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Ten things we learned from Day 4 of Patriots training camp

07.29.12 at 6:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For the second straight day, the Patriots took the practice field Sunday afternoon in full pads. The large crowd of fans that braved the threatening gray skies were treated to a two-hour-plus practice complete with some great hitting, particularly in the one-on-one drills.

ONE-ON-ONE BATTLES

In the offensive and defensive linemen battles, Robert Gallery was solid, holding his ground against Gerard Warren and Jeremiah Warren and overpowering Justin Francis. After receiving most of the reps with the first team at left guard earlier in the week, Gallery was replaced on Sunday by Ryan Wendell. While Wendell struggled during the one-on-one battles, much of that may be attributed to the fact that twice he drew the unlucky matchup of Vince Wilfork.

Chandler Jones showed a few impressive pass rush moves but also struggled in his battles, including drawing a penalty lap for jumping offside against Aaron Hernandez. Third-year end Jermaine Cunningham, in need of an impressive camp after a disappointing sophomore season, struggled in his one-on-one drills.

BIG HIT OF THE DAY

Jerod Mayo absolutely steamrolled Danny Woodhead in pass-blocking drills involving linebackers and running backs. After burying Woodhead in the ground, Mayo continued into a group of running backs standing behind the drill and shoved Stevan Ridley. A close second for the hit of the day came from rookie Don’€™t’€™a Hightower, who knocked Eric Kettani onto his back and charged into running backs coach Ivan Fears, knocking Fears down in the process as well.

ROLL CALL

For the fourth straight day, Matthew Slater and James Ihedigbo both wore red non-contact jerseys. Once again, however, the two participated in every drill, and Ihedigbo even got knocked on his back by receiver Britt Davis during one drill.

As has been the case for the entire training camp, Brian Waters and Jake Ballard were not present Sunday. Tracy White, who left the field with an unknown injury a day earlier, was absent Sunday.

Myron Pryor, Nate Ebner, Nick McDonald, Markus Zusevics, Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Jeremy Ebert, Daniel Fells and Alfonzo Dennard were all in shorts and T-shirts.

PLAY OF THE DAY

Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd connected on a number of big pass plays Sunday afternoon, but the day’€™s biggest ovation came after a 50-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass from Brady (via Ridley) to Lloyd over the middle. Ridley and Woodhead split most of the first team snaps, while Shane Vereen, rookie Brandon Bolden and Woodhead all took turns with the second and third teams.

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Patriots running backs could get more of a pass this season

07.29.12 at 6:09 pm ET
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FOXBORO — In Josh McDaniels‘ last season as the offensive coordinator in New England, the Patriots targeted running backs 105 times and came away with 78 catches. But since then, the running backs’ impact in the passing game has lessened considerably: In 2009, it dipped slightly to 74 catches on 105 targets. In 2010, it was 61 catches on 86 targets, and last season, it was 37 catches on 58 targets.

But even though the New England passing game has continued to evolve — particularly with the emergence of the tight ends — the return of McDaniels could mean the Patriots passing game leans on the running backs more often than it has the last few seasons. One way to get them involved is through the screen game, a McDaniels favorite. While Stevan Ridley said the screen game was only about “5 percent” of his game as a collegian at LSU, Shane Vereen was a bit more involved while at Cal. Vereen had 74 receptions in his three years in college, and he sounded enthusiastic about the possibility of the Patriots doing more passing to the backs this season.

‘€œI think it just fits into the offense. We’€™ve got to be able to do multiple things as an offense and we’€™ve got to be able to do them well. In order to do it well you’€™ve got to practice it,” Vereen said. ‘€œ[It’€™s] effective because it puts defenses on their heels, but it also just opens another chapter of our offense.’€

While Ridley — who had 17 catches out of the backfield while at LSU and three last season as a rookie with the Patriots — doesn’t have the same level of experience in the passing game, he said after practice on Sunday that it’s “fun” to be a part of.

“To see three big linemen out there in front of you try and get downfield on some DBs, it’s a chance to make a big play,” he said. “For me, it’s a present almost when you have lead blockers going downfield like that. I look forward to it when it does open up. It’s a lot of fun. If we can get it down and get it like the coaches want us to run it, we’ll get to call that play a pretty good bit.”

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Josh McDaniels, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley

Highlights from Scott O’Brien’s Q&A with the media from Sunday afternoon

07.29.12 at 5:05 pm ET
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Here are a few highlights of the Q&A with special teams coach Scott O’Brien from Sunday afternoon:

We saw Aaron Hernandez returning punts a couple days ago. Is that just an opportunity to get the guy some work in an emergency situation?
“No, I think any time you’€™re a ball handler, one of the hardest things to do is to catch punts. It’€™s not only a great drill for any receiver, as well as punt returners, to focus in on trying to catch a ball that normally is tougher to catch than a quarterback throwing you a ball.”

What are the attributes of a good kick returner?
“There’€™s toughness, obviously. It’€™s like having to run through a door and you don’€™t know what’€™s at the other end, that’€™s number one. Great vision, instincts, cutting ability, but there’€™s a process. Those are the instinctive things you’€™re looking for; the mental makeup, besides the physical skills. But there is a learning process with all returners, no matter what experience they’€™ve had in the past because of the schemes and the coverage principles that we have to deal with here. It becomes a learning process of how they do things besides just the physical skills they do have.”

What are the attributes of the 10 guys in front of the returner?
“Well that’€™s a good point because you’€™re only as good as those 10 guys, no matter who it is. There have been some great specialists in this league through the history of it and there are some now too that make everybody look good, they make everybody look good. No matter who you put on the field, that guy is really only as good as the other 10 guys that give him an opportunity. You’€™re just trying to get him one-on-one, let him to what he does, but they get him started.”

How would you assess the kick return guys last year? It seems like that could be an area for improvement.
“Obviously last year was an area of still inexperience for us. It’€™s like any phase after a season ‘€“ you’€™re always looking to improve it, no matter how good you are or how poor you are. You’€™re evaluating the schemes, personnel, what you have, what you can go forward with. It’€™s like anything else, it’€™s a point of emphasis for us but it always is. I think in our case, there’€™s a good example of the learning curve of things that happened the way they happened that were either good or bad. Hopefully we learn from that experience and we continue to improve.”

There seems like there are a lot more core special teamers here than ultimately will be kept. Can you talk about the competition there?
“That’€™s one thing I think Bill [Belichick] has done ever since I’€™ve been with him or have watched him when I’€™ve been other places, it’€™s bringing in competition for everybody. Right now we have a lot of competition and it will sort itself out. With that, not just young players, there are experienced players there. Not only will it make us better with better competition, give you more options but they make each other better on some of the situations you get into with experienced players versus young players. Young players, they just haven’€™t experienced a lot yet so they don’€™t know much. The older players, when you’€™re talking about a situation or play, they’€™re alert for things that could come up during the course of the down which really is helpful.”
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Nick Caserio talks about introducing flexible rookies into the system

07.28.12 at 6:50 pm ET
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FOXBORO — On the heels of a story from Friday on rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower and trying to balance how to best take advantage of his versatility against his overall professional development, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio weighed in on the idea that you have to manage your expectations your expectations when you’re faced with a rookie that has Hightower’s skill set.

“Certain players learn at different rates,” Caserio said before Friday’s practice. “It’€™s really whether or not they can take … really, you start let’€™s say day one of training camp or the first day in pads, the installation goes in, you go out there, you practice that, you make the corrections, you come back the next day and there’€™s going to be another installation that goes in.

“Are they able to retain the information from the previous day? Can they carry that over when you add multiples in? It’€™s a matter of how the player handles that. If the player can handle more, then you can give him more. If he can’€™t handle as much, then you give him less. You just try to find that balance between giving the player too much and letting him also go out there and be able to play and execute at an optimum level.”

When it comes to introducing versatile guys into the New England system — and the Patriots brought in several this offseason, including Hightower, defensive lineman Jake Bequette and defensive back Tavon Wilson — there are different rules for different players.

“If they’€™re in a specific role, the more multiples they can handle — whether it’€™s in the kicking game, whether it’€™s in pass coverage, whether it’€™s run defense — then it’€™s going to enhance their ability to get on the field,” Caserio said. “Troy Brown was out at practice the other day. There probably isn’€™t a better example of a versatile player really in all three phases of the game. Not everybody can do that. You start with a foundation, you introduce some concepts and some different things and see who can handle what. Maybe one player can handle more relative to another so that’€™s just part of putting the team together and seeing who can handle what.”

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Dont'a Hightower, Jake Bequette, Nick Caserio

Nick Caserio: No new updates on Brian Waters or Andre Carter

07.28.12 at 6:34 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio indicated Saturday that there’€™s nothing new to report when it comes to status updates on offensive lineman Brian Waters and defensive end Andre Carter.

Waters, who is technically in the second year of a two-year deal he signed before the start of the 2011 season, has not been in attendance for the spring sessions, as well as the first three days of training camp. Meanwhile, according to a source, there have been talks about a possible return to New England for Carter, but he’€™s still rehabbing a calf injury he suffered last December that left him on season-ending injured reserve.

‘€œI don’€™t have any updates,’€ Caserio said. ‘€œAt this point, [there’€™s] really no change from where we were the other day,’€ a reference to Bill Belichick‘€™s statement on Waters saying that the team was going to take his situation ‘€œday to day. There’€™s no long-term plan.’€

As for the possibility of fining Waters for his absence, Caserio said that ‘€œany decision we make on a player we’€™ll keep that internal.’€ When pressed as to whether or not Waters could be fined, Caserio said ‘€œevery team has certain rules in place that are in compliance with what’€™s been approved by the league, so we follow the letter of the law in that regard and we’€™ll handle everything internally.’€

Caserio was asked if it would it be correct to say that if Waters is under contract and he’€™s not here, he could be fined.

‘€œThere are multiple interpretations. I’€™m not going to get into the exact details of it,’€ he replied. ‘€œOur stance and where we are hasn’€™t changed from where we were the other day.’€

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Andre Carter, Bill Belichick, Brian Waters

Tom Brady still one of the guys in his 13th Patriots training camp

07.28.12 at 6:17 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’€™s another year at Patriots training camp for Tom Brady, who opened his 13th training camp in New England earlier this month. While Brady is certainly the most tenured veteran of Bill Belichick‘€™s training camps, he says he still feels like one of the guys.

‘€œ[Camp is] the most fun I have, so I still feel like a young kid out here trying to earn a spot,’€ Brady said after practice on Friday. ‘€œI ‘€˜m trying to be a good example and obviously I have more experience than most of the guys out here, but you still try to bring enthusiasm and leadership and try to go out and do your job.’€

Brady has been in the same spot — New England — for all of the training camps he has been through; something he said has helped him have success at the pro level.

‘€œIt’€™s huge,’€ Brady said. ‘€œTo have the experience in the same offensive system with the same coaches, you build on your mistakes. I think being a good football player is not necessarily how many good plays you make but how many bad plays you don’€™t make. Anybody can make good plays. You wouldn’€™t be in this league if you weren’€™t capable of making good plays, but it’€™s a matter of making bad plays. I think that you have to make the bad plays and then you learn from them. I’€™ve made plenty of those over the course of my career. You make them and you learn from them and you try not to repeat them.

‘€œTo be in the same system where we’€™re running plays out here that I’€™ve run literally a thousand times, there’€™s not a lot of mistakes that you make on those plays. Some of the other ones that you’€™re trying new that you build on year after year, that’€™s why you’€™re out here practicing. I’€™m trying to eliminate mistakes just like everybody else.’€

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Read More: 2012 Training Camp, donte stallworth, jabar gaffney, Patriots

Highlight’s from Tom Brady’s Saturday Q&A with the media

07.28.12 at 5:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here are a few highlights from Tom Brady‘s Q&A with the media after Friday’s practice:

How’€™s camp been so far?
“It’€™s been a lot of fun.  It’€™s been a lot of fun. We’€™ve got a lot of new faces out here between the younger players and the guys we brought in and everyone seems to be working hard. We’€™ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but it’€™s fun to be out here on the field and really working towards the season.”

How has it been to work with some of the guys who had been here before like Donte’€™ Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney?
“Well, it’€™s been a lot of fun. There is so much familiarity with what they’re capable of and what they can do. It doesn’€™t seem like it’€™s taken long for them to kind of get re-acclimated to what we do. Both of them are making a lot of plays out there. And it’€™s exciting for a quarterback; there are obviously a lot of guys to throw the ball to.  We’€™re really spreading it around out here and different guys are getting different opportunities and everyone is trying to compete pretty hard for a spot.”

Can you see Brandon Lloyd‘€™s background in the offense just from practicing with him?
“Yeah, he knows what he’s doing out there. It’€™s not like there’€™s a lot of studying the playbook. He’€™s been in the offense now for a bunch of years. Now, like everybody, there are different words we’€™re using, different stuff we’€™re doing on offense, so every day we’€™re going in here with different things to learn and try to go out there and execute. But we meet about it, we walk through it, we talk about it again and then we come out here and try to execute at it at full speed. And then you get a defense in there and you kind of see how it plays out. And then the things that work, you build ion them, the things that don’€™t work, you try to get better at. It’€™s a lot of guys are working hard to learn the plays, learn the system and go out there and execute against our defense which is a challenge for us.”

With Jabar Gaffney, Donte’€™ Stallworth and Brandon Lloyd all having a background in the offense, does that make it easier to be productive now that you know these guys do know what they’€™re doing and they can hit the ground running?
“I think there’€™s just a certain level of trust you have and offensive football is about 11 guys doing their job. You can’€™t do anyone else’€™s job on offense, and if 11 guys aren’€™t doing the right thing, then it doesn’€™t end up being a very good play. You have guys who you play with who you’€™ve won games with that you really have a lot of trust in, then you can go out there early and execute at a relatively high level. I mean, we’€™re nowhere near where we need to be based on our game on September 9. We have a bunch of practices and a bunch of preseason games and I think every day we’€™re trying to come out here and see the things that we didn’€™t do well in the previous practice and go execute them in the next practice.”

When you look at the numbers, you have five, six, seven receivers that you’€™ve developed a good rapport with, but someone’€™s going to have to go. It’€™s kind of life or death for some of these guys that have had very good NFL careers and have been here.
“I think competition is good for all of us. I think it’€™s up to everyone to earn the spot. You have to earn it every year. I think the one thing about this place is there’€™s no entitlement to the positions out here. You do it based on what you earn and that’€™s why you come out here every day working hard to develop that trust from your coaches and your teammates so that they want you out there. And part of being a team player is doing what’€™s best for the team and if someone is better than you, then it’€™s better for the team for that person to play. So that’€™s why you come out here and you work hard. You work hard in the offseason to be prepared and you work hard in training camp to get an opportunity and then you work hard once you get an opportunity to take advantage of your opportunity. But the more good football players you have on the team, the better you’re going to be. It’€™s better to have guys competing for spots than hoping guys were better than what they are. It’€™s better to have a lot of good players than not have a lot of good players. We’€™ve got some depth at the receiver position; I don’€™t know how it’€™s going to sort out, but based on what we do out here on the field, that’€™s everybody’€™s opportunity: quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end. I mean, we’€™ve got a lot of competition at a lot of positions.”
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