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Rob Gronkowski turns into one of best punters on Patriots 08.05.16 at 1:25 pm ET
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Rex Ryan said covering Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett in the red zone will be a "nightmare." (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Rob Gronkowski again shined in Friday’s scrimmage. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — If Ryan Allen goes down, the Patriots can always fall back on a plan they already use a lot. Just give it to Gronk.

The Patriots tight end had the ball in his hands on a play out near the sidelines on an option, and all of a sudden he heaved it up in the air for Aaron Dobson.

One problem. Devin McCourty was down at the 1-yard line to pick it off.

Gronkowski, when asked if McCourty gave him any grief, gave a very Gronk answer.

“I’m sure when I see him, he’s going to let me know that he picked it off,” Gronkowski said with a smile after Friday’s scrimmage. “But it was one of the best punts out there, right on the 1-yard line. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

When he wasn’t throwing up Hail Marys doubled as punts, Gronkowski was doing what he always does, catching balls and running away from defenders, as he played on the offense with Jimmy Garoppolo against the first team defense in the scrimmage.

“It’s cool to break it up a little bit,” Gronkowski said. “It’s always just offense vs. defense, so it’s a little cool to get on some of the defensive players’ team. Just to have a little fun with it, a little trash talking before, a little trash talking during, so it was cool to do that and change up the flow of everything.”

Gronkowski actually got to play against Tom Brady, who didn’t miss a chance to give it to the other team and get his own team fired up in a scrimmage that Brady’s team clearly won.

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Read More: 2016 training camp, Devin McCourty, Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots
A fired-up Matt Patricia is ready for his defense to lead the way: ‘It’s a critical time for us’ 07.27.16 at 11:21 pm ET
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Matt Patricia

Matt Patricia

FOXBORO — Sporting a black Patriots cap under the pedestrian bridge in the north end of Gillette Stadium, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia Wednesday sounded like a coach who’s ready to have his unit step up and help Jimmy Garoppolo and the Patriots get off to a fast start this season.

For the last two seasons, it’s been the defense that has led the way in the first quarter of the season as Tom Brady and the offensive line found their form.

In 2014, the team had big issues on the offensive line and it was the defense that held things together as the team struggled to a 2-2 start.

Last year, the team started 4-0 but it was the defense that had big moments against the Steelers on Opening Night, held the Jaguars to 17 points and limited the Cowboys to six points.

This season, the challenge is that much bigger with Garoppolo subbing in for the suspended Tom Brady in the first four games. The expectation from so many observers is that it’s the defense that’s going to have to lead the way. Patricia sounded a cautious tone at first, saying there’s so much work to be done between Thursday’s first day of camp and Sept. 11 when the Patriots take the field in Arizona.

“I think right now the challenge for the defense is to make sure we have good meetings and make sure we get all the information out that I can get out in the time that’s allowed,” Patricia said. “I’m real excited to be out there [Thursday]. So, for us, that’s our focus. It’s very much in the short term. It’s just about trying to put the guys out there together, build on what we did this spring, which was great. Go out there [Thursday] and improve.”

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Read More: 2016 training camp, Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty, matt patricia
Devin McCourty won’t be teasing Tom Brady about Deflategate: ‘Doubt there would be much joking about that’ at 4:30 pm ET
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Devin McCourty isn't about to tease Tom Brady about Deflategate. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Devin McCourty isn’t about to tease Tom Brady about Deflategate. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — There are things veteran players can do to other veteran players, especially at the beginning of training camp, to keep things loose and break up the monotony of training camp.

Busting Tom Brady about Deflategate is not on the list for Devin McCourty.

The Patriots seven-year veteran safety, sporting a Captain America “Trust Me” T-shirt at the podium, was asked Wednesday, the day before the first practice, if he might joke around with No. 12 about him having to sit out the first four games.

“No, the first day, I don’t think we talk about anything to do with football,” McCourty said. “I think it’s just guys catching up, seeing how families are doing and everything like that. But I doubt there would be much joking about that.”

Indeed, the Patriots were all business on Wednesday, as coaches held positional meetings with players on the eve of the first practice of camp.

The business of getting along without Tom Brady for the first four games was front and center, with players like McCourty and Matthew Slater the first to speak since Brady lost his appeal and decided to not pursue any further litigation.

“I think it’s [an] adjustment. Obviously, you can’t take the field without a guy like that and think you’re just going to go out there and pick up where you left off last year and fall right into stride, but I think we have a lot of good players,” McCourty said. “We have two other quarterbacks that have been very competitive. Jimmy [Garoppolo] has been here a couple of years now, so I think as a team we’ll just come together, go out there and figure out a way to win. That’s what it comes down to; we can’t stick on that subject, just prepare and get ready to play.”

Slater repeated the “adjustment” theme.

“It’s obviously going to be an adjustment,” Slater said. “We’re definitely thankful that he’s around now, and I think he brings so much to the table. There’s so much that we can learn from having him around, and obviously we all want to have a good training camp, it’s the foundation upon which the season is built, so I think he would definitely include himself in that group. Needless to say, there will definitely be an adjustment period for us in dealing with that, but we’re just going to take it one day at a time.”

Is the defense feeling more pressure to start strong, knowing the team will begin the season without Tom Brady leading the offense?

“I think from the outside, everyone will say that, but for us as a defense, even when you play with the greatest quarterback, we don’t go out there saying, ‘We only have to play OK because Tom [Brady] is here.’ We always want to play good football, go out there and really find out who we’ll be as a defense,” McCourty said. “It starts [Thursday] at practice with attitude, toughness, running to the ball, condition. I think for us as a defense, we want to be a dominating defense no matter what the situation is and no matter who is out there on offense. We always kind of take the mentality and attitude that we have to go out there and play defense no matter if the offense is scoring touchdowns, if they’re not scoring touchdowns. I think if we can develop as individual units, that’s what makes us better as a whole.”

Read More: 2016 training camp, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots
Most Important Patriots of 2016: No. 7, Devin McCourty 07.15.16 at 11:30 am ET
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Devin McCourty was a first-round pick out of Rutgers in 2010. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Devin McCourty was a first-round pick out of Rutgers in 2010. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

As the countdown to training camp begins later this month, we’re looking at the 20 most important members of the Patriots heading into 2016.

7. Safety Devin McCourty
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 186 pounds
Age: 28 (will turn 29 on Aug. 13)

Resume: At this point in his career, McCourty’s track record is fairly well established. A first-round pick out of Rutgers in 2010, he started at cornerback (and played very well as a rookie) before making the switch to safety in 2012. He was second-team AP All-Pro in 2010 and 2013, and received similar nods from Pro Football Focus in 2012 (second team) and 2013 (first team). His best year statistically came as a rookie when he finished with seven interceptions, and his 18 career picks are 27th on the active list.

Why we ranked him here: It can be startlingly easy to forget about McCourty — he doesn’t have the cache of some of his other, high-profile teammates — but with the departure of foundational elements like Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, he’s become one of the most important parts of the New England defense. (Based on his complete body of work, we’ll give him a mulligan for a forgettable 2011.) Having worked with a revolving door of defensive backs since he arrived in 2010, he’s done well playing off the varying talents of everyone from Aqib Talib to Darrelle Revis to fellow safeties like Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon. The bottom line is that McCourty’s special teams value (he’ll occasionally get a random rep as a returner), his versatility (he’s a safety, but still has excellent coverage skills in the slot) and leadership all combine to make him absolutely essential to the success of the Patriots’ defense. That’s why we have him here in our top 10.

Quote: “To be able to cover that much ground and have that kind of range as a post safety is remarkable. I see that every day in practice. You really have to look Devin off. He’s really smart — he sees combinations, and sometimes you try to look him off and he knows you’re trying to look him off so he doesn’t take it. There are other times he gets great jumps on the ball. The longer he’s been at safety, the better he’s done. He’s really been a consistent player for our team. He knocks balls away, covers guys in man coverage and then has that range in the deep part of the field where he truly plays like a safety.” — Tom Brady on McCourty

Random note:
McCourty played every single defensive snap in 10 of the 16 regular-season games last year, according to Pro Football Reference. Only Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler (12 games each) had more contests where they played every possible defensive snap. In all, McCourty played 85 percent of the defensive snaps in 2015, third on the team.

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Devin McCourty really likes what he’s sees from young DBs: ‘Those guys are really learning’ 06.10.16 at 11:59 am ET
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Devin McCourty speaks Thursday after mini-camp practice at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Devin McCourty speaks Thursday after mini-camp practice at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — For Devin McCourty, this is a great time to be a leader in the Patriots’ secondary.

After spending the last several weeks and mini-camp this week with first and second-year members of the defensive backfield, the newlywed veteran safety is pumped up about what he’s seeing.

In addition to working with second-round pick Cyrus Jones, the eight-year pro McCourty has been playing alongside the likes of Darryl Roberts (2015 pick from Marshall), Jordan Richards (2015 pick from Stanford) and Brock Vereen (third year pro from Minnesota). Malcolm Butler and Justin Coleman are also entering just their third NFL season.

The natural question after Thursday’s final day of mini-camp was to get a feel for how Jones, a projected slot corner, has adapted from Alabama to the Patriots secondary.

“He’s another one of the smart guys from Alabama,” McCourty said with his trademark smile. “Between him and [Dont’a] Hightower, he knows his stuff. It’s been good. He’s been out there. He’s been trying to learn. [He’s] a younger guy so things happen fast but I think he’s been able to adjust and adapt. When he makes mistakes, he’s still out there playing hard. He’s correcting them. He’s a young guy that’s really working hard.”

But then unsolicited, McCourty raved about what it’s been like for veterans like Chung and him to work with a new generation of defensive backs, which now includes Butler, Jones, Richards and Roberts.

“The exciting thing is that we have a ton of rookies in that corner group that have been out here making plays, mini-camp, OTAs, those guys are really learning and they’re not making a ton of mistakes,” McCourty added. “I think it’s really exciting to see them as a group, DBs, safeties and corners.”

While Richards garnered a lot of attention last year and Butler stole the show in Super Bowl XLIX, Roberts was someone who caught the eye of McCourty in mini-camp and OTAs last summer before a wrist injury ended his season in training camp.
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Read More: 2016 mini-camp, Cyrus Jones, Devin McCourty, Malcolm Butler
Former teammates congratulate Kevin Faulk on Patriots’ Hall of Fame honor 05.18.16 at 8:33 pm ET
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Several former teammates of Kevin Faulk took to Twitter on Wednesday to congratulate him on reaching the Patriots Hall of Fame.

And Faulk himself took to social media to say thanks for the honor.

Read More: Devin McCourty, donte stallworth, Heath Evans, Kevin Faulk
Devin McCourty: Deflategate situation ‘ridiculous’ 04.26.16 at 10:31 am ET
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Devin McCourty

Devin McCourty

It’s been 15 months since Deflategate began and it’s still going in full force following Monday’s ruling that Tom Brady will in fact be suspended the first four games of the 2016 season.

For one Patriots player, Devin McCourty, he just wants it to go away.

“I’m kind of over everything with it,” McCourty said Monday night on CSNNE’s Quick Slants with Tom E. Curran and Kay Adams. “I mean, it’s pretty ridiculous. I don’t know. I think everybody will be ready to go and do whatever we have to do, but I am pretty sure a lot of people are just over everything that has to do with this whole situation — thinking it’s over, it’s not over. It’s been 15 months, so we’ll just move on and do whatever we have to do.”

McCourty isn’t pleased with Brady having to go through all of it, but hopes it can be over so the team can move on, as now it’s the second offseason they have had to deal with it.

“It’s ridiculous,” McCourty said. “The guy will be used as a front-center guy in the NFL with what you want to be as a player, or a person off the field and then he has to go through all this. We’ll see. I don’t know how it will all work out for him and what the next step he’ll have to do or chooses to do. We’ll see what happens from it, but I think as a team, it’s just when can we move on and just get past everything. I think coming off the Super Bowl a few years ago now, getting ready for last season and dealing with it and putting it behind us saying we’re moving forward, we go on, have a pretty good season and then now you come back and deal with it again. Crazy.”

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Read More: Deflategate, Devin McCourty,
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