AFC East: New England Patriots

Observations from Patriots camp: Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
2:30
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observations from the New England Patriots third practice of training camp, which was held in full pads and in front of a crowd of 13,819:

Revis Island on full display: The excellence of cornerback Darrelle Revis was the story of practice. Revis had two interceptions and two pass breakups. Both interceptions came when he was covering Julian Edelman, on throws from quarterback Tom Brady. The first pick came in 1-on-1 drills, and the second in 11-on-11 drills.

Counting up the drops: A lot of dropped passes in this practice. An unofficial tally was eight drops -- from receivers Kenbrell Thompkins (2), Danny Amendola (1), Josh Boyce (1) and Brandon LaFell (1), running backs Brandon Bolden (1) and Jonas Gray (1), fullback James Develin (1). Thompkins, in particular, sputtered a bit after a strong first two days.

Heavy focus on the run game: With this being the first practice in full pads, the running game was naturally a big focus. Specifically, we got a close look at the tight ends executing blocks on the edge, as that was a big teaching point. We were impressed by the effort of five-year veteran D.J. Williams, who at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds isn’t built in the mold of a traditional in-line blocker, but who was a willing scrapper. Undrafted rookie Justin Jones, who has some compelling physical traits (6-8, 275) to harness, showed some of what makes him a raw prospect as he was on the ground a few times.

Who’s winning 1-on-1s? Offensive linemen and defensive linemen went 1-on-1 in pass-rush drills and standouts included defensive end Chandler Jones and right guard Dan Connolly. Jones successfully used a strong inside move to beat left tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon. If Jones rushes like that during the regular season, he'll be primed to build off last year's 11.5-sack campaign. The win over Cannon was particularly decisive. ... Connolly held his ground well against defensive tackle Sealver Siliga twice, anchoring well against the big-bodied 325-pounder. ... Defensive end Michael Buchanan caught the eye with a few strong rushes on rookie right tackle Cameron Fleming, one of which he used his long-arm technique to rock him back and penetrate. ... Rookie center Bryan Stork did a nice job holding his ground against rookie L.T. Tuipulotu and second-year tackle Joe Vellano, and now we look forward to seeing more against some more experienced players. ... Rookie right guard Jon Halapio had a tough time overall, with Marcus Forston (twice) and Joe Vellano beating him rather handily, and he was coached up by Dave DeGuglielmo after each unsuccessful rep. ... In perhaps a reflection that players are still adjusting to the transition from retired coach Dante Scarnecchia to DeGuglielmo, there appeared to be some confusion on the second rep of the drill with left guard Logan Mankins unaware of the snap count from DeGuglielmo, which led defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to race by him untouched.

Cleaning out the notebook: Receiver Danny Amendola had the offensive play of the day, a diving one-handed catch on the left side. … First-year safety Kanorris Davis spent quite a bit of time working with assistant special teams coach Joe Judge on gunner-type responsibilities. … Kickoff coverage was the special teams area that was worked on throughout the practice. … Rookie running back James White squirted through the line on one running play (he can be tough to locate behind big blockers at 5-foot-10) and made a few catches when the offense was working on some up-tempo drills. … Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took a lap for the second practice in a row after a fumbled snap. … A diving catch by receiver Julian Edelman fired up the crowd. … Cornerback Logan Ryan, playing more in the slot, showed up multiple times with strong coverage. … Safeties Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung and cornerbacks Ryan, Malcolm Butler and Kyle Arrington notched interceptions. Chung’s interception came after rookie tight end Justin Jones couldn’t corral a pass. ... Tight end Rob Gronkowski, in his first full-pads practice, remained limited. He participated in individual drills but not team drills.

Happy birthday to Danny Nickerson: In a nice moment after practice, the entire team sang “happy birthday” to Danny Nickerson, the 6-year-old from Foxborough who has an inoperable brain tumor and whose story has touched the hearts of many.

Who returned: Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who opened camp on the active/physically unable to perform list, took part in some of the walkthrough parts of practice. He was not in full pads, but his participation confirms that he is no longer on the PUP list.

New absences: First-year cornerback Daxton Swanson of Sam Houston State, who has shown up at times over 16 practices (spring camps plus training camp), didn’t participate after taking part in the first two practices.

Who else didn’t practice: Receiver Aaron Dobson (foot/PUP), special teams captain Matthew Slater (unknown/PUP), linebacker Deontae Skinner (non-football-injury list), offensive tackle Chris Martin (non-football-injury list), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (non-football-injury list), receiver Jeremy Gallon (unknown/PUP), defensive back Jemea Thomas (unknown, only practiced Day 1), receiver Greg Orton (was carted off Day 2).

Notable injuries/health-related incidents: Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins slid on the ground at one point late in the practice, and stood up slowly while attempting to walk it off. He was later stretched out by the athletic training staff. He did participate in practice after that but it didn’t seem anything too serious.

Who’s talking with the media: This was a day in which rookies were made available, with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo drawing the biggest crowd. Running back Shane Vereen and cornerback Brandon Browner were others drawing significant attention. Defensive end Will Smith and receivers Brandon LaFell and Josh Boyce also stopped by the interview area.

Kraft on another title: 'We want it real bad'

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
11:36
AM ET
video New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft appeared on the ESPN "SportsCenter" set this morning in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and spoke with anchor Hannah Storm and analyst Tedy Bruschi about a number of topics.

On the start of training camp. "You feel reborn. ... It's great to see football back."

On the team's upgraded football facilities. "We've invested over $25 million to try to get our facilities top-notch. In this business, if you aren't always pushing -- whether it's in the area of developing software or getting the right free agents or doing all the little things that can help, hopefully, put you in a good position to try to win. It's so hard, as you know.

"I probably speak for every owner in the league that this time of year we're all excited. We think the sky's the limit. We've made our offseason moves. We've had our draft. It's 0-0 wins and losses. So optimistic."

It's going on 10 years now since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl. Does he get impatient? "Absolutely. Especially as the years start creeping up and you realize how delicate everything is. Look at last year: We thought we had a great team and then Vince [Wilfork] goes down in Week 4 and Tommy Kelly in Week 5 and Jerod Mayo in Week 6. So that solid defense … that's the beauty of this game, no one knows what's going to happen.

"We want it real bad. In the end, like everything in life, it is about execution. You have to make it happen, and you also need good fortune not to have injuries and then have the ball bounce right."

On the importance of the NFL putting a team (or teams) in Los Angeles. "I think we've gone almost a generation, almost 20 years I think, without a team in L.A. … It isn't good for the NFL. We have a generation of young people growing up not really branded or tied to a team. I think that kind of passion only comes when you have a team you can root for. I think it's very important. I'd like to see us get two teams in L.A., personally ... then we have the AFC and the NFC."

Kraft talks more about Los Angeles in the video above, saying he would love to see a team come to the city within the next two to three years.

Patriots camp report: Day 1

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
9:30
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A daily review of hot topics coming out of training camp:
  • The team's first practice provided a snapshot of how the team plans to manage tight end Rob Gronkowski as he works his way back from surgery on his torn right ACL on Jan. 9. Gronkowski participated in individual drills, but not in any of the 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills. Gronkowski had a brace over the knee, and is still wearing a protective cover over his previously injured left forearm. He didn't seem reluctant running, cutting and planting, and at the end of practice spent some extra time on the field catching passes from quarterback Tom Brady. At the same time, it's clear that this is going to be a gradual process in bringing Gronkowski along.
  • Receiver Aaron Dobson, the 2013 second-round draft choice who the Patriots hope can provide a downfield thread and size (6-foot-3) on the perimeter, has opened camp on the active/physically unable to perform list after undergoing surgery March 10 for a stress fracture in his left foot. Dobson spent the practice working with strength coaches Harold Nash and Moses Cabrera, at one point doing some pretty aggressive running. This is supposed to be a big year for Dobson after a full year in the system, yet in his absence, second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins stepped in and made a few notable catches. One of them -- a diving grab in the back right-hand corner of the end zone, had quarterback Tom Brady heaping praise on him after the practice.
  • While Dobson is among a small handful of players not yet cleared for practice, it is significant that defensive tackle and captain Vince Wilfork was a full participant as he is coming off a ruptured Achilles on Sept. 29, 2013. Wilfork looks like he might have shed some weight.
  • Quarterback Tom Brady, Mayo and Wilfork drew huge media crowds on a day that NFL.com, the New York Daily News, the New York Post and the Toronto Sun were on hand to cover the team from more of a national perspective. One of the more notable comments came from running backs coach Ivan Fears, who touched on how rookie James White (fourth round, 130th overall) has made a strong first impression. "I like his running style," Fears said, via the Boston Herald. "He runs like a big guy for a little guy (5-10, 205). He plays big. He works hard. Right now, he's doing everything right. It's hard not to be in love with him."
  • By the time players and coaches arrived on the field for the 9:45 a.m. ET practice, the bleachers surrounding the two practice fields were filled. The team announced an official attendance of 7,822. This was an increase from last year, when 6,390 fans showed up in a heavy rainstorm. The Patriots' single-session record for a training camp practice is 12,163, set in 2012.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A few takeaways from Bill Belichick’s morning news conference on the first day of training camp, and a quick practice note:

Revis
Impressed with Darrelle Revis. A reporter from the New York Post asked Belichick to share his thoughts on cornerback Darrelle Revis. “He has worked hard. Smart guy. I’ve been impressed with him. Very professional. Has a good understanding of the game. He’s a smart player. He has a real good focus and instinct. He’s a smart player scheme-wise, but he knows how to play. He’s a very instinctive player. … On a personal level, I never really had a personal relationship with him. So I’ve enjoyed that part of it.”

Reflective entering his 15th season. Belichick was reflective in his opening remarks, thinking back to his first year in 2000 when the team trained at Bryant College and played at the old Foxboro Stadium. In doing so, Belichick noted some capital improvements made at Gillette Stadium this offseason to expand the team’s coaching offices, meeting rooms, training facilities and weight room, crediting owner Robert Kraft for his commitment. “Robert has given us a great opportunity to field a competitive team,” he said. “With some of our new facilities in place, it’s kind of the start of a new year here. We’re excited to get going.”

Historical view of training camp and the game. Belichick had detailed remarks on how the game has changed over the years – from X’s and O’s, to the size of rosters and coaching/athletic training staffs. Specialization was also part of the discussion. For the real football junkies, we’ll circle back and link those remarks when they are transcribed.

All players in the house. No surprise, but Belichick confirmed that every player under contract has reported for camp.

Finch on the field. Rookie running back Roy Finch has been removed from the active/non-football injury list, as he was spotted at the start of practice today.

Expect Gronk to be eased in

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
2:35
PM ET
video

Wednesday’s news that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been cleared by doctors was a significant step, as it means he will not begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

It’s now in the hands of Bill Belichick and the coaching staff to determine how quickly they want to work Gronk into the mix. It’s a football decision rather than a medical one at this point, and that’s good news for Patriots fans.

So when can we expect to see him practicing with his teammates? He’ll likely be out there for Thursday’s first practice, which will be held without pads. The first real question comes Saturday, when the team is scheduled to be in pads for the first time.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Gronk is eased in rather than going full bore from the get go because you are talking about a player who had surgery for a torn ACL less than seven months ago. They’re going to want to bring him along slowly.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's never too early to get into nitty-gritty football talk, and with that in mind, one area that has been pinpointed by players to improve is defending the screen pass -- especially on third down.

The New England Patriots ranked 26th in the NFL on third down last season, with opponents converting 42.2 percent of the time, and screens on third-and-long were a notable part of the problem.

"One of the big things is just getting to the ball. You try to get the linemen to rush up the field, guys are dropping in coverage, so just effort and everything on that simple basis can help improve the screen game," safety Devin McCourty said.

[+] EnlargeDevin McCourty
AP Photo/Jim MahoneyDevin McCourty says the Patriots should pay close attention to screens on third-and-long in order to improve from last season.
The process of hopefully turning things around has been ongoing.

"That started in the spring, trying to develop those things and look at them, just so all the players can be aware of what hurt us last year and what we need to be ready for this year," McCourty said. "Third down is always a key. A lot of times it comes down to your season."

A few more sound bites from McCourty:

If he now considers himself solely a safety: "I still try to look at myself as just a football player. I always feel like you never know what can happen. Being able to play safety and corner has helped me in my career so far, so I don't think I should ever get to the point where I just lose one of them. In the offseason, I'm always doing drills for both so I can be a complete football player."

Training for a few weeks with Darrelle Revis in Arizona before training camp: "A lot of that stuff we did was working on technique, working on your conditioning, being ready for training camp. It's not as much when we're up here going over scheme and all of that. I think it's always good when you work out with your teammates. You just develop a stronger friendship, a stronger bond. It was really good for all of us to be out there [Revis, McCourty, Logan Ryan and Tavon Wilson] because we all got to work hard together and get better as player and doing it together as teammates."

On third-year safety Tavon Wilson: "I'm excited for him. I think sometimes guys get killed from the outside view and they're still putting in the work. That's why I'm excited. Tavon never budged at any second and just got down on himself and stopped working. This offseason in the spring time he's been working incredibly hard just to get out there and play more. Each year guys come in and it's a new year. You have new opportunities, new chances to get out there and play more. He's just one of those guys that have come in here and I think he's put himself in pretty good position to come in here and compete and try to get on the field."

On second-year safety Duron Harmon: "Same thing [with] Tavon, a younger guy who works incredibly hard, too. From the spring time until now going into training camp, he's pushed himself, he's done everything he could do just to be in this position and get himself a chance to be on the field as well. A bunch of guys on this team come back ready because they know if you don't go out there and work hard, there's somebody else on the team that's working hard to get on the field. I love this time of year. It's going to be so competitive at camp each and every day, not just one position, but really every position across the board. Guys want to get out there and play. I'm ready and I think Duron along with Tavon and other guys on the team have pushed themselves to be ready for training camp."

Ninkovich: 'Going to be a better defense'

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
12:00
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Defensive end Rob Ninkovich recognizes that the rest of the NFL knows the New England Patriots should have a better defense this season. But with training camp set to start on Thursday morning, Ninkovich is ready to put the work in with his teammates to accomplish that.

With the signings of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and veteran defensive end Will Smith, the focus has been around the new additions to the defense. Even Ninkovich cannot ignore that having a player like Revis gives the team the ability to shut down any receiver it wants.

Ninkovich
While the Patriots added key players this offseason, they also lost a significant number of players to injury in 2013, especially along the defensive line. Ninkovich is looking forward to having his teammates healthy around him to start training camp.

“Last year it was tough when we lost [Jerod] Mayo and Vince [Wilfork] and Tommy [Kelly],” Ninkovich said. “Having those guys next to you definitely gives you more confidence.”

The injuries hurt the depth of the line, which contributed to Ninkovich playing more than 90 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Only teammate Chandler Jones took more defensive snaps among all defensive linemen in the NFL last season. Ninkovich has nine years of experience, but he is still feeling young after a long 2013 season.

“Whatever it is, I’m going to be out there,” Ninkovich said of his playing time. “If it’s 90, 100, if it’s 80, I’m going to be out there playing just as hard.”

The Patriots will need Ninkovich as the team looks to improve on third down and get off of the field. After ranking 26th in the NFL in defensive third-down conversions last season, Ninkovich emphasized working together in coverage and the rush, especially in third-and-long situations.

As a returning veteran, Ninkovich knows what to expect at camp after going through the hard days.

“This is where you kind of set the tone for the season,” Ninkovich said. "I think that the NFL knows we’re going to be a better defense. But we have to put the work in."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since offensive lineman Logan Mankins arrived at Gillette Stadium for the first time, the New England Patriots’ top draft choice in 2005 having grown up on a cattle ranch and buying his first business suit for the occasion.

Mankins
The fit, all around, has been a good one. Now the question is how much longer the 32-year-old plans to stay in the football business.

“That’s a good question. It depends on health, I think, and if they want to keep me around here still,” Mankins said Wednesday morning. “I just want to play until I think I don’t feel good. If I can’t do it, I don’t think I’ll keep going once I don’t think I’m playing the way I want to.”

Mankins, a perennial Pro Bowler, obviously hasn’t reached that point.

“I feel great right now,” he said, before considering the grind of training camp ahead: “I’m sure in a few days, I’ll feel like crap.”

A couple of soundbites from Mankins:

On new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo: “It’s been great. Googe is a good guy, a hard-working guy, he’s very loud and he gets his point across well. He’s funny. Once the pads come on, we’ll really see how he wants things done and the way he coaches. We haven’t experienced him in a game situation yet. We’re still getting to know him, he’s still getting to know us, and that’s what all these practices are for.”

Despite continuity, no guarantees on the offensive line: “We do have a lot of veterans returning. We have some new young guys that are fitting in nicely so far. It’s always good to know the guys you’re with that you can trust them. This is the time of year you’ve got to go out and prove it. You’ve got to earn your job. That’s what training camp is for.”
When the New England Patriots waived rookie receivers Jeremy Johnson and Reese Wiggins on Thursday, it left the club with just nine players at the position. That's a bit light for training camp and preseason games, which is why more additions were expected.

One of them will be Tyler McDonald, according to his agent.

The Patriots and McDonald, who played at South Carolina State, have been linked since May. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, McDonald is a taller receiver who totaled 159 catches for 2,389 yards and 17 touchdowns over his college career.

Meanwhile, Maine receiver Derrick Johnson, who was with the team for a few weeks in May, will also be re-signed, according to a source. News of Johnson's return was first tweeted by Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.

As Mike Lowe of the Portland Press Herald in Maine reported in June, Johnson was a candidate to return to the Patriots after he recovered from a sprained knee.

The Patriots are well-stocked at receiver, and if McDonald and Derrick Johnson ultimately stick with the team, the practice squad is the most likely spot.

With the additions of McDonald and Johnson, the Patriots will have 89 players on their 90-man roster.
Examining the New England Patriots' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

Tom Brady
Ryan Mallett
Jimmy Garoppolo

The last time the Patriots kept three quarterbacks was in 2011, Mallett's rookie year. With Mallett entering the final year of his contract and likely to be playing elsewhere in 2015, the Patriots can groom his replacement, Garoppolo, one year early.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Stevan Ridley
Shane Vereen
James White
Brandon Bolden

As has been the case in recent years, the Patriots split their backs into two categories: 1) More traditional early-down backs who have size and run with power (Ridley/Bolden); 2) Passing backs whose work as pass-protectors and as pass-catchers thrusts them into a starter-like role (Vereen/White) based on the spread formations the club often employs. We'll see if rookie and first-year backs Stephen Houston (category 1), Roy Finch (2) and Jonas Gray (1) can do enough to make this a tough decision.

FULLBACKS (1)

James Develin

The hard-nosed former Brown Bear has carved out a niche as a lead-blocker and special-teams presence, adding a needed element of toughness to the attack. He's also been expanding his duties to include some tight-end work in spring practices.

TIGHT ENDS (2)

Rob Gronkowski
Michael Hoomanawanui

This is a bit lighter than the norm, and perhaps fifth-year veteran D.J. Williams (2010 Mackey Award winner) steps up as the "move" tight end or the team signs a free-agent like Dustin Keller. But in this scenario, with the club keeping an extra quarterback and possibly going a bit heavier on the offensive line than they have in the past, something has to give. Develin and a young offensive lineman would factor more into the tight end mix if this is the way it unfolds.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Aaron Dobson
Julian Edelman
Danny Amendola
Kenbrell Thompkins
Brandon LaFell
Josh Boyce

This is a huge year for second-year pass-catchers Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce -- making it one of the top storylines for the club entering training camp. And will Amendola stay healthy and become the player the club envisioned when signing him to a big deal in the 2013 offseason?

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

LT Nate Solder
LG Logan Mankins
C Bryan Stork
LT/RT/RG Marcus Cannon
RT Sebastian Vollmer
LG Josh Kline
RG Jon Halapio
RT Cameron Fleming
C Ryan Wendell

After the initial locks (Solder, Mankins, Vollmer, Cannon), there will be a good competition for roster spots with rookies (Stork, Halapio, Fleming) and first-year players (Braxston Cave, Chris Barker) pressing the issue. Starting right guard Dan Connolly, who has played plenty of good football for the Patriots, is scheduled to earn $3 million in base salary and economics could play a factor if he ultimately sticks.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

DT Vince Wilfork
DT Tommy Kelly
DT Dominique Easley
DT Chris Jones
DT Sealver Siliga
DE Chandler Jones
DE Rob Ninkovich
DE Will Smith
DE Michael Buchanan
DE Zach Moore

There is a nice mix of experience, production and young upside at both spots. Of the group above, Wilfork (Achilles), Kelly (ACL), Easley (ACL) and Smith (ACL) are all coming off serious injuries, so monitoring their health will be a key.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Jerod Mayo
Dont'a Hightower
Jamie Collins
Chris White
James Anderson
Steve Beauharnais

Some good battles for the backup spots will be a nitty-gritty storyline to monitor in training camp as the starters are set with Mayo, Hightower and Collins. Special teams are always a significant consideration in that area and White, Anderson and Beauharnais will be challenged by the likes of veteran Josh Hull, first-year player Ja'Gared Davis, second-year player Darius Fleming and undrafted free agent Cameron Gordon, among others.

CORNERBACKS (5*)

Darrelle Revis
Brandon Browner*
Kyle Arrington (slot)
Alfonzo Dennard
Logan Ryan

Because Browner is suspended for the first four regular-season games, he won't count against the initial 53-man roster limit. But he is included here because he is obviously a significant part of the team's overall planning for the 2014 season.

SAFETY (4)

Devin McCourty
Duron Harmon
Nate Ebner
Jemea Thomas

Veteran Patrick Chung and 2012 second-round pick Tavon Wilson would be the odd men out in this scenario, which assumes that Thomas -- the versatile sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech -- shows potential to grow into a role that includes a heavy emphasis in the kicking game. Logan Ryan, one of the team's smartest players who possibly has some cornerback/safety versatility, could ultimately be a factor here.

SPECIALISTS (4)

K Stephen Gostkowski
P Ryan Allen
LS Danny Aiken
ST Matthew Slater

The one position battle to watch is at long-snapper, where undrafted free agent Tyler Ott of Harvard is challenging Aiken, the incumbent. If the competition is close, Ott would get the nod based on economics. (His salary is cheaper and the team controls his rights for three years while Aiken is on a one-year deal.)

Camp preview: New England Patriots

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
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NFL Nation's Mike Reiss examines the three biggest issues facing the New England Patriots heading into training camp.

Rob Gronkowski's progress: The fifth-year tight end has said multiple times in the offseason that there have been no setbacks in his recovery from a torn ACL, which puts him in position to be ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 7 in Miami. This will be similar to 2010 training camp, when all eyes were on receiver Wes Welker and how soon he returned to the practice field after tearing his ACL late in the previous season. Does Gronkowski start training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list? Or is he a full participant from the get-go? Potential No. 1 receiver Aaron Dobson, who underwent surgery on a stress fracture in his left foot in early March, falls into a similar category. The health and availability of Gronkowski and Dobson connect to one of the more relevant questions for the team: Are there enough high-quality weapons for quarterback Tom Brady?

Health report along the defensive line: If the Patriots’ plans come to fruition, they will have a better pass rush in 2014, in part because they are deeper and more talented along the defensive line. But some of the players they figure to count on are coming off significant injuries -- end Will Smith (torn ACL) and tackles Vince Wilfork (ruptured Achilles), Tommy Kelly (torn ACL), and Dominique Easley (torn ACL). All made notable process through rehabilitation and spring practices. The next question to answer for them: How do things hold up once the pads go on? Because there is an element of unknown in this area, and Armond Armstead was ultimately forced to retire, the Patriots made a competitive offer to sign veteran Kevin Williams before Williams elected to sign with the Seahawks instead.

Development of young OL talent under new coach Dave DeGuglielmo: There is a significant transition on the coaching staff as DeGuglielmo steps in for retired and widely respected offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who had a knack for developing young talent. Coincidentally, the Patriots selected three offensive linemen in the draft: center Bryan Stork (fourth round, 105th overall), right tackle Cameron Fleming (fourth round, 140th overall) and right guard Jon Halapio (sixth round, 179th overall). Each rookie should make the roster, so the question is how fast they might get up to speed to challenge for starting jobs, particularly at center and right guard. The Patriots have starting roles locked in at left tackle (Nate Solder), left guard (Logan Mankins) and right tackle (Sebastian Vollmer), and the competition at the other two spots bears watching, as does the transition from Scarnecchia to DeGuglielmo.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady called in to ESPN's "Mike & Mike" radio program on Wednesday to support The V Foundation. Audio of the interview is now posted on ESPN.com.

"It's a fight we've all been involved in, and what The V Foundation has done over the years -- the motto was always 'Don't give up, don't ever give up.' That's a great lesson for all of us," Brady said on the program. "Coach [Jim] Valvano was a legendary coach, a great commentator. I don't think anyone who has watched ESPN over the years has not seen the clip of him saying that at the ESPYS. He was a special person and it's great that we can create awareness to hopefully continue to find donations and more money that goes to research to hopefully put an end to this once and for all."

A few other sound bites from Brady:

Derek Jeter in MLB All-Star Game. "To watch that send-off last night was really pretty special."

Would he groove Jeter a pitch if he was on the mound? "Absolutely not ..."

Gearing up for training camp. "I'm really excited for it. I think this is a great time of year for me and for my other teammates to see where we're at; we're going to get to this camp and figure out where our conditioning is at and how prepared we are to start playing. The games happen pretty quickly. It's one step in a long journey over the course of the season that you have to take. There is no skipping it. There is no shortcuts. Now it's time to get back to work."

Talking with Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg. "One Notre Dame guy and one Jet fan. On a day like this, it's still OK."
(Editor's note: With Mike Reiss on vacation, he filed a "status check" on the Patriots' seven draft picks from 2013 -- plus four -- to run in place of the regular quick-hit thoughts feature.)

LB Jamie Collins (2nd round, 52nd overall) -- After being brought along slowly in the 2013 regular season, playing 25.8 percent of the defensive snaps, he's now in position to become a rare three-down player in the team's system. Expectations have been raised after his breakout playoff performance against the Colts, and he has star potential. But as Bill Parcells might say, "Let's not get the bust ready in Canton just yet."

[+] EnlargeLogan Ryan
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesLogan Ryan seems to be carrying over his impressive rookie performance in 2013 to offseason workouts.
WR Aaron Dobson (2nd round, 59th overall) -- He underwent surgery on his left foot for a stress fracture in early March and, as expected, missed all practices in the spring. It would be a surprise and disappointment if he's not ready for the start of training camp, as he's the type of outside receiver (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) who can help balance out the attack playing alongside Julian Edelman (5-11, 198) and Danny Amendola (5-11, 195) in the three-receiver package. It will be interesting to compare and contrast his Year 2 jump with Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton, who was a player we liked for the Patriots coming out of last year's draft.

CB Logan Ryan (3rd round, 83rd overall) -- Praised for his smarts by veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis, Ryan took mostly second-team reps in spring camps behind Revis and free-agent signing Brandon Browner. His ball skills produced a team-leading five interceptions last season and he'd probably be the starter opposite Revis if the season started today and Browner was serving his four-game suspension.

S Duron Harmon (3rd round, 91st overall) -- After playing 36.9 percent of the defensive snaps in his rookie season, he's the leading candidate to assume more of a full-time role at safety next to Devin McCourty. He started two of the biggest games last season -- at Carolina and home against Denver -- and the game didn't seem too big for him. He's a heady player with a good understanding of the scheme who hopes to improve his consistency when it comes to tackling.

WR Josh Boyce (4th round, 102nd overall) -- The speedster who had entered the draft after his junior season projects as a top kickoff returner and had built momentum in spring camps as a receiver (likely No. 4-5 option) prior to tweaking his knee on June 18 and being held out of the team's final practice. The status of his injury and availability for the first day of training camp warrants a follow-up.

DE Michael Buchanan (7th round, 226th overall) -- After opening last season as the team's nickel rusher and struggling to maintain discipline in his rush lanes at times, Buchanan hopes to prove he is worthy of the role again in his second season. It will be easier to prove that in full-pad practices in training camp, but at the least, Buchanan has a good chance to stick because of his contributions on special teams. Most importantly for him, he was a full participant in all 13 spring practices and has seemingly built as much momentum as possible.

LB Steve Beauharnais (7th round, 235th overall) -- Described as a film junkie by teammate Dont'a Hightower, Beauharnais has been seen leading the defensive huddle when starter Jerod Mayo heads to the sideline in practice. He played in just two games last season and remains a bit of an unknown in the team's competitive battle for backup linebacker roster spots.

[+] EnlargeKenbrell Thompkins
AP Photo/Michael DwyerThe Patriots have a lot of wide receiver options, but Kenbrell Thompkins is as viable a candidate as any.
G Josh Kline (undrafted) -- One thing that caught the eye in spring practices was Kline stepping in for starter Logan Mankins at left guard, which seemed to reflect how he's viewed by the coaching staff. He came up big in the late-season win over the Ravens that clinched the AFC East title and could be in position to elevate to a top backup role.

WR Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted) -- He was one of the team's more consistent receivers in spring camps, generating momentum heading into training camp as a potential complement to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in the three-receiver set. One thing that stands out is how he competes for the ball in 50-50 type situations. Some have wondered if he might be the odd-man-out on a pretty deep receiver depth chart, but it's hard to imagine that happening.

P Ryan Allen (undrafted) -- After winning the job last year, he doesn't have a punter challenging him in camp. One area of potential improvement is control, as his 12 touchbacks were a league-high.

DT Joe Vellano (undrafted) -- The type of hard-working player who fits any team, he was thrust into a top role at times last season because of injuries to others and competed his tail off. With increased competition this year, he could be challenged to stick on the roster.
Adam VinatieriAP Photo/Michael Dwyer
Score: Patriots 16, Raiders 13 (OT)
Date: Jan. 19, 2002 Site: Foxboro Stadium

The voting is complete for the top play in Patriots history, and I'm in agreement with the majority. My vote is also for Adam Vinatieri's "Snow Bowl" kick.

Here are a few thoughts from this viewpoint:

I kept coming back to the 2001 season throughout the process of this "top play/memorable moment" project and felt that my choice would come from that year because of what it meant to the franchise.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Patriots' history?

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    43%
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    46%
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    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 47,087)

Would it be Drew Bledsoe getting knocked out by Mo Lewis, opening the door for Tom Brady? Adam Vinatieri's "Snow Bowl" kick? The tuck rule play in which Patriots followers will always thank referee Walt Coleman for his knowledge of the rule book? Vinatieri's game-winning kick in Super Bowl XXXVI? Ty Law's interception return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl?

I even considered the Patriots coming out for Super Bowl XXXVI as a team, passing on individual introductions, as a possible "top play/memorable moment" because it was such a powerful statement and captured a big part of the franchise's unexpected run to its first title.

There are many other top plays from other years -- a personal favorite was the record-setting long touchdown pass from Brady to Randy Moss in the 2007 regular-season finale to cap an undefeated regular season -- but '01 trumped them all to me.

Vinatieri's kick just might be the best, most clutch, toughest field goal in the history of this great game.

Patriots' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
PM ET
When projecting the success of the New England Patriots over the next three years, which ties into ESPN Insider’s Future Power Rankings, it brings us back to the hot-button issue that set off some fireworks when the club used a late second-round draft pick (No. 62) to select quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo:

Brady
How many more years will Tom Brady still be playing at a high level?

Brady turns 37 on Aug. 3 and wants to play into his 40s. The Patriots hope that is the case, but as evidenced by the selection of Garoppolo, they are also planning for the possibility it isn’t. That’s smart business.

At the same time, we'll follow up with another question: Anyone here willing to bet against Brady?

This reporter isn’t. Those who watched all or some of the Patriots’ 13 spring practices would be hard-pressed to say anything looked different with Brady, whose arm strength still looks to be top-notch. He keeps himself in tiptop shape and still carries a sixth-round-draft-pick chip on his shoulder.

As long as Brady is still playing at a high level over the next three years, the Patriots have the often-elusive piece to make them a contender.

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