Archive for May 29th, 2013

ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell breaks down Rob Gronkowski’s injury situation

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell discusses Rob Gronkowski‘s arm and back injuries.

Reports: Rob Gronkowski facing back surgery

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Rob Gronkowski is set for surgery.

According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network, the Patriots tight end will undergo back surgery next month, and and his timeline to return to the playing field has been pushed back further into training camp. That would make six reported surgeries for the tight end since February 2012.

While the four previous surgeries this offseason have dealt with a forearm injury (and a subsequent infection issue), this one is reportedly linked to a back issue that has dogged him of late. This is, however, apparently not linked to the back problem that he had as a collegian and caused a drop in his draft stock. (He also had surgery for an ankle injury that limited his effectiveness in Super Bowl XLVI.)

The 24-year-old caught 55 passes for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012, but was limited down the stretch because of a break in his left forearm in a November win over the Colts. He later re-injured the same arm in a playoff win over the Texans.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Jake Ballard: ‘I’m absolutely a Patriot, through and through’

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
Jake Ballard

Jake Ballard

FOXBORO — Sure, Jake Ballard had to sit and watch all last season, spending the year on the shelf as he rehabbed from a knee injury. But that time away gave him plenty of opportunity to get up to speed in the Patriots offense.

After Wednesday’s OTA session on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, he acknowledged that while it wasn’t fun spending a year away from the field, it gave him a chance to learn a new system.

“I think it helps tremendously,” Ballard said. “My first year I was on the practice squad in New York, and I had a chance to study that offense for a year then came out the next year and played. That’s kind of the same thing here. I watched all last year here, just looking over the playbook and mainly doing rehab. But I got a sense of what the offense is about. Now, these OTAs and meeting sessions have helped a lot.”

As was the case when the media had the chance to watch last week’s OTA session, on Wednesday Ballard appeared limited in what he could and couldn’t do. He certainly displayed a nice set of hands, but mobility while in his routes appears to be an issue, at least at this point. As he works his way back from the injury he suffered in Super Bowl XLVI as a member of the Giants, he said he’s simply looking to improve on a daily basis.

“They’re not having me go full go the whole practice,” Ballard said. “It’s not like they’re turning me to the wolves. I talked with the trainer and the coaches and they all tell me what I’m limited to do and what they think I’m going to be able to do. We just gradually improve from there every week to week and day to day.”

Because of the health situations involving fellow tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Ballard will certainly get his share of reps this spring. A 6-foot-6, 275-pounder, Ballard was undrafted out of Ohio State in 2010, but turned himself into an effective downfield threat in 2011 with the Giants (38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns).

While he may not be able to bring the same level of thunder as Gronkowski (both as a blocker and receiver), Ballard could certainly be seen as Gronk insurance, providing he returns to full health. (For more on the Ballard-Gronkowski comps, click here.)

“I’m not really sure what Rob’s rehab situation is,” Ballard said. “But when he was in the meeting rooms he was very helpful and gives advice and we’d obviously watch him play. I watched him play all last year. I learned quite a bit from just how he gets open and asked him for pointers and stuff. I’d say we’re pretty similar, but Rob’s faster than me. But I think we can play a similar role.”

Even though he hasn’t set foot on a field in roughly 16 months, it’s been a memorable stretch for Ballard, one where he was part of a tug of war between two elite teams: After suffering the knee injury in the Super Bowl, he was waived by New York the following June. Despite the fact that he failed a physical, the Giants had every intention of bringing Ballard back. However, the Patriots swooped in and claimed him off waivers, much to the consternation of New York coach Tom Coughlin.

Ballard said the move was a shock, but enough time has passed that now, he’s “absolutely a Patriot, through and through.”

“Absolutely. The first couple of days it was kind of shocking and abrupt,” he said of the change. “I heard [about being claimed] and the next morning I was on a plane to Boston, it was pretty crazy. I’m absolutely a Patriot, through and through. I enjoy being here, I enjoy being around the coaches and everybody is great.”

Rob Ninkovich transitioning into new role as leader

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
Rob Ninkovich

Rob Ninkovich

FOXBORO — In the summer of 2009, Rob Ninkovich was still finding his way around Route 1 and learning how to get around Gillette Stadium. Now, the 29-year-old is a four-year veteran of the Patriot Way, and helping youngsters find their way in the New England system.

Coming off the field during Wednesday’s OTA session, Ninkovich could be seen speaking with Jake Bequette and Jermaine Cunningham. And it was hard not to notice that while Ninkovich was talking, the two younger players were keeping their mouths shut and their eyes and ears open.

Ninkovich said Wednesday he can recall when he was the one listening while veterans spoke.

“I can — like, yesterday,” he said with a smile. “I’m happy to help guys out.

“Some of these guys haven’t done some of the coverage things they’re used to in the past, so it’s just about giving them some basic information on just getting better,” he added. “Learning different things. It’s going to be a process for everyone this year, just coming together and learning from one another. I think that me being the older guy, helping Jake [Bequette] out — anybody who has questions.”

Younger players like Bequette and Cunningham would be wise to follow the career arc of someone like Ninkovich, who was a relatively anonymous street free agent who was picked up in the summer of 2009 by New England. In four seasons, has managed to grow into an integral part of the New England defense, working as a defensive end and outside linebacker who has shown an ability to contribute on multiple levels: in 2011, he was only one of two players in the league to finish the season with at least two picks and six sacks, and last year, he led the team in quarterback hits and sacks.

“I think I’ve done a good amount of things around here to be considered a leader right now,” he said. “Again, I’m just trying to do everything I can to help the young guys out and get them acclimated to their new surroundings. It’s a whole new team for them, and for the guys coming out of college, it’ll be a whole new experience for them. Just help them out in the whole aspect of being a pro.”

When you are talking about making the transition, it works on two levels. First, there’s making the adjustment to life as a professional out of college.

“It’s a lot different. You think about being in school, and being a pro, you don’t have obviously the schoolwork you have to do in school,” he said. “But now, it’s up to the next level, where you’re working against the best guys in the world, so you really have to step up your preparation and everything about your game itself to be the best.

“It takes a little bit. It’s not easy. Being a rookie is definitely difficult. The length of the season and the things that are asked of you to do right away. Me bring a rookie myself, I had a hard time doing it  — I unfortunately got hurt, so I has to learn that on my own. I had to deal with an injury, and these guys, so far, have done a great job coming in and just listening and absorbing everything and trying to get better.”

And then, there’s the adjustment of coming over from a new team, something new defensive tackle Tommy Kelly talked about Wednesday.

“When you come in here, you’re just trying to make an impression, and whatever role you’re in, you’re just trying to do your best at,” he said. “Obviously, the Patriots have a great history of winning, so coming in here, you obviously want to continue that and hold that consistency to a high level.

“Every year is different. You definitely have to make sure you’re on the top of your game. There’s always young guys who are hungry, so you have to make sure you stay just as hungry.”

Tommy Kelly: Bill Belichick doesn’t guarantee anybody anything

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
Tommy Kelly

Tommy Kelly

FOXBORO — Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly has only been around the Patriots for a few months, but he already knows how the game is played in New England.

After Wednesday’s OTA session behind Gillette Stadium, the 32-year-old was asked if he’s excited about the potential of making the postseason for the first time in his career, and he quickly answered with a smile.

“Yeah, but you know, I have to make the team first,” he said with a laugh. “[Coach] Bill [Belichick] doesn’t guarantee anybody anything. I have to get on the team before I start thinking about that. You see how many people they get rid of around here? Make the team first, then worry about all that.

“When you’re dealing with a coach with a résumé like his, if somebody like that believes in you, it makes you feel good about yourself,” Kelly said of Belichick. “At the same time, it’s a program where you’ve got to prove yourself. If you don’t, he’ll get rid of you.”

The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Kelly, who spent the last nine seasons with the Raiders, signed a free agent deal this spring with the Patriots. The Mississippi State product is excited for several aspects of his career in New England, including the opportunity to play alongside Vince Wilfork.

“Oh, I love Vince. He makes my job much easier. He makes most of the line calls. It’s easy to play with somebody who’s got experience and can really, really play,” he said. “He’s lunch-pail to me. He’s reliable, consistent — you know he’s going to be out there every Sunday. You know he’s going to give you everything he’s got. And as a d-tackle, that’s all you can ask, because being in the trenches all day, you get beat up a lot. He gives out his share, too.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Receivers get lots of looks at Wednesday OTA session

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

FOXBORO — The Patriots wrapped up another OTA session on the fields behind Gillette Stadium early Wednesday afternoon. Under mostly grey skies with an occasional light drizzle, the majority of the roster went through the workout, occasionally accompanied by the sounds of AC/DC and U2. Here are a few quick notes:

With the understanding that the workout was conducted without numbers and was voluntary, the following players were not spotted on the field: Julian Edelman, Brandon Bolden, Brandon Spikes, Nick McDonald, Will Svitek and Rob Gronkowski. In addition, the following players were part of a rehab group that spent a large portion of the practice off to the side: Devin McCourty, Nate Ebner, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Aaron Hernandez and Niko Koutouvides.

Among the receivers, Aaron Dobson and Mike Jenkins stood out in a positive fashion with nice catches in offensive drills, while Donald Jones had a nice grab in traffic in the red zone. In addition, Danny Amendola and Tom Brady connected on an impressive pass-and-catch down the sideline, and Ryan Mallett and Shane Vereen also had a nice connection down the sideline late in the practice.

However, that doesn’t mean that the defensive backs suffered — Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib broke up a few passes, with Talib coming away with a nice pick on a tipped ball late in the workout.

TJ Moe, Lavelle Hawkins, Leon Washington and Amendola all got in work as return men.