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Live Blog: Patriots take on Saints in preseason opener at Gillette Stadium

08.09.12 at 6:14 pm ET
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Patriots vs. Saints

Drew Brees reminds us one more time: ‘No one can replace Sean Payton’

08.09.12 at 5:38 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’s the question that will hover over the Saints all season. How will they do without their head coach all season?

Thanks to the one-year suspension handed down to their head coach Sean Payton and a six-game suspension to Joe Vitt – who is serving as interim head coach in camp – the Saints are about to head out into unchartered waters.

Not even the 2007 Patriots had sanctions like this to deal with after “Spygate.”

“First of all, nobody can replace Sean Payton,” Drew Brees said Wednesday, a day before their preseason contest with the Patriots at Gillette. “We do our best. I feel like we built a solid foundation here thanks to Sean with the type of assistant coaches we have, the type of players, the type of leadership we have so you do the best you can.

I still don’t have all the answers, none of us do, in regards to how exactly this thing is going to work, especially once Coach Vitt – who has been our interim head coach in essence – when he serves his suspension, who’s going to be in essence our head coach. All those things are to be determined.”

The unwritten words there are: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has really put it to the Saints and penalized players who were caught in the cross-fire of a scandal that is still being fought by linebacker Jonathan Vilma in the courts.

Brees is the same person who was quoted last week as saying “no one trusts Roger Goodell.”

“As you go through camp, that’s the time to establish your identity, see who steps up, see how it’s all going to fit. Everyone finds their role and then you go out within your role and do your job, as Sean Payton would say and then the rest takes care of itself.

“I’m anxious. I was anxious to get into training camp, as all of us were, just to get on the field and get playing football again, because that’s what we do, that’s what we get paid to do and that’s what we love to do. And it just eliminates so many of the distractions we’ve had to deal with this offseason.”

Safe to say, Brees and the Saints feel they have a point to prove in the 2012 season. And it begins with the preseason.

Read More: Bountygate, Drew Brees, New England Patriots, new orleans saints

Setting the Scene: Patriots-Saints

08.09.12 at 5:19 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Clear skies and humid temperatures in the low 80s are expected for the first Patriots game since Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

Tom Brady, according to multiple reports, will play in tonight’s preseason opener against the Saints, who beat the Cardinals on Sunday night, 17-10, in the annual Hall of Fame game in Canton, OH.

Brady will likely play in at least the first two series of the game and get between 10-15 snaps of action as he tries to get accustomed to an offensive line that will be vastly different to start 2012.

Gone are Matt Light (retired), Logan Mankins (ACL recovery), Sebastian Vollmer (injured) and Brian Waters (absent from camp). Nate Solder figures to be the starting left tackle, as he’s seen the most action at that spot in camp. Dan Connolly is a candidate at left guard while Ryan Wendell could be replacing center Dan Koppen on the starting unit. On the right side, Donald Thomas has been seeing a great deal of action at guard while second-year lineman Marcus Cannon is expected to see plenty of time at right tackle.

The Saints are playing their second game without head coach Sean Payton. He has been replaced by interim coach Joe Vitt, who has been overseeing the two practices with the Patriots on Tuesday and Wednesday this week in Foxboro. Vitt has also been suspended for the first six games of the regular season with Steve Spagnuolo likely getting the nod to coach the team to start 2012.

With Brady starting for the Patriots, Drew Brees is likely to start for the Saints but again is only expected to see action for the first quarter.

On the defensive side of the ball, this will be the first chance for the Patriots to catch a glimpse of rookies Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones. Both first round picks are expected to start with the first team as Hightower has been spending most of training camp lining up next to Jerod Mayo in the linebacker unit. With Brandon Spikes missing the last four practices, Hightower moved inside and Mayo has been playing on the outside.

Defensive end Chandler Jones has been seeing a lot of time on the right defensive end, the primary spot for pass rush in the NFL.

There are no official inactive lists for preseason games but with several players missing the last several practices, you can pretty much count on not seeing Spikes, defensive lineman Gerard Warren, defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene, Ron Brace, Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer and Tracy White.

In an annual tradition, the offseason workout winners in the Patriots weight training program adorn the cover of “GAMEDAY” and they are: WR/KR Julian Edelman, K Stephen Gostkowski, RB Danny Woodhead, DB Patrick Chung, OL Nate Solder, DL Jermaine Cunningham, LB Jeff Tarpinian, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Bobby Carpenter and DL Trevor Scott.

Tonight also marks the first game the Patriots will play using NFL replacement officials. The officials are comprised from various college conferences around the country and select high profile and accomplished high school leagues.

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Bountygate, Drew Brees, Joe Vitt

Aaron Hernandez: The new NFL practice rules are ‘saving me’

08.08.12 at 5:54 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Aaron Hernandez knows exactly what he is in today’s NFL.

He’s a tight end who uses his speed and quickness off the line of scrimmage to separate and get open like a wide receiver for Tom Brady.

He’s not a physical, bruising tight end like his teammate Rob Gronkowski. Critics would say that’s part of the problem for Hernandez, who has missed four games in his first two seasons due to various injuries, while starting only 19 of his 28 games.

For that reason, said Hernandez after Wednesday’s glorified walk-through, he needs to conserve and preserve his body. Enter the new NFL. Thanks to last summer’s 10-year CBA, there are no longer “two-a-day” practices allowed by NFL teams.

“With all the new rules, I love it,” Hernandez said. “It’s saving me. Two practices beats up on your body. Bill [Bill Belichick] regardless is gonna find a way to beat up on us, so regardless we’re gonna be tired.”

Hernandez has not look fatigued in this camp. As a matter of fact, he has looked as sharp as any receiver Brady has thrown to in the first two weeks of camp. He has been one of four go-to receivers for Brady, along with Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker.

But as great as the work has been, Hernandez knows there’s plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to communication with the quarterback. That’s why when there are minor breakdowns like last week – Brady calls Hernandez over for a lengthy discussion – Hernandez said the offense is still a work in progress.

“I’d say we’re still at the beginning,” he said. “We gotta keep getting our timing down, and he’s gotta start reading me, and I gotta read him and know what he wants. He has to know what he wants me to do and stuff like that. But we keep improving everyday and we’re gonna get on point and we’re gonna come out this season firing.”

At one point Wednesday morning, Brady and Hernandez hooked up on four straight completions during 11-on-11 drills.

That type of production shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise since Hernandez had 79 catches last year, including seven touchdowns, for 910 yards. That’s an average of 11.5 yards per reception. That followed up a rookie season that included 45 catches for 563 yards and six touchdowns.

Not bad for a guy that gets overshadowed by the Gronk and another tight end on the field Wednesday, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham.

“Good player, obviously,” Hernandez said of Graham. “The whole league knows about him, and that’s about it. We’re all good players, we’re all different and all got different qualities, but I say, it is what it is.

“I say we’re different players and we do different things. [Graham] and Gronk are similar in their playing type and I have a different type of way I approach defenders and approach the game. I think we all have different qualities that are real good.”

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Brandon Lloyd

Ten Things We Learned Wednesday at Patriots Training Camp

08.08.12 at 2:18 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Sunshine again baked the practice fields outside Gillette Stadium Wednesday morning as the Patriots and Saints finished their final joint practice in advance of their Thursday night preseason game in Foxboro.

The two teams warmed up for 45 minutes before going against each other for approximately 90 minutes in a toned-down practice in shorts and shells.

The two teams will meet on Thursday night at 7:30 at Gillette Stadium in the preseason opener for the Patriots.

ROLL CALL
The notable absentees from Wednesday included linebacker Brandon Spikes for a fourth straight day, defensive lineman Gerard Warren, offensive linemen Kyle Hix and offensive lineman Dustin Waldron. Also missing again were Spencer Larsen, Matt Kopa, Tracy White, Visanthe Shiancoe, Jake Ballard and Jonathan Fanene.

In shorts were tight end Daniel Fells,, offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer, Ron Brace and Myron Pyror, rookie cornerback Alfonzo Denard, and tackle Markus Zusevics .

Fullback Eric Kettani and offensive lineman Darrion Weems were both in attendance in shorts and shells and participated in all of practice in shorts and shells.

Here are nine other things we learned from Day 12 of training camp:

OFFENSIVE LINE:

In what could be the starting lineup for the offensive line for Thursday night, Nate Solder started at left tackle, Donald Thomas was at left guard, Ryan Wendell was center on the first unit, Dan Connolly got extensive work at right guard and Marcus Cannon opened up at right tackle. The interesting note from Wednesday was Nick McDonald getting a look at center for several snaps as the Patriots mixed up their rotations along the offensive line later in practice. Dan Koppen again found himself on the second team offensive line. McDonald – while playing right tackle – was the only Patriots player to take a lap on Wednesday for a false start during 11-on-11 drills.

DEFENSIVE GROUPINGS:

Rookies Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones continue to get a lot of work with the first team, an indication they could be starting when the defense takes the field for the first time Thursday night. With Spikes missing his fourth straight practice, Hightower continues to play on the inside linebacker spot with Jerod Mayo playing on the outside. Vince Wilfork and Brandon Deaderick again swapped out with Kyle Love on the defensive line.

VINCE THE QUARTERBACK:

Vince Wilfork likes to joke about his offensive prowess after intercepting a pair of passes last season. Well, on Wednesday, he was the quarterback handing off to Kyle Love early in defensive line drills as the second and third string D-linemen got their work in against each other early in practice. Wilfork had some fun handing off both under center and in the shotgun.

SPECIAL ADVICE:

Bill Belichick won’t hesitate talking to anyone if he thinks he can gain some perspective on the game he hasn’t had before. Such appeared to be the case just before the two teams began scrimmaging as he spoke to veteran placekicker John Kasay. The 42-year-old Kasay is entering his 22nd season in the NFL after being drafted in the fourth round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the Seahawks. Belichick and Kasay chatted for about 10 minutes on the sideline. Belichick also spoke with someone on the sidelines who was wearing an NFL hat and may have been a so-call “spot-checker” – someone from the league that visits NFL camps to make sure all practice guidelines are being followed. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Bill Belichick, Drew Brees, Joe Vitt

Patriots-Saints will be faced with replacement refs on Thursday

08.08.12 at 1:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Like the rest of the league, the Patriots and Saints will have a crew of replacement referees for Thursday night’s preseason game at Gillette. According to information distributed by the Patriots on Wednesday, the officiating crew is as follows: David White (referee), Mike Hannon (umpire), Ed Schmid (head linesman), Alvin Thomas (line judge), Keith Norman (field judge), Barry Wilson (side judge), Peter Shafer (back judge), Bob Shoulders (alternate), Carl Madsen (replay), Eugene Cunningham (video), Johnny Grier (supervisor), John Schleyer (observer).

While it’s tougher to find information on the professional tendencies of the replacement crews than it is with the regular guys, according to Football Zebras, White served as a head linesman in the Midwest Conference (Div. III) in 2011.

Read More: 2012 Training Camp,

Rookies get ready for their first taste of NFL action Thursday

08.08.12 at 1:16 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Even though it’s only the preseason, the 16 rookies on the Patriots roster will get a small taste of life in the NFL Thursday night when they lace them up for their first game action against the Saints. From first-round picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower to rookie free agents like Tyler Urban and Derek Dennis, it’ll be their initiation into the world of professional football.

What’s the most important thing they they need to keep in mind when they hit the field?

“Just my biggest [piece of advice] is to stay calm,” said cornerback Devin McCourty. “What we do out here in practice kind of prepares you for the game situations. One thing with coach Belichick: we do a lot of different situations here at practice. Just stay calm. You’re prepared for anything. If you feel like we haven’t gone over something, just go back to fundamentals.

“I think that was the biggest thing guys taught me my rookie year, and something I tell the rookies: stay calm, use what we’ve been learning and just go out there and play football.”

“It’s just football,” said offensive lineman Dan Connolly. “Block it all out and focus on your job. Know what you have to do — just do it.”

Read More: 2012 Training Camp,
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