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Pats practice: Dan Connolly returns to full contact, 4 others missing

01.06.11 at 12:38 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots starting right guard Dan Connolly shed his protective non-contact red jersey on Thursday as the Patriots continued full-contact practice in full pads in their bye week.

Connolly missed the final two games of the season after suffering a concussion during the same Green Bay game in which he returned a kick-off a record 71 yards. Danny Woodhead and Dan Koppen remained in the non-contact red jerseys at practice on the lower practice field outside Gillette Stadium.

Missing from practice were Mike Wright, Jermaine Cunningham, Sebastian Vollmer and Aaron Hernandez at Patriots practice.

Wes Welker and Matt Light added to AFC Pro Bowl roster

01.05.11 at 4:23 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots announced Wednesday afternoon that left tackle Matt Light and wide receiver Wes Welker were named to the AFC Pro Bowl roster. It is the third Pro Bowl selection for Light (2006, 2007) and the third consecutive Pro Bowl selection for Welker (2008, 2009), and leaves the AFC roster with eight Patriots ‘€” Light and Welker join Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Brandon Meriweather and Vince Wilfork.

Read More: Brandon Meriweather, Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Logan Mankins

Marques Murrell returns to the Patriots

01.05.11 at 4:17 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots announced Wednesday that they have signed linebacker Marques Murrell.

Murrell originally signed with the Patriots on March 10, and played in the season-opener vs. Cincinnati before being released on Sept. 13. He had one special teams tackle against the Bengals. Murrell, 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, spent three NFL seasons (2007-09) with the New York Jets. He originally joined the NFL as a rookie free agent with Philadelphia out of Appalachian State in 2007 and began his career on the Eagles’ practice squad before being signed to the Jets 53-man roster on Nov. 7, 2007.

The spot opened up because of a seven-day roster exemption ‘€” which expires Monday ‘€” on linebacker Brandon Spikes, who returned to the team this week after a four-game suspension because of a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.

Read More: Brandon Spikes, Marques Murrell,

The Big Nickel: Tom Brady talks about self-scouting, there’s a mystery man wearing No. 53 and Atiyyah Ellison hears the sweet sound of the cash register

01.05.11 at 2:57 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Wednesday:

1. In a bye week during the season, usually much of the time is spent looking back and engaging self-scouting, as well as looking forward to your next opponent. However, with the Patriots’€™ divisional round opponent yet to be determined ‘€” it could be the Jets, Ravens or Chiefs ‘€” it sounds like the focus around Gillette Stadium, at least for this week, is going to be more on self-scouting.

In the eyes of many of the Patriots’€™ players, it’€™s not a minute too soon.

‘€œWell, there certainly is a lot to fix. I don’€™t want to sit here and tell you all of the things that we’€™re working on, but there are plenty of things that we need to figure out ‘€” ways to do things better,’€ quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday morning. Certain guys haven’€™t been out there in a few weeks so, a guy like Aaron [Hernandez] and Deion [Branch] ‘€“ hopefully they can get out there to practice and make some improvements.

‘€œThere are teams that are practicing today and that do have games this weekend and the team that we play is going to win a playoff game this weekend, and they are going to have made improvements, and I sure hope we can make improvements, too.’€

Apparently, coach Bill Belichick and Patriots were able to examine themselves sharply in a rather critical Wednesday morning film session. According to players, it’€™s all part of a process that will culminate at the end of the week. And once the opponent has been determined, that’€™s when more of the looking forward will begin.

‘€œI think if [you] look at our work and look at what we’€™ve done the past couple of games, it looks good. I think the coaches did a great job of breaking down the game tape,’€ said Branch. ‘€œ[But] I think we’€™ve got a lot of stuff that we’€™ve got to correct. And there was a lot of stuff that was pointed out. I know a lot of guys took that to heart. And we’€™re going to go out and improve it with these two days and the extra days that we have next week.’€

‘€œYou’€™ve just got to make sure that when you come into work, you’€™re working; you’€™re working on something to get better,’€ said tight end Alge Crumpler. ‘€œWe’€™ve all been critiqued this morning and we’€™ll watch a lot of film, do a lot of things, get out and practice and bang around for a little bit. I can’€™t think of anything else that we can do right now other than look back on the things that we can get better at and just make sure that we go into this postseaon game fully prepared and ready.’€

2. The following players were missing from the start of Patriots practice on Wednesday afternoon: Tight end Aaron Hernandez, linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, defensive lineman/outside linebacker Eric Moore and defensive lineman Mike Wright. In addition, we saw red noncontact jerseys for the first time since training camp, with Danny Woodhead and Dan Connolly (both of whom have suffered concussions) and Dan Koppen all wearing red noncontact jerseys, at least at the start of practice.

In addition, there was a player working with the linebackers who was wearing No. 53. Given what we know about the length of Wright’€™s injury, the fact that there was a new body wearing No. 53 working with the linebackers and the fact that former Patriot Marques Murrell was still available, it wouldn’€™t be a stretch to think that Murrell had been re-signed. (In this context, it’€™s important to consider that Adam Caplan of Fox Sports reported the Patriots have a seven-day roster exemption for Brandon Spikes, which began on Monday.) Regardless, we will try and get more information, but a personnel move should be announced shortly.
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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Adam Caplan, Alge Crumpler, Atiyyah Ellison

Four missing from start of Patriots practice

01.05.11 at 1:36 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” Tight end Aaron Hernandez, linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, defensive lineman/outside linebacker Eric Moore and defensive lineman Mike Wright were not at start of Patriots practice Wednesday afternoon. In addition, Danny Woodhead, Dan Connolly and Dan Koppen were all wearing red noncontact jerseys. And there was a player working with the linebackers who was wearing No. 53 ‘€” we anticipate an official announcement on the move shortly.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Danny Woodhead

Jason Whitlock on D&C: ‘Pittsburgh’s the best team in football’

01.05.11 at 9:45 am ET
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FoxSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock checked in with the Dennis & Callahan show Wednesday to talk about news from around the sports world. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Looking at the AFC playoffs, Whitlock ranks the Steelers ahead of the Patriots. “The biggest threat to the Patriots, to me, is the Pittsburgh Steelers,” he said. “I still think Pittsburgh’s the best team in football. ‘€¦ That does not mean that the Patriots won’t win the Super Bowl, because I think they’ve got the best quarterback in football and I think they’ve got the best coach in football. But the best team, top to bottom, I think is the Pittsburgh Steelers, on both sides of the ball. I love their quarterback, not as much as I like Tom Brady, but I do like Ben Roethlisberger, I think he plays big in the playoffs. I love Troy Polamalu. There’s a lot to like about Pittsburgh.”

Whitlock wrote a column this week in which he was especially critical of Chiefs coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli. He called Haley “insecure, mean-spirited, emotional and irrational.” Of Pioli, the former Patriots vice president of player personnel, Whitlock wrote: “I can’€™t stand Scott Pioli. It’€™s true. In any environment, Pioli is a low-character, self-absorbed egomaniac in love with the sound of his voice.”

Whitlock stood by his comments Wednesday but also readily acknowledged those two men deserve credit for the Chiefs’ success this season. “Despite having a low opinion of Scott Pioli as a person, I think he’s done a masterful job as a general manager,” Whitlock said. “I feel like he’s followed the [Bill] Belichick blueprint, or the New England blueprint perfectly.”

Whitlock recounted a dinner he had with Pioli, Haley and other writers when Pioli took the Chiefs job and Whitlock was columnist for the Kansas City Star. According to Whitlock, Pioli spoke over Haley and tried to intimidate the media members. “He was trying to draw a line in the sand. ‘There’s a new sheriff in town,’ ” Whitlock said, and that led to a verbal confrontation between the writer and GM.

Whitlock has since moved on from the Kansas City paper and into his national job, but he reports that Pioli has not changed. In fact, he’s gotten worse. “Yes, he’s even more of a bully now,” Whitlock said.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Jason Whitlock, Marvin Lewis, Randy Moss

Patriots sign Atiyyah Ellison and Marlon Favorite

01.04.11 at 7:00 pm ET
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The Patriots made a pair of moves on Tuesday, signing defensive lineman Atiyyah Ellison to the 53-man roster and adding defensive lineman Marlon Favorite to the practice squad.

Ellison, 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, has spent time on the practice squads and active rosters for Carolina, Houston, Baltimore, San Francisco Jacksonville and Kansas City since joining the Panthers as a third-round draft pick out of Missouri in 2005. His best season came in 2009 when he played in 15 games with six starts for Jacksonville in 2009 and finished with 16 total tackles, one sack and one pass defensed. Ellison was waived by Jacksonville at the end of training camp in 2010 and then spent a week on the 53-man roster for Kansas City before being waived on Oct. 27.

Favorite, 6-foot-1, 317 pounds, is a first-year player who spent his rookie season in 2009 on the practice squads of St. Louis, Kansas City, Seattle and New Orleans after originally joining the NFL as a rookie free agent with Carolina in 2009 out of Louisiana State. Favorite spent time with Buffalo in the 2010 offseason and then went to training camp with Indianapolis before being released prior to the start of the regular season.

Read More: Atiyyah Ellison, Marlon Favorite,
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