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Patriots get their AFC title rings

06.14.12 at 9:21 am ET
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The Patriots received their AFC championship rings from owner Robert Kraft on Wednesday, and USA Today reporter Jarrett Bell shared some of the ring details in this story:

“The 14-karat, white gold ring was designed to capture the significance of the season, as the Patriots logo on the top of the ring is emblazoned with seven marquise diamonds that represent the seven AFC titles won by the franchise. The logo is surrounded by 32 round diamonds (representing the NFL’s 32 teams) that are enhanced with special cut garnet and blue sapphire stones.

“In all, each ring contains 73 diamonds for a total of 1.51 carats, the number representing the 73 players who appeared in at least one game last season.

“The left side of the ring features a blue sapphire stone with the initials ‘MHK’ for Myra, who died last July due to cancer.”

“It didn’t end the way we all hoped,” Kraft told the team, according to Bell, “but winning an AFC Championship Game at home in front of 70,000 fans is a great accomplishment and something that I will never forget.”

Read More: Robert Kraft,

Ivan Fears on Stevan Ridley: ‘He’s got to get used to carrying the ball the proper way’

06.13.12 at 11:29 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Stevan Ridley remembers being scratched for the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl.

He fumbled against the Bills in the season finale but got the ball back. He fumbled in New England’s romp over Denver and wasn’t as lucky in the AFC divisional round. After not fumbling all season long, Ridley picked the wrong time to go all butter fingers with the rock.

Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears remembers.

“How do you get over that hurdle? Keep working at it,” Fears said Wednesday, answering the million-dollar question. “He’s got to work at it. He’s got to get used to carrying the ball the proper way. He’s trying to make plays in the game during the course of the year. He got a little loose with the ball. It can be corrected. It’s both mental and physical.”

Kevin Faulk had the same reputation early in his career before overcoming it.

“He corrected it,” Fears said of Faulk. “The only time he lost the ball with us is when he got knocked out. It’s the only time he lost the ball, let’s be honest. That’s the only time he lost the ball for us, and that’s the way we feel it should be. There is a proper way to carry the ball. If you’ll do that and if you’ll be conscious of the fact that you’ve got to secure the football, we’ll be OK. You can’t lose sight of it. The fact is that’s the most important thing we’ve got. When you’ve got the ball, everybody on the team trusts the fact you’ll bring it back. So yeah, it’s a big deal.

“Everybody advocates high and tight. It’s the proper way to carry the ball.”

High and tight refers to carrying the ball where it’s harder for a tackler to punch it free and tight refers to the three points of the body (hand, chest and inner forearm the ball should be touching when running a play.

Does the always vocal Fears have any overall impressions of minicamp so far?

“No impressions,” Fears said. “No impressions. My impression, I’m very happy. That’s my impression right now. I like what we’re doing. That’s about it. It’s a good start.

“”The big deal is continuing to study. And the most important they’ve got to do is to continue to stay in shape. They’re going to have a good idea of where they are when they leave. So, they either have to improve it or maintain it to get to where we need to be. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Ivan Fears, Kevin Faulk, minicamp, New England Patriots

Tom Brady on the impact the late Tom Martinez still has on him, his own health and focus

06.13.12 at 4:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’s been almost four months since Tom Brady lost the single biggest influence in his football life. But he said on Wednesday, following the second of three mandatory minicamp practices at Gillette Stadium, that Tom Martinez still has a huge impact on him. Martinez, who was waiting on a kidney transplant, died on Feb. 21 from a heart attack during dialysis on his 66th birthday.

“I had a great level of comfort with Tom over the years,” Brady said. “He was always someone I could call on to rely on him. I know he’s watching down with every throw and I hear his voice in the back of my head after every throw. Throwing the football is about mechanics. There’s nothing special. It’s just a matter of doing it the right way. The better mechanical you are, the more accurate you’re going to be able to throw the football.”

So what are those words that Brady hears?

“When you’re not accurate, there’s a reason for it. It’s not like, ‘Hey you’ve got to throw the ball more accurate.’ No, there’s a reason. What are you doing?

“I’m constantly evaluating every throw. I watch every practice. Every rep I take in practice, I have someone film and I watch it after practice. I just make sure I’m continuing to work on the right things because ultimately when you’re under pressure, your body is going to revert to what it knows. Muscle memory is a very important thing for a quarterback. Hopefully, you train your muscles to react the way you need them to react when the pressure is on the most. That allows you to throw the ball with velocity and accuracy. The tougher the games get, the closer the coverages, the more accurate you need to be,” Brady added.

Martinez coached and mentored Brady every since the Patriots quarterback grew up in California and eventually attended the University of Michigan. Martinez, who also worked with John Elway and JaMarcus Russell, followed Bill Walsh and John Madden at the College of San Mateo before being forced to retire due to health concerns.

“I have to rely on what he’s taught me over the years,” Brady said. “I have a lot of stuff written down of things we’ve talked about and things that I’ve learned and I have a great understanding of mechanically what I need to be able to do. It’s just a matter of seeing it and being able to correct it. Hopefully, you can correct it between series sometimes. You don’t always have the fortune to wait until Monday to figure things out. Sometimes you have to figure them out in the middle of the third quarter. That’s something where I have to rely on what he’s taught me over the years.”

Something Brady has taught himself is to take care of his body, something he stressed Wednesday. He had his minicamp weigh-in on Wednesday and tipped the scales at 228 pounds.

“I feel really good,” Brady said. “I feel great. I’m right about where I always am, to tell you the truth. We had weigh-in today and I’m right where coach wants me at.

“I think you really refine what you do over the course of years because you realize what works for you and what you need to do to be prepared for the football season. I think there are things you do when you’re younger I haven’t necessarily done in a while because I don’t think it really correlates well to being a better football player. And ultimately, we’re trying to be the best football player we can be, not necessarily the best weight-lifter, or the best sprinter. You need to be the best football player.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Walsh, College of San Mateo, JaMarcus Russell, John Elway

Asked about Chad Ochocinco, Patriots WR coach Chad O’Shea says current WRs are as ‘good a group as I’ve ever been around’

06.13.12 at 4:54 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea was Wednesday asked about the team’s decision to cut ties with Chad Ochocinco last week, and instead preferred to look forward instead of back.

“I’d rather just talk about the guys we have in here, the guys I’m working with, because this group that I’m working with, they’re as professional and as good a group as I’ve ever been around,” O’Shea said after Wednesday’s minicamp practice at Gillette Stadium. “And they have a tremendous work ethic, and they’re all really competitive and want to win. They’re familiar with the system. So I’m pleased with the guys we have.”

Ochocinco had 15 catches for 276 yards and a touchdown in his one season with the Patriots. He was released last week by New England, but has since been picked up by the Dolphins.

Read More: Chad O'Shea, Chad Ochocinco,

Patriots looking for happier returns in 2012

06.13.12 at 4:46 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’€™s not exactly ‘€œCommunity Auditions,’€ but the Patriots are giving a lot of guys an opportunity to win the job of both kick returner and punt returner throughout the spring practice sessions.

A wide variety of players have rotated in as returners throughout the OTA’€™s and minicamp practices, including Danny Woodhead (who handled 20 of the 46 kick returns for New England during the regular season) and Julian Edelman (who returned 28 of the 38 punts last season for the Patriots). Wide receivers Donte Stallworth and Deion Branch, safety Pat Chung, running back Stevan Ridley and defensive back Devin McCourty have also been worked into the mix.

Special teams coach Scott O’€™Brien said Wednesday the current rotation isn’€™t necessarily an indictment of the group who worked as returners last year, but because ‘€œyou can never have enough’€ depth at that position.

‘€œI don’€™t know if we’€™re trying out different guys. We’€™re getting other guys involved,’€™ O’€™Brien said. ‘€œWe keep working in Danny, who I thought got better as the year went on last year, for his first time doing it. So it was good there. Along with Julian, based on how our team unfolds here, we’€™re going to work in everyone we can.

‘€œDonte is just like Devin,’€ O’€™Brien said. ‘€œWe got [McCourty] exposed to it — we got him experience doing it. So he does it also too, because you can never have enough. You can never have enough. It’€™s been good so far for those guys.’€

Chung, who did some work as a returner in college, hasn’€™t worked as a returner since his rookie season.

‘€œI did it my rookie year. My rookie year I did a little returning, but if they put you there, you have to be able to do it,’€ said Chung, who has worked as a kick and punt returner throughout the spring. ‘€œIt’€™s fun. It’€™s always fun having the ball in your hands. It’€™s definitely fun.

‘€œI like both — punt return is a little harder, just because of the ball, the wind and everything. But it’€™s all the same. You just have to catch it. Catch and run.’€

‘€œWhen we had [Chung] as a rookie, we had him catching punts, and actually did a pretty good job for us there,’€ O’€™Brien said of Chung. ‘€œI think it was the Washington game in preseason I think where he had one at the end of the game and he had a nice return that gave us the opportunity to win the game at the end of the game. He’€™s had some issues and that kind of stuff, but we’€™ve never forgotten about Patrick.’€

It wasn’€™t a great season for New England’€™s return game. The Patriots were in the middle to lower half of the league in almost every major return category, including average yards per kick return (21.4, 29th overall), total kick return yards (986, 19th overall) and average yards per punt return (10.2, 16th overall).

O’€™Brien said it’€™s ‘€œno question’€ that return work is an area where the Patriots remain ‘€œconcerned about’€ heading into 2012.

‘€œWe know what our standards are, and we didn’€™t reach them last year,’€ he said. ‘€œWe know why and we have to keep working at it.’€

Read More: Scott O'Brien,

Teaching Points: Pepper Johnson eager to spread a wealth of knowledge

06.13.12 at 4:05 pm ET
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FOXBORO — One of the many mantras recited in the Patriots locker room is “Do your job.” The statement speaks to the collective parts making the whole operation efficient, but understanding of the moving parts around a position is sometimes just as important.

Case in point is Patriots linebackers coach Pepper Johnson. He played linebacker for over a decade in the NFL, and was known for his tenacity on the field. Presumably, this experience would benefit him in his recent change from defensive line to linebackers coach, but knowing even the minute details of everything happening around him helped him not only as a player surviving in the league, but as a coach as well. In fact, he made the transition sound as easy as north to south.

“Instead of coaching guys going forward, I’m coaching guys running backwards in coverage,” Johnson said after Wednesday’s mandatory minicamp practice ended.

“As a player I learned everything I possibly could about football,” he continued. ”Coaching the defensive line as close as I was working with them as a player, I felt I know a lot about it. The things I had questions about I asked players, and I had long conversations with a lot of players I highly respect while I was playing the game.”

Johnson inherits a group of linebackers that showed flashes of excellence last year while maturing as a group. Rob Ninkovich continued to improve and had a stellar postseason. Brandon Spikes missed part of the season due to injury, but was effective in the run blitz and even had a nifty interception in the AFC Championship against the Ravens. Lastly, Jerod Mayo came into his own as a leader of the unit, earning a five-year contract extension in December of 2011.

Where Johnson’s acumen will be beneficial is getting the rookies and newcomers up to speed. Through OTAs and the first two days of minicamp, Johnson has been particularly impressed with Dont’a Hightower and Bobby Carpenter.

[Hightower] is a guy that football means something to him,” Johnson said. “He wants to learn, he’s not only just listening, he’s asking questions. Making things are sure before he goes out onto the field.

“[Carpenter] is a workaholic, he’s constantly going, you have to slow him down on the field. I don’t want to slow him down, but he’s goes constantly. He’s going to be a plus for us, he already has been a plus.”

Read More: Pepper Johnson,

Notes from the Patriots’ Wednesday afternoon minicamp practice

06.13.12 at 3:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots just recently wrapped up their Wednesday afternoon minicamp session on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. In a session that ran for nearly two hours and was more intense than any of the OTA or Tuesday minicamp practices, the team got after it in wet conditions while wearing T-shirts, helmets, sweats and shorts. Here are a few quick notes:

The following players were not spotted AT ALL on the practice field: tight end Daniel Fells, new tight end Jake Ballard (who is reportedly en route to Foxboro), offensive lineman Brian Waters and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene (who was banged up at the end of Tuesday’€™s practice). The rehabbing group has been pretty consistent throughout the spring, as several of them were seen on the field at one point or another, whether it was emerging from the practice bubble or working off to the side: linebacker/defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham, tight end Rob Gronkowski, defensive back Matt Slater, offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer and Logan Mankins, defensive lineman Myron Pryor, linebackers Tracy White and Brandon Spikes and tight end Rob Gronkowski.

As they have done for much of the spring, Vollmer and Mankins were a straight duo throughout the session. They came onto the field shortly after the start of practice, did sprints and drills (with both moving gradually throughout the session) and left together before the end of practice.

Wes Welker appeared to tweak something in his right leg toward the end of practice, while Alfonzo Dennard looked to have a problem with his left leg midway through the workout. Neither injury appeared serious. In addition, running back Eric Kettani was getting some extra stretching in with a trainer at the end of the workout as well.

It was as star-studded a practice as we’€™ve seen this spring. Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, former Cardinals manager (and noted friend of Bill Belichick) Tony La Russa, NFLPA chief De Smith and Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs for the NFLPA George Atallah were all guests in attendance. (Belichick introduced Gronkowski to both La Russa and Thibodeau.) And despite the rain, Patriots owner Robert Kraft was on the field for portions of practice, glad-handing with the visitors. (At one point, Kraft spent a few seconds chatting with Welker.) Kraft later left with Smith and Atallah after a brief talk.

Overall, it was an intense session, but a little ragged at times, perhaps because of the weather. There was lots of kickoff work, throughout the afternoon, and several different returners worked into the mix, including Patrick Chung, Stevan Ridley and Donte Stallworth. (Belichick grew extremely animated at several points throughout practice, particularly during kickoff work.)

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