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In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players in preseason

08.29.14 at 4:55 pm ET
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James White

James White

Every week, we list the Patriots’€™ “offensive touches,”€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for the 2014 preseason:

RB Jonas Gray: 37 (37 rushes)
RB James White: 33 (29 rushes, 4 catches)
RB Roy Finch: 20 (13 rushes, 7 catches)
RB Stevan Ridley: 19 (19 rushes)
RB Shane Vereen: 14 (7 rush, 7 catches)
WR Brian Tyms: 11 (11 catches)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 11 (11 catches)
WR Julian Edelman: 10 (10 catches)
WR Josh Boyce: 8 (7 catches, 1 rush)
FB Taylor McCuller: 6 (2 rushes, 4 catches)
WR Brandon LaFell: 6 (6 catches)
QB Ryan Mallett: 5 (5 rushes), 3 sacks
TE Tim Wright: 4 (4 catches)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: 4 (4 rushes), 3 sacks
WR Aaron Dobson: 3 (3 catches)
WR Danny Amendola: 3 (3 catches)
RB Brandon Bolden: 3 (3 rushes)
RB Stephen Houston: 3 (3 rushes)
FB James Develin: 3 (3 catches)
WR Jeremy Gallon: 2 (2 catches)
WR Derrick Johnson: 2 (2 catches)
WR Wilson Van Hooser: 1 (1 catch)
QB Tom Brady: 1 (1 rush)
TE Steve Maneri: 1 (1 catch)

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Tracking opportunities in Patriots preseason passing game

08.29.14 at 4:42 pm ET
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Brian Tyms

Brian Tyms

Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains a vaguely imperfect stat — a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback — it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the New England passing game for the 2014 preseason:

WR Brian Tyms: 11 catches on 18 targets
WR Josh Boyce: 7 catches on 17 targets
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 11 catches on 15 targets
WR Brandon LaFell: 6 catches on 13 targets
RB Roy Finch: 6 catches on 12 targets
WR Julian Edelman: 10 catches on 10 targets
WR Aaron Dobson: 3 catches on 9 targets
RB Shane Vereen: 7 catches on 7 targets
FB Taylor McCuller: 4 catches on 6 targets
TE Tim Wright: 4 catches on 6 targets
RB James White: 4 catches on 5 targets
WR Danny Amendola: 3 catches on 5 targets
FB James Develin: 3 catches on 4 targets
WR Jeremy Gallon: 2 catches on 4 targets
WR Derrick Johnson: 2 catches on 2 targets
TE Steve Maneri: 1 catch on 2 targets
WR Wilson Van Hooser: 1 catch on 1 target
TE Justin Jones: 0 catches on 1 target

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Aaron Dobson’s performance in preseason finale sparks optimism about his second year with Patriots

08.29.14 at 4:34 pm ET
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Aaron Dobson

Aaron Dobson

When it came to the preseason finale, one of the most encouraging thing for Patriots fans was the fact that wide receiver Aaron Dobson saw game action for the first time all summer. The second-year Marshall product — who has struggled with foot issues at the end of the last season, which ultimately prompted him to have offseason surgery, caught three passes for 57 yards and a touchdown Thursday against the Giants.

“€œAt that point in time, I’€™€™m not really worried about my foot, I’€™€™m just playing football,” said Dobson after the game. “It was long process: from sitting out the offseason to sitting in the film room to starting to run. It just feels really good to get back out there on the field and be with my teammates.”

In a conference call with reporters on Friday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Dobson, who was sidelined for the duration of the spring workouts, as well as a sizable portion of training camp.

“I do think Aaron has done a good job keeping up with everything mentally — and he’€™s a smart kid, that’€™s not really been a big problem with him anyway,” Belichick said. “I think the main thing now, well, twofold: one, last night was for him to actually play and get hit and catch the ball and get some confidence that he’€™s going to catch the ball and get hit and get up and everything is going to be alright. He certainly had a number of those last night. Now, it’€™s a continuation of refining his technique and timing with the quarterbacks. That process already started.

“I mean, we’€™re well underway in the last couple weeks, but it’€™s always a little different in the games and it was good that he was able to get that process started this week and for him to know where he is and for us to know where he is and the to build on it. I’€™m sure it will be better in succeeding weeks here as we do it more. It’€™s good to see him out there, good to see him be productive and make some plays. We’€™ll just continue to rep it in practice and the opportunities he gets during the games, hopefully we can build on some of the things that happened [Thursday] night.”

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Bill Belichick: Tim Wright played ‘pretty well’ in Patriots debut

08.29.14 at 3:53 pm ET
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One day after his Patriots’ debut, Bill Belichick said tight end Tim Wright “handled the situation [Thursday] pretty well” for someone who had two days of practice with his new team.

Wright, who had four catches for 43 yards in the preseason finale, was acquired from the Bucs earlier in the week in exchange for offensive lineman Logan Mankins.

“I think the big thing for him and for the rest of the team, for us, is just that chance we had to get him to actually play in our system,” Belichick said of the Rutgers product. “Even though it was an abbreviated way of doing it, it’€™s a lot better than next week being the first time that all those things happen. So that was good.

“I think he learned a lot. We saw some things that for him ‘€“ in other words, what are going to be the biggest differences? What are things that are going to be things that are pretty similar, pretty familiar, not really a problem? What are going to be some things that are going to be a little bit more of a learning curve for him? And a lot of that really crystalized [Thursday[ night that he can feedback for us and we can see in working with him that he’€™s pretty far along on these things and maybe not as far along on maybe something else, so I think that was the benefit last night for that particular player.”

After the game, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo called Wright a “very intelligent player.” Belichick acknowledged Friday that Wright was able to do well when it came to absorbing a lot of information in a relatively short time.

“I mean, it certainly wasn’€™t perfect,” Belichick said. “But he picked all that up pretty quickly, and when he got into the game, didn’€™t forget it.

“Sometimes it’€™s one thing to sit in the meeting and go over it and feel like yeah, you’€™ve got it, and OK, you hear this you’€™re going to do that. It’€™s another thing to actually go out there and do it at full speed in a game situation. He handled quite a bit of information in a short amount of time pretty well, so that was good. Now this week, obviously, he’€™ll be starting at the beginning like everybody else will in terms of our game plan and preparations for Miami, so we’€™ll just take it day by day and see how it goes. But I thought he handled a lot of information pretty well.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Jimmy Garoppolo, Logan Mankins, Tim Wright

Jerod Mayo on MFB: ‘It’s tough to lose a brother’ in Logan Mankins

08.29.14 at 12:45 pm ET
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Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo joined Middays with MFB on Friday, following the team’s final preseason game of the season Thursday night. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The big news around the team this week was the trade of stalwart offensive lineman Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers.

“It’s always tough when you lose a brother like Logan, a guy who’s been here his entire career,” Mayo said. “At the end of the day, we still recognize that it’s a business, and decisions have to be made. Coach [Bill] Belichick obviously felt that was the best thing for this team for now and for the future.

“It’s tough. Anytime you go through multiple training camps, multiple seasons with a guy, it’s tough to lose a brother.”

Mayo communicated with Mankins after the trade.

“Obviously he was hurt a little bit,” Mayo said. “Like I said, we’re a family here. As his teammates we stick together through thick and thin. But he also recognizes that it’s a business. Sometimes moves have to be made, and we all have a time. NFL they always say stands for ‘Not For Long.’ We have to enjoy these moments that we have with each other, because you never know when it’s your last.”

The team must reduce the roster to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday. Despite his status as one of the veteran leaders, Mayo said he still gets uncomfortable when a staff member walks through the locker room to contact players who will be cut.

“Honestly, and I know you guys will probably think I’m full of it, since my rookie year I’ve always had this: Anytime a guy goes around grabbing people, I never look him in his eye. Because you never know when your time’s up. You never know when your time’s up,” he said. “I just always keep my head down and go to work every day and try to go out there and do my job, man, and hopefully everything falls into place.”

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Read More: Jerod Mayo, Jimmy Garoppolo, Logan Mankins, Tom Brady

Tim Wright found it ‘easy to get prepared’ for his Patriots debut

08.29.14 at 1:39 am ET
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Tim Wright hopes to be celebrating in the end zone with his new Patriots teammates. (Getty Images)

Tim Wright hopes to be celebrating in the end zone with his new Patriots teammates. (Getty Images)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Two days to get accustomed to a brand new NFL playbook may seem overwhelming to many in the game.

But to new Patriots tight end Tim Wright, it’s just part of the job. He caught four passes on six targets for 43 yards from Jimmy Garoppolo on Thursday night in a 16-13 loss to the Giants at MetLife Stadium.

“He had a lot of production last year catching the ball, so we gave him a few snaps tonight and see how it goes,” Bill Belichick said, referring to his 54 catches as a rookie tight end in 2013 for 571 yards and five touchdowns. “I think Coach [Brian] Daboll and Coach [Josh] McDaniels did a good job of getting him ready for a few things. It looked like he was able to do them. There were obviously a few mistakes but he was able to function OK.”

“You know, it’€™s a great opportunity,” Wright said. “This is a great organization led by great coaches and I’€™m just taking it one day at a time. You know it’€™s still early, I’€™ve got a lot to learn and I’€™m just ready to go.”

Wright, wearing No. 81, appeared ready to assume the role that the Patriots have been missing since the departure of Aaron Hernandez. When Logan Mankins was traded to Tampa Bay on Tuesday and he was sent packing for New England, Wright was given a chance to contribute immediately. Clearly, he felt comfortable enough to give it a try Thursday night.

“I mean, it’€™s business,” Wright said. “Football is football so it’€™s easy to get prepared. We’€™ve got great coaches, like I said, to get me ready and I was ready to go.”

How surprised was he by the trade?

“You know, I know the business, things happen and you have to stay ready, you have to stay on your toes and that’€™s what I did,” Wright said.

As for the presumption that Wright can fill the same role as Hernandez in the offense, Belichick seemed a little more reserved.

“I don’t know. We’ll see how he does in our offense,” Belichick said.

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Aaron Dobson returns with a touchdown: ‘I’m not really worried about my foot’

08.29.14 at 1:31 am ET
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It would be understandable if Aaron Dobson had some hesitation in his game Thursday night in the preseason finale.

But despite having a pin placed in his left foot in March to help a stress fracture heal, Dobson looked like his old self, catching three passes for 57 yards while being targeted nine times in a 16-13 loss to the Giants. The most impressive play was his leaping 33-yard grab over a defender along the deep left sideline on a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo.

Dobson not only had to run the “go-route” aggressively, he had to out-jump the defensive back for the ball and then land hard on the turf.

“That’€™s just instinct,” Dobson said. “At that point in time, I’€™m not really worried about my foot, I’€™m just playing football.

“It was long process: from sitting out the offseason to sitting in the film room to starting to run. It just feels really good to get back out there on the field and be with my teammates.”

His coach agreed.

“It was good for him to get some game action, go out there and get hit a little bit and make a couple of plays,” Bill Belichick said. “It took him a while. He started off training camp on the reserve and then came off and started to get some activity and worked his way back into practice and was able to get back on the field tonight so that was positive.

“It was a process and he’s had to take each step along the way to get to the next level. Tonight was the first night he played and it was good to see him out there.”

Dobson said there was one thing not quite up to par – his game conditioning.

“It felt good,” he said. “You know, I got tired at times but I’€™m improving.”

Now Dobson can go about the work of competing with a deep group of receivers that includes Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins and Brian Tyms, all of whom got significant playing time in the preseason before Dobson took his first snap Thursday night.

“It’€™s going to bring the best out of you, Dobson said. “I feel like our receiving corps is close and we have a brotherhood going on, but at the same time we’€™re competing. Us being that close is just bringing the best out of us.”

Read More: Aaron Dobson, New England Patriots,
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