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Wednesday minicamp notes: Quarterbacks in focus on hot day in Foxboro

06.18.14 at 4:01 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots held their second minicamp workout Wednesday on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. The practice ran nearly two hours, and was in steamy heat. Here are a few quick notes:

The following players were not present: wide receiver Aaron Dobson, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, defensive lineman Dominique Easley, wide receiver Wilson Van Hooser, defensive lineman Armond Armstead and defensive lineman Marcus Forston. In addition, tight end Rob Gronkowski, special teamer Matthew Slater and quarterback Ryan Mallett were part of a rehab group — Gronkowski and Slater later appeared roughly midway through practice and ran sprints on an adjoining hill.

— As some other colleagues have noted, there was some dispute about the status of cornerback Darrelle Revis. From this viewpoint, he was on the field with his teammates at the start of practice, but was not with the team at the end of practice. It’s worth noting that there was no singular incident that would suggest a red flag — practice didn’t stop, the medical staff didn’t call for a cart, etc. But on a practice field with almost 100 players and all of them not wearing numbers, it’s not a surprise that even a dynamic presence like Revis can occasionally fall between the cracks.

— There was a higher than usual level of intensity throughout the workout, as both offense and defense took turns woofing at each other throughout the session.

— As for the rest of the roster, the quarterbacks were certainly in focus. Starter Tom Brady — who spoke with the media at length after the session — had a series of really nice throws in the 11-on-11 drills, a sequence of passes to Kenbrell Thompkins, Michael Hoomanawanui and Julian Edelman. That was on top of an impressive play with Thompkins earlier in practice where he lofted a ball up and over the outstretched arms of cornerback Brandon Browner for a touchdown. A really well executed play by both the quarterback and receiver. (Browner did have a nice pass break up shortly after that on a Brady pass meant for Danny Amendola.)

— In addition, it was another day of progress for rookie Jimmy Garoppolo. Like Tuesday, he wasn’t razor sharp — was had a few ugly drops from his pass catchers — but there was improvement from the day before. He had a sweet connection with Justin Jones in 11-on-11s, and he also had great hookup with Reese Wiggins on deep ball late in practice.

— Three more rookie notes: one, guard Jon Halapio is getting more and more time with what appears to be a reasonable facsimile of the starting offensive line, and appears to be holding his own. It’s early, but it’s a good sign for the Florida product, who could be pushing for a spot on the interior of the offensive line. Two, running back Roy Finch had an awesome over-the-shoulder catch. And Jones had an up-and-down day at tight end, with some nice grabs and some bad drops.

— Midway through practice, Wiggins and cornerback Malcolm Butler squared off and started pushing and shoving at end of a play. It appeared that Wiggins took exception to a little extra swat from Butler and they got in each others face and started pushing. Nothing too major, and it was quickly broken up.

— Through early drills, new linebacker James Anderson was working alongside Dont’a Hightower, and he appeared to be picking things up quickly.

— Owner Robert Kraft was on the field for a portion of practice.

— The Patriots are scheduled to wrap up minicamp tomorrow with one session set to start shortly after 11 a.m. However, coach Bill Belichick has canceled the last day of minicamp workouts the last two years. We’ll see if he makes it three-for-three tomorrow.

Tom Brady responds to criticism that he’s declining: ‘My wife [and] mom think I’ve played pretty good’

06.18.14 at 2:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Not that he needed it, but Tom Brady was given some inspiration recently when it was written that his game is on the decline and he is no longer among the very elite quarterbacks in the NFL.

On Wednesday, he fired back, sort of.

“I’m always pretty fired up,” Brady said after minicamp practice outside a steamy Gillette Stadium. “I think there’s people who always have opinions about us as athletes. You just try to go out there and do your best and you go home at night realizing you left it all out on the field. Some days you don’t play your best but that’s sports. I try to go out there and be the best I can be this year.

“Who were they? Jets fans or Dolphins fans or Patriots fans, I don’t know. Everyone is a little biased. My wife thinks I’ve played pretty good. My mom thinks I’ve played pretty good. It doesn’t matter.”

Sam Monson, of Pro Football Focus, wrote that Brady’s game has been “in decline” for some time.

At the end of Brady’s 10-minute session with reporters, he summarized his motivation and drive to stay on top of his game, bringing up his past, including his selection in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft.

“You’ve got to do it,” Brady said of his work and work ethic. “You’ve got to put in the time. If you want to be special at this game, then you’ve got to do whatever it takes. Some things come more naturally to certain people. The mental part came pretty naturally for me. I really had to work hard on the physical part [on] what it takes to be an NFL player. There was a reason I was sixth round pick because I didn’t have much ability so I’ve got to try to work hard to improve those things over the years while still keeping my mental game sharp.”

Brady also admitted that his Brazilian supermodel wife, Gisele, will be heading to her homeland to take in the World Cup. His plans are not quite as firm.

“I was watching, yeah. It’s been pretty fun to watch the last week or so,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of good games. We’re pretty focused on the football stuff here but obviously what’s going on in the world in sports is great. I love watching.”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t finalized everything. It’s a busy time. I have three kids at home. They take up a lot of time and energy. I know my wife is heading down there, which will be fun for her.”

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Duron Harmon listening, learning in anticipation of possible full-time move to safety

06.17.14 at 5:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It was hard not to notice the conversation.

At one point in Tuesday’s minicamp session, with the rest of the defense off on other parts of the practice field, four defensive backs stood together with a member of the New England coaching staff. There were cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, along with safety Devin McCourty. Once Browner is done with his four-game ban for PEDs, this is the trio that will likely serve as the foundation for the Patriots secondary in 2014.

The fourth part of the quartet? Second-year defensive back Duron Harmon.

So what’s your move when you’re a part of a conversation like that, Duron?

“Really, just me listening,” he said a little sheepishly when asked about the scene following Tuesday’s practice.

“You have guys that are All-Pros — what can I really say?” he added. “I’m in my second year, and these guys have played a lot of football and a lot of great football at a high level. It’s really a great chance for me to just sit back and soak up a lot of that wisdom from those three guys.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick cautioned people not to read too much into personnel groupings and on-field action throughout the OTAs and minicamp, but by the looks of things on Tuesday, it certainly appears Harmon has the inside track on the safety spot opposite McCourty, The Rutgers product, who played both corner and safety last season, had two picks and four passes defensed in 15 games in 2013, and certainly showed enough to be considered part of the rotation in the secondary for 2014.

But a series of events — starting with the offseason release of veteran safety Steve Gregory and continuing with the addition of Revis and Browner — have led to Harmon moving from backup defensive back to injecting himself into the mix at strong safety.

While the 6-foot, 198-pounder isn’t a classic hitter in the typical strong safety mold, he’s already put in plenty of work studying some of the best safeties in the game in hopes of getting up to speed as fast as possible. He said Tuesday he spent the bulk of the offseason watching film on safeties like Seattle’s Earl Thomas, Indy’s Antoine Bethea, Tampa Bay’s Dashon Goldson and Cleveland’s Donte Whitner, as well as McCourty.

“One of the things that I did was just pinpoint a few safeties I thought were very, very good in the game, and I watched them,” he said. “I tried to watch different techniques that they utilized. I tried to watch how they play, how they play physically, how they play at the line of scrimmage. How they play in the deep part of the field. And just seeing what type of football players they are and try and utilize that and put some of it in my game.

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Read More: Brandon Browner, Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon

Jimmy Garoppolo is ready to be ‘consistently good, not occasionally great’

06.17.14 at 5:11 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Jimmy Garoppolo is getting up to speed with the high-powered Patriots offense with each passing day. These days include two-hour sessions during minicamp outside Gillette Stadium.

The rookie quarterback out of Eastern Illinois was as sharp Tuesday in the opening of minicamp as he has been in the 10 previous practices during OTAs, connecting with Jeremy Johnson on a long touchdown pass late in the workout.

“It was a good read,” Garoppolo said before cracking a smile of confidence. “It was just one of those things, you see safeties rotate, you get your eyes in the right place and you have to have efficient eyes. I did that on that play.

“It’s a day-by-day process. I went out there and had a good day today,” Garoppolo said.

Garoppolo is obviously working behind Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett. But for the second straight week, Garoppolo got all of the second team snaps as Ryan Mallett was off the practice field and inside the field house while the team help minicamp practice outside in the heat. As for the heat of battling for the back-up job behind Brady, Garoppolo said things couldn’t be going much better.

“Without a doubt, Tom does a great job of just going out there,” Garoppolo said. “Guys look to him as a coach on the field and that’s what you want in a quarterback. So, just watching and learning, not so much what he tells me but just watching his mannerisms, I’ve learned a lot.”

Garoppolo said he is, by no means, thinking of being Brady’s heir apparent several years down the road.

“It’s just one of those things that you can’t really focus on that,” he added. “If you’re focused on that, you’re focused on the wrong thing. My main focus was coming out here and being very consistent, day in and day out. It’s a grind. You have to do good each and every day.”

Garoppolo said he’s excited to be working with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

“It’s awesome. Josh, he’s just like me,” Garoppolo said. “He’s just an energetic guy, loves the offense, loves football and he’ll go out there and have a great time every day.”

As for comparing this to workouts and practices at Eastern Illinois, Garoppolo said it really doesn’t.

“I don’t know if you could even compare the two,” he said. “It’s night and day. We come out here. It’s gorgeous out today, had a great day of practice. What else would you rather be doing?

“It’s a process, for sure. It’s just one of those things you have to take it day-by-day. Each day is different and you have to be consistently good, not occasionally great. You have to come out here and do your best every single day and let the coaches see what you can do. It’s very fast but that’s what Coach Belichick wants it to be. He wants to have great tempo in and out of the huddle and moving from station to station. I think we did a good job of that today.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Eastern Illinois, Jimmy Garoppolo, Josh McDaniels

After a season on the shelf, Tommy Kelly returns to action with Patriots

06.17.14 at 4:21 pm ET
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FOXBORO — What’s that saying about the best laid plans?

Veteran defensive lineman Tommy Kelly went down with what appeared to be a relatively benign knee injury in an October loss to the Bengals. At the time, it appeared Kelly would be able to return to the lineup sooner rather than later, and resume serving as a terrifically disruptive presence up front in his first year for the Patriots’ defense.

“That was my plan,” Kelly said with a laugh following Tuesday’s minicamp session on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. “That’s what I was hoping and praying for, but it just didn’t work out that way.

“Me and the training staff, we worked hard trying to get back to the point where I could get through the game and stuff,” he added. “But it just didn’t work out that way.”

Kelly was out for the rest of the season, a bitter pill considering that the 33-year-old jumped at the chance to sign with New England last offseason for a few reasons — not the least of which is the fact that he had never had the chance to play for a team that finished with a record better than 8-8 in his previous nine seasons in the NFL.

But it wasn’t meant to be, as the 6-foot-6, 310-pounder sat and watched the Patriots finish with a 12-4 mark and a spot in the AFC title game.

“I came here to try and help the team get to the next level, and then (got) hurt,” said Kelly, who ended the year with 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks in five games. “Seeing how far we got and not being out there to help the guys out, that was just the hard part.”

That, combined with the loss of Vince Wilfork the week before Kelly went down (Wilfork’s suffered a season-ending Achilles’ injury) was a blow to the heart of the New England defense.

“I know coming into the process [Vince] was durable, I was durable at that point in my career. So I pretty much thought that’s all that mattered,” the gregarious Kelly said. “But when you both go down in back to back weeks, that was a blow. Me, not even just having him out there, because he was a real good person for me to lean on coming into a new scheme and system. [When] I got confused about stuff, I would just ask him. He just made it real easy for me.”

As he noted, Kelly had been extremely durable over the course of his career — prior to 2013, he had played 16 regular-season games in seven of the previous eight years. However, he suffered a similar knee injury in 2007 that limited him seven games. While he acknowledged that rehab has been a little easier because of what he went through in 2007, it’s still a difficult experience to be on the shelf with an injury but be around team on a regular basis.

“It is,” he said. “You’re part of the team, but you ain’t because you ain’t in the game plan. I don’t care how much good things you’ve got to say, if you ain’t in the game plan or you ain’t in the game, they really don’t care that much. If the guys asked me something, I was there for them, but I just tried to stay out of the way.”
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Read More: Tommy Kelly, Vince Wilfork,

Patriots sign DL Seali’i Epenesa

06.17.14 at 4:00 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots signed rookie free agent defensive lineman Seali’€™i Epenesa out of UCLA on Tuesday. The following is a portion of the release issued by the team on the move:

Epenesa, 22, played in 41 games and finished with 46 total tackles and one sack during his four year college career. The 6-foot-1, 310-pounder played in 12 games with seven starts as a senior in 2013 and was credited with 16 tackles and one sack.

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Tuesday minicamp notes: Does Duron Harmon have inside track at safety?

06.17.14 at 2:00 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots just wrapped up the first day of their mandatory minicamp session on a warm day behind Gillette Stadium. The session, which ran for roughly two hours, was held in sweats, T-shirts and helmets. Here are a few quick notes:

— Keeping in mind that the players were again in numberless jerseys, the following players were not spotted at the start of the session: wide receiver Aaron Dobson, cornerback Malcolm Butler, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, linebacker Darius Fleming, defensive lineman Dominique Easley and defensive lineman Armond Armstead. In addition, a rehab group that included special teamer Matthew Slater, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and D.J. Williams and quarterback Ryan Mallett all disappeared into the practice bubble shortly after the start of practice.

— With Mallett sidelined, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo again got lots of work, and while he wasn’t great, he certainly appeared to be sharper than he was in the final OTA session last week. (The last OTA that the media had access to.) He had maybe his nicest pass of the day when he connected on a deep sideline route with Wilson van Hooser toward the end of practice. Garoppolo drew a large media crowd at the end of practice.

— Earlier in the day, Patriots coach Bill Belichick cautioned against reading too much into what’s going on throughout the OTAs and minicamp, but it appears that the safety job opposite Devin McCourty is Duron Harmon‘s to lose. A couple times throughout the day, while the rest of the team was working through special teams or offensive drills, a collection of defensive backs could be seen working together on their own on one corner of the field. It was a group that included McCourty, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner — the presumed starters in the secondary — as well as Harmon. We’ll have more from Harmon later in the day, as he drew a sizable group of reporters once practice ended. (Tommy Kelly and Chandler Jones also talked.)

— The specialists appeared to have a pretty good day, with Ryan Allen really booming a series of punts throughout the day. Not like this has been a huge topic of conversation, but it’s worth mentioning that Allen and kicker Stephen Gostkowski don’t have any competition at this point on the roster. And based on how Allen looked today, not sure there’s any reason to have an extra punter in camp to serve as competition.

— Both Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell each had to run a lap after a botched snap, while Jeremy Gallon dropped a punt.

Danny Amendola (7-on-7s) and Jeremy Johnson (11-on-11s) each had a pair of nice catches that stuck out.

— The Belichick Playlist at camp today was heavy on U2 and The Who, with Coldplay and Bon Jovi thrown in for good measure. And owner Robert Kraft was on the field for a sizable portion of practice, taking in the action.

Read More: Aaron Dobson, Bill Belichick, Brandon Browner, Darrelle Revis
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