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Vince Wilfork: Pats D has to ‘hit the ground running’

09.06.12 at 7:39 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The man who has seen more on the Patriots defense than anyone else knows the potential of this group.

Vince Wilfork sees two first-round picks added in April’s draft. He watched as Bill Belichick used his first six picks on defense. He’s seen the Patriots draft defense in 12 of their last 20 picks going back to 2010.

Now, with names like Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower added to Brandon Spikes, Ras-I Dowling, Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Kyle Love and Patrick Chung, Wilfork knows it’s time for the Patriots D to step up. And stepping up begins Sunday in Nashville against the Titans.

But at 30 years of age, Wilfork stands with Tom Brady as the only Patriots that have Super Bowl rings in their jewelry collection. Wilfork said Thursday he’s not feeling his age heading into the opener – and that’s a good thing.

‘€œI don’€™t feel it,’€ said Wilfork, who turns 31 on Nov. 4. ‘€œThat’€™s something I never look at. Every year I know it’€™s a year under your belt. But when I’€™m playing I don’€™t feel like I’€™m 30 or nine years in. I’€™m like everyone else; I come to work, work hard, and expect the same out of my teammates. As long as you keep that mind frame, you can play as long as you want to play.

‘€œIt’€™s very excited to get going. We’€™re on the road and it’€™s going to be a tough game for us. But we can’€™t look back now. We have to hit the ground running and I’€™m looking forward to it.’€

Obviously, the biggest challenge will be containing the refreshed and rejuvenated Chris Johnson, a one-time perennial Pro Bowl running back with explosive power and speed.

‘€œYou have to have the passion for it. I love it, and I love playing with my teammates; love playing for this organization,’€ he said. ‘€œWhatever I can do to make this team better, that’€™s what I’€™m going to do.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: chandler jones, Chris Johnson, Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo

Wes Welker: ‘It would have been nice to get a few more reps’ in preseason

09.06.12 at 6:39 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Ready or not, here comes the regular season.

Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker said Thursday that while ‘€œit would have been nice to get a few more reps’€ in the preseason, but now is not the time to be looking back.

‘€œFootball is football. It would have been nice to get a few more reps and things like that, but at the same time, you know, I’€™ve been in this offense for a while. I understand it,’€ said Welker, who is entering his sixth season with the Patriots and ninth year in the NFL. ‘€œI know what I need to do and whatever I need to do from the coaches’€™ perspective to help this team win, that’€™s what I’€™m going to do.’€

Welker said that the reps in practice have ‘€œbeen good,’€ which has allowed him to maintain the necessary focus going into the regular season.

‘€œI think any time you’€™re out there, you have to focus and go out there and do your job to the best of your ability,’€ he said. ‘€œThat’€™s something I have to continue to do — go out there and focus and try and play well and do what I do.’€

One of the side benefits to being a veteran who doesn’€™t take a whole lot of reps in the preseason is that you get to save your body for the regular season. But even then, it takes some time to get used to the physical pounding.

‘€œI’€™d rather have to not take any hits at all,’€ he said with a smile. ‘€œ[But] it’€™s part of the game. I think going into the season, you always have those first few weeks are a little rougher, and as your body gets used to it, it gets better. You just have to sit there and do the best you can and take care of your body and make sure you’€™re ready week in and week out.’€

The 31-year-old Welker, who joined the Patriots prior to the 2007 season, has grown into one of the older players in the New England locker room — the only two offensive players who predate his arrival in Foxboro are quarterback Tom Brady and offensive lineman Logan Mankins. On Thursday, the wide receiver said it was a bit odd.

‘€œThis locker room is starting to make me feel old now,’€ he said. ‘€œIt’€™s been good. [There’€™s] been a lot of energy. A lot of energetic-type guys. Young guys. I think the main thing is really focusing in, day-in, day-out, and understanding that its a long season and you’€™ve got to keep on maturing and keep on playing well throughout the season.’€

As for the lack of depth at wide receiver — the Patriots are carrying just four traditional wide receivers, as well as part-timer/special teamer Matthew Slater — Welker says it doesn’€™t necessarily create any extra pressure on him this season.

‘€œNot really. I think you just go out there and play the best you can and not really worry about that stuff,’€ he shrugged. ‘€œIt is what it is. You just roll with it and go out there and do the best you can and go out there and execute the best you can.

‘€œI think we’€™re ready to start and get in a regular-season mode and ready to play against other people and get out there and compete where it counts.’€

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Robert Kraft remembers the late Art Modell

09.06.12 at 3:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Robert Kraft lost a role model with the death of Art Modell.

The Patriots owner is regarded as one of the most influential people in sports for his position on the television negotiating committee for NFL owners. But long before the NFL became the mega-sport it is now with a multi-billion dollar TV deal, Kraft paid close attention to Modell, then the owner of the Cleveland Browns in the 1970s.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Art Modell,” Kraft said in a statement released on Thursday. “I regret that I hadn’t talked to him since the passing of his wife, Pat, last year. We both shared that experience, and I know how hard that was for Art. When I first entered the league, Art was quick to welcome me, and I always appreciated that. He leaves a lasting legacy for the many contributions he made to the National Football League. The one thing that I always admired most about Art was his understanding of the role television would play in the growth of the game of football and the overall popularity of the NFL.

“He understood the value of primetime games at a time when there really wasn’t a tremendous demand. He helped negotiate and launch ABC’s Monday Night Football in 1970. I can’t remember what Monday nights were like during the fall before Monday Night Football, nor could I imagine them without football today. Football fans everywhere owe him a debt of gratitude for that alone. I speak for my entire family in extending our heartfelt sympathies to the Modells.”

Modell died early Thursday at the age of 87 of what his son David termed were “natural causes.” The longtime NFL owner is most famous for moving the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1995 and renaming them the Ravens. He admittedly forever tarnished his legacy in Cleveland with the notorious move.

It’s ironic and appropriate that the Ravens last game with Modell as owner came last January when Kraft’s Patriots beat Baltimore in the AFC Championship.

Read More: Art Modell, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Monday Night Football

Logan Mankins on his knee and the O-Line: ‘Hopefully, it feels good all year’

09.06.12 at 1:29 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Logan Mankins is more than aware of his leadership role and the vital role he plays now more than ever on the Patriots offensive line.

Whether he’s at 100 percent or not after right knee ACL surgery in February, Mankins is the glue that is keeping the line together.

‘€œIt’€™s good right now so still getting lots of ice and trying to take care of it the best I can and hopefully it feels good all year,” Mankins said Thursday, just over 72 hours from his first real test of the season against the Titans in Tennessee. ‘€œOf course, I never knew how fast I would heal and everything would progress. So far, it’€™s been good’€

Could he play most – if not the entire game – on Sunday?

‘€œIt’€™s a possibility. It’€™s always tough. But it goes for everyone in the league. Not everyone plays a full game in the preseason so it’€™s different for everyone. Myself, not having too many reps I just have to trust in my conditioning and hopefully, it’€™s good enough.’€

‘€œIt was difficult. We’€™re still only barely past six months so it hasn’€™t been that long. We’€™re still taking it day-by-day, still improves every day so it’€™s getting better.’€

As for the changes all along the offensive line, Mankins believes the work-in-progress is coming along.

‘€œIt’€™s coming together,” he said. “We’€™ve had a couple of guys miss a lot of time so we’€™re still working on it and we have a lot of work to do between here and Sunday and hopefully, we can put our best on the field Sunday, play good together. We have to trust in each other and work together.

‘€œWe’€™re going against a good team,” Mankins said of the Titans D. “They’€™re a young defense. They’€™re very athletic, very fast and they play really hard. So, it’€™s going to be a big challenge. The main thing is you do your job and trust them to do theirs and everything will be fine. It’€™s when we start worrying about what the guy next to you is doing is when things get messed up.’€

Mankins said he’s not concerned with all of the new faces in the locker room right now as the Patriots have the youngest roster in Bill Belichick‘s 13 years in Foxboro. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Brian Waters, Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder

Michael Hoomanawanui getting up to speed in the Patriots offense

09.06.12 at 12:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’€™s been a hectic few days for Michael Hoomanawanui.

The tight end out of Illinois appeared to make the final cut with the Rams, and was cleared to be a part of the St. Louis opening day roster, only to be released on Sept. 2. He was quickly scooped up by the Redskins, made his way to Washington … only to be cut a couple of hours later.

The Illinois product was on the move again, this time to New England — the Patriots added to their growing list of tight ends on Wednesday when they signed him to a one-year deal.

‘€œIt’€™s been a little hectic,’€ Hoomanawanui said Thursday before practice. ‘€œGetting let go from St. Louis, being in Washington for a couple of hours, and then getting on the flight here … I’€™ve definitely seen the business — the whole business — in the last 48 hours. In the end, I’€™m glad to be here. I’€™m thankful for the opportunity and I’€™m ready to get going.’€

The 6-foot-4, 263-pounder out of Illinois has played two seasons in the league, both with the Rams. Known more as a blocker in the mold of Rob Gronkowski (as opposed to the longer, leaner Aaron Hernandez), he has 20 catches for 229 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games. The 24-year-old, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, is the fourth tight end currently on the New England roster, joining Gronkowski, Hernandez and Daniel Fells. (Visanthe Shiancoe is on IR for the year.)

While he’€™s undergoing a crash course in the New England offense, Hoomanawanui has a couple of things in his favor, including the fact that there are plenty of familiar faces from his days with the Rams, including former teammates Fells and Greg Salas. In addition, Josh McDaniels got a chance to see Hoomanawanui operate last season while he was the offensive coordinator in St. Louis.

‘€œIt’€™s great, especially having guys like Fells here, Salas, coach McDaniels. Some other guys that I know from around the league. It’€™s a great team atmosphere. All business here. I’€™m loving it so far,’€ he said. ‘€œ[My background with Josh] helps tremendously, coming in here and being thrown in the fire right away. It definitely helps knowing him, knowing the offense from last year, a little different terminology. But in the end, it’€™s all pretty much the same.’€

Hoomanawanui, who met Gronkowski and Hernandez at the 2010 combine, says that as a tight end, you can’€™t help but be excited to join the New England tight ends, saying it’€™s ‘€œfun to be a part of the group,’€ both on and off the field.
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Some thoughts on Michael Hoomanawanui, the Patriots’ no-huddle and the first injury report of the season

09.06.12 at 12:24 am ET
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Four Patriots-related thoughts to wrap up Wednesday:

1. Asked around the league after the Patriots made the Michael Hoomanawanui signing official on Wednesday, and while he’€™s a good receiver (20 catches for 229 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons with the Rams), the one thing that came up on each occasion was the fact that he is a better-than-average blocker. Our pals over at Pro Football Focus have Hoomanawanui rated as a +2.7 pass blocker (ninth-best among all tight ends last season) and a +2.2 run blocker in 2011, putting up those numbers in 401 snaps last season with the Rams. By way of comparison, PFF had Aaron Hernandez at -0.3 in pass blocking and -0.5 in run blocking and Rob Gronkowski at -1.0 in pass blocking and +10.9 in run blocking. With the Patriots likely to use at least two tight end sets on several occasions, it will be interesting to see how many reps Hoomanawanui gets right out of the gate, particularly as a pass blocker.

2. When it comes to keeping it vanilla in the preseason, it’€™s worth noting that the Patriots — who went no-huddle on 242 of its 1,082 snaps during the 2011 regular season, a rate of 22 percent — didn’€™t run a single play in the no huddle over the course of the 2012 preseason. Of course, they didn’€™t run anything in the no huddle in the 2011 preseason, and then came out and went no huddle for 27 of 71 plays (38 percent) of the time in the regular-season opener against the Dolphins. Titans coach Mike Munchak was asked about the difficulties of trying to simulate the Patriots’€™ uptempo offense on Wednesday.

‘€œYou’€™re never going to quite get in that pace out here. You’€™re going to get used to what they like they do. Obviously, you can’€™t see those things on tape. You do your best to get ready for it, and you have to see how well you adjust on Sunday. The main reason ‘€” thing ‘€” is (so) there’€™s no surprises and you’€™re expecting a quick-tempo game,’€ Munchak said. ‘€œIt’€™s not all hurry-up, but obviously if they’€™re having success and having their way, then you’€™re going to get a lot more hurry-up, and if they feel they have (exposed some) confusion or if they feel like they found something that they’€™re exploiting, there’€™s no doubt that they’€™re going to speed up and keep attacking what they think is working.’€

3. One interesting note when it came to the injury reports, as noted by our pal Adam Caplan: across the league, no quarterbacks were listed on the injury report on Wednesday, not even Michael Vick (ribs).

4. We weren’€™t able to use a couple of quotes from veterans about their ‘€œWelcome to the NFL’€ moment as part of this story, but they were still good enough to pass along. First, Gronkowski: ‘€œThat was training camp, one of the first practices my rookie year. It was crazy,’€ he said with a grin. ‘€œ[I was] trying to block Vince Wilfork. I went flying backwards.’€ Second, Matt Slater: ‘€œI had plenty of those moments my rookie year. I remember coach saying, ‘€˜The bigger they are, the harder they hit.’€™ And I took a couple of serious shots, and there were several moments over the course of my rookie year where I realized I wasn’€™t in college anymore.’€ And third, Steve Gregory: ‘€œIt was just coming in the locker room after cuts and just seeing all the guys around, seeing LaDainian Tomlinson, Shawne Merriman. All those guys I remember watching, and just thinking, ‘€˜Wow. This is really it.’€™ And then, getting out on the field and lining up against guys like that was definitely a ‘€˜Welcome to the NFL’€™ type of moment.’€

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Bill Belichick on Patriots roster: ‘Where is that sweet spot?’

09.05.12 at 5:29 pm ET
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FOXBORO — By his own admission Wednesday, Bill Belichick knows there are a lot of “moving parts” on the Patriots 53-man roster and the practice squad.

Forget the rookies drafted back in the April. Guys like Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Jake Bequette have had a full session of OTAs, rookie camp, mini camp and training camp and a preseason to learn the “Patriot Way.”

The players Belichick is careful not to overwhelm are the newest members of the roster. Players like tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and fullback Lex Hillard joined the Patriots at practice on Wednesday, just four days before practice.

What is the fine line between giving a new player the information he needs to perform and running the risk of overwhelming them just four days before the season opener?

“That’€™s definitely a concern,” Belichick said. “I think you want to err on the side of not overloading him because then that could not work out well. You probably would limit his role to what you feel confident that he can do and then build into something else the following week or whenever you think the player is ready. I think that’€™s definitely and concern and it’€™s something that you have to manage. At the same time, I think it’€™s more important to get your roster set now in the best possible way you can get it, whatever that is, going forward over a 16-game regular season schedule then to be short-sighted about one game and then cost yourself or your team the opportunity to have a stronger roster through the remaining 15 games.

“Everybody wants to win the first game but it’€™s a long season and there are a lot of games after this one. There are considerations this week, there are considerations for next week, there are considerations for the entire 16-game season. There’€™s some balance that you’€™re always trying to find there. Where is that sweet spot? I don’€™t know. Sometimes you’€™re not as good now as you are later; sometimes you’€™re better now than you are later. I think you want to try to give yourself an opportunity to develop and improve and grow as a team and don’€™t put a roadblock in front of it that this is the high water mark and everything is downhill after that. I don’€™t think you want to position your team like that, at least I don’€™t, I don’€™t like that.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Lex HIllard, Michael Hoomanawanui, minnesota vikings, New England Patriots
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