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Back to work for many at Gillette Stadium as OTA’s get underway

05.21.12 at 11:39 am ET
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The offseason starts to rachet up just a bit on Monday at Gillette Stadium with the beginning of Organized Team Activities (OTA).

While the voluntary offseason workouts have been going on for roughly a month at Gillette Stadium, these sessions are the first time that all members of the team get a chance to get on the field with the coaching staff. These events are not mandatory, but there’s usually excellent attendance, as it serves as a good way for player and coach alike to gauge where they stand at this point in the offseason. It’s also a chance for the rookies to get some on-field work in alongside the veterans, and continue their education process as they continue to get up to speed in the system.

According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Patriots can engage in three OTA sessions this week, three next week and four during the third week. (The media will have access to one session a week — Thursday — for the next three weeks.)

While the sessions do not have the speed and intensity of a regular-season get-together, the OTA’s serve as a way to start easing back into a football mindset again for everyone.

‘€œIt’€™s always exciting when you can get back out there, put the helmets on,’€ said wide receiver Donte Stallworth. ‘€œWhen you can finally start easing out of the weight room and conditioning part of it, and get back into practicing and football-specific things, then that’€™s always the fun part.

‘€œMonday will be the fun day, and I’€™m sure everyone is looking forward to it.’€

Patriots sign offensive lineman Jon Opperud

05.18.12 at 1:33 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Friday afternoon they have signed offensive lineman Jon Opperud, a rookie free agent out of Montana. The 22-year-old Opperud was originally signed by Seattle as a rookie free agent on April 29 out of Montana and was released by the Seahawks on May 15.

The 6-foot-7, 300-pounder was a three-year starter for Montana. After seeing action in all 11 games as a true freshman in 2008, he earned a starting position at left guard in 2009. He was moved to left tackle for his junior and season seasons.

According to Pro Football Weekly, Opperud is a “tall, slow-footed, FCS blocker who played tackle and guard as a three-year starter. Relies on positioning and technique to control defenders, as he is not strong enough to generate power on his own. Is intelligent, tough and competitive, though his intangibles outpace his athletic ability.”

Read More: Jon Opperud,

Trying to figure out why the Patriots would kick the tires on veteran tight end Dallas Clark

05.18.12 at 1:14 pm ET
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The Patriots had tight end Dallas Clark visit Foxboro on Tuesday, according to Shalise Manza-Young of the Boston Globe. Clark, who will turn 33 next month, has impeccable credentials — the former All-Pro has 427 catches in nine years in the NFL, including a whopping 100 in 2009. As the old core continues to be dismantled in Indy, it appears that the free agent will be the next to officially leave the Colts.

Despite Clark’€™s resume, on the surface, it appears to be a puzzling move — New England has two premiere young tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and they added a veteran in Daniel Fells over the course of the offseason. But one thing worth noting is that the 6-foot-3, 252-pounder is represented by agent Neil Cornrich, who has worked very closely with Belichick in the past. How closely? Cornrich has worked as Belichick’€™s lawyer in the past, and has steered some relatively under-the-radar players in Belichick’€™s direction before, including Stephen Neal (after the former college wrestling champion was looking for a place to play professional football) and Mike Vrabel, who was working as a backup linebacker in Pittsburgh before he signed with the Patriots prior to the 2001 season.

Whether it’€™s Belichick doing a favor for a friend or genuine interest on the part of New England, it’€™s not a big surprise that the Patriots would at least bring him to kick the tires and see what he has left. If he can still play and the money is right, New England would find a spot for him. The Patriots have added wide receivers at a dizzying pace this offseason — why not an extra tight end or two? After all, Clark passes what we call the Rosevelt Colvin test: Belichick has raved about him over the years, often unprovoked. Check out this quote from Belichick on Clark from 2009:

‘€œHe’€™s a terrific player, very hard to defend,’€ Belichick said of Clark. ‘€œHe pretty much can do everything that you would ask a tight end to do. He’€™s a great vertical receiver. He can get open on the short and intermediate routes. He’€™s a good possession receiver on third down and in the red area. He’€™s good after the catch. He does a good job blocking.’€

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Dallas Clark, Daniel Fells, Mike Vrabel

CBS columnist Pete Prisco puts five Patriots in his Top 100

05.18.12 at 12:34 pm ET
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While the NFL Network has been rolling out its list of the Top 100 players of 2012, CBS Sports columnist Pete Prisco has done the same this week, and he has five Patriots on his list. Here’€™s his take, with his comments on each one of the New England players:

2. Quarterback Tom Brady: ‘€œThere are no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Just keep him away from the New York Giants.’€

10. Tight end Rob Gronkowski: ‘€œHe emerged as the league’€™s best tight end in 2011 and there’€™s no reason why he can’€™t be even better. He’€™s too fast for linebackers and too strong for safeties.’€

30. Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork: ‘€œHe is a wide load in the middle of the New England defense. But he’€™s also much quicker than his body would make you think. Wilfork is so athletic he moves around the New England line.’€

42. Wide receiver Wes Welker: ‘€œHe is the prototypical slot receiver, a vital part of the New England passing game. What would the New England offense be without him?’€

87. Offensive lineman Logan Mankins: ‘€œHe had a bad Super Bowl, playing on a torn ACL, but he is a mauler when healthy.’€

By way of comparison, the NFL Network ‘€œTop 100’€ list had Mankins at No. 64 and Wilfork at No. 81. (Their countdown continues over the next few weeks.)

New fullback Spencer Larsen brings a lot to the table

05.17.12 at 1:29 pm ET
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Spencer Larsen comes to the Patriots listed as a fullback, but his value is in his versatility.

In 2008, while playing in Denver, Larsen started a game against the Falcons at fullback and linebacker, becoming the first player since 2003 to start a game on both sides of the ball. Oh, and Larsen also was on the field for the opening kickoff, contributing on special teams.

When meeting with the media at Gillette Stadium for the first time as a Patriot on Thursday, Larsen described the game as a full days work.

“A player like me, I have to be able to produce and help to stick around,” Larsen said. “I take pride in that. You never know, you just want to do what you can to help the team, whatever that is — fullback, special teams.”

Larsen joins the Patriots having never been on a winning team, which made New England an attractive destination for the 28-year-old. The Patriots spread offense, however, predominantly features one-back sets, meaning Larsen will have to battle Tony Fiammetta for snaps. With that said, the Arizona product is open to the possibilities contributing on the defensive side of the ball. And Bill Belichick has proven — with players like Troy Brown, Mike Vrabel, and last season with Julian Edelmanthat he is not afraid to tap into a player’s skill set, regardless of what their natural position is.

“I’m 100 percent open to [playing linebacker],” Larsen said.  “But right now I’m really focused on being the best full back I can be and being a great special team player, and seeing where I can help. I’m beyond that, I’m not to worried about it.”

While Larsen doesn’t share the same success winning games with his new teammates, he does have familiarity with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, having spent time in his system when the McDaniels was the head coach in Denver from 2009-1o. Larsen described his former coach as smart, detail-oriented, and someone who likes to have options, which explains Larsen’s value to the Patriots.

“Being here … it’s the way it should be everywhere. There’s just a lot of personal accountability,” Larsen said. “[In Denver] we just ran a basic two-back offense, and I was able to do a lot of lead blocking and pass protection. … You just like to have options and you like to be able have different things you can do week to week.”

The 6-foot-2, 243-pounder said he has settled in to the East Coast with ease, and that his new teammates have made the transition seamless. For all the diversity in his game, Patriots fans may be most impressed to learn of bullying of Rob Gronkowski during their time at Arizona together.

“I was a senior when he was a freshman, so I used to beat him up in college, if you guys believe that,” Larsen jokingly said. “It’s been good seeing him, and seeing the success he has had.”

Read More: Spencer Larsen,

Logan Mankins at No. 64 on NFL Network’s ‘Top 100′ list

05.16.12 at 8:56 pm ET
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Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins checked in at No. 64 overall in the NFL Network’s list of Top 100 players of 2012, presented Wednesday night.

The offensive guard, who just wrapped up his seventh season with the Patriots, was at No. 39 last year. The Fresno State product is the second member of the Patriots to make this year’s Top 100 — defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was the first member of the franchise to make this year’s list at No. 81.

One of the players who discussed Mankins and his impact was Indianapolis defensive lineman Raheem Brock. Brock and Mankins have been longtime foes, but it was clear Brock has a lot of respect for Mankins, saying he’s “a great overall offensive lineman.”

“He’s not just a great pass blocker — he’s a great run blocker, too. He’s pretty good at trying to disguise the run and the pass. In Indy, they know how we played: We spin a lot, and one play or another, he might set me up, knowing I’m going to spin and the other guy is coming to clean me up. They’d kind of laugh at you because it was kind of a setup.”

As for the idea that Mankins occasionally gets overshadowed by quarterback Tom Brady, Brock chuckled.

“I don’t see too many people pay to go see offensive linemen play, but he’s one of the best,” he said with a smile. “He’s one of the best.”

Read More: Logan Mankins, Raheem Brock, Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork

Bill Belichick tops Forbes list of highest-paid coaches for second straight year

05.16.12 at 5:19 pm ET
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Forbes has published its annual list of coaches’€™ salaries, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick is at the top of the list once again. Forbes says he makes $7.5 annually, which is tops among all North American football, baseball, basketball and hockey coaches.

Belichick’€™s salary has been a closely guarded secret over the years. The last time we heard talk about it was back in 2007, when it was reported the coach and franchise agreed to an extension that would keep him with the franchise through at least the 2013 season, according to ESPN. And earlier that year, Belichick made a brief mention about his contract situation.

‘€œI don’€™t talk about contracts, but I would say I like working here, I like the organization ‘€” ownership, coaches, scouts, players, and the guys I work with,’€ he said in July 2007. ‘€œI appreciate the opportunity to work here, and it’€™s a good situation. I don’€™t see that changing anytime soon.’€

Belichick has been a fairly regular presence on the Forbes list. In 2010, Belichick was second to then-Lakers coach Phil Jackson. But after Jackson retired followed that season, Belichick moved into the top spot at $7.5 million, which makes 2012 his second straight year at No. 1 overall.

Belichick isn’€™t the only New England coach in the Top 10. Celtics coach Doc Rivers was tied for second with Redskins’€™ coach Mike Shanahan, Rams coach Jeff Fisher and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, all at $7 million, annually. (For the complete list, CLICK HERE.)

Read More: Bill Belichick, Doc Rivers, Jeff Fisher, Mike Shanahan
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