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Target Practice: Who is the favorite target of the Patriots’ passing game this preseason?

08.24.12 at 10:42 am ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains an imperfect stat ‘€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback ‘€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the New England passing game to this point in the 2012 preseason:

RB Shane Vereen: Six catches on eight targets
WR Julian Edelman: Six catches on nine targets
WR Jeremy Ebert: Four catches on 10 targets
RB Danny Woodhead: Three catches on six targets
WR Deion Branch: Three catches on four targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: Two catches on three targets
WR Jabar Gaffney: Two catches on three targets
RB Eric Kettani: Two catches on three targets
WR Donte’€™ Stallworth: Two catches on eight targets
TE Alex Silvestro: Two catches on four targets
TE Tyler Urban: One catch on two targets
TE Aaron Hernandez: One catch on one target
WR Britt Davis: One catch on four targets
RB Brandon Bolden: Zero catches on four targets
WR Jesse Holley: Zero catches on three targets
RB Stevan Ridley: Zero catches on two targets
WR Matthew Slater: Zero catches on one target
WR Brandon Lloyd: Zero catches on one target

By position:
Wide receiver: 18 catches on 43 targets
Running back: 11 catches on 23 targets
Tight end: Six catches on 10 targets

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Patriots announce change in kickoff time for preseason finale

08.23.12 at 1:38 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Thursday that the kickoff time for next Wednesday’s preseason finale vs. the Giants at MetLife Stadium has been moved from 7:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. The time change was initiated due to television coverage of the Republican National Convention.

Vince Wilfork, Devin McCourty pay their respects to Greg Schiano

08.23.12 at 1:11 pm ET
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The joint practices between the Patriots and Buccaneers are giving some Patriots a chance to catch up with Greg Schiano. Schiano, a former head coach at Rutgers and assistant at the University of Miami who became head coach in Tampa Bay this past offseason, has connections to New England cornerback Devin McCourty, as well as defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.

‘€œI wasn’€™t a guy that had any other offers; I only had Rutgers,’€ said McCourty, who played for Schiano at Rutgers from 2006 through 2009. ‘€œEven with that being said, he was always trying to change the program around with the right things and was all about winning and being competitive.

‘€œI think myself and a lot of other guys that play in the NFL now that went to college around that time, really believed in him [and] in his belief in turning that program around. I think it was great for us to be there and be a part of something new that changed the culture of a whole football program.’€

Prior to becoming the head coach at Rutgers, Schiano helped recruit Wilfork to Miami.

‘€œVery, very intense,’€ Wilfork said of Schiano, who was with the Hurricanes as their defensive coordinator in 1999 and 2000. ‘€œHe loves doing what he’€™s doing and that’€™s coaching football. It wasn’€™t a surprise to see him at this level someday — it was just a matter of time.  He went to Rutgers and had a very successful reign up there and turned that program around and got guys to buy into his program because he’€™s all about winning and I’€™ve seen it first hand.

‘€œHaving some guys from Rutgers on our team, Devin [McCourty] and Justin [Francis] and guys like that, they say the same thing. He’€™s a great, great guy. He’€™s a hell of a coach and I think he’€™s going to be around for a while.’€

Schiano told us back in February that McCourty will bounce back after an occasionally rough 2011 season, and this week, McCourty returned the compliment, saying Schiano will ‘€œdo well’€ as a coach in the NFL.

‘€œI remember all the times when we were in college, he used to tell us, ‘€˜A lot of things we’€™re doing here will prepare you to play at the next level.’€™ He [ran] things like an NFL team,’€ said McCourty, who was a first-round pick of the Patriots in 2010. ‘€œWhen I got to the NFL I was like, ‘€˜You know, he was right.’€™ We did a lot of things similarly, so I think he’€™ll transition pretty well. He was a coach in Chicago before and he spent a lot of time in college getting the different aspects and just going through it, helping kids grow into grown men. But as far as coaching football, I think he’€™ll do a great job.’€

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Highlights from Bill Belichick’s Thursday morning Q&A with media

08.23.12 at 11:05 am ET
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Here are some of the highlights from Bill Belichick‘€™s Thursday morning press conference in Tampa.

How is today’€™s regimen going to be different than yesterday?
‘€œWell, it’€™s the day before the game, so we’€™ll tempo it down a little bit. We have some specific situations that we want to get covered, offensively, defensively and in the kicking game ‘€“ a little more emphasis on those today than yesterday. Yesterday was more kind of the core stuff: first, second and third down. Today we’€™ll work on some specific situations: end of game things, kicking situations that might only come up once or twice a season, but we work against those things against each other, but we know what we do and we know what we do, so if you work against another team, you see a different play or a different defense or a different punt rush or whatever it is, so it just makes you better prepared for those situations whenever they come up because they’€™re so critical when they do happen.’€

I know it was just one day, but how do you think Jeff Demps fared in his first practice?
‘€œIt looked like his first practice. He has a long way to go.’€

You’€™ve done these joint practice several times, and Greg Schiano talked about how you don’€™t want to do them with just anyone, it has to be someone you have a good relationship with. What are some of the criteria that go into choosing who to do joint practices about?
‘€œI’€™d say just the number one thing is that it’€™s not about beating somebody in practice; it’€™s about working with somebody and getting better. We’€™re not here to try to win a drill or trick Tampa on something. That’€™s not the point of it; the point is to work on what we want to work on and work on what they’€™re working on so that we can become better and when we walk off the field we’€™re a better team than we were when we walked on it. That’€™s the way we practice against each other: we compete against each other, but we compete in a way that we can improve each other ‘€“ not get guys hurt, not a bunch of piles, not fight, and get all caught up in did he gain five yards, did he gain two yards, did we sack the quarterback, did we not sack the quarterback? We pull off, we don’€™t hit the quarterback, we don’€™t hit guys that are ‘€“ the same way we wouldn’€™t hit our guys in practice. We take care of each other but we work hard and we set up the drill so that they’€™re fair, competitive drills. It’€™s not tilted one way or the other so that you can have an equal competition and equal evaluation. We made some plays out there, they made some plays out there and both teams can learn from both those situations. But it’€™s not about going out there and winning the practice; it’€™s about going out there and improving your team and making sure that when the players are on the field, they’€™re kind of of comparable levels, too. We want to compete both athletically and also schematically with players that are their experienced players and that are their best players. At the same time, our younger guys and some of our less experienced guys just aren’€™t ready to handle some of the things that ‘€“ but they should compete against simpler plays, simpler formations. They could do something formation-wise or blitz-wise that we just aren’€™t ready to handle with that group of players and so what good is that? We’€™re not ready for it, so okay, they did it because we’€™re not ready for it. So we want to try to compete on an equal level and let the players play and then as they develop and grow then obviously they’€™ll be able to move to that higher level. But you have to evaluate them on what they know how to do first. A lot of things like that go into it and it’€™s just again, working together.  And not just Greg, but the entire staff has just been great to work with ‘€“ the assistant coaches and coordinators working together and so forth. We’€™ve tried to create game-like situations but structured in a way that we know what we’€™re doing and we can get the right people on the field, we can be competitive with each other and not get into a situation where somebody is overmatched or under-matched.’€
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Following the flags: Which Patriots have been penalized the most this preseason?

08.23.12 at 9:53 am ET
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Our weekly “following the flags” feature drew a lot of attention last season, so we decided to bring it back this year. Through two weeks of the preseason, the Patriots have been flagged for 12 penalties for 141 yards. Here’s a look on how things break down through two weeks, not including penalties that were declined or offset:

Most penalized players, listed by total flags and with total yardage lost:
OT Nate Solder: two penalties (two offensive holding), 20 yards
OT Marcus Cannon: two penalties (false start, offensive holding), 15 yards.
*S Tavon Wilson: one penalty (pass interference), 46 yards.
OL Donald Thomas: one penalty (personal foul), 15 yards
DE Jake Bequette: one penalty (roughing the passer), 15 yards
CB Marquice Cole: one penalty (illegal block above the waist), 10 yards
CB Sterling Moore, one penalty (defensive holding), 5 yards
DL Brandon Deaderick, one penalty (defensive offsides), 5 yards
Team: one penalty (encroachment), 5 yards
WR Jesse Holley: one penalty (false start), 5 yards

Most penalized by position:
Offensive line: Five penalties for 50 yards
Safety: One penalty for 46 yards
Defensive line: Two penalties for 20 yards
Cornerback: Two penalties for 15 yards
Wide receiver: One penalty for 5 yards
Team: One penalty for 5 yards

Most frequently called penalties on the Patriots:
Offensive holding: Three
False start: Two
Illegal block above the waist: One
Pass interference: One
Personal foul: One
Roughing the passer: One
Defensive holding: One
Defensive offsides: One
Encroachment: One

(*We’ll leave the penalty next to Wilson’s name, but a closer look at the film reveals that it was Sterling Moore who should have been called for the infraction.)

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Tom Brady: Time in Tampa is no Florida vacation

08.22.12 at 2:21 pm ET
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Here are some of the highlights from Tom Brady‘€™s Q&A with the media on Wednesday:

Do you feel like you’€™re getting enough reps in practice to mesh with all the new people? You don’€™t seem to be getting many in games.
‘€œOnly time will tell. We’€™ll see when we kick off, but the goal is to be ready and prepared when we need to be. Coach Belichick has been through this quite a bit and so have I, so I’€™m sure when the time comes to play, we’€™ll be as prepared as we can possibly be.’€

How do you feel about the offensive line?
‘€œThey’€™re doing their job and I have to worry about my job. I think part of what our team has always been built on is guys having trust in each other to do what they need to do to be competitive and that’€™s what we’€™re trying to do out here in practice. It’€™s not like you come out here and the second you’€™re practicing, you have every problem solved. That’€™s why we’€™re out here practicing every single day: to try to make improvements, to try to get better. That’€™s what we’€™re trying to accomplish. This is a tough game and it’€™s for the mentally tough. I think you have to build on your good plays and try to eliminate the bad plays, and that’€™s what we try to do.’€

Do the joint practices feel like an extension of training camp?
‘€œWell, I think we came down here to get better as a football team. I don’€™t think it’€™s a vacation or a nice trip to Florida; this is for us to come down here and be a better football team when we leave. There are no activities planned. We have work to do this afternoon and tonight. We’€™re going to wake up tomorrow and come practice and then work tomorrow night and get ready to play the game.’€
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Jeff Demps: ‘I have a long way to go’

08.22.12 at 2:12 pm ET
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Running back and kick returner Jeff Demps saw his first practice action with the Patriots on Wednesday morning, and the Olympic silver medalist was thrown right into the fray, going at it in one-on-one drills in a joint practice session with the Buccaneers in Tampa.

For Demps, who said he hasn’€™t touched a football since Florida beat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl back on Jan. 2, it was good to get back to the field.

‘€œToday is my first time, so I have a long way to go,’€ Demps told reporters. ‘€œBut I just want to come out each and every day and work hard.’€

Running backs coach Ivan Fears said Demps was a ‘€œgreat guy,’€ but indicated that it will take some time to get back into football form — particularly for a rookie who wasn’€™t a part of the spring or summer sessions, and hasn’€™t even touched a football in almost eight months.

‘€œJust going back to his college history, the guy was extremely productive in college. [But] this is the first day we’€™ve seen him. Not a whole lot we can tell you, other than he got tired running two runs,’€ Fears added with a laugh, ‘€œso I was kind of a little pissed off at him.

‘€œFor [Demps], it’€™s mostly just getting his feet up under him, getting a little wind back in his lungs, getting used to catching the ball,’€ Fears added. ‘€œYou know, he hasn’€™t touched it in six months or more. And getting the feel of what he did when he was back in college. I’€™m sure it won’€™t take that long for a guy like him. He’€™s such a great athlete, just based on what I’€™ve seen on film. He’€™s starting. We’€™ll see.’€

The 22-year-old Demps, who checks in at 5-foot-9 and 181 pounds, had a standout career with the Gators, finishing with 2,470 career rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in four seasons. However, he didn’€™t participate in any of the spring pre-draft workouts because he was focused completely on track, and was undrafted.

While the focus on track paid off with a silver medal at the London Olympics, it set him back as a football player.

‘€œHe didn’€™t go to the combine. He wasn’€™t in any of that stuff. He set his mind that he was going to be in Olympic training,’€ Fears said. ‘€œI had a nice conversation with him. It was an interesting mindset. He felt he couldn’€™t do both.

‘€œBut it’€™s kind of exciting to see him. I haven’€™t had anyone I could say had world-class speed.’€

The Patriots beat out several other suitors for Demps, and signed him late last week to a contract that, according to’€™s Brian McIntyre, includes a signing bonus of $11,000 and a fully guaranteed $200,000 of the $390,000 base salary Demps would earn if he makes the 53-man roster. (According to McIntyre, the total of $211,000 in guaranteed money is the second-largest sum given to a 2012 undrafted free agent, exceeded only by the $214,000 the Cowboys guaranteed offensive lineman Ronald Leary.)

While the contract was nice, Demps said Wednesday there were other reasons why he signed with New England.

‘€œEverything was just family based,’€ he said of the Patriots. ‘€œ[I felt] like I was already a part of the team.’€

Long-term, he figures to contribute both as a running back and kick returner, and one thing that should help ease the transition is that Demps was with former Patriots’€™ offensive coordinator Charlie Weis when Weis was the Gators’€™ offensive coordinator in 2011.

In the short term, Fears noted that Demps was ‘€œcourageous’€ for being tossed right into action on Wednesday. However, Demps said that might have been the easiest part of the transition, noting it was one he made all the time in college … with one exception.

‘€œWell, I always had a football background. I’€™m a football player first, so I’€™m used to just jumping right into it coming off of track season,’€ he said. ‘€œSo it was basically the same transition, except the guys are a lot bigger.’€

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