|08.16.16 at 6:57 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots appear to mastering the art of finding defensive back talent at small schools.
The well-documented case of Malcolm Butler out of West Alabama produced a Super Bowl title when he picked off Russell Wilson at the 1 at the end of Super Bowl XLIX.
Butler was in his rookie season and was undrafted out of college.
Fast forward two years and the Patriots might have done it again with Cre’von LeBlanc. The corner out of Florida Atlantic certainly showed the potential, making a one-handed interception of Luke McCown in the end zone to stop the Saints. The play was one that everyone remembers from last Thursday night because he caught it with his left hand against his shoulder as he was spinning around to find the ball.
“It kind of found me, and I found it. It was like love at first sight,” LeBlanc joked Tuesday after practice.
Certainly, that play caught the eye of Bill Belichick and the staff. But it’s been LeBlanc’s play from the moment he arrived in Foxboro as an undrafted free agent that has made the biggest impression. LeBlanc is in a group that includes Butler, Logan Ryan, two veterans that figure to start the season on the corners. There’s second-round pick Cyrus Jones, who figures to get some looks in the slot. Then there’s E.J. Biggers, Jonathan Jones, Justin Coleman and Darryl Roberts. That’s a lot of competition.
But Belichick says he’s noticed that LeBlanc has welcomed that competition so far in camp.
“He’s been really competitive. I think he’s played well. Obviously, the play he had against the Saints was a pretty special play but day in and day out he’s been pretty consistent for us going all the way back to the spring,” Belichick said Tuesday. “I’d say his instinctiveness, his ability to be around the ball, his anticipation and ability to recognize routes maybe offset some of the testing numbers that aren’t elite. They’re good but I wouldn’t say they’re elite, but all of it kind of together and knowing how to play, he has got some of that. He finds the ball or the ball finds him, however you want to look at it.”
|08.16.16 at 3:36 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks spent almost a whole season with the Patriots last year after being traded from the Saints at the end of September, but didn’t return to New England after signing as a free agent with the Bears this past offseason.
Hicks is back at Gillette Stadium this week with his new team for the three joint practices and Thursday’s preseason game. Speaking after Tuesday’s practice, the 26-year-old had nothing but good things to say about his former team.
“I have a great deal of respect for this organization and how I was brought in at the beginning of the season, without training camp, how they got me acclimated into the system and being able to play,” Hicks said. “I think the organization of this team is something every team in the NFL can emulate.”
Hicks reportedly signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Bears during the offseason, a deal likely just a little too high for the Patriots’ liking. The defensive tackle admitted he considered returning to New England, a place where he recorded 21 tackles and three sacks in 13 games last year.
“Most definitely,” Hicks said. “How could you not want to come back to a great team like this?”
The former Patriot was particularly animated during Tuesday’s spirited session between the two teams, which featured a few more dust ups and Bryan Stork being ejected. Hicks was very vocal after making big plays on defense in 11-on-11 work and even appeared to direct some of his yelling at former Bear and now Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett.
“I was excited. I get excited pretty easily,” Hicks said. “I think that’s part of the position of a defensive lineman. You’ve got to be able to bring the juice.”
Added Hicks: “I don’t think there was a plan to come in and be extra animated,” Hicks said. “It was more so to play a little harder than we did yesterday, and play a little bit better.”
|08.16.16 at 1:53 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Monday it was Malcolm Butler. Tuesday it was Bryan Stork.
For the second straight day the Patriots had a player kicked out of practice as during 11-on-11 drills, Stork shoved Bears linebacker John Timu after a play. To Timu’s credit, he didn’t let things go any further and walked away.
This was the last of a few dust ups on Tuesday as earlier in the session Harold Jones-Quartley shoved Julian Edelman to the ground after a reception several seconds after a catch in 11-on-11 work. Aaron Dobson came over to Edelman’s defense, but it was just a lot of yelling back and forth.
A few plays later Martellus Bennett got into it with Lamarr Houston, as they did on Monday and during Bennett’s time in Chicago.
Following the practice Bears coach John Fox downplayed the fights.
“Those weren’t fights, those were just pushing matches,” he said.
Once again it illustrates the different philosophies between the two teams as the Patriots ban fighting all together, while the Bears have a fine system in place for fighting.
The two teams will have the third joint practice Wednesday morning, but it’s expected to be a walkthrough.
|08.16.16 at 1:35 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Another day, another joint practice fight, this time involving Bryan Stork and the Bears. Earlier, it was Bears corner Harold Jones-Quartey putting a late hit on Julian Edelman after a pass completion from Jimmy Garoppolo. Aaron Dobson rushed to Edelman’s defense. That, plus other camp observations from Foxboro. WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable have you covered.
|08.16.16 at 1:08 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots and Bears held their second of three joint practices Tuesday morning on the backfields of Gillette Stadium under partly sunny skies, but not as hot as the previous few days.
The following players were absent all together: running back Dion Lewis (ACL recovery), running back Brandon Bolden (unknown), linebacker Shea McClelin (unknown), offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper (foot), offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer (PUP) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (injured Monday).
Nate Ebner returned to the practice field, but wasn’t in pads. He along with Rob Ninkovich, Tre’ Jackson (not in pads), Bryce Williams, Donald Brown, D.J. Foster, Keshawn Martin, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola (not in pads) went down to the lower fields for conditioning work after stretching and didn’t return.
Logan Ryan remained in a red, non-contact jersey.
The highlights included more intensity between the two teams with several players pushing and shoving after plays and Bryan Stork being ejected. Julian Edelman participated in team drills for the first time since his injury and excelled.
Here are more observations from the just over two-hour session:
— After team stretching the teams did 1-on-1s. Tom Brady started with the running backs, but then halfway through switched with Jimmy Garoppolo so he could work with the receivers. This has become must-watch whenever Edelman goes, as he’s shown off just how quick his feet are every time he goes, typically turning defenders around every rep. On the other side of the field, Alshon Jeffrey had a field day with the Pats’ corners going up against Logan Ryan a few times and once against Malcolm Butler, a day after their fight. Jeffrey beat him deep up the sideline on the one rep.
|08.16.16 at 10:36 am ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots and Bears got into a training camp fight on Monday, but scuffles like that are nothing new for New England. Here’s a look back at some of the more memorable summer dustups over the last decade-plus:
2015: Defensive lineman Malcom Brown and offensive lineman Ryan Groy were caught going at it at the end of an August camp practice. On a fight scale, it was relatively uneventful, notable only because it was the only real throwdown of the summer.
2014: This one never got to the level of fisticuffs, but cornerback Brandon Browner and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins got a little physical in a passing drill, one that sparked a heated argument with wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea.
2012: There were several practice fights over the course of camp. There were three at the in-stadium practice that year (with the biggest involving Nate Solder and Brandon Spikes) and two the following day at practice (one of which involved Ryan Wendell and Bobby Carpenter). It culminated with a skirmish between wide receiver Julian Edelman and special teamer Niko Koutouvides later that month.
2003: Newcomer Rodney Harrison arrived in style that summer, mixing it up with several of his new teammates. It never reached the same nutty level that things did Monday in the battle between the Bears and Patriots, but Harrison squared off with Troy Brown, Matt Light and Kevin Faulk at different points along the way.
In the context, it’s also worth passing along this story from former New England, Seattle and Dallas defensive lineman Chad Eaton. Take this for what it’s worth, but he told the Dayton Daily News in 2011 that Belichick paid him to start fights with teammates when he was a member of the Browns practice squad in 1995. “If practice was going slow, he’d look at me and just say, ‘It’s time,’” Eaton told the Daily News. “He wanted me to get on somebody’s (case) and start a little fight. I was known for that and it paid off on Fridays. There’d always be some extra money in my locker.”
|08.16.16 at 10:14 am ET|
FOXBORO — So much for any lingering effect from Monday’s joint practice scuffle between the Patriots and Bears.
Bill Belichick, asked Tuesday before another full pads practice outside Gillette, if there might be any carryover from one day to the next after the confrontation between Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery and Patriots corner Malcolm Butler.
“Nah, we’ve moved on,” Belichick answered. “Thought we handled it pretty quickly. We’ve moved on [Monday], moved onto today.”
The Patriots and Bears were both put through the paces after Monday’s practice, an apparent reminder that fights in practices won’t be tolerated. Both teams ran the hill on the back of the practice field, with the Patriots offensive linemen pushing a blocking sled 100 yards in the heat.
Belichick was reminded that he sat down Aaron Dobson after a run-in with Eagles corner Cary Williams in a joint practice in 2013. Williams said he picked the fight with Dobson to send a message to the Patriots. Belichick indicated that no such discipline would be forthcoming for Butler, who was sent immediately from practice for his involvement in the scuffle.
“I think they’ll all be out there today,” Belichick said.
Later in the press conference Tuesday, Belichick was asked if there might be any positives to come from Monday’s intensity.
“We’re just out there trying to get better,” the coach answered.
Latest from Bleacher Report
- Updates on Patriots OT Sebastian Vollmer Injury
- Latest Updates on Tom Brady's Thumb Injury
- Malcolm Mitchell Injury: Updates on Patriots WR's Elbow
- Tom Brady Comments on Suspension, Decision to Drop Deflategate Appeal
- Latest Updates on Bryan Stork's Concussion
- Gronk Is Too Good to Be NFL's Highest-Paid TE
- Rob Gronkowski Contract: Latest News, Rumors on TE's Negotiations with...