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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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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.”

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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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Sunday NFL Notes: What’s a reasonable level of expectation for Dominique Easley this season?

08.10.14 at 6:00 am ET
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1. Given the fact that Dominique Easley has missed all 11 training camp practices to this point in the summer, what can he be expected to contribute as a rookie this season? Easley is one of two first-round picks who have not practiced at all with his teammates over the course of camp — Giants first-round pick Odell Beckham, Jr. (taken 12th overall) has not practiced with New York since the start of camp because of hamstring woes. (For what it’€™s worth, Beckham practiced some during OTAs, a little during minicamp and half a practice during training camp before aggravating his hamstring. He’€™s been out since.) The defensive lineman out of Florida, who tore his ACL last September and had surgery in October, was on the field for the final practice of minicamp in June, and appeared to have no issues when it came to cutting, getting a good push out of his stance and changing direction, but he has yet to take the field with the rest of his teammates since the end of July. On and off the record, his teammates say that Easley is doing well and diligent in his approach. “€œHe’€™s working. He’€™s working just like I am — stacking days,”€ veteran defensive lineman Tommy Kelly said of Easley in June. “He’€™ll be all right. He’€™s a very hard worker. When he gets out here, I’€™ll be just as excited as you all.” One Herald report indicated he could hit the field with his teammates as soon as this weekend, but even if he does get on the field, he would still be behind the rest of his teammates when it comes to getting up to speed. Ultimately, Easley’€™s rookie year could be similar to that of Jamie Collins, who struggled to get acclimated to the game over the first half of the year, but came on quickly down the stretch and was a key contributor late in the season. He’€™s not on the field yet, but if Easley’€™s 2014 arc follows Collins’€™ 2013 performance, the Patriots will likely be very happy with the results.

2. Overall, the Patriots were whistled for 19 penalties in the 2013 preseason, not counting the ones that were offset or declined. (In last year’€™s preseason opener, the Patriots and Eagles combined for six total penalties, with one on New England and five on Philadelphia.) Three of those fell under the umbrella of this year’€™s point of emphasis — one defensive holding, one illegal contact and one illegal use of hands, all committed by defensive backs. In the opener against the Redskins Thursday night, New England was flagged for nine penalties in all. One (an illegal contact call against Brandon Browner) set up a Washington first down, while two other calls that went against the Patriots (which were ultimately declined) saw Logan Ryan getting whistled for a defensive holding call and Nate Ebner getting caught for illegal contact. It’€™s a small sample size — and soon we’€™ll know more about how the Patriots are dealing with the increased points of emphasis, as the referees will be in camp for a few days this week at practice — but it appears that there will be an uptick in calls when it comes to defensive backs in the passing game.

3. One group that apparently didn’t have an issue with the increased scrutiny in its first game was the Seahawks defensive backs. Some allege that the new points of emphasis this year sprung directly from the play of the Seattle secondary, a skilled group when it came to blurring the line between stirring physicality and outright illegal play. (Richard Sherman has said that officials can’€™t throw a flag on every play.) While the Seahawks-Broncos game was bogged down by 25 penalties, former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira noted on his Twitter feed that there were only three defensive holds and one illegal contact called, all of them against Denver. The Seattle defensive backs said they knew what was coming, and were ready to tweak their games. “We knew that the emphasis would be on making sure they called penalties, to let us know they’€™re not playing this year,”€ said Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. It will be interesting to see how the Seattle secondary plays when the regular season begins, but to this point, it appears they have done some adjusting.

4. Everyone is getting used to the new points of emphasis for defensive backs, but it appears the Browns are really thinking outside the box when it comes to trying to get its secondary to stop clutching and grabbing. Cleveland corners and safeties have been wearing boxing gloves during practice in hopes of deterring the hands-on approach favored by most corners, an approach that will likely get you flagged for illegal contact or defensive holding these days. The smaller gloves, used by kickboxers and in mixed martial arts, are designed to make sure corners can’€™t get their hands on receivers. “You’€™ve got to get guys out of that habit,”€ said Browns coach Mike Pettine when asked about the decision to add gloves. “It’€™s more the mentality that they know they have to be able to cover more with an open palm than grabbing and restricting, especially if the rule is going to be called as tightly as we’€™re told it is.”
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Ex-Patriots defensive back Steve Gregory retires at age 31

08.09.14 at 2:52 pm ET
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Steve Gregory announced his retirement from professional football Saturday.

The 31-year-old, who played eight seasons in the league, spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Patriots. In 26 games in New England, he had 81 tackles and three interceptions. While with the Patriots, the veteran safety enjoyed the respect of his teammates, with several of his fellow defensive backs calling him one of the smartest players they had ever been around.

“€œIn the film room, when we’€™€™re in meetings, we’€™€™ll have something in the defense and we’€™€™re watching and Steve will say, ‘€˜€˜Why don’€™€™t we do this?’€™€™ We’€™€™ll all sit there and look at him and be like, ‘€˜€˜You’€™€™re right, that probably would be better.’€™€™ I think that’€™€™s what makes him so good,”€ Devin McCourty said of Gregory last January.

“When we’€™€™re preparing for games, he’€™€™s not only able to watch film and see things coming but he’€™€™s able to go to the coaches and say, ‘€˜€˜Why don’€™€™t we tweak this defense this way because it better fits what they do?’€™€™ I think it’€™€™s good, our coaches listen to everyone. Steve always has something each week we play that he sees and things we can do. That’€™€™s why we call him a future head coach.”

Below is the full text of Gregory’s statement, via his agent David Canter.

It is with tremendous respect, appreciation, and admiration for the game of football that I’ve decided to announce my retirement effective immediately. After enter the game as an undrafted free agent, I was fortunate enough to play twice as long as the average player. This past offseason, my wife Rosanne and I were blessed to welcome a daughter, Aviana, and spending time with her has changed my life’s perspective. It is my hope to continue in football as a coach and I look forward to what the future holds. I’m tremendously happy with my decision and being able to walk away from this great game both healthy and on my own terms. I would be remiss in announcing my retirement without thanking my great family, coaches, teammates, scouts, trainers, agent and all of the fans that have supported me along the way.

Thank you,
Steve Gregory

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In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players

08.09.14 at 8:00 am ET
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Every week, we list the Patriots’€™ ‘€œoffensive touches,’€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense from its season opener on Thursday night:

RB Jonas Gray: 9 (9 rushes)
WR Brian Tyms: 5 (5 catches)
RB Roy Finch: 4 (3 rushes, 1 catch)
RB James White: 4 (4 rushes)
RB Stephen Houston: 3 (3 rushes)
WR Josh Boyce: 3 (3 catches)
WR Brandon LaFell: 2 (2 catches)
RB Stevan Ridley: 2 (2 rushes)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: 1 (1 rush)
RB Shane Vereen: 1 (1 rush)
QB Ryan Mallett: 1 (1 rush), 1 sack
WR Wilson Van Hooser: 1 (1 catch)
FB James Develin: 1 (1 catch)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 1 (1 catch)

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Brian Tyms is enjoying ‘a good connection with everybody’

08.08.14 at 10:58 pm ET
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The odds are against receiver Brian Tyms making the Patriots. After all, there’s Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Brandon LaFell and Matthew Slater ahead of him.

Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce are 2013 draft picks that are still highly regarded.

But Tyms, who has had tours of duty with the 49ers, Dolphins and Browns since coming into the NFL out of Florida A&M in 2012, says he’s not worried about making the Patriots.

“€œI don’€™t need to think about that,” Tyms said after catching five balls on six targets for 119 yards in the 23-6 loss to the Redskins Thursday. “Every time the ball is thrown to me, I’€™m trying to catch it. It’€™s part of earning respect, again. If I sit out there and drop every one, everybody is going to look at me like I came here for nothing. I’€™ve got a lot to prove.”

Tyms has yet to make his first regular season catch. He traveled to New England with the Dolphins for the 2012 finale in Foxboro and was elevated to the active roster with the Browns on Dec. 4, 2013. Ironically, the opponent that week was the Patriots in Foxboro.

It’s one thing to look sharp in practice reps, as Tyms has. But for a guy trying to show he belongs in the NFL, Tyms needs to impress the scouts that turn up at preseason games. He did that on Thursday in Landover, Md. He beat his man off the line of scrimmage on a “go” pattern down the right sideline for 53 yards on a beauty of a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo.

“€œI feel like I got a good connection with everybody,” Tyms said when asked about his chemistry with the rookie quarterback. “That’€™s all I really came here to do was earn respect from my teammates and coaches. Everything else really don’€™t matter to me.”

His best catch of the night didn’t count. In the third quarter, Redskins defensive back Chase Minnifield was draped all over him. The flag was thrown at the Redskins 4. Tyms fought through it and made what appeared to be a spectacular one-handed grab in the end zone as he was falling backwards. TV replays showed that Tyms appeared to have kept the ball off the ground but the pass was ruled incomplete.

Tyms was eventually rewarded in the fourth quarter when he caught a 26-yard pass from Garoppolo in the end zone and lept up in the stands, falling into the first row.

“€œI was just so excited because that was my first one,” Tyms said. “I haven’€™t been in the end zone other than practice, so I was just excited. Then, God gave me a second chance at it so I capitalized. It feels pretty good.

“It’€™s hard work. I’€™m just trying to show these guys that I belong. The most important thing about a winning team is just earning respect. That’€™s all that matters to me is winning and earning their respect.”

Read More: 2014 training camp, Brian Tyms, Florida A&M, New England Patriots
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