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Monday practice notes: Dominique Easley, Aaron Dobson make training camp debuts

08.11.14 at 4:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots finished a practice that ran for roughly two hours on a beautiful summer on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. The session was held in sweats and shells — the 13th practice of the summer, and the fourth one of camp not in pads. Here are a few quick notes:

— Biggest story of the day was the fact that wide receiver Aaron Dobson and defensive lineman Dominique Easley were on the field for the first time this summer. Both were worked back into the mix very slowly — Dobson left shortly after the start of practice to work on the lower fields, while Easley was spotted off to the side working with members of the strength and conditioning staff. Both returned toward the end of practice to work in positional drills, but neither were involved in 7-on-7s. Neither one appeared to be limping or having an issue with health. It’s a start for the both of them.

— Early in practice, cornerback Malcolm Butler slipped on a red jersey while working in drills, presumably a non-contact shirt. Not sure what happened or the severity of the injury, but it’s something to monitor going forward. (In that same drill, Butler, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan made some fantastic fingertip catches.) Butler also appeared to get a lot of work with what appeared to be a reasonable facsimile of the No. 1 defense in 11-on-11 work, and picked off quarterback Tom Brady in 11-on-11 work on a pass intended for Kenbrell Thompkins. Another good day for the rookie corner.

— A few moments after Butler put on the red jersey, Rob Gronkowski also slipped on a red practice jersey. It’s important to note that players were in shells and shorts — so there was a minimum amount of contact — but the big tight end was part of 7-on-7 work for the first time all summer. He looked to be getting in and out of his cuts without an issue, and while he was still limited in what he can and can’t do (some of that is likely just a matter of regaining his football fitness), it appeared that the continues to progress nicely through his rehab. (He also had his daily work off to the side with Brady and cornerback Darrelle Revis.)

— Two more health-related notes: Dennard and Jemea Thomas spent part of the second half of practice working on conditioning on the second practice field, and didn’t appear to take part in much of the 11-on-11 work. Meanwhile, linebacker James Morris was pulled out of 11-on-11 work late in practice and worked with part of the strength and conditioning staff.

— Brady and Julian Edelman continue to be an impressive duo, in sync on almost every possession. While other receivers occasionally misfire and zig when Brady asks them to zag, that hasn’t been an issue to this point in the summer for Edelman. His best grab came late in practice in 11-on-11 work, hauling in a deep ball from Brady against Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington. (It was debatable as to whether or not Edelman should have been whistled for offensive pass interference — Arrington certainly believed it to be the case — but we’ll give Edelman that one.) If he stays healthy, there’s no reason to think that Edelman won’t catch 70-80 passes this year, even if Gronkowski is a fully functional part of the New England offense for 16 games. (One other offensive highlight came when Brady found Kenbrell Thompkins along the sidelines for a sweet hookup that drew a big cheer.)

— Good day for the defensive backs — Brady tossed a ball for Josh Boyce that tipped off the receivers hands, but was quickly nabbed by Nate Ebner for a nice interception. A few plays after that, Thomas picked off Jimmy Garoppolo. (Thomas almost picked off Garoppolo later in 7-on-7s, but the quarterback zipped it past the defensive back into the waiting arms of Brandon LaFell for a nice connection.) And Ryan almost picked Brady in 7-on-7s on a ball for LaFell. (For what it’s worth, Boyce was able to rebound nicely toward the end of practice with a couple of nice catches.) And Daxton Swanson has a nice pass breakup on a Brady pass for LaFell.

— The following players were not spotted at the start of practice: quarterback Ryan Mallett, running back Tyler Gaffney, cornerback Brandon Browner, tight end D.J. Williams, tight end Michael Hoomanwanui, offensive lineman Bryan Stork, offensive lineman Chris Martin and defensive linemen Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga.

— The following players were on the field in shirts, but no pads: defensive back Tavon Wilson and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon.

— Former Bucs coach Greg Schiano and BC hockey coach Jerry York were on the sidelines during practice.

— In 11-on-11s, Jamie Collins had a nice pass breakup on a Brady ball out of the backfield for fullback James Develin. Collins also swiped at a Brady ball for Edelman late in practice.

Danny Amendola and Roy Finch spent time returning punts.

Read More: 2014 training camp,

Tom Brady on D&C: Ryan Mallett ‘just needs an opportunity’

08.11.14 at 12:37 pm ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady joined Dennis & Callahan Monday morning to discuss the preseason, Ryan Mallett‘€™s struggles and the state of the New England offense. To listen to the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

While Brady may not have participated in New England’€™s first preseason game against the Redskins Thursday, he stated that he did not find out about whether or not he would play until coach Bill Belichick told him right before gametime.

“I think Coach does a great job of just making sure everyone’€™s prepared and ready to go,” Brady said. “The preparation leading up to the game is so important. You can always learn a lot from those experiences in practices. … He just said before the game that he thought that we got a lot of good work in and we weren’€™t going to play. I always love playing in those games, because to play real football where you’€™re getting hit and you’€™ve got a clock in your head to throw the ball and all those preparations are important for me, so hopefully I make up for lost time this week.”

One of the biggest takeaways from New England’€™s 23-6 loss to the Washington was the lackluster performance of quarterback Ryan Mallett. Starting for the first time in his professional career, Mallett was 5-of-12 for 55 yards on 18 snaps. Despite his poor showing, Mallett is still considered to be one of the more promising backup quarterbacks in the league – a notion that Brady agreed with.

“Ryan just needs an opportunity,” Brady said. “He hasn’€™t had a chance over the last few years to get in there and show what he can do. I’€™ve always loved working with Ryan and he’€™s got a great ability to be able to step in there and do the job and I think everybody’€™s got a lot of confidence that he can do it, he just hasn’€™t had the chance. You can’€™t judge anybody based on one half of the first preseason game. I think you have to look at the total body of work and that’€™s how coaches have always evaluated it.”

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Read More: Jimmy Garoppolo, Patriots, Ryan Mallett, Tom Brady

Tim Hasselbeck on D&C: ‘I don’t think [the Patriots] are as good as the Broncos right now’

08.11.14 at 10:59 am ET
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ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck joined Dennis & Callahan Monday morning to discuss the state of the Patriots, Rob Gronkowski‘€™s potential this season and Johnny Manziel‘€™s long-term future in the NFL. To listen to the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

While the Patriots have bolstered their roster this offseason with the addition of players such as Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Brandon LaFell, Hasselbeck said that the team to beat in the AFC is still the Broncos, who defeated New England in the AFC Championship Game, 26-16, on Jan. 19.

“œI don’€™t think they are as good as the Broncos right now,” Hasselbeck said. “The biggest key to me offensively for New England is that if Gronkowski plays 16 games, they’€™re brutal to defend. If he’€™s not, they’€™re a different group. They’€™re a totally different offense to defend and while they still have good players and they’€™ll still have good game plans each and every week, he, in my estimation, is the most important player on that offense outside of [Tom] Brady.

“They’€™re better on defense then they were a year ago, there’€™s no question about that. … But you look at Denver, they got better too. To me, if Gronkowski is healthy, they can play with anybody. If he’€™s not, then you have to be a little bit worried.”

While Gronkowski has been an active presence at training camp this summer, Hasselbeck remained skeptical that an injury-prone player like Gronkowski would be able to make it though a full 16-game NFL season.

“€œJust think about how the rules are set up. So where does [Gronkowski] do most of his work? Inside the numbers. So if you’€™re running down the field – full speed -€“ and a lot of times, because of his size, the ball is going to be chin or higher on him. … So if that happens and you’€™re a safety, where are you hitting him? They’€™re going to saw his legs off. It’€™s exactly the situation where he got hurt. Look, in fairness to the safeties that do that, they’€™re going to get fined going high going up high on him.”

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Read More: Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Rob Gronkowksi, Tim Hasselbeck

Rob Gronkowski on practice sessions against Darrelle Revis: He’s making me a better player

08.10.14 at 6:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — One of the most notable scenes in camp this summer has been the sight of Rob Gronkowski working off to the side, catching passes from Tom Brady while working against Darrelle Revis.

The tight end, who continues to work his way back from a season-ending knee surgery, has been a regular presence in pads throughout camp. However, he hasn’t engaged in any 11-on-11 work to this point in the summer. Instead, the closest he’s come has been semi-regular work with Brady, catching passes in a series of drills with the quarterback while Revis offers resistance.

“It’s good just to have a defender out there, instead of [me] just running my routes [against] air,” Gronkowski said following practice on Sunday when asked about working against Revis. “To break off a guy right in front of you, just like it’s a game — you have to break off the guy, break off the defender. Having Darrelle out there and having him give me some contact — a little bit, pushing me on my routes — [it’s] just making me a better player out there right now.”

The work looks a lot like what Brady and former teammate Randy Moss used to do when the receiver was with the Patriots from 2007 through 2010, with the only difference being that those sessions were used to build communication and a rapport between Brady and Moss. The current work between Brady and Gronkowski is another step in the rehab process for the tight end, as well as a chance for Revis to spend some time working against a bigger target like Gronkowski.

“[It’s] basically more of a drill for me, but he’s definitely learning too, I would say,” Gronkowski said. “He’s just breaking a little bit, not going full, full out. He’s just helping me out and getting me back adjusted to having a defender out there in front of me.”

Gronkowski, who did not play in the preseason opener against the Redskins (and missed the three practices leading up to the contest) remains optimistic about the state of his rehab.

“Pretty good. Improving every single week,” Gronkowski said. “No setbacks or anything like that — just going out there and getting better every single time I get out on the field.

“Getting closer every single day to getting in there with the team and getting in there and getting some contact,” he added. “Just talking to the trainers — we don’t have a set date yet or anything. Just taking it day-by-day and we’ll see how tomorrow goes. Just improving every day.”

Read More: 2014 training camp, Darrelle Revis, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady

Sunday afternoon practice notes: With no Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo gets more reps

08.10.14 at 4:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots wrapped up their 12th training camp session of the summer and the ninth in full pads Sunday afternoon. It was a really nice summer afternoon for the practice, which ran just over two hours in front of the media and was a relatively low-intensity affair. (Fans were not permitted.)

The following players were not on the field: quarterback Ryan Mallett, running back Tyler Gaffney, tight end D.J. Williams, linebacker Cameron Gordon, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, linebacker James Anderson, offensive lineman Chris Martin and defensive linemen Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga.

— In jerseys but no pads: defensive back Tavon Wilson, safety Kanorris Davis, linebacker Ja’Gared Davis and offensive lineman Bryan Stork. In sweats and T-shirts: wide receiver Aaron Dobson, defensive lineman Dominque Easley and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. (The bulk of the players who were in shorts and sweats spent the start of practice working on the lower practice field, running sprints.)

— The two players who returned to action were running back Brandon Bolden, defensive back Jemea Thomas and tight end Rob Gronkowski.

— As previously stated, Gronkowski was back on the field with his teammates. (He didn’t make the trip to D.C. for the joint practices and preseason opener.) He held his regular workout with Brady and Darrelle Revis, as the quarterback fired passes at him and Revis provided resistance. There was no work in the 11-on-11s for him. (Later in practice, it was just Brady and Gronkowski together.)

— The same was true for defensive backs Alfonzo Dennard and Thomas, who were working together on footwork and technique off to the side during the session.

— With no Mallett on the field, Garoppolo got more reps. He made a couple of impressive connections in a passing drill early on, hooking up with Kenbrell Thompkins on a short route over the middle (a play where he beat Brandon Browner), and then on a deep ball for Brandon LaFell. Later in 11-on-11s, he made a really nice connection downfield with his BFF Brian Tyms against Logan Ryan. The low point? He had a ball picked off by defensive lineman L.T. Tuipulotu.

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Read More: 2014 training camp,

Bill Belichick on Steve Gregory: ‘A true professional’

08.10.14 at 3:35 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick issued a statement Sunday on the retirement of safety Steve Gregory:

“€œSteve Gregory was a true professional and a pleasure to coach. He was one of the most well-liked and respected players because everything he did was the right way, with a great attitude and in the best interests of the team. On behalf of the New England Patriots, we thank Steve for his contributions on and off the field and wish him our very best in the future.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Steve Gregory,

Patriots shuffle up tight end spot, add veteran Ben Hartsock

08.10.14 at 12:05 pm ET
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The Patriots waived rookie tight ends Justin Jones and Asa Watson, as well as running back Stephen Houston. In their place, they added tight ends Ben Hartsock, Steve Maneri and Terrence Miller, according to multiple media reports.

The 34-year-old Hartsock is an 11-year veteran who is also more of a blocker than pass catcher, as he has amassed 31 catches over the course of his career. He’€™s played for the Colts (2004-06), Titans (2006-07), Falcons (2008), Jets (2009-10) and Panthers (2011-13). He was in Foxboro this spring for a workout.

As for Maneri, this would be his second stint with the Patriots — the former tackle spent the 2010 season on the New England roster. In four seasons in the NFL, he’s also played for the Chiefs and Bears — also known more as a blocker, the 6-foot-7, 280-pounder has caught six passes for 52 yards over the course of his NFL career.

Miller is a 6-foot-4, 234-pound rookie out of Arizona who was undrafted this past spring. In his career with the Wildcats, he had 95 catches for 1,117 yards and three receiving TDs.

As for the players who were released, Houston finished his college career at Indiana fourth on the school’€™€™s all-time list with 25 rushing touchdowns, sixth with 29 total touchdowns and ninth with 2,304 rushing yards. However, the 6-foot, 230-pounder was facing an uphill battle for playing time, as the New England depth chart at running back is already well established.

Jones was a three-year starter in college and finished his career with 52 receptions for 598 yards and 12 touchdowns. While the 6-foot-8, 277-pounder presented himself as a massive pass-catching presence, he never seemed to click with the offense. The same appeared to be true for Watson — the 6-foot-3, 237-pound brother of former Patriots tight end Ben Watson never seemed to catch on in roughly two weeks of camp. (As a collegian, Asa played in 36 games for North Carolina State and caught 29 passes for 351 yards with one touchdown.)

The news was first reported by Field Yates of ESPN.

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Read More: Asa Watson, Ben Hartsock, Justin Jones, Stephen Houston
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