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Monday practice notes: Rob Gronkowski, Dominique Easley jump into contact work

08.18.14 at 4:01 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots had their final training camp practice open to the media Monday afternoon, a session that ran for just over two hours in front of a large crowd. Overall, it was the 17th practice of the summer for New England, and the 12th in pads. Here are a few quick notes:

Tyler Gaffney, D.J. Williams, Cameron Gordon, Sebastian Vollmer, Tommy Kelly, Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga were not spotted at start of practice. Chris Martin was in sweats. In addition, Michael Hoomanwanui, Chris Martin, James Anderson and Bryan Stork left after stretching, and worked on the lower practice fields.

– In 7-on-7 work, the biggest news was the fact that tight end Rob Gronkowski took part in the session, working clearly and getting in and out of his routes without an issue. The big fella was only partially involved when it came to contact, but the sight of Gronkowski running routes and catching passes from quarterbacks is an encouraging sight for Patriots fans. (For what it’s worth, Gronkowski was not involved in any of the blocking drills immediately following the 7-on-7 passing drills.) Gronkowski also saw work in 11-on-11 drills for the first time all summer, and made a couple of really nice connections with Brady over the middle. Again, another encouraging sign for New England fans.

– In other 7-on-7 news, there was a really nice pass breakup by Kyle Arrington on a Brady deep ball intended for Danny Amendola. And rookie corner Malcolm Butler had a really impressive pass breakup on a pass for Gronkowski, knocking the ball away cleanly and causing a fumble.

– Later on, the Patriots welcomed first-round pick Dominique Easley to 11-on-11 work in full pads for the first time all summer. It appeared that Easley was working with a reasonable facsimile of the second-team defense. He looked very good — quick, without any issues when it came to bursting and changing direction. On his first rush, he flew past center Ryan Wendell, and beat guard Dan Connolly on his second rush. He also flashed an impressive spin move on the following play. An interesting debut for the youngster, who might be on track to get some live snaps this week against the Panthers.

– In 11-on-11 work, it was clear (as it has been all summer long) that Julian Edelman has become Brady’s default receiver. There were a handful of occasions where the quarterback found “Minitron” after looking over the field and passing on a deep option. We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating — if he stays healthy, Edelman will have a terrific year.

Bill Belichick stopped practice for a few moments about an hour or so into practice and gathered the team together in a sizable huddle. They stopped practice for a few moments before jumping back into 11-on-11 work.

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Chandler Jones on MFB: ‘There’s always room for improvement’

08.18.14 at 1:49 pm ET
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Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones

Defensive end Chandler Jones joined the Middays with MFB crew on Monday as the Patriots head into the second half of the preseason. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The first-string defense has played well in the preseason, but Jones knows the squad has a long way to go.

“We can always do better,” Jones said. “Honestly, I felt like there’s always room for improvement. There’s no perfect football team. . . .  There always areas where we can get better, and that goes for everyone.”

Added Jones: “Week in and week out we try to find weakness in our defense and get better. Every good defense, you don’t want any weaknesses at all.”

The officials have been calling games tight in the preseason. One of the points of emphasis is to look for illegal hands to the face from lineman.

“Being a pass-rusher in this league, you don’t want to run off the ball thinking about, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want to get my hands in this guy’s face.’ That should be the last thing that should be on your mind. First, your assignment, your lineman, getting off the ball and doing your job. . . .

“As a pass-rusher you just want to go out there and do whatever you can to get to the quarterback. Running off the ball, thinking about that, I haven’t really thought about it too much, because a lot of my moves are a lot of counter moves, so I don’t really start with slapping any guy’s face.”

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Julian Edelman on MFB: Patriots ‘going to adjust to how the game’s being called’

08.18.14 at 12:23 pm ET
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Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman checked in with Middays with MFB as part of Patriots Monday on WEEI and discussed the high number of penalties being caused in the preseason. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

“If they’re going to call the game like that, we’ve got to get used to it for the regular season,” Edelman said. “Kind of like training a dog, we’ve got to train everyone and throw probably a little more now to get it in guys’ heads to think towards the regular season. We’re just going to play it out. Every team has to deal with it — our defense has to deal with it. That’s the route they want to go, that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

Added Edelman: “As a player, you know the rules and you’re going to go out there and you’re going to play — do business as business is being done. So if you see it’s a tight game, you’re going to tighten it up a little. If it’s not, that’s when you’re going to loosen up, get away with the push-off or something like that. You’re going to adjust to how the game’s being called.”

Edelman is coming off a breakout, 105-catch season that led to a big contract in the offseason. With his spot secure, he acknowledged approaching training camp with a slightly different mindset.

“This year has been a little different,” he said. “Now I get to really focus on my fundamentals, plays that I go out there and not have to think about a bunch of noise, what’s going on, this, that. You really get to brush up route technique. You have the experience from last year to see what guys have done on certain plays, certain techniques, certain head-bobs, all this kind of stuff. It’s good to kind to learn from last year and try to use that as a foundation and go on from there.”

Tom Brady has taken to affectionately calling Edelman and fellow undersized receiver Danny Amendola “pygmies.”

Edelman professed ignorance about the African-derived term for short people but added: “He’s the commander in chief. What he says goes.”

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Underdog candidates to make Patriots roster

08.18.14 at 11:55 am ET
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At every NFL training camp, there are always out-of-the-blue success stories — players who no one was talking about at the start of the summer, but through hard work and sheer will have managed to elbow their way into contention for a roster spot. This year is no different, as the Patriots have had more than their share of under-the-radar possibilities rise up and make a name for themselves. Now, with half the preseason schedule in the books and the regular season less than three weeks away, these four underdogs have positioned themselves nicely to beat the odds and win a roster spot. Here are our favorite success stories of the summer.

Jordan Devey

Jordan Devey

Offensive lineman Jordan Devey – As of Sunday afternoon, Devey was the only player in the league who played every single snap for his team in the preseason. The 6-foot-7, 317-pounder out of Memphis, who spent all of the 2013 season on the practice squad, has lined up at both guard spots and both tackle spots in the first two preseason games. Along the way, he has injected himself into a conversation regarding who might work along the interior, as well as who would best be served to work as the backup swing tackle.

He probably won’t start, but his versatility could make him the latest in a long line of offensive linemen who have used the fact that they can play multiple positions as an entry point for more reps. In many cases, that’s led to bigger and better things down the road.

“I think he’s improved a lot from last year — he’s had a good offseason,” Bill Belichick said of Devey. “He’s worked really hard. He’s a smart guy. His fundamentals have improved. His strength is better. His offseason program was very productive. Harold Nash and Moses [Cabrera] and their program, he really was able to take advantage of that and put himself in a very competitive position.”

Brian Tyms

Brian Tyms

Wide receiver Brian Tyms – What’s the wildest part of Tyms’ story? How he was a foster child who bounced from home to home as a preteen? The fact that he lived in his car as a teenager? How he walked on at Florida A&M? Or how he’s buddies with Randy Moss? Regardless, Tyms has gone from not being on the radar screen at the start of camp to becoming front and center as part of the debate as to whether or not the Patriots will carry six receivers this season.

Over the course of the summer he’s displayed a fierce level of competitiveness for jump balls — he’s been targeted almost twice as much as any other pass catcher through two games. He hasn’t missed a practice. And by all accounts, he’s a model teammate who everyone seems to be rooting for. In addition to that, he has some roster flexibility that ultimately could tip the scales in his favor. He faces a four-game ban at the start of the season for using Adderall (according to Tyms) late last year. If the Patriots choose to keep him around (although he wouldn’t be allowed in the facility during his suspension), he wouldn’t count toward their final 53-man roster. That could end up working in his favor.

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Read More: Brian Tyms, Jordan Devey, Malcolm Butler, Roy Finch

Tim Hasselbeck on D&C: Preseason games ‘absolutely brutal’ to watch due to penalties

08.18.14 at 11:53 am ET
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ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning to discuss the huge number of penalties given out this preseason as well as Jimmy Garoppolo‘€™s potential in New England. To listen to the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

NFL referees have come under fire for aggressively calling penalties in preseason games, something that revolves around the league cracking down on illegal contact, defensive holding and illegal hands to the face.

Hasselbeck said the number of penalties should decrease once the regular season kicks off.

“I watch all of these games, and you obviously can’€™t watch them all in real time, so I feel like I’ve had the benefit of fast-forwarding through the nonsense, because the games that I’ve watched in real time, it’€™s been brutal,” Hasselbeck said. “It’€™s been absolutely brutal. There’€™s no way this continues, because the league doesn’t want games like this during the regular season, and I can tell you right now, with all of this emphasis and all of this focus on this illegal contact and that nonsense, go look at every postseason for the last five years. The further and further you get along in the postseason, refs are afraid to take the flag out of their pocket. They won’€™t do it. … I feel like the officials in the NFL kind of missed the boat on this one.”

Hasselbeck said that Garoppolo’€™s impressive performances in the team’€™s first two preseason games, coupled with Ryan Mallett‘€™s upcoming free agency, has given Garoppolo the edge in terms of fighting for the backup quarterback role on the team.

“œI think, in terms of the ownership of the system, I think you need to be in it for a full year,” Hasselbeck said. “The advantage of being in something a full year is that you have command over it, rather than just knowing it. … There’€™s so many layers of it, so I think if you’€™re in it for over a year, to start to develop that type of ability. In terms of Belichick’€™s process with these guys, because of the contract situation for Mallett going forward and when he reaches free agency and because they’ve invested a second-round pick in Garoppolo, I believe that the scale is tipped a little bit in Garoppolo’€™s favor for them to really try to get him up to speed and feel comfortable with him being the backup, and so I think that’€™s why you’€™re going to see them give him opportunities.”

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Tom Brady on D&C: ‘If they’re calling it tight, you’ve got to be able to adjust’

08.18.14 at 8:55 am ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance with Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning, with the team hitting the halfway mark of the preseason schedule. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Some consider preseason a boring lead-up to the regular season, but Brady is not one of those people.

“It means football is back,” he said. “We’re really in preparation for the season. You can’t shortcut it. You’ve just got to grind through it. It’s about getting better, and you can’t cheat that. You’ve got to see where your team’s at, and to have weeks and weeks of really concentrated practice time and then the preseason game, you make mistakes, you correct them, you try to do them better and make the improvements — I think that’s what training camp’s all about.

“Coach [Bill Belichick] always says a good offseason program leads to a good start of training camp, good training camp leads to a good September, a good September leads to a good October, November. Then you’ve got to be playing well in December. Through none of those phases can you really just be average, because then you can never get back, you can never try to get ahead, you’re always just trying to catch up.”

Brady said progress is far more important than anything else at this stage.

“For all of us it’s just level of improvement,” he said. “I think that’s what you gauge. Because not all the parts are there at this point. A lot of it is individual improvement. So you’re really just focusing on what you’re job is, what you need to do, go through your read, your throw. And then when you start to incorporate those into one-on-one drills, and as that leads over into team drills, hopefully by the opener you’ve got all the guys that have worked on their individual improvement so collectively, as a whole, you’re better and better — or significantly better than what we were let’s say when the OTA’s started. That’s what you have to look to be able to do. You’ve got to built a foundation. Without that foundation you’ll never be a good football team.”

Friday’s preseason win over the Eagles was marked by 28 penalties as officials try to get players to understand they’ll be calling games tighter this season. Brady said it’s incumbent on the players to adjust.

“I don’t know whether they throw 20 flags or five flags over the course of the game. Some calls go your way, some calls don’t,” he said. “I think players like when they let you play, more so than anything. But at the same time, the refs stand up there in front of us on whatever day it was, on Wednesday, and said, ‘Look, we’re throwing a lot of flags. If we see illegal contact, if we see defensive holding, if we see hands to the face, those are real points of emphasis for this year.’ And they showed video. So when those things come up, they’re throwing the flags. And they did in practice a lot, too.

“It’s just being able to adjust and being disciplined and being good decision-makers. … You just have to learn to play within the rules. And those adjust on a weekly basis, depending on how the refs call the game. And we have a pretty good idea of how they’re going to call the game going into it. Some refs throw a lot of flags, some refs don’t throw a lot of flags. Our coaches try to prepare us on that. And once you get out there on the field, you play within the rules to the best of your ability. And if they’re calling it tight, you’ve got to be able to adjust. That’s all part of the decision-making process as a player.

“Hopefully, there’s not 20-plus flags a game. That’s a lot of flags. That will make for long football games.”

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Final training camp practice open to public set for Monday afternoon

08.17.14 at 11:48 pm ET
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The Patriots want to remind fans that Monday is the final day of training camp access for the public. Monday’s session is scheduled to run from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. Following Monday practice, the team switches to a regular-season schedule — workouts will be closed to the public, while the media will have a brief window at the start of practice to watch stretching and drills.

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