AFC East: Aaron Hernandez

ORLANDO, Fla. -- One of the questions that seems to surface weekly from followers is when there might be a resolution in the New England Patriots' pursuit of salary-cap relief with tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Hernandez
The team has a $7.5 million dead charge on its cap for Hernandez, and could recover about $3.25 million of it.

The question is "when?" and when Bill Belichick was asked Tuesday morning, this was his answer:

“We went through a similar thing with the [Jonathan] Fanene situation a year ago, and there are rules in place as to how those situations get handled from a timing standpoint. It’s not random. There is a schedule and how things get reconciled. Whatever the process is, that’s what it is. It’s not a random process. It’s reviewed, it’s scheduled, and if there is a credit, there’s a process for how it’s credited. If it isn’t, there is a process in how it’s accounted for. So we’ll comply with the league’s salary-cap rules, just like we always do and whatever they are, they are. And whatever the results are, they are.”


From a timing standpoint, Fanene was released by the Patriots in August of 2012, and the grievance wasn't settled until September of 2013.

With the final installment of Hernandez's signing bonus having been due in March of 2014, if that process mirrors Fanene from a time perspective, it could be as long as another year before we learn of the result.

Snapshot look at Pats' salary cap

January, 23, 2014
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As the offseason begins, one of the questions many ask is how the Patriots are doing from a salary-cap standpoint.

Salary-cap assessments can be a little tricky because of the fluidity of cap space: Signing or extending a player can decrease cap space, while releasing or restructuring a deal can increase it.

But one number we can hammer home on the cap space is $4.1 million, which is how much space the Patriots will be rolling over from this year's cap to next year's. That's to say that $4.1 million of unspent money this year will be available for the Patriots to use next year on top of the salary cap.

Right now, many NFL teams are using $123 million as a conservative projected cap figure for 2014, as that is on the low end of what is realistic for it to actually be (some project it could be closer to $128 million).

If the cap were to, hypothetically, be set at $126 million, the Patriots would have a $130.1 million allowance due to their rollover space.

Now, as things currently stand, the Patriots have $128.2 million committed to their salary cap next year, which may make one say that they're in poor cap space. That's not exactly the case, as the team can easily create space with moves in the form of a release. Defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, due $3.5 million for next season, is an example of a potential cap casualty.

Also, one of the big issues of the offseason will be if the Patriots receive significant relief on the cap as it relates to Aaron Hernandez.

So for now, the answer to the question that we led off this post with is: Wait and see.

New England Patriots season wrap-up

January, 22, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 4
Preseason power ranking: 6

Biggest surprise: How about a murder charge to a tight end who had previously been thought of as a centerpiece of the team? Aaron Hernandez's murder charge threatened to sink the Patriots' season before it even started, but in a credit to Bill Belichick, his staff and the players, it was hardly a distraction as they once again advanced to the AFC Championship Game. There were no on-field surprises that could come close to topping that.

.Biggest disappointment: Rob Gronkowski's knee injury Dec. 8. This falls into the wider-ranging category of “season-ending injuries to top players” and the Patriots had their fair share early in the season -- defensive tackles Vince Wilfork (Sept. 29) and Tommy Kelly (Oct. 6), linebacker Jerod Mayo (Oct. 13), and starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (Oct. 27). But Gronkowski’s felt like a season-changer in some respects, deflating some of the optimism that had been built up at that point because the offense looked markedly different with him back on the field.

Biggest need: Re-signing cornerback Aqib Talib. The four-game stretch of football he played from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 was as impressive as we’ve seen from a Patriots cornerback in recent memory, the highlight coming when he was matched up against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and held him without a catch before leaving in the third quarter with injury. The 2013 season showed how the Patriots’ defense is different with a healthy No. 1 matchup option like Talib, with the final piece of evidence coming in the AFC Championship Game when he left with a knee injury in the second quarter.

Team MVP: It has to be quarterback Tom Brady, with Talib, receiver Julian Edelman and kicker Stephen Gostkowski the other strong candidates. This was a “do more with less” type season for Brady, similar to 2006, and he willed the offense to productive results despite almost a complete overhaul. He’s the consummate leader, almost like another coach, and the Patriots don’t advance to the conference championship without him.

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Facing arguably the greatest challenge of his 14-year NFL career, stripped of his go-to receiver Wes Welker and then some, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady arrived at training camp hoping to do more.

Never before has the team had such a youthful look at the position, where there have been more struggles than successes in drafting and developing talent. The Patriots opened training camp with 12 receivers on the roster, six of whom are rookies.

Three of those young pups -- second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson, fourth-rounder Josh Boyce and free-agent Kenbrell Thompkins -- have taken more repetitions with Brady through the first three days of training camp than most could have imagined. One reason the results have looked fairly sharp is the extra work that was put in thanks to Brady's early arrival (rookies reported the day before Brady).

It is almost as if Brady is more than just the team's quarterback now; he's part coach, too. Unlike his record-breaking 2007 season, when there was an immediate connection with veterans Randy Moss, Welker and Jabar Gaffney, there is a certain teacher-student dynamic in play now. Brady, a stickler for detail, can be tough to please.

"He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game, so he’s definitely demanding,” said the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Dobson, a smooth-strider from Marshall who the Patriots hope will fill the outside role that Chad Johnson (2011) and Brandon Lloyd (2012) filled the past two years. “[He’s] definitely tough to play for.”

Some used to say the same thing about Miami Dolphins great Dan Marino, and there is a connection in play between Marino and what Brady currently faces. Because Marino had played for so long in Miami (1983 to '99), the offense grew so much each season that it was difficult in Marino’s later years for any young or new receiver to handle. So when go-to receivers Mark Clayton and Mark Duper were no longer in the mix -- they had grown with Marino in the offense -- it was a challenge to find anyone capable of stepping in.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has acknowledged that’s a similar dynamic to what his team is currently navigating. This is Brady’s 14th year in the Patriots’ offense, which has evolved in many layers since his first year in 2000, and there is a lot there for any receiver to handle, let alone a rookie.

That is a big reason why the Patriots were drawn to Dobson and Boyce in the draft, and why Thompkins -- an older rookie at 25 who went undrafted after two years at Cincinnati -- has been an under-the-radar surprise to this point. All have a high football IQ. And so does free-agent signee Danny Amendola, who has developed a quick rapport with Brady that stands out.

Still, the Patriots might have to “trim the fat” in some areas of the playbook, according to Belichick. There will also be times when patience will be tested.

But watching Brady through the first three days of camp, part of it seems to have invigorated him. Those close to him say he is more committed than ever before; he turns 36 on Aug. 3, craves another Super Bowl championship, and knows that if all the receiver changes are going to produce the desired results -- especially with the rookies -- it is going to take extra work.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Distractions from tight end Aaron Hernandez.

In an unprecedented move, Belichick called a news conference two days before the team’s training camp practice to address Hernandez’s murder charge and its impact on the franchise. Then Brady spoke to reporters the following day. The goal was to balance the fine line between showing empathy and perspective to something bigger than football, but also position the club to move forward.

Because of that proactive approach, Hernandez wasn’t much of a topic of discussion from a media perspective by the second day of training camp. But will that change as new developments come to light in the case against Hernandez?

As one would expect, Belichick addressed players about the situation in a team meeting at the start of camp.

“He had comments, but that’s between him and the team. If he wants to share it, that’s fine,” said offensive lineman Logan Mankins, one of the team’s captains. (No surprise, but Belichick hasn’t been in the sharing mood.)

Mankins, the third-longest tenured player on the team (nine years) after Brady (14) and Wilfork (10), touched on how players are attempting to move on.

“At the time, you kind of reflect, but now it’s football season and everything goes in a drawer; no matter how you feel about it, it’s put away,” he said. “It’s football, it’s straightforward, and that’s all you can concentrate on or you’ll fall behind. Bill puts so much pressure on everyone and demands so much work and focus that if you’re not just focusing on football, then you’re in trouble.”

2. Void at top of tight end depth chart.

By the time the Patriots had blazed a trail through the NFL in 2011 with their innovative two-tight end offense, Rob Gronkowski had played almost 95 percent of the offensive snaps and Hernandez about 77 percent. The results were impressive, and others around the league considered plans to attempt to duplicate it.

That’s also when the Patriots extended the contracts of both players -- Gronkowski through 2019 and Hernandez 2018 -- with the idea of building their offense around them (over Welker).

The plans obviously haven’t worked out as desired, and if Gronkowski isn’t ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 8 at Buffalo after a surgery-filled offseason, it sparks the questions: Who fills the void, and how does it impact plans to play with multiple tight ends?

[+] EnlargeJake Ballard
AP Photo/Charles KrupaThe Patriots may lean heavily on former New York Giants TE Jake Ballard early in the season as Rob Gronkowski rehabs from injury.
Former New York Giant Jake Ballard (6-6, 260) and returning veterans Daniel Fells (6-4, 260) and Michael Hoomanawanui (6-4, 260) are the top candidates, while rookie free agent Zach Sudfeld (6-7, 260) is a potential sleeper.

“I don’t want to say this is Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig, but that’s the classic story … it’s there if they can do it,” Belichick said.

Still, it would be a surprise if the Patriots run as many multiple-tight end sets as they did in 2011. The numbers were down to about 50 percent last year when Gronkowski and Hernandez missed significant time with injuries.

3. Tim Tebow’s role.

On a scale of 1-10 in terms of importance to the team’s success, No. 3 quarterback Tim Tebow is closer to the “1” than the “10.” Yet there is intrigue.

Tebow hasn’t been consistent as a drop-back passer in practices and appears to be at his best on the move or as a runner. That explains why he has been the only quarterback in the drill in which ball carriers run with the football in a confined space after making a catch, and then the defenders execute proper tackling technique.

Do the Patriots see enough value in him, possibly as a scout-team quarterback, to reserve a coveted spot on the 53-man roster? That’s a hot-button topic that has generated passionate response from both circles.

“He’s a good guy first, a super-nice guy and a good guy to talk to,” Mankins said of Tebow. “He works his butt off, so we’ll see if he can find a role.”

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Since Brady is the quarterback, Belichick is the coach, and the team is playing in the AFC East, what’s not to like? And we’ve made it to this point with nary a mention of the team’s defense, which should be improved when factoring in that 10 of 11 starters return and the addition of a few complementary pieces, such as veteran safety Adrian Wilson, who brings size (6-3, 230) and an intimidating presence.

Last year, the Patriots traded up in the first round for defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and they could be difference-makers. Jones was hobbled by an ankle injury for most of the second half of last year and said one of his primary goals this offseason was to improve his upper-body strength. Hightower played 51 percent of the defensive snaps in 2012 but looks primed to possibly become more of a three-down option this year.

Furthermore, cornerback Aqib Talib had a significant impact -- both on the field and in the meeting room -- after he was acquired in November. Having him for a full year, in theory, should help the defense improve.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

There has been too much turbulence this offseason, including starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard’s arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence. Dennard is due in court in Lincoln, Neb., on Aug. 27 to determine if he violated his probation and could potentially face an NFL suspension.

Uncertainty with Dennard, the unknown in the passing game, Gronkowski’s health questions, and layers of the roster that appear thin on depth (interior DL) mean that the margin for error the Patriots traditionally have doesn’t seem as big as before.
Finally, the departed Welker was known for his consistency and durability. The Patriots are hoping Amendola can fill the void -- and the early returns are positive -- but there are questions about whether he can play a full 16-game season based on his injury history.

OBSERVATION DECK

• The Patriots’ coaching staff returns intact from 2012, marking only the second time in Belichick’s 14-year tenure that has happened. Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who joined the Patriots in January, has the title of “offensive assistant.” At times in practice, he’s worked closely with Tebow.

Devin McCourty, the 2010 first-round draft choice who made the Pro Bowl as a cornerback in his first season, appears to be settling into the safety position nicely. McCourty first moved to safety in the middle of last season, and his command of the defense, along with strong communication and sideline-to-sideline skills, make him a solid fit at the new position.

• Teammates call Wilson “The Incredible Hulk” because of his chiseled physique. Wilson and fellow veteran Steve Gregory are the top candidates vying for a starting role next to McCourty at safety.

[+] EnlargeTommy Kelly
Mike Reiss/ESPNDT Tommy Kelly should add some punch to the middle of the Patriots' defense, forming a strong 1-2 duo with Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork.
• Former Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Tommy Kelly (6-6, 310) projects as a starter next to Vince Wilfork; defensive end Rob Ninkovich called Kelly an under-the-radar player who is making a mark. Mankins said: “He’s been impressive so far, very athletic for his size. He’s quick for an inside guy. I like his work ethic. He’s been giving great effort, and if he gives us that kind of effort all season, I think he’ll have a good season.”

• Running back Stevan Ridley lost two fumbles in the team’s third practice, with Belichick sending him to run two punishment laps. Ridley led all Patriots running backs in playing 45 percent of the snaps last season, and the projection is that he should match that number this year. But if he struggles to hold on to the ball, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount and second-year man Brandon Bolden are the top candidates to step in to that bigger back role. Blount was 2-for-2 in a goal-line running drill on Sunday. Shane Vereen looks primed to fill the void created by Danny Woodhead’s defection to the Chargers to serve as the team’s “passing back.” On Sunday, he was featured as a pass-catcher when the team worked on the screen game.

• The entire offensive line returns intact, although there could be a competition at right guard, where third-year player Marcus Cannon (6-5, 335) has been working with the top unit while incumbent Dan Connolly (shoulder) works his way back.

• Top draft choice Jamie Collins, the linebacker/defensive end from Southern Mississippi (52nd overall), has received his initial work at linebacker. He’s the first linebacker to rotate into 11-on-11 drills, often replacing middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has been more of a two-down player.

• Former Canadian Football League defensive lineman Armond Armstead opened training camp on the non-football illness list. Belichick said the illness is different from the heart condition that led him to leave Southern Cal in 2011 and land in the CFL, and there is no indication when/if Armstead might join the team at practice. In addition, receiver Julian Edelman and Gronkowski opened camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Leon Washington, who signed with the Patriots after three seasons with the Seahawks, has served as the primary kickoff returner, where the Patriots are banking on improved results after ranking 25th in the NFL last season (21.2-yard average).

• Ballard, who said he played at 278 pounds in New York, is down to 260. The hope is that it doesn’t affect him at the line of scrimmage as a blocker, but makes him faster and takes pressure off his knee.

• Incumbent punter Zoltan Mesko, who is entering the final year of his contract, is joined on the roster by rookie Ryan Allen, the two-time Ray Guy Award winner from Louisiana Tech. Both are lefty punters; Belichick has employed a left-footed punter in each of his 14 seasons as coach.

The New England Patriots took the field for the first time Friday morning for training camp to kick off their 2013 season. This is a team coming off a tumultuous offseason, which includes the release of former tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft discusses the Hernandez situation on ESPN's "Mike and Mike" Friday.

The New England Patriots will take the football field for the first time in training camp on Friday. However, questions off the field remain on how the reigning AFC East champs will overcome the major loss and controversy involving former tight end Aaron Hernandez.

New England cut Hernandez after he was arrested and charged with murder and five additional gun charges. Although innocence or guilt has yet to be determined, Hernandez’s arrest brought a ton of negative attention to a Patriots team that often avoids distractions.

In this video, Patriots quarterback and team captain Tom Brady discussed the Hernandez situation.

Training camp preview: Patriots

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After a rough offseason, the New England Patriots will begin their 2013 season Friday with the start of training camp.

New England remains the preseason favorite to win the AFC East. But this team is weaker than previous years due to several offseason circumstances.

Here are three things to watch in Patriots camp:

1. Can New England block out distractions?

Analysis: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick did a smart thing Wednesday. He faced the Aaron Hernandez situation head-on before training camp, because questions were coming either way. Belichick relieved some of the media pressure surrounding Hernandez's arrest on murder and other charges and the team's subsequent release of the star tight end. But this story will follow the Patriots to some degree all summer and beyond. The players must prove they can overcome the loss on the field as well as answer Hernandez questions off it. New England is a team which despises distractions, but this will be a challenge.

2. Will wide receivers step up?

Analysis: It’s been a question all offseason. Now, it’s time for some answers. Which receivers will step up in New England’s offense? Danny Amendola, if he stays healthy, is a proven commodity. But the rest of the Patriots’ receivers have plenty of question marks. New England lost a ton of production by not bringing back 2012 starters Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. This year’s group includes veterans Michael Jenkins, Lavelle Hawkins, Kamar Aiken and rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady is good at raising the level of his supporting cast -- but it is asking a lot of Brady to try to lead this group to another Super Bowl title.

3. How much better is the defense?

Analysis: One of the bright spots for the Patriots this offseason has been the additions on defense. New England spent resources in free agency and the draft to improve this side of the football. The Patriots signed veteran free-agent safety Adrian Wilson and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to toughen up the defense. They also drafted three defenders in the first three rounds to infuse some youth and energy. If other young defenders such as Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower take their games to another level, the Patriots defense could make good strides in 2013.
It’s no surprise, but the New England Patriots are taking a hard-line stance with former tight end Aaron Hernandez.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Patriots will not pay Hernandez's $82,000 workout bonus after Hernandez was charged this summer with murder and five additional gun charges. This most likely sets the table for a tricky battle involving Hernandez's five-year, $40 million contract he signed with New England in 2012.

For example, Hernandez performed his duties last spring with workouts and rehabs. Technically, he earned the $82,000 bonus. But New England does not want to set a precedent by paying out bonus money now that Hernandez is no longer on the team. It's also a prelude to the Patriots battling Hernandez over a $3.25 million guaranteed bonus next March, which New England reportedly doesn't want to pay.

The Patriots put themselves in a tougher spot to recoup money by cutting Hernandez before his guilt or innocence has been determined. It will be weeks and possibly months before the legal system runs its course with Hernandez. So this is just the beginning.

 
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addressed the media for the first time following the release of Aaron Hernandez. New England cut the former tight end after Hernandez was charged with murder and five additional gun charges.

Here was Belichick’s opening statement Wednesday to the media:
"I’m going to address the situation involving Aaron Hernandez today. I felt that it was important enough to do that prior to the start of camp. It’s a sad day, really a sad day on so many levels. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim and I extend my sympathy really to everyone who has been impacted. A young man lost his life. His family has suffered a tragic loss and there’s no way to understate that. When I was out of the country, I learned about the ongoing criminal investigation that involved one of our players and I and other members of the organization were shocked and disappointed in what we had learned. Having someone in your organization that’s involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing. After consultation with ownership, we acted swiftly and decisively. [Patriots owner] Robert [Kraft] and his family and I, since I got here in 2000, have always emphasized the need for our team and our players and our organization to represent the community the right away both on and off the field. We’ve worked very hard together over the past 14 years to put together a winning team that’s a pillar in the community. I agree 100 percent with the comments that Robert has already made on the situation; I stand behind those as well. This case involves an individual who happened to be a New England Patriot. We certainly do not condone unacceptable behavior and this does not in any way represent the way that the New England Patriots want to do things. As the coach of the team, I’m primarily responsible for the people that we bring into the football operation. Our players are generally highly motivated and gifted athletes. They come from very different backgrounds. They’ve met many challenges along the way and have done things to get here. Sometimes they’ve made bad or immature decisions but we try to look at every single situation on a case-by-case basis and try to do what’s best for the football team and what’s best for the franchise. Most of those decisions have worked out but some don’t. Overall, I’m proud of the hundreds of players that have come through this program but I’m personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this. Moving forward consists of what it’s always been here: to build a winning football team, be a strong pillar in the community, be a team that our fans can be proud of. That’s what we’re here for."

This was not your typically staunch Belichick. Although guilt or innocence has yet to be determined, Belichick was genuine in his disappointment for Hernandez putting himself in this position as well as personal sorrow for the victim's family. He also admitted that the Patriots may make alterations to the way they evaluate players. That will be important for Belichick and Kraft going forward.

Belichick was wise to address the media about the Hernandez situation a couple of days before training camp. Patriots players will still face Hernandez questions this week. But both Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, the team’s top leaders, have said their part and can begin moving on from a controversial situation.
The reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots will begin training camp on Friday amid plenty of controversy. This is the most tumultuous offseason New England’s had in the Bill Belichick era. It includes losing leading receiver Wes Welker in free agency, multiple surgeries for Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez being released after being charged for murder and five additional gun chargers.

With that in mind, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his first public comments about the Hernandez situation to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. According to Brady, it's time for the Patriots to move from the Hernandez situation.
“I’ve seen a lot of things over 13 years, and what I have learned is that mental toughness and putting aside personal agendas for what’s in the best interest of the team matters most. My job is to play quarterback, and I’m going to do that the best way I know how, because I owe that to my teammates regardless of who is out there on the field with me. I have moved on. I’m focusing on the great teammates I have who are committed to helping us win games. The only thing I care about is winning. Nothing is going to ever get in the way of that goal. I’m just excited to report to camp and see what we can accomplish as a team. The fate of our season will be determined by the players in our locker room — nothing else.”

Rest assured Brady was very disappointed and probably shocked by events involving Hernandez. But there's nothing Brady can do about it now.

Brady is taking the best approach to move forward and not make it an excuse or more of a controversy for the Patriots. The team already has enough adversity to overcome this season.
Most NFL observers agree that the New England Patriots' Super Bowl window is closing fast. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady turns 36 in August and head coach Bill Belichick, 61, isn’t expected to stick around much longer once Brady is gone.

Brady
Some would even make the case that New England's door is already shut after a tulmultuous offseason. Former star tight end Aaron Hernandez was released after being charged for murder and facing five additional gun charges. The Patriots lost both starting receivers: Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. And Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski is questionable for Week 1 after multiple back and arm surgeries. New England already has plenty of adversity to overcome before it takes its first snap in training camp.

But Brady remains optimistic about winning a fourth Super Bowl. He told Peter King of Sports Illustrated that his two Super Bowl losses following the 2008 and 2011 seasons were missed opportunities, but the Patriots still have a shot this year.

Here is the full quote from Brady:
“We’ve had our chances. Twice. More than twice, actually. I still have plenty of chances to do it. What I’ve learned is it’s really, really hard to win the Super Bowl. I didn’t get that perspective early, winning three out of the first four years I played. What I like about this franchise is we’ve got a shot every year. I love the fact we were in the AFC title game last year, the Super Bowl the year before that, and 14-2 the year before that. Can we win this year? It’ll be determined by our level of commitment, the mental toughness. We’ll find it out before the season. How committed are we?”

I don’t see the Patriots winning it all this year. The 2013 New England team is weaker than the group we saw the past two years -- and those teams came up short. It's doubtful that this year’s team surpasses that and wins a championship.

Still, New England remains a good team and the preseason favorite in the AFC East. Winning the division would at least put the Patriots in the playoffs to see if they can get hot at the right time.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins became the first AFC East team Sunday to open training camp. The new-look Dolphins are back at work in a season filled with high expectations.

Here were some notes and observations from Sunday's session:
  • The was definitely a significant buzz to start training camp. The Dolphins received a large turnout of 2,700 at their practice facility, which included standing-room fans. It's further proof that Miami’s solid offseason has fueled optimism among Dolphins fans. This is the most talented team, on paper, that Miami’s had in several years. However, it’s up to the team to put it all together on the field.
  • Dolphins center Mike Pouncey refused to discuss the recent controversy involving his “Free Hernandez” hat. Pouncey and his twin brother, Maurkice, were teammates of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez at the University of Florida. Hernandez has been charged with murder and faces five additional gun charges. Both Pouncey brothers wore “Free Hernandez” hats at a recent social gathering, which sparked a national controversy. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin hinted that he wasn't amused. “I will tell you that it’s important for every member of this organization -- player or coach -- to represents the Miami Dolphins in a first-class manner,” Philbin explained.
  • The two stars in the first day of training camp were defensive end Olivier Vernon and wide receiver Marvin McNutt. Vernon looks improved and had two sacks on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. McNutt made several nice catches in team drills, which included two deep balls. The final two receiver spots are wide open, and McNutt made an early impression.
  • Veteran Dan Carpenter got off to a very good start in Miami’s kicking competition. Carpenter got all the kicking reps over rookie Caleb Sturgis and nailed 10 straight field-goal attempts at one point. That run included two made field goals from 49 yards.
  • Miami Pro Bowl defensive tackle Randy Starks continues to try to earn his starting job back in training camp. Starks held out of organized team activities in protest of his one-year franchise tag. Since returning in minicamp, Starks has played with the second team and also getting a few first-team reps behind converted defensive end Jared Odrick.
  • No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan will begin training camp on the non-injury football list as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Jordan was relegated to stretching and conditioning on the side. We have the full story on Jordan here in the AFC East blog.
  • The Dolphins will continue their first week of training camp Monday at 8 a.m. ET. The AFC East blog will be in attendance all throughout the week.

Video: Patriots must move on

July, 18, 2013
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Brian Dawkins and Jeff Saturday discuss the way Patriots players should deal with questions about Aaron Hernandez.

Links: Parcells reflects on Jets, Dolphins

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Buffalo Bills

T.J. Graham, Robert Woods and Brad Smith are all in contention for the No. 2 role behind wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who tells the team's official website: "The competition is going to be crazy because of the talent that we have."

ESPN.com's projected quarterback rankings has Kevin Kolb positioned at No. 31 and EJ Manuel right behind at No. 32 overall.

Miami Dolphins

“I’m excited for all the new weapons we’ve brought in,” said second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill in response to a fan's question. During the same conference call Wednesday evening, the Miami Herald reports Tannehill reminded fans that he likely will never be another Robert Griffin III. "I don’t think we’re going to rely heavily on my feet. ... I don’t think it’ll be a pillar of our offense." See video of Tannehill answering questions.

Running back Lamar Miller tells the team's official website that in his second year, he's "down with the playbook" and he expects Tannehill to have a breakout season.

Bill Parcells claims he brought more talent to the Dolphins, but regrets some of the decisions he made as the team's top football executive, writes Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel.

"Miami is a bit short on reliable fantasy options going into the season, but that presents the opportunity for sleepers here," reports Eric Mack of Sports Illustrated.

Former NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who purchased a South Florida house when he was signed by the Dolphins in 2006, has lost the home to a bank in a foreclosure case.

New England Patriots

Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, now a murder suspect, has been pulled from yet another group of products, reports ESPN's Darren Rovell.

As with cornerback Ras-I Dowling, Marquice Cole's chances of securing a roster spot will be impacted by the availability of Alfonzo Dennard, writes ESPNBoston.com's Mike Rodak.

Speaking of corners, Patriots Football Weekly argues for which player they'd rather have on the field: Dowling or Cole.

The Patriots will be one of eight NFL teams to take part in a pilot program during the 2013 season in which a player's entire medical record will be available for team doctors to examine on the sideline of a game via the use of an iPad, reports Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com.

Christopher Price, of WEEI.com, breaks down the Patriots' linebackers for 2013.

New York Jets

Bill Parcells said he believes his best coaching performance occurred in an 8-8 season -- 1999, his final year as the Jets' coach, according to Rick Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com. "Holding that team together to accomplish that, I think probably was one of the better things. That wasn't any monumental success or anything, but I think most coaches will tell you, when you start 1-6, it's tough to maintain the things you need to be successful," said Parcells.

Jeff Cumberland has a chance to establish himself as a legitimate starting tight end, but how will the new guy, Kellen Winslow, factor into the Jets' offense?

Links: Hill says Jets to go 'deep in playoffs'

July, 16, 2013
7/16/13
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Buffalo Bills

Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd is the only franchise tagged player to have not signed his tender. Sources close to the situation told The Buffalo News the parties did not speak Monday and didn’t have any talks last week. David Canter, the agent for Chargers safety Eric Weddle, tweeted some harsh words for Warren Sapp, who tells Byrd to go back to work and earn a deal. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas reacted to Byrd's demands by tweeting, "Pay that man...lol."

Just how fast will the Bills' offense run under coordinator Nathaniel Hackett? "We’ve averaged from four seconds to 18 seconds (per play)," Hackett tells Chris Brown of the team's official website.

In an ESPN Insider piece Insider, Gary Horton ranks Bills running back C.J. Spiller as one of the AFC's most versatile players.

Miami Dolphins

The Miami Herald's David J. Neal opines on the impact of free speech in this age of social media, and how it reflected on Mike and Maurkice Pouncey: "The Pounceys turn 24 on July 24. They don’t remember when 'Free [jailed person here]' once carried a social element."

"We haven’t yet heard from Mike (Pouncey), but you can be assured Dolphins coach Joe Philbin will talk to him. Most likely he’ll ask him where the hats came from, why they wore them, and tell Mike not to put the team is such a position again. End of story," writes Chris Perkins of the Sun-Sentinel.

"I wouldn't trade Cam Wake for anybody in our league," Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle recently told the Dolphins' official website.

Rookie defensive end Dion Jordan answers five offseason questions, including how he'll accept feedback from veteran players.

New England Patriots

Former Patriot Willie McGinest predicts New England will finish 11-5 in 2013 because of his belief in both quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick.

Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork will be honored at this year's "The Tradition" event in Boston.

Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013, ESPNBoston.com takes a closer look at cornerback Ras-I Dowling.

The Boston Globe takes a closer look at what life is like for former Patriot Aaron Hernandez in jail.

In an ESPN Insider piece Insider, Gary Horton ranks Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman as one of the AFC's most versatile players.

New York Jets

Wide receiver Stephen Hill says the Jets "will be in the playoffs, and deep in the playoffs."

Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com says Mike Goodson is the Jets' wild card among the running backs heading into the 2013 season.

A one-time short-term replacement for Darrelle Revis, defensive back Aaron Berry looks to find his place on a roster that now includes Dee Milliner.

"It won't matter to fantasy owners whether the Jets' quarterback is past pariah Mark Sanchez or potential messiah Geno Smith; worrying about it will be as worthless as agonizing over a last-round kicker," writes Sports Illustrated's Eric Mack.

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