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With later draft and less transition time, Patriots rookies have to hit ground running

05.14.14 at 7:00 am ET
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FOXBORO — It’€™s hard enough for rookies to jump right on the treadmill as they make the transition from college to the NFL every spring, but that move is even tougher this year.

With the draft two weeks later than it has been in year’€™s past, the 2014 rookie class has even less time to get up to speed when it comes to getting adjusted to life in the league. That means no more traditional rookie camp, a process that saw the rookies come to Foxboro, work out with their fellow first-year players and then return home before coming back again in June for mandatory minicamps.

Instead, the first-year players were at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday with the vets.  And while they didn’€™t get a chance to mix much with the veterans — other than a few introductions — they know there’€™s some pressure as they work to grasp every little thing about life in the NFL at a quicker than usual pace.

‘€œNow the draft’€™s so late, we’€™ll just bring them in and keep them here,’€ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick shortly after the draft was completed on Sunday. ‘€œThey’€™re going to have to come in and get oriented to living in a new area, getting transportation, finding their way around, becoming acclimated to New England. Along with the pro football part of it and all that, that’€™ll just be part of the whole next five or six weeks, or whatever it is.’€

In many ways, this draft class can draw some inspiration to the 2011 group, which had its own offseason program cut short because of the lockout. While many of them have enjoyed success over the last two seasons, as a group, some of those players struggled initially as rookies for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that they didn’€™t have a traditional offseason program.
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Jimmy Garoppolo: Right now, it’s all about learning from Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett

05.13.14 at 1:50 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo can’t remember the last time he spent the whole year as a reserve.

“I don’t know if I ever … I don’t know,” he confessed with a smile Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t think I ever have.”

There’s a first time for everything, and Garoppolo acknowledges the reality of the situation he’s walking into with the Patriots. The Eastern Illinois product will likely spend the 2014 sitting and watching Tom Brady (and perhaps Ryan Mallett), and he said he’s going to be all about learning from the two of them.

“They’re two guys who have been in the league for a very long time, and both have been successful quarterbacks in this league. That’s what I’m trying to become,” he said. “They both have a tremendous amount of knowledge they can share with me and I’m trying to pick up every little nugget I can.

“I just have to come in with the right mindset of I’ll learn the playbook as fast as possible, adjust the the NFL game, the NFL speed as fast as possible. If I can do that, I’ll be in good shape.”

Here are some of the highlights of his Tuesday afternoon Q&A with the media:
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Patriots sign 9 rookie free agents

05.12.14 at 4:15 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Monday they have signed nine rookie free agents. Here’s a portion of the release issued by the team on the moves:

Tyler Beck, 23, appeared in 49 games during his four-year career at Bowling Green and caught 25 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 257-pounder caught 10 passes for 177 yards for a 17.7 yards per catch average as a senior in 2013.

Roy Finch, 22, played in 47 games with 10 starts for Oklahoma, finishing his career with 262 rushing attempts for 1,412 yards and eight touchdowns. The 5-foot-7, 167-pounder also added 58 receptions for 442 yards and two touchdowns and returned 47 kicks for 1,099 yards with one touchdown. Last season, he played in 13 games with two starts and finished with 59 rushing attempts for 347 yards and caught 12 passes for 91 yards.

Shamiel Gary, 23, played his first two college seasons at Wyoming (2009-10) before transferring to Oklahoma State and redshirting in 2011. The 6-foot, 210-pounder started every game in 2012 and 2013 at strong safety. Last season, he started all 10 regular season games in which he played and finished with 47 total tackles. As a freshman in 2009, he intercepted three passes in his first collegiate game.

Cameron Gordon, 22, was a four-year letter winner at Michigan, who appeared in 45 games with 15 starts at linebacker. The 6-foot-3, 237-pounder began his career as a wide receiver as a redshirt in 2009 before being moved to safety in 2010 and linebacker in 2011. Last season, he played in 12 games with two starts and finished with 38 total tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble.

Travis Hawkins, 23, transferred to Delaware after two seasons at Maryland. The 5-10, 195-pounder, had 66 total tackles, four interceptions and eight passes defensed last season and was named first-team all-conference in 2013.

Stephen Houston, 22, finished his college career at Indiana fourth on the school’€™s all-time list with 25 rushing touchdowns, sixth with 29 total touchdowns and ninth with 2,304 rushing yards. The 6-foot, 230-pounder was ninth in school history with nine 100-yard rushing games. Last season, he rushed for 753 yards on 112 attempts for 6.7-yard average and five touchdowns. He spent his first two college seasons at Independence (Kans.) Community College before transferring to Indiana in 2011.

Justin Jones, 22, was a three-year starter and finished his career with 52 receptions for 598 yards and 12 touchdowns. The 6-foot-8, 277-pounder was not eligible to play last season. As a junior in 2012, he played in 13 games with five starts and caught 25 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns.

Deontae Skinner, 23, was a three-year starter at Mississippi State. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder first earned a starting position at linebacker as a sophomore in 2011. Last season, he played in 11 games and finished with 64 total tackles.

Asa Watson, 23, played in 36 games for North Carolina State and caught 29 passes for 351 yards with one touchdown. The 6-foot-3, 237-pounder is the brother of former Patriots TE Ben Watson.

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Bill Belichick sounds optimistic note on Will Smith, but says he ‘still has some rehabilitation do do’

05.12.14 at 1:39 pm ET
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The Patriots added veteran defensive end Will Smith earlier this month, but it sounds like the former New Orleans lineman is still rounding into shape after spending almost a year on the shelf because of a knee injury.

The 32-year-old Smith is coming off a torn ACL that sidelined him for the bulk of the 2013 season. The Ohio State product, who has 67.5 career sacks, has spent 10 seasons in the NFL, all with the Saints, before signing a new deal with New England.

On Saturday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick indicated Smith “still has some rehabilitation to do,” but he sounded an optimistic note about his chances to make a significant contribution in 2014, comparing him to Tommy Kelly.

“We feel like that’€™s coming along, going in the right direction — we’€™ll see how it all turns out,” Belichick said when asked about Smith. “It’€™s different, but similar, to Tommy Kelly‘€™s situation last year. Tommy wasn’t coming off an injury last year like Will is this year, but similar [in that he’s a] productive player that we feel like still has some good football left, but is probably in the back half of their career.”

If Smith is healthy, he projects as possibly filling the role of situational pass rusher, one that had been occupied by Andre Carter the last few seasons. But Belichick said there’s a long way to go between now and the start of the season, and Smith has some work to do before he can get to that point.

“We’€™ll see where Will is able to get to. He’€™s got a lot of experience — he’s got a lot of production throughout his career,” Belichick added. “I think he’€™ll be competitive, but we’€™ll have to see how he rehabs from the injury. But we’€™re optimistic that he’€™ll be on the field and be able to compete at some point. He’€™s not ready right now, but I think he will be.”

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Patriots sign Rutgers DB Jeremy Deering as undrafted free agent

05.12.14 at 1:26 pm ET
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The Patriots have signed Rutgers defensive back Jeremy Deering as an undrafted free agent, per a league source.

Deering showed great positional versatility over the course of his college career — at Rutgers, he™s lined up as a wildcat quarterback, wide receiver, running back, defensive back and kick returner.

However, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder settled into the role of free safety last year — he had 39 tackles and a pick in in 10 starts at the position with the Scarlet Knights in 2013.

The move was first reported by Dan Duggan of

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Arizona NT Tevin Hood gets invite to Patriots minicamp

05.12.14 at 1:06 pm ET
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Arizona nose tackle Tevin Hood has gotten a minicamp invite from the Patriots.

The 5-foot-11, 302-pounder was All-Pac 12 honorable mention this past season with the Wildcats. A two-time transfer from Duke and San Diego who walked on at Arizona, he had 7.5 tackles for loss in 13 games last season with the Wildcats.

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Dominique Easley: ‘I can’t wait’ to get into Patriots program

05.12.14 at 12:49 pm ET
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In what has become a tradition for the Patriots’ top draft picks, defensive lineman Dominique Easley arrived at Gillette Stadium on Monday and had the chance to meet with team owner Robert Kraft.

“I understand he’s a great dancer,” Kraft told the media when asked about Easley. “Not that we’re looking after sacks to have dances, but you never know. We’ll leave that to him.”

Easley said he welcomed the opportunity to play for a “family-oriented” program like the Patriots.

“I’ve been watching them for years. So it’s a blessing and an honor,” Easley said of the Patriots. “I’m going to do everything they ask me to do, and do it to the best ability I can.”

With ACL injuries in both knees the last few years, Easley has a checkered injury history. But on a conference call with the media on Thursday shortly after the pick was made, he declared himself good to go. And on Monday, he sounded optimistic about putting his recent health issues behind him and getting on the field.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I haven’t played a game since September.”

With the draft being pushed back two weeks this spring, Easley and the rest of the Patriots rookies are behind where the first-year players usually stand at this time of the calendar. As a result, they’ll have to get up to speed quickly. That was part of the message that coach Bill Belichick imparted to them shortly after they arrived at Gillette Stadium for meetings and physicals.

“Everyone wants to be great, so we’ve got work to do,” Easley said.

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