AFC East: Daniel Fells

Sharing some midday cut-down thoughts

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
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Sharing non-Tim Tebow-based thoughts on some of the Patriots' roster moves today:

1a. The change at punter, with Zoltan Mesko out and rookie Ryan Allen in, has many layers. Both showed this preseason that they are deserving of punting in the NFL this season and that's why I took the unconventional approach of keeping both on a final 53-man roster projection (the idea being that maybe it would have been easier to slide Allen to the practice squad after a few weeks). Allen's upside is obvious; his leg is a bit stronger than Mesko's. But Mesko's control and directional punting seemed a notch above over the course of training camp and the preseason. However, Allen's three second-half punts on Thursday might have been the clincher, which showed his potential when it comes to control and directional punting.

Mesko
Allen
1b. Economics shouldn't have been the primary reason for the decision to go with Allen over Mesko, but it has to be a consideration. Mesko was due to earn $1.3 million in the final year of his contract. Allen has a three-year contract and is due to earn $405,000 this season.

1c. There is a trickle-down effect when it comes to the field-goal operation, as Mesko has served as the primary holder for kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Allen didn't hold at Louisiana Tech, but he's worked on the skill since joining the Patriots. Allen will likely become the primary holder, although backup quarterback Ryan Mallett could also be a consideration for the role.

1d. In 2005, the Patriots released rookie kicker Robbie Gould after an impressive camp and later regretted it when Adam Vinatieri departed in free agency the following year. I wondered how much that experience might have played a factor in this decision.

1e. Mesko goes down as one of the players who was most fun to cover. He also seemed most genuine and his farewell message to fans was most classy. One of my favorite personal memories of Mesko was how he was brought to tears after receiving the team's community service award in 2012. It meant so much to him and the emotions took over.

2. The biggest surprise has come among the reserves at defensive end, with Justin Francis, Marcus Benard and Jermaine Cunningham all being cut. They projected to the 3-4-5 spots on the depth chart. Health was likely a factor with Francis and Cunningham, as they have been sidelined. There is always the possibility for them to return if not picked up elsewhere, but an initial thought is that 2013 seventh-round pick Michael Buchanan (previous film breakdown) has impressed to the point that the coaching staff felt comfortable letting go of more experienced depth at the position. Buchanan was impressive on Thursday.

3. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was scheduled to earn $1.3 million, but he's agreed to reduce the salary this year with the chance to recoup some of the earnings in incentives, which helped him stick on the roster. Hoomanawanui's smarts, professionalism and dependability made an impression on the coaching staff last season. That he was the last tight end standing among the group of himself, Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells is a minor surprise.

4. The release of defensive tackle Marcus Forston was a mild surprise from this viewpoint. This could mean that rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano is the top backup behind Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Vellano caught the eye early in training camp, but still didn't think he'd top Forston at this point.

5. Still waiting to hear the fate of presumed bubble players like Vellano, safety Adrian Wilson, running back Leon Washington, linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, cornerback Marquice Cole, fullback James Develin and linebacker Steve Beauharnais.

Examining Patriots' latest cuts

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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Click here for a look at the New England Patriots' latest roster moves.

Most significant move: Releasing tight ends Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells. Ballard, who was claimed on waivers in June, wasn't as widely considered being close to the roster bubble as Fells and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (who is still with the club). The Patriots have to decide whether to place recovering tight end Rob Gronkowski on the active roster or reserve/physically unable to perform list by Saturday at 6 p.m. ET, and with Ballard and Fells no longer part of the mix, this could be a sign Gronkowski will land on the active roster.

Still 12 more moves to get to limit: By making 10 cuts, the Patriots now have a roster of 65 players. That means 12 more moves must be made by Saturday's deadline.

Tebow remains in the mix: Quarterback Tim Tebow is still on the roster and his fate will be one of the most-watched storylines across the NFL into Saturday. He still faces longer odds for a roster spot from this viewpoint, but if the past 13 years have taught us anything with Bill Belichick, it's always to expect the unexpected. So the question remains: Did Tebow do enough over the course of the preseason to earn a spot? He played the entire second half in Thursday's 28-20 victory over the Giants and it was easily his best performance of the preseason as he finished 6-of-11 for 91 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He added six rushes for 30 yards and was sacked four times. Asked what he would bring to the team if he sticks on the roster, Tebow said, "Someone that will just work hard, loves the game of football, will always hopefully, Lord willing, have a great attitude, a great work ethic, and someone that tries to be an encourager in here."

Minor surprise with Benard: Defensive end Marcus Benard had been one of the feel-good stories of training camp. He had a career-high 7.5 sacks with the Cleveland Browns in 2010, but barely registered on the radar the past two seasons, mainly because of injuries. He had seemingly carved out a niche for himself as a capable reserve and interior substitute rusher in training camp and preseason games, so his release came as a mild surprise.

Patriots cuts: TE Jake Ballard, FB Ben Bartholomew, DE Marcus Benard, TE Daniel Fells, WR Johnathan Haggerty, OL Luke Patterson, DL Gilbert Pena, LB Mike Rivera, C Matt Stankiewitch, DL Scott Vallone
The Patriots have informed veteran tight end Jake Ballard that he will be released today, a source confirms.

The Patriots had waited a year to work with Ballard, who was claimed on waivers from the Giants on June 12, 2012, after undergoing serious knee surgery. Upon his return to the field in 2013 spring camps and then training camp, Ballard said that his knee wasn't back to the point where it was pre-injury, but that he was still working into form. He didn't always appear to be running well.

The 25-year-old played in all four of the team's preseason games, and his primary effectiveness came as an in-line blocker. He didn't catch a pass.

The release of Ballard is a mild surprise, although he did play deep into Thursday night's preseason finale. At the time, it was unclear if that was related to him gaining more comfort with his knee in game action, or if his spot was in jeopardy.

Now we have the answer.

With both Ballard and Daniel Fells told of their release today, the Patriots now have Rob Gronkowski, Zach Sudfeld and Michael Hoomanawanui on the roster at tight end. This could be a sign that Gronkowski has a good chance to open the season on the team's 53-man roster.

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe first reported the news on Ballard.
The Patriots have informed veteran tight end Daniel Fells that he will be released, according to a source.

The decision doesn't come as a big surprise as the seven-year veteran played deep into Thursday night's preseason finale. He was set to earn a base salary of $1.25 million and wasn't included on either of ESPNBoston's final roster projections.

In his one season with the Patriots, in 2012, Fells caught four passes for 85 yards.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 28, Giants 20

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
10:50
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the New England Patriots' preseason finale against the Giants, a 28-20 victory:

A night for backups and the bubble watch: Bill Belichick rested most of his first-unit players on offense and defense. The Giants, on the other hand, opened with their starters. So from a Patriots perspective, it was a chance to get a feel of which veterans are truly on the roster bubble -- safety Adrian Wilson, running back Leon Washington and tight end Daniel Fells are three near the top of the list as they played deep into this game.

Tebow plays second half: Fighting for a spot on the Patriots roster, quarterback Tim Tebow came on at the start of the second half and played the final 30 minutes of action. He finished 6-of-11 for 91 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, and added 30 yards on six rushes. Things started slowly (he was sacked four times in the third quarter) before his highlight came early in the fourth quarter -- a 52-yard touchdown to rookie receiver Quentin Sims on a third-and-10 play. Tebow made a nice throw over the middle, and over-pursuit by safety Cooper Taylor allowed Sims to race the final 30 or so yards for the touchdown. But later in the quarter, Tebow was intercepted by cornerback Trumaine McBride on a long pass down the left sideline to rookie receiver Aaron Dobson that was underthrown. His final touchdown pass came with six seconds remaining, a 9-yard toss to Sims in the back-right corner of the end zone.

Offensive line getting healthy: One of the more important developments for the Patriots was the return of third-year offensive lineman Marcus Cannon, a top backup who played for the first time this preseason and played into the second half, which was important for him from a conditioning standpoint. Between Cannon's return, and starting right guard Dan Connolly playing for the second week in a row after worked his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, the line is as healthy as it's been all preseason.

No major injuries: The Patriots, who finished the preseason with a 3-1 record, didn't have any players leave the game with notable injuries. The Giants weren't as fortunate, as running back Andre Brown broke his leg, the team announced.

Welcome, Tiger Woods: Patriots owner Robert Kraft welcomed Tiger Woods as his guest for tonight's game. The two spent time on the field together before the game, then Woods watched from Kraft's owner's box. Woods is in town for the Deutsche Bank Championship. In the past, Kraft has played golf with Woods.

What's next: The team's roster must be trimmed from 75 to 53 by Saturday at 6 p.m. Then the focus entirely turns to the Sept. 8 season opener on the road against the Buffalo Bills.
Entering the final 15 of the 2013 preseason, the Patriots trail the Giants 20-14. Passing along some quick-hit notes and observations following the third quarter.

1. Tebow time. Tim Tebow was under center for the Patriots to start the third quarter, relieving Ryan Mallett after a productive first half. We suspect Tebow will play the balance of the game. He needed just two throws to surpass his completion total from last week, while also taking two sacks on his first drive (his offensive line did him no favors). He finished the quarter with those three completions and four sacks taken.

2. Notable veterans still in. It's tough to say with conviction what veterans playing into the third quarter of the final preseason game means, but we nonetheless made note of a couple who remained in the game. On offense, tight end Daniel Fells received reps, while safety Adrian Wilson was a noticeable defender still on the field. This could be an indication that they're on the roster bubble.

3. Punting competition over? As a sign that the punting competition may have concluded, it was veteran Zoltan Mesko who took all of the first third quarter punt for the Patriots, and he's taken all five of six thus far tonight. Mesko has been the more consistent performer over undrafted rookie Ryan Allen throughout the preseason.

4. Washington muffs return. Veteran Leon Washington had an explosive 43-yard punt return earlier in the game, but his fortunes turned late in the third quarter when he muffed a bouncing punt in his own territory. The normally sure-handed Washington likely regrets trying to handle the punt, as he could have allowed it to roll to safety.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties in the third quarter: Cornerback Justin Green (illegal hands to the face, declined) and safety Kanorris Davis (illegal participation).
Tonight the Patriots play their third preseason game, which almost always represents the closest thing to regular-season action, as teams typically play their starters for substantially longer than other preseason games.

It would come as no surprise to see Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork on the field in Detroit into the third quarter, while there are other players whom we aren't expecting to see at all, highlighted below.

Non-Football Injury List/Physical Unable to Perform players
TE Rob Gronkowski (PUP)
WR Mark Harrison (NFI)
DT Armond Armstead (NFI)

Players who were absent from practice this week
WR Danny Amendola
DE Jermaine Cunningham
CB Brandon Jones

Players who were limited during Tuesday's practice
DE Justin Francis
OT/G Marcus Cannon
TE Daniel Fells
CB Ras-I Dowling
WR Kamar Aiken

A trio of others to keep an eye on includes defensive backs Devin McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard, as well as offensive lineman Dan Connolly. McCourty and Connolly have yet to play in a preseason game (both are recovering from offseason shoulder surgery), but they were on the field for practice this week.

Additionally, McCourty shed the red non-contact jersey he had worn throughout much of camp. Dennard, meanwhile, has been limited of late, but could return to action after missing the team's second preseason game.

If the 11 players who we expect not to play in the game do in fact sit out, the Patriots will have 73 players in uniform for the contest. That total could shrink if McCourty, Dennard or Connolly is once again unable to suit up.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Patriots and Eagles scaled back the tempo and workload for their joint practice on Thursday, the third and final session before they kick off preseason action on Friday.

Below is a rundown of the practice, as well as some observations from the on-field work. The practice was largely a walk-through for the two teams, as they wore helmets and shells and did not engage in any contact.

10:20 a.m.: Walk-through (both offense and defense)
10:28 a.m.: Stretching
10:36 a.m.: Individual position group work
10:42 a.m.: More walk-through, with the offense working routes on air and the defense doing pattern recognition.

The rest of the practice consisted of the teams doing drills together.

10:48 a.m.: 7-on-7 near the goal line, with each team's offensive and defensive lines working individually.
10:54 a.m.: Special teams situational work. The Patriots kickoff team worked on speciality kicks (squibs, onsides kids, free kicks, etc.) against the Eagles kickoff return team.
11:05 a.m.: 7-on-7 in the red zone, with each team's offensive and defensive lines working individually.
11:10 a.m.: Special teams situational work. The Eagles kickoff team worked on speciality kicks (squibs, onsides kids, free kicks, etc.) against the Patriots kickoff return team.
11:20 a.m.: End of game situational work, including field goals.
11:30 a.m.: 11-on-11 move the field work for the balance of practice (until roughly 12:20 p.m.).

And a few observations from the practice:

1. Thursday was a little longer than your typical day-before-a-game walk-through, but we were reminded of how they can be important. During an end-of-game situation, Tom Brady hooked up with Aaron Dobson on an out-breaking route with just seconds left on the simulated game clock. Rather than getting directly to the sideline, Dobson was a step slow in getting out of bounds. Head coach Bill Belichick implored Dobson to get out of bounds, stressing the importance of acting swiftly so as to not risk letting the clock expire. A good teaching point for the rookie.

2. On the other end of the spectrum, fellow rookie receiver Josh Boyce was pegged to be the player in prime position to recover onside kicks for the hands team. That's an early sign of the team's feelings about his reliable catching skills.

3. Hard to evaluate much of the player's on-field work today, but seemed like a good day catching the football from tight end Daniel Fells. The competition at that position has proved to be among the most interesting on the roster.

4. Belichick and Eagles head coach Chip Kelly spent time on the field together throughout the week, likely exchanging ideas and insights. It was interesting to see Brady and Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis spending time chatting on Thursday. There's probably plenty that each can learn from the other about their respective sides of the football. Similarly, Brady spent time with Ernie Adams, the Patriots Football Research Director. Adams' insight into the game is universally respected around the league.

5. The goal line work allowed the Patriots to work some three tight end sets. It wasn't their most productive 7-on-7 work of training camp, but one thing to keep in mind is the limited number of route combinations an offense has at its disposal with three tight ends (bigger bodies, fewer alignments) than when there are multiple receivers on the field.
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.

Links: Leach not out of picture in Miami

July, 19, 2013
7/19/13
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NFL.com's Adam Schein identifies the AFC East players who need to achieve -- and overachieve -- for each to team reach its potential.

Buffalo Bills

Appearing on The John Murphy Show Thursday night, former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly says his recovery from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor continues, although not quite as quickly as he would like.

Who can lead the Bills' defense from the middle linebacker position, Chris Brown of the team's official website wonders.

Brown also writes there are other candidates for the team's most important player, beyond defensive end Mario Williams.

Training camp begins in 10 days for the Bills, and the Buffalo News has a list of all the practices.

Miami Dolphins

While the Dolphins plan to enter training camp without offering free agent Vonta Leach a contract, the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero reports Leach is not completely out of the picture in Miami.

With Mike Dee leaving the Dolphins as their CEO, Salguero takes a closer look at one possible in-house candidate.

Two days before training camp starts, the Dolphins added first-year wide receiver Kenny Stafford to their 90-man roster.

Running back Lamar Miller continues to heap praise upon his workout partner, 49ers' Frank Gore. "Just learning from the guy who went to the University of Miami and is from the same neighborhood I'm from, pretty much it just takes my overall game to the next level," Miller told Erica A. Hernandez of the Sun-Sentinel.

New Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe chats with The Finsiders about what he'll bring to the defense as he joins the team following a Super Bowl run with the Ravens.

Cornerback Brent Grimes, a former Falcon, tells the team's official website that he's not sweating the Dolphins' home opener against Atlanta.

The Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly ranks the Dolphins' top 10 position battles.

New England Patriots

Stevan Ridley makes the cut as a running back who CBS Sports' Pat Kirwan would like to see crack the 300-carry mark this season and get the Patriots' offense back to the pre-2007 season style.

Steve Beauharnais could add value down the road for the Patriots' linebacking corps, writes ESPNBoston.com's Mike Rodak.

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks asks -- and answers -- this question: How many Tom Brady passes will hit the ground without Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead and a rehabbing Rob Gronkowski around this preseason?

"There's little doubting that (Chandler) Jones has many of the requisite skills to be an invaluable edge player for the Patriots, though the development of both his body and technique will play a part in his long-term outlook," writes Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com.

The Patriots' website finishes up its Position Battle series with a look at a pair of tight ends: Daniel Fells, a veteran in his second year with the Pats, and Zach Sudfeld, an undrafted free agent.

New York Jets

It's no coincidence that Chris Ivory was acquired by Jets general manager John Idzik, a former Seattle Seahawks executive, in an April trade. Ivory falls in at No. 13 on NFL.com's top 40 players most likely to Make the Leap in 2013. Also, CBS Sports' Pat Kirwan says Ivory could be the "sleeper of Fantasy drafts."

Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com writes chemistry and two new starters on the offensive line could be an issue for the Jets early on.

The Jets withdrew their application for a helipad at their Florham Park training facility amid neighbors' opposition to the project, writes Justin Zaremba of NJ.com.

Links: Lamar Miller learns from Frank Gore

July, 12, 2013
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Buffalo Bills

Free safety Jairus Byrd and the Bills are still far from striking a deal before the July 15 deadline to sign the one-year franchise tender. "I would be completely and utterly shocked if there was a deal done by Monday," a league source told sports station WGR 550. "There are no talks going on. Someone would have to seriously cave."

Undrafted rookie Kendall Gaskins says he'll likely be used more as a running back instead of at fullback in the Bills' offense.

Veteran kicker Rian Lindell has been a mainstay for the Bills since 2003, but that doesn't mean rookie Dustin Hopkins isn't going to compete for the job.

Miami Dolphins

Second-year running back Lamar Miller is getting a summer education of his own, working out with 49ers back Frank Gore. “Since Lamar started gravitating toward Frank, his work ethic and mentality are unparalleled,” said Pete Bommarito, who runs the Bommarito Performance Systems, where Gore, Miller and many other NFL players train in the offseason, according to the Miami Herald.

Rookie first-round pick Dion Jordan joins Miami’s defensive line, the team's deepest unit.

A.J. Francis, a 309-pound rookie defensive tackle for the Dolphins, says via Twitter that ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue should include a variety of people.

Andy Behrens of Roto Arcade says the most important variable for Dolphins fantasy owners is quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

New England Patriots

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski held a book signing for "Growing up Gronk" on Thursday, and he said he's "in great spirits" about the upcoming season.

As the Aaron Hernandez case continues on, the Miami Herald's David J. Neal has a piece of advice for those looking to place responsibility and blame: "Leave Urban Meyer alone."

Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they might potentially fit in 2013, ESPNBoston.com's Mike Rodak looks at tight end Daniel Fells.

Tight end is the position being most talked about around Foxborough, and ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss projects how the position might play out given all the question marks.

New York Jets

Jonathan Mael, new media coordinator for MLB.com, recently published a tweet in which he compared Jets' offensive lineman Oday Aboushi to former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Geno Smith’s failure to show up at what is largely considered a team-building weekend doesn’t speak highly of the relationship between the rookie quarterback and veteran Mark Sanchez, writes Seth Walder of the New York Daily News.

NFL.com's Dan Hanzus digs up Jets coach Rex Ryan's autobiography, "Play Like You Mean It," only to find that "Ryan wanted to write a book about the beginning of a great future for the New York Jets. Instead, he accidentally managed to distill everything that's frustrating about being a fan of New York's other team."

Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg talks with Eric Allen, of the team's official website, about the changes in store for the Jets' offense this season.
The signs were ominous when Aaron Hernandez showed up to the New England Patriots' team facility last week. Usually welcome at any time, the star tight end was treated like an outsider and told to quickly exit the premises.

Just footsteps away from the stadium where thousands cheered him for the past three seasons, Hernandez's presence suddenly was no longer wanted. It was a prelude to Wednesday’s events, when New England released Hernandez, who is being investigated in the homicide of a 27-year-old man near his home in North Attleborough, Mass. Hernandez was eventually charged with murder and also faces five gun charges.

[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsThe Patriots don't have anything near the talent of Aaron Hernandez waiting in the wings.
This move should not come as a shock to those who know the Patriots. They are a football factory, very machine-like in their approach. As a result, they’re never afraid to cut bait when they determine a player’s negatives outweigh the positives.

New England waited more than a week to collect the facts and determined that Hernandez had forced the team's hand, even before the judicial process could determine guilt or innocence. At the very least, Hernandez is looking at a legal battle that could take months to resolve. That could mean a season-long distraction for a team that despises distractions. The worst-case scenario is that Hernandez's NFL career could be over if he gets significant jail time. The Patriots’ title window is closing, and they don't have time to wait on a verdict.

This is a big blow to New England from a football perspective. The Patriots simply are not the same team without Hernandez, who was one of their most talented and versatile players.

Hernandez could play all over the field with equal effectiveness. He could make catches over the middle, as well as line up outside at receiver. Hernandez even played tailback when asked. His talent was immense, which is why New England tried to keep Hernandez long term with a $40 million contract last summer.

Jake Ballard now steps into Hernandez's spot as the No. 2 tight end behind Pro Bowler Rob Gronkowski. Ballard is experienced but doesn’t have nearly the same skill, versatility or athleticism as Hernandez. The drop-off in talent is significant, and the Patriots' passing attack will be easier to defend this season.

Backup tight ends Mike Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells are limited. Perhaps the Patriots also can explore popular third-string quarterback Tim Tebow in a limited role at tight end. Tebow played a little H-back last season with the New York Jets, although the experiment was a disaster. Chances appear slim that Tebow can immediately be an effective tight end.

The Patriots thought Hernandez and Gronkowski would lead them into the future. That is why the team paid the duo a combined $93 million last summer in extensions. Wednesday’s release confirmed that the Patriots' long-term investment in Hernandez was a mistake.

Without Hernandez, look for New England’s top-rated offense from 2012 to take a step backward this season.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday morning in the AFC East:
  • The New England Patriots are meeting with free-agent tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, Steve Wyche of the NFL Network reports.
Morning take: The Patriots continue to look at tight ends. In addition to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, New England signed Daniel Fells, cut Bo Scaife and now is checking out Shiancoe.
  • Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland says they will take their time with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Morning take: In other words, don't expect Tannehill to start in Week 1. Miami is rightfully taking its time and letting veterans Matt Moore and David Garrard battle it out. Tannehill is the quarterback of the future.
Morning take: The Bills need several. Defensive end Mario Williams is the obvious choice. But I like several other players like Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, George Wilson and Jairus Byrd, as well.
Morning take: That sounds about right. Holmes is a dynamic talent, but only when he's focused and on the same page. That wasn't the case last year when Holmes was in the middle of the team's implosion.
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: Some players seem to be against it. But for the big picture it’s better for the Dolphins. They can use the national exposure to try to win over some fans.
Morning take: Scaife was brought in to see if he could add depth, but the Patriots don’t really need him. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Daniel Fells are both making progress from injuries and could be ready for reps in training camp.
Morning take: Williams’ recovery from a foot injury is one of the biggest keys to Buffalo improving on defense. But Williams has a lot of help with him this time, which is different from previous years.
Morning take: Cimini has an interesting thought on the team's top trouble spot: blocking tight end. The Jets will run the ball a lot next season, and the departed Matthew Mulligan was a solid blocker.

AFC East links: Reggie Bush mesmerizes

May, 19, 2012
5/19/12
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Buffalo Bills

The Bills signed second-round pick Cordy Glenn, an offensive tackle from Georgia; the move leaves only one of the team's nine draft picks -- third-round receiver T.J. Graham -- unsigned, Chris Brown reported.

Miami Dolphins

Lydon Murtha told the Sun-Sentinel that he's not ready to cede the starting right tackle job to second-round draft pick Jonathan Martin, the former Stanford left tackle whom the team aims to switch to the right side to challenge Murtha.

On the day he picked up the 2011 MVP from the Miami Dolphins Foundation, quarterback Matt Moore sang the praises of the West Coast offense new coordinator Mike Sherman is installing. And of comments that he's not starter material, Moore said Friday, "When I hear it over and over 100 times it gets a little annoying. I just try to win ballgames and do my best. They'll talk about me when they need to talk about me."

In his second turn as a guest host on her nationally syndicated talk show, running back Reggie Bush "mesmerized" Kelly Ripa on Friday. After Bush presented Ripa with a customized jersey -- his number, her name on the back -- during Friday's "LIVE! with Kelly" taping, Ripa gushed, "I will worship this jersey. I will wear this to bed every night ... think about our time together."

New England Patriots

The Patriots were just doing their due diligence in bringing tight end Dallas Clark, late of the Indianapolis Colts, in for a workout, writes Mike Reiss for ESPNBoston.com. The team already has three tight ends, one of whom -- Daniel Fells -- it signed in March, when Clark was on the market.

Former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson said the recent death of Junior Seau caused him to reflect on his own post-concussion struggles after his 2005 retirement. "If that can happen to him," Johnson told a conference on pediatric concussions, "I've got to be more diligent in how I live my life."

Boston.com columnist Tony Massarotti wonders whether the Patriots are trying to keep Wes Welker, or drive him away.

New York Jets

The Tebow Takeover -- Tim taking over the starting quarterback's job from Mark Sanchez, that is -- is happening, Jeff Darlington writes, with the ongoing Phase 2 a charm offensive that's winning over veteran Jets like Bart Scott and Darrell Revis.

The team made a pair of moves in its scouting department, ESPNNewYork.com reports, promoting Midwest scout Jeff Bauer to director of college scouting; he replaces Joey Clinkscales, who left for the Oakland Raiders. Kevin Kelly, meanwhile, was named an area scout.

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