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Notes from Patriots’ Tuesday minicamp practice

06.12.12 at 3:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots just wrapped up their first of three minicamp practices open to the media, and in a session that ran two hours, worked on a variety of things. The workout, which had the same feel as the OTA sessions over the previous three weeks, was held in T-shirts, sweats, shorts and helmets. Here are a few quick notes:

The only three players who were not spotted on the field for the duration of the session were tight end Daniel Fells, offensive lineman Brian Waters and defensive lineman Myron Pryor. Several players appeared limited, as tight end Rob Gronkowski, offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer and Logan Mankins and linebackers Brandon Spikes and Tracy White were among those who spent plenty of time working out off to the side.

On the injury front, defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene went down late in the session with what appeared to be a left leg injury. He was on the ground for some time, and was getting work done for several minutes. He did get up and was walking around at the end of the session, and he walked off the field under his own power once things are done, but with a noticeable limp.

Keeping in mind that it’€™s still only June and the regular season is three months away, some of the personnel groupings were interesting. There was a good amount of special teams work, specifically punt coverage and blocking. Julian Edelman and Patrick Chung were spotted working as punt returners. While Edelman was no surprise, the sight of Chung back there was a bit of an eye-opener. Chung has not working in that capacity in his professional career, but he did return 16 punts as a collegian (14 as a sophomore) at Oregon.

In that same vein, it was interesting to see that after spending three OTA sessions that were open to the media as the starting right guard, newcomer Robert Gallery appeared to get bumped down the depth chart in favor of Dan Connolly. Without Waters and Mankins on the practice field, the practice utilized Ryan Wendell at left guard and Connolly at right guard with the starting offense. Nate Solder (left tackle) and Marcus Cannon (right tackle, in place of Vollmer) worked as the starters on the outside. Out of that that same positional grouping, it was also interesting to see Joseph Addai get a lot of work as the No .1 running back.

Defensive end Alex Silvestro continues to work exclusively with the tight ends. It remains to be seen whether that’€™s a function of need (the Patriots are struggling to keep healthy tight ends on the field, and Aaron Hernandez continues to work heavily with the wide receivers) or simply an interesting wrinkle they play on utilizing down the road. The thing is, he doesn’€™t look overwhelmed at the position — it’€™s still June, but it appears there might be something there. Something worth watching.

In 11 on 11’€™s on the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots rolled out a starting defensive front of Trevor Scott, Fanene, Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich. Defensive moments that stood out include picks of backup quarterback Brian Hoyer on back-to-back snaps, one by Jeff Tarpinian and another by Will Allen. Ras-I Dowling got a lot of run at right cornerback, and looked good (at least when I was able to focus on him).

Four different players were spotted running penalty laps at the end of practice: defensive lineman Kyle Love, Ninkovich, Wendell and defensive lineman Gerard Warren.

Highlights from Bill Belichick’s press conference Tuesday

06.12.12 at 12:59 pm ET
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Bill Belichick addressed the media before the start of the first day of mandatory minicamp Tuesday afternoon. The most notable news item was that he is not sure whether Brian Waters is retiring or not. He answered questions about Rob Gronkowski‘s contract extension, Jermaine Cunningham‘s progression this offeason, what he expects out of the rookie class this offseason, Waters effectiveness as a 35-year-old, and shuffling the coaching staff.

On Gronkowski’s six-year $54 million contract extension: “We have conversations with a lot of agents and their players, sometimes things work out and come together and sometimes they don’t. In this case it did, and we were able to work out something we were comfortable with and, obviously, they were comfortable with.”

On signing Wes Welker to a long-term contract before the July 16 deadline: “It is what it is, the rules are the rules, so we’ll comply with them.”

On Cunningham’s productive offseason: “Jermaine has had a great offseason, he’s really worked hard and looks good. Whatever happened last year with any of our players — good, bad or indifferent — whatever it was, it’s not really important at this point. We’re really trying to move forward and evaluate the team on a current basis and give everybody an opportunity to go out there and show where they are at and what they can do.”

On the progression of the rookies: “They’re closing the gap in terms learning of the playbook, understanding the overall system, learning the NFL rules that are different from the college game, things like that. Hopefully we’re closing the gap, trying to get them ready for training camp so they can go out there and compete for a job. If we can give them that opportunity, then their talent and their competitiveness will be stacked up against the guys that have been playing with us. We’re just trying to bring them as close as we can to our veteran group from a competitive standpoint so they at least have a chance out there.”

On Waters’ effectiveness at the late stages of his career: “I think anytime players get closer to the end of their career, whenever that is, you evaluate them by a year-to-year basis. Some players are improving in their early 20s and the early part of their career. But at some point in their career, you know, nobody’s going to play forever. [Waters] is not going to be different then anybody else.”

On shuffling the coaching staff — Matt Patricia’s promotion to defensive coordinator, Pepper Johnson moving from defensive line coach to linebackers coach, adding Steve Belichick and Chris Sims to the staff, and Joe Andruzzi’s role: “We just felt like for a number of reasons that combination would be the best way for us to go this year. We do what we think is best. I’ve rarely seen [Steve Belichick] in six years, but he’s done work here in training camp so this will be a continuation of that. [Sims] is learning a variety of areas like most of the young guys we bring in here, they work in different areas of the organization. [Andruzzi’s] role has been in the offseason program for several years now.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brian Waters, Jermaine Cunningham,

A quick primer on the incredible story of new Patriots receiver Jesse Holley

06.11.12 at 6:01 pm ET
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Last season, the NFL Network put together an impressive story on Jesse Holley, the wide receiver who was signed by the Patriots on Monday. Check it out:

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Catching up with … the Texans

06.11.12 at 5:13 pm ET
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Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’€™ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’€™ve already looked at the JetsRavens, Steelers and Broncos. Now, it’€™s the Texans:

The Texans had the best season in franchise history, winning the AFC South with a 10-6 record (good for the third seed in the AFC) and beating the Bengals in a wild-card matchup at home. (They lost at Baltimore, 20-13, in the divisional round of the playoffs.) Houston suffered some serious injuries along the way, but a young and aggressive defense that evolved into one of the best in the league under coordinator Wade Phillips kept them playing into mid-January. Ultimately, it was a very a successful year for Houston.

Who they added: Even though they technically didn’€™t add him, it’€™s important to note that they avoided a holdout with All-World running back Arian Foster, signing him to a long-term deal. In the draft, they picked up defensive end Whitney Mercilus (16 sacks and nine forced fumbles as a junior) with their first-round pick out of Illinois.

Who’€™s gone: Houston arguably suffered more significant free-agent losses than anyone in the league: on defense, outside linebacker Mario Williams and cornerback Jason Allen departed, and on offense, right guard Mike Brisiel and right tackle Eric Winston also left. And inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans was traded to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick.

Analysis: When healthy, the Houston offense — led by Foster, quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Adrian Johnson — is among the best in the league. In addition, despite the losses, there are a lot of choice elements remaining on the defensive side of the ball, including defensive lineman J.J. Watt, linebacker Brian Cushing and cornerback Johnathan Joseph. In 2011, they took advantage of a down year for the AFC South (no Manning in Indy, while the Titans weren’€™t quite there yet and the Jags were, well, the Jags), and put together an impressive season. However, every year there seems to be one playoff team who ends up coming back to the pack the following season, and with the sheer talent and veteran leadership that departed Houston in the offseason, one has to wonder if the Texans will be that team in 2012.

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Checking in with the five Patriots’ UFA’s who are still on the open market

06.11.12 at 1:46 pm ET
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The Patriots began the offseason with 17 unrestricted free agents. Eight of the, re-signed with the Patriots (Deion Branch, Matt Slater, Wes Welker, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Gerard Warren, Niko Koutouvides and Tracy White) while four others have signed elsewhere (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mark Anderson, Gary Guyton and Antuwan Molden). Five remain. Here’€™s an update on those UFA’€™s who played in New England in 2012 who are still on the open market:

Running back Kevin Faulk: The veteran is hoping to get a chance to return, and has said as much on several occasions this offseason. ‘€œI am training to come back and play. But it’€™s not up to me. It’€™s up to the team and everything. But I am planning on coming back, so we’€™ll see what happens,’€ said Faulk, who turned 36 earlier this month. ‘€œI’€™m just hoping. I’€™m just praying. A phone call will come, but it’€™s not up to me to contact them.’€

Defensive end Andre Carter: The veteran defensive end, who played so well for the Patriots in his only season in New England, has been seen around the facility at Gillette on several occasions. His agent expressed optimism that Carter would return for at least one more season with the Patriots, and it certainly seems likely that New England would be the only team that the 33-year-old would return to the game for.

Defensive end Shaun Ellis: Has yet to sign, and while nothing is certain, it seems as if Ellis — who will turn 35 later this month — might be at the end of the road. He struggled in his only season with the Patriots, as he lost his job early in the 2011 season, had injury problems and never really seemed to get in a groove with New England.

Cornerback Nate Jones: While he was a quality backup for portions of the 2011 season, it appears that the Patriots are in no rush to retain his services in 2012, preferring to see what youngsters like Ras-I Dowling (and possibly Tavon Wilson) can do at defensive back going forward. If he doesn’€™t get picked up this offseason, Jones, who turns 30 later this week, could be a midseason pickup in New England if younger players struggle or there are injuries, there’€™s a chance he could return because of his overall knowledge of the system.

Safety James Ihedigbo: The 28-year-old UMass product has kind of dropped off the radar this offseason. He remains on the open market — perhaps because of the shoulder woes that he suffered last season. (It’€™s worth mentioning that Ihedigbo’€™s snaps decreased when Devin McCourty spent more time at deep safety in the regular-season finale and into the playoffs.) But if there are problems in the New England secondary in 2012 and another team doesn’€™t pick him up, Ihedigbo could also be a ‘€œbreak-glass-in-case-of-emergency’€ defensive back that makes a return to Foxboro if there are breakdowns somewhere along the way.

Read More: Andre Carter, James Ihedigbo, Kevin Faulk, Nate Jones

Dan Connolly got paid like a starter, but he’s still looking for a full-time gig

06.11.12 at 12:13 pm ET
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There are parts of the Patriots offensive line that are in a state of flux (or soon will be), but even though he’€™s not locked in on one position, you have to figure that Dan Connolly is going to be part of the mix in some form or fashion.

Connolly, who will turn 30 in September, started 11 games at center last year when Dan Koppen went down in the regular-season opener against the Dolphins with a season-ending injury. But even if Koppen returns to the position in 2012, Connolly will likely figure into the mix at one of the guard spots (presumably backing up either Logan Mankins at left guard or Brian Waters — if he does return — at right guard) he has plenty of experience there as well, with many of his 17 regular-season starts in 2009 and 2010 at guard as well.

Connolly said he doesn’t care where he’€™ll line up in 2012.

‘€œI don’€™t know if I have a preference,’€ said Connolly, who played 986 offensive snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus. ‘€œI’€™ve been playing them all and I enjoy whatever I play when I’€™m playing it. So whatever it is, that’€™s what it is.’€

Even if he doesn’€™t open the year as a starter, he’€™s certainly getting paid like one. In the offseason, the 6-foot-4, 313-pounder signed a three-year deal with the Patriots that includes base salaries of $1.25 million (2012), $2.25 million (2013) and $3 million (2014). That’€™s starter money. But at the same time, Connolly isn’€™t going to assume anything just because he landed a big payday.

‘€œNo, I don’€™t look at it that way,’€ he said when asked about his new deal and whether that improves his chances of landing a starting job. ‘€œI’€™m looking at it as earning a spot on the team every year and just competing. The money is something completely separate.

‘€œI don’€™t know where I’€™m gong to be as far as position-wise,’€ he added. ‘€œI’€™m just out here competing, and I’€™ll fit into the spot that’€™s best for me and best for the team.’€

Read More: Dan Connolly,

Where will Chad Ochocinco end up?

06.10.12 at 7:41 pm ET
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It’s been three days since we were all sucked into the Chad Ochocinco Nexus for a breathless eight hours or so. (Is he staying? Was he cut? How did his eye appointment end up?) Since he said goodbye to Foxboro, reports say he’s secured a tryout with the Dolphins for this week — which, if he lands on South Beach, would certainly make this year’s “Hard Knocks” more interesting.

In addition, our friends at Bovada have put together odds on his potential landing spots, with the Dolphins the favorites at 3/1. Here are the rest of the odds:

Cowboys: 4/1
Jaguars: 11/2
Rams: 11/2
Eagles: 13/2
Bills: 7/1
Ravens: 8/1
Texans: 8/1
Not On Roster Week 1: 5/1

For what it’s worth, six of the eight teams on this list play the Patriots in 2012, so oddsmakers believe there’s more than a passing chance that Ochocinco will face his old mates this upcoming season.

Read More: Chad Ochocinco,
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