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Robert Kraft’s statements should give NFL fans real cause for concern

05.16.11 at 12:52 am ET
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Throughout the entire NFL labor dispute, Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been a beacon of positivity, one of a few individuals on either side of the argument who has constantly preached optimism. When individuals on both sides were using nuclear language ‘€” even when the lockout began ‘€” he continued to hit upbeat themes. There was one semi-contentious statement he made when the lockout became official. But for the most part, listening to him, you believed Kraft when he said they had a shot a deal getting done sooner rather than later.

But on Sunday, Kraft sounded a darker note. Speaking with reporters at a Science of Sports Fair at Gillette Stadium, the New England owner sounded like a man who knows that the NFL is approaching dangerous territory. Using words like ‘€œcareful’€ and ‘€œaggravate’€ and ‘€œhurt ourselves,’€ one of the most powerful owners in the league said the NFL is listing toward dangerous territory at the moment.

‘€œOne of my concerns is that we not aggravate our fan base,’€ Kraft told reporters. ‘€œThey don’€™t really understand and they don’€™t want to understand whether it’€™s the owners or the players. They just want to have football.

‘€œWe have to be very careful, and I think we’€™re getting to that point now, that we start to hurt ourselves collectively in the eyes of our fans,’€ he added. ‘€œIn the end, the fans just want football. They don’€™t want to hear about all this meaningless squabbling and we have a great business. We have to sit down with the principals and find a way to solve it.’€

Kraft would later circle back and add an optimistic footnote, saying, ‘€œThe problem can be solved, I really believe that. If we sit down as principals, I believe we can do a deal very quickly.’€ But the fact that Kraft deviated ‘€” albeit briefly ‘€” from his sunny approach should be a cause for concern for fans. (The fact that he was saying it while speaking as an advocate for fans makes it all the more interesting.) Throughout the entire process, the Patriots’€™ owner has used neutral, friendly verbiage when talking about the lockout. And for the most part, he’s steered clear of the public missteps that have plagued other owners like Carolina’€™s Jerry Richardson (who has insulted the players) or Miami’€™s Stephen Ross (who has cut employee salaries). So when moderates like Kraft start preaching caution and concern ‘€” even when it comes to something like alienating the fan base ‘€” what does that say about hard-liners like Richardson or Cincinnati’€™s Mike Brown?
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Read More: Jerry Richardson, lockout, Mike Brown, Robert Kraft

Ex-Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi will host charity tournament in Norton later this month

05.15.11 at 1:02 pm ET
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In his five seasons with the Patriots, offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi was accorded as one of the toughest guys in the locker room. The right guard had a legendarily high pain threshold ‘€” he started 72 games for New England from 2000 through 2004, and was part of all three Super Bowl champions.

After his playing days ended, Andruzzi settled in New England and threw himself into charity work. He’s the driving force behind the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which he started to help those who are fighting cancer. (Andruzzi has survived a bout with non-Hodgkins Burkitt’s lymphoma.)

This year, the foundation is putting on his third annual golf tournament, scheduled for Monday, May 23 at the TPC Boston in Norton. Scheduled to attend are current Patriots Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Ninkovich, Tully Banta-Cain and Jermaine Cunningham, as well as former Patriots Matt Chatham, Christian Fauria, Pete Brock and Jermaine Wiggins.

For more information on the event ‘€” and find out how you can help ‘€” check out Andruzzi’s web site here.

Read More: Christian Fauria, Dan Koppen, Jermaine Cunningham, Jermaine Wiggins

James Sanders talks lockout, staying in shape, and playing for Bill Belichick

05.15.11 at 10:34 am ET
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Patriots safety James Sanders recently chatted with the blog ‘€œMeat Locker Sports,’€ and touched on a wide variety of topics, including how he’€™s staying in shape during the lockout, his mindset as a player, how last season was a ‘€œweird year’€ for him and what it takes to play for Bill Belichick and against Tom Brady every day in practice.

On staying in shape during the lockout:

‘€œI come back home to Fresno, California and train with a small group. But my main training partner is one of my best friends, Richard Marshall of the Carolina Panthers. We get together on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, four days a week and we just grind. Our trainer out here Steve Sabonya (Progressive Sports Conditioning) has done a great a job getting us in shape, as well as our sprint coach Josh Norman. We run hills, we have strict weight lifting regiments’€¦the first couple weeks were brutal. But they do a great job.

‘€œWe knew it was coming last year during the season. You have to be professional enough, and man enough to know that you don’€™t have the coaches out there following you around making sure you’€™re running and working out on your own. You just have to be man enough to keep yourself accountable.’€

On his approach to each season:

‘€œMy mindset going in to each season is to continue to work hard and to improve areas of my game. I always feel like I’€™m in the mindset to be the starter, regardless of who the coaches and the organization draft. Me, Brandon Meriweather, Patrick Chung, the whole secondary, we’€™re all great friends. But when we go into camp I keep in my mind that I’€™m trying to leave as the starter.

‘€œPersonally for me, I just want to improve my game each year. I know a lot of guys say it, but I just want to learn to become the best player that I can possibly be. I feel like I haven’€™t reached my full potential. I feel like I’€™m still learning more and more after each season. I just want to continue to grow in all facets of my game, run defense, pass defense, special teams’€¦ everything. I want to continue to strive to be a better player every year and I feel up to this point that I’€™ve been improving each year and I just aim to continue to do so. As a team, obviously the goal is to win a super bowl. I’€™ve come close a couple of times, but I haven’€™t had the opportunity to hold that trophy and get that championship ring and that’€™s something I still strive to earn.’€
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Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders, Josh Norman

Voting for Patriots Hall of Fame ends on Sunday

05.14.11 at 11:43 am ET
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The voting for this year’€™s nominees for induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame is now in its final week. Fans can vote at until midnight on Sunday to select this year’€™s hall of fame honoree. The nominees for induction are Houston Antwine, Drew Bledsoe and Bill Parcells.

I’m honored to be a part of a committee of voters who meet annually to discuss, debate and nominate the three people most deserving of Patriots Hall of Fame induction. This year’€™s nominees were announced on April 15, giving fans a month to vote. The person receiving the most votes will be this year’€™s hall of fame honoree, with the selection announced the week of May 16.

To check out more about the Patriots Hall of Fame and this year’s finalists ‘€” and why I voted the way I did ‘€” check out my story here.

Read More: Bill Parcells, Drew Bledsoe, Houston Antwine, Patriots Hall of Fame

Free Agent Snapshot: Mathias Kiwanuka

05.14.11 at 12:53 am ET
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Despite the labor uncertainty, will present a list of 10 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency (under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement) this offseason. To check out the complete list of possibilities to date, click here.

Mathias Kiwanuka
Position: Defensive end/outside linebacker
Age: 28
Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 265

When we started this feature, we were immediately hit with a flurry of e-mails and Tweets asking whether or not we were going to include Kiwanuka as a possibility for the Patriots. So here he is: When healthy, the former Boston College product has been able to generate some very good pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He has 23.5 career sacks over 61 games in the NFL, including a career-best eight in 2008, and he had four in three games last season before going down with a season-ending neck injury. (To put that in perspective, he would have tied for third on the 2010 Patriots’€™ in sacks.)

Kiwanuka has displayed some versatility in New York’€™s scheme, playing both defensive end and outside linebacker. In fact, Giants‘€™ defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was grooming Kiwanuka to serve as a chess piece who would play multiple spots before the former BC star was injured, and Fewell later said the injury was a big blow to New York’€™s defense. ‘€œI think about that all the time,’€ Fewell told reporters at the end of December who asked about the loss of Kiwanuka. ‘€œTom [Coughlin] tells me don’€™t cry over spilled milk. You never know the impact of a player, but I think about [Kiwanuka] like, ‘€˜Boy, if we had him, we could do this, we could do this, we would be like this, we would be like that, we could change our complexion a little bit more.’€™’€

(For what it’€™s worth, Kiwanuka’€™s overall compatibility with the Patriots’€™ 3-4 base defense ‘€” where he would be an outside linebacker ‘€” is a question, but he certainly fits the Willie McGinest body type the Patriots look for at the outside linebacker spot.)

Why it might not work: Like Manny Lawson, under the old rules, he’€™d be a restricted free agent, which could mean he’€™d be a bit pricey. (There’s still the possibility that he would be unrestricted if the language is changed in the new CBA.) But there’€™s also the long-term question about Kiwanuka’€™s health ‘€” at the combine in February, Giants GM Jerry Reese acknowledged Kiwanuka’€™s career is in jeopardy following the neck injury he suffered last year, a statement he later backpedaled from. (Of course, if he is made available, the injury history would almost certainly drive his price down.)

Read More: free agent snapshot, Jerry Reese, Mathias Kiwanuka, Perry Fewell

Vereen is a ‘brilliant’ guy, according to Cal run game coordinator Ron Gould

05.13.11 at 1:09 pm ET
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The latest draft class profile we did was on Cal running back Shane Vereen, who was compared to Marshall Faulk by his position coach while a collegian, Ron Gould. One thing we didn’t include in the story was the statement from Gould about just how smart Vereen is.

“The thing that people don’t understand is that Shane has a great football IQ,” Gould said of Vereen. “He’s a brilliant guy ‘€” he graduated from Cal in three-and-a-half years, but he also has a great football IQ . There were things we would discuss, and most guys couldn’t tell you the things he can.”

Another thing about Vereen ‘€” he and college teammate Jahvid Best had an “unbelievable relationship,” according to Gould.

“They’re like brothers,” Gould said of Vereen and Best, the latter of whom is now with the Detroit Lions. “They both fed off each other and were fierce competitors. There were things that Shane did that Jahvid liked and vice-versa. They tried to one-up each other, but their relationship is second to none. If Shane scored, Jahvid wanted to score twice and vice-versa. They just fed off each other.”

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Jahvid Best, marshall faulk, Ron Gould

The McCourty Twins hang with the ‘First Take’ crew

05.12.11 at 2:03 pm ET
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Earlier this offseason, it was Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis who sat down to talk football on ESPN’s “First Take.” On Thursday morning, it was the McCourty twins, New England’s Devin and Tennessee’s Jason. The two defensive backs talked about their journey to the NFL, as well as several other topics. Check out the video:

Read More: Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty,
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