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Defensive lineman A.J. Francis on joining Patriots: ‘I love it’

09.04.13 at 2:19 pm ET
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FOXBORO — A.J. Francis was stunned.

A 6-foot-5, 316-pounder out of Maryland who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dolphins this spring, Francis was on his way to special teams meetings over the weekend in Miami when he was stopped by Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland and told he was claimed by the Patriots.

“It just happened at the drop of a hat,” said Francis, who alerted the world to the move via his Twitter feed. “I was told I was going to New England. Had a flight four hours later. I went back to my hotel room, packed and flew to Boston.

Fortunately, Francis had an in: one of his best friends had just survived the cut with the Patriots. Former college teammate Joe Vellano, another undrafted free agent, has helped the transitional process.

“The whole time he was up here, we talked almost every day,” Francis said of Vellano. “He told me he loved it up here — he said it was just like it was at Maryland. So when I told him I was coming, he was like, ‘You’re going to love it up here.’ And I do, so far. I love it.

“It’s just football. You don’t worry about stuff outside football. This is football — you’re here because your job is to play football. And you do what the coach tells you to do, and that’s what you do. That’s the way it was at Maryland my first three years. That’s the the way it was under coach [RalphFriedgen and that’s how it was under coach [Randy] Edsall. It’s literally just come in, play football and that’s your job and that’s what you have to do.

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Read More: A.J. Francis, Joe Vellano, Tommy Kelly, Vince Wilfork

Rob Gronkowski: ‘When my number is called, that’s when I’ll play’

09.04.13 at 2:00 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The question on everyone’s mind staking out the locker of Rob Gronkowski was fairly obviously. Is the perennial Pro Bowl tight end ready to play Sunday in the season opener if Bill Belichick activates him?

“Do I expect to play on Sunday? I’m preparing every single day to the max of my ability and preparing every day to best I can. When my number is called, that’s when I’ll play. I can’t tell you when that’ll be,” Gronkowski said.

Gronkowski has had four surgeries on his forearm and one on his back since the beginning of last November. The forearm appears to be fully healed but the back is more of an unknown.

Is it all about the back to Gronk right now?

“Just rehabbing everything,” he said. “I need the whole body strong and just have to keep on grinding and working all aspects of the body in order to get back out there. It’s not just the forearm and back, obviously. When you have to get conditioned again. You have to get stronger throughout your whole body, your legs, your upper body, your arms. So, that’s all in play, too. You can’t just jump out there because your arm is ready. You have to get your whole body ready and that’s what takes the hard work, the dedication, the conditioning and everything to get back out there. That all plays a factor.”

When will he be ready?

“When I’ll be ready? Right now, we just take it day-by-day,” Gronkowski said. “I’m improving a lot. Have been improving since last week and been improving since three weeks ago. The only thing I can ask out of myself, the coaches ask out of me, the trainers ask out of me is just to take every day [one] day at a time and just to improve every day, focus on that day to get better.

How close is he to 100 percent?

“I don’t really think about a percentage,” Gronkowski added. “I don’t really think about percentages as far as where my body is at. The only thing I’m really focused on is improving every day. If I’m improving every day, then I’m moving in the right direction. And that’s all you can ask for is moving in the right direction at all times and improving every day to get better.”

Gronkowski spent most of training camp doing agility drills and attending team meetings as he was on PUP. He was activated last Saturday and returned to the practice field on Sunday. Wednesday marked his second practice in full pads with the team this week.

“It’s just fun being back out there,” he said. “Putting the pads on, just having them on makes me happy again. I love this game. I definitely miss the game of football, going out there and practicing with my teammates. I miss doing the grind with my teammates, miss being out there with my coaches and everything. It’s just awesome being back out there and with the team and focused on getting things done.

“Making progress every week and getting out there is another step forward. Just have to take positive steps forward and keep re-evaluate where I am.”

Gronkowski admitted this spring and summer of rehab has been unlike anything he’s every had to endure as an NFL player.

“It was difficult but I’m past that all,” he said. “Today is a new day and the only thing I can do is look forward. I’m not thinking about the past anymore. That’s all in the past. The only thing I can do now is improve on getting back out there.

“Just been progressing every day, moving forward. That’s what I plan on doing every day, taking every step.”

Read More: Buffalo Bills, Gronk, New England Patriots, nfl

Report: Aaron Hernandez placed at Boston nightclub at same time as two 2012 murder victims

09.04.13 at 1:49 pm ET
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According to a report in the Hartford Courant, former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has been identified on video as being at a Boston nightclub at the same time as two men who were later killed in a drive-by shooting in 2012.

The report credits multiple law enforcement sources as saying Hernandez is visible on a nightclub surveillance footage.

Dorchester residents Daniel Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28, were shot and killed in their car early in the morning of July 16, 2012.

While searching for evidence in the June murder of Odin Lloyd, Boston authorities found a vehicle rented in Hernandez’s name at his uncle’s home in Bristol, Conn., and it roughly matched the description of the vehicle that fled the scene of the 2012 double murder. The car reportedly had been parked in the garage for about a year.

The Courant also reported that police are looking at a .38-caliber pistol that was found in the car of a Bristol woman following a June 21 accident, in relation to a case involving Hernandez.

Hernandez was indicted by a grand jury last month for murder and five illegal firearms charges. He is scheduled for an arraignment Friday in Fall River Superior Court.

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Will Svitek only player missing from Patriots full pads practice

09.04.13 at 10:58 am ET
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FOXBORO — Offensive lineman Will Svitek was the only player missing from full pads practice Wednesday morning on the upper grass fields outside Gillette Stadium as the Patriots resumed preparations for their season opener Sunday in Buffalo.

Rob Gronkowski practiced again, working with the tight end group during the open availability to media at the start of practice. Gronkowski ran through agility drills and participated fully in blocking and catching drills.

Another tight end, newcomer Matthew Mulligan, was also in attendance, sporting a heavy white wrap on his right forearm. He also participated fully in drills.

The Patriots had their second pads practice of the week, having worked out in pads on Sunday as the team got an early start on preparations for Buffalo.

Svitek has not been at practice this week and has been seen with a knee brace in the locker room.

The Patriots will practice again on Thursday and Friday before leaving Saturday for Buffalo.

Read More: Buffalo Bills, Gronk, Matthew Mulligan, New England Patriots

Patriots shuffle practice squad with addition of OL Josh Kline

09.04.13 at 9:42 am ET
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The Patriots re-signed offensive lineman Josh Kline and released linebacker Jeff Tarpinian from the practice squad on Wednesday.

Kline, 23, joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Kent State on May 3 and was released on Sept. 2. The 6-foot-3, 295-pounder saw action at right guard, right tackle and on special teams during his college career at Kent State. He earned second-team All-MAC honors as a senior in 2012.

Tarpinian, 25, originally joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Iowa on July 27, 2011. He has rotated between the Patriots practice squad and the 53-man roster over the last two seasons. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder has played in 10 NFL games with one start and has registered five total tackles on defense and eight tackles on special teams. He was released by the Patriots on Aug. 31 and signed to the practice squad on Sept. 1.

Read More: Jeff Tarpinian, Josh Kline,

Bills name EJ Manuel as starting QB

09.04.13 at 9:17 am ET
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The Bills named rookie EJ Manuel as their starting quarterback for Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Patriots on Wednesday. New Bills head coach Doug Marrone made the announcement Wednesday morning.

“If EJ Manuel wasn’€™t ready to go, Jeff Tuel would be the quarterback and that’€™s how we were going about our business,” Marrone said. “I’€™ve said publicly before that we had the time frame of if he was able to come back and get him ready and then we’€™d make the decision. Then obviously through the rehabilitation period that time moved up. I don’€™t think this shocks anyone about EJ being our starting quarterback.”

Manuel, a Florida State product taken in the first round of the 2013 draft, had minor knee surgery earlier this summer and has been out for the bulk of the preseason, but appears to be set to go for Buffalo. He’ll become the 13th first-round quarterback since the 2000 draft to start Kickoff Weekend

In his four seasons with FSU, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Manuel completed 67 percent of his passes for 7,741 yards and 47 touchdowns. In addition, he carried the ball 298 times for 827 yards and 11 touchdowns.

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LaDainian Tomlinson regrets calling Bill Belichick ‘classless’

09.03.13 at 11:24 pm ET
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During the season premiere of “A Football Life” on the NFL Network, LaDainian Tomlinson admitted that “we all say things we regret.”

Tomlinson was referring to the fact that he called the Patriots a “classless” organization after the bitter playoff loss in 2006 when the Chargers had the game won, only to fumble an interception when Troy Brown knocked the ball out of the hands of Marlon McCree.

The Patriots would go on to wipe out a 21-13 deficit and win 24-21 and advance to the AFC championship in Indianapolis. Shortly after the game, Tomlinson spotted some Patriots dancing on the Chargers’ logo at midfield. Tomlinson went after an unidentified Patriots player, yelling and pointing, and had to be restrained by a teammate and former Charger Reche Caldwell, who had a huge game for the Patriots.

“I would never react in that way. I was very upset,” Tomlinson said after the game. “When you go to the middle of our field and start doing the dance Shawne Merriman is known for, that is disrespectful. They showed no class and maybe that comes from the head coach.”

Merriman earned the nicknamed “Lights Out” from a wild dance to celebrate each of his 17 sacks that season. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said he saw some Patriots pointing to the scoreboard, mimicking the dance and stomping on the Chargers’ logo at midfield.

“I think what got LT, and I was right there, was just a little of the taunting,” Rivers said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Hey, celebrate — we’d have been sprinting on the field, too, I guarantee you. But it was a little finger-pointing and I don’t know where it came from.”

On Tuesday night, Tomlinson formally apologized via Twitter.



Read More: A Football Life, Bill Belichick, LaDainian Tomlinson, nfl
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