FOXBOROUGH — Newly signed tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. sees some similarities between himself and the player some might assume he was brought in to replace, Aaron Hernandez.
The Patriots announced Wednesday that Winslow had been signed, and with Hernandez expected to be out indefinitely with an ankle injury, there should be an opportunity for the nine-year veteran to make a contribution.
Like wide receiver Deion Branch, also signed this week, Winslow said he had chances to land elsewhere. Why did he choose the Patriots?
“It was a good fit,” he said. “I’ve never been in this kind of situation. But a situation arose where Aaron got hurt, and we’re kind of similar, so I’m going to come in here and help out.”
“You just have to watch tape, but yeah, there’s some similarities there,” Winslow said. “He’s probably one of the most versatile tight ends in the game, if not the most. He goes all around the field. He can play any position. He’s very versatile in what he does and he’s smart. He’s a very good player.”
Winslow spent his first five seasons with Cleveland, and the past three in Tampa Bay. He was released by the Seahawks on the final cut-down day last month following a preseason in which he caught three passes, including a touchdown.
One of the reasons floated for Winslow’s release was lingering knee concerns. On Thursday, he chose not to disclose what the Seahawks told him when they let him go (“It doesn’t matter, I’m moving on”) but he acknowledged that his knees hurt when he plays. A lot.
“The thing I concentrate on is not missing games, because then there is nothing held against me,” said Winslow, who has played in all 16 games five of the past six seasons.
Vince Wilfork, a former teammate of Winslow’s at the University of Miami, is happy to call him a current teammate.
“Another Hurricane, reunited,” Wilfork said. “Fun guy, very competitive. He loves the game, very passionate about it, always wants to win. Hopefully he can help this ball club win some ballgames, make some plays for us, put our team in a good situation. I know he’s capable of doing it.”
Winslow has had success with the two teams he’s played for, and the Patriots have built an offense that relies heavily on the tight ends. Winslow might eventually be a very good fit, but he has spent the majority of his time so far learning the plays.
“At the end of the day, football is football,” he said. “What they’re doing here, the volume of the playbook is a lot. It’s going to take some time to get used to. It’s verbiage and getting used to the calls, getting used to Tom’s cadence.”
Wilfork is one of only five current Patriots — with Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Wes Welker, and Stephen Gostkowski — who played in the 27-24 victory at Baltimore in 2007, the last time the Ravens hosted New England.
Wilfork expects another hard-fought game, and like the 2007 Patriots — who improved to 12-0 with the Monday night win five years ago — they’ll need to play at a very high level.
“We’re going to have to play almost a perfect game to walk away on the road Sunday night with a victory,” Wilfork said. “This is a good Baltimore football team we’ve seen over the years, but I think this team now is stacked, probably one of the best teams that Baltimore’s had.”
The Patriots have played at Baltimore twice, the first time in the Ravens’ inaugural season of 1996. The other six meetings have been in Foxborough, including a 2009 divisional-round game and the AFC Championship game eight months ago.
“We’ve played some pretty tough football games that mean something,” said Wilfork. “We know that, they know that. Fans are going to get everything they want. If you like a tough, physical football game, well, here it is.”
The Patriots are expecting the environment inside M&T Bank Stadium to be hostile, so they have pumped in loud music during practice this week. When things get loud Sunday night, having everyone on the same page and in the right place — things that might get taken for granted — should be put to the test.
“Communication is going to be huge for us, especially with the change of tempo and things like that,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said. “So it’s my job trying to help everybody get lined up.”
Mayo will be looking across at a stout offense; the Ravens have scored 44 and 23 points the first two games. Standout running back Ray Rice is still waiting for his first 100-yard game of the season (he had 99 in last Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Eagles), but he is averaging 6.4 yards per carry, and Mayo knows he’s capable of getting big gains quickly.
“You know what? If Rice gets five carries or 30 carries, he’s making a lot of yards,” said Mayo. “He’s a dangerous player. He’s strong, fast, has great hands out of the backfield. And he’s short, so it’s kind of hard to see him, but he’s strong, like a big back.”
Mankins (hip) and defensive end Brandon Deaderick (ankle) were additions to the injury report, both limited in practice. Two Patriots did not practice: Hernandez and defensive tackle Justin Francis, both of whom have ankle injuries. In addition to Mankins and Deaderick, eight other Patriots were limited: offensive linemen Dan Connolly (concussion), Nick McDonald (shoulder), and Sebastian Vollmer (back); cornerbacks Sterling Moore (knee) and Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring); running back Shane Vereen (foot); tight end Daniel Fells (shin); and receiver Brandon Lloyd (thigh) . . . The Patriots made a minor practice-squad move involving receivers, re-signing Greg Salas and releasing Kerry Taylor.