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Rob Gronkowski: ‘I feel like I’ve improved a lot’ since start of camp

08.16.12 at 5:44 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There was some question as to how offseason ankle surgery would affect tight end Rob Gronkowski, but after an uneven first couple of weeks, the big tight end appears to be feeling better. At least, that’s the assessment he gave after Thursday’s practice.

“Every day you’re going out there and you want to improve, (and) from beginning of camp to this day, I feel like I’ve improved a lot from where I started,” he said after practice on Thursday.

“It’s just great going out and competing versus everyone. Going out there every single day, you get the speed of the game down more, you get the chemistry down with the quarterbacks more. Just overall, you get better just being out there facing competition every day.”

Gronkowski, who was sidelined for three practices earlier this week — he was in a T-shirt and sweats running sprints while the rest of his teammates knocked heads — was anxious to get back into the rhythm of the offense.

“Obviously, there’s always a setback when you miss a couple. You never want to,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 thing, always, to get out there and practice and get your conditioning right and always have the chemistry with the offense.

“It’s just a little bit of everything,” he added. “You just always want to be out there with the team.”

It’s been an interesting camp for tight ends, as newcomers Daniel Fells and Visanthe Shiancoe have struggled to see the field. Meanwhile, Aaron Hernandez has dealt with his own share of bumps and bruises, while Alex Silvestro continues to make strides in his transition from defensive end to tight end.

All in all, Gronkowski says that they’ve done well as a group.

“We’re doing good. There’s always room to improve, every single aspect of the game — especially including myself, going out there and improving in all areas, from the passing game to the running game. Just try and get better every single day you’re out there. We have to keep on improving and do our own job out there all the time.”

And when it comes to Hernandez and his work this summer, Gronkowski said it’s been the same old, same old with the versatile pass-catcher, who has lined up all over the field throughout camp.

“You always see a lot from Aaron — he’s very versatile. He’s a great athlete who can play basically play anywhere they ask him to,” Gronkowski said. “It’s great playing with him. You learn so much from him quickness, from his burst, how he gets open. Just seeing the same old Aaron you have the last two years. Just a really good player.”

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Rob Gronkowski,

The competitive side of Wes Welker: ‘We’ll see how the defense holds up’

08.16.12 at 10:34 am ET
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FOXBORO — Wes Welker has heard just about enough about how much the defense is handing it to the offense in this camp.

On Monday, Welker was asked why the defense is doing so well in bottling him up during 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills.

“They’re doing a great job of holding,” Welker said in his typical dead pan voice, before breaking into a smile and giving credit to the defense.

Then, on Wednesday, after two more days of the defense intercepting the quarterback and forcing coverage sacks, Welker was asked about the competition level of the defense.

“Obviously they’re doing a good job and it’€™s been a very competitive camp on both sides of the ball and that’€™s what we need,” Welker began. “That’s how we get better ‘€“ being competitive with each other and really going out there and battling with each other and trying to get better daily. And we’€™ll see. We’€™ll see on all fronts how the offense holds up, how the defense holds up, how the team holds up as a whole. All of that remains to be seen.”

Of course, Welker wants the Patriots defense to continue its great play in the regular season. And he made it clear that all three units need to be clicking if the Patriots are going to reach their goals this season.

Along with Aaron Hernandez, Welker has looked the best among the Patriots deep receiving corps this summer. One time during red zone drills on Wednesday, Tom Brady rolled out to his right, and threw incomplete to Welker in coverage and not to an open Brandon Lloyd.

Belichick explained part of that rationale Wednesday.

“Every interception in practice or every play that doesn’€™t get made in practice isn’€™t necessarily a bad play,” Belichick said. “I think we can all learn from those plays, provided that we do learn from them and then apply it in a similar situation the next time it comes up. But particularly at the quarterback position, there are some balls that you try to stick in there and you learn that you just can’€™t do that.

“There are other times, you learn that, ‘€˜Yeah, I can. There are times when this play is OK and it will work.’€™ Then there are other plays that you realize that you can’€™t do that. Sometimes that’€™s part of it. That’€™s true of all quarterbacks, I’€™m not singling anybody out. I would say every one that I’€™ve coached ‘€“ particularly one that I’€™ve coached here for a long time ‘€“ we talk about that all the time: You can always make the safe throw and just take the easy throw then that’€™s OK. But at some point, you’€™re going to have to do more than that and you better know what you can do and what you can’€™t do. Better to find out in practice then in the middle of the fourth quarter that, ‘€˜No, I can’€™t. I don’€™t want to be doing that.’€™ That’€™s not the time for it.”

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, nfl

10 things we learned Wednesday from Patriots training camp

08.15.12 at 11:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€“ The Patriots held their third straight day of practice in full pads on the upper practice fields Tuesday. The team will hold their final two open practices of camp – and the season – on Thursday and Friday from 1:30-4. The team likely will be off Saturday, the same day Bruce Springsteen plays Gillette Stadium. Camp will break as the team likely will have a walkthrough on Sunday before hosting the Eagles Monday night at Gillette.

ROLL CALL

The biggest news was the return of Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd to uniform practice. Gronkowski hadn’t been on the field practicing since the preseason opener last Thursday. He had spent the last three days in sweats and a t-shirt. Hernandez hadn’t practiced since shorts and shells on Sunday while Lloyd spent the last two days on the exercise machines.

With the roster still at 88 players, there were only 72 in full uniform as nine were in shorts and went through only conditioning exercises while seven were not spotted at all.

Among the seven not seen Wednesday were safety Malcolm Williams, fullback Eric Kettani, offensive lineman Matt Kopa, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, tight end Jake Ballard and defensive linemen Gerard Warren and Jonathan Fanene.

The nine players in shorts included Myron Pryor, Daniel Fells, defensive back Alfonzo Dennard, offensive tackle Markus Zusevics, linebacker Tracy White, safety James Ihedigbo, fullback Spencer Larsen and offensive linemen Kyle Hix and Sebastian Vollmer.

Here are nine other things we learned from camp Wednesday.

MANKINS IN FULL PADS

For the first time since hitting the practice field in shorts on Sunday, Logan Mankins was in full pads on Wednesday. His load was increased as he took more snaps in 11-on-11 drills, as well as agility drills. It’s a positive sign that he has made positive steps each day this week, increasing his work load each day. “I think we all know and think that Logan is one of the tougher players on our team,” Bill Belichick said earlier in the day. “We have a lot of tough guys, but he’€™s got a lot of physical and mental toughness, no question about that.”

GAFFNEY INJURED

Jabar Gaffney pulled up a bit lame, grabbing his right quadriceps after beating Devin McCourty on a 1-on-1 matchup in receiver-cornerback drills. Tom Brady lofted up a pass for the deep right sideline and Gaffney, who beat McCourty clearly, couldn’t catch up and limped to the sideline under his own power. He was treated by training staff and seen by doctor Tom Gill before heading to the sidelines, where he spent of the rest of practice watching without his shoulder pads on. In what could be construed as a good sign, he did not leave the practice field until practice was completely over.

OFFENSIVE UNEVEN

It was not a good day for the offensive line. Several times in 11-on-11 drills, players like Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich broke through and plays were whistled dead as sacks. Lineman Darrion Weems took several laps for various transgressions. At one point, Tom Brady yelled at his offensive mates to hurry up to the line and get things together as they worked hurry-up offense close to the red zone. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Aaron Hernandez, Logan Mankins, New England Patriots

Want to try the Patriots’ conditioning test? Good luck

08.15.12 at 11:07 am ET
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Every preseason, there’s always at least one guy who fails the Patriots conditioning test, and it inevitably becomes a story for one of us in the media. With that in mind, I decided to take a shot at trying to pass this year, specifically the one they give to linemen — two sets of 10 40-yard dashes in six seconds or less, with 30 seconds in between. (You would be surprised how long 40 yards is, and how difficult it is to get your body to move that fast.) With our trusty timekeeper alongside, we decided to give it a shot.

In WEEI.com fashion, we learned a few things. 1) I am not a fast man. In fact, despite being able to run a couple of miles at a stretch, I am remarkably slow and have a gait comparable to a Clydesdale. 2) I have a new level of respect for the level of fitness when it comes to the big guys in the trenches. 3) I should have stretched better before and after this — four days later, I was still sore. Anyway, I think I did pretty well for a 240-pound sportswriter. (I’ll let you watch to see if I passed.) I hope you enjoy the video, and thanks to cameraman Peter Neudel for not laughing too hard and cutting out all the really embarrassing stuff.

Steve Gregory: A different type of safety for Patriots

08.15.12 at 10:56 am ET
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FOXBORO — When the Patriots watched Steve Gregory when he was with the Chargers, they saw a different kind of defensive back.

“Versatile player,” Patriots personnel man Nick Caserio said of the 29-year-old safety, who stands 5-foot-11. “He had played a little bit of corner in college. Maybe a little bit undersized just from a height, weight, speed standpoint for the safety position; 190 pounds, but was real fast, aggressive, very instinctive player, matched up well.”

How well? The Patriots saw him go from safety to man coverage when the opposing offense went with an empty set or an extra wide receiver package.

“They played him a little bit at their money position or in some of their dime packages, played him close to the line of scrimmage,” Caserio said. “Steve has done a nice job. He’€™s a versatile player; he was able to do a number of different things in San Diego’€™s defense. I think some of the things that we’€™re doing are a little bit different, just systematically but he’€™s indoctrinated myself into our system well. He’€™s done a nice job to this point. He’€™s been here since day one of the offseason and so far so good.”

So good, indeed. He has three interceptions in camp so far. He had one on Thursday night in the preseason opener against the Saints. He has been roaming all over the field as the free safety and not missing much, player or ball. Patrick Chung had the other interception in the 7-6 win.

‘€œWe’€™ve been flying around trying to make plays on the ball and priding ourselves on working on our communication and things like that,” Gregory said after Tuesday’s camp session. “It’€™s been getting better every day.’€

His work with Chung so far seems to be the perfect ying-yang fit in the Patriots secondary.

“The more we get to know each other ‘€“ and that goes across the board with all the guys ‘€“ the more we get to know each other, get familiar with playing with each other, the better you can communicate,” Gregory said. “That’€™s what camp’€™s about and that’€™s what we’€™ve been working on.’€

Gregory has four interceptions in his six previous seasons with the Chargers, including a 26-yard pick-six last year.

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, New England Patriots, nfl, Patrick Chung

10 things we learned Tuesday from Patriots training camp

08.14.12 at 11:22 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€“ The Patriots held their second straight day of practice in full pads on the upper practice fields Tuesday. The team announced that it will practice from 1:30-4 Wednesday through Friday. The team likely will be off Saturday, the same day Bruce Springsteen plays Gillette Stadium. Camp will break as the team likely will have a walkthrough on Sunday before hosting the Eagles Monday night at Gillette.

ROLL CALL

The biggest news came off the field as the team confirmed that linebacker Dane Fletcher cleared injury waivers and was immediately placed on season-ending injured reserve. The team also confirmed that wide receiver Britt Davis was released outright after an injury settlement, meaning he is not eligible to rejoin the team on injured reserve. Tuesday’s moves leaves the active roster at 88 players.

Among the remaining players, nine were not seen on Monday, most notably tight end Aaron Hernandez. Also missing were fullback Eric Kettani,, fullback Spencer Larsen, linebacker Tracy White, offensive lineman Matt Kopa, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, tight end Jake Ballard, and defensive linemen Gerard Warren and Jonathan Fanene.

Safeties Malcolm Williams, safety James Ihedigboreturned.

There was again a lengthy list of players in shorts, including Rob Gronkowski defensive linemen Myron Pryor, Daniel Fells, receiver Brandon Lloyd for a second straight day, defensive back Alfonzo Dennard, offensive tackle Markus Zusevics, and offensive linemen Kyle Hix and Sebastian Vollmer.

Here are nine other things we learned from camp Tuesday.

MANKINS STILL HELD BACK

Logan Mankins was in padded pants on Tuesday, but again he was in only shells. The hope is he might be able to finally fully participate on Wednesday in full 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills. Mankins was again primarily an observer on the sidelines, only taking part in agility and technique drills.

PICK PARTY

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett were all victimized by a very aggressive Patriots secondary on Tuesday. All three quarterbacks were intercepted. The secondary forced a number of turnovers, getting their hands on the ball and making good on opportunities to intercept passes. Steve Gregory, Patrick Chung and Kyle Arrington were all able to corral picks, and the defense was especially strong overall during situational work. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Brian Hoyer, New England Patriots, nfl

Brandon Spikes on his approach: ‘Be a shark, it’s Shark Week, you know’

08.14.12 at 8:00 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The middle of the Patriots defense was quiet last week without its most vocal and physical influence.

Brandon Spikes has returned with a vengeance this week after missing four practices and the preseason opener at Gillette against the Saints. He has been making deflections, picking off passes, calling out signals with Jerod Mayo and sniffing out running plays.

The Patriots got a glimpse of just how big a presence he could be in 2011. After 47 tackles in eight regular season games, Spikes took it to a new level in the postseason, registering 26 tackles and a sack in three playoff games, including an 11-tackle performance in Super Bowl XLVI.

He had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and last week may have just been precautionary management to make sure he maintains his aggressive style, a style he said Tuesday will continue this week and this season.

Will his comfort level in Bill Belichick‘s defense mean he’s ready to take his aggressiveness on the ball to a new level?

‘€œAbsolutely. That’€™s my nature. Be aggressive, be a shark ‘€“ it’€™s shark week so you know, of course [laughs],” he said.

If Spikes can stay on the field, it will open up Mayo to be more of a roving linebacker, allowing him to cover backs and tight ends out of the backfield and call signals.

‘€œI think we’€™re doing a great job,” Spikes said Tuesday of the communication going on right now. “A lot of young guys are coming in, making plays; they’€™re high energy guys, flying around [and] that’€™s great. They’€™re catching on to the defense and it’€™s good, we can just build from there. So I think we’€™re having a good camp defensively.

‘€œI feel like over time and over the years, I feel like I’€™m getting better; learning the differences of the defense, where I’€™m supposed to be and where the next guy is. Being the middle linebacker I’€™ve got to kind of direct guys and it’€™s coming a lot easier this year, so hopefully I can just keep getting better.

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
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