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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.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty,

Option play: Bill Belichick, Patriots ready for Miami’s new-look offense

09.02.14 at 2:40 pm ET
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The Patriots will be facing a new offensive coordinator on Sunday, as Bill Lazor is in his first season as OC with the Dolphins. Lazor, who served as the quarterbacks coach in Philly last season, figures to bring a slice of the uptempo style that Chip Kelly and the Eagles delivered last season.

So how do you prepare for a new OC when there’s little meaningful film of his schemes as a coordinator at the NFL level? Bill Belichick said Tuesday that the Patriots have already tried to get a sense of the new-look Miami offense by taking a look back at the uptempo Philly offense last year.

“I would say that they look very similar to the way the Eagles look offensively; different than what Miami looked like last year,” Belichick said of the Dolphins. “I’€™d say it’€™s quite substantial.”

Substantial might be an understatement. Measured situation-neutral offensive pace –€” a formula from the site Football Outsiders that eliminates things like two-minute drills and late-game clock-killing situations to get a truer idea of the offense’€™€™s intentions when it comes to offensive pace –€” the 2012 Dolphins were ninth overall at one play every 29.23 seconds, and last year, on average, they ran one play every 30.08 seconds, 14th quickest in the NFL.

That contrasts with the speed of Philly’s offense: under Kelly last year, the Eagles were the fastest team in the league, getting off a play once every 23.88 seconds.
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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill Lazor, Chip Kelly, Ryan Tannehill

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels ‘really impressed’ by TE Tim Wright

09.02.14 at 2:01 pm ET
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One player who certainly opened some eyes in the preseason finale was newly-acquired tight end Tim Wright. Acquired two days before the fourth preseason game against the Giants as part of the Logan Mankins trade, he was thrown out there without much seasoning and didn’t look overwhelmed while playing more than 40 snaps with his new team.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday that he was “really impressed” with the work of Wright in his preseason debut with New England, which ended with Wright registering four catches for 43 yards.

“We just got him, and he was able to come in here and learn enough to be able to go out there and play for us in a preseason game for fortysomething some snaps or whatever it was,” McDaniels said of Wright, a Rutgers product who caught 54 passes last season with the Bucs.

“He’€™s working hard [and] certainly a bright kid, and has some talent that hopefully we can utilize,” McDaniels added. “He just seems to fit in good and has a good attitude and work ethic. I’€™m just excited about seeing what we can do going forward. It’€™s very early, and we’€™ve only really had one practice. Hopefully we can build on his start and try to add a little here and there to what he knows of our offensive system and get our guys comfortable working together.”

Read More: Josh McDaniels, Tim Wright,

Rodney Harrison: Tom Brady ‘should be able to play for another 10 or 15 years because of the rule changes’

09.02.14 at 1:46 pm ET
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NBC Sports analyst Rodney Harrison joined Middays with MFB on Tuesday and said he believes Tom Brady can indeed play another 10 years due in part to the more stringent NFL rules. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Brady has stated in the past that he wants to play as long as possible — well into his 40s — and he maintained that approach during his appearance with Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday morning. Harrison, Brady’s former teammate, doesn’t doubt the quarterback.

“Tom Brady is probably talking about him playing until he’s 45, 50 years old because of the rule changes,” Harrison said. “The cornerbacks and the safeties, they can’t hit you when you come across the middle, they can’t jam you at the line of scrimmage. So he should be able to play for another 10 or 15 years because of the rule changes.”

Continued Harrison: “If you watch the preseason, you saw how these officials, if you’re breathing on a guy heavy, they’re throwing a flag. They don’t even give you the benefit of the doubt. They don’t even give you consideration. If you’re close to a guy, if you just stare at him too long, they’re throwing flags all over the place.

“Now, this league was changing because of all the additions of Russell Wilson and [Robert Griffin III] and all these mobile quarterbacks like Andrew Luck. Statues that are in the pocket like Brady and [Peyton] Manning and Joe Flacco, why wouldn’t they play — if they have a good offensive line to protect them, why wouldn’t they play another 10 years? Because once you grab a guy it’s a penalty. So I don’t see why they can’t be productive for another 8-10 years, especially the way Tom takes care of his body.”

After three weeks of frequent flags, the Patriots’ final preseason game was not a foul-fest. However, Harrison said he doesn’t believe that’s a sign that the officials will let up once the regular season gets underway.

“The officials came out and the point of emphasis was the illegal contact and the grabbing and holding of the players. I think they’re going to enforce it,” Harrison said. “I think the first half of the season, I think that’s going to be a point of emphasis. I think they’re going to stick with it. The NFL has already come out and said, ‘Hey, we’re not going to back down. We expect the officials, we’re going to hold them accountable to do the same thing. If it’s a grab, we don’t care how many penalties it is in the first quarter, in the first half, call it.’ So I expect a renewed focus on this and I think it’s something that’s going to continue.”

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Read More: Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, Rodney Harrison, Tom Brady

Bill Belichick on Rob Gronkowski’s playing status: ‘We’ll have to make decision that’s best for team’

09.02.14 at 1:02 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski pronounced himself ready to play on Monday, but in a conference call with the media Tuesday afternoon, Patriots coach Bill Belichick sounded hesitant when it came to giving a thumbs up on the playing status of the tight end.

“I’m glad that Rob’s optimistic about his situation,” Belichick said. “We’ll go through the week of practice and take a look at everything, everybody, and see where everybody’s at and try to do what we feel like is best for the team.

“With all due respect to Rob — I’m glad he feels the way he does — but, in the end, we’ll have to make the decision we feel like is best for the team and we’ll do that as we go through the week.”

Gronkowski said he was “super excited” Monday, and proclaimed himself “good to go.”

“€œJust seeing my teammates grind all week,” he added. “Go back out there with them, get in the huddle, break the huddle with them. It’€™s going to be an honor to be out there with my teammates. Super pumped, super excited and just preparing for the game.

“€œI feel mentally and physically ready, for sure. No doubt about it.”

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels also commented on Gronkowski’s status Tuesday, saying the tight end has been a part of practices all along.

“Rob has been practicing, and we’€™ve been doing some different things, building our offensive system and packages as we go throughout the course of the year. He’€™s been a part of that,” McDaniels said of Gronkowski. “Whatever we can or are available to use him to do — however big, small, whatever the decision is at the end of the week — and he’€™ll be ready to do it. Going in there, we’€™re going to do what we think is the right thing to do to win the game this week and worry about going forward next week.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Rob Gronkowski,

Chandler Jones on MFB: Dolphins OL Branden Albert ‘will be a very good test’ in opener

09.02.14 at 12:10 pm ET
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Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones

Defensive end Chandler Jones checked in with the Middays with MFB show on Tuesday, as the Patriots start planning for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Dolphins won the teams’ last meeting, a 24-20 decision in Miami last Dec. 15. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill passed for 312 yards and three touchdowns in that game.

Jones, who led the Patriots with 11 1/2 sacks last season, is wary of Tannehill’s ability to improvise and pick up yards on scrambles.

“Ryan Tannehill — very, very athletic quarterback,” Jones said. “He’s a guy that can beat you with his arm or can beat you on the ground with his legs. It’s our job — well, it’s my job as a defensive lineman, me and Rob [Ninkovich] as well, just to contain him. He’s very versatile, he can make big plays, and it’s our job to contain him. He can definitely get out of the pocket. He definitely can.”

Jones should see plenty of new Dolphins offensive lineman Branden Albert, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason after six years with the Chiefs.

‘”Branden Albert is a great player,” Jones said of the 6-foot-5, 316-pounder who was a Pro Bowler last season. “This is his first year there over in Miami. He’s a very big individual. The thing that really impresses me is his footwork for his size, for his height, he’s a big guy, he’s even taller than me. And I’m tall myself. But his footwork is very, very good. He’s very trained to not bite on certain moves and certain things of that nature. It will be a very good test and I’m excited to go against him. I really am.”

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Read More: Branden Albert, chandler jones, Ryan Tannehill, Tom Brady

Julian Edelman on MFB: ‘We’re thinking about Miami, the team that we have now’

09.02.14 at 11:24 am ET
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Patriots receiver Julian Edelman stopped by for a visit with the Middays with MFB crew on Tuesday to preview Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Dolphins in Miami. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Patriots made two big moves since Thursday’s final preseason game, trading offensive lineman Logan Mankins and backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, leaving rookie Jimmy Garoppolo to serve as Tom Brady‘s backup.

“With the whole Mankins situation that happened last week, like I said last week, I love the guy as a teammate, but as Tom said, we’re moving on,” Edelman said. “We’re thinking about Miami, the team that we have now. It is a business. A lot of these kind of crazy things go down.

“As far as Jimmy Garoppolo, his job is to back up Tom Brady. He has to worry about what he has to do, I have to worry about what I have to do, because if that if that situation were ever to come … you prepare for what you have to do as an individual to make everything comfortable for anyone who comes in. That’s along with a tackle, another receiver, the kicker, whatever. Injuries are a part of the game. Whenever something like that goes down, you’ve just got to be prepared to kind of do your job.”

Rob Gronkowski also made news when he announced Monday that he’s ready to play Sunday.

“That’s Gronk being Gronk, maybe. That’s his situation,” Edelman said. “I didn’t even see the clippings or anything. … He’s been in there practicing, working hard. But like we keep on preaching around here, you kind of worry about what you have to do. If he plays, that’s awesome, because that’s a huge weapon, probably the best tight end in the National Football League, in my opinion. But if he doesn’t, you have to worry about what you have to do, and go out and do your job.”

The Dolphins made a move to improve their defensive backfield in the offseason, signing controversial veteran Cortland Finnegan, someone Edelman expects to see a lot of on Sunday. Edelman called the oft-fined Finnegan “a feisty, instinctive vet player who’s played a lot of games in this league.”

“He’s a competitor,” Edelman said. “He’s played a lot of games, like I said. He’s been known to maybe get in there and compete in the full length of the play, but we all do here.”

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Read More: Cortland Finnegan, Jimmy Garoppolo, Julian Edelman, Logan Mankins
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