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OL Cameron Fleming, DB Nate Ebner both missing from start of Patriots practice

10.08.14 at 12:44 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Defensive back Nate Ebner and offensive lineman Cameron Fleming were the only two players missing from the walkthrough Wednesday afternoon

Both Ebner and Fleming, who missed practice all last week and were sidelined for last Sunday’s game against the Bengals, are both suffering from finger injuries.

The Patriots continue to prepare for Sunday’s game against the Bills in Buffalo.

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Bill Belichick shows an edge with Bills media, remembers his 1995 nightmare with Browns

10.08.14 at 11:57 am ET
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Bill Belichick. (Mike Petraglia/

Bill Belichick. (Mike Petraglia/

FOXBORO — Every so once in a while, Bill Belichick shows he has a sense of humor. And every once in a while he shows a sharp edge.

On Wednesday, in a conference call with Bills reporters, he showed both.

Belichick spoke for about 10 minutes with the Buffalo media after his weekly Wednesday chat in the Gillette media work room with New England media.

In the standup session, he spoke of the emotion that came from winning, Sammy Watkins looking like Larry Fitzgerald and even Brandon Spikes‘ dreads. He also spoke of how well Spikes has played in the system but the Bills media decided to pick up on the longer hair reference.

Q: What has Brandon Spikes brought to the Bills defense?

BB: I think we know Brandon well. He’€™s a good, strong, physical player inside, does a good job in the running game.

Q: You made a comment about maybe his hair being longer. Is that what you’€™ve noticed?

BB: No, I said that he looks pretty much the same as a player that we had here, which I think he does. The strengths that he had when he played for us are I’€™d say the same strengths that he’€™s shown with Buffalo.

Then the Bills media tried to move onto the subject of Darrelle Revis playing mostly man on Cincinnati’s A.J. Green Sunday night. That didn’t go so swimmingly either.

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Read More: A Football Life Cleveland '95, Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns

Bill Belichick on Pepper Johnson: ‘I’m sure he does a good job with them’

10.08.14 at 11:08 am ET
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Pepper Johnson now coaches up the Buffalo Bills defensive line. (Getty Images)

Pepper Johnson now coaches up the Buffalo Bills defensive line. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Sunday will mark the first time that Bill Belichick has faced Pepper Johnson since the two split after last season.

Johnson spent 13 seasons as a linebacker in the NFL, the first seven of which were for the New York Giants, coached by Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. He won two Super Bowls with the Giants before moving onto the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, and New York Jets.

After his playing career ended, Johnson began working as an assistant coach for the Patriots. In New England he was reunited with Belichick.

He spent 14 seasons with the organization, winning three Super Bowls. On Jan. 21, Johnson announced he was leaving the nest. Ten days later, he was hired by the Bills.

Johnson is now the defensive line coach of a Bills defense that is coached up by former Belichick student Jim Schwartz. Johnson steps into a situation where he has bigger names along the defensive line, names like Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.

The Bills are allowing just 71 yards per game on the ground, second-best in the NFL. Has Belichick seen any direct impact that Johnson has had on that defensive line?

“I think they’€™re playing well,” Belichick said. “I’€™m sure he does a good job with them. It looks very much like Jim’€™s scheme from Detroit and from Tennessee. Obviously the group is playing well. They have a very good front. They have good depth. They play the run well; they rush the passer well. They’€™re obviously playing good techniques and that’€™s a credit to all of them ‘€“ the players, the coaches, Jim, the defensive coordinator. They’€™re all doing a good job.”

Belichick will also be facing run-stopping dreadlocked linebacker Brandon Spikes for the first time, as well.

“Yeah, we know him,” Belichick said Wednesday. “I don’€™t think he’€™s changed much. Hair might be a little longer. He’€™s about the same.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Spikes, Buffalo Bills, Jim Schwartz

Bill Belichick likes his receivers helping Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley run to daylight

10.08.14 at 10:34 am ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick liked what he saw in the running game Sunday night, especially downfield.

One play stuck out to Belichick in particular that highlighted what he hopes is an upward trend in the running game.

The Patriots were facing 3rd-and-16 at the Cincinnati 35. The Patriots called a delayed draw to Shane Vereen in an effort to get closer for Stephen Gostkowski. They got something even better. Vereen ran up the middle and then cut back to his right where there was a wide open hole thanks to a block from Danny Amendola. Vereen totaled 19 yards on the run for a first down.

“That’s how you get big runs is running backs making guys miss in the second level and getting blocks from your wide receivers,” Belichick said. “Amendola had a great block on Vereen’s draw play that he cut back for a [19-yard run]. Julian is a tough player. Brandon, those guys all go in there and block.

“When the secondary is converging in on wherever the point of attack is in the running game, you get three or four guys converge in there, it’s hard for a back to avoid all those guys. Maybe he can get an edge on one but when they’re blocked, and he can run off those blocks, that creates good opportunity for a back at the second level.”

Two plays later, with the threat of the run clearly placed in the minds of the defenders, Brady took a shotgun snap and fired over the middle to Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown that put New England up, 27-10.

Later, in the fourth quarter, Stevan Ridley broke a run off right tackle for five yards and a first down, as the Patriots were running out the clock. Aaron Dobson got praise from Belichick for his effort on that play.

“Aaron made a nice block on Stevan’s run when he ended up bouncing it outside,” Belichick said. “He pinned the defender inside so Rid could get it down the sideline. Those guys account for a lot of extra yards when you get to that level, no question.”

This is a good sign for offensive line coach Dave DeGugielmo and the run game. DeGugielmo’s teams over the last four seasons have ranked near the bottom of “second-level” run yards. Will it continue this week in Buffalo?

Read More: Aaron Dobson, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, Shane Vereen

Bill Belichick: Sammy Watkins is ‘Larry Fitzgerald-like’

10.08.14 at 10:21 am ET
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Sammy Watkins has 24 catches for the Bills. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Sammy Watkins has 24 catches for the Bills. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick offered high praise to Bills rookie receiver Sammy Watkins on Wednesday, calling the Clemson product “Larry Fitzgerald-like” in terms of what he was able to do last week against Detroit.

Buffalo’s first-round pick this past spring, Watkins has inserted himself into the Offensive Rookie of the Year race with a series of impressive performances, including seven catches for 87 yards in last week’s win over the Lions. In that game, Watkins had an acrobatic catch on the Bills’ last drive where he tipped a Kyle Orton pass to himself and took it an extra 20 yards.

“[He’s] big, fast, very athletic, excellent hands,” Belichick said. “The catch that he had at the end of the game against Detroit was Larry Fitzgerald-like. He’€™s a tough guy to miss throwing the ball. He has a great catch radius. Long arms, good hands, strong hands. He’€™s pretty good.”

The 6-foot-1, 211-pounder has started all five games this season for the Bills, and has 24 catches for 284 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Larry Fitzgerald, Sammy Watkins,

Patriots bring back DL Joe Vellano, OL Chris Martin to practice squad, release OL Caylin Hauptmann

10.08.14 at 10:08 am ET
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Joe Vellano

Joe Vellano

FOXBORO — Offensive lineman Chris Martin and defensive lineman Joe Vellano have been brought back to the Patriots practice squad.

Martin spent the first three weeks of the 2014 season on the Patriots practice squad. Vellano was released from the 53-man roster on Monday.

To make room, the Patriots released OL Caylin Hauptmann from the practice squad.

Martin, 24, was originally signed by Houston as a rookie free agent out of Central Florida on May 16, 2014. The 6-foot-5, 305-pounder, was released by Houston on May 27 and signed by the Patriots on June 23, 2014. Martin was released on Aug. 30 and signed to the practice squad on Sept. 1 before being released on Sept. 26.

Vellano, 25, originally joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Maryland in 2013. The 6-foot-2, 300-pounder played in 21 games with eight starts for the Patriots and registered 54 total tackles and three sacks. He played in five games in 2014 and had six total tackles and one sack.

Hauptmann, 23, was signed to the Patriots practice squad on Sept. 16, 2014. He originally signed with the Cleveland Browns as a rookie free agent out of Florida International on April 30, 2013. The 6-3, 300-pounder, was released by Cleveland at the end of training camp and was signed to the practice squad.

Seattle signed him to the 53-man roster on Sept. 23. Hauptmann was inactive for 10 games and dressed, but did not play in three others and was inactive for all three postseason games. He was released by Seattle on Aug. 30, 2014 and claimed off waivers by Cleveland on Aug. 31, 2014. The Brown released him on Sept. 2, 2014.

Read More: Caylin Hauptmann, Chris Martin, Joe Vellano, New England Patriots

Rush to judgment: Why Patriots running game deserves more respect

10.08.14 at 12:41 am ET
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Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were jumping for joy Sunday night. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were jumping for joy Sunday night. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

When the Patriots run the ball, good things happen.

Including Sunday’€™s win over the Bengals, New England has won 39 of its last 40 games when it has at least one back finish with 100 yards or more on the ground. That includes a 2-0 mark this season, as Stevan Ridley topped the century mark against Minnesota and Cincinnati.

But going deeper inside the numbers this year — when the backs have had their chances to run the ball — the ground game has provided good support for an occasionally wobbly passing attack. The Patriots have averaged 122 rushing yards per game through the first five contests, good for 14th in the league.

That includes a 220-yard performance on the ground Sunday against the Bengals, a game where Ridley topped the century mark for the second time on the season and Shane Vereen again displayed why he’€™s one of the more underrated multidimensional backs in the league. Not including three end-of-game kneeldowns from backup Jimmy Garoppolo, the Patriots ended up with 43 carries for 224 yards against Cincinnati, an average of 5.2 yards per carry.

Vereen, who has 37 rushing attempts for 212 yards (and a touchdown) and 17 catches for 111 yards, is one of eight backs at the moment who can boast of at least 17 catches and 35 carries over the first five weeks of the season. It’€™s a group that includes Chicago’€™s Matt Forte (82 carries, 36 catches), Pittsburgh’€™s Le’€™Veon Bell (87 carries, 24 catches) and Buffalo’€™s Fred Jackson (43 carries, 26 catches). Currently, Vereen is on pace for 54 catches, but if he can get to 60 catches, he would be the first New England running back to hit 60 catches and 60 carries in a season since Leroy Thompson did it in 1994 (65 catches and 102 carries).

On Sunday against the Bengals, Vereen had a gaudy stat line: nine carries for 90 yards (according to Pro Football Focus, 30 of Vereen’€™s 90 rushing yards against the Bengals came after contact) and three catches for 18 yards. In all, he averaged 9.8 yards every time he touched the ball. There were a few highlights for Vereen on Sunday night, but far and away the best one came when he snapped off a 19-yard pickup in the second half that was straight out of a Barry Sanders highlight film, where he flipped a defender around with his quickness.

Meanwhile, it’€™s been a nice bounceback season for Ridley, who has 37 more touches through five games than he had at the same point last year. But more importantly, his fumble-free string in the regular season and postseason has hit 150 touches, dating back to last year’€™s regular-season win over the Broncos in November. In fact, Ridley (84 carries) is one of three backs who have at least 75 carries this year without a single fumble — Bell (87 carries) and San Francisco’€™s Frank Gore (77 carries) are the other two. Against the Bengals, per PFF, 40 of his 113 rushing yards came after contact.
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Read More: Fred Jackson, Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Matt Forte
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