Archive for August 3rd, 2010

Report: Patriots work out three offensive linemen

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

The Patriots worked out center Eric Ghiaciuc and guard Darnell Stapleton (both free agents) along with offensive tackle Mark Ortmann (an undrafted free agent) on Tuesday, according to Adam Caplan of Foxsports.com. Throughout the early stages of training camp, the absence of left guard Logan Mankins and injury to guard/tackle Nick Kaczur has tested New England’s offensive line depth.

Training camp report from Tuesday afternoon session

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

FOXBORO — After a light walkthrough to begin the day on Tuesday, the Patriots put on the pads for an afternoon practice session in front of yet another large crowd. There were far more things to take from the afternoon session than the half-speed morning practice, including some impressive play from the cornerbacks and yet another up-and-down performance from seventh-round quarterback Zac Robinson. Here are a few of them:

– The following players were not in attendance: Linebacker Gary Guyton, defensive back Bret Lockett, receiver Matthew Slater, pass-rusher Derrick Burgess, offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur, and defensive end Ty Warren.

– Defensive linemen Myron Pryor and Mike Wright as well as defensive backs Patrick Chung and Jonathan Wilhite were in shorts or sweatpants, with Ron Brace starting the practice in sweat gear before leaving early.

– Don’t sleep on a guy with the odds stacked against him. With 2008 second round pick Terrence Wheatley seemingly running out of time to establish himself as a presence in an increasingly crowded stable of cornerbacks, the third year man brought plenty to the table in coverage drills. He was physical and disruptive in defending the team’s receivers, particularly on a play in which he broke up a pass to the newly signed Rod Owens. He also made Taylor Price a difficult option to throw to as Brian Hoyer led the offense down the field in 11-on-11 drills. Wheatley still had his struggles here and there, but in a career marked by injury and inconsistency, positive signs from the youngster are certainly welcome and encouraging.

– One of Wheatley’s fellow cornerbacks, first-round pick Devin McCourty, put the physicality that earned him such high praise at draft time on display. Considered the best tackling corner in the draft, McCourty was also awfully disruptive. He first got attention from the crowd by breaking up a pass from Hoyer that was intended for receiver Darnell Jenkins. Moments later, he tipped a pass that seemed to be on target for Price.

– The kick return, which has been worth keeping an eye on (special teams coach Scott O’Brien said Tuesday morning it was the special teams area that the team was most looking to improve) featured Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman and Price. On punt return, Edelman received a big cheer after bursting through a hole, though with the drill essentially being two-hand touch, the play wasn’t worth putting much stock into.

– If one had to guess this early in training camp, it is difficult not to believe that second-round pick Rob Gronkowski doesn’t have the edge as the team’s top tight end. His size, route-running ability, and hands seem to have the making of a dream target for quarterback Tom Brady. The Arizona product raised eyebrows when he declared early for the draft despite missing his junior year due to back surgery, but he’s been healed since before the draft and looks like a very good option to replace Benjamin Watson.

– On a day in which Brady was sung “Happy Birthday” twice by the crowd, it’s as good a time as ever to point out just how the bizarre the music has been thus far at training camp. For a frame of reference, the playlist — which is chosen by individual players — featured Snoop Dogg’s “Who I Am (What’s my Name)?” and Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home” played in succession as the players ran sprints.

Scott O’Brien Q&A, 8/3

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here’s the complete transcript of this morning’s Q&A between the media and special teams coach Scott O’Brien:

Q: How’€™s everything looking so far?
SO: So far, we’€™ve progressed the way we’€™ve installed training camp. We have a lot of good numbers, good guys bracketed against one another, competing against one another. We like where we’€™re at as far as the progress of the work. [It’€™s] pretty good.

Q: Is it safe to say that while scouting the draft, you watched all seven of Devin McCourty‘€™s punt blocks?
SO: Oh, sure. I mean, here we usually see a lot of the plays, explosive plays, as a staff or if it pertains to what you do. With Devin it was obvious to us.

Q: So what skills does he have that allowed him to block so many punts in college?
SO: I would just say the overall on blocking kicks, like anything else, it’€™s an instinct. The good ones, obviously, have been coached, and in a lot of cases they just have a knack for it. There are techniques in everything that we do, but the physical ability, the techniques of the feet and protections and all of those things that you teach them, some guys just have a knack for it. And in college, obviously, when you get your hands on the ball, you’€™ve got pretty good instincts for it.
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Mesko adjusting to life in the NFL

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

FOXBORO — There was a lot to like about the Patriots’ fifth-round selection of Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko.

One of the more interesting players in the draft, Mesko’s journey to the NFL is far dissimilar the traditional path many take. Despite his intrigue in coming from a dangerous area in Romania and then moving to the states, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that the Patriots landed themselves a fine young player at a position that has historically plagued them.

Back in February we wrote about how Mesko could be the guy that ends the team’s run of bad punters, and now that he is in the fold and the only punter in training camp, all eyes are on what the rookie can do on the field. Mesko’s main focus is proving that he can simply impress without focusing on the attention that comes with being the starter.

“These coaches, they don’€™t put it out there that anything’€™s guaranteed,” Mesko said of not having company on the depth chart. “Not having the complacency develop is key. Just like [Stephen Gostowski] was telling me, he doesn’€™t become complacent even though he’€™s been the starter for four years. If you have that complacent mindset, that’€™s when things start falling apart.”

As for adjusting to a new level of playing, any first impressions and time to soak in the surroundings seem to already be a thing of the past with Mesko.

“It seems like I’€™ve been here for three weeks instead of five days with the guys,” Mesko said.

Second-year special teams coach Scott O’Brien liked what he saw from the punter in his time at Michigan. Often being forced into scramble punt (punting on the move) scenarios, Mesko has pleased thus far as the team works with him to get into a groove punting conventionally.

“In Zoltan’s case, there was enough — I mean, a lot of film — where it was conventional punting. The scramble punts is just a situation we all have. [There are] certain situations that they’ve never done in college and we have to work on. Obviously, of the things they didn’t do in college that they need to do for us, but we have to do it. In Zoltan’s case, that’s one thing he’s done and has worked hard on ever since he’s been here.”

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Cunningham eager to answer call

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

FOXBORO — The Patriots had needs on the depth chart that were quite apparent as the 2009-10  season came to and as players shuffled teams in the offseason. Two areas that seemed require the most urgent help were the tight end position and the pass rush.

While the team added a veteran in Alge Crumpler and highly touted prospects in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to shore up the tight ends, in hindsight, the same type of attention wasn’t given to improving a group of pass rushers that finished last season 23rd in the NFL.

The Patriots went after a defensive end with a knack for getting after the quarterback in Florida’s Jermaine Cunningham in the second round, a player many expected to see time in the rotation at outside linebacker with Tully Banta-Cain and the re-signed Derrick Burgess. However, with all reports indicating that Burgess has decided to retire, it may be show time for the rookie earlier than some expected. Considering he is adjusting to a new league, playbook, and position, the notion may be scary for the youngster and Patriots fans alike, but Cunningham has handled training camp well this far as he tries to fit in with the starters.

With his new position at outside linebacker thinner, it’s only natural to think that at this point Cunningham may be a rookie that sees considerable playing time early on. Some may wonder whether or not he’ll be ready for such a role, but there’s no doubt in Cunningham’s mind that he can make an impact.

“I’ve always felt like that, but it’s a long time from Game 1,” Cunningham said. “I’m just out here trying to get better.”

Cunningham, who is listed by the Patriots at a perceivably accurate height of 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, has work to do like any other rookie. Though his process may be more complicated by having to take on the responsibilities as a stand-up pass rusher that he is not accustomed to, Cunningham doesn’t mind. After Tuesday’s walkthrough, he stayed on the field with fellow Florida product and 10-year veteran Gerard Warren working on technique.

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Training camp report from Tuesday morning session

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

FOXBORO — Nothing happened on the Patriots’ practice field anywhere near as noteworthy as Tuesday’s news of Brett Favre retiring, so until the afternoon, football fans may want to focus on the Vikings for a few hours. The Patriots had a walkthrough, with players in shorts, T-shirts, and baseball caps. All drills were done at half-speed, but check back this afternoon for the full report on the afternoon session.

O’Brien hoping for improved kick return

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

FOXBORO — Patriots special teams coach Scott O’Brien spoke to the media Tuesday morning prior to the first of two practices the team had scheduled. Entering his second season on the job, O’Brien comes into the 2010 campaign with a couple of additions to the return game in first-round pick Devin McCourty and a healthy Brandon Tate. The Patriots also have a new punter and undoubted fan favorite in Zoltan Mesko.

On the subject of improving the special teams, it was quite obvious where O’Brien’s priorities currently lie.

“I would say the overall return game, kickoff returner, but it’s like everything else. When you’ve done this for a long time, things constantly change. We change as coaches, schematics change, rules change, and you’re always trying to be sound of what you’re doing, but you always have to be able to break down segments, either schematically, by players, [or] whatever, to find out where you can improve on everything,” O’Brien said. “You can be the best in the National Football League, and you’re still always trying to improve. Looking at that, it’s a combination of we’re always breaking down, trying to get a better scheme, what are we seeing more now relative to the years before? How are we matching up personnel? How did the change in the rules last year with the wedge really affect us? That kind of thing.”

So, what will go into boosting a kick return game that finished 15th in the league last season with an average of 22.9 yards per return?

“Well, there’s two things. All the returners in this league, they’re all good. They’re only only as good as those other 10 guys (on the kick return unit). Are there exceptions to the rule? Sure there are,” O’Brien said. “You know, the explosive guys, the playmakers, but that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for that guy that not only has the physical skills, the eye control, the instincts of setting up blocks and that type of thing and the speeds that make explosive plays, but it’s the other guys that are giving him that opportunity to get started. There’s a combination, and young returners really grow.”