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A look at the opponents: Buffalo Bills, Weeks 4 and 10

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 29, 2012 09:35 AM

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The Bills have something to be excited about with Shawne Merriman projected to be a backup on the team's defense. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

Five questions about the Bills heading into training camp with Tim Graham, the beat writer from the Buffalo News.

Link: http://www.buffalonews.com/sports/bills-nfl/
Twitter: @ByTimGraham

Date: Sept 30 (Week 4)
Time: 1 p.m.
Location: Gillette Stadium

Date: Nov. 11 (Week 10)
Time: 1 p.m.
Location: Ralph Wilson Stadium

2011 record: 6-10, tied for third in AFC East
Playoffs: None

1. What is going to be the strength of this team?
The defensive line is loaded. The Bills have transitioned back to a 4-3 base defense, and the backup defensive ends likely will be Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay, who started the previous seven seasons. The Bills grabbed headlines by signing free-agent defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, but the defensive tackles are good, too. Marcell Dareus, the fifth overall pick in 2011, led the team in sacks last year, and Pro Bowler Kyle Williams is back after missing last year with a foot injury.

2. Where are they looking to get better?
The Bills need more consistent play out of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and brought mechanics-oriented quarterbacks coach David Lee to help. Just in case, they improved their backup QB position with Vince Young. The Bills also need tighter coverage from their cornerbacks. They drafted Stephon Gilmore 10th overall, and he almost certainly will supplant touchdown-waiting-to-happen Leodis McKelvin.

3. Players on the spot?
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (if he staggers, VY's presence will loom large), CB and former first-round pick Leodis McKelvin, DEs Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay (if contracts become a concern), P Brian Moorman (two-time All-Pro starting to slip).

4. What needs to happen for this team to win big?
Fitzpatrick needs to play at least like an average quarterback on a weekly basis. Fred Jackson has to stay healthy. With all the additions, the defense needs to come together and transform from its perennial doormat ranking to a top 10 unit.

5. Realistic expectations for this team at this point?
9-7, legit wild-card contender.

A look at the opponents: Baltimore Ravens, Week 3

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 29, 2012 07:30 AM

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Ray Rice isn't the only strength of the Baltimore Ravens. (Larry French / Getty Images)

Five questions about the Ravens heading into training camp with Aaron Wilson, the beat writer from the Carroll County Times.

Link: http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/sports/ravens/
Twitter: @RavensInsider

Date: Sept. 23
Time: 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Location: M&T Bank Stadium
2011 record: 12-4, first place in AFC North
Playoffs: Lost AFC Championship game 23-20 at New England

1. What is going to be the strength of this team?
Besides franchise running back Ray Rice, which is an obvious one, the cornerback position is a really talented group with Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith.

2. Where are they looking to get better?
The offensive line is an area of concern because they lost Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs. They are hoping that Bobbie Williams, 35, has another good season in him. They gave him a two-year, $2.925 million contract that includes an $800,000 signing bonus.

3. Players on the spot?
Left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie says he weighs 354 pounds and was held out of a mandatory minicamp due to conditioning issues. He says his target weight is 345 pounds by training camp. It's unclear what the team will do if he doesn't hit his target weight.

4. What needs to happen for this team to win big?
The passing game has to become more explosive. That means wide receiver Torrey Smith taking another step forward after an encouraging rookie season. It looks like Joe Flacco is primed for a good year based on the AFC championship game and how he's been throwing the ball during offseason workouts and practices.

5. Realistic expectations for this team at this point?
A fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs, but a Super Bowl appearance seems unlikely after losing NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs for at least the majority of the season with a partially torn Achilles tendon.

Robert Kraft would like to see an NFL franchise in London

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 28, 2012 01:27 PM

Patriots owner Robert Kraft told reporters in London today that he would like to see an NFL franchise in the city in the next 10 years.

Kraft, appearing in London to promote the overseas NFL games which the Patriots will take part in again this season, told Sky Sports a franchise in the United Kingdom was something he was going to push for.

"I personally think we should have a franchise in London and that is something I am going to push for," Kraft said. "I think I said that the last time we were over here in 2009 and before this next decade is out, I hope we have a team here. I think that would be right for the NFL and this fan base has proven they deserve it.

"I think we're starting to tap out in the United States. If you look at the last Super Bowl we were in this past season, we had over 180 million people watching - that's almost two thirds of America. So for us to grow the game, we have to expand globally. Having seen the kind of support we have received here in London, it is the intention of the NFL owners to get two games here, starting next year.

"The only bad part of putting a franchise in London is that I can assure you it won't be the Patriots who are moving here."

The Patriots will play the St. Louis Rams at Wembley Stadium, outside of London, Oct. 28.

A look at the opponents: Arizona Cardinals, Week 2

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 28, 2012 07:00 AM

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Kevin Kolb will need to have a big year for the Arizona Cardinals to play well. (Matt York / AP photo)

Editor's note: This is the second part of a series on the Patriots scheduled opponents in the upcoming season. The following are questions that have been posed to the beat writers of each particular team. In this case, the Arizona Cardinals.

Five questions about the Cardinals heading into training camp with Kent Somers, the beat writer from the Arizona Republic.

Link: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/cardinals/
Twitter: @kentsomers

Date: Sept. 16
Time: 1 p.m.
Location: Gillette Stadium
2011 record: 8-8, second in NFC West
Playoffs: None

1. What is going to be the strength of this team?
The defense. Greatly improved over latter half of 2011. Lots of talent, nice mixture of vets (DT Darnell Dockett, SS Adrian Wilson) with young guys (LB Daryl Washington, CB Patrick Peterson).

2. Where are they looking to get better?
Quarterback play is the key to season. Need to force more turnovers too.

3. Players on the spot?
QB Kevin Kolb and LT Levi Brown, who received a new contract despite a disappointing career.

4. What needs to happen for this team to win big?
Kevin Kolb or John Skelton have to prove they can be a competent starter at quarterback. Stay healthy, especially on defense.

5. Realistic expectations for this team at this point?
I think it's an under the radar team that could contend for the division title. The defense should be elite.

Brady named No. 4 in NFL top 100 list

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 27, 2012 09:24 PM

Although he led the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl in 2012, with the 31st ranked defense to back him up, Tom Brady was named the No. 4 ranked player on the NFL's top 100 list, a ranking voted on by his peers.

"The Top 100: NFL Players of 2012" list featured two quarterbacks ahead of Brady, including Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.

Brady led the 2011-12 Patriots to a 13-3 regular season record while throwing 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns on 65 percent passing for a 105.6 quarterback rating.

In his 12th year, Brady made his fifth Super Bowl appearance. He was joined on the list by fellow Patriots Rob Gronkowski (No. 21), Wes Welker (No. 23), Logan Mankins (No. 64) and Vince Wilfork (No. 81).

A look at the opponents: Tennessee Titans, Week 1

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 27, 2012 07:00 AM

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Tennessee running back Chris Johnson is going to need a bounce-back year for the Titans to improve. (Mark Humphrey / AP Photo)

Editor's note: This is the first part of a series on the Patriots scheduled opponents in the upcoming season. The following are questions that have been posed to the beat writers of each particular team. In this case, the Tennessee Titans.

Five questions about the Titans heading into training camp with John Glennon, the beat writer for The Tennessean.

Link: http://blogs.tennessean.com/titans/author/jglennon/
Twitter: @glennonsports

Date: Sept. 9
Time: 1 p.m.
Location: LP Field.
2011 record: 9-7, second in AFC South.
Playoffs: None.

1. What is going to be the strength of this team?
Probably the passing attack, especially if Kenny Britt (torn ACL) returns to form. Titans added explosive wide receiver Kendall Wright with their first-round pick, and heíll be joined by emerging tight end Jared Cook, veteran wideout Nate Washington and third-year receiver Damian Williams. Titansí offensive line gave up the second-fewest sacks in the league last year.

2. Where are they looking to get better?
One area is the pass rush, as the Titansí 28 sacks were second-fewest in the league last year. They added defensive end Kamerion Wimbley in the offseason. Other big concern, oddly enough, is the running game. Despite the presence of Chris Johnson, Titans were second-worst in the league in rushing yards last season. They added guard Steve Hutchinson in the offseason.

3. Players on the spot?
One is [Matt] Hasselbeck, who will have to fight off former first-round pick Jake Locker in order to hold on to his starting job. Another is Johnson, who had career lows in total yards, average yards and TDs last year. Another is third-year defensive end Derrick Morgan, a former first-round pick who Ė in part due to injury Ė has managed just four sacks in his 19 NFL games.

4. What needs to happen for this team to win big?
Britt has to stay healthy for all or most of the season in order to give the Titans an experienced big-play threat. Johnson has to be closer to the CJ2K running back of 2009 than the average back he was last year. The Titans need to find a way to consistently get after the passer, especially to help a secondary that lost Cortland Finnegan to free agency.

5. Realistic expectations for this team at this point?
The Titans managed a 9-7 record last year despite the fact Britt missed most of the year and despite Johnsonís ineffectiveness. Itís not unrealistic for the team to expect to be better by a game or so this year Ė and to once again contend for a playoff spot -- though a rough start (New England, at San Diego, Detroit, at Houston) to the schedule could put them in an early hole.

Patriots 2012 training camp dates announced

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 26, 2012 02:18 PM

The Patriots have announced the initial dates for their 2012 training camp in Foxborough.

The team will open camp the last week of July, with the players reporting to the team's headquarters on July 25 and then beginning practice the next day on the 26th.

The practices will be open to the public, with the remaining schedule to be determined later.

Here's the schedule currently:

Thursday July 26: 1:30 - 4 p.m.
Friday July 27: 1:30 - 4 p.m.
Saturday July 28: 1:30 - 4 p.m.
Sunday July 29: 1:30 - 4 p.m.

Tom Brady to be revealed in the top 10 of NFL 100 list

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 25, 2012 04:59 PM

Patriots QB Tom Brady will finally see his place in "The Top 100: Players of 2012" list, a compilation of player votes on the NFL's top playmakers from the previous season.

The NFL Network will reveal Brady's place in a two-hour special 8 p.m. Wednesday.

So far, Patriots Rob Gronkowski (No. 21), Wes Welker (No. 23), Logan Mankins (No. 64) and Vince Wilfork (No. 81) have already been named on the list.

Report: Patriots, Buccaneers could hold joint practices

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 25, 2012 03:13 PM

Not only are the Patriots in talks with the New Orleans Saints to hold joint practices, but the team is also in talks with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as well, according to a report.

The two teams could practice together before their Aug. 24 preseason game in Tampa at Raymond James Stadium.

Patriots re-sign safety James Ihedigbo

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 22, 2012 04:08 PM

The Patriots announced the re-signing of safety James Ihedigbo.

This isn't much of a surprise. The team really liked what he brought last season as an in-the-box safety, but he struggled with a chronic shoulder injury that was operated on after the season. Ihedigbo just recently became healthy.

It will be interesting to see how he fits, but he'll likely have to battle for a roster spot. The Patriots will likely keep just four, possibly five. The team had veteran cornerback Will Allen playing safety during the off-season practices. This could signal a move back to cornerback for Allen, where the cornerback depth is a little thin.

Here's how we see the safeties matched with skill set:

Free safety

Steve Gregory
Josh Barrett
Will Allen
Sergio Brown
Ross Ventrone

Strong safety

Patrick Chung
James Ihedigbo
Nate Ebner

Both spots

Tavon Wilson

Basically, beyond Chung, Gregory and Wilson, it's wide open for one, possibly two spots. Barrett is the better athlete and more versatile, but will he breakthrough this season?

Welker update

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 19, 2012 04:17 PM

Figured I'd pass along a little bit of an update related to the New York Post report that Patriots receiver Wes Welker was involved in some sort of disturbance in Aspen, Colo. this weekend.

Aspen police did respond to a call at Above The Salt that night. At this time, there is no record that the police had contact with Welker.

There was a "lecture and release." Those are common when there are large events in Aspen, and are used when individuals are cooperative and not causing immediate risk to those around them (which would seem to run counter to the characterization of the incident by the Post). It is at the officer's discretion.

UPDATE: An Aspen police spokesman was able to speak to the officers involved. Their statement:

During this very brief contact officers did not acquire the names of individuals involved, no individuals' names were run through our system, and no subsequent action was taken. They observed a situation while on foot patrol that had potential to escalate if not dealt with. The parties involved in this interaction were cooperative and the situation was deescalated quickly, hence the lecture and release versus more serious disciplinary measures.

While police won't officially say that Welker was involved, the officers emphasized that the male was cooperative.

Welker's camp won't even comment on the report because they think it's ridiculous and a completely overblown characterization of what transpired.

TE Scaife, OL Ingersoll released by Patriots

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 18, 2012 06:27 PM

The Patriots have released veteran TE Bo Scaife and OL Mike Ingersoll, a league source confirmed.

Scaife was signed by the Pats on June 7. During minicamp, it was clear that conditioning was an issue. The 31-year old did not play in a game last season.

Ingersoll, 24, was signed June 11. An undrafted rookie last year, he was on the Buccaneers' practice squad in December.

The team now has 88 players on its roster, two under the offseason limit of 90.

A day of accolades for Robert Kraft

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff June 18, 2012 02:24 PM
Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft was selected as the 2012 George Halas Award winner, given to an NFL player, coach, or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed.

Kraft was faced with the illness and death of his wife, Myra, who lost her battle with cancer in 2011, as he played an instrumental role in the NFL's collective bargaining negotiations with the players' association. The league avoided a work stoppage and played a full schedule in 2012.

Kraft is the 43d winner of the award and is the first NFL owner and first member of the Patriots franchise to receive the honor. The Professional Football Writers of America vote on the award, named for the Pro Football Hall of Famer who was an owner, manager, player and promoter for the Chicago Bears.

Later on Monday, Kraft learned he had been chosen for induction to the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame. Kraft, who holds a bachelor's degree in history an economics from Columbia, played lightweight football while a student and was later a university trustee.

Branch: Progress made, but still work to be done

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 15, 2012 07:18 AM

Branch-happy.jpgAt the start of his 11th NFL season, Deion Branch has been through a lot of offseason camps and mini-camps and training camps.

So when he said it was "sad" that Bill Belichick canceled the final day of Patriots' mini-camp on Thursday, he quickly followed it up with a laugh.

Like most of his teammates, Branch had to have been happy that Belichick essentially let the Patriots start their summer break a little early Ė of course, the receiver didn't take off right away; he was spotted on the Gillette Stadium field doing sprints with strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash after the end-of-mini-camp team meeting.

"Itís been great," Branch said of the team's progress over the last few weeks. "We had a great offseason and did a lot of good things. There are a lot of things that we need to work on when we come back for our training camp and weíre looking forward to it."

Branch believed Belichick's gesture was a reward for the team doing well.

"Yeah I think pretty much [the entire] offseason. I think as players we see some of the things that we need to straighten out. The coaches are always keeping us abreast on what weíre doing pretty good and what we need to correct and some things as individual players that we need to correct," he said. "There are some things that I want to correct and get better on. We just have to look forward to training camp.Ē

Like Tom Brady and other players who spoke this week, Branch said the weeks until training camp gets underway will be a mix of work and relaxation.

"Just pretty much continue training, getting in my playbook Ė the stuff that they let us take home Ė spend time with your family, because once you enter that fifth week itís almost time to get back this way for a grueling six months," he said.

Patriots sign Bequette

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 14, 2012 09:15 PM

The Patriots and third-round draft pick Jake Bequette have agreed to a four-year contract, a league source confirms.

Bequette, a defensive end out of Arkansas, was the 90th overall player taken in the draft, and the fourth of seven players selected by New England.

With Bequette signed, that leaves just one member of the Pats' draft class of 2012 unsigned: LB Dont'a Hightower.

After injuries as rookie, Ras-I Dowling moving forward

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 14, 2012 02:53 PM

FOXBOROUGH Ė When Patriots training camp starts in late July, there may be no more scrutinized player than cornerback Ras-I Dowling.

Thatís what happens when youíre a defacto first-round selection as the 33rd overall pick at the top of the second round. And when youíre 6-foot-2 and can run under 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

After missing most of his final season at the University of Virginia with hamstring, knee, and ankle injuries, Dowling missed most of training camp with the Patriots with a hamstring injury but showed enough talent in a short period of time that he started the first two games of the season.

Then Dowling went on injured reserve and had hip surgery.

Heís out to regain a starting spot, but Dowling isnít thinking about last year.

ďLast year is in the past, Iím not really looking to that,Ē Dowling said on Thursday. ďJust looking forward right now to training camp.

ďJust trying to get better, healthy, every day. Striving to get back.Ē

Dowling is expected to be at full strength for training camp. Cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer admitted that after hip surgery, Dowling is ďpushing through, trying to get back into game shape.Ē

When training camp commences, Dowling will try to take Kyle Arringtonís starting job. For now, Dowling is competing with Sterling Moore and Alfonzo Dennard for the nickel and dime package jobs.

ďHopefully Iíll be able to help the team,Ē Dowling said.

Bobby Carpenter looking for a home with Patriots

Posted by Alex Prewitt June 14, 2012 01:02 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Bobby Carpenter's NFL journey has zig-zagged the linebacker across the country, from Dallas to St. Louis, Miami to Detroit.

Now, he's landed with the Patriots.

Before his free-agent signing this April, Carpenter's only experience with New England was watching coach Bill Belichick in press conferences. He knew a couple players and occasionally watched the team on television.

"Other than that, I didn't know," said Carpenter, a first-round draft pick out of Ohio State in 2006. "It's been exciting. We have a great team atmosphere. I was very pleased with how great the locker room was. We've got a tremendous group of players here. Not only that, they're great people, so it's been easy to get acclimated."

Of those Carpenter previously knew within the organization, linebackers coach Pepper Johnson stands out. Johnson's son, Dionte, played with Carpenter at Ohio State. He too is a former Buckeye, a 1986 graduate who played on two Super Bowl-winning teams with the Giants.

So the high praise Johnson had for his new linebacker is coming from a trustworthy and familiar source.

"Heís a workaholic, heís constantly going, you have to slow him down on the field," Johnson said. I donít want to slow him down. He goes constantly. Heís going to be a plus for us. He already has been a plus."

Known for the derisive nickname, "Barbie Carpenter," affixed to him by tackle Marc Colombo during the Cowboys' tenure on HBO's "Hard Knocks," Carpenter last played with Detroit, where his pick-six in Week 4 helped spark a 34-30 win over Dallas. But he played sparingly all season, finishing with 20 tackles.

"Bobby's been here all spring, worked hard, good athlete, smart guy, has some experience," Belichick said. "He's done some different things in his career, played inside, played outside, pretty versatile player in some different organizations. We've asked him to do some different things. Mentally, physically, experience wise, he looks pretty comfortable."

With Belichick unexpectedly cancelling the Patriots' final minicamp practice on Thursday afternoon, Carpenter said he planned to return home to Columbus to be with family.

"You want to obviously stay sharp mentally, go over the book, make sure you know what you're doing," he said. "But also you want to stay in shape physically. I think these next five, six weeks make a big difference going into training camp, how well you can prepare, what you're doing physically, what kind of shape you're in, how strong you are.

"Some guys take some time off. If you can find a way to get an edge over these next six weeks, it will pay dividends come training camp and the end of the season."

Patriots cancel practice, will return for training camp

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 14, 2012 12:40 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots players received a little surprise today in the form of an early vacation.

The team canceled its afternoon practice. It was the last of the team's mandatory three-day minicamp. The Patriots will return in late July for training camp.

The canceled practice was being viewed as a possible reward to the players after a good offseason. Although none of the players interviewed were completely sure.

"Maybe he was so mad we've been doing so poorly, he wanted to get us out of here," said linebacker Bobby Carpenter with a bit of a chuckle. "I don't know. You'd have to ask him why he does the things he does. I'm not trying to get inside his mind."

But were there any complaints?

"I'll never complain," Carpenter said. "Especially when we've got a lot of good work in, I think we've done some good things out here, so hopefully that was a sign from him that we've done a good job."

Deion Branch jokingly said he was sad.

"It was a shocker," Branch said. "But you know coach keeps us on our toes."

Branch, an 11-year veteran, had some advice for the younger players who are about to take five weeks off before training camp.

"Don't take the next five weeks and try and vacation for three, and [then] try and work out for two," Branch said. "It don't work out that way."

Belichick chats before final minicamp practice

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 14, 2012 11:56 AM
Bill Belichick held his final press conference before the Patriots' final mini-camp practice before the team breaks for five weeks.

Belichick said that tight end Jake Ballard has reported to Foxborough and "seems to be doing relatively well" in his rehab progress after ACL and microfracture surgery just a couple of months ago.

Also, he confirmed that he's had talks with Saints interim coach Joe Vitt about holding joint practices before the two teams face one another in the preseason, but added that with New Orleans playing in the Hall of Fame game, the Saints' schedule could be tight, and that he was focused on Thursday's minicamp practice and would address the potential of practices in the coming days.

On getting the team's AFC Championship rings on Wednesday afternoon, Belichick called it "bittersweet."

He spoke positively about free-agent pickup Bobby Carpenter, and kept the door open on a return for defensive end Andre Carter, though he noted that any player added at this point means the team would also have to release a player.

Belichick agreed with running backs coach Ivan Fears' assessment from Wednesday that in the five weeks between minicamp and training camp, it is vital for players for maintain/improve their conditioning.

"Overall I think these guys are in pretty good shape, but I don't think they're in training camp shape," Belichick said.

Pictures: Scenes from Patriots minicamp

Patriots could practice with Saints

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 13, 2012 08:10 PM

The Patriots are among four or five teams that the Saints are speaking with about joint practices during training camp, according to a league source.

The practices would likely come before or after the team's Aug. 9 opening exhibition game at Gillette Stadium.

It gives both teams a chance to measure up against someone else after knocking heads against their teammates for the first two-plus weeks of training camp. Joint practices are something the Patriots have embraced in the past -- the Saints and Patriots practiced together in 2010 -- but couldn't make happen last year because of the lockout.

If the sessions come to fruition, they'll likely garner a lot of media attention considering both teams have tangled with the league in recent years. The Patriots for filming of signals (2007) and the Saints for this year's bounty scandal.

Patriots receive AFC Championship rings

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 13, 2012 05:58 PM

JB-Patsring.jpg

The Patriots received their AFC Championship rings from owner Robert Kraft on Wednesday afternoon during a 4 p.m. team meeting.

According to USA Today reporter Jarrett Bell, Kraft told players, "Let's get the real one!"

Bell also tweeted a picture of the ring, which is pretty blingy.

Minicamp observations, Day 2

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 13, 2012 05:55 PM

FOXBOROUGH Ė The Patriots didnít let up today despite the rain. The practice was very much the same setup as the first day with a lot of situational work in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 situations.

It was a little tougher to keep track of things with the rain for us in the media, but we managed a few thoughts.

The disclaimers:

  • It is VERY, VERY early, so donít go flying off the handle about anything. Things will certainly change in time.
  • The media is limited in what we can report. Specifically, we canít report ďon offensive or defensive strategy. This includes describing formations, personnel groups or non-conventional plays.Ē We also canít report comments made by coaches.

The observations:

  • After a strong start in 7-on-7, the passing offense slumped in 11-on-11 situations. The wet conditions didnít help things. Tom Brady voiced his frustration Ė loudly Ė once.
  • Brady was 25 of 36 in competitive situations and hit on just two of his final six passes.
  • Brian Hoyer was picked off for the third time in minicamp when linebacker Dontía Hightower made a leaping grab and returned it a short distance for a touchdown. Hoyer finished 7 of 19.
  • Ryan Mallett completed his final six passes. Prior to that, he was 5 of 18 and was just one of eight to start practice. He did have the prettiest ball of the day Ė a deep score down the left side to Donte' Stallworth -- that burned CBs Malcolm Williams and Ras-I Dowling.
  • The defense worked a lot on sorting out coverage in the red zone against flood concepts with three receivers/running backs working against four defenders. Offensive bunch formations were included.
  • The most significant personnel change Ė and, again, itís early so it probably doesnít mean anything Ė was that Sterling Moore took all of Dowlingís snaps in nickel defense. Guessing the Patriots continue to like Mooreís ball skills. Dowling hasnít really made any plays. Also interesting to note, after playing left cornerback for the first time on Tuesday, Dowling received even more reps (if not more) on the left side. As a rookie, he was only a right cornerback. Could be preparation for Devin McCourty to do some safety work down the road if Dowling proves ready to take on more.
  • After practice, cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer confirmed our suspicions that Dowling is not 100 percent. Boyer said Dowling is ďtrying to push through and get back into game shape" after hip surgery. Thatís evident on the field. But it seems that heís making progress. Itís only June.
  • Both Moore, who did have one nice play on the ball, and Dowling struggled for most of the day.
  • Undrafted free agent DL Justin Francis continues to get a lot of playing time. Even saw him stand up today. Heís heading for a role as Mr. Versatility on the line if he keeps it up through camp. Francis would have had a sack in a real game.
  • DB Tavon Wilson again saw some snaps at linebacker in subpackages. Like we said, this is not a surprise. He did it at Illinois.
  • When Alfonzo Dennard went out with leg injury Williams received all his snaps. Remarkable how similar the two are physically.
  • Top catches: Brandon Lloyd (two of the sliding variety) and Wes Welker in traffic.
  • Deion Branch continues to make a living as Bradyís underneath receiver. Branch is still pretty good in about a 10-yard box.
  • WR Britt Davis has really shown up this offseason. Heís got some burst and does a good job catching the ball. Made a nice adjustment on a ball thrown behind by Mallett. Heís a candidate for one of those guys that really shines in the second half of preseason games. Maybe heís the new Taylor Price.
  • Jabar Gaffney had an outstanding practice. A couple of sliding catches, a few touchdowns in the red zone.
  • Julian Edelman is by far Malletís favorite receiver.
  • Patrick Chung got more reps as a kickoff returner. With his injury history, not sure Iím crazy about that.
  • Chandler Jones had a sack against Mallett when he blew past LG Jamey Richard, who was promptly replaced.
  • S Steve Gregory made a nice play breaking up a pass from Brady to Welker when Gregory really drove on the out route.
  • S Nate Ebner had two pass breakups and then gave up a touchdown to an unknown WR (missed the number). Williams, Moore and Tavon Wilson also had pass breakups.
  • Donte' Stallworth and Danny Woodhead each had a drop.

Minicamp roll call - Day 2

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 13, 2012 04:33 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Just a few changes from what we saw on Tuesday as far as attendance.

DE Jermaine Cunningham, not seen on the first day, was walking across the field with the rehab group, so he's obviously working through some sort of injury.

RB Brandon Bolden watched with an undisclosed injury.

DT Jonathan Fanene wasn't seen after suffering a minor knee injury on Tuesday.

There were a couple of injuries during practice. CB Alfonzo Dennard had his left leg examined and didn't return from practice. DT Vince Wilfork walked off the field on his own. WR Wes Welker and CB Sterling Moore had minor injuries but shrugged them off and kept going.

The total roll call:

Not present: RG Brian Waters (excused/personal), TE Daniel Fells, TE Jake Ballard, DT Jonathan Fanene.

Rehabbing: TE Rob Gronkowski (ankle), RT Sebastian Vollmer (back), DE Jermaine Cunningham (undisclosed), LG Logan Mankins (knee), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), LB Tracy White (hernia), WR Matthew Slater (leg).

Watching: OL Mark Zusevics, RB Brandon Bolden.

Injured: CB Alfonzo Dennard had his left leg examined and didn't return from practice. DT Vince Wilfork walked off the field on his own. WR Wes Welker and CB Sterling Moore had minor injuries but shrugged them off and kept going.

The entire defense had to run a penalty lap.

Bill Belichick pals Tony LaRussa (retired Cardinals manager) and Tom Thibodeau (Bulls coach) were on hand for practice.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith was in attendance as part of a "pop in" visit to make sure teams are complying with the non-contact rules. He's been making the rounds.


Observations to come.

Tom Brady: 'I got a long way to go'

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff June 13, 2012 04:31 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said he's feeling good, but he's nowhere near where he needs to be for the start of the NFL season in September.

Brady spoke to the media after Wednesday's outdoor minicamp practice at a rainy Gillette Stadium.

"It's been a lot of fun being back on the field, having a chance to work with a lot of the new guys," Brady said. "Some of those guys we've worked with, there's a lot of familiarity with Donte' [Stallworth] and Jabbar [Gaffney] with the stuff they've already done our offense so, it's been good."

Brady indicated that he's not ready for prime time football just yet.

"I got a long way to go, I got a long way to go," Brady said. "I'm nowhere near where I want to be, or I need to be."

Brady talked about how his preparation for the season has changed over the years as he's grown older.

"I think you really refine what you do over the course of years because you realize what works for you and what you need to do to be prepared for the football season," he said. "I think there's some things that you do when you're younger that I haven't necessarily done in a while because I don't think it really correlates well to being a better football player.

"Ultimately we're trying to be the best football player we can be not necessarily the best weight lifter, or the best sprinter, you need to be the best football player."

Brady said he hasn't done anything differently in terms of training this offseason, but indicated that's it's easier to eat healthier than it was when he was younger.

"Every year it seems to be a little different," Brady said. "Iím always looking for little ways to improve and I certainly eat healthier, which is actually easier to do now than it used to be when I was young. I eat pretty good.

Although Brady seemed to look slimmer -- maybe it's the latest haircut -- he said he's in the same shape as he always is.

"I feel really good, I feel great," he said after weighing in at 228 pounds today. "I'm right about where I always am to tell you the truth."

Even though he has more responsibilities and outside interests, Brady said playing football is still No. 1 for him.

"Itís the best job in the world as far as Iím concerned," Brady said. "I donít think thereís anything Iíd rather do. I probably have more fun out there now then Iíve ever had out there, just because you donít take a day for granted. You get a chance to go out there and play football and you look forward to those moments of competition. I donít enjoy boredom and this is certainly not boring. I love coming out here every day and working with this team."

More from Brady's Q&A today:

Q: Do you feel like youíre where you need to be with the team, having just one practice left in minicamp?

Brady: Yeah, you know weíve done a lot of installation and stuff. Thereís been a lot of stuff thrown at the players, some mentally. Probably more than our level of comfort, but itís nice for everyone to hear things and cover everything and then at least youíve heard it once we get to training camp. Thereís been a lot of installation every day and I think coach has really kept the pressure on us to see how much weíre retaining from week to week. Guys have worked hard at it and itís been a lot of fun.

Q: Obviously you had a successful year last year, but how much further ahead and much more comfortable do you feel now having the OTAs and having minicamp this year as opposed to last year?

Brady: Yeah, itís been a different offseason than last year, but a lot of guys have adapted and we pretty much have everyone out there. You can really see what kind of team youíre going to be, see the level of competition, the level of focus and the level of concentration, especially on wet, rainy days. Weíre moving from situation to situation Ė thereís been a lot of red area work, right into third-down work, backed up [situations], plus-50 work Ė so weíve really had to focus our minds and be ready to shift and adapt over the course of practice to try to simulate what we do in a game. Itís been a lot.

Q: What kind of message do you try to deliver to these guys on Tuesday when youíre starting out and then even more importantly Thursday when youíre about to do all this work, amp it up and then shut it down?

Brady: I think it just lets everybody know where theyíre at and what they need to do over the next five weeks. If you feel like youíre not real comfortable with everything weíre doing, then you know youíve got to put a lot of time in your playbook. If you feel like youíre conditioning needs to be better, thatís what you need to do; your strength, thatís what you need to do; your speed, thatís what you need to do. You can feel pretty comfortable with where youíre at based on how it looks out there, but no one is ready to play a game yet, I can assure you of that. Weíve got a lot of work left before weíre ready for that.

Q: Is there ever any trepidation about guys understanding that these four or five weeks between now and training camp is not really vacation time?

TB: I mean hopefully not, hopefully we donít look at it like that. Weíre in full preparation mode. This is the point where things really start getting ramped up. Thereís no breaks, we had our vacation, we had a lot of time off and now itís time to really focus in on what we need to do because weíre going to blink and the first game is going to be here. Youíve got about five weeks and everyone should use it really wisely. Get in better shape, get in better football shape and have a better understanding of what weíre doing so that we can go out there and when training camp starts you can really get off to a great start in training camp.

Q: Were you excited to see Rob Gronkowski got an extension and know that heís probably going to be here as long as youíre going to be here?

Brady: Yeah, I mean itís always good to have good players on this team. Robís worked really hard, so I think everyoneís happy for him. He certainly deserves it and heís had two great seasons and hopefully has a great season this year.

FULL ENTRY

Robert Kraft on Gronkowski's extension: 'We decided to step up'

Posted by Alex Prewitt June 13, 2012 04:03 PM

Speaking to reporters following a luncheon at Gillette Stadium for honorees of the Myra Kraft Community MVP Awards on Wednesday afternoon, team owner Robert Kraft addressed tight end Rob Gronkowski's recent extension.

"Weíre trying to always plan ahead for the future, do our strategic planning," Kraft said. "In this age of salary cap, whatís going to happen in the next few years with the cap, you have to have a core group of players that you can plan around as the foundation of your team."

The Globe's Greg A. Bedard reported the official numbers of Gronkowski's extension on Monday. At six years and $54 million, the extension is the richest ever for a tight end, but a sizable portion of the deal hinges on the Pats picking up a $10 million club option by Feb. 28, 2016.

"Heís a young player who we feel is the best at his position," Kraft said. "So we decided to step up and do what we thought was in the teamís best long-term interest."

The luncheon came shortly after the Patriots wrapped up their second day of minicamp.

"I think our personnel department and Bill [Belichick] have done an outstanding job collecting talent and potential on both sides of the ball," Kraft said. "Iím very excited about this season starting, canít wait for football to come back. Seeing as weíre six weeks away from training camp, Iím going to get all my sidebar stuff done and hopefully enjoy a great season here."

Belichick welcomes coaching pals, explains Ballard acquisition

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 13, 2012 12:19 PM
Patriots coach Bill Belichick took the podium today with two guests watching: former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and current Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Belichick and LaRussa have long been friends - when LaRussa was with the Cardinals, Belichick frequently visited the squad in spring training on his annual Florida scouting trip - and the Pats' coach said today he became acquainted with Thibodeau when he was a top assistant with the Celtics.

Patriots minicamp pictures "It's great to have them here; I have all the respect in the world for Tom and Tony. They're both great coaches in their respective sports. Tony ... wins more games in a month than I've won in my career," Belichick quipped.

"Tom's done a great job; I respect what he did here at Boston, and obviously in Chicago."

Belichick said he had questions for both men on how to prepare a team for the season.

As for the Pats claiming tight end Jake Ballard on waivers from the Giants yesterday, Belichick seemed to take umbrage with the notion he'd broken one of the NFL's "unwritten rules" by claiming an injured player his team was hoping would slip through waivers.

"First of all, there aren't any unwrittens," Belichick said. "...You can't negotiate a contract with a player while he's under contract - you can't negotiate a contract, release him and then renegotiate another contract that was already done in advance so I'm sure the Giants weren't doing that.

"If a player's on waivers, he's on waivers. Ours or anybody else's [players]. I don't know what unwrittens you're talking about ... Anytime you put a player on waivers, you know there are 31 teams out there that can take him if they want him."

Belichick indicated that Ballard hasn't yet reported to the Patriots.

The Pats are practicing outside Wednesday despite the rain.

Patriots claim injured TE Ballard

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 12, 2012 07:15 PM

Here's some interesting news: the Patriots have claimed tight end Jake Ballard off waivers, according to Ballard's agent, Blake Baratz.

Ballard was waived/injured by the Giants on Monday; he suffered a torn ACL in Super Bowl XLVI against New England after pulling in two catches for 10 yards in the game.

The 6-foot-6, 275 pound Ohio State product had 38 regular-season catches last year, his first full season in the NFL; the Giants signed Ballard as an undrafted rookie in 2010, but he played in just one game.

It seems that the Giants had every intention of bringing Ballard back to the team once he cleared waivers, and would then place him on either the physically unable to perform list or injured reserve, and in fact, the tight end was at New York's facility late Tuesday afternoon.

Then the news came that he'd been claimed by New England.

Ballard underwent both ACL and microfracture surgery, which adds 4-to-8 weeks recovery time, so he likely wasn't going to be ready for the start of the regular season.

But now the Patriots claim him and his $540,000 salary with an eye toward 2013.

They did something similar in 2010, claiming safety Josh Barrett when he was waived/injured by the Broncos; Barrett spend the entire season on IR that year.

UPDATE (7:15 p.m.) - Ballard has released a statement through his agent on the move:

"While this was very sudden and I am still experiencing a great deal of differing emotions, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you and place some closure on a wonderful chapter in my life," the statement read. "I will greatly miss my teammates, the fans, the organization, and albeit short-Iived, I will forever cherish all the great memories that we created during my time in a Giant uniform.

"Simultaneously, I am humbled by the opportunity that the Patriots have afforded me and as I have always done, I will bring nothing but hard work, professionalism, and integrity to what is already a world class organization."

Looking at the Ballard move

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 12, 2012 05:32 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- So the Patriots claimed Giants tight end Jake Ballard.

Don't overreact to it.

Ballard is good young prospect, one that killed the Patriots late in last season's regular-season matchup. But he is far from elite at this point and not viewed as a difference maker. There's a reason he went undrafted in 2010. While he's got a great frame at 6-6 and 265 pounds, he's fairly slow in the 4.8 range.

But he's got a nice skill set, can obviously catch.

In the Patriots' two-tight end system, he would be in the traditional role like Rob Gronkowski. It's termed a "Y" tight end in New England. The Patriots don't really have another one of those, and they drafted Lee Smith in the 2011 fifth round because of that need (he was later released and claimed by Buffalo).

Aaron Hernandez, who signed through 2013, is an "F" tight end. Basically a receiver/tight end combo.

Daniel Fells, who signed a three-year contract, can fill both the Y and F positions. At 6-3 and 4.8 speed, he's actually a twiner for both positions.

Now, Ballard had ACL and micro-fracture surgery in February. He would have to have an amazing recovery to be ready by November. The most likely scenario is he's out for the entire season.

If he doesn't play, Ballard, would be an exclusive rights free agent again in 2013 and only a minimum tender from the Patriots would keep him on the team. He wouldn't be a restricted free agent until '14, and wouldn't be eligible for unrestricted free agency until '15.

If he plays, he would be a restricted free agent after this season. As an undrafted free agent, the Patriots would have right of first refusal after tendering him a one-year contract. Under that scenario, Ballard would be an unrestricted free agent in '14.

Basically, the Patriots got themselves a good, young prospect. Claiming another team's waived/injured player is a bit against the unwritten rules -- the Patriots were ticked when the Vikings pulled a similar move with Garrett Mills in 2007, but pulled their own waived/injured move with Josh Barrett and the Broncos in 2010 -- so the Giants will likely remember it, but it was certainly within the Patriots' right to do it. Part of the business.

WR Jesse Holley ready for another shot

Posted by Alex Prewitt June 12, 2012 05:19 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- During his short stint with Dallas, it took receiver Jesse Holley a year to have a full conversation with quarterback Tony Romo.

Following his first day with the Patriots, Holley figures getting to know Tom Brady will be easier. After all, they are only two lockers apart.

"Tom and I introduced ourselves, thatís pretty much it right now," said Holley, signed by the Patriots on Monday after they released Chad Ochocinco. "Iím optimistic. He knows my name, hopefully. I know his. Hopefully Iíll be able to lean over and ask a couple questions. If he answers, great, if not Iíll ask again tomorrow."

Learning, be it a new system or the requirements of making it with the Patriots, will be a recurring theme with the charismatic Holley, who held court with media for over 10 minutes following Tuesday's mandatory mini-camp. His NFL story is one made for TV, which makes sense, given that he broke into the league thanks to a reality show.

In 2008, Holley, undrafted out of North Carolina and cut by the Bengals and the CFL's BC Lions, was working multiple jobs, including an 11 p.m.-7 a.m. security shift, when he was accepted to Michael Irvin's show on Spike TV, "4th and Long." In winning the competition, Holley earned the final invitation to Cowboys camp.

After spending almost two seasons on the practice squad, Holley's big moment came last season. In Week 2 against San Francisco, his 77-yard reception in overtime set up the game-winning field goal. He played in 28 regular season games over the past two seasons, finishing with seven receptions for 169 yards.

That got him in the door with Romo, too.

"I was a rock star," he said with a smile. "I was bigger than Tony Romo for a week. We went to dinner and everything.

"I just came in, didnít know anybody, he had his guys, but after that, once we warmed up to each other, after that we were having conversations. I got invited to his house, invited to the wedding, knew about the baby and all that. It took us a little while, but once we got acquainted we were good friends."

Friendship aside, Holley knows that making the Patriots roster will be a tall order, especially with 10 other receivers listed as of Tuesday. He could be an asset on special teams with experience gained there in Dallas, and was optimistic after the practice session.

"You've got to learn fast, they require a lot of you," said Holley, who had landed in Mexico for vacation when his agent told him that the Patriots requested a workout. "Iím ready for the challenge. Go back and watch some film, see where I can improve at, and continue to learn."

As far as making the transition between teams?

"I found out via Twitter, some fans were unhappy I came to New England, but I guess they donít realize it wasnít my choice to leave Dallas," Holley said. "Dallas broke up with me. It was shocking. It's like you come home, everythingís gone, they leave a love letter for you, a goodbye letter.

"But thatís what itís about. You mend a broken heart, you start a new relationship, you trust again."

Mini-camp observations, Day 1

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 12, 2012 04:35 PM

FOXBOROUGH Ė The team was back on the field today for the start of the three-day mandatory mini-camp before the month-long break preceding training camp in late July.

Weíve already detailed who was or wasnít there.

Before we get started, the normal disclaimers:

  • It is VERY, VERY early, so donít go flying off the handle about anything. Things will certainly change in time.
  • The media is limited in what we can report. Specifically, we canít report ďon offensive or defensive strategy. This includes describing formations, personnel groups or non-conventional plays.Ē We also canít report comments made by coaches.

Observations:

  • There was a lot work early on short-yardage situations on both sides of the ball. With so many players missing along the offensive line, Dan Connolly appeared to spend most of the day at guard.
  • One of the things that jumped out about the defense in short yardage was that undrafted DL Justin Francis was working with the starting unit. We previously talked about how he was one of the top rookies Ė including the draft picks Ė to flash early and that seems to be continuing. Francis appears to be an interior player. Helps that Myron Pryor is still rehabbing.
  • We saw more evidence of how polished WR Brandon Lloyd is when he did a terrific job showing late hands on a 7-on-7 pass from Tom Brady. CB Malcolm Williams was in perfect underneath position but didnít get his hands up in time because Lloyd didnít catch the ball until the last second. Reminiscent of Randy Moss.
  • Brady and Lloyd go just about everywhere together on the field between drills. At one point Brady, on one knee, was joking around with Lloyd, Wes Welker and Deion Branch as a small group away from the action.
  • Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead seem to be the dominant third-down backs. When the team when to regular personnel during 11-on-11, Stevan Ridley seemed to get the early call. Joseph Addai and Brandon Bolden were in much more reserved roles.
  • Brady was 23-30 in competitive situations. His mechanics were very sound. Did a nice job of keeping his shoulder square.
  • Brian Hoyer completed his first pass and then was picked off on back-to-back plays by LB Jeff Tarpinian and DB Will Allen, who was playing safety. Hoyer took a seat for Ryan Mallett right after the intereptions. Hoyer finished 6 of 11 with the two interceptions and was sacked for safety when, from the 2-yard line, rookie DE Jake Bequette blew past the line for a quick sack (couldnít tell who the lineman was and it wasnít on Hoyer).
  • Mallett finished 7 of 15. Heís inconsistent. He threw a beautiful bomb to Julian Edelman for a touchdown over Alfonzo Dennard and Tavon Wilson, but Mallett also showed his trademark wildness with low throws and a few behind receivers. Mallett should have been intercepted by Sterling Moore. It appears the footwork drills heís working on is affecting the consistency of his mechanics. It can be straightened out. Mallett also seems to be very cognizant of getting rid of the ball in practice. He had about four throwaways. Mallett often held onto the ball too long in the preseason last year. Quicker decision-making appears to be a coaching point this offseason, as it should be.
  • The battered offensive line, in general, had a tough day. Rushers appeared to be affecting the quarterbacks because the protection was poor.
  • Not a great day catching the ball, either. Edelman and Welker had two drops on throws that werenít perfect. Lloyd also had one.
  • Safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory each had a pass breakup.
  • Wilson saw his versatility utilized a few times when lined up as a linebacker in passing situations. Thatís not a surprise. Itís something he did in college, and the Patriots used James Ihedigbo that way last season.
  • The unusual body type of Dennard again stood out. Never quite seen a cornerback built so compactly with seemingly short arms. Heís actually built like a slightly undersized safety.
  • Donít think Sergio Brown saw the field as a safety but heís still a top special teams player. Not sure if I saw Allen at cornerback.
  • CB Ras-I Dowling continued to be the nickel back. His play didnít jump out one way or the other.
  • LB Bobby Carpenter continues to be a fixture in different packages. Dontía Hightower got into the DL mix on a few snaps but is mostly an interior linebacker.
  • DE Chandler Jones was a little more active in the pass rush. Like his ability to stunt and flash some quickness that way.
  • Special teams work focused on punt returns with Edelman getting most of the reps. Surprisingly, Chung got a few as well. Don't think he's ever done that before.

Welker deflects questions about his own contract, but happy for Gronk

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 12, 2012 04:13 PM

Despite his own contract issues - i.e. he doesn't have one beyond this year - Wes Welker has no issues with teammate Rob Gronkowski getting an extension from the Patriots last week.

"I thought it was a great deal; you need a guy like that around here for a long time," Welker said after Tuesday's mini-camp practice. "Heís such a great player for us, and having him around here for a while is a great deal for us and our orgnazaition so Iím very happy for him."

Does seeing another player get paid while he waits for his long-term deal bother Welker?

"Not at all; Iím always pulling for the players, especially a guy like Gronk who does such a great job for us and works so hard and deserves every bit of that contract," he said.

But when it came to questions about his own situation, Welker didn't say much.

"I'm not worried about that at all," he said in regards to whether he feels it's a matter of time until his deal gets done. "Right now I'm here and I'm happy and I'm just here to try and help our team win here in 2012.

"I think Iíve said everything I need to say as far as anything about my contract and Iím just looking forward to the season and trying to help the team get better."

By league rule, if Welker and the Pats were to come to terms on a deal that goes past '12, it has to be done by July 16. Otherwise, he just plays this fall under the franchise tag.

"I don't really expect anything except for me to go out there and do my job to the best of my ability," he said when asked if he expected something to get done.

Once mini-camp wraps on Thursday, Welker will turn his attention toward his wedding to Anna Burns on June 25, which he said he's "very much looking forward to."

The receiver is at least the third Patriots player who'll get married in the coming weeks - Rob Ninkovich and Marcus Cannon also have their weddings planned for later this month.

Rob Ninkovich likes what he sees

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 12, 2012 03:39 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- It wouldn't be a football camp if there weren't a little bit of nasty.

At Patriots minicamp, Rob Ninkovich, Ryan Wendell and Kyle Love got into a small scuffle during team drills. The scuffle was immediately broken up by teammates and the trio were sentenced to one lap around the field.

So far, so good.

"Sometimes out there you get a little heated, so I had to take a couple of laps," said Ninkovich. "No big deal."

And no hard feelings. The Patriots had a productive minicamp practice session according to Ninkovich, the seven-year veteran who has been with the team for the past three seasons.

"It was good. Just still working on both sides of the ball. Just trying to get better. Working on certain aspects of the game that we're going into training camp with that we're going to utilize."

With so many defensive linemen and linebackers in camp, identifying what role each player will have this upcoming season will be difficult. Asked about the players on seemingly the first or second teams in minicamp, Ninkovich said that didn't matter.

"It's kind of everybody out there trying to work together," he said. "Guys playing all over the place just to get that team going together so everyone's communicating and on the same page."

Ninkovich did give his thoughts on some of the team's new players.

"Trevor [Scott] is a great player," he said. "He was in Oakland for awhile. Had a minor setback a couple of years go with an ACL, so I think now he's feeling good. I'm happy to have him on the team. He's a good player.

"[Dont'a] Hightower, obviously is a great player. Chandler [Jones] is a long, good pass rusher. The more guys we have out there at the same time that can get after the quarterback and cover is a little bit is always going to help the team out. So it's exciting."

Mini-camp roll call - Day 1

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 12, 2012 02:56 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Seen and not seen at the first day of mandatory mini-camp:

Not present: RG Brian Waters (excused/personal), TE Daniel Fells, DE Jermaine Cunningham.

Rehabbing: TE Rob Gronkowski (ankle), RT Sebastian Vollmer (back), LG Logan Mankins (knee), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), LB Tracy White (hernia), WR Matthew Slater (leg).

Watching: OL Mark Zusevics.

Injured: DT Jonathan Fanene, a free-agent signing from the Bengals, was checked out in the left knee area and did not return. Walked with a fairly good limp to the locker room after practice. TE Bo Scaife seems to still be working on his conditioning.

Returned from absence last week: TE Aaron Hernandez, DT Brandon Deaderick.

Former OL Billy Yates and WR David Patten were observing practice.

LB Rob Ninkovich and OG Ryan Wendell had to run a penalty lap after a skirmish, and were later joined by DT Kyle Love, who was in the mix as well.

DL Gerard Warren and TE Aaron Hernandez had to run laps for being offsides.

Bill Belichick: Brian Waters excused for personal reasons, Jermaine Cunningham having 'great' offseason

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 12, 2012 12:05 PM

Bill Belichick met with reporters midday Tuesday, just before the Patriots took the field for the opening day of three-day mini-camp, which is mandatory for players (the offseason workout program and organized team activities are technically voluntary).

Here is his opening statement:

"We're back on the field today, this is just a continuation of the OTA program for us; feel like we're making progress this spring, obviously we have a long way to go,k but the players are working hard and we're heading in the right direction. All of the players are here except for Brian Waters, he's excused for personal reason, and of course we have some players out there who are not participating who are in various stages of rehab, and we'll evaluate them on a day by day basis. That's the update here; another day at the office."

Asked if Waters, who is expected to play this fall, has given the team any indication about his plans, Belichick said, "I don't have anything to add."

On adding receiver Jesse Holley and what he might be able to bring to the team, Belichick gave a more general answer: "We've added and released a number of players here in the last couple of weeks, so with all the players coming in, we feel like there's an opportunity for them, and for the players that were released, we feel like for whatever reason that it's time to move on and there are other options that are better for the team."

Which of course led to a question on why Chad Ochocinco didn't work out in New England: "Well, I don't know. The bottom line is that's in the past; we're focused on today and trying to go out there and think about when we step on the field. I haven't thought of that too much."

Ouch.

Belichick spoke more favorably of Jermaine Cunningham, the linebacker/defensive end entering his third season.

"Jermaine's had a great offseason; he's really worked hard, he looks good," Belichick said.

Asked if the lockout last season had a negative effect on Cunningham, he replied, "I'm sure it was a combination of things, but whatever happened with our players last year, good, bad or indifferent, it's not that important at this point - we're just trying to move forward and evaluate the team on a current basis and give everybody the opportunity out there to show where they're at, show what they can do. We're not really focused on what happened last year, we're trying to get ready for this year."

So what does it mean if a player is having a good offseason?

"Player's physical improvement, overall mental grasp of what we're doing, what we can see on the field - which is non-contact - but reactions and technique and things like that."

On getting Rob Gronkowski signed to an extension, Belichick said, "Of course. Any player that we sign, we're glad to sign him, otherwise we wouldn't do the contract."

As for another contract, Wes Welker's, and the July 16 deadline for the two sides to agree to a longer-term contract or Welker must play the entire season under the franchise tag, Belichick said, "Well, it is what it is. The rules are the rules, so whatever they are, we'll comply with them."

Patriots open minicamp today

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 12, 2012 11:02 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots are opening mandatory minicamp today at Gillette Stadium, the first of the last three practices scheduled in the spring for the team.

Head coach Bill Belichick will speak this morning before the team opens practice for the media this afternoon.

After practice, expect updates here on Extra Points where we'll try and give as many details on today's sessions as possible.

Some things we're looking out for:

- How the linebackers are doing in camp. With 12 linebackers listed on the roster -- not to mention the immeasurable number of pass rushers listed at defensive end -- there's quite a few variables to figure out in regards to the group and how each player fits into the Patriots schemes. We're almost sure that can't be completely answered today or this week, but we should get a better idea.

- The running back group and how the reps are being split up among Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Joseph Addai. Who will be the team's lead back? We're still wondering and will likely keep wondering. But that doesn't mean we can't list how many reps each player receives in team drills.

- What the defensive backs group looks like and how well new safety Steve Gregory is meshing with the team. Also, a continued look at DB Ras-I Dowling and how he looks coming back from injury.

- A look at new WR Jesse Holley and what kind of use Belichick has for the former Dallas Cowboys receiver.

We'll try to keep you up to date throughout the day right here.

@zuriberry

Chad Ochocinco signs with Dolphins

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff June 11, 2012 09:19 PM

Chad Ochocinco has signed with the Miami Dolphins, according to a post on the former Patriots receiver's web site.

The lead post on OCNN.com reads as follows:

We just got confirmation from Chad Ochocinco that he has just signed with the Miami Dolphins. The 6 time Pro Bowler will now get a chance to finish his career in his home state. More details as they arrive.

ESPN's Adam Schefter confirmed the report.

The Patriots cut Ochocinco last week.

Patriots sign three players

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff June 11, 2012 05:53 PM

The Patriots announced on Monday they signed receiver Jesse Holley, offensive lineman Mike Ingersoll and tight end Tyler Urban.

Holley played the last two seasons with the Cowboys. He entered the NFL in 2007 as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina.

Ingersoll signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina last season but was cut before the season. He spent December on Tampa Bay's practice squad.

Urban was released by the Buccaneers in May. The undrafted free agent from West Virginia spent his rookie season in Tampa Bay.

Official Gronkowski salary and cap numbers

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 11, 2012 03:22 PM

Received the official contract numbers for Rob Gronkowski from a league source.

Things we didn't know before:

  • The true guarantee, if Gronkowski forgot how to play football and had to be cut, is $12 million. There's another $5 million guaranteed in 2015 against injury (skill if on the roster the 5th day of the 2015 league year)
  • Workout bonuses of $30,000 for 2012 and '13; $250,000 for '14-19. That tells me they want the hard-partying Gronk to have a lot of reason to be around the facility.
  • The $10 million option must be picked up by the final day of the 2015 league year (Feb. 28, 2016), which I think would spread the cap hit over the final five years of the deal.
  • The deal also includes per-game active roster bonuses totaling $500,000 in '16 and '17 ($31,250 per game), and $750,000 ($46,875 per game) in '18 and '19. This further insures the Patriots on the health of Gronkowski, who had back surgery his final year in college.

Here's how the deal works out:

Screen Shot 2012-06-11 at 3.22.32 PM.png

All in all, it's a pretty fair deal to both sides but the backside still troubles me for Gronkowski. I'm not crazy about giving the team control of Gronkowski's destiny until he's 31. He'll miss his window for a mega contract in his 20s. Who has any idea what the salary cap is going to look like then? As it stands right now, he'd make $9,250,000 per year the final four years if he plays all 16 games every game. That's by far the top of the market right now at max value...but that's four years down the road and the tight end position is just now ascending as far as the importance of the game.

What I don't get is why the deal isn't just a two-year extension. That part is more than fair to both sides. Gronkowski gets a fair wage and the Patriots get two more years in return. Then you recalibrate the deal in '15 or '16.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus probably agreed to the back end because the $4.6 million average the first four years would probably be ridiculed by other agents (though I think that would be unfair). Throwing in a $9,250,000 average in the final four years -- even though he may not see it -- makes the total package look that much better (hence the 'richest contract for a tight end' business).

Gronkowski received the richest contract extension for a tight end in league history (six years, $54 million). But he may not even see $37 million of it.

Looking to build on postseason, Moore still learning multiple spots

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 11, 2012 07:30 AM

300sterlingmoore.jpg


Defensive back Sterling Moore saw a big change in a short amount of time - an undrafted rookie last year, he landed in New England after his hometown Raiders cut him loose, and when Moore got his NFL start, in prime time against the Jets, NBC didn't even have a photo of him for its usual introductions.

By the end of January, however, everyone knew who Moore was, after he knocked a potential game-winning touchdown out of the hands of Ravens' receiver Lee Evans in the AFC championship game.

He insists now that he's still the same humble kid who grew up in northern California, taking pride in tweeting pictures of his "dining table" and TV stand - both of which were cardboard.

On Saturday, Moore and teammate/friend Shane Vereen were at Madison Park High School in Roxbury taking part in the New England Patriots Alumni Club "Football for You" event, taking children through drills and spending a few moments talking to them about how they got to the NFL.

The 5-foot-10 Moore, who started three games at safety but was moved to cornerback, his position throughout college, by the end of the regular season, said he's happy to have his first full offseason, and is still learning multiple positions in the backfield.

"Coming in this offseason, you donít know really what to expect, but itís our first one, but weíre having fun out there, itís just good to be around the guys and build that team camaraderie because we have a lot of new parts on the team. Itís good to be out there; coaches are yelling, which is not too good right now, but itís good to be out there and build the camaraderie," Moore said.

As for his positions, the SMU product said, "Iím going to do whatever it takes to help the team, same thing as last year Ė I came in and learned all the positions, still doing the same thing this year, nothingís been set in stone as far as what position Iím going to play, they hold me accountable for multiple positions, and itís a struggle every day trying to learn multiple positions and multiple techniques, but thatís whatís expected of me."

Having more responsibilities ups the difficulty factor for the young player, but he also knows he has teammates to turn to for help when needed.

"Itís a lot of focus and you rely on guys who have been in the league for a little bit, Iím always asking to the older guys or the guys who have been in the system here for a few years, so those guys, they welcome me with open arms no matter what position Iím playing," he said. "We have a great group of guys in the backfield and weíre always willing to help each other out."

Moore, Vereen and the rest of their Patriots teammates will be on the field again Tuesday for the first day of mini-camp, which goes through Thursday.

Vereen looking forward to second season

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 9, 2012 02:46 PM

Running back Shane Vereen played in just five games his rookie season, missing much of the year because of a hamstring injury, but he's healthy and has been on the field for organized team activities, preparing for the coming season.

Missing so much time "was definitely frustrating, but to be back with everybody else practicing and getting back to playing football, itís great," the Cal product said Saturday. "And then to be able to come out here and share my story and share things that I've learned over the past couple of months have been even better."

Vereen and fellow second-year Patriot Sterling Moore were at Madison Park High School in Boston with several Patriots alumni for one of the annual "Football for You" clinics that offer a morning of drills for young players in Boston, Springfield, Worcester and Providence.

The two helped with the drills, then joined Jermaine Wiggins in addressing the group about perseverance and working toward their goals.

With BenJarvus Green-Ellis now with the Bengals, Vereen, Shane Ridley, Danny Woodhead, rookie Brandon Bolden and veteran signee Joseph Addai are competing for carries.

"Itís going good," Vereen said. "Thereís always going to be competition and thatís what makes everyone better, thatís going to make our team a lot better."

A second-round pick in 2011, Vereen said he's tried to improve on every aspect of his game, including catching out of the backfield -- old/new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels likes the screen game -- and is also eager to learn from former Colt Addai, who is the most experienced player in the running back group.

"Joe's a real good dude and he's been around the league for a while, so you can learn stuff from him on the field as well as off the field, and we've just reached the starting point of everything I'm able to learn from him," Vereen said. "Iíve only been around him for a couple weeks now, so the more Iím around him Iím sure the more the whole running back group will learn."

Analyzing the Gronkowski deal

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 8, 2012 02:41 PM

It's been taking some time to gather as much information as possible about Rob Gronkowski's new deal to gain a fuller understanding of what it means for the tight end and for the team.

Even before looking at the numbers, you know there are a lot of winners in the deal.

Gronkowski gets something because he was due to only make $1.17 million the next two seasons. Now he's making that plus a guaranteed signing bonus of $8 million. And even if Gronkowski, who sat out his junior year in college with a back injury, suffers a career-ending injury, heís walking away with $18 million. That's a win for Gronkowski, obviously.

But anytime you get something, you give something up. And, potentially, Gronkowski could have given up a lot by being locked into the Patriots through 2019. Thereís a club option for $10 million in 2016. If the Patriots pick that up, that means Gronkowski wonít be able to use the leverage of potential free agency until heís 31 years old. This isnít a playerís ďhuge dealĒ that they get a shot at. And, potentially, Gronkowski might not get a chance at that until heís 31. Thatís giving up a lot.

So for the Patriots to potentially have the gameís greatest tight end ever locked up until 2019 -- at what in reality is an eight-year, $55.23 million deal ($6.903 million per year) -- could be a huge, huge win for the Patriots down the road.

Gronkowski is not the highest paid tight end in league history, not if the first two years are included -- which they are. You really shouldn't include an option bonus that may or may not happen. Even if you did include the final four years, you still have to average in the two years at minimum salary under his old contract. Gronkowski is the fifth highest-paid tight end.

For the entire eight years at max value, here's where Gronkowski ranks:

Screen Shot 2012-06-08 at 3.44.48 PM.png

It is important to note that Gronkowski ranks fourth in guaranteed money, which is the most important category of all.

And for the Patriots to finally turn the corner on giving young core players new contracts earlier -- following up on Jerod Mayo -- thatís a terrific step in the right direction. Every negotiation does not need to be adversarial. Logan Mankins should have been done after his second year as well. The Patriots are finally getting it. If you come to a player early, then youíre going to get a lot more bang for you buck by getting more years on the backside. No, they shouldnít do it with every player or position. And Iím a little surprised, given Gronkowsiís injury history (let alone his off-field activities), that they did do his contract early. They must feel very good about his back long-term, and that he'll calm down a little bit when it comes to his extracurricular activities.

Here are the numbers I've been able to come up with so far. They are not the official numbers, but they're reasonably close.

Screen Shot 2012-06-08 at 2.39.47 PM.png

The numbers in yellow are guaranteed. The numbers in purple are those that we're not 100 percent on.

One big question: is the $8 million signing bonus prorated over five years, as most are, or four years? That would alter the prorated bonus for salary cap purposes.

Basically, the deal is two four-year contracts.

The first one: four years at $18.2 million ($8 million signing bonus), guaranteed. ($4.55 million per year).

Second "deal": four years at $36.97 million ($10 million option bonus) which is $9.2425 million average per year.

The first one is moderately fair. It won't look as good if the Saints give Jimmy Graham a bigger deal.

The second part of the contract ... that's where Gronkowski could lose big if he's healthy and playing at a high level. It would set up a showdown with the Patriots. Gronkowski would not want that option picked up. It would be his last chance at a big contract in his prime...and he could be stuck with a deal that he signed four years earlier.

Albert Breer of NFL Network discovered an important tidbit: if the Patriots don't pick up the option on Gronkowski in '16, they can't franchise him. That puts some pressure on the Patriots. Otherwise, they would hold all the cards and this would be a bad deal for Gronkowski.

Gronkowski wins short term but he could be giving up a ton on the backside.

The Patriots pony up a little cash but they could have the game's best tight end ever locked up below market value for eight years. They also showed the locker room that they aren't going to go to contract war with every single player. That won't hurt anything, that's for sure.

Everybody wins ... for now. Who knows, the cap could explode and the Patriots could redo the deal again. They set a precedent by redoing Mayo's deal twice way before it was due to expire.

Because the upfront money was minimal, and the cap hits are team-friendly early on, I don't see this impacting any upcoming negotiations. A deal for Wes Welker would still save the team some $4 million in cap space this season. There's still money for Sebastian Vollmer and Patrick Chung (expiring in 2012), and Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Spikes (2013).

Patriots, Gronkowski agree to six-year extension

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 8, 2012 12:49 PM

The Patriots have locked up tight end Rob Gronkowski for a long time, agreeing to a deal that amounts to eight years with a maximum value of $55.1 million, a league source tells colleague Greg A. Bedard.

That means Gronkowski is signed through the 2019 season -- in theory.

News came this morning that the two sides were working on an extension, and while a source said there was nothing final yet, clearly the deal was close to being done.

Gronkowski still has two years remaining on the four-year contract he signed as a rookie in 2010, and NFL Network's Albert Breer reports that while the tight end won't receive a bump in base salary for 2012 and '13, he will get new money in the form of an $8 million signing bonus now.

We say it's through 2019 in theory because ProFootballTalk reports that in 2016 there's a $10 million option bonus, and the Patriots will have to decide whether or not to pick that up. If they do, Gronkowski's salary in 2018 will be $8 million and in 2019 it will be $9 million.

It looks like the deal is for three years, $13.23 million at a minimum -- about what Brandon Lloyd got from New England -- and if Gronkowski isn't cut after three years, it's $18.23 million over four years.

We'll post more details as they come in.

Patriots, Gronkowski in contract talks

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 8, 2012 08:22 AM
The Patriots are in serious negotiations regarding the contract of tight end Rob Gronkowski, a league source confirms, but nothing is finalized. It is unclear at this time whether the two sides are discussing just a restructuring of the current contract or an extension as well.

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com reported the deal will give Gronkowski a raise and an extension.

A second-round draft pick in 2010, Gronkowski has two years remaining on his four-year rookie deal, which pays him base salaries of $540,000 in 2012 and $575,000 in '13, plus minimal workout bonuses.

He has certainly outplayed those figures - last year, the gregarious Buffalo-area native set new NFL records for his position with 1,327 yards and 18 total touchdowns (17 receiving, one rushing) on 90 receptions.

He suffered a severely sprained ankle in the AFC Championship game against Baltimore, but still played in the Super Bowl, though he was clearly limited. He underwent surgery to repair torn ligaments in the ankle shortly after the season ended and continues to rehab from the procedure.

New England has plenty of salary cap space after the retirement of Matt Light and Tom Brady agreeing to a restructured contract that gave him more up-front money. Gronkowski is one of several young players, including Aaron Hernandez, Patrick Chung and Sebastian Vollmer, whose rookie deal is nearing its completion. Gronkowski, however, is undoubtedly the best of the bunch, and to many has already established himself as the best tight end in the NFL.

Last December, the Pats gave linebacker Jerod Mayo a contract extension, 18 months before his deal was set to expire.

The website ProFootballTalk reported late last night that the two sides had reached an agreement on a re-negotiation of the final two years of Gronkowski's rookie deal.

Chad Ochocinco and others react on Twitter to receiver's release

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 7, 2012 05:20 PM

Former Patriots receiver Chad Ochocinco is trying to remain positive despite the circumstances.

The recently unemployed receiver took to Twitter to comment on his release today from the Patriots.

Thoroughly enjoyed the oppurtunity [sic] to play for the "Patriot" organization... fans were [expletive] wicked awesome, I wish all of you the best...

Also responding to Ochocinco's release was his fiancee Evelyn Lozada. She gave him a little jab in her tweet, though.

Aww baby you got cut @ochocinco I got your back! I'm the bread winner now, which means I make the rules!

Former Patriots defensive lineman Andre Carter took to Twitter as well to lament Ochocinco's release.

great having you as a teammate. God bless you bruh. Best of luck to you and your family.

Meanwhile, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson was already plotting on creating a new tandem in Western New York.

OG @Ochocinco tell ya agent to set that up with The #BillsMafia. Ya Field Swag was Contained a Whole Season. Come TurnUp wit us in BuffCity.

Why did the Ochocinco experiment fail?

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 7, 2012 05:01 PM

FOXBOROUGH Ė So the Chad Ochocinco experiment is officially over after he was informed he will be released by the team after one season, 15 catches and $5.75 million.

Weíve written some on Ochocincoís struggles, and this was something that was on the wall for a while. Wrote this in late February:

The more people I talk to about Ochocinco, the more convinced I am that itís never going to work for him in this offense. It just seems like heíll never get it. But depending on the other moves, he could be back under a restructured contract, then subject to a release. The team and players loved having him around. He was a terrific teammate, just not even close to being effective. So what was the problem with Ochocinco in this offense?

According to multiple sources, he just doesnít have the football I.Q. that he appeared to have while with the Bengals. The Patriots would literally tell him to run a route a certain way, and a minute later he would run it the other way. It happened all the time.

That being said, considering the Patriots paid him $5.75 million for his first season, he deserved the benefit of the doubt. He came in during a lockout and this offense is much different than Cincinnati. Receivers have to make reads before and after the snap, as receivers coach Chad OíShea talked about at the Super Bowl.

ďAt times, there are four decisions that a receiver needs to make after the snap the way our offense is,íí OíShea said. ďThatís one of the advantages of our offense, that we give players a lot of flexibility within the system to take what the defense gives us. And thatís definitely something thatís unique about our offense.Ē

That can be a tough challenge for a player, and it proved to be for Ochocinco. But in fairness, he didnít have an offseason during the lockout and had to deal with it on the fly during training camp. At times, he did show flashes of getting it during the season. So for the Patriots, it was understandable that they would give him another chance after he agreed to take a pay cut to $925,000 for this season. There was no further financial risk in giving him more time to get it. And Ochocinco is still physically talented. Heís in great shape, still has terrific feet, and solid hands.

But when offensive coordinator Bill OíBrien left for Penn State and Josh McDaniels returned, it put Ochocinco further behind. Not only was he catching up on the old stuff, he was trying to learn the new wrinkles. It wasnít working.

The truth is, it was probably never going to work. What the Patriots didnít realize watching Ochocinco on film while with the Bengals was, according to several league sources, he ran the routes he wanted to there and it drove quarterback Carson Palmer nuts -- especially later in his Bengals career. But Palmer was smart enough to realize that no matter where Ochocinco was running, he was probably going to get open because his feet are that good down the field. And after so many reps together, Palmer had a good feel for where Ochocinco would end up.

That can play in the Bengalsí offense, but not with the Patriots. This offense is so precise that if one player is in the wrong spot, it throws off the entire system Ė not to mention it irks Brady, who wants to be in total control at all times on the field.

ďI have to trust in Deion and Wes [Welker] and all those guys out there to be in the right spot so I can play fast and anticipate what theyíre doing,Ē he said. ďIf everyone is not on the same page then it doesnít work. A lot of what these practices are about is everybody getting on the same page. You have a lot of new guys from other teams, rookies. The faster we can get up to speed and get better as unit, the better weíre going to be.Ē

Look, the Ochocinco experiment didnít work. We all know that now. And, yes, it cost the Patriots $5.75 million and two draft picks. But I still think the risk was worth it. The Patriots just miscalculated on Ochocinoís football intelligence.

If thereís any lesson to be learned in the experiment, itís that the Patriots had to do more research on certain players before they acquired them. According to sources, that lesson was learned before this offseason when the Patriots signed several free agents Ė only after doing a ton of investigation into them. The team no longer just relied on game film. They found a rock-solid source that vouched for each player this time around.

So on the field, yes, the Ochocinco move failed. But you learn something in every transaction, whether it works out or not. If the new additions put the team over the top this season, perhaps it wasnít a total loss.

Chad Ochocinco released

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 7, 2012 03:59 PM

Sometimes, where there's smoke there's fire.

A league source confirmed to colleague Greg A. Bedard that the Patriots have released receiver Chad Ochocinco.

Speculation has been building throughout the afternoon that something was afoot with the veteran receiver after he was not present for the team's OTA session; a league source said Ochocinco did report to Gillette on Thursday morning, but then left "in a hurry" a short time later.

ESPN's Adam Schefter, who earlier in the afternoon tweeted that Ochocinco missed Thursday's OTA session to attend an eye doctor's appointment, reported that the Patriots tried to trade Ochocinco, and when they had no takers, decided to release him instead.

The move ends what at first looked to have the makings of a very successful partnership - Ochocinco and coach Bill Belichick. Belichick had long expressed his fondness for Ochocinco as a player, and the two became friends more than a decade ago, when Belichick put the receiver, then Chad Johnson, through a pre-draft workout when he was coming out of Oregon State.

When it became clear after the 2010 season that Ochocinco's time with the Bengals, who drafted him in the second round in 2001, had run its course, he was traded to New England after the lockout ended in the summer of 2011.

The Pats sent a fifth-round pick in 2012 and sixth-round pick next year to Cincinnati to acquire Ochocinco, and though he restructured his contract, he was still paid $5.75 million in salary and bonuses last year.

In return, he struggled mightily with the playbook, and gave the Patriots 15 catches in 15 regular-season games last year.

When teams were able to re-open their weight rooms for the offseason program in March, Ochocinco was a dedicated attendee, but on May 24, the first day reporters were allowed to watch OTA practice, Ochocinco was the only player to run a penalty lap (he jumped offsides), and Deion Branch was spotted waving him into the right spot on the line of scrimmage. So it looked like little had changed.

Now Ochocinco will become a free agent, just 10 months after declaring Foxborough to be "heaven."

Final OTA observations

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 7, 2012 02:28 PM

FOXBOROUGH Ė Here are some observations from todayís practice that was open to the media. It's the final glimpse that we get during organized team activities before next week's three-day mandatory mini-camp closes the book on the offseason.

Before I begin, a few disclaimers.

  • It is VERY, VERY early, so donít go flying off the handle about anything. Things will certainly change in time.
  • Teams only have to have one OTA open to the media for every three practices. We donít know what was done the other two, or whether this was a "letís try a few thingsĒ sessions. Also, the Patriots know the media is watching. They might show some things or hide some things accordingly.
  • The media is limited in what we can report. Specifically, we canít report ďon offensive or defensive strategy. This includes describing formations, personnel groups or non-conventional plays.Ē We also canít report comments made by coaches.

So, with that backdrop, a few intentionally vague thoughts after watching practice:

  • Lot of red zone and two-minute drill work, which is the usual method of operation during installation. There was also some work against cards (diagrammed plays held up for the scout team offense or defense), which indicates the Patriots were preparing for an opponent or two. Again, nothing unusual about that.
  • Thought it was interesting that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels spent some time working one-on-one with QB Ryan Mallett. Appeared they were working on footwork, which has been one of the weaker parts of Mallettís game.
  • First-round pick Dontía Hightower saw his role expand a little bit more in this practice. He had been solely at middle linebacker in previous practice but ventured out to other LB positions during practice. Hightower also appeared to be much more comfortable with what he was doing, so he played a little bit faster. Seems to be rounding into shape.
  • With Rob Gronkowski, Daniel Fells, and Aaron Hernandez out, and Brad Herman and Bo Scaife not able to make it through practice, DE Alex Silvestro was the lone TE for much of practice. Letís just say he doesnít have a future there.
  • The offense was sluggish getting in and out of the huddle and coach Bill Belichick had them run three penalty laps (two the second time).
  • Tom Brady was very sharp during practice. He hit his first six passes and finished 18 of 26 with most of the completions going to Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney and the running backs. There werenít many downfield throws.
  • Brian Hoyer was also sharp, completing 10 of 13 throws. Mallett, after working with McDaniels, was 7 of 10, but twice he was saved with diving catches by Julian Edelman, and his incompletions were way off. Mallett also threw into triple coverage once.
  • Two rookies, Tavon Wilson and Alfonzo Dennard, stood out in the secondary with a few pass breakups each. Seems that the rookies are starting to catch on.
  • Not an overly impressive day from Ras-I Dowling. He just appears to be a little stiff at this point. But, again, heís coming off hip surgery. Will eagerly be waiting to observe him in training camp when he should be at full health and ready to compete for a job. Heís already in sub packages. If Dowling can grab a starting spot, that will allow the Patriots to be more flexible with Devin McCourty. But right now heís rebounding nicely at cornerback.
  • Brandon Lloyd did nice work in the red zone with a couple of touchdowns. He just has terrific body control. Really think the skyís the limit for him in this offense. Of course, not having any TEs around makes Brady look at the WRs more. Those reps certainly canít hurt.
  • WR Britt Davis picked up some reps with Chad Ochocinco not at practice. Davis showed well today with a knack for sideline catches.
  • Will Allen continued to get some reps at safety.
  • Steve Gregory looks like we figured when the Patriots signed him: a jack of all trades in the secondary. He can do a little bit of everything.
  • Like what Iím seeing out of the secondary as a whole. Marquice Cole is quite an athlete. Sterling Moore continues to develop with more reps. Kyle Arrington is still playing well. Things look to be coming together back there.
  • Impossible to really tell much along the two lines. The OTA rules are constricting for those positions. DE Trevor Scott continues to be impressive. Rob Ninkovich isnít doing much standing up, but thatís usually a game plan thing during the regular season.
  • There was also a lot of work on kickoff return. The Patriots used a bunch of different people, but I have to say that I was impressed with Donteí Stallworth. He has some explosion back there. Of course, not one is hitting anybody so itís really tough to draw any conclusions.

Eric Kettani: Military duty 'was an order'

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff June 7, 2012 02:13 PM

060712kettani.jpg

FOXBOROUGH -- When running back Eric Kettani got the call from the Navy telling him he had won his appeal, there was a mixture of surprise and happiness.

After serving two years active duty in the Navy, he landed in the Patriots's training camp last summer and earned a spot on the practice squad, but just as that was coming together he was recalled by the Navy in October.

"It was a decision that the Navy made, and I went back and I did my job and I served my country," he said. "They asked me something and I did it. It was an order."

He went to Newport, RI, then was stationed on a ship in Mayport, Fla., then went overseas for six months to South America and the Caribbean, doing drug interdiction operations and military-to-military operations.

But he held on to the possibility of playing football again.

In arguing the Navy's decision, he had formed what he thought was a bulletproof argument, Patriots coach Bill Belichick vouched for him, and in April he was allowed to return.

"Iíve always had hope," Kettani said. "Things have happened to me for a reason, like anybody else in life."

He said he still has paperwork to process as he transfers into the Quincy reserves where he'll work in public affairs, speaking at area high schools and colleges.

But after having his first run at the NFL cut short, he was excited to be active at OTAs.

"I wake up every day blessed," he said. "Iím excited. Iím blessed to be here and I thank the Navy for giving me the opportunity."

While on active duty, there wasn't much time to even think about football.

"It was kind of tough," he said. "When youíre full-time in the military, you donít have time to pick up a playbook and study it as much as I would like to. Itís a full-time job when youíre in the Navy, working 20 hour days."

Things are different now that he's back in the Patriots locker room. There's a new offensive coordinator and his playbook has some different wrinkles.

He said, "Things have changed a little bit, but Iím doing my best."

Chad Ochocinco misses Patriots practice

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 7, 2012 01:54 PM
When the Patriots gathered on the fields behind Gillette Stadium for Thursday's organized team activity session, Chad Ochocinco was not present.

A league source said the receiver did report for work in the morning, but left later in a hurry.

Now, it could be that he has something personal to tend to, but as noted by several folks on Twitter, the prolific tweeter changed the bio on his page, removing his job description of Patriots receiver.

UPDATE (2:15 p.m.) - Ochocinco has re-updated his Twitter bio, and it once again notes that he plays for the Patriots. So wherever he is or whatever he's doing, he's clearly paying attention to Twitter/the internet.

A different league source told me last week that Ochocinco still has it physically - he's in great shape and very fast - but continues to have problems with the playbook.


Jerod Mayo, now one of the 'old guys,' will try to lead by example

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 7, 2012 01:52 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Now in his fifth season, defensive captain Jerod Mayo is one of the "old guys" on the Patriots defense. As a veteran and anchor on the team's defense, someone who has started 57 of a possible 64 regular season games since he was drafted in 2008, he is expected to lead. The 26-year old linebacker prefers to let his work ethic on the field set an example.

"I try to go in and lead by example," said Mayo after the team's third open OTA session. "This is, what, my fifth year. And I'm one of the old guys on this side of the ball. We have great coaches who pretty much handle all that [teaching]. Coach [Matt] Patricia, Coach [Bill] Belichick, Coach [Pepper] Johnson, all those guys really take control of the classroom and make sure everyone understands."

With 16 newcomers to the team's defense, the buzz on the Patriots is that they're revamping, particularly after a season in which the defense ranked 31st in the NFL. But with so many new faces on the team comes a high learning curve. The team now has 11 linebackers on its roster, four of whom are newcomers. Most notable are free-agent signee Trevor Scott and rookie draft pick Dont'a Hightower. Those two are projected to contribute to the team immediately.

"It's always exciting when we get guys on our side of the ball," Mayo said. "I always love new faces, new talent. It's like different tools you get to work with and those guys are good players.

"There is a learning curve, but those guys are coming in each and every day, worked hard in the classroom and on the field," Mayo said. "Hopefully when the season comes they'll be ready to go."

Mayo said Hightower was particularly adept in the classroom.

"Fortunately, the guys that have come in are football guys," Mayo said. "They know the game. Dont'a came in and wanted to watch some film. We watched film together. He understands everything I'm trying to say. So that's the fortunate thing about that, having guys like that who are true football guys."

As far as OTAs, Mayo has welcomed the workouts, seeing them as an opportunity for the team to get quality repetitions.

"We try to practice just as hard now without pads as we do with pads. Even though we're not actually hitting each other, we're out there going hard. We're out there being safe but at the same time trying to get those looks and making sure everyone is on the same page, especially when people get tired."

Dan Connolly comfortable with competition at center

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff June 7, 2012 01:42 PM

Dan Connolly 06-07-12.jpg

FOXBOROUGH -- When the Patriots signed Dan Connolly to a three-year, $10 million million in March, it appeared to give the 29-year-old lineman some security, but also foreshadowed the end of Dan Koppen's nine-year run in New England.

Then, the Patriots re-signed Koppen.

Last year, Connolly took Koppen's job and ran with it after Koppen broke his leg in the season opener, and even though it feels like the center spot is his to lose, especially after being signing his deal, Connolly said he's treating it like an open competition.

"Of course, it feels good for somebody to want me that much," Connolly said. "But same case every year, Iíve got to still go out and prove myself, Iíve got to compete for a job, nothingís just going to be given to me. Whatever it is, itíll show itself after training camp.

Connolly said the front office never discussed its intentions for Koppen with him, but that he wasn't surprised they decided to bring back one of the mainstays on the line. The relationship between the two off them in OTAs hasn't changed.

Connolly was probably buoyed by the Patriots giving Koppen little guaranteed money on his two-year deal.

"Itís always the same in the locker room," Connolly said. "In the offseason we bring in 20-something guys. Everybodyís competing for five spots. So competitionís not a foreign thing to us. You canít live your life being enemies with guys just because youíre competing for the same job. Weíre all friends and we get along and we know itís part of the business."

Having them both gives the Patriots flexibility. Should guards Brian Waters or Logan Mankins have health issues, Connolly has the experience to play guard while Koppen plays center. Connolly says he's comfortable wherever he ends up on the line.

"Obviously, last year thatís what I played, but in years past I played guard too," he said. "I donít know if I have a preference. Iíve been playing them all and Iíve enjoyed what Iíve played when Iím playing it. So whatever it its, thatís what it is."

Final OTA roll call: No Ocho, Hernandez

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 7, 2012 01:25 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- We'll be back in a little bit with some observations from practice, but here's the rundown on who wasn't participating:

Not present: RG Brian Waters, TE Daniel Fells, DT Myron Pryor, DT Brandon Deaderick, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Chad Ochocinco.

We don't know the reasons why Deaderick, Hernandez and Ochocinco were absent. Shalise Manza Young reports that Ochocino was at Gillette Stadium earlier in the day and then departed. The reason is unknown at this point.

Present and watching: OT Markus Zusevics.

Present and rehabbing: TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Matthew Slater, LB Tracy White, LB Brandon Spikes, RT Sebastian Vollmer, LG Logan Mankins.

Vollmer looked good but his right ankle, which operated on at some point last season, is visibly weaker than his other leg. So he's coming along. Mankins looked terrific. I'm be stunned if he's not ready for the season opener.

Returned after being out last week: WR Jeremy Ebert (school).

Injured during practice: TE Brad Herman (leg), TE Bo Scaife (conditioning).

Herman appeared to suffer a pretty good lower leg injury and had to be carted off. Scaife looked like he was not in proper condition and had to be walked off the field at some point.

Patriots sign Bo Scaife, release three others

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 7, 2012 11:40 AM
The Patriots have announced the signing of free agent tight end Bo Scaife.

The team worked out the six-year tight end two weeks ago. He comes to the Patriots after spending his entire career with the Tennessee Titans. He has 251 career receptions and 2,383 yards receiving as well as 12 career touchdowns.

The Patriots also cut DL Markell Carter, TE Nick Mellilo and OL Jon Opperud.

The team now has six tight ends on the roster, including Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brad Herman, Daniel Fells and Alex Silvestro, who doubles as a defensive lineman.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.

Patriots release Markell Carter

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 7, 2012 07:19 AM

The Patriots have cut second-year DE Markell Carter, according to a league source.

Drafted in 2011 out of Central Arkansas, Carter spent all of last season on the practice squad, gaining muscle and a better knowledge of the playbook. When the Pats drafted him he was looked at as a project, but toward the end of the season, it became known that the team boosted his salary to $350,000 - about what he'd make as a member of the 53-man roster - an indication that it wanted to keep him around.

Apparently, something has changed.

Carter posted the following on his Twitter account early this morning, giving a hint that something was up:

"It was too real Boston. I'll never forget those #BostonLights. When God closes one door he opens a new one. #STAYFOCUSED"

His release does not just impact Carter: at rookie mini-camp last month, he talked about his sister, Keyarrie Hudson, and how she had moved in with him part-time. Hudson suffers from lupus, and being close to Boston meant she'd have access to better specialists.

Carter's release means there is an open spot on the Patriots' 90-man roster.

Patriots continue OTAs with third open session today

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 7, 2012 07:03 AM

The Patriots will continue organized team activities today with another session open to the media in the runup to mini-camp, which will be held next week.

Today's practice session in Foxborough is the third session open to the media, after which several players are expected to be made available for interview, including:

- OL Dan Connolly - Connolly is in competition with Dan Koppen to be the Patriots' starting center.

- WR Jabar Gaffney - Gaffney, who played with the team from 2006 to 2008, is competing for a spot in a crowded position group of wide receivers. The team currently has 11 receivers.

- FB Eric Kettani - Kettani was placed on the reserve/military list in 2009 and has been in the Patriots's fold since. He was on the team's practice squad early last year before returning to active duty and has been granted an early release from the Navy to continue playing football professionally.

- LB Jerod Mayo - The defensive captain will have his first speaking session with the media since OTAs began. He leads a revamped defense that has an influx of 16 new players in camp, including eight linebackers and defensive ends who were drafted or signed through free agency.

- P Zoltan Mesko - The punter's charity event, ZoliOke, which benefits Boston Children's Hospital, is coming up on Saturday. It's a 7 to 10 p.m. event at Royale in Boston.

- DL Gerard Warren - The veteran is once again in a position crunch with 14 defensive lineman currently on the roster. Last year, he was waived after training camp, then re-signed after the Patriots's Week 3 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Practice will begin at about 10:30 a.m. and should last through 12:30 p.m. We'll have updates from Foxborough after the practice session.

@zuriberry

Who will lead the Patriots at RB?

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 6, 2012 04:45 PM

060612stevanridley607.jpg

Stevan Ridley is competing to be the Patriots' lead running back with stiff competition from fellow second-year player Shane Vereen. (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

What remains following the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (181 carries, 667 yards, 11 touchdowns in 2011-12) are question marks surrounding who will be the teamís lead running back. Also gone, yet lurking for a potential comeback, is Kevin Faulk. Who is left? Younglings Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and scat back Danny Woodhead, who are all looking to prove their mettle with more snaps and more exposure. Add into the equation veteran running back Joseph Addai and rookie free agent Brandon Bolden, and the Patriots have a cocktail mix of young, new, and unproven. As Patriots OTAs continue, here's a look at this key group.

Stevan Ridley

Ridley rushed for 441 yards on 87 rush attempts last season, posting an impressive 5.1 yards per carry. He was the teamís second-leading rusher behind Green-Ellis. But he suffered from a bit of fumblitis in the playoffs and was subsequently banished to the bench. He lost a fumble against the Denver Broncos and then didnít record a carry in the AFC Championship or Super Bowl. OTAs give him an oppoprtunity to regain the trust he lost from coach Bill Belichick and take over as the lead back. In two open practice sessions, he has worked as either the first or second-string running back.

Shane Vereen

Vereen, now a second-year pro, appeared in five games last season and recorded carries in two of them. He had trouble staying healthy in the beginning of the year because of a nagging hamstring injury. In one of the two open practice sessions the Patriots have held so far, Vereen was spotted working as the teamís lead running back. He has exceptional speed (4.49 40-yard dash, although he plays faster) and was seen in Thursdayís OTA session showing solid bursts on cuts coming out of the backfield. A healthy Vereen pushes Ridley for the lead back role, and the two of them make the Patriots a much faster team.

Joseph Addai

The veteran of six NFL seasons comes to the Patriots on a 1-year deal, bringing his 4,453 career rushing yards and 191 receptions to the running back committee. Heís versatile and experienced, making him a positive addition considering Green-Ellis departure and Faulkís uncertain status. At 29, with multiple injuries in his career, itís uncertain whether he can compete for a leading role. In open practice sessions, heís been seen working out separate from the team, rehabbing and conditioning. His role will be defined over time.

Danny Woodhead

Woodhead (351 yards rushing, 18 receptions, 157 receiving yards, one touchdown in 2011) is a great change-of-pace back who often throws defenses for a loop with his small frame and change of direction ability. Whatís unfortunate is that from 2010 to 2011 his yards per carry dipped from 5.6 to 4.6. But what he lacks running between the tackles, he makes up for with his receiving skills. In special packages, Woodhead works as a slot receiver that can shift to the backfield in a pinch and catch defenses off guard. He projects as the teamís third down back in passing situations.

Brandon Bolden

A rookie free agent, Bolden is an Ole Miss product from Baton Rouge, La. He finished his college career as the No. 2 scoring running back in his collegeís history (27 rushing touchdowns) with the third most rushing yards (3,681). At 5-11 and 215 pounds, heís competing for a job on the roster with Vereen and Ridley ahead of him on the depth chart. He also is eligible for the practice squad.

Analysis

Donít expect to be bowled over by Belichick with an announcement of who his starting running back will be this fall. Not now. Not after training camp. Not ever. This will be a running back by committee situation and Ridley and Vereen will lead the way, which is why the health of each player will be more important than ever in determining touches. The talented Addai will certainly push for his share of the pie, but with his history of health issues,one has to wonder how vigorously he can compete. Similarly, Vereen is presumably healthy to split time with Ridley. Unsaid in this whole situation is how the number of wide receivers in this offseason (11) will eventually affect the number of running backs that remain with the team.

Projected depth chart:

1. Stevan Ridley
2. Shane Vereen
3. Danny Woodhead
4. Joseph Addai
5. Brandon Bolden (practice squad eligible)

Q&A with former Patriot Joe Andruzzi

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff June 6, 2012 07:00 AM

150andruzzi.jpgFormer Patriots lineman Joe Andruzzi chatted with Boston.com readers today to talk about football and his upcoming charity golf tournament.

The Joe Andruzzi and Friends Golf Tournament benefits Andruzzi's foundation, which provides financial assistance to cancer patients and their families, and funds pediatric brain cancer research through Childrenís Hospital Boston.

See a replay of the chat below.

Chat with former Patriots lineman Joe Andruzzi

Troy Brown feels the love following election to Patriots Hall of Fame

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff June 5, 2012 11:26 AM

A day after getting word that he was voted into the Patriots Hall of Fame as its 19th member, former Patriots wide receiver and utility man Troy Brown expressed his gratitude to a fan base that appreciated his 15 years with the team.

"I realize now how much the fans really did appreciate what I was doing with the organization," said Brown in a conference call with reporters. "I always played hard for my teammates ... I really wanted to go out there and make our fans happy.

Troy Brown through the years

Patriots Hall of Fame members "Thank God for Bill Belichick, Charlie Weis and all those guys who gave me a chance to be a starter."

Brown played with the Patriots in all three of the team's Super Bowl wins. But was also part of other games of lore in Patriots history, including the "Tuck Rule" game against the Oakland Raiders in 2001. He tried to pinpoint the one game he found most special.

"[There were] so many special moments," Brown said. "Maybe the 2006 game against the San Diego Chargers, to be able to get the ball back."

He was referring to the AFC Divisional playoff matchup with the Chargers, a 24-21 win for the Patriots, when he forced a fumble by safety Marlon McCree after a Tom Brady interception.

The play spurred the Patriots on and highlights the kind of player Brown was for the team: A skilled wide receiver, functional fill-in defensive back, and handy return man.

As one of the original Patriots under Robert Kraft's ownership, he's seen the franchise remain a consistent force in the NFL under the Kraft family name.

"Heís built a great model for other teams around the league," Brown said. "They continue to do it year after year and heís done a wonderful job with this organization."

Asked about the other nominees for the Patriots Hall of Fame, particularly Bill Parcells who coached him from 1993 to 1996, and whether they'll make it into the hallowed group of 19, Brown was hopeful.

"I do, and I think he's very deserving of it because you look at where this franchise was before Bill [Parcells] took over," he said. "He's the one that changed the attitude of the Patriots and the fans Ė he changed expectations. Itís going to be a hard climb, so many guys that are going to be coming up from the Super Bowl teams. I think Tedy [Bruschi] is coming up. It's going to be really, really tough for them to get in there. But fans should look at it and think about what he did for franchise in this area."

Troy Brown voted into Patriots Hall of Fame

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff June 4, 2012 05:59 PM

The Patriots announced today that receiver/returner Troy Brown has been voted by fans as the 18th player and 19th member enter the Patriots Hall of Fame.

The induction ceremony will be held outside The Hall at Patriot Place on Sat. Sept. 15, the day before the Patriots 2012 regular season home opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

In April, a 17-person nomination committee comprised of media, alumni, and staff selected three candidates for consideration for the Patriots Hall of Fame. The three finalists were Brown, former free safety Fred Marion (1982-91) and former Head Coach Bill Parcells (1993-96).

ďTroy Brown will always be special to me, as he was my sweetheartís favorite player during his career,Ē said Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft according to a statement released by the team. ďClearly, a lot of Patriots fans shared her sentiment and I am proud that we will honor Troy with his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame this fall.

ďTo me, Troy was the consummate Patriot who always put team goals ahead of personal ones. His height and speed made him a proverbial underdog in a league that always featured taller and faster players. But, his heart and perseverance made him a champion and a fan favorite. The Patriots record books will always show that Troy was one of the greatest receivers and punt returners in franchise history, but Patriots fans know that he was so much more than that. His selfless contributions to the success of the team on offense, defense and special teams made him unique as a player and helped deliver three Super Bowl titles. For 15 years, Troy personified what it meant to be a Patriot, both on and off the field. With his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame, his legacy will be preserved for generations to come.Ē

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick also praised Brown.

ďTroy Brown is the ultimate team player and one of the greatest competitors I have ever had the privilege of coaching,Ē said Belichick. ďOffense, defense, special teams Ė if there was a job to do, Troy embraced it and did it at a championship level. No matter the situation or conditions, Troy raised the bar of excellence and helped create a winning tradition we strive to uphold. The bigger the game, the more Troy stepped up. There is no more deserving player of any accolade that comes his way than Troy Brown.Ē

Brown spent his entire 15-season NFL career with the Patriots (1993-2007) after being drafted by the team in the eighth round (198th overall) of the 1993 NFL Draft. The 5-foot-10-inch, 196-pound receiver, punt returner and defensive back retired as the Patriotsí all-time leading receiver with 557 career receptions and as the teamís all-time leading punt returner with 252 career returns. Brownís significant contributions in all three phases of the game Ė offense, defense and special teams Ė made him one of the most versatile and beloved players in the history of the Patriots franchise.

Brownís career statistics include 192 games played (with 69 starts), 557 receptions for 6,366 yards and 31 touchdowns, 252 punt returns for 2,625 yards and three touchdowns, 87 kickoff returns for 1,862 yards, 30 rushes for 178 yards, 18 defensive tackles (16 solo), three interceptions and five passes defensed. In 15 seasons (1993-2007), he helped the Patriots qualify for the playoffs 10 times, winning eight division titles, five conference championships and three Super Bowls.

Pictures: Troy Brown through the years
Pictures: Members of the Patriots Hall of Fame

NFL to begin process for replacement refs

Posted by Greg A. Bedard June 4, 2012 12:03 PM

If you had problems with officiating in the Celtics-Heat series, it could be worse during the NFL season.

Negotiations between the league and the referees union over a new collective bargaining agreement has reached an impasse and the CBA expired. Basically, the referees are locked out at this point.

As the two sides continue their standoff, the NFL announced that it will "proceed immediately" with hiring and training replacement officials.

Regional training sessions for replacement officials will begin later this month.

"Our goal is to maintain the highest quality of officiating for our teams, players and fans, including proper enforcement of the playing rules and efficient management of our games," the NFL said in a statement.

The NFL Referees Association ripped the NFL's decision to look at "amateur referees."

"It is unfortunate that as referees' responsibilities are expanded that the NFL would jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game by seeking amateur, under-qualified referees to administer professional games," NFLRA lead negotiator Mike Arnold said in a statement.

The two sides had been in federal mediation. That avenue continues to be open if the two sides want it.

The NFLPA, which had its players locked out last summer, has weighed in on the side of the referees.

"The NFL Players Association is concerned about the NFLís decision to lock out professional referees and recruit scabs to serve as referees in NFL games for the 2012 season," the NFLPA statement read. "In 2011, the NFL tasked officials with increased responsibilities in protecting player health and safety, and its search for scabs undermines that important function.

"Professional athletes require professional referees, and we believe in the NFL Referees Associationís trained first responders. The NFLPA will continue to monitor the leagueís actions in this situation."

This is obviously not a good development for the league as a whole. Even with regular referees, the officiating has been inconsistent. That has led for a push toward full-time officials -- they are part-time right now and all have other full-time jobs -- but, as always, that comes down to how much money it's going to cost.

Don't be surprised if this lasts well into the preseason and then both sides finally strike a deal. It would be a PR nightmare for the NFL if it went very long with replacement officials. That's something the NFL Referees Association is probably banking on.

Versatile Edelman discusses 'starting over'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 3, 2012 07:30 AM

There are 10 other wide receivers on the Patriots' roster and Julian Edelman has just 11 receptions over the last two seasons, but as he heads into his fourth season, the former seventh-round pick's versatility might give him a leg up over the others.

The 5-foot-10-inch, 198 pound former Kent State quarterback took 181 snaps on offense and 125 (over seven games in the second half of the season and playoffs) as a defensive back, and also fielded a team-high 28 punts for 296 yards (10.6 average) and 12 kickoffs for 284 yards (23.7 average).

By comparison, fellow receivers Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Jabar Gaffney, and Donte' Stallworth have little to no special teams value at this point, which could sway things in Edelman's favor.

But as his teammates have declared before him this offseason, Edelman said competition only creates better players.

"Thatís part of this business. Every year Iíve been here, thereís been pretty high competition at every position and I think that makes guys better when youíre competing. And if youíre afraid to compete probably you're going to be gone," he said. "So thereís definitely a lot of competition and youíre getting better.

"All I can do is worry about trying to learn the receiver position and whatever they want me to do in any other phase of the game."

Edelman also took a couple of playful swipes at his teammates, saying Tom Brady's acting "has come a long way" since he was in an episode of "Entourage," and that he tells new Patriot Brandon Lloyd often that he's been a fan since he was "a little kid" growing up in Northern California and Lloyd was with the 49ers (for the record, Lloyd was drafted by the Niners in 2003, when Edelman was a junior in high school).

After the Patriots' organized team activity session last week, Edelman said it was exciting to be back on the field with his teammates, "especially with the taste in your mouth you have from last year. Starting over and building from there."

Asked about the differences Josh McDaniels has brought to the offense (McDaniels left New England for Denver in 2009, the year the Patriots drafted Edelman), he said most of it is in the terminology, but acknowledged that it's pretty similar to what he's known for the last few years.

As for any coming cameos with the defense, Edelman said he hasn't been in any defensive meetings to this point. That can always change.

Former Patriot Stephen Neal to be honored with Wrestling Hall induction

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff June 1, 2012 07:35 AM
Stephen Neal, the Patriots' former right guard who retired a little more than a year ago, will be honored this weekend - though not for his play on the football field.

The former wrestling champion is one of four men being inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Oklahoma during ceremonies Friday and Saturday.

Prior to signing with the Patriots in 2001 as an undrafted free agent who hadn't played football in college, the 6-foot-4 Neal was a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Cal-Bakersfield and was a four-time All-American.

In 1999, he won the US Freestyle, Pan-American games and World Championship in his weight class, earning him recognition from the sport's governing body as the best wrestler in the world that year.

Neal played in 86 games with 81 starts for New England.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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