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Competition committee: Patriots’ veteran receivers welcome positional battle

05.31.12 at 4:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Deion Branch isn’€™t the receiver he used to be, but that doesn’€™t mean he’€™s about to shy away from what’€™s looking like a tremendous positional battle at the wide receiver spot this year.

Branch is one of 11 receivers currently on the Patriots’€™ roster, and while the 32-year-old (he’€™ll turn 33 before the start of training camp) doesn’€™t have the same quicks he used to possess earlier in his career, he’€™s had no problem transitioning to the next phase of his career: savvy veteran.

‘€œI’€™m enjoying it. I love it each and every day I’€™m out there with the guys,’€ Branch said Thursday after the latest OTA session on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. ‘€œI’€™m still running around and having fun, daily. They make me feel young — you know what I’€™m saying?’€

Truth be told, the bulk of the New England receiving corps is in the same boat. Branch (32), Wes Welker (31), Donte Stallworth (31), Jabar Gaffney (31) and Chad Ochocinco (34) are all on the plus-side of 30 — even heralded newcomer Brandon Lloyd will turn 31 in July.

It’€™s not exactly the cast of ‘€œCocoon,’€ but the veteran group has already developed a good rapport with each other, one fueled in one instance by a familiarity that dates all the way back to college: Branch, Gaffney and Stallworth were all members of the 2002 draft class. Branch calls the chance to finally play together ‘€œgreat.’€

‘€œWe’€™re always competing — we go through the bag drill, and we’€™re always competing,’€ said Branch, who had 51 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns last season. ‘€œFirst of all, we’€™re teammates; we have one goal. We’€™re all on the same side of the ball. We’€™re all trying to make plays. They’€™re going to give everybody the opportunity to make plays. Now it’€™s just time to cash in.

‘€œIt’€™s always good. It’€™s a lot of fun too — a lot of fun. We’€™re having a lot of fun,’€ he added. ‘€œWe’€™re enjoying it.’€

Of the new wide receivers, the one who made the biggest splash this offseason was Lloyd. Lloyd, who was acquired via free agency after a stint with the Rams, has impressed through the early stages of the offseason workout program and recent round of OTA’€™s.

‘€œThe guy is everything I thought he was,’€ Branch said of Lloyd, who has averaged 74 catches a season the last two years. ‘€œI [saw] him on film, Played against him. Played against him in college. He’€™s pretty much the player I always thought he was. It’€™s just good to have him over here with us.’€

Read More: Deion Branch,

Tom Brady on his latest commercial appeal, Josh McDaniels and getting over Super Bowl blues

05.31.12 at 4:26 pm ET
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FOXBORO — After getting past the obligatory questions about his latest commercial appeal, shooting a highly-amusing spot for Under Armour gear, Tom Brady was ready to get down to business Thursday and talk about getting back on the field again with Josh McDaniels for a full spring and summer of preparation for the 2012 season.

Brady stars in the “Funny or Die” spot selling Under Armour.

“You guys probably see that all the time from me out there on the field; I know my teammates certainly do,” Brady said. “It was fun. You get asked to do different things at different times and it was a nice part of the offseason that I’€™ll remember. I’€™m glad it turned out well. You never know how they’€™re going to turn out. A lot of my teammates liked it so I know we did a decent job.”

Brady joked about knocking over his own standee.

“Yeah, I know. Like I said, I was laughing the whole day and then they were like, ‘€˜No, you have to get angry.’€™ So I said, ‘€˜OK, let me get the angry part down.’€™ It was fun. Hopefully a lot of people watch it and go out and buy some Under Armour shoes.

“It was pretty much me being me. The guys, my teammates see me angry all the time. It was pretty easy to get riled up. That part of the acting is pretty easy. If you have to do something you’€™re not really used to doing, that’€™s the hard part. But that was pretty easy for me.”

Easy could also describe his life with Josh McDaniels from 2004-08 when the two were setting passing record after passing record with the Patriots. Has life with McDaniels — the former and current Patriots offensive coordinator — changed since the two were last together in 2008?

‘Yeah, it’€™s been a lot of fun. [Billy O’€™Brien] was great,” Brady said after Thursday’s practice. “He’€™s a great coach, I certainly miss him. At the same time, it’€™s nice to have familiarity with Josh kind of stepping into that role. I really enjoy him. We’€™ve had a great working relationship for a very long time. It’€™s good to see him out there and work together. It’€™s been a fun spring.

“There’€™s always getting up to speed when certain things have changed — what he’€™s done the last three or four years and certainly things we’€™ve changed. But his competitiveness is still there, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win is still there and he loves football. I think that’€™s why we get along so well.”

McDaniels was the head coach in Denver in 2009 and a small portion of 2010 before being fired. He was the offensive coordinator for quarterback Sam Bradford in St. Louis last season before leaving to join the Patriots for their playoff run to the Super Bowl. Has his head coaching experience given him anything different?

“It’€™s hard to say, it’€™s still so early,” Brady said. “I really enjoyed working with him in the past. I really hope that that continues. He obviously has more experience. Hopefully that serves us all well. I have a little bit more experience as well.”

Brady said getting on the field for OTAs like Thursday is part of the learning and healing process after losing Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

“That’€™s part of the offseason, and it’€™s part of learning as a player,” Brady said. “Hopefully, you get a chance to be in that position again. At this point, we try to move on and you try to look forward to what this season is going to be about. It’€™s a different group of players, different coaches, a little different system. You’€™re trying to put together a team here that can go out and compete every single week. You don’€™t look back too much on the past and say, ‘€˜What if? What if?’€™ You’€™d drive yourself crazy. At some point you have to put it in the past and move on.”

Brady will be working with a new left tackle in 2012 for the first time in his career after Matt Light retired this spring. Brady acknowledged Thursday after practice at Patriots organized team activity that he tried to talk Light out of retirement but to no avail. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill O'Brien, Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots, nfl

Patrick Chung seizes leadership role in secondary

05.31.12 at 3:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Last season Jerod Mayo continued his growth, not only as a player but as a leader of the linebacker corps. With Vince Wilfork already anchoring the defensive line, the secondary was the level of the defense left largely devoid of a true leader. This season, however, Patrick Chung, who enters his fourth season — just as Mayo did last year — looks to make a similar transition to fill the leadership role and spearhead the secondary.

“Coaches on the sideline give us information,” Chung said Thursday afternoon after New England’s OTA session ended. “You’ve got to have someone to relay it out there. I have to take charge and be mentally prepared. Everybody is physical, fast, strong, big, but the smarter guy always win[s]. So I’m trying to be smarter than everybody.”

The unit had several personnel changes in the offseason, adding veterans Will Allen and Steve Gregory, and drafting Tavon Wilson and Alfonzo Dennard. Ras-I Dowling re-enters the fold after missing nearly all of his rookie season while sustaining a hip injury in Week 2 against the Chargers last season. There is also the possibility of moving Devin McCourty from cornerback to safety, a position he saw spot duty towards the end of last season and into the playoffs.

Chung’s commitment to the mental competent of the defense bodes well for the Patriots in dealing with these additions, the interchangeable positional versatility, and helping others along.

“We all help each other,” Chung continued. “Regardless of who is safety or who’s at corner. If [McCourty] sees something I don’t see, he’ll tell me. If I see something that he doesn’t see, I’ll tell him. It’s kind of like a brotherhood, you’re going to tell your brothers what your going to tell the, whether it’s bad or it’s good.

“The offseason is the offseason,” he added. “You get out of it, but you’re ready to get back into it. I’m glad to be back with my boys. It’s time to play some ball.”

Chung’s 2011 campaign was marred by a foot injury that kept him out of the lineup for half the season. Still, the 24 year-old was able play well in the Patriots postseason run, and despite the disappointment of losing the Super Bowl, his straightforward demeanor will goes along with his aspirations to be a difference maker both on the field and in the locker room.

“Last year is last year, man,” Chung stoically said of the loss to the Giants. “We have to get ready for this year. We’re not worried about it.”

Read More: Patrick Chung,

Notes from the Patriots’ Thursday morning OTA session

05.31.12 at 1:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots just wrapped up an OTA session on the fields behind Gillette Stadium under a brilliant late-spring sky. The practice, held in shorts, sweats and T-shirts, ran for roughly 90 minutes, and like last week’s session that the media had access to, had the same pace as an uptempo training camp practice — quick and efficient, but not too fast. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢The following players were not spotted on the field for the duration of the session: offensive linemen Brian Waters, Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer; wide receiver Jeremy Ebert and tight end Daniel Fells. As was the case last week, tight end Rob Gronkowski worked off to the side, running sprints and stretching. Meanwhile, special teamer Matthew Slater, linebacker Tracy White and running back Joseph Addai also worked off to the side. (Addai looked nimble working through cone drills.) Linebacker Brandon Spikes started with the team in the stretching line, and then appeared to depart for the practice bubble.

‘€¢With the understanding that very little should be read into personnel moves because it’s still May, there were some interesting faces in different places. On the offensive line, with no Mankins, Waters or Vollmer, Robert Gallery got a lot of snaps at right guard, while Marcus Cannon saw plenty of time at right tackle. In addition, Dan Connolly and Dan Koppen rotated pretty steadily at center, with Donald Thomas (who didn’t play center last season) working as a backup center for portions of the workout. Connolly and Ryan Wendell also rotated in at the guard spots, while Nate Solder spent most of his time working as the left tackle with what appeared to be the No. 1 offensive line.

‘€¢Quarterback Tom Brady was pretty animated throughout the practice, while offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a hands-on presence with the quarterbacks.

‘€¢In 7-on-7’s, there were several different combinations utilized in the secondary, but it is worth noting that for the second consecutive week, McCourty appeared to take the bulk of the reps at cornerback. (It looked like McCourty and Ras-I Dowling were paired as the starting corners.) There were several different pairings at safety, including Nate Ebner and Pat Chung, Ebner and Ross Ventrone and Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown. Steve Gregory rotated into the mix as well. Ebner made a nice pass breakup on a pass from Brian Hoyer that was intended for Brandon Lloyd.
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Northwestern coach: Intelligence and adaptability are hallmarks of new Patriots’ WR Jeremy Ebert

05.31.12 at 12:42 am ET
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When the Patriots starting taking a look at Northwestern’€™s Jeremy Ebert, Dennis Springer delivered a nugget to New England receivers’€™ coach Chad O’€™Shea that likely sealed the deal.

‘€œI told coach O’€™Shea when we met that if I left the meeting room, I felt good that Jeremy could coach the rest of the guys up and have them ready to play on Saturday,’€ said the Wildcats’ receivers’ coach.

‘€œHis classroom intelligence is extremely high,’€ Springer said of Ebert, who was taken in the seventh round of the NFL draft last month by the Patriots. ‘€œWatching the New England Patriots‘€™ wide receivers and seeing how they work, I think he’€™s a great addition to that team.’€

Ebert is a 6-foot, 195-pounder who put together impressive back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011, when he had a combined 137 catches — as a senior, he had 75 receptions, 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns. For his college career, he had 156 catches and 20 career receiving touchdowns.

‘€œThe first thing you should know about him is that the Patriots are getting a great character person. He was one of the hardest workers I’€™ve had in that position group, and the results showed over the course of his career,’€ Springer said. ‘€œHe’€™s a great kid, a great young man, who comes from a good family background — which is very important to him, in every aspect of his life. But really, he’€™s a great character guy — the New England Patriots organization is getting a special player.’€

Frankly, his game has a lot of the same elements that Julian Edelman brought to the table: a seventh rounder with the same initials who switched from quarterback to wide receiver, Ebert projects as an undersized slot receiver at the NFL level who also figures to help as a special teamer. Of course, if Ebert has half the rookie season that Edelman did, the Patriots will certainly be happy: Edelman had the finest rookie season of any seventh-round pick in New England history, catching 37 passes for 359 yards and a touchdown while also working part-time as a punt and kick returner.

Springer says that Ebert has a lot working in his favor. First, his experience as a quarterback provided him with a greater knowledge of what a wide receiver needs to be successful. Second, he understands the fundamental nature of working as a wide receiver: the routes you end up running aren’€™t always the ones that are called when you break the huddle.

‘€œHaving played quarterback for four years in high school, that helped shape him into an extremely intelligent football player,’€ Springer said. ‘€œHe has a great feel for the game, and his time as a quarterback helped him understand that playing wide receiver, it’€™s about being able to make adjustments. He does a great job of making adjustments on the run. He understands that you can’€™t be a robot when you play wide receiver. You have to be flexible.’€
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Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Britt Davis, Chad O'Shea, Deion Branch

Want to buy Wes Welker a wedding present? Here’s how

05.30.12 at 5:59 pm ET
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Patriots fans, here’s your chance to hook up your favorite receiver with a wedding present. Wes Welker is scheduled to marry Anna Burns in late June, and our friends at Busted Coverage have unearthed what appears to be Welker’s online wedding registry at Williams Sonoma. As of Wednesday night, several items were still available, including a pasta machine ($70), slow cooker ($280), blender ($600) and toaster ($180).

Read More: Anna Burns, Wes Welker,

NFL Films producer Greg Cosell talks about Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Tim Tebow and what it means to be a ‘winner’

05.30.12 at 1:26 pm ET
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We’ve already made it clear that we have a great level of respect for NFL Films producer Greg Cosell, having spoken with him on a number of topics regarding the Patriots, as well as the rest of the league. And in his latest blog post, he talks about the label of “winner” and what it means in today’s NFL.

Cosell looks at the case of New England quarterback Tom Brady. While acknowledging the greatness of Brady, Cosell wonders what his legacy would be if kicker Adam Vinatieri missed kicks at the end of Super Bowl XXXVI and XXXVIII and the Patriots ended up losing those games. “Would Brady’€™s performance have been any less impressive in those games? Obviously not,” writes Cosell. “What would be different is our collective perception of his performance. He would not have been acclaimed a ‘winner.'”

He also looks at applying the same idea to the careers of Joe Flacco (with a focus on the end of last season’s AFC championship loss to the Patriots), Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow and what the phrase “winner” has meant in relation to them over the last few seasons. In all, it’s a fascinating read.

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Greg Cosell, joe flacco, Peyton Manning
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