|Tight end D.J. Williams looking to stick with Patriots after finding new attitude||07.30.14 at 8:39 pm ET|
FOXBORO — D.J. Williams badly wants to find a home in the NFL with the Patriots. And he thinks a fresh attitude might just be the key.
The 25-year-old tight end has already been in the NFL for three years, with the Patriots serving as his third team. After being cut three times last season – including once by the Patriots – and having only nine career catches and no touchdowns, Williams figured in the offseason that a fresh outlook and approach couldn’t hurt his chances of finally making a roster to stay.
“It came with sitting on the couch for a couple of weeks not having a job waiting on a phone call,” Williams said after practice on Wednesday. “I don’t want to be that guy who is sitting at home saying he didn’t get his chance because of a hamstring or anything like that. I want to say I gave it my best, everything I had and it didn’t work out, but I couldn’t say that. I don’t want to let that opportunity slip through my hands again.”
After being drafted by the Packers out of the University of Arkansas in the fifth-round in 2011, he was cut before the start of the 2013 season and picked up by the Jaguars. He didn’t record a catch in seven games with Jacksonville and was let go.
With injuries at tight end the Patriots claimed Williams in late November, but after just one game he was let go once again as fellow tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was deemed healthy again. Then, a week after being cut he was re-signed when Rob Gronkowski went down with a season-ending ACL tear.
This brings Williams to his fourth training camp looking to make the most of yet another chance.
“I have the attitude now after being cut three times in one year — you stop pointing fingers saying this guy got paid, it didn’t work out in this system — the only person that has anything to do with it I found out is myself,” Williams said. “Looking back at it, I got comfortable. That is a terrible thing to do. Once I realized it was all my fault I stopped beating myself each and everyday. I approach everyday as a new day that you can get better and I don’t want to beat myself anymore.”
|Devin McCourty: ‘It always around this time gets a little bit more testy in camp’||07.30.14 at 3:25 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Six days into training camp and four days of padded practices hitting the same players over and over again is bound to get repetitive and frustrating for some at times. This is what occurred Wednesday with Kenbrell Thompkins and Brandon Browner when the two had a spirited exchange during a 1-on-1 drill.
Following practices Thursday and Friday, the team will get a break from hitting each other when they have a week of practice with the Redskins leading up to the first preseason game next Thursday night in Washington. This is something many of the players are looking forward to.
“Yeah, it is getting to that point,” safety Devin McCourty said. “It always around this time gets a little bit more testy in camp. I think that is what is so nice that we can go out there and practice against other teams and do different things and kind of freshen camp up a little bit.”
Logan Ryan, in his second year in the league after leading the Patriots last year in interceptions with five, doesn’t see this year any more physical — it’s just the competition within training camp.
“I wouldn’t say it’s more physical, it’s just the nature of each practice and the nature of each competition,” said Ryan. “We have great competitors. I think we had some great competitors last year. Right now you can’t ask for better competitors.”
McCourty, a four-year veteran, has a sense of when players are starting to reach the point of relishing the chance to go up against some players not on their own team.
“You see it. It gets a little more testy, guys are chomping at the bit and going at each other a little harder,” he said.
With the addition of Browner in the Patriots secondary there is no question the unit becomes more physical as he comes from Seattle, which has one of the most physical and intimidating secondaries in the NFL. Being more physical can be a good thing for a defense as long as it is channeled the right way.
“We always talk about being physical,” McCourty said. “There are times where we like it and the coaching staff tells us that’s a good job being physical and then there are times where they tell us we need to be more physical in different spots on the field. I think that’s always a work in progress, but I think overall this defense is a physical defense.”
With new head coach Jay Gruden adding some fire to the Redskins organization, it will likely be a spirited few practices next week, something the Patriots to look forward to having.
“Yeah, most definitely,” Browner said. “It gets frustrating going against the same guys every day. I’m ready to get down to Washington and see what I can do against those guys.”
|Brandon LaFell: ‘I haven’t been consistent, I think I am getting better’||07.29.14 at 9:56 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Brandon LaFell is hardly the first offensive player to come to the Patriots and struggle to get with the system. Even last season, Danny Amendola needed several regular season games under his belt before he was comfortable. It’s no secret that learning the Patriots playbook can be a challenge for any player coming over from another organization.
With the complex offense quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels run, training camp is one of the most important times of the year, especially for wide receivers to get on the same page as their quarterback.
For LaFell, a four-year veteran, he is still in the learning process phase after he was signed by the Patriots on March 17 coming over from Carolina after spending his first four seasons in the NFL with the Panthers. Although it’s only the fifth day of training camp, LaFell feels he is getting better with each passing day.
“I’m getting better and better everyday,” he said. “We put in a lot of plays, every night is study night for me, something I am not used to because in Carolina we ran the same offense for three years so I knew it. It’s a ton of work every night. The more and more I get reps — I started feeling good at the end of minicamp and then we took the long break so now I am trying to get back in the swing of things.”
LaFell, self-admittedly, had a rough first few days of camp with several drops in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 situations, but he’s aware of it and followed that up with a productive day on Tuesday.
“I think I’ve been OK,” said LaFell. “I haven’t been consistent. I started out slow the first couple of days with a few drops, but I picked it up from there so as of now I think I am getting better, but it is still early in camp. I have to learn to be consistent and put good days together back-to-back like the rest of this offense. We need to start putting good days back-to-back and if we continue to that we’ll get better.”
The 6-foot-3, LSU-grad, made possibly the catch of training camp thus far on Tuesday when during passing drills on a deep ball from Brady, he split Malcolm Butler and Nate Ebner in coverage taking the ball away from them in the end zone. The play fired up the offense, Brady in particular, as he met the receiver on his way back to the huddle emphatically patting him on the back.
|Alfonzo Dennard returns as Patriots secondary starts to take form||07.29.14 at 2:26 pm ET|
FOXBORO — After not practicing with the Patriots for the first four days of training camp and being on the PUP list, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard practiced with the Patriots on Tuesday morning, albeit on a limited basis. He was in pads with the team for the first time since the end of last season as the 24-year-old was recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
The University of Nebraska product, who has played two seasons and 23 games in the NFL, was limited as he participated in one-on-one drills, but not 7-on-7s or 11-on-11s. Once practice really got going with an emphasis on physical drills, Dennard was off to the side doing sprints and other agility work with a strength and conditioning coach.
Regardless of how much he participated, it was a good sign to have him back on the field.
“It’s good because we all know he is a good player,” safety Duron Harmon said. “I am more worried about him being healthy. He’s a good player, so anytime you get a good player back it’s good.”
It is a crowded Patriots secondary with a number of skilled players battling for playing time. The group includes newcomers Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, who are highly skilled players but are new to the team, so it will take some time for the group as a whole to to jell as one cohesive unit. Getting Dennard back on the field certainly helps that advancement.
“It’s a work in progress,” Harmon said. “We’re just getting better each and every day. We’re dealing with new people so we have to feel out each other, know where they are going to be at and when they are going to be there. Like I said, it is a work in progress, something that we have to continue to get better at each and every day.”
Unlike past years when the team has been forced to use wide receivers Julian Edelman and Troy Brown in the secondary, this year’s team has a lot of depth at the position, meaning the Patriots do not need to think about rushing Dennard back and can take their time with getting him back to full strength.
Dennard has showcased his skills on the field with four career interceptions and 16 career starts, which could give him the upper hand over a few other members of the secondary when it comes to playing time. With Browner suspended for the first four games of the season, Dennard, if healthy, could have the inside track to starting on the opposite side of Revis at cornerback in the first quarter of the season.
Even though the cornerback didn’t come close to any physical action Tuesday, it was a big step in the right direction as the members of the Patriots secondary continue to get to know one another with the hope of being one of the best secondaries in the league.
|Jerod Mayo after first day of training camp: ‘We really don’t know what we’re capable of’||07.24.14 at 5:52 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Thursday was like Christmas morning for many Patriots fans as they got their first glimpse of the 2014 squad on the field together for the first time on the first day of training camp.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski took part in team activities (with the exception of 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s) for the first time since tearing his ACL last December, as during OTA’s Gronkowski worked off to the side, not working with the entire offense. Free agent cornerback acquisitions Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, who should strengthen the secondary, took part in their first training camp session as members of the Patriots, and second-year wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins made several nice catches in 7-on-7s.
There was plenty to get excited about, for sure, but it was just Day 1 and the team was in shells and shorts, which made it hard to get a true sense of exactly where the team and individuals stand both skill and scheme wise.
“At this point, we’ve only had one day of practice, so we really don’t know what we’re capable of,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said following the workout. “We’re taking it one day at a time and continuing to work towards our goal.”
Much of the talk entering camp has been the additions of Browner and Revis in the secondary. With what already was in place, this could be one of the best secondaries in the Bill Belichick era.
With only one real practice under their belts, it’s hard to really know what their true impact will have on the defense.
“Honestly, it has been one day of practice out here,” Mayo said. “We have a lot of different schemes and plays to put in, so ask me that in a couple of weeks and I’ll let you know.”
Where exactly individuals and units are will become clearer as camp rolls on, beginning over the weekend when the team will wear pads for the first time, with which comes real blocking and tackling.
Like many of the fans, the players are excited.
“Definitely,” said Mayo. “You can only do so much out here with no pads on. Saturday will be a good day, but obviously we have some work to do [Friday] putting some plays in. Saturday will be fun.”
|Vince Wilfork on coming back from season-ending Achilles injury: ‘I appreciate [football] a lot more’||07.24.14 at 4:28 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork had gone nine straight seasons in the league without missing significant time. He had played all 16 games a year besides 2009 when he missed the final three games of the regular season before returning for the playoffs.
That all changed last year.
On a Sunday night in Atlanta — the fourth game of the season — the 325-pound defensive tackle suffered an Achilles injury, and was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon.
The 32-year-old has recovered and is now ready for his 11th NFL season, but with a little more appreciation for the game than prior to his injury.
“I’ve always appreciated the game, but being out last year, it just made me dwell a lot more on things a little bit more, and I appreciate it a lot more,” Wilfork said following the first day of training camp on Thursday. “You think about things a little bit differently now going through what I’ve been through. My first time being injured, but it’s one of those things I had a roadblock in the road — what am I going to do about it?”
Wilfork made it through the first training camp session without any issues and did not seem limited in any fashion.
“I feel fine,” he said. “Throughout the offseason, it was just working hard. I’m pretty sure there’s going to be some stuff I may need to do, but so far so good. I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward. I’m just excited being here.”
The defensive tackle reflected back to last season and how tough it was watching from the sidelines, but was able to make it through with the help of his teammates, coaches and most importantly his family.
“With the teammates I have, with my coaches, with my family — that’s a big supporter of mine, my family — just having somebody that you can talk to every day, come and work out every day and have guys surrounding you and just being able to comfort you when times get tough,” Wilfork said. “Just having someone to talk to. I think this team does a real good job of that. Everybody just sending you a text or a phone call or just coming to your house to see how you’re doing — it went a long ways for me, and I really appreciate it from everybody.”
|Rob Ninkovich on training camp: ‘This is where you set the tone for the season’||07.23.14 at 12:39 pm ET|
FOXBORO – Ever since Rob Ninkovich signed with New England prior to the 2009 season, he’s been one of the most consistent players on the Patriots defense. The defensive end has been durable and versatile — a player who can be depended on each and every week.
Ninkovich has been inactive for just one game in his five seasons, and that occurred during his first season. Including the postseason, he has played in 79 straight games.
For an eight-year veteran, training camp might be a tedious few weeks, but not for Ninkovich, who knows it’s the building block for having a successful season.
“You have to go through it to get to the ultimate goal, and that’s having a winning season,” Ninkovich said. “This is the time that you put in — the hard work, it all pays off. Being an older guy, I’ve been through the doubles, all the hard days before. I know what they are like, so I know what to expect. This is where you set the tone for the season.”
With the addition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to a team that is coming off an AFC championship game loss last season, expectations are high for this year’s team. This is nothing new for Ninkovich, who has played in nine playoff games in his career.
“I know what the expectations are, but every year there are always high expectations just because we’re on one of the best teams in the NFL,” he said.
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