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What to watch for in Saturday’s preseason contest between Patriots and Saints 08.21.15 at 10:05 pm ET
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Where will Devin McCourty line up against the Saints? (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Where will Devin McCourty line up Saturday against the Saints? (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Here are six things we’ll be looking for Saturday night when the Patriots meet the Saints in the second preseason game for both teams:

1. The young receivers and what they do with their opportunity: Last week against the Packers, it was Chris Harper (seven catches on seven targets) as the young pass-catcher who made the most of his opportunity. With Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Aaron Dobson not likely to play (and Brian Tyms reportedly likely to sit), Harper, Brandon Gibson and Josh Boyce should get plenty of run against the Saints. The regular season is creeping closer; keeping in mind the Patriots had five receivers and Matthew Slater on the Week 1 roster last season (Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins, Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson) and with Edelman, LaFell and Amendola locks this time around, there will be fewer and fewer chances for the youngsters to show what they have between now and the start of the season.

(In that same vein, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the touches that James White had last week. While he struggled at times in pass blocking, the young running back got more work than any offensive skill position player in the preseason opener against the Packers with 12 touches ‘€” 8 carries, 4 catches. But that was with Brandon Bolden, Travaris Cadet, Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount on the sidelines. At least three of them figure to play Saturday against the Saints. As a result, White’s workload against New Orleans should be monitored accordingly.)

2. The young defenders and how they do with their opportunity: Last week against the Packers, the Patriots front seven was able to generate some good pressure early on Aaron Rodgers. Jabaal Sheard (who played 23 snaps) was in the backfield consistently when asked to rush, and drew a holding penalty. In addition, Chandler Jones had a sack, while youngsters Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers, Dominique Easley, Malcolm Brown and Rufus Johnson all had their moments. Based on their practice schedule, don’t expect Flowers or Johnson to play this time around — instead, Grissom (who played 65 snaps against the Packers, second-most among all New England defenders) should get an extended run against the Saints in the race to work as a backup edge defender for Jones and Rob Ninkovich.

3. Jimmy Garoppolo: The youngster was up-and-down in the preseason opener against the Packers, looking very sharp at times and looking overwhelmed at others (seven sacks). While some of his performance against Green Bay should be taken with a grain of salt, as he was behind a patchwork offensive line and had nothing but second- and third-team offensive skill position players working with him, Saturday night should be an opportunity for him to bounce back. He’s shown nice mental toughness in the past, and an ability to rebound when needed. He should have a few more starting linemen and prime skill position guys around him on Saturday in the Superdome. Let’s see if he can answer the bell. (One way he could show some improvement is if rookie Shaq Mason improves as a pass blocker. While fellow rookie guard Tre’ Jackson looks more and more like a polished product every day he’s on the practice field, Mason — who came from a run-based offense at Georgia Tech and appears to be as skilled a run-blocker as we’ve seen in his first year — looked like he struggled at times in pass blocking.)

4. Tom Brady: While it remains to be seen how much he’ll play on Saturday against the Saints, it’s worth noting that he had a sizable workload on Wednesday and Thursday while working against New Orleans in practice. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be a shock to see some of his usual workload cut with an eye toward getting Garoppolo as many game reps as possible.

For the record, here’s Brady’s workload and production for the second preseason game of the summer going back the last 10 years. (It averages out to 23 snaps.)

2005: 6-for-11 for 105 yards, 1 INT in 20 snaps vs. Saints
2006: 15-for-20 for 149 yards in 21 snaps vs. Cardinals
2007: 10-for-19 for 145 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs in 35 snaps vs. Titans
2008: DNP vs. Bucs
2009: 4-for-8 for 57 yards in 13 snaps vs. Bengals
2010: 10-for-12 for 85 yards, 1 TD in 24 snaps vs. Falcons
2011: 11-for-19 for 118 yards, 2 TDs in 25 snaps vs. Bucs
2012: DNP vs. Eagles
2013: 11-for-12 for 107 yards, 1 TD in 23 snaps vs. Bucs
2014: 8-for-10 for 81 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT in 22 snaps vs. Eagles

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Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, chandler jones, Chris Harper, Devin McCourty
Patriots, Saints not expecting to fight like Cowboys and Rams: ‘Competitive level is very high’ 08.19.15 at 1:33 pm ET
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Matthew Slater was on the field Wednesday for the first of two joint practices between the Saints and Patriots. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Matthew Slater was on the field Wednesday for the first of two joint practices between the Saints and Patriots. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The video of Dez Bryant getting sucker punched in the face was likely all anyone on the Greenbrier resort football field in West Virginia had to see to learn an important lesson. Compete but don’t fight.

That’s what the Patriots and Saints began doing Wednesday morning when they began joint practices in White Sulphur Springs.

Patriots and Saints coaches and players were asked about the now-infamous brawl between the Cowboys and Rams Tuesday that spilled into a spectator’s area at the Cowboys’ facility in Oxnard, California.

“Obviously, when you go against a new opponent, adrenaline kicks in and the competitive level is very high,” Matthew Slater said. “It’€™s a very good football team we’€™re going against. The intensity was definitely up and I think it was good for our football team to get some good work today.”

Is there a conscious effort to stay away from the brawl situations that seem to escalate quickly?

“I’€™m not going to comment on those situations, but I know that Coach [Bill Belichick] has always stressed that we’€™re here to work and just play football, and that’€™s what we try to do is just try to play football and not let all that other stuff come into the picture,” Slater added.

Chandler Jones joked Saturday about how no one has ever challenged him in a football fight. He took a more serious tone Wednesday after practice.

“You understand that practice is going to be very competitive,” Jones said. “We’€™re out here to get better. That’€™s what we’€™re doing. Our job is to get better. The Saints are trying to get better. The Patriots are trying to get better. And that’€™s our main goal; that’€™s what we’€™re coming out here to do every day.”

Both Jones and Slater said they were happy to get on the practice field against another team Wednesday.

“I think it’€™s huge,” Slater said. “I think it’€™s very challenging; it’€™s a chance to work on your craft. I know for me, I get a lot out of these things, so I think it’€™s huge to be able to do this and simulate as best we can game speed in practice.

Added Jones, “It felt good to get out here and compete against a different team. You get a lot of different looks, and it’€™s good for our team.”

Jones said the tempo is similar to what he’s seen in the last two weeks in Foxboro.

“I feel like the coaches do a good job of getting on the same page and merging the practices together, and that’€™s exactly what we’€™re doing,” Jones said.

Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, chandler jones, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots
Why no one ever messed around with Chandler Jones in a football fight: ‘I like it personally’ 08.15.15 at 2:06 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The football scuffle that broke out between rookie first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown and offensive lineman Ryan Groy is commonplace in NFL training camps.

As teams continue to practice and have players looking to make a statement, it’s not unusual for a fight to break out in the trenches. To Bill Belichick, the high testosterone is good for nothing but showing players how costly it can be to lose your cool.

When Brown’s helmet went flying, both players were kicked off the field. Brown, being the rookie, thought the lesson was taking a lap. He was informed when he finished that it actually meant hit the road that leads down the steps to the locker room.

“Can’t do it. Can’t be in a game doing it so I think Coach Belichick handles that situation,” Devin McCourty said. “It’s never a big deal. It happens. It’s over with and you move on.”

Ever thought of punching a helmet in the heat of battle?

“Nah, I never thought it would be good for my hand,” McCourty added. “Try to stay away from it.”

Chandler Jones had a slightly different take, he of the MMA family that includes brother Jon “Bones” Jones. The word “competitive” kept coming up in Jones’ characterization.

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Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, chandler jones, Devin McCourty, Jon Bones Jones
Bill Belichick feels Jabaal Sheard has ‘done well’ adjusting to Patriots’ defensive scheme 08.09.15 at 1:00 pm ET
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Jabaal Sheard

Jabaal Sheard

FOXBORO — With the departures of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington in the secondary, the Patriots’ front-seven will be asked to do more than they were asked a year ago.

The group has a good core in linebackers Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and hybrid outside linebackers/defensive ends Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and new-comer Jabaal Sheard.

Sheard was one of the Patriots’ biggest offseason acquisitions, as he signed a two-year deal worth $11 million after spending his first four seasons in the league with the Browns. He battled a foot injury for the final two months of last season, finishing with two sacks, but he did have 8.5, 7 and 5.5 respectively in his first three seasons in the league.

“I don’€™t think there’€™s been a huge amount of surprises with him,” coach Bill Belichick said Saturday. “He’€™s been in the league for four years. Mike [Lombardi] was in Cleveland with him, so we have a pretty good insight here. I would just say the system he played in there — he actually played in a couple of different systems there, and our system is a little bit different, so there’€™s been an adjustment for him there with some of our techniques or assignments. Overall, a lot of things that we do, he’€™s done, so there’€™s been a little bit of an adjustment, but he’€™s done well with that.

“He’€™s a good player. He’€™s long, has good playing strength, pretty instinctive. He’€™s played on the end of the line for his whole career going back to Pitt and in the NFL and now with us. That’€™s pretty much where he’€™s going to play for us.”

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Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, chandler jones, Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich
Chandler Jones ‘hungry to have an opportunity’ to win another Super Bowl 07.31.15 at 1:01 pm ET
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Chandler Jones is all smiles after a day in the sun at Patriots camp Friday. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Chandler Jones is all smiles after a day in the sun at Patriots camp Friday. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — Just six months ago the Patriots hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XLIX.

With training camp opening this week it’s a new season and the general message from the team is the Super Bowl is now in the past. Defensive end Chandler Jones admitted it’s hard not to think back to that experience, but he’s using that as motivation to get back there again this year.

“For me, from a personal aspect, it was a lot of fun going through that again,” Jones said. “Trying not to think about it is hard, yeah. But, knowing that task and knowing what you have to do to get back there and do it again makes you that much more hungry. That’s how I feel right now. I am hungry to have an opportunity to go out there and do it again.”

“The motivation is there itself,” he added. “We aren’t trying to focus on the past success behind us. Just the moments we’ve went through and been through. Last year makes you hungry enough to experience those things again.”

Jones reportedly had offseason surgery. It wasn’t reported what the surgery was for, but he did miss six games in the middle of last year with a hip injury.

He was mum answering questions on his health in typical Patriots fashion, as he said he’s just taking things day-by-day.

“Each and every day I am taking it a day at a time,” he said.

Despite the shortened offseason by way of winning the Super Bowl, Jones said it still felt long and was excited to return this week.

“Definitely. I was very excited to get back to football,” he said. “Even though we were one of the last teams to play, it was a very long offseason and he was excited to get back here and we were are at training camp.”

Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, chandler jones,
Countdown to camp: Defensive line 07.29.15 at 3:51 pm ET
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How will the Patriots replace Vince Wilfork? (Elsa/Getty Images)

How will the Patriots replace Vince Wilfork? (Elsa/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’€™€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the offensive side of the ball and now we’€™ve shifted to defense with the cornerbacks, linebackers and safeties, now we take a look at the defensive line.

Depth chart (regular-season stats via Pro Football Reference): Rob Ninkovich (53 tackles, 8 sacks), Jabaal Sheard (25 tackles, 2 sacks), Chandler Jones (37 tackles, 6 sacks) Dominique Easley (6 tackles, 1 sack), Sealver Siliga (21 tackles, 2.5 sacks), Alan Branch (14 tackles), Jake Bequette, Chris Jones (16 tackles, 3 sacks), Joe Vellano (4 tackles, 1 sack), Zach Moore, Malcom Brown (rookie), Trey Flowers (rookie)

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. It’s a different group than a year ago. While they may have lost only one player, it was their leader Vince Wilfork. Without Wilfork it will surely be a different group and they will need someone to step up and take on a leadership role, which will likely be Ninkovich. The team also went out and signed Sheard, who was a free agent after spending last season with the Browns. While they will be without the biggest guy in the middle, the talent is still there to keep up the success.

2. Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard will be good. The Patriots could have one of the best outside pass rush grouping in the entire league with these three. Ninkovich has had eight sacks in three straight seasons, Jones had six in an injury-plagued 2014 season and Sheard will benefit from having the other two players with him. These three rotating in-and-out will likely create matchup problems for opposing defenses and allow the Patriots to get constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks when they choose.

3. They will need to make more of an impact. Last season the secondary was the group which led the defense and this year it will be the front-seven with the departures of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington in the secondary. It will likely be the opposite of things from last year, as this year it will be the front-seven taking some pressure off of the secondary rather than the other way around like last season.

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Read More: Alan Branch, chandler jones, Countdown to Camp, Dominique Easley
5 looming positional battles for Patriots 06.08.15 at 9:59 pm ET
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New Patriot Travaris Cadet could have the inside track for the job of third-down back. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

New Patriot Travaris Cadet could have the inside track for the job of third-down back. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The 2015 Patriots roster is starting to come into sharper focus, and as a result, there are some positional battles starting to take shape. With the understanding that there’s a lot of football left before the start of training camp at the end of July, here are four positions that bear watching as New England’s mandatory minicamp approaches later this month and camp begins in July.

Backup outside linebacker/defensive end: This spot demands some versatility in that defenders have to show an ability to not just get after the quarterback and set the edge, but also play over a tight end and drop into coverage from time to time. There are a bunch of different possibilities when it comes to working behind the likes of expected starters Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones that one of the candidates — Jake Bequette — has apparently spent some of the spring working at tight end in an attempt to get on the field. Opponent, situation and scheme will all play a sizable role as to who is on the field, and while free-agent pickup Jabaal Sheard probably shouldn’t necessarily be labeled as a backup, he will augment the work of Jones and Ninkovich. Sheard will lead a group that includes returnee Zach Moore (more of a defensive end/pass rush type than an outside linebacker, as well as rookies Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom and Xzavier Dickson.

Backup inside/middle linebacker: The release of Brandon Spikes on Monday creates a void at the linebacker spot for New England. While Spikes wasn’t going to unseat any of the three long-term starters (Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower) for work as a three-down linebacker, his run-stuffing ability made him a good situational option on first and second downs. With Hightower’s offseason shoulder surgery leaving him a question mark when it comes to participating over the summer, the Patriots could still try and add someone at the spot. If not, the return of Dane Fletcher creates some depth at the position, and is likely the favorite to see the bulk of the playing time, at least at this point. In addition, James Morris (who was on the shelf all last season with a leg injury) will compete for reps alongside youngster Chris White and rookie Matt Wells.

Third-down back: The Patriots lost one of their most impressive offensive options to free agency this offseason, as Shane Vereen signed with the Giants. However, New England hasn’t been shy about turnover at this spot the last few years, as Kevin Faulk have way to Danny Woodhead, who yielded to Vereen. Now, it’ll be next man up here, and there are plenty of possibilities. The Patriots acquired Travaris Cadet in free agency — the 26-year-old had 38 catches last season out of the backfield with the Saints, and could be the early favorite to win the gig. Cadet will have his challengers, however, with one of them likely being second-year pro James White. White, who fundamentally took a redshirt year last season while sitting behind Vereen and the rest of the backs, has an impressive college resume at Wisconsin (he had 39 catches as a senior, and 73 total as a collegian), and certainly possesses the same sort of size and shiftiness as Vereen. While Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount have shown a willingness to catch passes out of the backfield, the wild card here is likely Tyler Gaffney, a 6-foot-1, 221-pounder who was swiped from the Panthers off waivers and spent the whole season on IR because of a knee issue. The Stanford product caught 27 passes his last two seasons at Stanford, and could be part of the conversation as the summer continues.

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Read More: Cameron Fleming, chandler jones, Dan Connolly, Dane Fletcher
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