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Trip to White House only small part of Thursday’s journey for Patriots 04.24.15 at 7:41 am ET
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President Barack Obama walks with Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick prior to Thursday's ceremony at the White House. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama walks with Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick prior to Thursday’s ceremony at the White House. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The chance to be feted at the White House and meet President Barack Obama was just one part of the Patriots trip to Washington, D.C. on Thursday. Another part of the trip is the annual journey to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, something the team did before the trip to Pennsylvania Avenue. It was a tradition the team began doing that after winning Super Bowl XXXVI.

“Look, those are the real heroes; those guys are out there fighting and dying for our country and protecting our freedom, so we all have a lot to be thankful for,” said coach Bill Belichick. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. They make what we do possible. There’s no way to express the gratitude that I feel for what they do.”

“That was a great experience,” said tight end Rob Gronkowski. “To see the soldiers that were in Afghanistan and Iraq, having a visit with them and a couple of the players, Mr. Kraft, coach Belichick, so that was a great experience too and put some perspective on how great we have it as athletes. It’s an honor meeting the President and all of the troops that we met at the Walter Reed Hospital too.”

“It was a great time, a tremendous time,” defensive end Chandler Jones said of the Reed visit. “Like coach said, those guys are the real heroes. I was shocked at how many Patriots fans were in there, those guys, Gronkowski and Edelman and Jones jerseys in there, not even knowing that we were coming. It gives you a different outlook on life, and I just want to thank those guys if they’re watching; they really are the true heroes.”

“It’s unbelievable to see these young men and women serving their country and going out there and seeing the things that you see there,” said wide receiver Julian Edelman. “It definitely puts life in perspective, and like coach said, those are the true heroes.”

Read More: Barack Obama, Bill Belichick, chandler jones, Julian Edelman
President Obama makes Deflategate joke during Patriots ceremony at White House 04.23.15 at 2:59 pm ET
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For the fourth time in the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots visited the White House after winning the Super Bowl. Thursday’s visit was the first time they met with President Obama.

The team was honored at a ceremony outside the White House where President Obama started things off with a few remarks, including making a Deflategate joke.

“I usually tell a bunch of jokes at these events, but with the Patriots in town, I was worried that 11 out of 12 of them would fall flat,” Obama joked. “€œAll right, all right, all right, that whole story got blown a little out of proportion.”

He also joked about Rob Gronkowski and said during the team’s meeting with him before the ceremony he told him to keep his shirt on, the secret service wouldn’t like it if he took it off. He said Gronkowski then joked, “What can they do to me?”

Following President Obama’s remarks, owner Robert Kraft presented him with a football, a No. 44 jersey and a helmet autographed by the entire team. Bill Belichick said a few words after, saying what an honor it was to visit the White House.

All members of the team were reportedly present, except Vince Wilfork, Brandon Browner and Tom Brady, who had a prior family commitment.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Deflategate, President Obama, Rob Gronkowski
Nick Caserio: ‘No other coach in football that I’d rather work alongside than Bill Belichick’ 04.22.15 at 3:23 pm ET
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FOXBORO — One of the under-the-radar stars of the Patriots team-building process is Nick Caserio. The Patriots personnel chief, who prefers to operate out of the spotlight, plays an integral role in the construction of New England roster every season. From free agency through the draft, as well as trades and waiver wire moves, Caserio’s fingerprints are all over the franchise.

Several former members of the Patriots front office have gone on to bigger and better things at other locations: Scott Pioli took the reins in Kansas City, while Jason Licht became GM with the Bucs and Thomas Dimitroff did the same thing with the Falcons. While Caserio has had his opportunities to leave — he interviewed for the GM job with the Dolphins in January 2014 — he’s always returned to New England.

Now, it appears he’s going to be sticking around for a long time to come. In a rare session with the media on Wednesday — part of his annual pre-draft press conference — he was asked about the new deal he signed last fall, a contract that will keep him in New England through 2020. He said there were a “lot of things” that went into his decision to sign a new contract with the Patriots.

“I would say I’ve been fortunate to be able to be in the same organization for 14 years,” he said. “I’ve had a chance to work on a multitude of levels. The Kraft family has been extremely generous to me and my family, and there is no other coach in football that I’d rather work alongside than Bill Belichick.

“I like being here, I like winning and I enjoy my role. I have plenty of responsibility, and I enjoy being a part of a winning culture and winning organization. I feel blessed. To be here and to have the opportunity that I have, I’m really grateful and hopefully we can continue to win some games along the way as well.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio,
Matthew Slater: Scott O’Brien ‘earned his retirement,’ but ‘excited to play for’ Joe Judge, Ray Ventrone at 11:31 am ET
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Scott O'Brien

Scott O’Brien

FOXBORO — There’s no question the Patriots’ special teams played a large role in the Super Bowl winning season last year.

Whether it was blocking a field goal and returning it for a touchdown, blocking a punt, or even just a huge flip in field position, the Patriots’ special teams unit seemingly made a big play every single week.

Just two days after winning the Super Bowl, their leader, coach Scott O’Brien announced his retirement after 24 seasons in the NFL, including the last six in New England. O’Brien will remain with the organization in some capacity.

In the same release, the team announced assistant special teams coach Joe Judge would take over for O’Brien and then later the team signed former player Ray Ventrone to serve as Judge’s assistant.

“I know that the game comes to an end for all of us and I know Scott had jokingly mentioned it over the years, and I certainly didn’€™t want him to retire because he definitely means a lot to me personally and I know to a lot of guys around here, but he’€™s earned his retirement,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said.

“He’€™s given a lot to this game, and I know he’€™s excited about the next chapter. That being said, we’€™re excited about having Ray [Ventrone] here and Joe Judge, them starting their legacy, we’€™re excited to play for those guys.”

Ventrone actually played for the Patriots and Bill Belichick from 2006-08. In all he played nine seasons in the NFL,  primarily used as a special teams player, registering 57 total tackles.

Slater was actually a teammate of Ventrone, and he always had a feeling one day he would become a coach.

“Certainly,” Slater said. “I think Ray was just a pro’€™s pro, the way he played the game and the way he prepared, he had a better understanding of the game than most guys I’€™ve ever played with. The way he competed, I had so much respect for him as a competitor and the passion that he played with and he’€™s already bringing that to the meeting room and we’€™re excited about it. Like I said, I’€™m not surprised that he’€™s doing what he’€™s doing now.”

Having a former teammate now be his coach, Slater said there was one thing he needed to be made clear before getting started.

“The big thing that I wanted to get clear with Ray was, ‘€˜Should I call you Ray or should I call you coach Ventrone?’€™” Slater joked. “So it’€™s going to be great. Coach Ventrone is a very intelligent guy and he played this game at a high level for a long time and he really understands the game, so I’€™m excited to work with him, to learn from him, and I think he’€™s going to bring a lot to the table.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Joe Judge, Matthew Slater, Ray Ventrone
What did Bill Belichick say about Tom Brady shortly after drafting him 15 years ago today? 04.16.15 at 11:21 am ET
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Thursday marked the 15th anniversary of the professional relationship between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Thursday marked the 15th anniversary of the professional relationship between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Thursday marks a unique day in Patriots history. On April 16, 2000, the Patriots drafted quarterback Tom Brady with a sixth-round selection — 199th overall. In the wake of the selection, New England coach Bill Belichick met the media to talk about the 2000 draft class, and offered this up in the way of his new quarterback:

“The value board at that point really just clearly put him as the top value. [Tom] Brady is a guy who has obviously played at a high level of competition in front of a lot of people. He’s been in a lot of pressure situations. We felt that this year, his decision-making was improved from his junior year after he took over for [Brian] Griese and cut his interceptions down. [He’s] a good, tough, competitive, smart quarterback that is a good value, and how he does and what he’ll be able to do. … we’ll just put him out there with everybody else and let him compete and see what happens.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady,
Bill Belichick named NFL’s top GM by Rotoworld 04.14.15 at 12:34 pm ET
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Bill Belichick was named the best GM in the league by Rotoworld. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick was named the best GM in the league by Rotoworld. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Esteemed Rotoworld writer Patrick Daugherty has produced his annual NFL GM rankings, and Bill Belichick is at the top of the list. It’s the second consecutive year Belichick lands in the No. 1 spot. Of the Patriots coach, Daugherty writes that he has his “blind spots,” but more often than not, he gets it right.

Bill Belichick‘s blind spots as a personnel man are well known. The greatest football mind of the 21st century can’t draft wide receivers or cornerbacks to save his life,” Daugherty writes of Belichick, who is only one of a handful of coaches with extensive control of player personnel. “But when Belichick looks in the rear-view mirror, the only object closer than it appears is his fourth Super Bowl title. Even the best have weaknesses, but no one in today’s NFL can match Belichick’s strengths.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick,
Resetting Patriots depth chart: Running back at 8:05 am ET
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Jonas Gray could have a bigger workload in 2015. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Jonas Gray could have a bigger workload in 2015. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

With the majority of free agency completed and the draft looming, we’re going to take a look at the Patriots depth chart by position, and try and assess the level of need going forward. We started with special teams, tight end and wide receiver. Now, it’s running back:

Current depth chart: LeGarrette Blount (60 carries, 281 yards, 3 TDs), Jonas Gray (89 carries, 412 yards, 5 TDs), Brandon Bolden (28 carries, 89 yards, 1 TD), Travaris Cadet, James White (9 carries, 38 yards), Dion Lewis, James Develin (3 carries, 5 yards), Tyler Gaffney (ended season on injured reserve).

Lost in free agency: Stevan Ridley (94 carries, 340 yards, 2 TDs) signed with the Jets, Shane Vereen (96 carries, 391 rushing yards, 2 TDs; 52 catches, 447 receiving yards, 3 TDs) signed with the Giants.

Gained in free agency: Cadet (10 carries, 32 yards; 31 catches, 51 targets, 296 yards, 1 TD for the Saints last year), Lewis (no stats last year with the Browns, but his best season came in 2011 with the Eagles when he had 23 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown).

Other changes: There’s been plenty of turnover at the position this offseason for New England, as the Patriots have lost 43 percent of their carries from 2014 with the departures of Ridley and Vereen. But that’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to the Patriots and the running back position: over the last 10 years, six different backs have led New England in rushing yards. (In that span, only the Cardinals, Browns and Saints have had more different backs lead their team in rushing than the Patriots.) One other note as it relates to change in the New England backfield: Tyler Gaffney was swiped off waivers from the Panthers last summer and stashed on injured reserve because of a knee injury. The former Stanford product bears watching for a few reasons throughout the spring workouts for a few reasons, including the fact that the 6-foot-1, 221-pounder rushed for 1,709 yards on 330 carries as a senior in college in 2013. (He also had 27 catches out of the backfield in his final two years at Stanford.) Given those numbers, it’s reasonable to think that he’ll at least be a part of the conversation when it comes to the position this summer.

Is this an area of need going into the draft? Not on the surface, but there is some pre-draft talk that if one of the two backs considered to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field (Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley) are available at No. 32, the Patriots would be inclined to go after them at the end of the first round. It certainly would be out of character for New England, as Bill Belichick has taken a running back just once in the first round (Laurence Maroney, 2006). If they don’t go for a back at the end of the first round, look for them to pick up at least one somewhere along the way, even as a camp body or two via the undrafted/rookie free agent route to help fill out the roster.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Dion Lewis, James White, Jonas Gray



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