalo following training camp in 2012 and was claimed off waivers by Minnesota.

Asper was inactive for the first 14 games of the 2012 season with the Vikings before being released and claimed off waivers by Jacksonville. He played in one game for the Jaguars, mainly on special teams. After being released by Jacksonville on Aug. 25, 2013, he was signed by Buffalo to the practice squad. Buffalo signed him to the 53-man roster on Oct. 13, 2013, and he played in six games for the Bills that season. Asper was released by Buffalo at the end of training camp in 2014 and spent time on the practice squad of the New York Giants, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins in 2014. He signed with the Patriots on Aug. 6, and appeared in both preseason games as a reserve.

Gordon, 24, originally signed with New England on May 12, 2014, as a rookie free agent out of Michigan. The 6-foot-3, 237-pounder suffered an injury during training camp and spent his entire rookie campaign on injured reserve. He was released by New England on May 18, 2015, and re-signed on Aug. 4. He appeared in both preseason games as a reserve and posted four tackles on defense.

Johnson, 30, is a veteran of six NFL seasons with Indianapolis (2008-2012) and Tennessee (2013). The 6-foot-3, 328-pounder originally entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick (152nd overall) by Tennessee out of Mississippi State in the 2007 NFL Draft. Johnson began his rookie season on the Tennessee practice squad before being signed to the Indianapolis 53-man roster.

He re-signed with Tennessee as an unrestricted free agent in the 2014 offseason but was released by the Titans prior to the start of the regular season. Johnson spent last season out of football before signing a future contract with the Patriots on Feb. 6, 2015. He has played in 83 NFL games with 52 starts and has accumulated 143 total tackles, 4½ sacks and three passes defensed.

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Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — As the season opener is now two weeks away, players who have missed portions of training camp and recent practices are starting to return.

Julian Edelman returned to practice on Tuesday and so did tight end Scott Chandler, who has missed significant time with a lower body injury.

“Just trying to get through this training camp grind, taking it a day at a time — get back out there and try to get back in the swing of things,” Chandler said.

Chandler, 30, was signed by the Patriots this offseason after he spent the last five seasons in Buffalo with the Bills. Last year he finished with 47 catches for 497 yards and three touchdowns after catching six touchdowns in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

Entering his eighth season in the league, Chandler knows what it takes to get his body ready, so he didn’t label the time missed as a setback.

“I don’t know. We’ll see,” he said. “There are a lot of days ahead of us, and we have to go out there and take it one rep at a time and one day at a time.”

With the addition of Chandler, the Patriots will now have one of the better tight end tandems in the league with Rob Gronkowski and Chandler, especially in the red zone when teams focus on Gronkowski. This will free up the 6-foot-7 Chandler to make a few plays against smaller defenders.

Chandler has seen a different side of Gronkowski since joining the Patriots this spring.

“You don’t get to see the kind of work that guys put in day-in and day-out,” he said. “That’s kind of the whole scheme here, guys come to work every day and Rob’s no exception.”

With the Patriots’ third preseason game Friday and final preseason game a week from Thursday, Chandler was asked if he expects to play in any of those games in preparation for the Sept. 10 opener against the Steelers.

“I think something that you’€™ve learned is that you’€™ve got to control what you can control,”€ Chandler said. “Don’€™t let something that you can’€™t do affect what you can do.”

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Ryan Hannable
Tom Brady and the Patriots have played some eventful preseason games the last dozen years or so.  (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady and the Patriots have played some eventful preseason games the last dozen years or so. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

In addition to the fact that the regulars usually play deep into the contest, as of late, the third preseason game of the year for the Patriots has almost always been … interesting. Here are a few stories involving New England and its third preseason game of the summer over the last dozen or so years.

2004: The Patriots faced the Panthers in a rematch of a bitterly contested Super Bowl XXXVIII. New England is looking at it like, well, a third preseason game. Meanwhile, Carolina is viewing the matchup a little differently — namely, a chance for revenge for its loss to the Patriots the previous February.

“It’s going to be Super Bowl 2, Round 2,” said Carolina safety Mike Minter. “We’re going to be jacked. I can tell you that right now.”

“If you think this is just a preseason game, you’re mistaken,” added Carolina defensive lineman Brentson Buckner. “It’s going to be a war.”

In the end, the Panthers eked out a 20-17 win over the Patriots. The finale produced very different reactions.

“As much as you want to downgrade it, and say that it was preseason, they were still the guys who beat us in the Super Bowl,” said Carolina quarterback Rodney Peete, “So it feels pretty good to beat them.”

“That meant nothing to us,” Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said of the Super Bowl rematch. “We don’t really care. We won the Super Bowl. That’s over. There’s nothing to talk about.”

The Patriots would go on to win Super Bowl XXXIX. The Panthers would finish 7-9.

2007: Another third preseason contest against the Panthers, but this one was precluded by far less trash talk. Tom Brady missed a couple of days of practice leading up to the contest because he was in Los Angeles for the birth of his son, but the quarterback stepped off the plane and was impressive against Carolina, leading New England to a touchdown on an 80-yard, 18-play first quarter drive that consumed 9:43. He finished 17-of-22 for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

2009: Another Brady story. This time, the Patriots were in Washington for their third preseason game of the summer against the Redskins, and Albert Haynesworth drove Brady to the turf on the final play of the first half. While Brady wasn’t technically removed from the game, he didn’t play at all after the hit. He ended up playing 29 snaps and going 12-for-19 for 150 yards with two touchdowns, no picks, one sack and a QB rating of 122.7. Coming off a knee injury that forced him to spend almost all of 2008 on the shelf, the fact that Haynesworth collapsed on him like a ton of bricks that night surely didn’t help him physically for the rest of the season.

2010: Two reasons this third preseason game stands out. One, it was probably Brady’s best preseason performance of his career. Against a young and occasionally overwhelmed St. Louis defense, he took 30 snaps and finished 18-for-22 for 273 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was lifted with 12:30 left in the fourth quarter — the deepest he’s gone as of late — but that game plan was likely altered by the fact that the Rams went on a 15-play, 76-yard drive that consumed a whopping 9:19 at the start of the second half. And two, it was the preseason coming out party for then-rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had three catches for 66 yards, two of which went for touchdowns. (One of his scores produced this memorable sequence where he dragged St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis into the end zone.)

2013: The Patriots have always struggled with the Lions in the preseason — Brady’s worst third preseason game of his career came in 2011 when he was hit seven times and sacked twice in a loss to Detroit — and 2013 was no different. Brady performed better that night against the Lions (16-for-24, 185 yards) than he had in the past, but was still knocked around by a Detroit defense that was feeling pretty good during the game, so much so that Lions defensive lineman Willie Young took the chance to wag a finger in the face of the two-time MVP. For the record, the Patriots finished 12-4 and reached the AFC title game. The Lions ended up 7-9 and out of the playoffs.

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Christopher Price

According to his agent Brett Tessler, the Patriots have released linebacker Cameron Gordon.

The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder signed with the Patriots in May 2014 after going undrafted, but was placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the season. He was released this past May and then re-signed earlier this month. The 24-year-old played his college football and Michigan, and played linebacker and defensive end for the Wolverines. He had five sacks and 40 tackles as a senior.

The Patriots’ current roster stands at 87 players.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Bill Belichick speaks Wednesday at Gillette Stadium before practice. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Bill Belichick speaks Wednesday at Gillette Stadium before practice. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — There isn’t a lot of free time in NFL front offices at this time of year.

NFL coaches are busy evaluating players they have on the roster. NFL general managers and player personnel executives are busy evaluating players not on their roster.

Between getting his team ready and staying in touch with Nick Caserio, Director of Player Personnel, Bill Belichick doesn’t have a lot of time to socialize. But as he is fond of saying, he’s been doing this for 41 years, so he pretty much knows what to expect in the two weeks leading up to the season-opener.

“I think Nick and our personnel department, that goes on a lot at this time of year, more than any other time of year as we head into the 75 cut and then next week into the 53 cut,” Belichick said of the Sept. 1 and Sept. 5 cutdowns. “I’€™d say probably these two weeks are the highest volume of those. I personally don’€™t sit in on all those calls, but Nick and I talk about that on a regular basis of what kind of opportunities there are, what’€™s going on, getting a general sense of where things are on different teams that might affect us one way or another.”

Just in the last two weeks, the Patriots have added (via trades) an offensive lineman from the Bears (Ryan Groy), a tight end from the 49ers (Asante Cleveland) and a tight end/offensive tackle from the Lions (Michael Williams). This doesn’t include the long list of additions and subtractions through player signings and releases.

“Transactions, they’€™re every day,” Belichick said. “They’€™ll be here today, they’€™ll be here tomorrow, they’€™ll be here for the next two weeks.”

This is timeline Belichick and Caserio must work under in the next two weeks:

  • Sept. 1: Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must reduce their rosters to a maximum of 75 players on the active list. Sept. 3: Final preseason games.
  • Sept. 5: Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must reduce rosters to a maximum of 53 players on the Active/Inactive List.
  • Sept. 5: Simultaneously with the cut-down to 53, clubs that have players in the categories of Active/Physically Unable to Perform or Active/Non-Football Injury or Illness must select one of the following options: place player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness, whichever is applicable; request waivers; terminate contract; trade contract; or continue to count the player on the Active List.
  • Sept. 6: Claiming period for players placed on waivers at the final roster reduction will expire at 12 p.m. ET.Upon receipt of the personnel notice at approximately 1 p.m. ET, clubs may establish a practice squad of 10 players. No club, including the player’s prior club, will be permitted to sign a player to a practice player contract until all clubs have received simultaneous notification via the above personnel notice that such player’s prior NFL player contract has been terminated via the waiver system. After 4 p.m. ET, a club is permitted to place a player on Reserve/Injured as “Designated for Return.”

How different is the offseason and preseason now compared to 1975 or 1985?

“When I was with the Giants, we’€™d probably have over 50 practices prior to the first regular season game. Now we have probably less than half of that,” Belichick said. “The other teams have the same number we have. The other teams had 50-some back then. There were 52, 53, 54, 55 ‘€“ whatever it was ‘€“ 50-some practices prior to the first regular season game. That’€™s different than having 20.

“Everything has changed. It’€™s a totally different format. Just do the best you can with whatever [it is]. [There were] six preseason games my first couple years in the league. It’€™s evolved into what it is now, so whatever it is it is. This is the hand we’€™re dealt, so we’€™ll play it, just like everybody else.”

Something else Belichick would like to see change in the next two weeks: a fast start from his team against Carolina and the Giants.

“We weren’€™t very good on either side of the ball or in the kicking game,” Belichick said of the Saints’ game. “Bad coaching, bad playing ‘€“ put it all down. It wasn’€™t very good.”

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Mike Petraglia
Jonas Gray could have a bigger workload in 2015. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Jonas Gray could have a bigger workload in 2015. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — When Jonas Gray burst onto the scene last November with his four-touchdown, 201-yard performance against the Colts, he got the attention of everyone in Foxboro.

Gray was the first NFL running back since 1921 to score four rushing touchdowns in a game after entering the game with zero career touchdowns, and the first back in the Super Bowl era to account for more than 25 percent of league-wide rushing touchdowns (4 of 10) in a week with at least 10 games.

But with that attention comes added scrutiny, as he found out when he overslept a week later and landed in Bill Belichick‘s dog house.

All of that is in the past and Gray is looking to join LeGarrette Blount as one of the feature running backs in the Patriots offense. Gray, of course, is in line to be the feature back on opening night against the Steelers as Blount serves his one-game suspension for violation of the substance abuse policy last year, ironically with Pittsburgh.

Gray leads all backs in the preseason with 96 yards on 14 carries, including his 55-yard burst off right tackle against the Packers that accounted for his only touchdown of the preseason.

“Individually, myself, I’m looking for how physical I’m playing,” the 5-foot-10, 230-pound Gray said Wednesday. “Am I making the right run reads? Am I doing the right footwork? Technique and fundamentals, those are the things you’ve just got to stress because throughout the game, when you’re tired, when you’re going through different things, start to get into different situations, the one thing you can never is your fundamental and technique.”

Even on runs like his touchdown run against Green Bay, he has learned that coaches can always find corrections on game film.

“Yeah. it’s one of those situations,” he said. “It’s kind of like when a person hits a 3-pointer when they weren’t supposed to shoot it. It’s like, ‘Good shot but don’t shoot that at that time.’ It’s one of those things when you break off a run like that, you try to take each play individually for what it is. I think the coaches do a good job of reminding you those fundamentals and techniques are a big part of it.”

Now, Gray and the Patriots head into their dress rehearsal Friday night wanting to get off to a better start and show they can play a complete game.

“It’s huge. We want to go out there and win, just like any game we play but we know to be a great team and be a good team, we have to be able to run the ball, stop the run and cover kicks,” Gray said. “We didn’t do any of that well [vs. Saints]. This week, the one thing we’re focusing on is just having a better complete game, and we’re looking forward to it.”

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Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Who will join Tom Brady on the 53-man roster this year?</p>
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick coached teams generally are at their best late in the season.

In his 16th season as coach of the Patriots he knows how to best prepare his teams and how to get them playing their best when things matter the most. It should come as no surprise then how he talks about his team as they go into their third preseason game.

“I think our team made some progress,” Belichick said. “I don’€™t think we’€™re anywhere near where we need to be. In all reality, we probably won’€™t be for a while, but we just need to keep making progress and the faster the better, or the more the better ‘€“ however you want to look at it. We’€™ve got a long way to go but we’€™ve got to keep taking forward, positive steps.”

One of the positions that will need to make improvements moving forward is the offensive line.

A lot of their poor play over the first two preseason games comes down to who has been on the field. The team has been without center Bryan Stork and guard Ryan Wendell (Wendell came off the PUP list Tuesday, while Stork still remains out with an injury) for both preseason games, while tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder each made their debuts last week in New Orleans.

Belichick was asked Wednesday of the importance of the potential offensive line starters seeing time together during preseason games.

“It’€™s definitely helpful,” he said. “I know in talking to those guys, it’€™s a great learning experience for them. It’€™s different than practice. But again, we have to consider the management of our team and we also have to consider the depth of our team and the evaluation of multiple players. It’€™s a balance there of giving the right amount so that we can evaluate the team properly, get some execution and timing and maintain and have our different combinations of depth, which eventually we will probably need somewhere along the line.

“It’€™s all those things, but we try to balance it the best we can. If I knew exactly how things we’€™re going to turn out at the end of the season ‘€“ last half, three quarters of a season ‘€“ then maybe we do it one way now, but there’€™s no way of knowing that, so we have to kind of cover our bases.”

A prime example of the offense line coming together over time was last season, as after a defined starting group was created — around Week 5 — the unit hit its stride, all the way through Super Bowl XLIX.

Overall, under Belichick the team is 54-10 in the month of December, the best record among any coach in the NFL.

So, when the coach says the team isn’t anywhere close to where they need to be, there’s no need to worry because when it comes to a preparing for a team for when it counts, no one is better than Belichick.

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Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Jimmy Jean

Jimmy Jean

FOXBORO — The Patriots are a little lighter in the secondary after the release of rookie defensive back Jimmy Jean.

Jean, 26, was signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Alabama-Birmingham on May 8, 2015.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder, played both safety and cornerback over two seasons at University of Alabama- Birmingham. He played in 24 games over two seasons at UAB after beginning his college career with two seasons at Arkansas Baptist Junior College.

In 16 special teams snaps last Saturday night in New Orleans, Jean had one tackle and did not play in the secondary. The week before against the Packers, Jean played 15 snaps on defense and 18 on special teams, recording a tackle on defense.

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Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia