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Monday Patriots practice report: No Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Bolden as Pats D steps it up against RGIII

08.04.14 at 11:59 am ET
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RICHMOND, Va. — The Patriots and Redskins began their 2 1/2-hour initial scrimmage Monday morning under cloudy skies but by the time the haze burned off, it was a sunny, warm day with temperatures in the upper 70s.

The conditions expect to be much more intense Tuesday as the two teams will scrimmage again in the heat of the mid-afternoon here in Richmond.

Rob Gronkowski was not on the field as he continues to work his way back into full practice mode. To this point, the tight end has only been taking part in walk-through reps and individual passing drills in full pads.

Other Patriots players not taking part in the practice were special teams captain Matthew Slater, receiver Aaron Dobson, running back Brandon Bolden and center Bryan Stork.

Here are some quick observations from practice:

Tom Brady overthrew Kenbrell Thompkins on the first play of full 11-on-11 scrimmage. The pass was a route over the middle and Thompkins attempted to climb the ladder and would’ve been hit hard by the cornerback if it were in game conditions. Brady then was nearly perfect on the next three passes, two to Julian Edelman and one to Danny Amendola, as Edelman worked on D’Angelo Hall.

Brady felt heavy pressure in the pocket on the next series and stepped up and threw a bomb to wide-open Thompkins, who ran a post pattern.

Ryan Mallett continued to struggle badly with consistency. He made one sharp touch pass on a sideline pattern to Shane Vereen and an accurate pass over the middle to Justin Jones, but he threw two interceptions and overthrew Brandon LaFell on two other passes.

Rookie Jimmy Garoppolo also saw time against Redskins backups as he ran the second-team offense. He connected with D.J. Williams on one pass over the middle and found Brian Tyms down the right sideline in 7-on-7 drills.

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Rob Gronkowski missing from start of Patriots’ first joint practice with Washington

08.04.14 at 10:28 am ET
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RICHMOND, Va. — Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was missing from the first joint practice with Washington on Monday morning.

Gronkowski, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee Dec. 8 when he was tackled by Cleveland’s T.J. Ward, was cleared to practice at the start of training camp in late July. He has been doing individual work while the team has gone through full-pad drills.

There are no reports that Gronkowski has had any setbacks, so the move to limit his exposure in Virginia appears to be precautionary.

Gronkowski made it clear after his first camp practice that he has a ways to go before he’s ready for game action.

“If it were 100 percent, I’€™d be doing every single thing so no, I’€™m not 100 percent right now, obviously not,” Gronkowski said July 25. “I’€™m working my way to get to that and I’€™m working every single day to get to that and improving every single day.

“I’€™m preparing myself to my max ability right now for the first regular game. I can’€™t really say anything from here on out because it’€™s far away. Every single day, I’€™m just giving it everything I’€™ve got in the rehab room and out here on the field. I’€™m preparing myself and listening to my trainers, what they have for me so that I’€™m ready to go when it comes down to it. Hopefully, I am.

“No timetable at all. Just keep improving every single day and we’€™ll see what the trainers want me to do. They’€™ve been through plenty of knee injuries throughout their years here.”

The Patriots play Washington in their first preseason game Thursday night.

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Centers of attention: Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork all in spotlight

08.04.14 at 7:00 am ET
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One of the more interesting positions over the first week-plus of Patriots training camp has been center, where Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork have all gotten plenty of work.

Wendell enters the 2014 season as the incumbent, having served as the No. 1 center for the better part of the last two years. A favorite of both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, he’s played almost more snaps than anyone else in the league since the start of the 2012 season.

It’s been a long journey for the 28-year-old Wendell, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008, got his first series of starts along the interior in 2010 and moved into the starting center position in 2012.

“When Ryan first got here, he couldn’€™€™t even make our practice squad,” Belichick recalled earlier this summer when asked about the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Wendell. “He was a camp player [and] wasn’€™€™t on our practice squad at the beginning of the season. We brought him back to the practice squad during his first year.

“€œI’€™€™d say it’€™€™s been about as big of a progression as really any player could have, any player I’€™€™ve had or any player could have — maybe Steve Neal. But it’€™€™s the same kind of thing — guys [who] weren’€™€™t even on the practice squad that eventually became starting players in the NFL. That’€™€™s a pretty big jump. It took a lot of time, a lot of hard work and he’€™€™s certainly done his part and worked hard. He’€™€™s a very smart football player, and doesn’€™€™t have many missed assignments.”

At the same time, he figured to be pushed by the 23-year-old Stork, a rookie with a peerless college resume — he won the Rimington Award last year as the best center in college football in 2013, and was a captain for the national champions from Florida State.

“Bryan was a pretty durable player,” Patriots personnel chief Nick Caserio said of the 6-foot-4, 313-pound Stork, who started 41 games as a collegian with the Seminoles. “He played a lot of football. He played against good people.

“Smart guy, tough, good playing strength, had a good playing style, good demeanor. He did a lot of good things, and there was a lot to like about him.”

However, one player who has really emerged has been the 31-year-old Connolly, a part-time center who has really made his bones the last few years as the starting right guard. When Stork went down with an undisclosed injury — he’s missed three of the eight practices this summer as a result — the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Connolly stepped in as the backup, while Marcus Cannon took many of the reps at right guard. The move appeared to be a chance to take some of the reps from Wendell and give the starter a bit of a rest. But to this point, Connolly has performed well, and has added some more spice to the mix.
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LB Deontae Skinner activated off non-football injury list

08.03.14 at 8:52 pm ET
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Deontae Skinner passed his physical and was activated off the non-football injury list on Sunday, according to the NFL transaction wire. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound rookie linebacker out of Mississippi State had 64 tackles (33 solo), one sack and an interception past year in 11 games as a collegian.

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Patriots re-sign LB James Morris

08.03.14 at 1:25 pm ET
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James Morris has signed a free agent contract with the Patriots, the team announced Sunday.

The linebacker, who was signed in May before being waived with a “failed physical designation,” will take the 90th spot on the current roster. (Morris reportedly had issues with a blood clot this spring.)

As a collegian, Morris was just the sixth player in Iowa history to record 400 career tackles after finishing with 400 tackles, 10 1/2 sacks and six interceptions as a three-year starter. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder was named a team captain in 2013 and started in all 13 games and finished second on the team with 107 total tackles, eight sacks and four interceptions.

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Sunday NFL Notes: Which recent Patriots have best chance at getting call to Canton?

08.03.14 at 6:00 am ET
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1. With this year’€™s Hall of Fame induction ceremony taking place this weekend, it’€™s time to take our annual shot at predicting the Hall chances for a handful of Patriots’€™ greats over the last decade-plus. In no particular order, here are 11 Patriots of relatively recent vintage, and our take on whether or not they belong in Canton.

a) Robert Kraft: Over the last 20 years, the owner has become one of the most powerful men in professional football, helping to expand the brand while presiding over one of the most successful teams in the game. His work bringing the two sides together during the recent lockout won respect in all corners of the NFL world, and could be just the sort of thing to put him over the top.

b) Bill Belichick: Three Super Bowl rings and a likely landing spot in the Top 5 of the all-time list for wins as a head coach should be enough to earn him a jacket.

c) Tom Brady: Not sure there’€™s a voter out there who wouldn’€™t make him a first ballot entry when he decides to call it a career.

d) Adam Vinatieri: When he does decide to retire, he should be one of two pure kickers to make it to Canton. Belichick certainly thinks he belongs in the Hall.

e) Vince Wilfork: From this viewpoint, he’€™s probably right on the cusp, but the conversation around defensive tackles would likely have to change to allow him a Hall pass.

f) Wes Welker: Another guy who is right there, and could spark some good debate. It’€™s a question we’€™ve chewed over before — from this viewpoint, if he can win a ring and finish with another 150 or so catches, he’€™s put himself square into the discussion when you stack him against some of the other receivers who have made it.

g) Ty Law: Law was unquestionably one of the best in the game when he played for the Patriots from 1995 to 2004, but could fall just short when compared to some of the other cornerbacks of the era. He’s 24th on the all-time interceptions list with 53 (tied with Deion Sanders), and while he will get points in the eyes of voters for his three Super Bowl rings and two All-Pro appearances, he was never in the conversation as the best in the game over an extended stretch. A good debate — for what it’s worth, you could certainly say that if Aeneas Williams gets in, Law at least deserves a look.

h) Randy Moss: He didn’€™t leave town on the best of terms, but Moss certainly deserves to be in the Hall. While he probably won’€™t be remembered as a Patriot — and some won’€™t be crazy about the idea of Moss getting into Canton — his numbers render the argument almost fruitless. His 156 receiving touchdowns are second only to Jerry Rice‘€™s 197, his 15,292 yards are third behind Rice’€™s 22,895 and Terrell Owens‘€™ 15,934, and his 982 career catches are 10th on the all-time list. (When it came to Moss, you could make an argument that if he had hitched his wagon to a singular great quarterback for the bulk of his career instead of bouncing from team to team, he could have had a legitimate shot at catching Rice’€™s records.)

i) Logan Mankins: This season will mark the 10th in the league for Mankins, who has been as steady as any offensive lineman over the course of the last decade, but he probably needs another three to five great seasons — as well as at least one Super Bowl ring — to be considered Hall worthy, and even then, he’€™d probably need someone in the room pushing for him as an advocate, much like Ron Borges pushed for the induction of Andre Tippett years ago. One thing that does work in his favor is that the Hall has started to recognize truly great offensive line play as of late, with the recent induction of Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden.

j) Rodney Harrison: Harrison is a great debate — he didn’€™t have a great reputation before he signed with New England before 2003, but carved out a nice niche as an absolutely vital part of the Patriots secondary, and went on to win a pair of Super Bowls. He was the only safety to record at least 30 sacks and 30 interceptions, and is only one of 12 players in league history to finish with 20 sacks and 20 picks in his career. The Hall of Fame can be a bit squirrelly when it comes to deciding which safeties are worthy, and while Harrison’€™s bust for HGH in 2007 works against him. he will be part of a good debate. Again, like Law, he’€™ll probably need a strong advocate to work on his behalf if he’€™s interested in making it.

k) Rob Gronkowski: If he stays healthy and maintains the same averages he’€™s posted over his first four years in the league, he would have 565 career catches, 8,138 receiving yards and 105 career touchdowns in 10 seasons. By way of comparison, Hall of Famers Shannon Sharpe finished his career with 815 receptions, 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns, while Kellen Winslow had 541 catches, 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns. If he ends up in that neighborhood with at least one Super Bowl ring, that should be enough to put him in the conversation.

2. The news that Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson inked a five-year, $70 million deal (with $48 million guaranteed) to stick with Arizona this week figures to have an effect on how the Patriots deal with Darrelle Revis after this season. Peterson, Seattle’€™s Richard Sherman (four years, $56 million, $40 million guaranteed) and Cleveland’€™s Joe Haden (five years, $68.5 million, $23 million guaranteed) have all created a new salary ceiling for the NFL’€™s best cornerbacks, one that could create some sort of framework for Revis and New England at the end of the season. Given the fact that Revis is a few years older than the group that recently netted new deals, his deal could be a little smaller than the $12 million annually in guaranteed money, but the market for elite cornerbacks in their twenties is probably now somewhere between $8 million and $12 million annually in average guaranteed money.

Despite the fact that Revis has had a very good camp, there are still some things to be determined over the course of the year that will ultimately impact his new deal next offseason: Is he completely healthy after the 2012 knee injury? Can he still perform at an elite level? And how will his personal experience with the Patriots this season shape his attitude toward the organization going forward? But a preliminary framework — a deal with an average of roughly $10 million guaranteed money annually might be a palatable alternative for both sides — certainly appears to now be in place for both sides going forward.

3. Not sure what this means in the overall scheme of things, but when it comes to the idea of focus, it’€™s worth passing along: As Peterson and Sherman got into (what seemed to be a good-natured) Twitter fight over the course of the last week regarding Peterson’€™s new deal and their overall worth, there was no Twitter chatter from Revis. In fact, once considered a prolific Tweeter — and someone who got into a beef of his own on Twitter with Sherman back in 2013 — Revis has been largely absent from any offseason back-and-forth. He’€™s Tweeted just 10 times since June 1, including one on July 31 where he congratulated “mentor [and] longtime friend Ty Law” on being inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, Sherman has kept up a non-stop barrage of chatter, Tweeting 19 times alone since the Seahawks opened camp on July 25. This would seem to be a pretty good indication that Revis is on the Patriots program.

4. The recent run of injuries suffered by some of last year’€™s playoff teams — and the relatively healthy outlook for the Patriots — really drives home the point that New England has been very lucky in recent years when it comes to avoiding health problems over the course of training camp and into the preseason. Word came down Saturday that San Francisco defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey is out for the year with a torn bicep — that’s on the heels of running backs Kendall Hunter (ACL, expected to be out for the year) and LaMichael James (elbow, out up to a month) going down with injuries. (That doesn’€™t begin to take into account the fact that wide receiver Michael Crabtree is out for the next couple of weeks because of a hamstring issue.) In addition, the Colts lost two potential starters for the year to injury when running back Vick Ballard and offensive lineman Donald Thomas went down, while the Giants lost running back David Wilson for an undetermined period of time because of a neck injury. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have also struggled with injury, as tight end Anthony McCoy went down with an Achilles issue and defensive tackle Jesse Williams was carted off the field recently with a knee problem.

While the Patriots have had their share of players who are coming off injury and slowly being re-integrated back into action — as well as some players who have missed some time — they have yet to sustain a serious injury that was thought to be season-ending. That includes the sideline collision involving rookie running back Roy Finch and special teamer Kanorris Davis at Friday’€™s in-stadium workout. After Finch gathered in a pass from Ryan Mallett, he spun and raced up the sidelines, only to be pushed out of bounced. Along the way, he collided with some players along the sideline, including Davis. Both Davis and Finch stayed down for an extended stretch, and while Davis later got up and continued with practice, Finch left for the locker room shortly after that. According to the Boston Herald, Finch’€™s injury is not believed to be serious, but the rookie will certainly be one to watch over the next week or so heading into the preseason opener against the Redskins.

5. In that same vein, here’€™s a look at who has compiled the most absences over the course of the first eight training camp practices. (It’€™s important to remember that in some cases, players like Tyler Gaffney and Greg Orton have been shuffled on and off the active roster since the start of camp — that’€™s one of the reasons why they don’€™t have more official absences than the ones we have listed here.)
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Patriots release WR Cole Stanford

08.02.14 at 5:25 pm ET
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The Patriots released wide receiver Cole Stanford on Saturday.

Stanford was signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent from Cal Poly on July 27. Stanford, 23, originally played linebacker and converted to offense after his freshman season at Cal Poly. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder rushed 54 times for 314 yards with one touchdown and caught 43 passes for 891 yards and eight touchdowns over 42 games during his college career.

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