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Bubble Watch, Part 2

08.18.10 at 12:34 am ET
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With each passing day — and with a move to injured reserve here, a waiver move there — elements of the Patriots’ 53-man roster are starting to come into sharper focus. But while some of the answers to our first series of players on the bubble have been resolved, other questions still remain. With that in mind, here’s the second edition of what will become a semi-regular feature: Bubble Watch. (Just a reminder — this list isn’t for back-of-the-roster unknowns, but for veterans who have made some sort of contribution in their time with the Patriots.)

Sam Aiken: Things have gotten a little easier for the wide receiver now that Torry Holt (season-ending injured reserve) and David Patten (retirement) are out of the picture, but with the continued emergence of the younger receivers and what appears to be a diminished role on special teams, Aiken could still be fighting for a job when cutdown day comes around. (Things could really change for Aiken on special teams this year — Pat Chung is being used more and more as the punters’ persona protector. Last season, that was Aiken’s job.) Last year’s special teams captain, Aiken’s spot on the team is almost certainly tied to how many running backs the Patriots keep on their roster — if New England decides to hold on to both Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, then Aiken could be on the outside looking in come Week 1.

Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis: That leads us nicely into our next pair of players who might be on the bubble. If Aiken is kept as an extra receiver (and considering that the Patriots are a stone-cold lock to keep all three tight ends), then here’s where the cuts would likely come, and it stands to reason that these two most game-ready backs who are the lowest on the totem pole at this point. Based on how the running backs played in the preseason opener — Green-Ellis got the start — you would think that the Ole Miss product might have an edge. But there’s a danger in reading too much into the first preseason game. This situation certainly bears watching as the preseason continues — if Green-Ellis gets the same amount of snaps against the Falcons and Rams as he did against the Saints, then that’s another matter altogether.

Eric Alexander: As much as it pains me to say this — he’s one of the nicest guys in the locker room — this could be the end of the line in New England because of a numbers game. (We will always have the 2006 AFC Championship Game…) With the continued emergence of the younger and faster inside linebackers (Brandon Spikes, Tyrone McKenzie, Gary Guyton, the versatile Thomas Williams) and the ability of several other linebackers who have roughly the same skill set in the special teams game (Pierre Woods, Rob Ninkovich), it could mean that Alexander is out of a job with the Patriots by the end of the preseason.

Terrence Wheatley: The cornerback made it awful hard to keep him on this list with his play of late — a renewed physicality has shown up on the radar more than once, and the heads up play he made preventing a touchdown in the preseason opener was the sort of play the Patriots have been looking for on a consistent basis out of him since he was drafted out of Colorado in 2008. But with more and more play given over to youngsters like Devin McCourty and Darius Butler, it’s becoming increasingly evident that Wheatley is still a ways down the depth chart. One intriguing possibility was suggested by mloyko54 on Twitter — Wheatley could be traded.

Ron Brace: He took a step in the right direction this week just by returning to the field, but his long-term status with the team remains in doubt, so he stays on the list, at least for now. But it’s important to remember that no matter how bad things might get for Brace this year, it remains highly unlikely the Patriots would cut him — they waited two years before they released Chad Jackson, after all. And Brace’s pedigree and lack of experience along the defensive line make it likely that the numbers are in his favor, at least right now.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Eric Alexander, Ron Brace, Sam Aiken

Need something to get you fired up for Patriots and Falcons on Thursday?

08.17.10 at 4:30 pm ET
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Been waiting for a chance to post this since I saw/heard it earlier this summer, and with the Patriots set to play the Falcons this week, this is probably the best opportunity to post this. I know it’s just the preseason, but who does a better job selling football than Jules Winnfield?

Read More: Falcons, Patriots, Samuel L. jackson, training camp

Without familiar faces around him, Wilfork carries on

08.17.10 at 3:55 pm ET
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For years, Vince Wilfork had Richard Seymour on one side and Ty Warren on the other. In 2010, he'll have neither of them. (AP)

For years, the trio of Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour — the Patriots’ defensive front three — was as much a New England fixture as the Freedom Trail or Dunkin’ Donuts.

From much of the stretch between 2004 and 2008 (Warren was drafted in 2003, but assumed the role of full-time starter at left defensive end the following year), the threesome made up one of the best defensive fronts in the game. In that stretch, the three first-round picks accumulated a combined six Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl title, all the while serving as the bedrock of the New England defense.

But before the start of the 2009 season, Seymour was traded to the Raiders for a first-round selection in the 2011 draft. And with the news last week that Warren will now be lost for the entire 2010 season after being placed on season-ending injured reserve with a hip injury, it leaves Wilfork as the lone holdover from a golden era for New England defensive linemen, at least this season.

“Changes happen all the time around sports, not just football. Around sports, every year is different,” Wilfork told reporters earlier Tuesday. “I don’t have Seymour. I don’t have Ty right now. It’s going to be different. Nothing is going to be easy.”

While Wilfork does have some positional versatility — he has played defensive end on occasion with New England — the Patriots will likely rely on a combination of veterans and newcomers to fill the void. It looks like Gerard Warren will take the bulk of the snaps in place of Ty Warren, while Damione Lewis and veteran Mike Wright have been on the other side of Wilfork.

“I’m happy with what we have,” Wilfork added. “I can’t ask for any better guys than what I have. They are hard workers. They want to learn. They want to learn this defense. They don’t make any excuses. And that’s one thing I love: no excuses. We’ve started from rock bottom. We’ve started this whole thing over. It’s been a work in progress. But at the same time, we’ve been going in the right direction. So as long as we keep going in this right direction, I think we’ll be OK.”

Read More: Richard Seymour, training camp, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork

Stephen Neal Q&A, 8/17

08.17.10 at 2:09 pm ET
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Here is the complete transcript of today’s Q&A between the media and Patriots guard Stephen Neal.

Q: How was it down in Atlanta this morning?

Stephen Neal: It was good. We have a lot of people working together. The Falcons are trying to improve. We are trying to improve. It was just a great practice.

Q: How has the last week or so been practicing with two different teams? How much do you guys feel like you’ve learned?

SN: It’s just different. We’ve been facing the same 3-44 [scheme] the entire time and now we have a different team and a different style of defense last week, and now this week. I think it is really good to get how they actually play. We get to practice against that before we see them in the game, so I think that’s really going to help us out.

Q: You have had a lot of moving pieces at this point in camp on the interior of the offensive line. How have you guys been adjusting together?

SN: We are working well together. The great thing about the offensive line is that we have a coach, Dante [Scarnecchia], that makes us do exactly what we are supposed to or attempts to. So we know what we are supposed to do and we know what to expect of the people around us no matter who it is. We know where each person is supposed to be so we get comfortable no matter who is in there.

Q: Can you talk about Dan Connolly in training camp and in the New Orleans game?

SN: Yeah, he’s a solid player and a guy that can play multiple positions. He does a really good job and it’s great that he’s in there. He’s done a good job.

Q: What have you seen out of Ryan Wendell so far?

SN: I think Ryan Wendell has been pretty good. I’m not the guy to evaluate him but he’s holding his own and staying in there. He played with all of those good guys versus the Saints. He is a good competitor and a great teammate.

Q: We heard that the Falcons had a five-minute break today in practice. You guys usually don’t do that. Was that an unusual thing for you guys? Did it matter?

SN: Early on I remember we used to have a little five-minute break after the special teams periods. I remember those times, but they’re down here in extreme heat so that’s part of the environment.

Read More: training camp,

Tom Brady Q&A, 8/17

08.17.10 at 1:43 pm ET
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Tom Brady

Tom Brady

Here the complete transcript of today’s Q&A between the media and quarterback Tom Brady:

Q: (On why he works so hard on every rep)
TB: If the quarterback won’t do it, then who will do it? I think that’s how I always think about it. If it’s like, ‘Hey guys, that’s all right. It was a [bad] play, but we’ll get the next one.’ That’s not the way it works. The first rep of a drill is always the most important because you never get it back. It always sets the tempo and the timing. You don’t go out and throw interceptions. You don’t walk around. You don’t jog through unless it’s a jog through period. We’re coming out here and competing. We came a long way for these practices. May as well come out and play our best.

Q: I know you’ve been competitive like that before, but is it also because of dissatisfaction with the way last season ended?
TB: Every year has been totally different. We have a very different team this year. It’s what you guys saw last Thursday night. You know we have to be able to run the football, something that we are really making a point of emphasis. [We are] getting the tight ends involved. Obviously, the receiving group we feel very good about. So we are incorporating the new players and seeing what kind of offense we can put together.

Q: (On the new guys)
TB: And those guys add a lot. They bring a lot of energy. They are excited to be out here and excited to be playing. And new scheme, and those challenges are different. It’s been a fun camp. I hate to use those two words together, but it really has been.
Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Tom Brady, training camp,

Gonzalez sees a ‘future’ for Pats rookie tight ends

08.17.10 at 1:13 pm ET
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Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has re-written the record book for his position, holding TE career marks in catches (999), yards (11,807) and TDs (82). The ten-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro has seen hundreds of tight ends come and go during his 13 years in the NFL, but Gonzalez thinks the Patriots might have a couple of keepers in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

“I have watched both tight ends, and they are rookies so they are still learning this game,” Gonzalez said after Tuesday morning’s joint practice session with the Falcons and Patriots. “I do see a future for them. Hernandez with the receiving part of it has got that down. He can keep improving on that. If you are going to be a tight end, and you want to be called a tight end, then you better learn how to block. That is what the position is. With the other tight end [Gronkowski] I think he has a pretty good receiving game and he has got the blocking pretty good.”

Gonzalez, who had his fifth 80-catch season in 2010, knows there is no secret to a long career at the position he has played in NFL since 1997.

“First of all, at the tight end position you have to be a complete tight end,” said Gonzalez. “You can’t just be a receiving tight end, or just a blocking tight end. You have to do both things at a pretty high level. You can do one a little bit better, but something I tell every player coming into the league is that ‘you get out of it what you put into it.’ It is not about what you do at practice it is about what you do before practice and after practice. If you are one of those guys who goes straight in after the horn rings to shower and go home then I don’t think you can be ever as good as you could be.”

The veteran, still chasing a Super Bowl ring, had nothing but praise when asked about the Patriots organization.

“Every time we have played against [New England] them it has been tough,” said Gonzalez, who has a career 2-6 record vs. the Patriots “I respect the hell out of that team. They are well coached and they have great players. It is just great to go against someone to see how they stack up and to see what they do. Maybe you can take something from them and make it apart of your game. We just want to try and get better as a team.”

Read More: training camp,

Morning practice notes

08.17.10 at 12:54 pm ET
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The Patriots have completed their morning workout at the Atlanta Falcons training facility in Flowery Branch, GA. Patriots executive director of media relations Stacey James reports that it was a misty, overcast morning, humid but not very hot. The players seemed pleased with the weather, but the coaches were hoping for tougher conditions. It was over 100 degrees in Flowery Branch just a week ago.

The two shared the three  practice fields on Tuesday morning, with one field dedicated to the Patriots offense vs. the Falcons defense, another with the Falcons offense against the Pats defense and the third focused on the special teams units of both squads.

The time of practice was scheduled to be two hours and twenty-five minutes but only ran 2:10. This is still longer than most Patriots practices — usually between 1:30-1:45 — but as the visiting team they allowed the host team to run the practice, as the Saints did with the Patriots last week.

A couple of links from some folks down in Flowery Branch …

Mike Reiss has a vocal Tom Brady “feeling great” after the morning session.

Mike Rodack notes that the Patriots seemed focused on the deep ball, with Brady connecting with Randy Moss on a couple of occasions.

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution breaks down an undermanned Falcons secondary unable to stop the Brady-to-Moss connection on Tuesday morning.

Ian Rapoport reports that Matt Ryan is still unable to get any trade secrets from Tom Brady.

Read More: training camp,
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