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Patriots have perfect attendance for Wednesday practice

09.03.14 at 12:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Only cornerback Brandon Browner and wide receiver Brian Tyms (both of whom are serving four-game suspensions) were missing from the start of Patriots practice on Wednesday, a session held on the back fields behind Gillette Stadium in full pads.

The Patriots, who are prepping for their season opener Sunday against the Dolphins in Miami, had three new practice squadders on the practice field, one of which was former Dolphins running back Marcus Thigpen.

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Tom Brady on Wes Welker: ‘It’s not friend time, it’s opponent time’

09.03.14 at 10:42 am ET
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FOXBORO — Even for the closest of friends, there’s a time to put friendship aside and take care of business.

That was the message from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady Wednesday at his press conference when he was asked about the four-game suspension of close friend Wes Welker for violation of the NFL drug policy.

“I don’€™t have a lot of thoughts or comments on that,” Brady said. “That’€™s Wes’€™ situation and their team. Obviously I have plenty to worry about with this week and this team. As a friend you always hope for the best, but it’€™s not friend time, it’€™s opponent time, and I’€™m focused on the Dolphins.”

Brady and Welker were spotted together in May at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky. It was at the Kentucky Derby where, according to Pro Football Talk, Welker took an illegal substance containing ecstasy and amphetamines and was later tagged positive by an NFL-mandated drug test.

Brady was asked Wednesday if he saw Welker taking any such substances.

“I have no comment on that,” Brady said with a heavy laugh.

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Bill Belichick: ‘I don’t think you could ever question [Rob Gronkowski’s] work ethic’

09.03.14 at 10:01 am ET
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FOXBORO — Don’t ever question the work ethic of Rob Gronkowski. Bill Belichick certainly doesn’t.

There has been some speculation around Foxboro that the Patriots this year didn’t want to endure the week-to-week drama around the health of their star tight end that circulated in 2013. There was even the talk that the Patriots were sending a message to Gronk to make sure he was ready to go.

Well, Belichick made it clear publicly Wednesday, he’s never, ever had any doubt that Gronkowski would do everything in his power to be ready for Sept. 7 in Miami.

“Gronk always works hard,” Belichick said. “I don’t think that’s really ever been an issue since he’s been here. He works hard in the weight room, works hard in the film room and the meetings and works hard on the field. I don’t think you could ever question Rob’s work ethic. I never have. I think it’s always one of the best on the team.”

Belichick hinted that, barring any setbacks this week with Gronk’s surgically repaired right knee, Gronkowski will be good to go for the opener after Gronkowski himself declared himself ready on Monday despite not playing a single snap in the preseason.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of guys in the league, we’ll have other guys on our team that will probably fall into that category too, didn’t play a lot in the preseason but that will play Sunday. I’m sure every team has guys in that category,” Belichick said.

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Patriots name 6 captains for 2014 season

09.03.14 at 9:40 am ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots have named their captains for the 2014 season, and for the first time they include offensive lineman Dan Connolly — an eight-year veteran, with six of those seasons coming with the Patriots.

In addition to Connolly, Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Devin McCourty, and Matthew Slater will also serve as captains this season.

“It’€™s very flattering for my teammates, and I try to represent them the best I can in whatever fashion the team asks me to do things and wants me to convey messages to the coach,” Brady said Wednesday during his weekly briefing at Gillette Stadium.

“We’€™ve got a great group of young men who have really committed themselves to being the best teammate they can be. I hope I do a great job. I work hard at it. We’€™ve got a lot of other great captains, guys that I’€™ve always been able to rely on and depend on. It’€™s a big responsibility, so I accept it.”

The news was first reported by ESPN’s Field Yates.

Offensive lineman Logan Mankins was a captain since 2011, so it would appear Connolly will take over the leadership role on the offensive line with Mankins now a member of the Buccaneers.

“Dan has had a real good year,” Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “He’s had a real good spring. Good training camp. He’s been out there everyday. He’s been been a versatile guy as he’s always [been]. He’s ready to play all three spots and contribute in the kicking game. He’s a sharp guy and works hard. He had a good offseason and was able to train throughout the bulk of the offseason. He’s done a solid job for us at a number of positions.”

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Wes Welker: ‘I would never knowingly take a substance to gain a competitive advantage’

09.02.14 at 11:05 pm ET
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Wes Welker claims he did not knowingly take a banned substance. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Broncos receiver Wes Welker claims he did not knowingly take a banned substance. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker issued a statement Tuesday night regarding the news that he faces a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on PEDs.

“€œI’€™m as shocked as everyone at today’€™s news,”€ the former Patriot wrote in an e-mail to The Denver Post. “€œI want to make one thing abundantly clear: I would NEVER knowingly take a substance to gain a competitive advantage in any way. Anyone who has ever played a down with me, lifted a weight with me, even eaten a meal with me, knows that I focus purely on what I put in my body and on the hard work I put in year round to perform at the highest levels year-in and year-out. I want any youth football players and all sports fans to know, there are NO shortcuts to success, and nothing but hard work and studying, leads to success.”

Welker also commented on the NFL’s drug policy.

“€œI have never been concerned with the leagues performance enhancing or drug abuse policies because under no scenario would they ever apply to me, but I now know, that [the drug-policy procedures] are clearly flawed, and I will do everything in my power to ensure they are corrected, so other individuals and teams aren’€™t negatively affected so rashly like this. I have worked my whole life to be the best that I can be, and I have encountered many obstacles over my career, and THIS WILL BE NO DIFFERENT! Thank you for the outpouring of support, and I want Bronco nation to know, that no one and no thing will get in the way of our goal as a team, to bring Mr. Bowlen the trophy he and this great region deserve.”

In a related note, Welker’s suspension was made official Tuesday evening — the receiver will begin serving his ban this week when the Broncos open the regular season.

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Report: Wes Welker suspended 4 games for violating league PED policy

09.02.14 at 7:04 pm ET
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Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker has been suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s PED policy, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. According to Schefter, the violation was for amphetamines.

The 33-year-old Welker, in his second season in Denver, went through the appeal process two weeks ago, according to Albert Breer of NFL Network, and he was apparently notified Tuesday that he lost his appeal.

According to a report from Pro Football Talk, the ban under the PED policy happened because Welker ingested MDMA (also known as “Molly”) that had been cut with amphetamines while at the Kentucky Derby in May. Both substances are banned substance under the league’s PED policy.

Welker, who has struggled with concussions as of late, had 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns last season with the Broncos.

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Attacking Miami heat in September isn’t issue it used to be for Patriots

09.02.14 at 5:17 pm ET
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Tom Brady and the Patriots have apparently gotten over any sort of early-season issues they've had with playing the Dolphins in Miami. (Getty Images)

Tom Brady and the Patriots have apparently gotten over any sort of early-season issues they’ve had with playing the Dolphins in Miami. (Getty Images)

In the spring, veteran safety Devin McCourty joked about building a “big sauna” at Gillette Stadium to try and replicate the sweaty conditions they’ll face when they head south for the regular season opener Sunday against the Dolphins.

But in truth, the early-season Florida weather doesn’t vex the Patriots like it once did — New England has won its last four early-season meetings in Miami, coming away with victories in September/October games in 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2011.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday on a conference call with the media that he actually prefers playing in South Florida early in the season because it’s easy to prepare, especially coming off some of the occasionally steamy August days in training camp.

“Personally, I would rather play in a warm climate at the beginning of the year than at the end of the year, because at least we’€™ve been practicing in it,” he said.

“We’€™ve had some hot days here at the beginning of the season,” Belichick added. “I think you can get a hot day pretty much anywhere. It really comes back to the conditioning of your team. Whether it’€™s hot or not, it’€™s the same for both teams and the player’€™s conditioning level and his ability to perform at a high level is going to be reflected later in the game based on his physical conditioning.”

It’€™€™s easy to forget now, but not so long ago, the Patriots had serious early-season struggles when faced with the prospect of playing in Miami in August and September. The Dolphins used to be without peer when it came to playing in the South Florida heat early in the season ‘€” from 1994 to 2002 Miami won 16 consecutive home games in August and September.

In that same stretch, several former Patriots confessed to being befuddled about how to beat the warm temps, and admitted that the whole thing got in their heads. (On one occasion, the Patriots tried to tape garbage bags over the air conditioning systems in the locker room for fear of getting too comfortable at halftime.)

It’s never easy in Miami ‘€” the Patriots stumbled late in the 2009 and 2013 seasons against the Dolphins in South Florida ‘€” but it appears as though the Patriots are over any early-season phobias with the Miami heat.

“I don’€™t think this game is going to be decided on the heat or the weather, just like I don’€™t think the ones at the end of the year are decided by the cold,” Belichick said. “It’€™s a little bit of a factor in the game, but we’€™re playing a good football team. If we play well, we’€™ll be competitive and we’€™ll have a chance. If we don’€™t play well, it won’€™t make a difference what the conditions are, we’€™ll be in a lot of trouble. That’€™s where most of the emphasis is going to be this week, and where it should be.”

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