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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

Bill Belichick would ‘absolutely’ like to see NFL draft moved back to April

06.17.14 at 9:53 am ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick is someone who likes to prepare.

This year that preparation was disrupted somewhat by the moving of the NFL draft from late April to May 8-10 in New York City. Reportedly, the move was made, at least in part, due to the availability of Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, the stage when the NFL’s newest stars are introduced.

That move all but eliminated rookie minicamp this year for NFL teams, including the Patriots. So coaches like Belichick were forced to scramble and throw the rookies on the field with veterans in mid-May to late May and early June in optional OTA practices to catch up.

There has been some discussion that the league will move the draft back to late April in 2015. Would Belichick like to see that happen?

“Of course. The sooner you have your players the easier it is to start not only getting them integrated into your team but also building your team,” Belichick said Tuesday morning before the opening of mandatory minicamp. “There are certain things you get in the draft and then you have to fill in other areas of the team with veteran players or college free agents. With that process going on, you can see every day when you pick up the transactions there are probably five to 15 transactions on a daily basis. Of course, if you have the draft [earlier], you’d be able to move that whole process up but whatever it is, it is. That’s not my decision. But I would vote for an earlier draft, absolutely.”

Belichick downplayed the effect of the compressed schedule on his rookies and first-year free agents.

“I don’t think it’s really affected the time frame on what we’ve had with them,” Belichick added. “What it’s affected is them knowing they’re with their team on May 8th compared to [late] April. That couple of weeks there, that’s time that was lost from when players could start preparing for their new team and being told what they need to do and what position they were going to play, all those kind of things. Those two weeks got pushed back. Once the draft actually happened, the players came in on May 12th and they’ve been here just like they would’ve been in the past. They would’ve had rookie minicamp and a little bit of a head start. But from May 12th until now is the same as it was last year.”

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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.)

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.

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.

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
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