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Bill Belichick indicates Rob Ninkovich ‘an option’ if Danny Aiken doesn’t return as long snapper

08.31.14 at 12:41 pm ET
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Rob Ninkovich could be an option at long-snapper if Danny Aiken doesn't return. (Getty Images)

Rob Ninkovich could be an option at long-snapper if Danny Aiken doesn’t return. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick loves versatility in his players and Sunday he hinted at using one of his best pass rushers as a long snapper if Danny Aiken doesn’t find his way back onto the Patriots roster.

“I think there are a lot of things that are potentially in transition with the number of spots on our team,” Belichick said Sunday in his conference call with reporters. “I’€™m not saying they will or won’€™t change, I’€™m not sure. We’€™re looking at different options and we’€™ll just do the best we can to put it together in the best way we feel like we can and go from there.

“There are a lot of things that we need to see between now and I’€™d say next Wednesday. We’€™ll just have to see how it all plays out. I wouldn’€™t commit to anything one way or the other on your question and frankly on a number of other positions. We’€™ll just have to see.”

Before the preseason game with the Eagles, Ninkovich was on the field practicing long snaps with Danny Aiken, Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen. He has not performed in a game like Tom Brady did as the holder on an extra point Thursday against the Giants. Would Belichick consider Ninkovich as long snapper at this point?

“He would be an option,” Belichick conceded.

Aiken, picked up before the 2011 season opener after the Bills released him, was cut Saturday as part of the move to mold the 53-man roster for opening day but that roster could still change some in the time leading up to next Sunday in Miami and the 2014 season opener.

Of course, with the trade of Ryan Mallett to the Houston Texans Sunday, this opens up a roster spot for Belichick and the Patriots to bring back Aiken if he clears waivers.

As for another special teams area, Belichick admitted that the role of the kick returner has been diminished somewhat with the number of touchbacks occurring over the course of a game. Josh Boyce and Roy Finch, two players who served that role in the preseason, were cut on Saturday.

“There just aren’€™t as many of them as there were going back a couple years and obviously well before that which also plays into your kickoff coverage unit as well,” Belichick said. “Again, not saying that those aren’€™t important but I’€™d say they’€™re not as important in terms of frequency as they were at other times in this league so I think it’€™s a little bit of consideration. You certainly can’€™t ignore it because you’€™re going to have to cover them and return them. So, it’€™s not like a situation that isn’€™t going to happen but the frequency is lower than what it’€™s been so it’€™s somewhat of a consideration, yeah.”

LeGarrette Blount returned just one kick during the preseason in 2013 before being moved into that role fulltime during the regular season last year.

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Sunday NFL Notes: Have players, league reached happy medium when it comes to ‘points of emphasis’ penalties?

08.31.14 at 6:30 am ET
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Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaches around the league might be happier now that "points of emphasis" calls dropped over the last two weeks of the preseason. (Getty Images)

Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaches around the league might be happier now that “points of emphasis” calls dropped over the last two weeks of the preseason. (Getty Images)

1. If the fourth preseason game was any indication, the league and the players appear to have found a happy medium when it comes to penalty flags and the new “points of emphasis”€ that dominated the early stages of the summer. According to our pal Brian McIntyre, there were far fewer “points of emphasis”€ flags thrown on Thursday night than in games earlier in the preseason. In the first 49 preseason games, there was an average of nearly six per game. On Thursday, that average dropped to just 3.5. As McIntyre notes, there were other factors in play, but it was interesting to see that the average time of game on Thursday was 2 hours and 52 minutes, with only two games going more than 3 hours. While it’€™s debatable why the decrease occurred — referees dialing things back or players and coaching picking up on the new approach — but there was a change in the overall pace of the game. It’€™s undeniable that when historians write about the 2014 preseason, it’€™ll be with a heavy shade of yellow: In all, according to ESPN Stats & Information, there were 1,020 total flags in the 2013 preseason, with 38 for defensive holding, 18 for illegal contact and 28 for illegal use of hands. In 2014, there were 1,387 flags (a 36 percent increase from the year before): 172 for defensive holding (353 percent higher), 99 for illegal contact (450 percent higher) and 124 for illegal use of hands (a 343 percent increase).

2. We have long been advocates of the statistical smorgasbord that is Pro Football Reference — it’€™s easy to go to the enormous database looking for one particular number, get distracted and find the whole afternoon gone after you spend eight hours comparing stats. The PFR folks have introduced a new feature they tweeted about this week, a team streak finder that measures consecutive wins and losses. The stat that caught our eye was New England’€™s current string of Week 1 victories. The Patriots are third in NFL history when it comes to consecutive wins to open a season — they’ve won 10 straight season openers, dating back to 2004 against the Colts. (Their last loss came against the Bills in Buffalo in September 2003, an epic curb-stomping that remains one of the worst losses of the Bill Belichick era.) If New England wins its opener against the Dolphins next Sunday in Miami, it will have tied the Dolphins (1992-2002) for second place on the all-time list. The leaders are the Cowboys, who won an astonishing 17 straight openers from 1965 to 1981. (As of a few years ago, the Steelers were the only other team close to catching the Patriots — Pittsburgh won eight straight openers from 2003 to 2010.) Also, you might also want to check out this list also from PFR of the most consecutive seasons of 10 wins or more. The Patriots have gone 11 consecutive years with 10 wins or more, which is second on the all-time list behind the Niners, who went 16 straight seasons (1983 to 1998) with at least double-digit victories.

3. In the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t mean a whole lot to people outside the media, but both Logan Mankins and Tommy Kelly were known for their interactions with the media. Both were candid, engaging and funny interviews who knew how to work the media better than most of the players who have come through the New England locker room on recent occasions. We wrote about Mankins and his ability to spin a quote briefly here, but it’€™s worth reiterating that he was a player who was always honest with the media. And in his year-plus with the Patriots, Kelly also distinguished himself as a go-to guy in the locker room, someone who always could be counted on to fill a notebook with worthwhile observations from a veteran who had a terrific perspective on the game. Both will be missed by local reporters.

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Report: Patriots work out 12 available free agents

08.30.14 at 11:44 pm ET
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It was a busy day in Foxboro. In addition to the Patriots cutting their roster from 75 to 53 players in accordance with the league-mandated rules, they also worked out a dozen players, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.

Among the group who were put through their paces at Gillette Stadium were defensive linemen Jermelle Cudjo, Hebron Fangupo and Cam Henderson; safety Omar Brown; cornerbacks Deveron Carr and Aaron Hester, as well as linebacker Kevin Reddick. On the offensive side of the ball, New England took a look at quarterbacks Jeff Mathews and McLeod Bethel-Thompson; wide receivers Armon Binns and Rashad Lawrence and running back Jerome Smith.

While most of these workouts are about doing due diligence on available free agents, one player who the Patriots could have a serious eye on is Reddick. New England found itself with a lack of depth at the linebacker position following Saturday’s cutdowns, and the 6-foot-1, 246-pound Reddick — who was waived earlier in the week by the Saints — might have a better chance of signing with the Patriots than the rest of the players who had workouts.

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In wake of final cuts, 10 thoughts about state of Patriots roster

08.30.14 at 10:10 pm ET
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Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Mallett will both open the season on the roster. (Getty Images)

Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Mallett will both open the season on the roster. (Getty Images)

1. As it stands right now, the Patriots will be keeping a trio of quarterbacks for the first time since 2011, as Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Garoppolo will head into the season as New England’€™s signal-callers. Garoppolo performed well against New York’€™s second- and third-teamers in the preseason finale, but from this viewpoint, Mallett is still the best bet as the No. 2 quarterback.

2. There’€™s always some movement between the cuts and start of the regular season, but as it stands right now, the Patriots appear to have left themselves a little thin at linebacker, with only youngster Chris White and Darius Fleming (who missed the last two seasons with knee issues) as the backups to starters Dont’€™a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo. With the release of veteran James Anderson, the thinking was that the team wanted to get younger at the spot and also bring in someone who could has some special teams value. But that theory went out the window when the team waived Steve Beauharnais, a seventh-rounder last year who had both of those attributes. Maybe Beauharnais returns after Week 1, maybe the Patriots have their eye on someone else. But at this point, you have to figure they’€™re keeping their collective fingers crossed when it comes to their linebackers staying healthy.

3. The curious decision to cut long snapper Danny Aiken — and not immediately add another body — leaves the Patriots without a long snapper at the moment. From our perspective, it appeared that Aiken had a good spring and summer, and was a slam-dunk to make the final roster. But his release means that Rob Ninkovich (who was originally signed as a free agent backup linebacker and long snapper in the summer of 2009) is the lone long snapper on the roster. The Patriots might be inclined to try and press one of the three centers on the roster (Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly or Bryan Stork) into service as an emergency long snapper.

4. In other special teams news, the Patriots cut two players who might have figured into the kick return battle in Josh Boyce and Roy Finch. As a result — and based on what we’€™ve seen this spring and summer — the safe bet is that New England turns to some combination of rookie James White, veteran running back Shane Vereen and special teamer Matthew Slater. But as we stated here, it looks like it’€™s going to be another season of shared responsibilities when it comes to kick returning work.

5. The release of Boyce brings a year-plus odyssey for the wide receiver to an end in New England. The TCU product struggled to click as a part of the offense, and appeared at times to be the odd man out over the course of the spring and summer workouts. A workout warrior — he posted some of the most amazing numbers in the recent history of the combine back in 2013 — he finished last year with nine catches. His finest moment came when he snapped off the ankles of Cleveland defensive back Buster Skrine in a game last year. The Patriots would probably like to get him through to the practice squad, but given his impressive physical skills, it’€™s unlikely he gets through the waiver process.
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With cuts complete, Patriots 53-man roster takes shape

08.30.14 at 4:54 pm ET
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Following the Saturday cuts, here’s a look at the Patriots’ 53-man roster. It’s important to note that there are still plenty of moves coming — last year, there were 15 roster moves between the final cuts and the start of the regular season, and that doesn’t count the practice squad transactions — those will come on Sunday.


Quarterback (3): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo
Offensive line (10): Ryan Wendell, Chris Barker, Bryan Stork, Dan Connolly, Josh Kline, Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Jordan Devey, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming
Tight ends (4): Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Tim Wright, James Develin
Running backs (4): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, Brandon Bolden
Wide receivers (5): Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson (Brian Tyms starts the year on the reserve/suspended list and does not count toward the final 53-man roster, at least for the first four weeks.)


Defensive line (9): Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Dominique Easley, Michael Buchanan, Joe Vellano, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, Zach Moore
Linebackers (5): Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Dont’€™€™a Hightower, Darius Fleming, Chris White
Cornerbacks (5): Darrelle Revis, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler (Brandon Browner starts the year on the reserve/suspended list and does not count toward the final 53-man roster, at least for the first four weeks.)
Safeties (5): Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Tavon Wilson, Patrick Chung


Special teamers (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Matthew Slater.

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Patriots make cutdown moves official

08.30.14 at 4:46 pm ET
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The Patriots announced the following moves Saturday afternoon. Here’s a portion of the press release on the transactions:

The Patriots released six veteran players: long snapper Danny Aiken, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, defensive lineman Jake Bequette, wide receiver Josh Boyce, tight end Steve Maneri and defensive lineman Jerel Worthy.

The Patriots released five first-year players: offensive lineman Braxston Cave, linebacker Ja’€™Gared Davis, safety Kanorris Davis, running back Jonas Gray and efensive back Daxton Swanson.

The Patriots released two draft picks: offensive lineman Jon Halapio and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon.

The Patriots released six rookie free agents: running back Roy Finch, safety Shamiel Gary, defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna, offensive lineman Chris Martin, linebacker Taylor McCuller and defensive lineman L.T. Tuipulotu.

In addition, rookie linebacker James Morris was placed on injured reserve.
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DE Michael Sam released by Rams

08.30.14 at 4:29 pm ET
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The Rams released defensive end Michael Sam Saturday afternoon as part of their final cuts to get to the league-mandated 53-man roster.

Sam, the 249th overall pick in this year’s draft, was attempting to become the first openly gay player in NFL history, but he was beaten out by Ethan Westbrooks for the final defensive end spot. However, it’s worth noting that Sam still has practice squad eligibility — once he clears waivers on Sunday at noon, could be signed by the Rams as one of 10 players allowed on the practice squad.

Sam had 11 tackles and three sacks over the course of the preseason. In Thursday night’s contest against the Dolphins, Sam ended with a team-high six tackles.

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