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Aaron Hernandez ‘happy’ that Rob Gronkowski landed his big payday

06.12.12 at 8:27 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Aaron Hernandez has no problem with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski getting a chance to cash in before him.

Gronkowski signed a six-year contract extension last week worth almost $54 million. But despite the fact that he and Gronkowski came in as part of the same 2010 draft class, he’€™s not going to complain. Talking with reporters after the Patriots’€™ Tuesday afternoon minicamp session, he said he’€™s happy for his teammate.

‘€œI don’€™t know who could be mad about that,’€ Hernandez said. ‘€œI’€™m happy for him. He deserves it.’€

One of the reasons Hernandez might not be mad is the fact that his teammate likely set the market for talented young tight ends, which means that if Hernandez has another year like he did in 2011 (79 catches, 910 yards, seven touchdowns), he could be next in line for (possibly) a bigger payday before he’€™s scheduled to hit free agency in two seasons.

‘€œYeah, but I’€™ll leave that up to my agents,’€ Hernandez said when asked about the possibility of a big payday in his own future. ‘€œAnd that’€™s that.’€

It has been an odd spring for New England’€™s tight ends. In the three OTA sessions open to the media, Gronkowski hasn’€™t practiced as he continues to work his way back from the high ankle sprain he suffered in last year’€™s playoffs. In addition, newcomer Daniel Fells has also been absent from the practice field throughout the spring practices. And rookie tight end Brad Herman suffered an Achilles injury in last week’€™s OTA session and was placed on injured reserve.

In the meantime, the Patriots have added free agent Bo Scaife and claimed veteran Jake Ballard off waivers on Tuesday.

‘€œI think we’€™ll be fine,’€ said Hernandez, who returned to field Tuesday after missing last Thursday’€™s OTA session. ‘€œObviously, Gronk, he’€™s going to come back strong. He’€™s a hard worker and he’€™s obviously freakish with his ability. We’€™re missing him out there, but obviously, he’€™ll be ready when we get back.’€

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Stevan Ridley wants to be the man, but knows he has to earn it

06.12.12 at 7:03 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots locker room was ecstatic after their 45-10 thrashing of the Broncos in last season’s divisional playoff round. The maligned defense put together a staunch effort and the offense scored at will.

Still, despite the win, rookie running back Stevan Ridley sat at his locker confounded and upset, not at anyone else, but just himself. It was the second straight week the 23-year-old had fumbled, and he knew the coaching staff wouldn’t be inclined to give him opportunities during the rest of New England’s playoff run due to his ball security issues.

“As a running back, you never want to see the ball on the ground,” Ridley said following the first day of mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. ” You can either hang your head on it, or you can move forward and continue to be a better player. That’s what I have to do. That was last year, it’s a new year, I’m not looking back. All I’m going to do is look at what’s in front of me, try to be a better player, and not make the same mistakes.”

The late-season fumbling woes aside, Ridley’s rookie season is best described as enticing. He showed spurts of power and breakaway speed, hit the hole hard, and developed nicely without the benefit of a normal training camp because of the lockout. The departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the Bengals during the offseason created an opening for the 23-year-old to grasp the spot as the Patriots primary ball carrier. The catch is Green-Ellis’ enduring legacy being that he never fumbled the football in over 500 rushing attempts in his time with the Patriots.

Not once.

“You can’t make excuses for the ball being on the ground,” Ridley said. “[Green-Ellis] was very fortunate to have the career he had. But that’s what I learned from him, to hold onto the ball, squeeze it high and tight, and bring it back to the huddle every play.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my time, because I’m not the coach,” Ridley continued. “I can’t make that call, but it’s my time to go out there and work hard, I know  that. I’m going to have go out there and bust it everyday if I want to see the playing field.”

The Patriots notoriously use the passing game to set up the running attack, and often feature multiple running backs. The team filled the void left by Green-Ellis with veteran Colts running back  Joseph Addai. Ridley and Addai both went to LSU and have trained with one another previous offseasons in Baton Rouge. While Ridley is chomping at the bit to become New England’s lead rusher, he also values strength in numbers approach the Patriots utilize, and realizes he can learn a great deal from Addai.

“It’s wide open,” Ridley said. “We’re not the ones who say who it’s going to be. We’re not really focused on who’s going to be the guy. We’re just trying to help each other out and learn together. One person is not going to get it done all the way through the season, and we know that, so we have to be able to depend on everybody.

“To have this time with [Addai], like I had with [Kevin Faulk], I’m going to cherish that, and try to learn everything I can from him. He’s an awesome guy, he’s a leader, somebody who has seen it all. He’s blocked for Peyton Manning, he’s run the ball, and he’s a well-rounded back. Joe is very willing to teach, he’s a vocal guy and open guy.”

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Agent: Patriots claim former Giants TE Jake Ballard

06.12.12 at 5:27 pm ET
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According to agent Blake Baratz via twitter, the Patriots have claimed former Giants tight end Jake Ballard. The Ohio State product, who is recovering from a torn ACL and micro fracture knee surgery, was waived after failing a physical on Monday.

Ballard went undrafted in 2010 and was signed by Giants before eventually becoming a starter in 2011. He had 38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season last year. He suffered his knee injury during New York’s victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

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Jesse Holley’s amazing football odyssey brings him to Foxboro

06.12.12 at 5:16 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Asked Tuesday what it’€™s like being a new receiver in the Patriots passing game, Jesse Holley had a quick answer.

‘€œHave you ever been to Japan?’€ he asked a reporter. ‘€œDo you speak Japanese?’€

No, responded the reporter with a smile.

‘€œThat’€™s it right there,’€ he said. ‘€œThere you go. It’€™s Japanese.’€

So how do you pick things up fast enough so you’€™re not overwhelmed?

‘€œI just ordered Rosetta Stone,’€ he said with a laugh.

Tuesday marked the first day in the New England offense for the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder, who played for Dallas for the better part of the last two seasons. He said his first day was ‘€œfast,’€ but added that he was ‘€œready for the challenge.’€

‘€œI’€™m working my way through it, taking it one day at a time,’€ said Holley after a minicamp session that ran for roughly two hours on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. ‘€œI’€™m around a bunch of guys asking questions, paying close attention. My notebook will probably be filled by the end of tonight. So I’€™m just closing my mouth, opening my eyes, opening my ears and absorbing as much as I can.

‘€œLike I said earlier, it’€™s fast. They run a pretty fast system here, and they expect you to learn a lot, and I’€™m OK with that. I’€™m excited about it. I can’€™t wait to get to work.’€

Holley has a fascinating back story — the 28-year-old was undrafted out of North Carolina before spending some time on the Bengals’€™ practice squad. After a brief stint in the Canadian Football League didn’€™t work out, he was working as a security guard and cell phone salesman when he decided to try out for Michael Irvin‘€™s reality show ‘€œ4th and Long.’€ He emerged victorious, and that earned him an invite to Cowboys’€™ camp in 2009.

Holley spent the entire 2009 season and the first part of the 2010 season on the Dallas practice squad before being signed to the 53-man roster. He finished the 2011 season with seven catches for 169 yards. The 28-year-old is a graduate of North Carolina, and has played in 28 NFL games over the course of his career.

He was recently released by the Cowboys, and was planning on taking some vacation time last week with a trip to Cancun. But after he landed, he turned his phone on, and his agent was on the other end of the line, saying he had to get to New England as soon as possible.

‘€œI just landed in Mexico and I turned my phone, and my agent said, ‘€˜Where are you at?’€™ I said, ‘€˜Mexico. Cancun.’€™ ‘€˜You’€™ve got to get back. The Patriots want to work you out,’€™ so I grabbed my bag and had to find a flight to get back here.

‘€œI got here in the wee hours of the morning, ready for a workout the next morning. It’€™s just another chapter in the book — hopefully, it’€™s going to be something I can tell my kids and my grandkids when I’€™m old and gray.

‘€œI was excited — this organization is a great organization and a winning organization, and I’€™m just blessed to truly be a part of it. I want to succeed here and hopefully, I can be here for a very long time.’€
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Notes from Patriots’ Tuesday minicamp practice

06.12.12 at 3:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots just wrapped up their first of three minicamp practices open to the media, and in a session that ran two hours, worked on a variety of things. The workout, which had the same feel as the OTA sessions over the previous three weeks, was held in T-shirts, sweats, shorts and helmets. Here are a few quick notes:

The only three players who were not spotted on the field for the duration of the session were tight end Daniel Fells, offensive lineman Brian Waters and defensive lineman Myron Pryor. Several players appeared limited, as tight end Rob Gronkowski, offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer and Logan Mankins and linebackers Brandon Spikes and Tracy White were among those who spent plenty of time working out off to the side.

On the injury front, defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene went down late in the session with what appeared to be a left leg injury. He was on the ground for some time, and was getting work done for several minutes. He did get up and was walking around at the end of the session, and he walked off the field under his own power once things are done, but with a noticeable limp.

Keeping in mind that it’€™s still only June and the regular season is three months away, some of the personnel groupings were interesting. There was a good amount of special teams work, specifically punt coverage and blocking. Julian Edelman and Patrick Chung were spotted working as punt returners. While Edelman was no surprise, the sight of Chung back there was a bit of an eye-opener. Chung has not working in that capacity in his professional career, but he did return 16 punts as a collegian (14 as a sophomore) at Oregon.

In that same vein, it was interesting to see that after spending three OTA sessions that were open to the media as the starting right guard, newcomer Robert Gallery appeared to get bumped down the depth chart in favor of Dan Connolly. Without Waters and Mankins on the practice field, the practice utilized Ryan Wendell at left guard and Connolly at right guard with the starting offense. Nate Solder (left tackle) and Marcus Cannon (right tackle, in place of Vollmer) worked as the starters on the outside. Out of that that same positional grouping, it was also interesting to see Joseph Addai get a lot of work as the No .1 running back.

Defensive end Alex Silvestro continues to work exclusively with the tight ends. It remains to be seen whether that’€™s a function of need (the Patriots are struggling to keep healthy tight ends on the field, and Aaron Hernandez continues to work heavily with the wide receivers) or simply an interesting wrinkle they play on utilizing down the road. The thing is, he doesn’€™t look overwhelmed at the position — it’€™s still June, but it appears there might be something there. Something worth watching.

In 11 on 11’€™s on the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots rolled out a starting defensive front of Trevor Scott, Fanene, Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich. Defensive moments that stood out include picks of backup quarterback Brian Hoyer on back-to-back snaps, one by Jeff Tarpinian and another by Will Allen. Ras-I Dowling got a lot of run at right cornerback, and looked good (at least when I was able to focus on him).

Four different players were spotted running penalty laps at the end of practice: defensive lineman Kyle Love, Ninkovich, Wendell and defensive lineman Gerard Warren.

Highlights from Bill Belichick’s press conference Tuesday

06.12.12 at 12:59 pm ET
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Bill Belichick addressed the media before the start of the first day of mandatory minicamp Tuesday afternoon. The most notable news item was that he is not sure whether Brian Waters is retiring or not. He answered questions about Rob Gronkowski‘s contract extension, Jermaine Cunningham‘s progression this offeason, what he expects out of the rookie class this offseason, Waters effectiveness as a 35-year-old, and shuffling the coaching staff.

On Gronkowski’s six-year $54 million contract extension: “We have conversations with a lot of agents and their players, sometimes things work out and come together and sometimes they don’t. In this case it did, and we were able to work out something we were comfortable with and, obviously, they were comfortable with.”

On signing Wes Welker to a long-term contract before the July 16 deadline: “It is what it is, the rules are the rules, so we’ll comply with them.”

On Cunningham’s productive offseason: “Jermaine has had a great offseason, he’s really worked hard and looks good. Whatever happened last year with any of our players — good, bad or indifferent — whatever it was, it’s not really important at this point. We’re really trying to move forward and evaluate the team on a current basis and give everybody an opportunity to go out there and show where they are at and what they can do.”

On the progression of the rookies: “They’re closing the gap in terms learning of the playbook, understanding the overall system, learning the NFL rules that are different from the college game, things like that. Hopefully we’re closing the gap, trying to get them ready for training camp so they can go out there and compete for a job. If we can give them that opportunity, then their talent and their competitiveness will be stacked up against the guys that have been playing with us. We’re just trying to bring them as close as we can to our veteran group from a competitive standpoint so they at least have a chance out there.”

On Waters’ effectiveness at the late stages of his career: “I think anytime players get closer to the end of their career, whenever that is, you evaluate them by a year-to-year basis. Some players are improving in their early 20s and the early part of their career. But at some point in their career, you know, nobody’s going to play forever. [Waters] is not going to be different then anybody else.”

On shuffling the coaching staff — Matt Patricia’s promotion to defensive coordinator, Pepper Johnson moving from defensive line coach to linebackers coach, adding Steve Belichick and Chris Sims to the staff, and Joe Andruzzi’s role: “We just felt like for a number of reasons that combination would be the best way for us to go this year. We do what we think is best. I’ve rarely seen [Steve Belichick] in six years, but he’s done work here in training camp so this will be a continuation of that. [Sims] is learning a variety of areas like most of the young guys we bring in here, they work in different areas of the organization. [Andruzzi’s] role has been in the offseason program for several years now.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brian Waters, Jermaine Cunningham,

A quick primer on the incredible story of new Patriots receiver Jesse Holley

06.11.12 at 6:01 pm ET
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Last season, the NFL Network put together an impressive story on Jesse Holley, the wide receiver who was signed by the Patriots on Monday. Check it out:

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