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With help from Devin McCourty, Malcolm Butler embracing bigger role in Patriots secondary 08.31.15 at 2:29 pm ET
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Malcolm Butler

Malcolm Butler

FOXBORO — The biggest change to the secondary this season is Malcolm Butler’€™s move to left corner, where he has enormous shoes to fill with Darrelle Revis a Jet once again. While there will be questions in New England’€™s secondary until it shows sustained stability, the Patriots seem confident in Butler’€™s move to a key role in his second professional season.

“Much improved, much improved on everything,” Bill Belichick said Monday of Butler’€™s progression from his rookie season to now. “He worked hard in the offseason. It’€™s obviously just his second year, the change of lifestyle, becoming a professional athlete, working at this job every day, becoming more mature, more dependable, having a better understanding of what we do, having a better understanding of what our opponents do or the passing game in the National Football League. He’€™s made a huge jump from year one to year two as most of our other players have.”

It’€™s odd to know the pinnacle of a player’€™s career so early into it, as Butler will always be best-known for intercepting Russell Wilson in the final minute of the Super Bowl in February. The next thing Butler can do is establish himself as a starting cornerback, something he was not as a rookie due to both his lack of experience and the Patriots’€™ depth at the position.

The Patriots are now leaning on him to replace Revis and prevent New England’€™s secondary from getting picked on by opposing quarterbacks. As he continues to learn the ropes, he’€™s leaning on former All-Pro cornerback and current very-much-non All Pro cornerback Devin McCourty.

A star at safety, McCourty isn’€™t the oldest member of the Patriots’€™ secondary, but he’€™s certainly the best. As he enters his sixth season in the NFL, McCourty is being looked to as a leader of a group that lost Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the offseason.

“That’s the quarterback of the defense I would say, him and Mayo,” Butler said Monday. “Devin back there gets us fired up for the game. He doesn’t only lead by example, but his words lead by action. Just a great player, great leader, doing great things.”

McCourty returned Butler’€™s praise.

“He’€™s a hard worker,” McCourty said of Butler. “I think that started last year, I guess everyone knows him from coming in in the Super Bowl, but since he came in here in OTAs and everything, he’€™s just been putting in a ton of hard work.”

The beginning of McCourty’€™s career was rather odd. He was an immediate star cornerback as a rookie following his first-round selection, but he regressed as a corner the next season. Since then, he’€™s becoming one of the top safeties in the league.

Butler, on the other hand, was undrafted and started just one game as a rookie. The expectations on him are very high, as his cornerback spot is where many feel the Patriots are set; the right corner spot is currently more up in the air, with Tarell Brown the favorite at the moment.

Given how well Butler has performed in the preseason, it’€™s reasonable to agree with that line of thinking. Belichick feels OK with Butler where he is because he feels that players drastically improve from their rookie seasons to their second seasons.

“I think that’€™s where players make the biggest leap is A, you have that understanding of what it’€™s going to be like. It’€™s not new; you at least know what training camp is going to be like, what a regular season is going to be like, what a game is going to be like, what the coaches expect, all those kinds of things,” Belichick said. “So you have a little bit better idea of being able to plan or anticipate for it, but then the knowledge that you have about yourself, about your opponents, about how things worked, and that’€™s a huge amount of information that those second-year players have that the rookies just don’€™t have no matter how smart they are or how hard they work or whatever they’€™ve been exposed to in the past, some more than others. But going through it and experiencing it is invaluable, really.”

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Read More: Devin McCourty, Malcolm Butler,
Rookie recap: How draft picks of Patriots, AFC East foes are fitting in so far 08.30.15 at 4:08 pm ET
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Malcom Brown

Malcom Brown

On draft day*, it’s easy to get carried away with each player’s potential impact out of the gate. We all go to extremes with expectations and are often proven very wrong in short order. It isn’t until the players have actually spent some time on the field as a professional that we can actually gauge how they might fit in as a rookie.

As such, here’s a look at where each of the Patriots’ draft picks stand with the regular season less than two weeks away:

Malcom Brown, DT: There haven’t been many big surprises with the 32nd overall pick to this point, as he figures to be part of a relatively crowded rotation on the Pats‘ defensive line

Jordan Richards, S: Perceived as a mega-reach in the second round, Richards has made good impressions in training camp. He figures to serve as a backup strong safety this season, but he will certainly make an impact early on special teams.

Geneo Grissom, DL: Projected to the NFL as an outside linebacker by many, the third-round pick has gotten reps at both defensive tackle and defensive end. Rumor has it the Pats like versatility.

Trey Flowers, DE/OLB: The fourth-rounder out of Arkansas, who compared himself to Bobby Boucher when he first talked to the New England media, has displayed some nice explosiveness off the snap, and certainly appears to be the sort who can work in at least a part-time rotation.

Tre’ Jackson, OG: The first of two fourth-round guards, Jackson is ahead of fellow rookie Shaq Mason as far as chances of being the starter on the right side go.

Shaq Mason, OL: The second of the Pats‘ fourth-round guards, Mason is a proficient run-blocker (playing at Georgia Tech will do that to a guy), but he’s behind as a pass-blocker due to his college program’s run-heavy scheme.

Joe Cardona, LS: The fifth-round selection of Cardona, a longsnapper out of Navy, was viewed as a classic Bill Belichick pick. So far, Cardona figures to be a fine replacement for Danny Aiken.

Matthew Wells, LB: The sixth-rounder didn’t last long with the Pats, as he was dealt to the Bears for second-year guard Ryan Groy on August 10.

A.J. Derby, TE: The sixth-round tight end figured to have a tough time cracking the roster this season, but he remains Patriots property after the team waived him and placed him on IR after he went unclaimed.

Darryl Roberts, CB: The seventh-round cornerback started the preseason opener, but was injured against the Packers. ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported that it’s a serious wrist injury that could cost the Marshall product his rookie season.

Xzavier Dickson, LB: The seventh-rounder played six snaps in the third preseason game, the least among Pats linebackers.

Around the division:

Jets: Sixth overall pick Leonard Williams suffered a muscle strain in his knee in the Jets’ third preseason game. It isn’t expected to keep him out long, and he is expected to be a starter at defensive end from the get-go due to Sheldon Richardson’€™s four-game suspension. He got a safety in the second preseason game against the Falcons. Second-round receiver Devin Smith remains out with broken ribs suffered in the second day of practice, while third-round linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin has been out with a recently suffered knee injury.

Bills: Because they didn’t have a first-round pick due to the Sammy Watkins trade, the Bills’ first pick was cornerback Ronald Darby in the second round. Darby had two picks in the Bills’ second preseason game. Third-round pick John Miller is in line to be Buffalo’s starting right guard this season. Fifth-round running back Karlos Williams is out with an undisclosed injury but is expected to be ready for the season-opener. He shouldn’t expect many carries with LeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson ahead of him.

Dolphins: Fourteenth overall pick DeVante Parker was recently activated from the physically unable to perform list. The receiver is coming off offseason foot surgery and hopes to be ready for the season, albeit with very limited practice time. It seems the potential starting status of fourth-round guard Jamil Douglas is dependent on the status of starting left tackle Jason Fox (concussion), whose absence creates a domino effect that would seemingly slide Dallas Thomas to left tackle and Douglas into the lineup at guard.

*On the three draft days; Roger Goodell is lucky that Deflategate has pushed moving the draft to primetime down the list of incredibly dumb things he’s done as commissioner. What a bozo move.

Christopher Price contributed to this post.

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Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, A.J. Derby, Darryl Roberts, Geneo Grissom
Bill Belichick on Reggie Wayne: ‘I think he can help us, but we’ll see’ 08.25.15 at 1:26 pm ET
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Bill Belichick was very measured in his assessment of Reggie Wayne Tuesday when he spoke to reporters at Gillette Stadium.

That shouldn’€™t come as too big a surprise, as Belichick is typically more effusive in praising players who either used to play for him or don’€™t play for him than he is with guys on his roster.

With the team announcing the signing of the 36-year-old receiver Tuesday, Belichick wasn’€™t too elaborate when asked about the six-time Pro Bowl player’€™s career.

“Outstanding,” he said. “I think all of that’€™s on record.”

Asked how he envisioned Wayne fitting in with the Patriots, Belichick didn’€™t say much other than that he’€™s familiar with the player.

“I’€™ve coached him in Pro Bowls, those kind of situations,” Belichick said. “This is obviously different, we’€™ll see how it goes. Glad to have him, excited to have in on the team. I think he can help us, but we’€™ll see.”

Wayne has played his entire career with the Colts, who drafted him 30th overall back in 2001. Belichick expressed optimism that the player would be able to adapt to a new system in New England.

“I wouldn’€™t say he’€™s played in one system. He’€™s played for one team,” Belichick said. “I think in the last three years, you’€™ve seen him doing a lot of different things. He was primarily on the left in the previous offense with Tom Moore and all that. Since then, he’€™s done different things, but it doesn’€™t really matter.

“Just like any player, we’€™ll see how things come together when we ask a new player to do what we ask him to do and how he does it, how that develops and so forth. I don’€™t really know about any of that. We’€™ll see how it goes.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Reggie Wayne,
Malcolm Butler thinks Reggie Wayne’s smarts will help Patriots 08.24.15 at 6:18 pm ET
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Malcolm Butler

Malcolm Butler

FOXBORO — With the signing of Reggie Wayne, practices might get a little more difficult for Patriots’€™ cornerbacks. Or easier. It’€™s hard to tell. Wayne will be 37 in November.

“Never in a million years I thought I’d be playing against a guy I’d been watching for such a long time,” Butler said Monday of working with the former Colt, “but [I’m] glad to have him. Time to get to work.

“I know him well from playing with the Colts and Peyton Manning. [He’€™s] just a guy that’€™s been around for a long time and has always been productive. I’€™m just looking forward to it.”

The spectrum of possibilities for Wayne’€™s impact is pretty clear. He can either be the latest in a line of big-name receivers the Pats have gotten at the end of their careers who didn’€™t work out (Torry Holt, Chad Ochocinco among them) or a pleasant surprise that wraps up a prolific career with one more productive season.

Butler considers himself fortunate to have the six-time Pro Bowl selection as his teammate. Though Wayne is no spring chicken, Butler said the veteran receiver’€™s smarts were apparent in film preparation last season.

“Just his knowledge of the game: knowing where to be, knowing where to line up, knowing how to release on the cornerbacks,” Butler said when asked what stood out. “Just all of the savvy things that veteran receivers know.”

Wayne’€™s production has been up and down since the Colts made the switch from Manning to Andrew Luck. He had one of the best seasons of his career when Luck was a rookie, as his 106 receptions and 1,355 receiving yards made for the second-highest totals of his career in each category. A torn ACL derailed the next season, while he was mediocre last season in his final campaign with the Colts (64 receptions, 779 yards, two touchdowns).

The Patriots hope that Wayne’€™s experience and knowledge will allow him to be an impact player as they deal with injuries at the receiver position (in addition to the injuries to Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Aaron Dobson, the Pats placed Brandon Gibson on injured reserve Monday). Butler doesn’€™t see why Wayne wouldn’t be able to help the Pats where they might need it.

Even if Wayne doesn’€™t become a go-to guy for whoever’€™s at quarterback early on, Butler said that his presence will improve him as a player via practice reps.

“Most definitely,” he said. “I’€™m looking forward to everyone making me a better cornerback. Working hard if it’€™s anybody: Reggie Wayne, Danny Amendola, anybody. Just looking to get better.”

There’s no guarantee that the Wayne signing will be any sort of game-changer for the Pats, but they’re clearly optimistic.

Read More: Malcolm Butler, Reggie Wayne,
Backup center battle comes into focus for Josh Kline, David Andrews 08.09.15 at 10:05 am ET
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Josh Kline

Josh Kline

FOXBORO — If there’€™s one thing the recent absence of Bryan Stork has provided, it’€™s a glimpse into the competition for backup center.

Stork, who left practice early Friday and did not practice on Saturday, is a shoo-in to be New England’€™s starting center this season. Behind him, things aren’€™t so clear. Ryan Wendell is on the PUP list, which has left third-year lineman Josh Kline and undrafted rookie David Andrews taking snaps at center in Stork’€™s place.

Given that they could be bubble-players, playing center is an opportunity both Kline and Andrews would gladly accept. It’€™s also an opportunity neither have experienced before.

Andrews did not play center at all in college. Kline, meanwhile, has been a guard for the Patriots in his two seasons. Even when Stork missed the AFC Championship last season due to injury, Wendell moved to center and Kline played right guard. That suggests that the Pats saw Kline ‘€” who says he played all positions on the line in college at Kent State ‘€” as more of a guard. For the sake of opportunity, he’€™ll have to show that he’€™s just as good snapping the ball as he is at guard.

Kline said he has been participating in snapping drills with the quarterbacks every day of training camp prior to practice.

“You’€™ve always got to be ready,” he said Saturday. “You never know what goes on. It’€™s like a game situation. You never know who goes down. You’€™ve got to be ready. If you’€™re the next man, you’€™ve got to be able to step in at any position they ask you to.”

Andrews was more of a center in college, noting that he didn’€™t play guard at all. As such, Kline and Andrews each appear to have one obvious thing going for them apiece. Kline understands and is more comfortable in New England’€™s system, while Andrews has more recent experience at center.

In addition to learning the system, Andrews has also been challenged by being given reps at guard, a position with which he isn’€™t familiar.

“I didn’€™t play any in college. That doesn’€™t matter,” Andrews said of playing guard. “I’€™m just here now, and what I’€™m doing, if they put me at guard I’€™m going to do the best I can. If they put me wherever they ask, I’€™m going to go there and do what’€™s asked. Anything they ask, I’€™ll try.

“There’€™s a learning process at every position,” he added. “I’€™m new to the system, so I’€™m just trying to learn everything and get better. One thing at a time. Focus on that one thing, get better, move on, get better. I’€™m just trying to do that as much as I can.”

Prior to the practice, Bill Belichick noted that traits from each position carry over to the other, as primary responsibilities of interior linemen apply to both.

“There are a lot of similarities between those two positions, with obviously the big difference being the ball, and that is a big difference,” he said. “They’€™re both interior positions. Sometimes there’€™s a center bubble, sometimes there’€™s a guard bubble, sometimes the center is covered, sometimes the guard is covered. Whichever one you play, it’€™s similar and you’€™re working with that other player. There are a lot of combination blocks between the center and the guard, so again there is a lot of carryover there.

“The ball is a big difference and the exchange and the cadence and all that. So, I’€™d say physically the characteristics are similar. Technique-wise and assignment-wise, there is a little bit of a difference, and then the whole guard issue is left guard to right guard, which we’€™ve talked about. For some players, that’€™s easy, and for other players, it’€™s not so easy.”

Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, Bryan Stork, David Andrews, Josh Kline
Stephen Gostkowski on extra point change: Kickers ‘just don’t want to get phased out’ 08.08.15 at 1:36 pm ET
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Stephen Gostkowski is entering his 10th NFL season. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski is entering his 10th NFL season. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Life for an elite kicker doesn’€™t change too much from year-to-year. The job description remains the same, and because of the whole ‘€œelite’€ thing, the stress of job security isn’€™t too high.

Yet as Stephen Gostkowski enters his 10th NFL season, he is dealing with some adjustments. One is dealing with a new longsnapper, as rookie Joe Cardona is replacing the departed Danny Aiken. For more from Gostkowski on Cardona, click here.

The other major adjustment for Gostkowski is where he does his work. This offseason saw the NFL move its extra point attempts from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line to decrease the success rate of what had become an automatic play.

“It will feel weird going out there,” he admitted. “I’€™ve been doing the same thing for 15 years, lining up for a one-point kick from the same spot, but I’€™m sure after two or three games it will be the norm. It’€™s an adjustment, but nothing crazy.”

To prepare for the change, the Pats have been running game simulations in which they score a touchdown and then bring out the field goal unit for the extra point. They did it three times Saturday and were successful in each of them.

“It’€™s good work. It might take a little while to get used to, but it’€™s still a high-percentage makable kick,” Gostkowski said. “I’€™m going to go out there, attack it and try to make one. I’€™m confident that I can go out there and put points on the board. That’€™s all I’€™m trying to do.”

Bill Belichick was not a fan of extra points from the 2 and wanted them moved back. Like Gostkowski, Belichick feels that the kick will still carry a very high success rate, but they do anticipate a dropoff.

“There will be a lot more attempted from [the 15], so there will be more guys missing from that area, but it won’€™t be such a high amount to where — I still think it will be a very high-percentage made kick, but it’€™s not going to be 99.6 percent,” he said, referencing a past success rate for the league. “I think it’€™s enough to where you might get a few a week from different guys, especially late in the year. I’€™m sure that’€™s enough to hopefully make them happy enough.”

Gostkowski doesn’€™t a major problem with the change. He said he enjoys kicking extra points, and that he and his fellow kickers simply hope the change doesn’€™t result in teams using them less in order to gamble for two points.

“The guys I’€™ve talked to, they just didn’€™t want to get phased out to where they’€™re not very useful to the team,” he said. “This is what we do. This is our job. We want to get to play as much as we want, selfishly. We want to make sure that we’€™re doing our job to go out there. If they call for an extra point, we want to go out there and kick it. If the league wants them to go for two more, that’€™s fine, but I still want to be able to go out there and kick a bunch of extra points. That’€™s just selfishly speaking.”

Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, Stephen Gostkowski,
With Joe Cardona, Stephen Gostkowski sees why Pats invest draft picks in special teams 08.08.15 at 1:00 pm ET
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FOXBORO — This offseason saw long snapper Danny Aiken’€™s four-year tenure with the Patriots come to an end as the Pats elected to spend a fifth-round pick on Navy’s Joe Cardona.

Cardona is considered one of the best long snapping prospects ever, but his position is not one where teams often invest such draft currency. Other guys have been drafted in the middle rounds (Ryan Pontbriand and Jared Allen were both fourth-round picks in their respective drafts; Allen ended up being better at other stuff), but given the rarity of snappers being taken that high, the pick turned heads.

Stephen Gostkowski said it didn’€™t surprise him, however.

“It does happen,” he said of long snappers getting picked. “If you find one good, grab him. We don’€™t make those decisions. That’€™s just for people who think they know everything about football to complain about.”

Gostkowski probably heard from those folks a bit back in his day. While kickers get drafted often and Gostkowski was the first at his position taken back in 2006, there was no perceived ace kicker in his class. In fact, Gostkowski wasn’€™t even ranked as the top kicker in his class by ESPN and many other prognosticators.

As such, Gostkowski doesn’€™t seem to consider himself a fourth-round pick, but rather someone who got drafted to the surprise of some, just like Cardona.

“Well, I was the first kicker drafted, but I don’€™t think I was rated very high going into the draft,” he said. “I didn’€™t get invited to the combine.”

Gostkowski proved to be a slam-dunk of a pick, while Matthew Slater (fifth-round, 2008) has been a three-time All Pro and four-time Pro-Bowler as a special teams ace. The Pats invested a second-round pick this offseason in safety Jordan Richards, who initially made his bones in college as a special teamer.

Being a drafted kicker could give a player a sense of security, but after nine years in the league, Gostkowski says he’€™s never gotten overly comfortable. He’€™s grateful that he and the Pats were able to resolve his future contract situation with a four-year, $17.2 million deal.

“No matter where you’€™re at in your career, you’€™re going to have to prove yourself and that’€™s the approach I take,”€ he said. ‘€œThe business side of things are handled by the business guys. I just come out here and try to play. I always have high expectations. I put high pressure on myself no matter what. I’€™m just excited. I’€™m glad to be here and it’€™s nice to know I’€™m not going to have to uproot my family after next year, which is cool.

“You never feel 100 percent secure, especially in your first four or five years,” he added “You only get so many plays a game, and all it takes is a couple bad games for teams to start looking for someone else. You just try your best to give them no reason to get rid of you. The few times I have struggled, the team’€™s always [had] my back. If you play long enough, you’€™re going to have bad games, bad plays. The good ones get over it faster. I don’€™t know why I’€™ve been here so long. I just try to show up and do my job and do it well.”

Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, Joe Cardona, Stephen Gostkowski,
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