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Five thoughts on the first wave of cuts the Patriots made on Friday afternoon 08.30.13 at 4:00 pm ET
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1. As we wrote in our final preseason edition of “What We Learned,” the decision to cut ties with Daniel Fells and Jake Ballard wasn’t a big surprise, given the fact that they were on the field late into Thursday’s contest against the Giants. If you look at the totality of Ballard’s work since he stepped on the field this spring, it was clear that he was still hampered by the knee problem he sustained in Super Bowl XLVI as a member of the Giants. He had his moments, but they were few and far between. Look for him to sign elsewhere, and soon.

2. As for Fells, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him on the Deion Branch Plan — that is to say he could be that veteran who is cut shortly before the start of the regular season, only to return a week or two into the regular season in an attempt to give the Patriots some financial flexibility (his money for the 2013 season isn’t guaranteed) and some roster flexibility as well. When it comes to Fells, it wasn’t so much that he struggled over the course of the summer, but in some cases, when all things are equal when it comes to the on-field product, the team is almost always more inclined to go with the cheaper alternative. In the end, I’m not saying Fells wouldn’t have potential suitors, but his age, value and financial situation certainly make him a candidate to be a part of the shadow roster.

3. You can’t talk about the release of Fells and Ballard without mentioning what it all means for Rob Gronkowski. For what it’s worth, I still believe that Gronkowski will take roughly a half-season to round back into his old form — as I wrote here the other day, it’s not so much the injury at this point, but the rehab and recovery process, as well as the fact that he still needs to get back to his playing weight. There’s also the possibility that the Patriots make some sort of deal for another tight end between now and the start of the season. (They’ve made a few trades at this time of the year.) Ultimately, it’s important to remember that even though New England has released Fells and Ballard, it’s still a position that’s in a state of flux at this point in the summer, and can change before the start of the regular season.

4. Defensive lineman Marcus Benard was a guy who flashed very positively through the initial stages of training camp, and played well in the first preseason game against the Eagles. And while the Patriots shuffled him a bit along their defensive front — he played his natural position as a pass-rushing defensive end, but also gave him a shot as an interior pass rushing presence — he ultimately didn’t show the consistency needed to survive in the NFL. His release likely bodes well for some of the other backup defensive end types on the roster, including Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan, the latter of whom played very well in the preseason finale Thursday night against the Giants.

5. Of the guys who were cut loose on Friday, the one most likely to land on the Patriots practice squad is Matt Stankiewitch, an interior offensive lineman out of Penn State. He’s one of a handful of guys in that situation who have practice squad eligibility, and depending on what New England decides to do with Marcus Cannon, the Patriots could be looking for more depth at guard and center going into the regular season. His time with former Patriots offensive coordinator Billy O’Brien at Penn State proably doesn’t hurt either.

Read More: cuts, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard, Jake Bequette
Reports: Patriots cut Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells at 1:12 pm ET
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According to multiple reports Friday afternoon, the Patriots have released tight ends Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells.

The move likely means the Patriots plan to keep Zach Sudfeld and Michael Hoomanawanui and activate Rob Gronkowski from the PUP list.

Ballard never played a down for the Patriots in a regular-season game. He tore his ACL while playing for the Giants against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI and was claimed by the Patriots last offseason despite needing a year to recuperate.

Fells signed a three-year deal with the Patriots last offseason. He played in 13 games in 2012, recording four catches for 85 yards.

Sudfeld, an undrafted rookie from Nevada, had three catches for 36 yards in Thursday’s preseason finale. However, he also lost a fumble.

Hoomanawanui signed with the Patriots on Sept. 5, 2012, after two years with the Rams. In 14 games last season he had five catches for 109 yards.

Read More: Daniel Fells, Jake Ballrd,
Fab Five: The most underrated Patriots 12.04.12 at 5:51 pm ET
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While the Patriots have their share of high-profile superstars, each man in the locker room will tell you that it takes 53 players — and sometimes more, when you add in the practice squadders — to make a team. To that end, here’€™s our pick for the five most underrated Patriots — the unheralded guys who don’€™t get the headlines like some of their counterparts, but who are just as integral to the success of the franchise on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.

Tight end Daniel Fells: The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder has assumed the same role that Alge Crumpler had in 2010 — an older tight end who has served as something of a steadying, veteran presence for younger Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And while he hasn’€™t had much of a statistical impact (he has three catches on nine targets for 77 yards this season), with the recent injury to Gronkowski, he has seen a sizable uptick in his playing time. He was on the field for 103 of a possible 151 snaps over the last two weeks, and while he didn’€™t have the same impact that Gronkowski has, he was essentially doing his job as an end of the line blocker. Most importantly, he was a consistent presence on the field during New England’€™s 16-play series in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins, the best offensive sequence of the season for the Patriots.

Running back Danny Woodhead: Woodhead appears so often on these types of underrated lists, he might actually be perfectly rated, but there are few more versatile options in the New England offense. He’€™s the only guy on the team with at least 25 carries and 25 receptions — he has 58 rushes and 26 catches through 12 games. (The last Patriots player to go over 25/25 in the same year was Kevin Faulk in 2009 — he finished that year with 62 carries and 37 receptions.) He’€™s also the most dependable receiver on the team — he has 26 catches on 32 targets, and his 81 percent reception rate is the best on the team among pass catchers with at least 10 receptions. He’€™s seen a recent downturn in snaps (particularly with the recent emergence of Shane Vereen as an option in the passing game), but he remains a steady third-down option. In the wake of the injury to Julian Edelman, the 5-foot-8, 200-pounder could see more action as the regular-season comes to a close.

Center Ryan Wendell: A part-time interior offensive lineman over the course of his first three seasons with the Patriots, the undrafted free agent out of Fresno State stepped into a starting role for the first time this year and has become one of New England’€™s most dependable offensive linemen. Taking over for veteran Dan Koppen (who was released shortly before the start of the regular season), Wendell has been the centerpiece of one of the best offensive lines in football. Pro Football Focus says the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder is one of the best centers in the league — his grade of +16.2 when it comes to run blocking is best in the league, and his overall grade of +14.4 through the first 12 games of the season is third on the New England offense (he trails only Tom Brady and Gronkowski). In addition, on an offensive line that’€™s seen it’€™s share of injury, Wendell has held up very nicely. His 924 offensive snaps this season is second on the offense to left tackle Nate Solder (927).

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Read More: Daniel Fells, Danny Woodhead, Matthew Slater, Ryan Mallett
Josh McDaniels on return of Aaron Hernandez: ‘It was certainly good to get Aaron back’ 11.23.12 at 5:59 pm ET
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The Patriots were able to get an important offensive option back in the fold Thursday night when Aaron Hernandez returned to the lineup for the first time in a month. The tight end, who has been hobbled by injury since going down with an ankle issue in a Week 2 loss to the Cardinals, did come back for a couple of games last month, but appeared to suffer a setback and was shelved again until Thursday night.

According to Pro Football Focus, Hernandez played 57 of the Patriots’€™ 70 offensive snaps on Thursday, and finished the game with two catches for 36 yards.

‘€œIt was certainly good to have Aaron back, and I was pleased with the amount of snaps he was able to play,’€ said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on a conference call with reporters Friday. ‘€œI thought what was interesting was that for being off for such an extended period, I thought he hung in there and tried to fight through it and give us everything he could give us.

‘€œIt’€™s great to have a guy like that back. It’€™s a guy who can do a lot of things with the ball. He made some key plays for us last night and hopefully we can build on that as we go down the stretch here with Aaron as he plays more and more each week. I thought that was good.’€

With Rob Gronkowski expected to be sidelined for the next month or so with a broken arm, all of the tight ends will see an uptick in playing time. That includes veteran Daniel Fells, who has been on and off the field over the course of the last month or so. Against the Jets, he also played 57 of the Patriots’€™ 70 offensive snaps. And while he didn’€™t show up all that much in the box score (one catch on two targets for 24 yards), McDaniels also lauded Fells’€™ performance.

‘€œDaniel definitely did a nice job of his role in the game plan,’€ McDaniels said. ‘€œWe asked a lot of different things of Daniel last night. Asked him to do some different things in the running game. Asked him to pass protect at times and made a big catch there for a big chunk gain there in the third quarter, I believe.

‘€œWe have a lot of tight ends that are capable of doing different things. The way we played them last night, we had two of them on the field, predominantly, most of the game. I thought those guys gave us some protection and allowed us to play the game we wanted to play.’€

Here are a few other highlights from McDaniels Q&A with the media on Friday:

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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells, Josh McDaniels, Rob Gronkowski
Bill Belichick thankful for his players’ ‘preparation’ and ‘execution’ at 5:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots coach Bill Belichick knew this week would be a challenge. A late afternoon game on Sunday against the upstart Colts and Andrew Luck followed by a night game four days later against their AFC East rival that pushed them to OT in October.

Well, 108 points later, the Patriots went from 6-3 to 8-3 and in complete control of the AFC East, all but assuring their 10th division title in 12 seasons. In the afterglow of Thursday’s 49-19 feast on the Jets at MetLife Stadium, Belichick gave credit to his players for their work on a tight schedule.

“As we talked about [Thursday] night, I think after going through the film that it was really apparent that the preparation that our players put into this game certainly helped us with our overall execution,” Belichick said in a Friday afternoon conference call. ” I thought we had a real good three days, four days of preparation for the game ‘€“ a lot of concentration, focus, attentiveness, attention to detail and all those things came out in different aspects of the game. So, I’€™ll give credit to the players, the way they prepared and performed. I thought we had good energy last night.

“Obviously the big plays in the game really tilted the game strongly in our favor so that was important. We’€™ll try to take the next day or so to kind of get caught up and get re-organized. We never even had a chance to spend much time at all on the Indianapolis game so we’€™ll need to catch up a little bit on that and of course the Jet game from last night, as quickly as possible and put that behind us and turn the page onto Miami. It’€™s good to get a couple wins over the Jets and certainly it was good to get the bonus points from the turnovers on defense and the kicking game, not only turnovers but to end up with significant points on the board. Those plays are always especially good to see because it’€™s hard to count on them. When you get them, it really shifts the game quickly.”

Belichick’s sign of gratitude was to give the players three days off, in essence giving them a second bye weekend in four weeks. The players don’t have to report to Foxboro until midday Monday to get ready for the Dolphins in South Florida on Dec. 2.

“It was good to see us respond very positively to the challenge of going down and playing the Jets on Thanksgiving night. But there’€™s a new challenge every week,” he said. “Hopefully we’€™ll be able to respond to future challenges in the same positive way, by using the same methods: working hard, being attentive, putting extra things into it; doing extra things at this time of year can really pay off and make a difference.

“I hope that we can all see the benefit of doing that, in terms of what the results were and hopefully going forward we can build on this and get that same type of preparation and attention to the little things that will make a difference for us. I hope this will be a good’€¦we always talk about it, it isn’€™t like we don’€™t ever do it, I just thought this was doing everything [with] the timeframe and all that we were working with, that it was a very good effort by the players to respond. Hopefully we’€™ll be able to do it again.”

Here is the remainder of Belichick’s Q and A with reporters on Friday afternoon: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Daniel Fells, Marcus Cannon
Countdown to Patriots Camp: Tight end 07.24.12 at 12:26 am ET
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In the days leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we’€™ll take a quick look at how each position shakes out. We broke down quarterback and running back. Now, we take a look at the tight end position.

Roster (2011 stats): Rob Gronkowski (90 catches, 1,327 yards, 17 receiving touchdowns), Aaron Hernandez (79 catches, 910 receiving yards, seven receiving touchdowns), Daniel Fells (19 catches, 256 receiving yards, three receiving touchdowns for Denver), Jake Ballard (38 catches, 604 receiving yards, four touchdowns with the Giants), rookie Tyler Urban.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

The Patriots have the best tight end combo in the league. Duh. The Gronkowski/Hernandez duo creates matchup nightmares for opposing defenses, and only figure to get better as they spend more time in the league. (It’s hard to believe that even after two years in the NFL, Hernandez is still one of the younger players on the roster — he’s almost nine months younger than rookie defensive lineman Jake Bequette).

Coming off ankle surgery, Gronkowski will take it slow at the start of camp. It’s worth noting that when the list of players that will start camp on the active/PUP list was released Monday, Gronkowski wasn’t on it. That’s a good sign for a player who didn’t participate in any of the on-field drills throughout the spring, instead working off to the side as the ankle healed. He won’t be going half-speed out there, but his health will be monitored very closely throughout the summer.

When it comes to defending Gronkowski, teams might follow Oakland’s lead. One interesting breakdown on how teams might be able to contain the big fella comes from our pals at Pro Football Focus, who looked at the job the Raiders did on Gronk early in the 2011 season. A great read, and one other clubs on the Patriots’ 2012 schedule might want to consider.

THREE QUESTIONS

1. Will the Patriots utilize a third tight end? While it’s unlikely Ballard plays this season (he had offseason knee surgery for an injury he suffered in the Super Bowl), New England has been active on the free agent market this offseason. They signed Fells and kicked the tires on Visanthe Shiancoe. (They even had Bo Scaife in for a quick visit.) It’s not realistic that any of them will have a serious statistical impact on what New England does, but would likely mean that the days of the occasional rep at tight end for Nate Solder could be coming to a close. (On Fells, it’s also worth mentioning that he learned what it takes to be a mentor from Alge Crumpler when the two were together in Atlanta, and talked about the Crump HERE. Crumpler, who took the two young tight ends under his wing when they were rookies, could help continue the maturation process this year.)

2. Will there be any hangover from the Summer of Gronk? He was America’s Guest all offseason, engaging in a rollicking, Zubaz-clad ride from one event to another, punctuated by the news that he had signed an eight-year, $55.23 million contract with $13.17 million guaranteed. We know he’s already received at least one reminder that it’s time to put his focus back to football, and past history tells us that the franchise usually has a pretty good track record when it comes to making sure stars are able to keep their eyes on the prize. (It’s also worth mentioning that he’ll almost certainly be reminded on a daily basis about his offseason fun by his teammates, but to his credit, he was never photographed holding a goat.)

3. What else can you do with Hernandez? The Florida product was used as an offensive chess piece by the Patriots last season: He was split wide, in the slot, flush against a tackle and in the backfield. The only thing you probably can’t have him doing on a regular basis is work as a blocker. Not many places left on the field for him to line up, but you never know.

By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez each caught 40-plus passes in each of the past two seasons. They are only the second pair of tight ends since 1958 to do that in consecutive seasons. The other? San Diego’s Eric Sievers and Pete Holohan in 1984-1985. They had this Kellen Winslow guy too, but he only managed 25 catches in 1985 or the Chargers would have had THREE tight ends with 40-plus catches in both of those seasons.

The skinny: What more can you say? While some around the league will argue the merits of Gronkowski vs. Jimmy Graham, there’s no denying the fact that the Patriots have the best young tight end duo in the league. Barring injury — or if some opposing defensive coordinator finds some sort of kryptonite for one or both of them — there’s no reason to think that these two shouldn’t again be dominant.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Alge Crumpler, Bo Scaife, Countdown to Camp
Report: Patriots work out tight end Bo Scaife 05.30.12 at 12:01 pm ET
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The Patriots had tight end Bo Scaife in for a workout, according to Aaron Wilson of Scout.com and the Carroll County Times. The 31-year-old Scaife is a 6-foot-3, 249-pounder who has played in the league for seven years, including six in Tennessee, posting a career-high 58 catches for 561 yards and two touchdowns with the Titans in 2008.

While the workout likely represents due diligence more than anything, the Patriots are continuing to round out their tight end group, at least throughout the offseason, as they were looking for extra bodies at last week’s OTA session (Rob Gronkowski and Daniel Fells did not practice). They had defensive end Alex Silvestro taking reps at tight end in that OTA practice, and signed undrafted free agent Nick Melillo on Tuesday.

Read More: Aaron Wilson, Alex Silvestro, Bo Scaife, Daniel Fells
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