Aaron Dobson more than just a footnote

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On a night usually reserved for backups, the New England Patriots had one front-line player deliver in a big way. Welcome back, Aaron Dobson.

The wide receiver finished Thursday's preseason finale with three receptions for 57 yards, the highlight a 33-yard leaping touchdown catch on a high-arching pass from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo along the left sideline.

"He had a ‘go' route and went up and made a tremendous play for me," Garoppolo said of Dobson, who was making his preseason debut. "It's nice having receivers like that on the outside, big-bodied guys who can go up and make a play for you."

"He beat the guy and you just have to lay a ball up there for him to go get it and he did that."

Dobson utilized every inch of his 6-foot-3 body to make the play.

"That's just instinct," Dobson said. "At that point, I'm just not really worried about my foot -- just playing football."

Dobson underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his left foot March 10, and opened training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list. He returned to practice two weeks ago, and Thursday marked another step for him -- his first game action. He played 50 of 70 offensive snaps (including penalties).

"It felt good," Dobson said about his conditioning. "I got tired at times but I feel like I am improving."

"I'm glad I got out there this game. Glad I got my feet up under me just so I can get ready for the next game. It was needed for me to get out there today."

Head coach Bill Belichick was also glad to have his receiver back on the field after a long offseason of rehab work.

"It was good for him to be able to get some game action, to get out there and get hit a little bit and make a couple plays," Belichick said. "It's taken him a while -- he started off camp on the reserve [list] and came off and started to work his way back into practice, and was back on the field tonight.

"That was a positive."

'Very intelligent' Tim Wright makes a mark

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This was the first thing New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said when asked about new tight end Tim Wright: "He's a very intelligent player. He picks it up very quickly."

That much was clear in the Patriots' 16-13 loss to the Giants in the preseason finale for both teams Thursday night.

Wright finished with four catches for 43 yards, but it was his 43 snaps played (out of 70) that registered as even more impressive. Even in a preseason game in which there is no game-planning, a player still has to know what to do, and Wright -- acquired from Tampa Bay on Tuesday along with a fourth-round draft pick in exchange for offensive lineman Logan Mankins -- aced that test.

"Football is football, so it's easy to get prepared," Wright said in a brief interview after the game. "We have great coaches to get me prepared."

Bill Belichick also cited the work of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and tight ends coach Brian Daboll in getting the 6-foot-4 Wright up to speed so quickly. Meanwhile, Garoppolo also noted how Wright is "pretty athletic too", which was seen with how he was used in motion as the primary option on a rollout pass for a 9-yard completion early in the second quarter.

Wright's long completion, of 16 yards, came midway through the third quarter when he caught a quick pass to the left side and raced up the sideline.

This marks the third offensive system Wright is learning in two years -- two in Tampa Bay, one in New England -- but if Thursday night is a preview, he's off to a promising start.

"It's a great opportunity. It's a great organization led by great coaches," he said. "It's still early. I have a lot to learn, and I'm just ready to go."

As for the trade, Wright said, "I know the business. Things happen and you have to stay ready -- stay on your toes. And that's what I did."

Who's No. 2 QB for the Patriots?

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One of the decisions facing Bill Belichick is who will be the primary backup to quarterback Tom Brady in the 2014 season -- incumbent Ryan Mallett or second-round draft choice Jimmy Garoppolo.

Belichick was asked about the all-important backup spot after the preseason finale against the Giants, and if there was one takeaway from his responses, it's that he's not yet ready to announce that Mallett still has the job.

So stay tuned.

"Last year doesn't have anything to do with it," Belichick said. "This year is this year."

Those remarks came after Belichick was asked if there had been a change on the depth chart behind Brady as to who is the No. 2 option. When Belichick answered "no," a follow up question was asked to clarify if that meant Mallett was still the top backup.

At that point, Belichick said he hadn't announced anything about any starters.

Garoppolo played the entire preseason finale, going 22-of-42 for 284 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Over four games this preseason, he was 46-of-79 for 618 yards, with five touchdowns and the one pick.

Mallett appeared in three preseason games and was 14-of-26 for 161 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions.

Snapshots: Scenes from Patriots-Giants

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
Check out some shots of the Patriots' 16-13 loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on Thursday night:

Tom Brady and Vince WilforkAP Photo/John MinchilloVince Wilfork, Tom Brady and most of the Patriots' starters sat out Thursday's 16-13 loss to the Giants, though Brady did take the field as the holder on a second-quarter extra point.
Jimmy GaroppoloAP Photo/Bill KostrounJimmy Garoppolo played the entire game at quarterback, completing 22 of 42 passes for 284 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception.
Aaron DobsonAP Photo/John MinchilloIn his preseason debut, Aaron Dobson hauled in this 33-yard touchdown pass on a go route.
Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell ThompkinsAdam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsSecond-year receivers Kenbrell Thompkins (5 catches, 46 yards) and Aaron Dobson (3 catches, 57 yards, TD) celebrate Dobson's touchdown.
Bill BelichickAdam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsAfter the game, Bill Belichick was his usual close-to-the-vest self, refusing to say whether Ryan Mallett or Jimmy Garoppolo would enter the season as Tom Brady's backup.

Observation Deck: New England Patriots

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For those curious how the New England Patriots plan to utilize tight end Tim Wright, who was acquired from the Buccaneers in Tuesday's surprising Logan Mankins trade, Thursday night's preseason finale provided a snapshot of sorts.

Wright proved he was a quick study by playing 43 of 70 snaps against the New York Giants (including penalties) -- a higher total than expected.

As a "move" tight end, he played on the line of scrimmage and was also detached from the line of scrimmage. His first catch, for nine yards, came when he motioned from left to right and caught a quick delivery from rolling-out-of-the-pocket quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

While there isn't any game-planning in the preseason, Wright's ability to adapt as quickly as he did still warrants mention.

When the Patriots call on two-tight-end packages in the regular season, a Rob Gronkowski/Tim Wright combination could be tough to defend.

Here are some other thoughts from the Patriots' 16-13 loss to the Giants:
  • Tom Brady played one snap in the game -- as a holder on a second-quarter extra point. That could be something he has to do in an emergency and Bill Belichick used the situation as a fire drill of sorts. The snap was placed down, the kick was good and the most important right hand in New England was unharmed.
  • Second-year player Josh Kline played every snap at left guard in the game. He looks like a top candidate to replace Mankins.
  • Belichick wanted Garoppolo to have the experience of starting a game and going wire to wire, while also experiencing everything that came with being the top signal-caller (e.g. media responsibilities). Garoppolo capped off the week with some positives, showing his trademark quick release and patience to go through his progressions and make the right decisions. His long touchdown pass to Dobson appeared to be the right read, and was a well thrown deep ball. An apparent mix-up with receiver Josh Boyce contributed to one play he'd like to have back -- a first-quarter interception.
  • The Patriots experimented early by using cornerback Alfonzo Dennard at safety. The team has done the same thing with cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington earlier in the preseason.
  • Second-year receiver Aaron Dobson, the second-round pick from Marshall, made his preseason debut and showed how he can make a difference as a down-the-field outside threat with a 33-yard touchdown down the left sideline. Impressive.
  • Undrafted linebacker James Morris of Iowa left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. Morris looked like a strong candidate for the practice squad, but the injury looked serious and could change those plans. The other injury of note: Reserve defensive Michael Buchanan (ankle).
  • Former Boston College running back Andre Williams is tough to bring down at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds. BC fans saw it first-hand, and the Patriots' defense did too, with Williams brushing off safety Duron Harmon on a first-quarter run and stiff-arming sfaety Nate Ebner.

Ups and downs for the Patriots

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At an initial glance, a look at which players were "up" in the Patriots' preseason finale against the Giants, and which players were at the opposite end of the spectrum:


Aaron Dobson : Making his preseason debut, his presence on the outside showed up with a 33-yard touchdown reception from Jimmy Garoppolo down the left sideline.

Jimmy Garoppolo: The rookie quarterback made some mistakes, but overall, it's hard not to be impressed with the poise, presence and quick release he shows on the field in running the offense.

Tavon Wilson: The safety made a nice tackle on tight end Kellen Davis short of the first-down marker for a third-down stop in the opening quarter, and he also played well on special teams.

Tim Wright: The tight end showed he's a quick study as he played significant snaps and showed up as a pass-catcher just two days after being acquired.


Josh Boyce: The second-year receiver was part of a mix-up with Garoppolo on an interception and has lost ground in the battle for a roster spot on a crowded depth chart.

Duron Harmon: The safety has talked about working to improve his tackling, but he missed one on Andre Williams' 38-yard run in the first quarter.

James White: We didn't see a running spark from the rookie running back, as he showed up more as a pass-catcher than a rusher.

Jonathan Kraft discusses Mankins trade

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the wake of the Patriots' shocking trade of guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, team president Jonathan Kraft praised Mankins' time in New England in an interview with 98.5 the Sports Hub.

"Logan is someone in the building that I think everyone holds in the highest regard both as a football player and as a man," Kraft said. "Clearly - after John Hannah - he is the best guard to ever play for the New England Patriots.

"And I would assume he will be wearing a red jacket someday and be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. "

Kraft also acknowledged Mankins' presence in the locker room and on the field as a leader of the team who will be missed.

"He brought a work ethic and no-nonsense approach to the game," Kraft said.

Nonetheless, Kraft also pointed out that football is a business and said that the trade is "unfortunately part of the game."

Kraft disputed the notion that the trade was done to pocket money. The Patriots save $6.25M in cash this year and $7M next year by trading Mankins. The move creates $5.755M in cap space for 2014, while Mankins will have a $4M cap charge on the Patriots' cap in 2015 in dead money from his original $20 million signing bonus as part of a six-year, $51 million deal he inked in 2011.

"If you want to say that Bill and the football operation have our confidence because they place a value on certain positions and players and certain situations so that you never end up being fully exposed to something, where you can take a big financial hit," Kraft said. "Yes, we try to be smart like that. But to say that we do not use all of the resources available to us just isn't accurate.

"If you go and look at maximization of cap space across the league or cash spending last year, I don't think you can point to anything."

Kraft said the Patriots' savings from the Mankins deal will not go to waste.

"With Logan [Mankins], the cap hit will be about 4 million dollars. But I think it's safe to assume the 6 to 7 million dollars of cap space will be fully spent and we believe it will be spent strategically and in a way to make our team a deeper, stronger team than we would be if we didn't spend it."

Kraft also related the deal to the organization's decision to put money into improving the team facilities. He stressed that the Patriots cannot afford to be emotional when in these situations.

"It's important to us that when there are dollars that can be spent to strategically help your football team and give you every opportunity to win, we are going to do that. But, what we are not going to do if we can avoid it is make bad decisions or decisions that are emotional, that we perceive to be emotional that could end up costing significant amounts of money.

"And I know some of the people that must make those arguments think that it would be worth going and throwing a whole lot of money at and taking a risk on. And maybe it would pay off and maybe it wouldn't. But I think as Bill -- who has a pretty good track record in terms of running a football operation -- it's always a risk/reward situation and we are trying to balance that. But we absolutely try to maximize our cap space every year."

Defensive starters for the Patriots

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Defensive starters for the New England Patriots (3-4 alignment) in their preseason finale against the New York Giants:

DE: Jerel Worthy
DT: L.T. Tuipulotu
DT: Zach Moore
OLB: Darius Fleming
ILB: Steve Beauharnais
ILB: James Morris
OLB: Michael Buchanan
CB: Malcolm Butler
CB: Logan Ryan
S: Alfonzo Dennard
S: Duron Harmon

This is a night to evaluate some of the lesser-experienced players, such as Moore, the sixth-round pick from Concordia.

Perhaps most interesting was some experimentation with Dennard, the third-year cornerback, at safety.

Offensive starters for the Patriots

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Offensive starters for the New England Patriots in their preseason finale against the Giants:

LT: Jordan Devey
LG: Josh Kline
C: Bryan Stork
RG: Chris Barker
RT: Cameron Fleming
TE: Tim Wright
QB: Jimmy Garoppolo
RB: James White
WR: Aaron Dobson
WR: Josh Boyce
WR: Jeremy Gallon

Of note is that Wright, the tight end acquired from the Buccaneers, is in uniform and starting tonight. The Patriots are getting him acclimated quickly.

Also, this marks Stork's debut performance after he was hurt in the fifth practice of training camp. The fourth-round pick from Florida State was expected to compete for a starting role prior to his injury.

Dobson, the second-year receiver, is also making his debut.

So this is a night to get some recovering players their first action and also to take a closer look at the backups.

Patriots players not dressed vs. Giants

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The following Patriots are not dressed for tonight’s game against the New York Giants:

RB Brandon Bolden
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
TE Rob Gronkowski
LB Jerod Mayo
LB Dont'a Hightower
OL Chris Martin
DL Dominique Easley
T Sebastian Vollmer
DT Chris Jones
DT Sealver Siliga

Coach Bill Belichick, in his pre-game interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub, said that this will be a game in which many of the team's lesser experienced players will get most of the playing time.

Logan Mankins adjusting to new team

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
TAMPA, Fla. – He wore a Buccaneers hat and decked his children out in the colors of his new team. But it was pretty obvious Thursday night that Logan Mankins still is processing the trade that brought him from the New England Patriots, the only team he ever has played for.

Mankins was introduced to the Tampa Bay media before the preseason game with Washington. During the 10-minute session, Mankins looked and talked like a man still in shock.

“I knew what I had there, but I don’t know what I have here," Mankins said. “Only time will tell."

Mankins sounded like a man whose mind still is in two places. That’s understandable, as the trade happened only two days ago.

“It’s a sad day not to be with those guys," Mankins said. “But I’ve got new teammates here that I’m looking forward to developing relationships with."

A six-time Pro Bowl guard, Mankins is going to have to start developing those relationships quickly. The Bucs open the season in just over a week against the Carolina Panthers. Mankins said it will be a challenge to quickly build chemistry with a new offensive line.

“It’s going to be tough," Mankins said. “We’ve got a week until the first game. I’m going to try to take it in stride. I’ve got the weekend to try to get down some of the mental part of it and then all next week at practice. I’m sure the guys are going to help me as much as possible and I’m going to try my best."

Since the trade, there have been suggestions in the New England media that Mankins, 32, is in steep decline and cite that as a reason why the Patriots were willing to let him go.

“I might be in a little decline," Mankins said. “I don’t know. How many guys that have played 150 games are still on the upswing? I’ve played a lot of games, a lot of snaps. But I feel like I still have something to give this game and give to this team. I’ll try my hardest for them. If it’s not good enough, it’s not. If it is, it is."

Mankins might not have been wanted in New England any longer. But his arrival has been greeted warmly by Tampa Bay fans, who had been worried about the Bucs’ situation at guard. If Mankins is anything close to what he used to be, he should solidify Tampa Bay’s offensive line. And Mankins doesn’t want to let his new team down.

‘When someone invests in you, I don’t want to disappoint them," Mankins said. “I want to be the player they think they’re getting. I hope I can deliver what they expect."

Weekly Patriots chat recap

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a Patriots chat. Today's chat kicked off at 4 p.m. ET, can be recapped here, and included some of the following topics:

1. Reaction to the Logan Mankins trade.

2. What tight end Tim Wright might be able to contribute to the Patriots -- and how quickly.

3. Running back Stevan Ridley and his place on the team.

4. Toughest NFC game on the Patriots' schedule?

5. Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower and rushing the passer.

Welcome to MetLife Stadium

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
Mike Reiss/ESPN

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Welcome to MetLife Stadium, where the New England Patriots visit the New York Giants in the preseason finale for both teams.

Weather conditions: Beautiful night for football with temperatures in the upper 70s to low 80s. No precipitation is expected. Winds are around 10-15 miles per hour.

A feel for MetLife Stadium: Walking into the stadium brought back memories of how Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, after a 2008 win over the Jets, "It's good to come down here and win at Giants Stadium." That old Giants Stadium is now gone, replaced by MetLife, which is adjacent to the old stadium and hosted its first football game in 2010. All the seats are gray in the enclosed stadium and the logo at midfield is the NFL's shield, one of only two stadiums in the league to have that (Carolina the other). The NFL logo is at midfield because MetLife is a shared venue with the Giants and Jets.

Contrasting approaches for Patriots and Giants: The Patriots aren't planning to play many of their starters. The Giants are looking for about 15 snaps for most of their starters.

CFL presence in the press box: This being the final preseason game, and an influx of players set to become unemployed, scouts from three Canadian Football League are scheduled to be in attendance -- Roughriders, Tiger-Cats and Lions.

Wright to don No. 81: For those updating rosters at home, tight end Tim Wright will wear No. 81, the same number he wore in Tampa Bay. It has not been announced if Wright will play tonight.

Vinovich gets the call: Bill Vinovich has been assigned to referee tonight's game. Massachusetts native Paul King is the umpire.

W2W4: New England Patriots

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
On Thursday, the New England Patriots play the New York Giants in the preseason finale for the 10th straight year (television information):

1. Offensive line personnel without Mankins: While starters like Logan Mankins weren't expected to play in the preseason finale, his possible backups were, and that should shine a brighter spotlight on how the Patriots approach the left guard spot two days after trading Mankins to Tampa Bay. Second-year guard Josh Kline is the leading candidate to step into Mankins' starting role, from this viewpoint; he filled in at left guard Dec. 22 against the Ravens when the Patriots won the AFC East title. It's not often that a big media crowd gathers around a guard after a game, but that can be expected with Kline and others tonight.

2. Garoppolo and the No. 2 quarterback job: In announcing Tuesday that rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would start, Bill Belichick cited the value of Garoppolo having the experience of everything that comes with being the top signal-caller, including all the media attention. How will Garoppolo respond? He said in the locker room this week that he naturally wants to finish his preseason strong, as he's aced almost every test thrown in his direction. If Garoppolo performs well against a Giants team that plans to play starters 15-18 snaps, he could potentially ascend to the No. 2 job over Ryan Mallett. Garoppolo is expected to play most of the game, if not all of it.

3. Worthy and young defensive linemen: In releasing veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly on Sunday, the Patriots showed they are turning to younger linemen. Is Jerel Worthy, acquired in a trade from the Packers two weeks ago, part of that mix? The 2012 second-round pick had one penetrating rush late in Friday's win over Carolina, as he was knocking off some rust from having not played for a while. This is the type of game where a player like Worthy can make a strong case for a roster spot.