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Some of the highlights from Bill Belichick’s Friday afternoon Q&A

08.10.12 at 7:20 pm ET
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Thanks to the Patriots’€™ PR staff, here are some of the highlights of Bill Belichick‘€™s Friday afternoon conference call with the media:

Opening statement: ‘€œAfter going through the tape here, I think that there were definitely some encouraging things last night and also a number of things we need to work on, both individually and from the team or overall scheme standpoint. I thought overall the players competed well. We were trying to, obviously our first time out there, trying to get our game day operation running without too many bumps in the road. I thought that was a step in the right direction. The big thing for us this week is we just have to, really the only chance we really have in the whole preseason to actually string some practice days together, so it’€™s important for us to get the most out of them and try to improve our team because once we play again, we’€™ll be playing three games right in a row. There won’€™t be really much time to do anything but very quickly prepare for the next game. That’€™s kind of where we’€™re at for today. On the injury front ‘€“ the news on Dane [Fletcher] doesn’€™t look very good, so he’€™ll probably be out for a while, which is unfortunate because he’€™s worked hard, specifically this offseason and training camp. We’€™ve had good competition at the position so it we’€™ll have to look for somebody else to step in but it’€™s unfortunate for Dane. That’€™s where we’€™re at for today.’€

You mentioned some encouraging things, outside of the way the team competed which you mentioned last night, what were some of the encouraging things you saw after reviewing the tape? ‘€œI thought individually there were good plays from a lot of players. We were inconsistent in certain areas or guys had good plays and the other plays weren’€™t so good. Some of the things that we worked on in practice showed up out there on the field from the fundamental or technique standpoint and that’€™s been a big emphasis, as it always is in training camp, is to play with good fundamentals, blocking, tackling, things like that. We had some production running the ball. Defensively we didn’€™t give up a lot of points. I thought we played competitively against both the running and passing game. Overall the kicking game was pretty competitive. Again, as I said there’€™s a lot of, I wouldn’€™t say that we’€™re three in any of those areas.’€

Specifically in the run game, in this game it seemed like this was a little bit of I-formation. How much of that did you guys do last year without the pure fullback on the roster? ‘€œNot a whole lot.’€

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Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Bill Belichick,

Patriots release practice schedule for the next few days

08.10.12 at 2:43 pm ET
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The Patriots recently their practice schedule for the next few days:

Friday: Off
Saturday: Off
Sunday: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday: 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Read More: 2012 Training Camp,

Shane Vereen leads Patriots running backs in preseason opener

08.10.12 at 1:51 am ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots offense was very limited in Thursday’€™s 7-6 preseason win over the Saints, but among the few standouts was second-year running back Shane Vereen.

On the Patriots’€™ 97-yard touchdown drive that led to their only score of the game, Vereen amounted to 73 total yards (63 rushing) before Brian Hoyer tossed a three-yard touchdown pass to Britt Davis. During that drive, the Valencia, Calif. native had three rushes of ten yards or more.

Vereen, who was picked 56th overall in 2011 (17 slots ahead of fellow Patriots running back Stevan Ridley) did not get much playing time last year. The Cal-Berkeley product got hurt and missed time during training camp, leaving him behind while a backfield of Ridley, Danny Woodhead and Benjarvus Green-Ellis took center stage.

However, with Green-Ellis gone and Vereen healthy, he has a chance to push for more playing time. Vereen showed that he can be a capable runner on Thursday when he rushed for 64 yards on 11 carries in the second half.

With that rushing total on the day, Vereen rushed for more yards on Thursday than he did all of last season (15 carries for 57 yards).

The 23-year-old also made two catches for 17 yards coming out of the backfield on Thursday, and served as a third-down back while undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden was getting carries on first and second down late in the game.

The Patriots’€™ backfield is very young right now, as Woodhead is the old man of the group at age 27. However, Vereen said after the game that despite their youth, the backs work together to make an effective unit.

‘€œ[Woodhead] does the best he can to keep us informed so we don’€™t feel so much like rookies. But every now and then stuff comes up that we haven’€™t handled before,’€ Vereen said.

As for competition between the rushers, the most easily comparable of the running backs are Vereen and Ridley because they entered the league at the same time. On Thursday, Ridley carried the ball eight times for 40 yards.

‘€œI think more than trying to one-up each other, I think we learn from each other as far as mistakes, because we both make a ton of mistakes,’€ Vereen said.  ‘€œWe learn from that. If he makes a mistake out there I’€™ll know next time on my rep not to make the same mistake, and vice-versa.’€

With games like he had on Thursday night, Vereen will be sure to get more chances with the ball as the preseason continues. Vereen is looking to capitalize on those chances.

‘€œYou are only given so many opportunities,’€ Vereen said. ‘€œTo be able to go out there and be able to play well as an offense ‘€“ we still have a ton, a ton to work on and to get better with ‘€“ but for that little drive I felt like the offense, we did pretty well.’€

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Shane Vereen,

Rob Ninkovich feels the pain of Dane Fletcher

08.10.12 at 12:19 am ET
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FOXBORO — No one in the Patriots locker room feels worse for Dane Fletcher than Rob Ninkovich.

Fletcher tore the ACL in his left knee in the first quarter of Thursday’s preseason opener, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. Fletcher started the game at inside linebacker for the Patriots – filling in for Brandon Spikes – and was part of a unit that forced a three-and-out on Drew Brees and the Saints.

Then, as the Patriots first drive stalled, he returned to the field on the punt unit. He fell to the turf and needed help to get off the field. Fletcher was taken to the locker room, where the diagnosis was made.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Ninkovich, who sits just to the right of Fletcher on “linebacker row” in the Patriots locker room. “You hope for the best. You don’t know what it is right now. I’ve been through some knee injuries and I know kind of how that goes. You don’t really know until you see a specialist or get an MRI. I don’t want to jump to conclusions on anything. It’s always tough to have injuries in the preseason. I know Dane. He’s a fighter so whatever it is, he’s going to work hard and he’ll be back.”

The punt wound up not counting and the Patriots gained a first down on the play as the Saints were called for a procedure penalty.

Fletcher has proven to be one of the most versatile players in the Belichick defensive system, playing both inside and outside linebacker. He finished his 2010 rookie season with 23 tackles and two sacks in 13 games played, all as a reserve. In 2011, Fletcher had 37 tackles as his role grew. Fletcher was limited last season due to a thumb injury that kept him out for six weeks. In Super Bowl XLVI, he recorded one tackle.

“He’€™s played on all four downs for us,” Bill Belichick said. “He’s played on first and second down, played on third down and played in the kicking game, so he has some versatility. He’s had roles on different downs on different times or different game plans. So he’€™s done all of those things to some degree.”

To no one’s surprise, Belichick would not offer any prognosis on Fletcher’s availability for the rest of the season, pending more exams that are likely this weekend.

“We’€™ll evaluate him like we do with any situation like that and see what the doctors say. I’€™m not a doctor, you know that,” Belichick said.

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Bobby Carpenter, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher

Steve Gregory comes up with pick in Patriots debut

08.09.12 at 11:57 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The wait for Steve Gregory‘s Patriots debut was probably nothing compared for the wait for his second-quarter interception to come down.

Gregory, who signed a three-year deal with New England in the offseason after playing the first six seasons of his career with the Chargers, recorded two tackles in playing with the first defense Thursday night. The highlight of his night came on the Saints’ first drive of the second quarter, when a Chase Daniel pass over the middle was tipped by Jerod Mayo. Gregory then got a hand on the ball — then another, and so on — until he finally secured the ball.

“I think I caught it like five times, right?” the veteran safety said after the game.

“We’re working on our ball skills every day,” he added. “It’s something we take pride in, so you’ve got to make the catch when you get the chance to.”

While there was more to be desired in spots on both sides of the ball in the Patriots’ 7-6 win over the Saints Thursday, New England’s defense seemed to be all over the ball, a good sign for a secondary that has multiple newcomers.

“That’s what we want to take pride in, swarming to the ball,” Gregory said. “Get the guys around, hustle and play hard football. I think we saw some of that tonight. Hopefully we can improve on that and get that going.”

Following the victory, Gregory — in true Patriots’ fashion — repeatedly noted that there was plenty for the team to learn from the tape, though he was glad to have played his first game with the Pats. It may be preseason, but Gregory feels there’s always things to learn from game action.

“It’s huge. Every game is so important,” he said. “Every time you get out there and play in a live situation like that against another great team is so valuable, so it was great for us to get out there tonight.”

Added Gregory: “Any time you can keep a team from scoring a touchdown, that’s probably a good night. If teams don’t score touchdowns, you’re probably going to win a lot of football games.”

Though Drew Brees only played in one drive for the Saints Thursday night, Gregory said he enjoyed sharing Gillette Stadium with another team this week for the two teams’ joint practices.

“It was great,” he said. “You see different schemes, see different routes, see different players with different skill sets. It’s really important. You can learn from it and get better from it.”

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Steve Gregory,

Snap Judgments: Patriots win preseason opener, lose Dane Fletcher

08.09.12 at 10:33 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots won their preseason opener with a 7-6 win over the Saints, but lost a bit of their defensive depth in the process.

According to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, linebacker Dane Fletcher tore his ACL on a first-quarter Patriots punt. Fletcher had 32 tackles and one forced fumble in 10 games last season.

The Patriots trailed, 3-0, at halftime, but Britt Davis reeled in a three-yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer to cap a 97-yard drive in the third quarter and give the Pats a lead they would keep the rest of the game. John Kasay (46 yards) Garrett Hartley (27 yards) each had field goals for the Saints. Kasay missed a 41-yarder in the fourth quarter that would have given New Orleans the win.

Tom Brady played two drives for the Pats, completing four of seven passes for 30 yards. Brian Hoyer completed eight of 15 for 45 yards and the touchdown to Britt, while Ryan Mallett completed eight of 19 passes for 89 yards and an interception.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Shane Vereen didn’t play until the second half — undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden got carries before him in the first half — but he made the most of his opportunity when it came. The 2011 second-round pick led all Patriots running backs with 64 yards on 11 carries, including an 18-yard run in the Patriots’ third-quarter touchdown drive.

– Free agent signing Steve Gregory came up with an interception early in the second quarter thanks to a tip from Jerod Mayo. The veteran linebacker got a hand on Chase Daniel’s pass before Gregory batted it around before finally hauling it in. In addition to the interception, Gregory had a pair of tackles on the night. Patrick Chung had New England’s other interception, picking off Canfield.

– The Patriots saw two of their drives extended by penalties from Saints linebacker Martez Wilson on 4th-and-1. The first of the two gifts came in the first quarter when Lawrence Wilson was flagged for encroachment, with Wilson later running into Zoltan Mesko on a second-quarter punt. None of the extended drives led to points for the Patriots.

– The Patriots got a nice showing from their high-profile rookies on defense in Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. Though he was blocked well on a play to open up a hole for a 13-yard scamper for Pierre Thomas, Hightower made a very good impression for the Pats. The first-round pick out of Alabama started and was plenty disruptive (especially on a second-quarter play in which he forced a bad throw from Saints backup quarterback Sean Canfield). He finished the night with four tackles.

Jones, meanwhile, was disruptive from the get-go, forcing a bad throw from Drew Brees on the Saints’ first passing play of the night and later running back into a play to take down Travaris Cadet after a one-yard gain.

– Speaking of rookies on defense, third-round pick Jake Bequette didn’t get into the game until the second half but came through with a fourth-quarter sack of Luke McCown. The Arkansas product had 10 sacks in 10 games last year as a senior.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– One of the biggest storylines entering the game was the status of the offensive line, and its performance left onlookers with just a many questions as the tackles struggled mightily. Nate Solder, who ran his fair share of laps in training camp, had two holding penalties in the first quarter. Additionally, Marcus Cannon had a false start and allowed a first-quarter strip-sack of Brady. The rest of the line wasn’t much better (see below).

– There were plenty of plays between the two teams suggestive of being a preseason game, but the Pats took the cake on a first-quarter play that showed confusion between the line, quarterback and receiver. Brady clearly wasn’t anticipating the snap when it came from Dan Koppen, and Brandon Lloyd over-ran the pass, reaching back to nearly reel it in but dropping it. The play was one of two times Lloyd was targeted, with the other coming back on a Solder penalty. Ryan Wendell and Nick McDonald also saw time at center.

– Steven Gostkowski had the opportunity to tie the game at the end of the first half but missed a field goal wide left from 53-yards out. Gostkowski had hit both of his attempts from 53 yards in warmups.

Danny Woodhead had just one carry for three yards. He hauled in three passes for 26 yards, including a 20-yard play from Ryan Mallett late in the first half to set up Gostkowski’s field goal attempt.

– Sterling Moore didn’t exactly sparkle for the Patriots. He was beaten a couple of times down the sideline, including a third-quarter pass interference penalty that advanced New Orleans 46-yards after the defensive back got tangled up with Joseph Morgan. The penalty positioned the Saints well in New England territory to set up Hartley’s 28-yard field goal.

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Dane Fletcher, Ryan Mallett, Tom Brady

Halftime analysis: Saints 3, Patriots 0

08.09.12 at 8:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO — With two quarters here in the books, the Saints lead the Patriots, 3-0. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢Almost predictably, it was a fairly ragged affair, with neither team able to really find its offensive footing. The Saints turned the ball over twice (two interceptions), while the Patriots had a pair of turnovers (one pick and one fumble).

‘€¢Here are some of the snap counts through two quarters, not including special teams work: Tom Brady, 19 snaps; Brian Hoyer, nine snaps; Ryan Mallett, 14 snaps; Stevan Ridley, 17 snaps; Danny Woodhead, 17 snaps; Brandon Bolden, 7 snaps; Chandler Jones, 27 snaps; Dont’a Hightower, 29 snaps; Ras-I Dowling, 7 snaps; Tavon Wilson, 17 snaps.

‘€¢The injuries along New England’s offensive line have sparked some concern, and those concerns were validated early on. The Saints got on the board midway through the first quarter when the New Orleans defense strip-sacked Brady on New England’s second series of the night, forcing the turnover. (Right tackle Marcus Cannon was beaten off the edge.) The Saints weren’t able to do much with it, as they took four plays to go six yards and settled for a 44-yard field goal from John Kasay to make it 3-0 with 8:30 left in the quarter.

‘€¢In all, it was a rough start for the New England offensive line. Nate Solder was twice flagged for holding, while Cannon gave up the sack and a false start. Meanwhile, center Dan Koppen appeared out of sync with Brady on one snap, and was soon replaced by Ryan Wendell. (Koppen returned later in the first half.) The offensive line also appeared to be caught unawares late in the half when Mallett was hit by a New Orleans defender as he threw just before the two-minute warning, causing the ball to veer off course and the Saints to come away with the pick. A forgettable two quarters of football for Dante Scarnecchia’s charges,

‘€¢Brady was clearly steamed about the state of the offense after one series, coming to the sidelines and letting his teammates have an earful. In the end, Brady finished with 19 snaps (including penalties) and went 4-for-7 for 30 yards, with his highlight likely coming on an 11-yard connection over the middle to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Hoyer and Mallett finished up the first half.

‘€¢The Patriots opened with Ridley doing most of the work in the running game, primarily on first and second down, while Woodhead worked almost exclusively as New England’s third-down option out of the backfield. Ridley was out of the game before the end of the first quarter (he ended up with seven carries for 38 yards), and instead of going to Shane Vereen, it was undrafted rookie Bolden who was the first back off the bench. (Ridley returned to the game after one series.) It could be a situational thing, we’re not sure. But it certainly bears watching.

‘€¢Jones is showing up very nicely tonight, looking active and doing a good job off the edge at left defensive end. At one point, he drew two straight holding calls on Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod. Later on the same drive, he showed great acceleration after fighting off Bushrod’s block to get back downfield and chase down New Orleans backup quarterback Chase Daniel, forcing a Saints’ punt. Jermaine Cunningham replaced him at the left defensive end spot midway through the second quarter.
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