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Aaron Dobson says competition with Kenbrell Thompkins, Brandon LaFell will ‘bring the best out of us’

08.20.14 at 3:18 pm ET
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Aaron Dobson speaks to reporters Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/

Aaron Dobson speaks to reporters Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/

FOXBORO — Aaron Dobson has been battling his own health. Now he can begin the battle for his job.

Dobson suffered a stress fracture during his rookie season of 2013 and never fully recovered, eventually having surgery on the foot in March and missing OTAs and minicamp.

In the time he spent healing from his surgery and trying to get back up to full speed, the received watched as other downfield threats such as Kenbrell Thompkins and Brandon LaFell passed him on the depth chart, taking valuable reps in practice and the first two preseason games.

Now, since returning this week to practice, he can begin the task of winning back a job that was his before his foot issues.

“Definitely, competition is always a good thing, just all of us being out there, pushing each other, holding each other accountable,” Dobson said. “Competition is good. It’s going to bring the best out of us.

“It’s feels good just to be out there, just practicing and running around a little bit, catching the ball. It just feels good to be back into it.”

When he stayed on the field last year, he was a legitimate downfield threat for Tom Brady, arguably his best. Dobson caught 37 passes for 519 yards, four touchdowns and a 14.0 yards per catch average. To get back to that point, Dobson knows he has to get back into game shape.

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Read More: 2014 training camp, Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins

Brandon Browner ‘enjoying every second’ as a member of the Patriots

08.20.14 at 3:13 pm ET
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Brandon Browner

Brandon Browner

FOXBORO — Cornerback Brandon Browner has kept a low profile since joining the Patriots last March — but when he has spoken out — he’€™s had nothing but praise for his new organization.

“It’€™s a professional locker room, professional atmosphere. You never know what you’€™re getting into until you get there, but I’€™ve been enjoying every second of it,”€ Browner said.

The 30-year-old played three seasons in Seattle — including winning last year’€™s Super Bowl — before signing a three-year, $16.8 million dollar contract this past offseason. Coming from the famous Legion of Boom secondary with the Seahawks, Browner is enjoying his time with his new teammates in the Patriots secondary.

“I’€™m having fun,”€ Browner said. “€œWe have a close-knit group with the safeties and corners. That’€™s a good thing to have — we all get along. There is a lot of talent back here. We’€™re just trying to build on practices a day at a time and get better than we were yesterday.”

Browner is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’€™s drug policy, so the team will need to find someone to fill in at corner. But, with how versatile a number of the players in the secondary are — as well as having good depth — it shouldn’€™t be an issue.

“A lot of versatility, we have great backups as well,”€ said Browner. “€œWe have a lot of depth here at the cornerback spot and our safeties have range — guys like Devin [McCourty], he has range over the top of us. We have good guys that can play man-to-man, but at the same time we’€™re far from we want to be. We want to be hitting on all cylinders closer to playoff time. We have to go out there and win Week 1, Week 2 –€“ we can’€™t look too far ahead. Just build on each practice, one practice at a time.”€

A major focus this season is obviously the new emphasis of illegal contact and defensive holding. McCourty talked at length on Tuesday about how important technique will be this season and Browner echoed him on Wednesday.

“That is the key to the game at the cornerback spot. They always say the game is a game of inches so you have to be technique-sound out there in order to make plays to not get beat and not get the penalties,”€ Browner said.

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Read More: 2014 training camp, Brandon Browner,

Sebastian Vollmer misses third straight day, Sealver Siliga works on side as Patriots work in shorts, shells

08.20.14 at 12:49 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’s looking like Sebastian Vollmer won’t be in the lineup for the team’s most significant preseason game.

For a third straight day, the starting right tackle was not spotted as the Patriots worked in shorts and shells Wednesday on the grass fields outside Gillette Stadium.

Vollmer started and played 22 of 91 snaps on Friday against the Eagles with the starting offensive line, as did starting left guard Logan Mankins. Friday night, starters are expected to play the bulk of the first half against Carolina, meaning the Patriots will have to find some alternate plan for their offensive line protecting Brady.

One option for right tackle could be Nate Solder, who has played both tackle positions in the past, including on Friday when he reported as a tackle-eligible on the right side. Vollmer is coming back from a gruesome broken right leg, suffered against the Dolphins last October.

Teams are not required to disclose medical or injury issues during preseason so it’s not clear why Vollmer has been out the last three days.

If Vollmer is dealing with a significant injury issue, then it’s likely Marcus Cannon, who played some left tackle against the Eagles, could step in and fill the void at right tackle.

One bit of possibly encouraging news was the sighting of defensive tackle Sealver Siliga working out with training staff on the lower practice field. Siliga injured his left hand in the joint practices with the Redskins and has not been cleared for full contact practices since. He missed the first two preseason games and headed back to Boston for an exam.

Other players missing again Wednesday were tight ends D.J. Williams and defensive lineman Chris Jones. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, linebacker Cameron Gordon and offensive lineman Chris Martin were also not spotted during practice, as he did on Monday and Tuesday, Hoomanawanui left after stretching and headed down to the lower practice field to work with trainers.

Read More: 2014 training camp, New England Patriots, Sealver Siliga, Sebastian Vollmer

Fantasy Football: Ranking the rookies

08.20.14 at 11:56 am ET
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Drafting rookies in fantasy football can be a very dicey proposition. Rarely do the year-end stats measure up to the preseason hype. In this piece I will be looking at some of the more intriguing rookie prospects for 2014 in terms of redraft value versus long-term value. These are players who, we feel, have a chance to earn substantive playing time in 2014. Obviously, circumstance comes into play, so there is a random nature to rookie breakouts, especially for the running backs, who all are in competition for snaps and carries. Having said that, this is one of the strongest rookie classes I have ever seen in terms of players who can make an immediate impact. You absolutely must be well versed in the top 15 options if you want to dominate your leagues in 2014.

If you’ve missed any of our prior fantasy content, I have indexed it below.

To keep up on any and all changes to our rankings and to access our cheat sheets and rookie scouting reports, check out The Rotobahn, where all of my 2014 content is indexed. I’ll be back later this week with an updated look at our high-value targets. And don’t miss the third episode of the Fantasy Football Hour this Sunday morning on WEEI 93.7. My co-host Jim Hackett and I will get into strategies for different leagues sizes and scoring formats. We’ll also talk with Eagles beat reporter Martin Frank, who spent last week watching the Patriots-Eagles joint practices.

1. Bishop Sankey, RB, Titans

Sankey is the one guy with a fix on a starting job and fantasy value starts with opportunity. Having said that, Sankey is a potential starter for a reason. If you are not familiar with the former University of Washington rusher, read his full scouting report. Sankey will cede some work to veteran Shonn Greene, and that will include a lot of goal-line action. You also have the new offense, which is a mild concern, though we have confidence that new OC Ken Whisenhunt will settle things down. Sankey should have low-end RB2 value in most 12-team formats, though he may be more of a RB3 early on as he gets his feet wet. Draft him accordingly.

2. Terrance West, RB, Browns

Yes, he’s not even starting, but when you do all the math on West, it’s hard not to conclude that he’ll be packing some serious weekly value at some point in 2014. We expect Cleveland to run the ball enough for two backs to work up a good lather. West could end up with some flex appeal in deep leagues even if starter Ben Tate stays healthy. However, if Tate misses time as he’s done most every season, West’s value could explode. There’s also the chance that West could simply steal the gig over time. He’s got enough upside to draft at his current ADP of 94 if you play in a 12-team league with a flex spot. If you’ve never seen the former Towson star play, do yourself a favor and digest his Rotobahn scouting report, and watch the film.

3. Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints

The New Orleans offense is a well-oiled machine, and the Saints should be able to integrate Cooks in seamless fashion as they did with Kenny Stills in 2013. Cooks is an inside-outside option who can even line up in the backfield if you want him to. This is a kid who prides himself on yards after contact. Here’s what he said when we caught him at the combine: “For me, I like taking a short pass and breaking it for a run. Catch a shallow, catch a hitch, catch a slant and make one miss and go.” I think HC Sean Payton agrees. Look for Cooks to play a diverse role in 2014. He’ll be part Darren Sproles, part Lance Moore, and he’ll be more explosive than either one of them. We project WR3 value with WR2 upside. Read Cooks’ full scouting report. This a player who you simply must know for fantasy purposes.

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Patriots valued at $2.6 billion, second behind only Cowboys in NFL

08.20.14 at 11:47 am ET
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Robert Kraft has the Patriots pointed close to the top of NFL net worth, second only to the Cowboys. (Getty Images)

Robert Kraft has the Patriots pointed close to the top of NFL net worth, second only to the Cowboys. (Getty Images)

The Patriots continue to be one of the most valuable commodities in sports.

According to Forbes, the team held by Robert Kraft and his family is worth $2.6 billion, surpassed in the NFL by only the Cowboys, worth $3.2 billion.

The Cowboys are surpassed by only the soccer superpower Real Madrid ($3.4 billion) in terms of overall net worth among all global sports franchises. Thanks in part to Cowboys Stadium (a.k.a. “JerryWorld”), Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has seen his value rise by 36 percent over 2013.

The Cowboys top Forbes’ rankings by a healthy margin for an eighth consecutive season, having risen in value by $900 million over the last 12 months to become the only NFL team worth more than $3 billion.

Here’s the top 5 franchises in the NFL:

Franchise Value
1. Cowboys $3.2 billion
2. Patriots $2.6B
3. Redskins $2.4B
4. NY Giants $2.1B
5. Texans $1.85B

The Cowboys have the NFL’s highest revenue ($560 million) and operating income ($246 million). This year, Jones added something new and different – partnerships with a worldwide luxury watch and cruise line, an NFL first.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are seven teams are worth less than $1 billion: the Chargers ($995 million), Bengals ($990 million), Raiders ($970 million), Jaguars ($965 million), Lions ($960 million), Bills ($935 million) and the Rams ($930 million).

Read More: Dallas Cowboys, Forbes, Jerry Jones, Jonathan Kraft

Bill Belichick wants to see if this Patriots team (like several others) can show ‘mental toughness’

08.19.14 at 10:12 pm ET
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Bill Belichick leads the Patriots for a 15th season in Foxboro. (Getty Images)

Bill Belichick leads the Patriots for a 15th season in Foxboro. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick hasn’t seen much losing in his career as a head coach, especially in New England.

The only sub-.500 season Belichick has endured with the Patriots was his first, when the 2000 team went 5-11. The next season, his team started 0-2 but ended up as Super Bowl champions. He’s been a record-setting winner ever since.

In Cleveland, of course, it was different. He had losing seasons in four of his five seasons by Lake Erie and endured the most arduous end to a season imaginable. So, Belichick does remember what losing was like. And he remembers something else, a bad feeling in training camp and preseason usually is never followed by a successful regular season.

On Tuesday, he explained why.

“I think it’€™s probably just an overall feeling,” Belichick said. “Just the way that the team works, the way they respond to the things they’€™re asked to do in camp and how they handle some of the tests that they’€™re put through. It’€™s a grind. It’€™s tough. It’€™s a very competitive situation. It’€™s a challenge for the team ‘€“ not just the players – but the entire organization to handle all the things you have to handle in training camp, without something kind of internally being a problem and being ready to go.”

There was no bigger potential distraction than what the 2013 Patriots had to deal with heading into camp, when star tight end Aaron Hernandez was released after being charged with the June 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. But that was dealt with on the first day. There was the forearm injury of Rob Gronkowski and whether he would be ready to start the season. That actually became a bigger soap opera but eventually he returned and the team rolled to a second straight 12-4 season and a third straight trip to the AFC championship.

In 2011, owner Robert Kraft lost his wife Myra over the summer after helping negotiate the end of the labor impasse. That year, inspired from the start, the Patriots overcame the Ravens in the AFC championship and nearly overcame Rob Gronkowski‘s bum ankle in a heart-breaking Super Bowl loss to the Giants. The seed of toughness of the 2011 and 2013 teams were sowed in the summer.

“You have to be able to show some mental toughness, some ability to block out distractions and focus on your job and improving individually and as a team and all those things,” Belichick reminded everyone Tuesday. “If you can do those over a training camp period of, call it six weeks, then it’€™s probably a pretty good indication that you have a chance to do it during the year. If you don’t, then it’€™s probably an indication that when the pressure really comes on during the season, which the pressure is going to mount for the team as the season goes, I’€™d say the likelihood of it all just magically coming together without a legitimate foundation, I haven’€™t had a lot of great experience with that.”

In 2001, the Patriots started 0-2, lost their starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe to a life-threatening injury and had an offensive lineman in Joe Andruzzi, whose brother helped save lives at Ground Zero on 9/11. The Patriots somehow managed to overcome the distractions and play with the right kind of emotion, finishing 11-5 en route to a stunning Super Bowl win that started a dynasty.

Of course, Belichick has seen the flip side when his 1995 Browns were submarined by owner Art Modell‘s mid-season announcement he was moving to Baltimore in 1996. The City of Cleveland was devastated and that Browns team could never recover, finishing 5-11.

Read More: 1995 Cleveland Browns, Art Modell, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

Devin McCourty hoping officials let up on throwing flags and let DBs ‘play a little bit’

08.19.14 at 9:21 pm ET
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Devin McCourty looks to lead the Patriots secondary with a hands-off approach this season (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Football fans, Devin McCourty feels your pain.

He tried to watch Monday night’s game between the Browns and Redskins just like a fan. And like a fan, he found it really hard to not change the channel with the number of flags thrown, especially on defensive backs.

“I think as a DB, you’re trained to never to look for a flag,” McCourty said. “It’s makes them throw it more. But even [Monday] night, watching the game, it’s just seems like every couple of plays, there’s another flag. It’ll be tough for people trying to watch the game who have work in the morning and stuff like that.”

All joking aside, McCourty has the unique perspective of having started out as a cornerback before transitioning to safety full-time last season. He knows he won’t be able to get away with as much tugging so technique, even for a safety, will be key this season.

“I think it’s a little different but we have some of the same issues as far as how we’re covering guys, too, like guys coming off the line of scrimmage, things that you might have gotten away with you may not get away with [this season],” McCourty said. “But I think it’s hard to try and change your whole game. We don’t want to start to giving up long passes and touchdowns just to say, ‘I didn’t want illegal contact.’ Hopefully, they reduce the [number of] flags and we get to play a little bit.”

Bill Belichick never stops playing mad scientist with his secondary, like on Friday night against the Eagles, when he had Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan taking snaps at safety.

“I don’t it’s that much tougher,” McCourty said of watching and playing with new players rotating at safety. “I think a lot of it is putting your rules and what you do as a defense into what they’re doing so it’s just guys just talking about it and seeing stuff the same way and being on the same page. As long as you can do that, you just put your rules toward that.

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Read More: 2014 training camp, Bill Belichick, Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty
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