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Rob Ninkovich on long snapping: ‘It’s something that I’ve always worked on’

09.01.14 at 2:55 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 — Sometimes the hidden skills of an NFL player are forgotten.

Take Rob Ninkovich. Long before he became one of the better edge rushers in football and a perfect fit in the Patriots defense, he found his way onto an NFL roster through his special teams skills. Namely, Ninkovich perfected his long snapping skills.

With Joliet Junior College and Purdue University and then in the NFL with the Saints and Dolphins, Ninkovich proved his worth by not only rushing the passer but perfecting his long snapping skills, working on punt, extra point and field goal units.

“Snapping? I’ve been doing it for a long time now,” Ninkovich said. “That’s something that I’ve always worked on, constantly worked at and been able to use that, have that in my back pocket whenever there’s an issue [like] if a snapper hurts his hand or something, I can go out there and get the job done. Again, that just comes with doing it [in high school], doing it [in college] and it’s just another one of those things that can help the team.

“You can’t just expect to snap a football and not have done it or practiced it. I work on it all the time. Again [it’s about], the more things you can do, and the more things you can help your team out with.”

Ninkovich was spotted before the third preseason game with the Panthers working on his long snapping, though unlike Tom Brady, he did not make a special teams appearance during the preseason.

As Bill Belichick conceded Sunday in a conference call with reporters, Ninkovich could definitely be ‘an option’ for the Patriots as long snapper after the release of Danny Aiken as part of the cuts over the weekend.

“Whatever it is I’m doing, we all have multiple roles,” Ninkovich said. “I’m going to focus in on playing defense. Special teams, I’ve done it in the past. It’s something where if ever there’s opportunity for me to go out there and do it, I could do it. I’ve done it before.”

The Patriots did sign long snapper Charley Hughlett on Monday but that was to the practice squad. So, for right now, the active player on the roster with long snapping experience is Ninkovich.

“I don’t want to get into what I am doing and what I won’t be doing,” Ninkovich said. “Whatever I am doing and whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it to the best of my abilities.

“I’ve been in that position before. It’s one thing about this league, you never know what’s going to happen. I understand the anxiety that comes with that day. You just feel for those guys that weren’t able to stick around because there are a lot of good football players that don’t have a job. You just hope that they get another opportunity and go somewhere else and make the best of it.”

Read More: Charley Hughlett, Danny Aiken, New England Patriots, Rob Ninkovich

Patriots confirm addition of QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, nine others to practice squad

09.01.14 at 1:46 pm ET
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McLeod Bethel-Thompson

McLeod Bethel-Thompson

FOXBORO — The replacement for Ryan Mallett is officially on the practice squad.

The Patriots announced Monday that they have signed the full compliment of practice squad players as allowed under the new rules in the collective bargaining agreement. Among them is 26-year-old McLeod Bethel-Thompson, a third-year quarterback out of UCLA and Sacramento State.

The Patriots kept three quarterbacks – Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Garoppolo – throughout OTAs, minicamp, training camp and preseason, before trading Mallett to the Texans on Sunday for a future late-round draft pick.

Professionally, Bethel-Thompson has been with Miami (2011), Minnesota (2012-2013) and San Francisco (2013). The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder, was originally signed by San Francisco on July 28, 2011, as a rookie free agent. He was released by San Francisco at the end of training camp and joined the Miami practice squad in late December.

Bethel-Thompson spent the entire 2011 season as the third-string quarterback for Minnesota. He was released by Minnesota in October of 2013 and was claimed and awarded to San Francisco, where he spent time on both the 53-man roster and the practice squad.

Additionally, the Patriots announced that they have signed nine others to the practice squad. They include DL Jake Bequette, QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, WR Josh Boyce, LB Ja’€™Gared Davis, S Kanorris Davis, RB Jonas Gray, DL Charley Hughlett, OL Chris Martin, DL Deonate Skinner and DB Daxton Swanson.

Bequette, Boyce, Ja’€™Gared Davis, Kanorris Davis, Gray, Martin, Skinner and Swanson all were in camp with the Patriots this season. Hughlett spent part of the offseason with the Patriots this year.

Hughlett, 23, originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Dallas Cowboys out of Central Florida on April 30, 2012. He is a long-snapper by trade and took snaps Monday with the punting team. The 6-foot-4, 251-pounder was released by Dallas on Aug. 27, 2012. He was re-signed by Dallas on Jan. 7, 2013 and released for a second time on May 29, 2013. After being released by New England in May, Hughlett was signed by Jacksonville on June 19, 2014 before being released on Aug. 25, 2014. He handled all long snapping duties for four seasons at Central Florida.

Read More: Charley Hughlett, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, New England Patriots, practice squad

Patriots practice Monday: All accounted for as 10 practice squaders join ranks

09.01.14 at 1:26 pm ET
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Jake Bequette

Jake Bequette

FOXBORO — All eligible players were accounted for at Patriots practice in shorts and shells on Monday on the upper grass fields as the team got a head start on the season opener this Sunday in Miami.

The only players not on hand were receiver Brian Tyms and defensive back Brandon Browner, both of whom are serving league-mandated four-game suspensions for violation of the NFL PED policy. Beginning Monday, neither player are permitted to practice with the team or use team facilities during the suspension.

The practice also featured the debut of several players signed to the practice squad, including quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, WR Josh Boyce, LB Ja’€™Gared Davis, DE Jake Bequette, S Kanorris Davis, RB Jonas Gray, DL/LS Charley Hughlett, OL Chris Martin, DL Deonate Skinner and DB Daxton Swanson.

Bequette, Boyce, Ja’€™Gared Davis, Kanorris Davis, Gray, Martin, Skinner and Swanson all were in camp with the Patriots this season. Hughlett spent part of the offseason with the Patriots this year.

During the media portion of practice, long snapper Charley Hughlett was working with the punt team and Bethel-Thompson was working with the secondary on throwing deep balls.

There was one uniform number change of note as linebacker Darius Fleming went from No. 44 to No. 58.

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Rob Gronkowski announces: ‘I’m good to go. I’ll be playing [Sunday]’

09.01.14 at 12:36 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski has pronounced himself ready for the season opener. (Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski has pronounced himself ready for the season opener. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — It’s not often that a player gets to break news, but Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski broke some big news Monday before practice.

“Yep, I am [excited]. I’m good to go. I’ll be playing,” Gronkowski announced as he declared himself ready for Sunday’s season opener against the Dolphins in Miami.

This will mark the first game action of any kind since he tore his right ACL against Cleveland last December. Still, Gronkowski feels he’s fit enough to play a regular-season game.

“Super excited,” Gronkowski said. “Just seeing my teammates grind all week. Go back out there with them, get in the huddle, break the huddle with them. It’s going to be an honor to be out there with my teammates. Super pumped, super excited and just preparing for the game.

“I feel mentally and physically ready, for sure. No doubt about it.”

The news marks a stark contrast to 2013 when he and the team used a great deal of caution, protecting against a broken left forearm that would not heal properly. Gronkowski spent most of the first half of the season wondering exactly when he would feel comfortable enough taking hits in a game.

He eventually made his ’13 debut on Oct. 20 against the Jets. His season lasted just seven games when he was hit on his right knee by Cleveland’s T.J. Ward on Dec. 8, tearing his ACL. He had surgery on Jan. 9 and returned to full-team drills for the first time Aug. 18, did not play in the preseason.

Despite all of that, Gronk insisted Monday that he’d be ready to suit up and play Sunday against the Dolphins, a bit of an unusual declaration in an organization that usually guards the status of injured players like Fort Knox.

“Super excited, super pumped. I feel mentally and physically ready, for sure. No doubt about it,” Gronkowski said. “My mentality now is I’m ready to go, I’m ready to be out there, I’m ready to hit, I’m ready to start going.”

It should be noted that it wasn’t until his fifth game that Gronkowski played every snap. Likewise this time around, he doesn’t anticipate a full workload Sunday in Miami.

“Definitely not [playing] every single snap, but just get out there, get my feet wet, whatever coaches have, whatever we game-plan this week will be good,” Gronkowski said.

Gronkowski also insisted he will not be changing his reckless, physical style when he’s on the field.

“It feels good to be out here now this week, preparing for the Dolphins, knowing that I put myself in the best situation the last few weeks and few months to get back out here,” he added. “That was my plan the whole time, to work as hard as I could so I’d be ready for this week.”

Read More: Gronk, New England Patriots, Rob Gronkowski,

Report: Patriots add QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson to practice squad

08.31.14 at 6:31 pm ET
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McLeod Bethel-Thompson

McLeod Bethel-Thompson

The Patriots have added quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson to the practice squad, according to Adam Caplan of ESPN.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder out of UCLA has bounced around professional football the last few years. He’s had stints with the 49ers, Dolphins and Vikings, as well as San Jose of the Arena Football League and Sacramento of the United Football League.

He was with San Francisco in camp earlier this summer but was part of the cuts that reduced the roster to 75 players. In three preseason games this summer, the 26-year-old was 11-for-18 for 113 yards no touchdowns and two interceptions.

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Patriots officially announce Ryan Mallett trade, as well as other transactions

08.31.14 at 4:29 pm ET
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The Patriots announced a series of roster moves Sunday afternoon, including the official announcement of the trade of Ryan Mallett, the acquisitions of Kelcy Quarles and defensive lineman Bruce Gaston and the release of linebacker Chris White. Here’s a portion of the statement from the team on the moves:

Gaston, 22, was originally signed by Arizona as a rookie free agent out of Purdue on May 12, 2014. The 6-foot-2, 310-pounder, was released by Arizona on Aug. 30, 2014. Gaston saw action in 50 consecutive games over four seasons at Purdue with 44 starts and finished with 131 total tackles, seven sacks, four fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

Quarles, 22, was originally signed by the Giants as a rookie free agent out of South Carolina on May 12, 2014. The 6-foot-4, 294-pounder, was released by the Giants on Aug. 30, 2014. He played in 35 games with 28 starts during a three-year career at South Carolina, finishing with 105 total tackles and 13 sacks. Quarles attended Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy for one year prior to transferring to South Carolina.

Mallett, 26, is a veteran of three NFL season with the Patriots. The 6-foot-6, 245-pounder, originally joined the Patriots as a third round (74th overall) draft pick out of Arkansas in 2011. He has played in four NFL games and has completed one pass for 17 yards.

White, 25, is a veteran of three NFL seasons with the Buffalo Bills (2011-12) and the Patriots (2013). The 6-foot-3, 238-pounder, was claimed off waivers and awarded to the Patriots from Detroit on Sept. 1, 2013. He originally entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick (169th overall) by Buffalo out of Mississippi State in 2011. He was traded by Buffalo to Detroit in a trade for QB Thad Lewis on Aug. 25, 2013. White was released by Detroit on Aug. 31, 2013. Last season, White played in 16 games and finished with one tackle on defense and nine special teams tackles.

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Read More: Bruce Gaston, Chris White, Kelcy Quarles, Ryan Mallett

Bill Belichick on constructing ‘best line’ to protect Tom Brady

08.31.14 at 3:36 pm ET
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Marcus Cannon could get a chance to be a big part of the Patriots offensive line this season. (Getty Images)

Marcus Cannon could get a chance to be a big part of the Patriots offensive line this season. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Much was made of what the Patriots were going to do with the departure of Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay. Josh Kline got the start at left guard Thursday in the preseason finale and looked strong for the most part, with the exception of getting bull-rushed twice that left him on the ground.

Bill Belichick spoke glowingly about Marcus Cannon on Friday in a conference call, leading to speculation that one might see a line of Nate Solder, Cannon, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer to start the season.

There’s also the possibility that Jordan Devey could see action on the interior at either guard position.

The offensive line in front of Tom Brady has seen its fair share of transition over the years. From Matt Light to Nate Solder at left tackle, and Dan Koppen to Dan Connolly at center, there has always been player movement along the line and somehow Tom Brady manages to still run one of the best offenses in football.

But Brady enters this season with more doubt about who will be helping to protect his blind side. Belichick offered some perspective Sunday, reminding everyone that it’s not necessarily the five best individuals on the line but the best working unit that he’s looking for to protect Brady and provide the holes for the running game.

“I think in the end you want to get your, not necessarily your best five athletes, but the best line that you can put out there,” Belichick said. “That group has a lot of responsibility in terms of protecting the quarterback and protecting the running backs and giving your team an opportunity to move the ball consistently. So, whatever that is, I think you always want your best group out there. That may be your best players, there may be situations where you might have a better player that’s not in there but the position doesn’t fit.”

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Read More: Darius Fleming, Jordan Devey, Josh Kline, Malcolm Butler
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