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Patriots release TE Kyle Auffray

06.16.14 at 5:24 pm ET
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The Patriots released first-year tight end Kyle Auffray on Monday. Here’s a portion of the statement issued by the team on the move:

Auffray, 27, was signed by the Patriots on June 9. He originally was signed by the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie free agent on May 13, 2013, out of New Hampshire but was released by the team on July 23, 2013. The 6-foot-5, 254-pounder began his collegiate career at Mississippi State from 2006-07 as a quarterback but did not see any game action. He transferred to New Hampshire where he played in 16 games over two seasons. Auffray played in 13 games with seven starts as a senior in 2010 and caught four passes for 34 yards. He also handled punting duties for New Hampshire as a senior, finishing with 71 punts for a 37.7-yards per punt average.

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7 things we’re watching for this week at Patriots minicamp

06.16.14 at 1:25 pm ET
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With the Patriots set to hold mandatory minicamp this week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), here are seven things we’ll be keeping an eye on throughout the week.

1. Defensive line — The Patriots have a few questions when it comes to what’s going on up front, including what to make of young defensive lineman Armond Armstead, who missed all of last season because of a mysterious ailment. In addition, veterans Vince Wilfork (Achilles), Tommy Kelly (knee) and Will Smith (knee) continue to work their way back to full health, while first-round pick Dominique Easley (knee) has been brought along slowly as well. How have youngsters like Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga been able to progress after a full year in the system? And can they take advantage of the reps if the veterans are on the shelf for part of this week’s minicamp? It’ll also be interesting to hear from Wilfork, who had an eventful offseason but has mostly stayed silent since the postseason loss to the Broncos.

2. Health — Tight end Rob Gronkowski put in some time on the field with his teammates throughout the OTAs, but more often than not he then retreated to the practice bubble with a rehab crew for the rest of the session. Where is he at this stage of his rehab, and can be sustain a full practice with the rest of his teammates? (In that same vein, a handful of injured players, including special teamer Matthew Slater and offensive tackle Nate Solder, have been part of that rehab group.)

3. Safety — The spot opposite Devin McCourty is one of the only real positional battles on the defensive side of the ball for the Patriots, and even though it’s early in the process, there are a few possibilities, including Logan Ryan, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson. (For what it’s worth, last year’s starter Steve Gregory is still available as a free agent.) Among those players still on the roster, Harmon saw the most action at the position last season, and so he’s the closest thing New England has to an incumbent at the spot

4. Kick returner — With the offseason departure of LeGarrette Blount to Pittsburgh, that leaves a special teams opening, and by the looks of what happened during the OTAs, there are a handful of candidates for the position, including Josh Boyce and Shane Vereen, as well as rookies Roy Finch and Jeremy Gallon. Can any one of them step up and seize the position before the start of training camp?

5. Wide receiver — The status of Dobson is in no doubt this week because of his foot injury — one report says he won’t be available — and so that casts some doubt about where the position stands at this point in the spring. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola figure to be the two top options, while newcomer Brandon LaFell continues to progress in the system. With the understanding that Slater is considered a wide receiver and the team usually carries between five and six receivers, that could leave Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins and the rest of the receivers angling for a one or two available spots. Thompkins can distinguish himself and solidify a roster spot with a good week of minicamp, while Boyce also has potential special teams experience to drawn upon in any sort of battle for a roster spot.

6. Rookies — In addition to seeing where Easley is at this stage of his development, minicamp will provide an opportunity to watch the rest of the first-year players and their ability to build on what they learned throughout the OTA process. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was a mixed bag when stepping in for Ryan Mallett last week, but he has been able to stand out among the rookies (and has been praised by some of the veterans) for his ability to command the huddle. Center Bryan Stork took a lot of snaps last week, while tackle Cameron Fleming will be in for his first extended series of practices following Stanford’s graduation. And the undersized Gallon could be the latest seventh-round draft pick to land a roster spot.

7. Attendance — Not that this has been a problem for the Patriots throughout the spring — according to reports, the players who weren’t present for OTAs all had excused absences — but the minicamp sessions are mandatory. (According to the collective bargaining agreement, the OTAs are not mandatory.)

Here’s this week’s schedule for the Patriots. (While the sessions are open to the media, they are closed to the public.)

Tuesday
8:30 a.m. Patriots coach Bill Belichick media availability.
11 a.m. — 12:45 p.m. Media availability at practice.
Approx. 12:45 p.m. Player media availability on the field immediately after practice.

Wednesday
11 a.m. — 12:45 p.m. Media availability at practice.
Approx. 12:45 p.m. Player media availability on the field immediately after practice, including quarterback Tom Brady.

Thursday
11 a.m. — 12:45 p.m. Media availability at practice.
Approx. 12:45 p.m. Player media availability on the field immediately after practice.

Aaron Hernandez’s lawyers ask for dismissal of Odin Lloyd murder charge

06.16.14 at 1:04 pm ET
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During a hearing Monday in Bristol Superior Court in Fall River, attorneys for Aaron Hernandez asked that the murder charge against the former Patriots tight end related to the killing of Odin Lloyd be dropped.

The attorneys also requested that surveillance video from Hernandez’s home — which showed Hernandez carrying a gun the night of the murder — not be allowed as evidence in the trial because investigators did not have enough probably cause to obtain a search warrant.

The prosecution fought both arguments, explaining the state’s case and insisting there is “powerful evidence” of Hernandez’s involvement.

“The evidence would suggest presence, knowledge and intent to see this thing through,” prosecutor William McCauley said.

Judge Susan Garsh did not immediately rule on the defense’s motions, saying she will take them under advisement and announce a ruling at a later date. She also said to expect a trial to begin Oct. 6.

Hernandez, who also is accused of killing two men in a 2012 incident in Boston, pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of assaulting an inmate and threatening a guard.

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Plenty of parallels between Patriots, Spurs

06.16.14 at 6:00 am ET
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The Spurs wrapped up their fifth NBA championship with a 104-87 win over the Heat on Sunday night, a title that cements the legacy of the Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan as one of the best coach/player combinations in the recent history of professional basketball.

It’s a different sport, but from this viewpoint, it’s hard not to be struck by the parallels between the Patriots and Spurs. The two franchises seem to be cut from the same cloth — the management style, team-building approach and relationship between coach and star player that allow San Antonio to prosper are markedly similar to the way New England approaches life in the NFL.

As we wrote last year, the commonalties between the two teams are numerous. It starts with the stars, and Duncan and Tom Brady are cut from the same cloth. Both set the tone for their teams, and both have a like-minded approach with their respective head coach, a relationship built on trust and understanding. In addition, both teams needed a little luck to land their respective star: Brady was somehow available in the sixth round, while Duncan was acquired after the Spurs saw the bounce of a few ping-pong balls go their way.

Last week, Brady acknowledged he was impressed by the level of teamwork displayed by both the Spurs and the Heat to that point in the NBA Finals.

“He’€™s incredible,”€ Brady said of Duncan. “I think the thing you take from watching (the two teams) is how good they are as a team. LeBron James without the other guys he has is nothing. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, without the guys they have on that team, as an individual you can’€™t succeed in a team sport.

“€œIt’€™s very different than golf or one of those sports that maybe some guys like. I like it as a hobby, but team sports, to me, bring out the best in everybody. They bring out your competitiveness, the discipline, the willingness to do whatever is best for the team and not necessarily the individual.”

Then, there are the coaches: Bill Belichick and Popovich are similarly inclined individualists who were born into military families. Both were well-respected assistants who eventually evolved into successful head coaches, and both do not suffer fools gladly.

Ultimate, the organizational philosophies also mesh. Former Patriots GM Scott Pioli and Spurs GM R.C. Buford have spent time together comparing notes on the team-building process, and both understand the idea that when it comes to constructing a roster, it’s not about collecting talent. It’s about assembling a team.

“œJust because the football and the basketball aren’€™t shaped alike,” Pioli told reporters a few years ago who asked about the commonalities between the Patriots and Spurs, “€œdoesn’€™t mean ideas can’€™t be.

“€œTo have sustained excellence over a decade is extremely difficult, and the Spurs have done it as well as anyone,”€ Pioli added. “€œWhat is really impressive is their player development — the fact that they’€™ve brought in so many international players and integrated them into a system.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Gregg Popovich, LeBron James, R.C. Buford

Sunday NFL Notes: Will 2014 be ‘leap’ year for LB Jamie Collins?

06.15.14 at 6:00 am ET
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1. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has long maintained that the toughest transition for a young player isn’t necessarily the jump from college to rookie year in the NFL, but Year 1 to Year 2 while in the league. By that point, players are established commodities. Teams have a full year of film for studying purposes, and tendencies can be pinpointed. As a result, coaches can do what they can when it comes to putting them in positions to succeed, but more often than not, it’€™s on the player to be able to make that leap from young upstart to consistent presence. With that in mind, from our viewpoint, here’€™s a look at the six Patriots players who were rookies last season who have the best chance to make the leap in 2014.

a. Jamie Collins — Some would argue the young linebacker made the jump at the end of the 2013 season when he joined the starting lineup on a full-time basis, working in coverage against tight ends and occasionally getting a chance to get after the passer. If that’€™s the case, now, it’€™s a matter of bringing it consistently over a 16-game season, as well as the postseason. He should certainly have the opportunity, as the personnel changes at linebacker over the course of the offseason mean he’€™ll start the 2014 season as an every-down linebacker alongside Jerod Mayo and Dont’€™a Hightower.

b. Aaron Dobson — The receiver out of Marshall had issues over the course of the 2013 season, and he’€™d probably like to take a mulligan on the way his year ended — after the Monday night loss to the Panthers in Carolina, he had just two catches the rest of the season. But he had one of the best seasons of any rookie receiver while working with quarterback Tom Brady (his 37 catches, 519 yards and four touchdowns were certainly comparable with Deion Branch‘€™s 43-489-2 line as a rookie back in 2002), and he will start the year as New England’€™s primary deep passing threat.

c. Josh Boyce — Because of an injury-shortened season — as well as some self-admitted struggles with the playbook — we’€™re not quite sure what Boyce is at this stage. (What we do know is that he provides awesome GIFs, like this one after he shook Cleveland’s Buster Skrine.) Regardless, with the LeGarette Blount Kick Return Experiment now done in New England, Boyce should get a chance to work as a return man.

d. Kenbrell Thompkins — We are already on record as saying there’€™s a chance Thompkins is the odd-man odd when it comes to the wide receiver spot, and so it was no surprise to see the Patriots give Thompkins a shot at special teams as a possible kick returner at a recent OTA session. Like Dobson, he dropped off the radar screen late in the year, and it would appear he still needs a strong spring and summer to secure a roster spot this season.

e. Defensive back Logan Ryan — Ryan is a fascinating prospect — there’€™s been plenty of talk about a potential move to strong safety for the Rutgers product as a potential replacement for Steve Gregory, but to this point in the spring, we’€™ve only seen him working as a corner. (That’€™s not to suggest he hasn’€™t seen time at safety in other practices — only to say that we haven’€™t had a chance to judge any sort of possible safety skills.) If he does move to safety, New England certainly hopes that it goes half as well as the transition Devin McCourty made a few years ago. One stat from Football Outsiders certainly caught our eye — in 600 snaps last season, no one managed to get away with a broken tackle. It’€™s the best mark on the team from anyone with at least 500 snaps.

f. Defensive back Duron Harmon — Harmon is listed as 6-feet and 198 pounds, but certainly looks like he put on a few pounds this offseason. How that translates to the field remains to be seen, but it has certainly allowed him to standout — and be easily identifiable — from the numberless field over the course of the recently completed OTAs.

2. One thing that’€™s been interesting about that group, at least this spring, is that some veterans have offered unsolicited praise for last year’€™s rookies and their overall evolution. Cornerback Darrelle Revis said Ryan was “a very smart guy,”€ while Hightower said Collins “was a lot more mature in his first year than some people are in their third year.”€ While veterans players usually keep things vague and overly simplistic when it comes to praising younger teammates, the positive words certainly stick out, particularly Hightower’€™s words regarding Collins.

“€œIt was a little bit harder losing Mayo and all those guys. Before that it was a lot more fluid,”€ Hightower said of Collins’ evolution in 2013. “And with Jamie I feel like he’€™s blossomed a lot sooner than anybody. I feel like he was a lot more mature than some people are in their third year. Him coming in and learning the way he did his first year, you couldn’€™t tell that he wasn’€™t a three- or a four-year player. He’€™s helping out a lot. He’€™s getting the younger guys in there, watching film, and getting everything situated with them. Just like Mayo said: We have old souls. We mature a lot faster.”

3. When it comes to seventh-round draft picks, the Patriots have been able to hit on a few different offensive skill position players over the last decade-plus. Since the start of the Belichick era, they’€™ve found fullback Patrick Pass (2000), David Givens (2002), Matt Cassel (2005) and Julian Edelman (2009) as seventh-round pickups. (That doesn’€™t include defensive players like Alfonzo Dennard, Tully Banta-Cain and Brandon Deaderick, all of whom have started in their careers with New England.) That’€™s some good production for a spot that some might consider a throwaway pick.

(For what it’€™s worth, in this excellent breakdown by our pal Chris Warner, you could make an argument that the seventh round has seen the highest percentage of ‘€œsuccessful’€ third-day picks in recent franchise history.)

Into the picture comes this year’€™s seventh rounder, wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, an undersized mighty-mite out of Michigan who was a yardage machine for the Wolverines last season. In 2013, he broke program records for receiving yards in a single season (1,373 yards) and a single game (369 yards vs. Indiana). The 5-foot-8, 187-pound speedster also posted good numbers as a return man, compiling 589 yards on 27 kick returns in 2010, and 192 yards on 31 punt returns in 2011.

“He’€™s been a very productive player for Michigan — small guy, but compact, explosive,”€ Belichick shortly after Gallon was selected 244th overall. “He’€™s had a lot of big plays for them. Real top traits, hard working kid, very competitive player, been very productive at Michigan.”

Gallon certainly faces an uphill battle for playing time as a rookie. As we’€™ve said before, the Patriots usually go into the season with somewhere between five and seven wide receivers, and when you consider the veterans who are already on the roster, it could be a challenge for him in his first year. That doesn’€™t even begin to take into account the fact that, as a slot receiver, he will have Edelman and Danny Amendola ahead of him on the depth chart.

But with Blount’€™s departure as a free agent, there is the possibility of having him work as a kick returner, a spot where he enjoyed real success as a collegian. He’€™s seen some occasional work at the position over the course of the OTAs, and it would stand to reason that he’€™ll show up there during this week’€™s minicamp. If he can show consistency when it comes to working on special teams, he could stick on the 53-man roster as a rookie and go from there.

4. The Jets have never been shy when it comes to kicking the tires on former Patriots who become available, and the latest pair of former New Englanders looking for another chance with Rex Ryan are linebacker Jermaine Cunningham and cornerback Ras-I Dowling. Dowling was added to the Jets practice squad last October, and Cunningham joined New York last November. According to reports, both have gotten some extended run this spring throughout OTAs. New York could use some help at both outside linebacker and cornerback, and Ryan said he doesn’€™t necessarily care where that help comes from.

“I don’€™t believe the one guy up in New England’€™s got all the answers,”€ Ryan told the New York Daily News this past week when asked about Cunningham and Dowling. “€œI worry about ourselves, what we think of a player and how we evaluate a player. Do I respect the hell out of Bill [Beichick]? Absolutely. But if we think a player can help us, we don’€™t care how we get him.

“€œYou had the same perception of a Ryan,”€ Ryan said. “If you let a defensive player go, why pick him up if he can’€™t play for you?… It could have been a logjam at (the position). Maybe they were looking for something else. You really don’€™t know. But again, I don’€™t care.”

Cunningham was a second-round pick of New England in 2010, had 59 tackles and 3.5 sacks with the Patriots in three seasons. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder, who was suspended for PEDs for four games in 2012, has his best year with New England last season when he had 2.5 sacks and 24 tackles (16 solo) in 12 games (three starts).

“€œSometimes change is good,”€ said Cunningham, who played two games for the Jets last season. “Every day my mentality is to just play up to the ability that everybody knows I have.”

As for Dowling, he was the 33rd overall pick in the 2011 draft, but also struggled with injury over the course of his career in New England. Over two seasons with the Patriots, the Virginia product had 10 tackles, no interceptions and no sacks.

“€œEvery day, my motivation is high,”€ Dowling said. “€œEverybody doesn’€™t have the talent that we’€™re given. There’€™s a lot of people that would kill (to be) in this league. So, I’€™m here and every day I just work.”

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Bill Belichick, Patriots always held Chuck Noll in high esteem

06.14.14 at 6:00 am ET
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Former Steelers head coach Chuck Noll passed away at the age of 82 on Friday.

Noll, who guided Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl titles, always had the respect of the Patriots franchise, including New England coach Bill Belichick. Belichick spoke of Noll fondly on several occasions — the last time publicly came in October 2013, when Belichick reflected on the possibility of passing Noll for seventh place on the list of most career wins for a head coach.

“I have tremendous respect for Coach Noll. Yeah — he was one of the great coaches when I came into the league in ‘€™75, and for the next 15 years. I had the opportunity to coach with several coaches who were at Pittsburgh with Coach Noll. Some of the things that I learned from them, or about him through them, whatever you want to call it, and of course competing against him,” Belichick said.

“I have tremendous respect for Coach Noll and his whole program there. They were an excellent team and they were a good, sound team — a team that you always, as a coach outside of Pittsburgh, always tried to look at what they were doing and learn from it: their fundamentals, their technique, their scheme — which wasn’€™t overly complicated, but it was very sound.

“I think that their program, what they did there schematically and all was very, very good. Coach Noll and his approach to the game, his consistency, his level demeanor and the consistency that they had, I thought was always exemplary, right at the top of coaches that I tried to learn from and take things from them,” Belichick added. “Going against him every year, as a defensive coach against their offense, when I was with the Giants through all those years in the ‘€˜80s was also always a good, it was a great experience because they were so well balanced, they threw the ball down the field, they ran the ball, they had a good balanced attacked.

“I think I learned a lot from the outside, looking at that program that Coach Noll ran. Bill [Cowher] really kind of had somewhat of a continuation of that, even though they changed defensively to his blitz-zone package but a lot of the things that they did fundamentally there, especially on the offensive side of the ball, with Dick Hoak there in the running game and all that, it was a couple decades of stuff really that was a carryover from Coach Noll and the consistency that they had all the way up into this century, the 2000s.”

Prior to Super Bowl XLVI — when the Patriots and Belichick were going for their fourth Super Bowl title — Belichick was asked about the chance to tie Noll’s record for Super Bowl wins.

“It would make me feel pretty good,” Belichick said at the time. “It’s a great honor to be mentioned in the same conversation with Chuck. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Chuck and the job he did with his team and the organization.

“It’s very flattering to be mentioned in the same sentence with Chuck Noll.”

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For Stanford double-major Cameron Fleming, learning Patriots playbook shouldn’t be difficult

06.13.14 at 11:10 am ET
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For rookies — all new players, really — learning the Patriots playbook is a bit of a challenge with the numerous schemes and many new concepts. But for rookie right tackle Cameron Fleming, the X’€™s and O’€™s will be nothing compared to what he went through during his four years in the classroom at Stanford.

Fleming double-majored in aeronautics and astronautics, so he is no stranger to foreign concepts and challenging his brain.

“He’€™s designed planes in class and stuff like that,” Stanford offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren said in a phone interview. “He knows that is what he wants to do after football, and so not only is he your typical Stanford kid, but he’s one that majored in that. He’€™s absolutely brilliant.”

Last year as a senior Fleming needed to schedule special meetings with Bloomgren to go over game plans, as Fleming was in class when the rest of the team had meetings. Over lunch each day the pair would go over what Fleming missed, becoming very close to one another over the course of the season.

Bloomgren coached in the NFL, serving as an offensive assistant with the Jets for four seasons before joining Stanford in 2011. With that NFL experience, he knows what the playbooks look like and installed a similar philosophy at Stanford with multiple plays being called in the huddle, many audibles, etc. He said it will be a seamless transition for Fleming to the pro game.

“Absolutely, especially in a system like ours and one like the New England system,” Bloomgren said. “The little that I know about it, it certainly requires you to be a thinking man. A guy that can go to a second play and have the quarterback come to the line and audible, do whatever he tells you to do, and Cameron is that guy. He’€™s a guy that can certainly adjust on the run, and that is nothing new for him to go to the line of scrimmage with two or three plays called in the huddle and he’€™s told which one to run.”

On the field Fleming is a monster. He stands 6-foot-5, 323 pounds. As a sophomore he started 11 games and protected Andrew Luck while the quarterback threw a school-record 37 touchdown passes. As a junior Fleming started 14 games at right tackle and was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention. As a senior he started all 14 games and took home numerous awards, including All-Pac-12 second team, Sporting News All-Pac-12 and Athlon Sports All-Pac-12 second team.

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Cameron Fleming, Mike Bloomgren, Patriots
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