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Patriots announce schedule for final few days of training camp

08.16.11 at 8:00 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots have announced the schedule for the final few days of training camp:

Wednesday
1 p.m.-1:45 p.m. — Walkthrough practice

Thursday
Patriots at Tampa Bay — 7:30 p.m.

Friday
Players’ day off — no media availability
Media conference call with Patriots coach Bill Belichick — 4 p.m.

Saturday
1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. — Final training camp practice

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New defensive end doing his part to turn New England into (Andre) Carter Country

08.16.11 at 5:35 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” Andre Carter is starting to get more comfortable, which could mean bad news for offensive tackles in the AFC East.

The 6-foot-4, 257-pounder, a speed-rushing end out of Cal, was acquired by New England on August 8, and said Tuesday he’€™s starting to gain some ease with his new team.

‘€œI feel great. Every day is always a progression,’€ said Carter. ‘€œThe coaches have all been very open in terms of line of communication and vice versa, but besides that, I’€™m just taking it day-by-day.

‘€œIt took a minute when I first came in ‘€” the first week, I really hadn’€™t seen that many reps and I know the coaches were just trying to [get] me into the system. Now, like I said, it’€™s just a day-to-day process, and I’€™m just very grateful to have the opportunity to come here and work hard.’€

The 32-year-old Carter didn’€™t play in the preseason opener against the Jaguars ‘€” which makes sense, given how little time he had in the system prior to the contest ‘€” but the amount of reps he’€™s had over the few days is a good indication he will get his feet wet Thursday in Tampa.

Carter, the seventh overall pick in the 2001 draft, has certainly displayed an impressive burst coming off the edge (he’€™s gotten the better of left tackles Matt Light and Nate Solder on several occasions over the last few days), and is in the mix as one of two defensive ends when New England uses a four-man front.

Based on what he’€™s seen thus far, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday morning that there’€™s a lot to like about Carter, whose father played nose tackle in Denver from 1975 until 1986.

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Read More: Andre Carter, Bill Belichick, Matt Light, Nate Solder

Some quick notes from the Patriots’ Tuesday practice

08.16.11 at 2:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots had one practice on Tuesday that ran for roughly 2 1/2 hours outside on the fields behind Gillette Stadium in sweats and shells. The practice, the 19th of camp, was perhaps the most sparsely attended session of the summer ‘€” the spotty showers and overcast skies likely kept most fans away. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢The following players were not on the field for practice: Taylor Price, Malcolm Williams, Eric Kettani, Christian Cox, Jeff Tarpinian, Brandon Spikes, Marcus Cannon, Ryan Wendell, Brandon Deaderick, Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis, Jermaine Cunningham, Ron Brace and Mike Wright. (Deaderick, Ellis and Brace did show up late in practice, walking from the practice bubble to the workout field and back again.) In addition, the following players were in T-shirts and sweats: Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Ras-I Dowling, Shane Vereen, Kevin Faulk, James Sanders and Josh Barrett. (Faulk and Sanders had helmets with them.)

‘€¢Even though players were in shells, the entire session was little more than a glorified walkthrough, as it was a ‘€œcards’€ session for much of the morning. That means that prior to the snap, an assistant coach held up a card and that side would go through the motions of simulating an opponent. With that in mind, the following notes should be taken with a grain of salt:

‘€¢Quarterback Tom Brady had some ups and downs during the session. In a red-zone drill where he rolled out and had three defensive backs on a pair of receivers on the goal line, he missed his connections with both Deion Branch (where he was picked off by Patrick Chung) and Wes Welker (who jumped before the snap was called). A visibly frustrated Brady reacted as you would expect. Later on, he responded with a sharp pass to Chad Ochocinco over safety Sergio Brown, and later, had an impressive connection on a deep ball with Ochocinco off a play-action fake.

‘€¢It appears that rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett got a lot of work with the second offense on Tuesday. That shouldn’€™t be seen as a swipe at Brian Hoyer, but possibly positioning Mallett for more playing time Thursday night against Tampa. Mallett’€™s highlight likely came on a deep ball down the middle of the field for Matthew Slater, a really sharp pass play that drew cheers from the crowd. He also had a nice hookup with rookie wide receiver Jeremy Ross in 11-on-11 work.

‘€¢Speaking of 11-on-11 work, both the offense and defense were forced to run a lap during that portion of practice.

‘€¢Another good day for Chung, who had two interceptions, one off Brady and another off Hoyer, and was again around the ball for most of the session. (Leigh Bodden and Brandon Meriweather also had interceptions as well.) Chung continues to have a really good camp.

‘€¢Nate Solder continued to get serious reps at left tackle with the starting offense again on Tuesday, and likely figures to get lots of playing time Thursday against the Bucs as New England continues to work veteran Matt Light slowly into the lineup. (Not sure if this was a symptom of having some depth questions on the offensive line ‘€” players will often practice out of position if there are depth questions, especially in non-padded practices ‘€” but Solder was also out there at right guard for a few snaps as well. Could be something, could be nothing. Bears watching.)

‘€¢At the end of practice, part-time kickers Wes Welker and Chad Ochocinco took their shots from about 35 yards out. Both missed, drawing big groans from their teammates and fans.

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Wes Welker: ‘I’m still in my prime’

08.15.11 at 9:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots veteran wide receiver Wes Welker said Monday that almost two years removed from reconstructive left knee surgery, he’s in the best shape of his career.

“This is the best I’ve felt in my career,” he said. “I think my knowledge of the game and being able to be healthy, I think it’s really helped.”

Tom Brady‘s favorite receiver since 2007 blew out his knee in the last game of the 2009 regular season in Houston, missing the playoff loss that year against the Ravens. He rehabbed his knee aggressively and made it back in time for the season opener against the Bengals.

“As long as you’re working hard and getting better on a daily basis, there is no telling where the curve is as far as the backside of your career,” he said. “For me, I feel like I’m still in my prime.”

Welker had 86 catches for 848 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010, making the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement to Andre Johnson of the Texans.

Welker is now in the final year of his current contract with the Patriots, a deal that’s paying him $18.1 million over five year, including just $2.15 million this season. He said he hasn’t given any thought to his career with the Patriots past 2011.

“Not really,” he said. “I’m just concentrating on the here and now, and whatever I can do to help the team win this year. That’s where my full concentration is. I’m not really worried about that at all. I’m just worried about going out there and playing ball. I love playing on this team and I enjoy every day I’m out here. I’m going to let my play take care of everything else.”

Read More: 2011 training camp, Andre Johnson, New England Patriots, nfl

Patrick Chung hit leaves Aaron Hernandez seeing STARs

08.15.11 at 8:54 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Entering his third season in the NFL, all with the Patriots, Patrick Chung has been given a lot of responsibility and it’s not always gone has he had hoped or expected.

Take last January for example, when he called for a fake punt just before halftime in the AFC Divisional playoff against the Jets. The Patriots came up short when he called the audible and stood up like a 15-year pro afterward, taking responsibility for it.

But that was hardly the first time the Patriots had placed the University of Oregon product in a critical position on the field. As a matter of fact, he showed them in his second season that he could handle a lot by playing a unique position on defense.

It’s called the STAR spot on the field where a defender plays the receiver in the slot. What makes this position so very important is what the coach – namely Bill Belichick – expects from the player.

“You have to be able to do a lot of stuff,” Chung said following Monday’s practice. “You have to be able to cover, cover tight ends, cover receivers, blitz, play zone coverage. You kind of have to do everything. And you have to know the defense.”

“It’s the inside position that plays against the slot receiver,” added Patriots personnel director Nick Caserio on Monday. “So there’s a number of different qualities and skills that that player needs to possess, so there’s a number of players that work in that position here in camp and players that played that position. Looking at Tampa Bay, I’d say Ronde Barber is one of the better stars that actually plays in the league because of his combination of blitzing, his instincts, his ball skills.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2011 training camp, Aaron Hernandez, Baltimore Ravens, Brandon Meriweather

Bill Belichick on The Big Show: Albert Haynesworth ‘day by day,’ ‘impressed’ with Chad Ochocinco

08.15.11 at 6:50 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined The Big Show from Gillette Stadium on Monday afternoon for his first weekly interview of the season on Patriots Monday. Belichick touched on the first preseason game last Thursday, what to expect for the second preseason game, second-year wide receiver Taylor Price and how it has been evaluating talent due to the lockout. Also, Belichick discussed Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco joining the team and possible new looks on defense this season, among all other things Patriots-related.

(To hear the entire interview, click here.)

Here are the highlights from the interview:

ON THE FIRST PRESEASON GAME: It was [different] leading up to it, but in the end we just went with what we felt like we could do and it was probably less than what we had in some other years. It was OK. There were a lot of things we need to work on, we take those out and try and emphasize them and work on them.

WHAT THE TEAM NEEDS TO IMPROVE ON: I think some of the things we need to do better is number one taking care of the ball offensively. We had the ball out five times, they fumbled five times. A couple of times they blew us down and it didn’t really count as a fumble, but balls were loose. That was an emphasis for us this week. Also, getting the ball. We only had one turnover, and of course that was by a receiver, so we have to do a better job of turning the ball over defensively and forcing fumbles, holding onto interceptions, things like that. I didn’t think our return game was very good. Taylor [Price] had a good return, but that was nullified by one penalty and they could have had another one called as well. So, we didn’t get much out of the return game. Those are a couple things. Of course we had some execution on plays that you can imagine was a little less than ideal. I think we can hopefully coach that and learn with it and do it better the next time around.

ON OCHOCINCO JOINING THE PATRIOTS: I can’t really speak to what happened with players and what happened with other teams and situations. I evaluate them on what they’ve done here. Chad has worked really hard, he has done everything that we have asked him to do. He is in excellent shape, he starts early, he stays late, he practices hard. It is a new offensive for him, he has put in a lot of time and effort to work on it and get it down with the other receivers and Tom [Brady] with the coaching staff and [wide receivers coach]  Chad O’Shea and  [offensive coordinator] Billy O’Brien. He’s worked really hard and I’ve been impressed with what he’s done so far.

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Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Bill Belichick, Chad Ochocinco, Taylor Price

What’s next for Aaron Hernandez?

08.15.11 at 6:16 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’s a common line of thinking to believe Patriots’ second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski is primed for a breakout season this year, but what about Aaron Hernandez?

While Hernandez didn’t put up the numbers of Gronkowski as a rookie in 2010, he did put up similar (better) numbers to another notable first-year player in 24th overall pick Dez Bryant. Both Hernandez and Bryant had 45 catches and six receiving touchdowns last season, with Hernandez’s 563 receiving yards outpacing Bryant’s 561. If that’s the type of production the Patriots can get out of a fourth-round pick as a rookie, perhaps Hernandez can take a big step in an offense that feature’s an MVP quarterback and an offensive line that’s only gotten stronger.

“I’m in a great offense,” Hernandez said after Monday’s indoor practice. “They give you a lot of chances to make plays, and you’ve just got to make them when your number’s called.”

When his number was called in Thursday’s preseason opener, he didn’t exactly make the most of the situation. With Gronkowski among the Patriots’ starters sitting out the contest against the Jaguars, Hernandez started things off treacherously, fumbling on the first offensive play of the game and and adding a second fumble later in the first half. He got a talking to from Bill Belichick on the sidelines after the second one, making his first preseason game a forgettable one despite his six catches for 68 yards.

While Hernandez showed a propensity to put the ball on the ground on Thursday, he proved Monday that he could hold onto it through an example he’d rather not experience again. After hauling in a pass during drills in the red zone, Hernandez was absolutely lit up by safety Patrick Chung.

“I wasn’t expecting it, but it was still a good little pop and got me a little aggravated,” Hernandez said with a smile after practice. Read the rest of this entry »

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