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Neal high on ex-college wrestler Wise

06.18.10 at 1:14 pm ET
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A former college wrestler, Stephen Neal is one of only a few active Patriots who has three Super Bowl rings. (AP)

When it comes to minicamp, it’s kind of tough keeping an eye on everything — you have to watch everything all at once, or focus on a specific position group. But when I looked at the offensive line at work over the last week of camp, it was hard not to see veteran Stephen Neal working with rookie John Wise on more than one occasion.

The pairing makes sense — they share a collegiate wrestling background. While Neal didn’t play any college football (he was a collegiate wrestling champ), Wise had a limited college football career, playing for two seasons with Western Illinois before transferring to Illinois and becoming part of the wrestling team. (The Patriots have brought in ex-college wrestlers before — Jermail Porter had a cup of coffee with New England last spring before getting released.)

Neal took a few years before he was able to crack the starting lineup — Patriots coach Bill Belichick recalled Neal’s first days in camp as “starting from zero.”

“He didn’t know how to put his pads on,” Belichick would say later.

Wise isn’t quite starting from zero, according to Neal, who spent time with Wise after practice working on technique.

“I really like the guy,” Neal said of Wise. “He’s a tough kid, a strong guy. Athletic. I’m just trying to tell him … I don’t try to tell him what to do, I just try to … if he asks me a question, I just say ‘Hey, you could have your stance a little bit better this way or that way.’ Just a few little things that i see that might be able to help him. That’s about it.”

If Wise has half the career that Neal has had, he should consider himself lucky. Neal has been in the league since 2001, and has gained a reputation as one of the toughest guards and best run blockers in the AFC.

“It’s great having Steve here. He’s been through the whole ordeal — he knows exactly what I’m going through,” Wise said. “When he sees something I’m doing, I’m sure he can relate to it. He can show me ways to better myself.”

Wise is not only trying to pick up the game of football again, he’s trying to do it at a new position. In college, he was a defensive tackle. Now, he’s working with the New England offensive line.

“Coming from a wrestling background, I can tell you wrestling isn’t an easy sport either,” Wise said. “But I’m not going to compare whether wrestling or football is harder. I’m just thankful for the great opportunity the Patriots gave me to come here. I just put my best foot forward every day and hope to do the best I can.”

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Bill Belichick Q&A, 6/17

06.17.10 at 8:16 pm ET
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Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here’s the complete transcript between coach Bill Belichick and the media this afternoon at the conclusion of Thursday’s minicamp session at Gillette Stadium:

BB: Well we are wrapping up today. I thought the players worked hard and had a good number of practice sessions that have been competitive, but it’s still a good teaching progression and we got a lot of people a lot of reps and I think that will do us good in the long run; working guys at different positions and all of those kinds of things. It’s a good evaluation of where we’re at and I think everybody has got a lot to work on. Coaches, players, individually, collectively, but we are off to a decent start here and I think we have a good foundation heading into training camp. That’s what we were hoping for and we’ll be ready for camp in five weeks.

Q: Without coordinators, how has the communication been and has the installation been like what it has been in the past?
BB: We’ve done what we’ve done. I think we’ve got a lot of work to do all the way around. Like I said, I think we have a lot of work to do but I think we’re moving in the right direction.
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Bill O’Brien: Don’t call me the OC

06.17.10 at 2:45 pm ET
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Bill O'Brien (back to the camera) had a sizable role in the New England offense last season.

FOXBORO — It’s a safe bet that Bill O’Brien has more control over an offense than any quarterbacks coach in the NFL.

The Patriots did not name an offensive coordinator following the departure of Josh McDaniels at the end of the 2008 season, but O’Brien, who was elevated to the role of quarterbacks coach before last season, had his fingerprints all over the Patriots offense last season, working as the de facto offensive coordinator.

Throughout minicamps and workouts this spring, it has appeared O’Brien will be just as hands-on and have just as much control over the entire offense this season as he did last season: How many quarterback coaches could publicly air out two rookie tight ends for failing to line up correctly before a snap as O’Brien did to Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on Wednesday morning?

But he still resists attempts to call him the OC.

“No, I’m coaching the quarterbacks,” he said Thursday at the conclusion of Patriots minicamp, “and it’s a collaborative effort with the other assistants — Dante, Ivan, Brian, Chad, Brian Flores, and obviously Bill. We all work together and just try to determine what we have out there offensively and go to practice every day, try to accomplish certain goals every day, and that’s what we try to do. So, the role hasn’t changed.

“I’m comfortable with whatever my role is. Again, it’s a collaborative effort. All of us work at it – game-planning, practice planning. You all have a certain niche as far what our roles are. Whatever Bill asks me to do, I’m gonna do. So I’m gonna be comfortable with whatever he asks me to do.”

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Patriots minicamp notes, 6/17

06.17.10 at 1:50 pm ET
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Belichick addresses the team at the end of practice on Thursday. (Photo courtesy @realpatriots Twitter feed.)

FOXBORO — Just wrapped up the final day of the Patriots minicamp down here on the fields in back of Gillette Stadium. The third of three minicamp practices ran just shy of two hours, under occasionally cloudy skies. Here are a few quick notes on what went down.

•The afternoon has a last-day-before-summer-vacation kind of feel to it, as many players sprinted off the field after a quick word from coach Bill Belichick at the end of practice. Players are now done with spring commitments, and they will not gather as a group again until the start of training camp at the end of July.

“We have a long way to go,” Belichick said when he was asked about his final message to the players before they left town. “Everyone will be on their own for a while. We need to continue to work and get ourselves in good condition both physically and mentally. A lot of techniques and individual things guys can work on in order to get better. It is different for each guy.”

•Not many players were requested by the media — instead, Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio, quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien and wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea spoke with the media. We’ll have those details along shortly.

•The entire roster was present, except for guard Logan Mankins and tackle Matt Light. It was the third consecutive minicamp practice that Mankins has missed, who is upset about his contract situation. There was some shuffling along the offensive line, but in their place, Nick Kaczur appeared to get the bulk of the time with the starters at right tackle, while Sebastian Vollmer was at left tackle and Dan Connolly spent a good amount of time working at Mankins’ left guard position.

•As he has done all spring, wide receiver Wes Welker went through stretching and drills with the team, but departed when team drills began.

•While the energy level was high, it was a relatively uneventful practice session. One of the highlights was a sweet connection between Tom Brady and David Patten that looks straight out of 2002 — Patten streaked down the near sideline and hauled in what appeared to be a 40-yard pass, beating James Sanders and Brandon McGowan for the ball before taking it to the end zone.

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Brady weighs in on possible extended season

06.16.10 at 5:25 pm ET
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Tom Brady (AP)

Via a press release from the National Football League Players Association, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady weighed in with his thoughts on a possible 18-game season today, a slate described by league officials as an “enhanced” season. Brady, who is the Patriots alternate union rep, was quoted, as well as Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, and both talk about the potential dangers associated with going to an 18-game regular season.

“I’ve taken part in several postseason runs where we have played 20 games,” writes Brady. “The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well-documented. Look no further than the players that came before we did. Each player today has to play three years in order to earn five years’ or post-career health care. Our union has done a great job of raising the awareness on these issues and will make the right decision for us players, the game and the fans.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I love the game of football,” Lewis writes. “If fans want to show their love, they should let everyone know that we are not machines. I’ve been blessed to play this game for so long, but it’s time to start thinking about what legacy and impact changes like this will leave for the players of tomorrow and us after we retire. I know our fans may not like preseason games and I don’t like all of them, but swapping two preseason games for two end-of-season games — when players already play hurt—comes at a huge cost for the player and the team. I know our Union is on top of it and players need to stay in touch with the Union and our Executive Director to stay informed.”

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Patriots sign Mesko to four-year deal

06.16.10 at 5:15 pm ET
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WEEI.com has learned that the Patriots have signed punter Zoltan Mesko to a four-year deal. (UPDATE, 5:41 pm: The Patriots have confirmed the signing via Twitter.) The fifth-round selection out of Michigan is the fifth Patriots pick to sign, joining offensive tackle Thomas Welch, offensive lineman Ted Larsen, wide receiver Taylor Price and tight end Aaron Hernandez. Multiple outlets are reporting it’s a deal that’s worth $1.977 million, with a signing bonus of $187,000.

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Hernandez: Drug issues ‘in the past’

06.16.10 at 2:26 pm ET
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Aaron Hernandez was taken by the Patriots with the 113th overall pick. (AP)

FOXBORO — Addressing the media for the first time since reports surfaced he had failed a drug test while playing at the University of Florida, rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez said those issues are “in the past,” and he’s looking forward to a new start with the Patriots.

“I’m just worried about the future and the present,” he said Wednesday after a minicamp session at Gillette Stadium. “I’ve forgotten about the past. I just keep grinding, trying to do the best I can for this team.

According to a Boston.com report, Hernandez failed multiple drug tests while playing for the Florida, an assessment refuted by Hernandez, who said he failed one test. He did pass his drug test at the combine in February, which means he won’t be entered in to the league substance-abuse program.

During the draft process, he said he did not feel like he had to prove his character to teams.

“That’s the past. People will think what they want,” said the fourth-round pick. “I just come out here, like I said, every day, and I just keep fighting and playing ball and trying to become the best player I can be and help the team as much as I can.”

Hernandez is a 6-foot-2, 250-pound tight end who led Florida in receptions last year with 68 catches for 850 yards and five touchdowns last season with the Gators. For his collegiate career, Hernandez had 111 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns.

A Connecticut native, he grew up a Patriots fan, and said “it’s an honor” to get a chance to work with quarterback Tom Brady.

“You don’t even dream coming from Connecticut to play with a quarterback like that. He’s like a movie star out there,” Hernandez said. “But I just come out every day and catch balls from him. You don’t think about it when you’re out there, but at the same time, I go home and think, ‘It’s crazy.’”

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