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Dominique Easley, Brandon Bolden not spotted on field prior to Patriots-Panthers

08.22.14 at 7:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The following Patriots players were not spotted on the field in full uniform prior to the Patriots-Panthers third preseason game Friday night: wide receiver Aaron Dobson, running backs Tyler Gaffney and Brandon Bolden, linebacker Cameron Gordon, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui, offensive linemen Chris Jones, Bryan Stork and Sebastian Vollmer and defensive linemen Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones.

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Setting the scene: Patriots host Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers in dress rehearsal

08.22.14 at 5:10 pm ET
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Bill Belichick is on the cover of GAMEDAY as the Patriots host the Panthers. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Bill Belichick is on the cover of GAMEDAY as the Patriots host the Panthers. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — As was the case last week, the Patriots will be playing a summer preseason game in very fall-like conditions as temperatures are expected to be in the low 70s with partly cloudy skies for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

There is no precipitation in the forecast, with a breeze expected out of the east at 10 MPH.

This is the game where Tom Brady, along with the rest of the Patriots starters, are expected to play at least the first half, barring any injury. Brady said this week he is looking forward to the picking up the tempo under all game conditions that are presented.

Linebacker Jerod Mayo, after missing last week for an unspecified reason, practiced this week and could get his first taste of preseason action.

Rob Gronkowski also took a step forward this week, joining in on 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 contact drills but is not expected to play. It would not be surprising to see the tight end skip the entire preseason and attempt to make his debut on opening day in Miami on Sept. 7, as he said this week was his intention.

Gronkowski and Mayo were among several Patriots taking part in pregame sideline-to-sideline sprints at 5 p.m. with trainer Jim Whelan and strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera, two and a half hours before kickoff. Also in the group of wind sprinters were Sebastian Vollmer and Dont’a Hightower. That is usually an indication that they won’t be dressing and playing.

The Vollmer sighting is significant, as he missed all three full practices this week and is likely to sit out the third game.

There’s something else to consider. When Brady comes out of the game, either Jimmy Garoppolo or Ryan Mallett will enter the game. If it’s Mallett, there are several teams with scouts on hand to watch.

Nine teams have scouts at the game, including Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, Minnesota, the Giants, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

Mallett played the entire second half against the Eagles and had impressive moments. Garoppolo played in the first half after Brady came out after two series.

Read More: 2014 training camp, Carolina Panthers, Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots

Fantasy Football: High-value targets revisited

08.22.14 at 11:03 am ET
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WEEI_FantasyFootball_2014_hdr

A few weeks back, before training camps opened, we took a look at fantasy value based on a player’s average draft position. It’s the best way to estimate what a player’s price tag will be on draft day. Today I will update the prices of those players and I’ll add a few new options as well. It seemed like a good idea with so many fantasy drafts taking place this weekend. The players from the original article have their prior ADP in parentheses, and the original analysis in italics, followed by the updated outlook.

As we like to do at Rotobahn, we’ll be counting the values down from late selections to the early ones. A good journalist might call that burying the lead, but most fantasy footballers know the great players as well as the experts do. It’s the deep part of the talent pool where you can gain a big competitive advantage.

Jim Hackett and I will get into some of these players in Friday’s podcast and on the WEEI Fantasy Football Hour, so be sure to tune in. Our third show airs this Sunday at 7:30 a.m on 93.7.

For a look at our take on the top 500 fantasy options for 2014, head on over to Rotobahn, where you will also find scouting reports on over 60 rookies and projections for the upcoming season. Our cheat sheets are free, customizable and updated frequently.

If you’ve missed any of our preseason fantasy football content, you can access it below.

ADP data was obtained at Fantasy Football Calculator.

Andrew Hawkins, WR, Browns — ADP 187 (224)

He’s not being drafted at all in smaller leagues, and you can get him very late in large formats, as his ADP indicates. That’s not bad for a player who could be the Browns’ top receiver in 2014. Frankly, if he stays healthy, I can’t see anybody else on the roster outplaying him. In fairness, that speaks to how underrated Hawkins currently is, but it also speaks to how woefully thin Cleveland is at receiver.

Update: The word is getting out. Hawkins has jumped up significantly, but he’s still a solid value. He’s the one receiver in Cleveland who can get open consistently.

Odell Beckham, Jr., Giants — ADP 184 (163)

Do not wait until 163 to draft this guy. Beckham, for whatever reason, is being ignored in fantasy circles and we think he’s a potential WR3 in 12-team leagues. As we said in his Rotobahn scouting report, Beckham has perhaps the best hands we’ve seen since we scouted Michael Crabtree. He’s also got all the skills you want a receiver to have, including outstanding agility and speed. He should fit right into the Giants offense and could be a fantasy force from Day 1. He’s a steal at his current ADP.

Update: The rookie has been struggling since he injured his hamstring early on in camp. I have no choice but to downgrade Beckham, and I have. Guess what? He’s still a nice upside pick at his old ADP and a potential steal at his new one. Do not let this guy go undrafted in large leagues. He could really pay off once he gets healthy.

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What to watch for in Patriots-Panthers preseason contest Friday

08.22.14 at 8:00 am ET
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Here are seven things we’re looking for when the Patriots host the Panthers Friday night in Foxboro in the third preseason game for both teams.

How much Tom Brady plays.

If history holds, Brady will play roughly 35-40 snaps over the course of Friday night’s game. Here’s a look at his workload in the third preseason game over the seven years:

2013: 16-for-24 for 185 yards and one pick in 45 snaps.
2012: 13-for-20 for 127 yards with 1 TD, one INT, 2 sacks in 45 snaps.
2011: 12-for-22 for 145 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT in 37 snaps. (In this one, Brady was knocked around pretty good in this game against a physical Lions front — he was sacked twice, fumbled once and was hit seven times.)
2010: 18-for-22 for 273 yards with 3 TDs in 30 snaps.
2009: 12-for-19 for 150 yards with 2 TDs, one sack in 29 snaps,
2008: DNP.
2007: 17-for-22 for 167 yards with 2 TDs (no snap information available).

Ideally, that would get him through the entirety of the first half and the first offensive series of the second half — it’s important for Brady and the starting offense to do as much as possible to simulate the regular-season experience. That includes finishing off the first half, taking the traditional break at halftime, and then returning to the field for the first series of the second half.

How much Stevan Ridley plays and if he holds on to the ball.

Ridley was in the spotlight again last week after losing the handle in the preseason win over the Eagles. Fair or not, his issues with ball security will continue to dog him until he proves he can hold on to the football for an extended stretch. Against Philly — even though it was a flukish looking fumble — it probably wasn’t entirely coincidental that he didn’t play any more after he put the ball on the ground, ending with 13 snaps. If he can put together a fumble-free outing against the Panthers, it’s an initial step in the right direction.

How the defense adjusts to the new points of emphasis.

We’ve seen a ton of flags over the course of the preseason as every gets used to the new points of emphasis. (According to ESPN Stats & Information, as of Thursday night, there were 116 defensive holding calls through Week 3 of the preseason. In the same stretch last year, there were 27.) While some cornerbacks have fundamentally shrugged their shoulders at the situation, it seems like there will be some sort of happy medium between now and the start of the regular season, as head of officiating Dean Blandino told NFL Network Thursday night, “When the regular season rolls around, everybody will be on the same page. I think you’ll see the foul totals go down.” Whether that means the officials will dial things back or the players will be fully up to speed on what they can and can’t do, no one knows. But the education for both the Patriots and Panthers will continue on Friday in Foxboro.

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Shane Vereen says nerves are ‘absolutely’ building as regular season approaches

08.21.14 at 9:42 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Perhaps the most important part of preparing for the third preseason game is the shift in the mental focus.

Shane Vereen, a running back and multi-talented and multi-faceted part of the Patriots offense, should feel pretty confident and sure of his place on the 53-man roster when final cuts are made on Aug. 30.

But it’s the nerves and mental preparation of this week that help him get fired up and focused with the regular season opener just three weeks from Sunday.

“Absolutely, I’d say say so,” Vereen said when asked if getting into a regular season week type of routine this week helps. “But at the end of the day you still have to work on what you have to work on and that’s what we’re trying to get out of this week.”

Of course, the main reason outsiders view this week as so important is that it’s traditionally the week starters play the first half and in some cases, come out to start the third quarter to simulate a regular season NFL game.

“I think people might say just because the starters play more so than they have in the past two games but at the same time, you have to look at each opportunity, each rep, as an opportunity, as a chance to get better and prepare yourself for Sept. 7,” Vereen added.

Vereen once again will be called upon to fill many different roles in the Patriots offense, including one of the most reliable third-down options Tom Brady has, along with Julian Edelman. Vereen says he has seen Brady up close and personal enough to know that there are some things that don’t change, like Brady’s game focus and his expectation of precision in execution.

“I can’t say I’ve learned a whole lot, because this is my fourth year now,” Vereen said. “I’ve seen him lead us now for three seasons. He does exactly what he’s done every other year. He’s led us well, he’s led the offense well and we look forward to seeing that from him for the rest of the year.”

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Read More: 2014 training camp, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Shane Vereen

Tom Brady isn’t afraid of (preseason) blitzes: ‘You figure out how to solve the problem’

08.21.14 at 6:08 pm ET
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Tom Brady isn't afraid of a little preseason pressure from defenses as was case against Philadelphia in Week 2. (Getty Images)

Tom Brady isn’t afraid of a little preseason pressure from defenses as was case against Philadelphia in Week 2. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — As far as Tom Brady is concerned, go ahead and bring the heat, even in the preseason.

And certainly, with the Carolina Panthers coming to town Friday, the opponent certainly has the wherewithal to execute a blitz or two.

But usually, in the preseason, defensive coordinators like to hold off on showing too much on film when it comes to exotic or advanced defensive approaches. And offensive coordinators, similarly, do the same.

However, usual and customary are not two words commonly used to describe Rex Ryan. The Jets coach watched last Saturday as his defense was torched by Andy Dalton for 144 yards on 8-for-8 passing and a touchdown. His response? Start blitzing the Bengals second and third stringers along the offensive line.

Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander took some offense.

But if the Panthers want to do the same from the start against Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback says he’d have no problem with it, since there is no “wrong” defense to play, even in the third preseason game.

“They can blitz, they can do whatever they want to do,” Brady said. “Every defense is right. Like every call, there is risk and reward to everything. If they’€™re going to blitz, then you’€™ve got to figure out a way to beat the blitz. If you don’€™t fix the blitz, they’€™re just going to keep running them. It’€™s the same thing on offense.”

Then Brady got to the heart of the matter and revealed what competition is all about, even in games that don’t count.

“If you see a weakness, you’€™re just going to keep going to it, and that’€™s what separates pro-caliber players from guys who aren’€™t. There are guys who can fix problems and know that this is what a team is trying to do, and then you figure out how to solve the problem, and then they’€™ve got to work on something else. But if you know there are weaknesses, that’€™s what you go after. That’€™s what pro football is all about.

“We’€™ve got two games left, and they’€™re both very important for our season, for our preparation leading up to the opener. Coach told us we’€™re going to get a lot of work, and what that means I don’€™t know. I don’€™t think anyone ever knows with him. But we’€™ll be prepared and ready to go for 60 minutes, and hopefully it’€™s a good 60 minutes. We’€™ve had a couple doozies in the third preseason game lately, and it’€™d be nice to have a good one.”

Brady also took some time to talk about the other Ohio team, which named its starting quarterback this week, old friend and teammate Brian Hoyer, Brady’s back-up between 2009 and 2011. Hoyer was chosen as the Browns starting QB over Johnny Manziel this week by Cleveland coach Mike Pettine.

“I love Brian. He’€™s just such a great guy, person and friend. We’€™ve always kept in touch,” Brady said. “I’€™m proud of him. He’€™s fought through some tough circumstances over the years, being released here, going to Arizona, getting a little bit of an opportunity there, and then really taking advantage of his opportunity in Cleveland. It’€™s great for him, and he’€™s a great player, so I’€™m very happy for him.”

Read More: 2014 training camp, Andy Dalton, blitz, Brian Hoyer

Patriots release DE Marcus Forston, TE D.J. Williams

08.21.14 at 4:49 pm ET
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The Patriots released defensive lineman Marcus Forston and tight end D.J. Williams on Thursday. Here’s a portion of the statement issued by the team on the moves:

Forston, 24, was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent on May 10, 2012, out of Miami. The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder made the 53-man roster of training camp as a rookie but was released early in the season and brought back to the practice squad, where he spent the majority of the season. He eventually re-joined the 53-man roster prior to the AFC Championship Game but was inactive for the contest. He spent the majority of the 2013 season on the practice squad but had two stints on the 53-man roster, appearing in three games and registering three total tackles. Forston has played in four NFL games and has registered three total tackles.

Williams, 25, appeared in two regular-season games during two separate stints with the Patriots late last season. He first signed with the Patriots on Nov. 27, 2013, and then was re-signed on Dec. 9, 2014 after being released. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder originally entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick (101st overall) by Green Bay out of Arkansas in 2011. Williams was waived by Green Bay on Aug. 31, 2013, and claimed off waivers and awarded to Jacksonville on Sept. 1, 2013. He was released by the Jaguars on Nov. 4, 2013. Williams has played in 35 NFL games with three starts and has nine receptions for 70 yards.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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