Leftovers from Patriots' locker room

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few leftovers from the media-access period in the Patriots’ locker room:

Siliga and Jones make an appearance. Injured defensive linemen Sealver Siliga (left hand in a cast) and Chris Jones (left ankle) both walked through the room and shared pleasantries with reporters. Their presence is one of the bigger takeaways of the day, as it adds context to their injury situations; while both remain out of practice, they aren’t expected to be long-term situations. The Boston Herald specified that both players have sustained sprains, which was assumed with Jones, who was fortunate that his left leg lifted up when he was rolled up on by teammate Marcus Forston in the Aug. 7 preseason opener (if it didn't, his ACL might have been compromised). Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reported that offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who has missed the past three practices, has a foot injury that is not considered serious.

Browner on adjusting to New England. Interesting to hear cornerback Brandon Browner talk about life in New England, and how it differs from his home in the Los Angeles area. He said one difference has been seeing so many Dunkin’ Donuts as compared to Starbucks, and added, “It’s really different from the fast life in California. Quieter. You see little rabbits running around, wildlife and things like that. Turkeys running around the road; you don’t see those running around in L.A.”

Vereen and Co. looking toward regular season. With the Patriots’ third preseason game on Friday against Carolina, running back Shane Vereen admitted that this one has him a little more anxious because it is that much closer to the start of the season. We’re starting to hear more players, such as Vereen and quarterback Tom Brady, reference the opener in Miami. “I think people might just say it because the starters play more than they have played in the last two games, but at the same time you have to look at each opportunity as a chance to get better and prepare yourself for Sept. 7,” Vereen said.

Dobson on competitive group of wide receivers. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson reiterated that he has not fallen behind his teammates despite missing significant time this offseason recovering from March 10 surgery on his left foot. “Competition brings the best out of you,” Dobson said in response to watching teammates Kenbrell Thompkins and Brandon LaFell take increased repetitions. “You definitely don’t want it to be easy, anything handed to you. It’s fun out there and we are teammates just trying to push each other.” He also touched on the value of mental toughness when missing on-field work. “I feel like mentally I stayed in there. OTAs, all that training camp when I wasn’t practicing, just stayed in there mentally -- mental reps -- doing everything I can to stay ahead of them.”

Brandon Browner surprised by flags

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- "And now, we'll cut away from today's game so we can return to our regularly scheduled programming."

This is what New England Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner, whose physical style of play could be curbed with the league's point of emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact, jokingly envisions happening if the NFL continues to throw penalty flags at the same rate as the preseason.

“I think it’s only a three-hour slot and window to play a football game, or else 'The Simpsons' are going to cut in, and the game might just cut off in the third quarter," Browner cracked Wednesday.

"The Simpsons," of course, was scheduled to air on Fox after most Seahawks games last year.

The high total of penalties continues to generate a buzz in NFL circles, as the rule targets players at Browner's position, and that's why the 30-year-old in his first Patriots season was drawing a large media crowd in the Patriots' locker room.

Browner admitted it's been an adjustment to see as many penalty flags in two preseason games. In 45 defensive snaps, he's picked up one of them, for illegal contact in the preseason opener at Washington.

"It was surprising how many flags they actually did throw," he said. "Some, I think, could be ticky-tack; there’s a lot of hand-fighting going on down the field with receivers and DBs all the time. They said they were going to do it and they did it. ... It’s just a part of the game. As a cornerback, it will have me more focused and in-tune with hand position and things like that, to tighten up my craft.”

Browner also doesn't buy that the point of emphasis is a response to the physical style of play from the Seahawks, his former team, whose secondary is referred to as the "Legion of Boom."

"I think every year they say that’s the emphasis. Last year, I know that’s what they told us going into the year," he said. "It will be interesting to see how lenient or how tough they’ll be on those calls once the regular season starts. ... Hopefully in the regular season they don't call as many, but if they do, we just have to take emphasis on getting our hands right and the placement. Try to reduce the penalties, because those things can cost you a big game somewhere along in the season."

Tom Brady eyes playing at least a half

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- If recent history is any indication, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and other top players will see extended action in Friday's preseason game against the visiting Carolina Panthers. That's Brady's expectation.

"Coach told us we're going to get a lot of work," Brady said Wednesday after practice. "What that means, I don't know. I don't think anyone ever knows with him. But we'll be prepared and ready to go for 60 minutes and hopefully it's a good 60 minutes. We've had a couple doozies in the third preseason game lately. It would be nice to have a good one."

Brady was referencing last season's 40-9 loss to the Lions in the third preseason game, as well as a 34-10 loss to Detroit in the third preseason game in 2011.

In the past, coach Bill Belichick has discussed the value in having top players remain in the third preseason game into the third quarter, so they can go through the experience of making halftime adjustments. Another benefit is conditioning-based.

"We've done a bunch of that," Brady said Wednesday. "This a good game to really gauge where you're at. ...You have to get out there and play and get your mind working, and get into the situations and concentrate for extended periods of time. Certainly we're going to be asked to do four quarters of that in three weeks [in the Sept. 7 opener at Miami].

"So hopefully we're in good enough condition to play a half, and hopefully we'll play a lot more than that."

A few other soundbites from Brady:

Develin draws praise. Asked about fullback James Develin, Brady lauded him as a selfless player and great teammate. "I don't think there's a better fullback in the league," he said. "He brings so much in terms of his toughness, his attitude; it's that one position on offense that can really bring a lot of toughness. You get it out of that fullback position. I can't say enough good things about him."

Cadence as a point of emphasis. After Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was penalized twice for a false start on Monday night because of the combination of his hand movements and voice infliction, Brady was asked about a point of emphasis on the NFL rule about simulating a snap count. "I guess you can't … the shoulders, the head, and the hands [with] the voice, they talk about calling that quite a bit," Brady relayed. "Sometimes it's just a natural [thing]; you try to inflict your voice and the movement of everything gets you going. But we have to be cautious about it, because I was warned a bunch by [referee] John Parry, who was here last week about doing that. In practice, he said, 'Look, I'm OK with it, but there are other refs who probably won't be.' So I think you just have to make the changes. Whatever the rules are, we have to adjust to them."

Happy for Hoyer. Brady wasn't aware that his former backup, Brian Hoyer, had been named the Browns starter earlier on Wednesday. When told of the news, he smiled. "I love Brian. He's such a great guy, a person, a friend. We've always kept in touch. So I'm proud of him. He's fought through some tough circumstances over the years -- getting released here, going to Arizona, getting a little bit of an opportunity there -- and really has taken advantage of the opportunity in Cleveland. It's great for him. He's a great player. I'm very happy for him."

Sebastian Vollmer absent once again

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was not spotted at the start of the team’s practice Wednesday, as he missed his third practice in a row for an undisclosed reason.

Vollmer’s situation bears monitoring as he has not been seen on the practice field since playing 22 snaps in Friday’s preseason win against the Eagles. His injury history is well-documented, which includes a broken ankle that landed him on injured reserve in the eighth week of the 2013 season

In other injury news, defensive tackle Sealver Siliga has progressed to the point that he is doing rehabilitation work with other players coming back from injuries. He was wearing a black protective cast/brace on his left hand Wednesday as he passed by reporters en route to practice. Siliga's presence indicates that his injury, sustained Aug. 5 in a joint practice with Washington, is probably not of a season-ending nature.

The following injured players weren't spotted at practice Wednesday: tight end D.J. Williams (right lower leg, Aug. 5), defensive tackle Chris Jones (left ankle, Aug. 7) and offensive tackle Chris Martin (non-football injury list).

The Patriots were practicing in shells and shorts.

What we learned from Professor Belichick

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tuesday's news conference with Bill Belichick had a "Football 101" type of feel to it. Belichick was the professor at the front of the room, going in depth on special-teams contributions, kick-returning technique and what defines a good training camp.

These are the types of news conferences that Belichick seems to enjoy (or at least tolerate), as it went a bit overtime and threatened his on-time arrival for afternoon practice.

Here were a few notes:

Bonus plays with receivers on special-teams coverage units. When it comes to receivers playing on special-teams coverage units, which Brandon LaFell has done, Belichick called those "bonus plays" because it's more the exception than the rule with pass-catchers. Not including special-teams captain Matthew Slater, who technically is a receiver but plays sparingly at the position, LaFell is the only New England Patriots receiver who showed up on the top kickoff coverage unit in Friday's game against the Eagles. In practice, LaFell has also taken reps as a backup on the punt coverage unit, and his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame is part of what makes him competitive in the coverage role. "Size and strength are big attributes that you have to have to block or take on blockers," Belichick said. "Those are things that kind of work in his favor and he did in Carolina. He’s tough and he’s competitive and he does a good job there. Just another way that he can contribute to the team."

Most important things for kickoff returners. When watching Patriots kickoff returners Friday night against Carolina, consider these remarks from Belichick on what makes an effective returner: "Vision is important. Speed is important because the faster you can get the ball from the goal line or wherever it comes down up into that 15-, 20-yard line area, then the more you can avoid [the unblocked coverage player]. So, speed and then either some combination of quickness and power to break tackles. Somehow or another returners to be good have to be able to make some yards on their own. They have to be able to avoid them or be strong to run through them, as well as have good vision and find the holes." Belichick then added this: "The three things that affect [kickoff returners] the most are the depth of the kick, the hang time of the kick and the posture that he’s in when he catches it." The Patriots have used rookie Roy Finch (3 returns, 25.0 avg.), Josh Boyce (1 return, 25 yards), Travis Hawkins (1 return, 20 yards) and James White (1 return, 19 yards) on kickoffs this preseason, with Boyce entering training camp as the favorite to seize the job.

What defines a good training camp. How does Belichick know a team has had a good training camp? He explained that part of it is seeing how the club responds to adversity. "It’s a challenge for the team -- not just the players but the entire organization -- to handle all the things you have to handle in training camp. You have to be able to show some mental toughness, some ability to block out distractions and focus on your job," he said. "If you can do those over a training camp period of, call it six weeks, then it’s probably a pretty good indication that you have a chance to do it during the year. If you don't, then it’s probably an indication that when the pressure really comes on during the season, which the pressure is going to mount for the team as the season goes, I’d say the likelihood of it all just magically coming together without a legitimate foundation, I haven’t had a lot of great experience with that."

Rookie Dominique Easley brings pressure

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discusses first-round pick Dominique Easley and how he could have a huge impact in the team’s interior pass rush.

Jeremy Gallon takes ribbing in stride

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon finally had the chance to silence heckling from his teammates with his return to practice Monday for the first time at training camp.

“Hearing all the jokes they’ve been saying because you’ve been out for so long ... it was fun just getting back out there with your teammates,” Gallon said in the locker room before heading out to Tuesday’s practice.

For the seventh-round draft choice (244th overall) out of the University of Michigan, it’s all about getting back to football again after being sidelined with an undisclosed ailment. Gallon knows he faces an uphill climb.

“Just trying to learn as much as I can learn and make the team,” he said. “And to do everything I can do for my teammates.”

At 5-foot-8, Gallon's physical profile is closer to the likes of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, two players he feels he can learn a lot from.

“They are one of the best in the game at doing what they do,” Gallon said. “Just learning what they know and feeding off of them. Getting everything I can get from them and applying that to myself. I think it could do great things for me just following great leaders like that. Who wouldn’t want to?”

While at the University of Michigan, Gallon set a school record for receiving yards during his senior season (1,373) and also set the Big Ten conference record for receiving yards in a single game (369). Gallon lit up defenses with sharp routes, speed over the top and impressive vertical jumps for a player of his stature.

He also heavily contributed to Michigan’s special teams as a punt and kick returner, especially early on in his collegiate career.

“I’m working for it,” Gallon said about being a contributor in the return game for the Patriots. “I have to come in and make the team first and show the coaches I can do it and have everybody put their trust in me.”

As for adjusting to the big scene of the NFL, Gallon is used to the large crowds that gathered on Saturday’s at Michigan Stadium, also known as “The Big House.”

“I mean, the crowd doesn’t matter to me," he said, laughing. "It’s all about the team.”


How practice squad change affects Patriots

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The NFL announced a few changes to practice squads in 2014 and 2015, increasing the maximum number of players from eight to 10, and also expanding eligibility for players who have earned no more than two accrued seasons of free agency credit.

Prior to the change, a player who earned one or more accrued seasons would not be eligible for the practice squad unless the player spent fewer than nine games on a club's 46-man game-day roster in each of his accrued seasons.

From a Patriots perspective, that opens the possibility that some players who previously wouldn't be eligible for the practice squad and might be perceived to be on the roster bubble -- such as defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Joe Vellano -- could still stick with the team if there isn't a spot for them on the 53-man roster.

This rule should help prolong some careers of players, and help avoid situations like what unfolded with Stoughton (Mass.) High graduate Ryan LaCasse in 2007.

LaCasse, who played at Syracuse, appeared in 12 games as a rookie with the Colts in 2006. He was a fringe roster player contributing mostly on special teams, and when he didn't make the roster in 2007, he wasn't eligible for the practice squad because he had played in 12 games in '06. LaCasse, a defensive end, didn't play another regular-season game in the NFL.

Under the new rules, a player like LaCasse would be eligible for the practice squad once again, giving him more time to develop.

Leftovers from Patriots locker room

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cleaning out the notebook from the media-access period in the New England Patriots locker room on Tuesday:

Who’s drawing big crowds: Cornerback Darrelle Revis, safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, receiver Brandon LaFell, linebacker Jerod Mayo and undrafted free-agent tight end Justin Jones drew the largest media crowds.

Revis talks new points of emphasis. The NFL’s point of emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact remains a hot topic among players, with Revis and McCourty both touching on it when asked. “It’s tough. It’s tough,” Revis said. “I think we just have to work through it. Teams have been working through it during this preseason. I think it’s a learning situation for everybody. It’s a new rule. The refs are trying to do best they can. As players, we’re trying to do the best we can by keeping our hands off the receivers down the field. That’s a learning process. Maybe in the regular season, things might change. You never know. At this moment, everybody is just trying to make sure they’re doing the right thing by following the rule.”

McCourty’s take. Count McCourty among those who would like to see fewer penalty flags on the ground. “Hopefully they just reduce the flags and we get to play a little bit,” he said. “Even last night, watching the [Cleveland-Washington] game, it just seems like every couple plays there is another flag. It will be tough for the people trying to watch the game who have work in the morning.”

Left side? Right side? Doesn’t matter to Revis. One indication that Revis' transition to New England is now complete came with his response to a question about him playing exclusively on the left side to this point. Revis' answer: “It is what it is.” Revis then went on to say he’s happy to play anywhere that makes the defense successful. We haven’t read too much into this area because the Patriots aren’t going to tip their hand at this point in the preseason.

Mayo doesn’t disclose reason for absence. Why was Mayo missing from practice all last week? He wouldn’t divulge, saying only, “I feel good. I went out there yesterday, ran around a little bit and feel pretty good.” Mayo wouldn’t specify if his absence was more injury-related or something more personal in nature. Asked if he will play Friday against the Panthers, Mayo deferred to coach Bill Belichick.

Harmon’s areas of improvement. When it comes to areas in which he feels he’s made strides since training camp began, Harmon pinpointed patience, man-to-man coverage and tackling.

Jones stuck around the area. Jones, who was released for a week before he was re-signed on Sunday, said he stayed in the area for the week he was unemployed. Fellow tight end D.J. Williams gets the assist for letting him stay at his place. “Coach told me I was making improvements; maybe it needed to happen a little quicker for him,” he said. “This is the time of year that a lot of guys are getting shuffled around.” Jones added that the speed of the game, specifically in the preseason opener against the Redskins, has been his biggest adjustment.

Patriots' Sebastian Vollmer absent again

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was not present for the team's practice Tuesday, marking the second straight day he's been absent.

It is unclear what is keeping Vollmer off the practice field. Vollmer played 22 of 91 snaps in Friday's preseason win against the Eagles, which was the same total as starting left guard Logan Mankins, as top starters played the first two series.

In Vollmer's absence, the Patriots would most likely insert four-year veteran Marcus Cannon into that spot. But with Cannon also working at left tackle at times in training camp, the club could always keep him there and play Nate Solder on the right side as well.

Elsewhere on the injury front, tight end D.J. Williams and defensive linemen Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga were absent Tuesday.

Meanwhile, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, linebacker Cameron Gordon and offensive lineman Chris Martin worked on the lower field with members of the athletic training staff.

LaFell: Shell-shocked to comfortable

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Wide receiver Brandon LaFell knows he has come a long way since joining the New England Patriots, especially in the last two weeks of training camp.

“From OTA to now, if I had to put it on a scale from zero to 10, I would say like an 8 now,” LaFell said Tuesday. “OTAs I was shell-shocked, didn’t know what to expect. It was all new to me."

[+] EnlargeBrandon LaFell
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesBill Belichick acknowledged that receiver Brandon LaFell has made strides since the beginning of camp and hinted at a possible prominent role in the Patriots' offense.
On Friday, LaFell's former team, the Carolina Panthers, visits the Patriots in preseason action. LaFell knows a thing or two about Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, and he's still learning about Tom Brady.

“I’m blessed going from Cam doing his things up-and-coming, real good quarterback and then I come up here with Brady. It’s great” LaFell said.

"Everybody always says a football play is about 8 seconds, but with Cam, he is a big body, he can move, he can stiff-arm a defensive end and 8 seconds can turn to 12 seconds. Brady, he’s not the fastest guy out there, but he [has] a little loose enough in him to make plays.”

The 6-foot-3 LaFell said Brady’s attention to detail, and perfecting the quarterback-to-wide-receiver connection, is one of his main challenges in coming to New England.

“He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be when running a route,” LaFell said. “Not a yard off, not a yard too deep, not a yard too short. He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be because he’s going to put the ball placement exactly right.

"The more and more reps I get with this guy, getting our timing better and also he’s trying to find me more."

Coach Bill Belichick sees it too.

"He’s been very diligent in trying to learn his assignments, learn the plays," Belichick said. "He’s a tough kid. He’s played for us in the kicking game, he’s given us some plays there, which at that position it’s always good to get those [plays] out of those receivers. Those are kind of like bonus plays. I think he’s been very competitive. Obviously he’s a big target. Again, he’s gotten better at the routes that we’ve run. I thought the deep out route that he ran in the game was good. He created a lot of separation on that. He’s got a good skill set; a little different than some of our other guys, but good and he’s tough."

Belichick added another compliment that might bode well for LaFell's first season in New England:

"Whatever we’ve asked him to do, he’s done it and done it well. He’s gotten better at it. I think he’ll be able to carve out a role for himself here. It might be a big one, I don’t know, we’ll see."

After spending his previous four seasons with Carolina, LaFell is one of the more experienced pass-catchers on the Patriots' roster. That has helped him build a rapport with Brady.

“I’ve learned in this game that when you go out there and force, force, force every time, something bad happens,” LaFell said. “When you go out there and do your job, be patient, things are going to happen for you.”

On Friday night, LaFell has the opportunity to put his progress on display against his former team in the Patriots’ third preseason game.

“It’s going to be a little weird, just going out there and seeing some of my old teammates, looking at those jerseys knowing I was just in those jerseys last year,” LaFell said. “But I got to do my job.”

Why Tom Brady went all out on pick-six

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sometimes it works out where a question asked by a reader can be taken directly to a player for an answer. It's rare when that happens with quarterback Tom Brady, but that's what unfolded Tuesday.

After filing the weekly Patriots mailbag, which included a question on whether it was smart for Brady to attempt to tackle Eagles cornerback Cary Williams on Williams' pick-six in Friday's preseason game, there was an opening to say a quick hello to Brady in the team's locker room today.

So I asked him the question from "Matt/Chapel Hill, N.C." about why he attempted to make the tackle and risk injury in a preseason game.

"I didn't even think about it," Brady answered, adding that his instincts simply took over. "The thing I was bummed about was that I didn't get him down."

In the end, this is just the way Brady plays the game. It's similar to what we saw from rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the preseason opener when he jumped into the scrum in an attempt to recover a Stephen Houston fourth-quarter fumble.

In both cases, not much good could result from the quarterbacks throwing themselves into harm's way.

But when teammates watch the plays over on tape, they'll see a player doing whatever it takes, which is an endearing trait and creates a dynamic where others might be more inclined to follow their lead.

Weekly Patriots mail is delivered

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
Every Tuesday on ESPNBoston.com, questions from New England Patriots followers are answered as part of a weekly mailbag. This week's mailbag has been posted and includes some of the following topics:

1. Undrafted cornerback Malcolm Butler and his sudden emergence.

2. Receiver Josh Boyce and if he's done enough to earn a roster spot.

3. Rookie running back Roy Finch and his chances of sticking on the roster.

4. Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano and how things might shake out on the defensive line.

5. Examining the Patriots' linebacker depth.

6. Prepping for the season opener Sept. 7 in Miami.

DE Jones could benefit from Revis Island

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
ESPN.com's NFLRank project is in the process of being unveiled, and with players 81-90 in the spotlight on Tuesday, it's a chance to highlight New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones.

The Patriots' top draft choice from 2012 checks in at No. 85.

The arrow has been pointing up on Jones, who totaled six quarterback sacks as a rookie and followed up with 11.5 last season while playing a team-high 98 percent of the snaps. With cornerback Darrelle Revis joining the Patriots in a revamped secondary that has been clinging to receivers in training camp, one thought is that the player who could benefit most is Jones.

With a little extra time to get to the quarterback, could 15 or more sacks be in his future?

The personable Syracuse alumnus almost always deflects such a focus on personal statistics, but he has detailed how he tailored his offseason training to building more lower-body strength. The 6-foot-5 and long-armed Jones, who recently said that he's closer to 266 pounds than his listed 260, wanted to make his body more proportional to aid his pass-rushing and run-stopping skills.

"Without your legs, you're not anything," he said. "Stronger legs definitely generates more power and more speed."

That speed has actually shown up in a different area in training camp, as Jones has been dropping a bit more in coverage as part of outside linebacker responsibilities in the 3-4 alignment. On one play in joint practices last week against the Eagles, for example, Jones was chasing a running back down the left sideline.

"I really enjoy it. It shows a little versatility," Jones said of his coverage duties, while adding that playing 3-4 outside linebacker is similar to 4-3 defensive end, which has been his primary role in his first two NFL seasons.

But make no mistake, it's the pass rush where Jones' greatest value lies with the Patriots, and that isn't changing. Jones recently said that he feels he's grown in that area to the point that he now reacts to the way an offensive tackle blocks him and adjusts accordingly, instead of picking a move pre-snap and sticking with it.

We should get a chance to see a few more of those moves this season. As Jones moves up the NFL ranks, garnering more recognition, the trickle-down effect of Revis' arrival in New England could help him enter the ranks of the NFL's top pass-rushers.