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Inside Man: Chandler Jones bringing pressure from defensive tackle spot 09.16.13 at 1:17 pm ET
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Chandler Jones

Chander Jones

Since Mike Wright left the game in 2011 because of concussion issues, the Patriots have lacked a steady pass-rushing presence on the interior of their defensive line. But the sight of Chandler Jones working part-time on the interior for the first two games of the 2013 season may offer some hope that New England may have found — at least on an occasional basis — someone on the interior who can get after the passer.

Over the last year-plus, the Patriots have utilized several possibilities along the inside in hopes of finding someone who could push the pocket and get after the quarterback. From Albert Haynesworth to Jonathan Fanene to Jermaine Cunningham, no one has been able to consistently pick up the role of interior pass rusher in New England.

But on nearly 20 occasions last Thursday against the Jets, the Patriots were able to move Jones from defensive end to defensive tackle. (That’s on the heels of doing the same thing in the regular-season opener against the Bills.) And on almost every occasion, New England was able to see positive results from the move — Jones was able to consistently create havoc for the offensive lines, which struggled to match up with him, and he frequently got into the backfield after the quarterback, coming away with a pair of sacks on Geno Smith.

It was clear the longer, leaner Jones presented a unique challenge for the interior linemen of Buffalo and New York, who were more used to seeing stouter, more physical play from the likes of Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Joe Vellano.

“I think anytime you move those defensive ends inside, they obviously are a little bit smaller physically,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, “but the quickness and the length they have over most traditional defensive tackles can cause those inside guys – guards and centers – some problems in protection just because they’re not used to seeing that type of player inside.”

“Obviously when he’s inside, those guards just start sweating, because it’s not easy for a tackle to block Chandler. Then, you put him on a guard who’s not used to somebody who can move and has those ‘Go-Go Gadget’ arms from about five feet away,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said on WEEI Monday.

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Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Bill Belichick, chandler jones, Jermaine Cunningham
Report: Patriots cut defensive end Jermaine Cunningham 08.31.13 at 10:39 am ET
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Jermaine Cunningham

Jermaine Cunningham

The Patriots have released defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, according to Pro Football Talk. The Florida product, who was a second-round pick of New England in 2010, had 59 tackles and 3.5 sacks with the Patriots in three seasons. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder, who was suspended for PEDs for four games in 2012, has his best year with New England last season when he had 2.5 sacks and 24 tackles (16 solo) in 12 games (three starts).

The release of Cunningham brings his journey with Bill Belichick to an apparent end. In a conversation with WEEI in 2011, former Florida coach Urban Meyer recounted the tale of Belichick and Cunningham — it appears that the New England coach fell for Cunningham as a collegian.

“That started his sophomore year,” Meyer said of Belichick’s interest in Cunningham. “Coach Belichick would always come down and watch film and I’d sometimes sit in there and he would keep asking about [Jermaine]: ‘Who’s this guy? Who’s this guy? Who’s this guy?’ And you had Derrick Harvey, you had Jarvis Moss, Carlos Dunlap, and then Jermaine was kind of the next guy, but he would always say ‘Who is that guy? I love that guy.’

“Bill Belichick’s the one who saw a lot in him.”

With the Patriots deciding to release Cunningham and defensive end Marcus Benard (who was cut on Friday), youngsters Jake Bequette, Mike Buchanan and Justin Francis appear to be the favorites when it comes to finding backups to starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: cuts, Jermaine Cunningham,
Patriots practice report: No Rob Gronkowski visible 08.27.13 at 2:11 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski had 11 touchdown catches in 2012. (AP)

Rob Gronkowski had 11 touchdown catches in 2012. (AP)

FOXBORO — A day after being spotted doing agility drills on the lower practice field, Rob Gronkowski was not spotted anywhere on the grass complex Tuesday afternoon as the team worked out in full pads for a second straight day.

The Patriots continued their preparation for the Giants this Thursday night at Gillette in the final preseason game before the season opener Sept. 8 in Buffalo.

Gronkowski is on the PUP list and there were no firm indications one way or another from Bill Belichick Tuesday as to whether he will be removed from the list by 6 p.m. Saturday. If he is not, he will be forced to miss the first six games of the season.

For a second straight day, DE Jermaine Cunningham and WR Mark Harrison were seen on the lower grass fields with training staff before practice began. Cunningham was in full pads and expected to take part in practice. DL Armond Armstead was not seen on the lower practice field.

Harrison and Armstead, both on the non-football injury reserve list, were not in uniform and a decision on both needs to be made by 6 p.m. Saturday when the roster is set at 53 players.

Read More: Jermaine Cunningham, Mark Harrison, New England Patriots, nfl
Danny Amendola returns to Patriots practice and a good sign for Rob Gronkowski 08.26.13 at 2:23 pm ET
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Danny Amendola returned to practice on Monday. (AP)

Danny Amendola returned to practice on Monday. (AP)

FOXBORO — Danny Amendola and Jermaine Cunningham returned to Patriots practice in full pads on Monday outside Gillette Stadium.

Amendola missed all of last week, including the preseason loss in Detroit due to an unspecified injury while Cunningham has been out for the last several practices.

The return of Amendola to full pads practice is a good sign that he will be ready to play in this Thursday’s preseason finale against the Giants at Gillette Stadium and should be a full-go for the season opener on Sept. 8 in Buffalo.

Amendola was struck in the back of the helmet in the first half of the team’s win over the Buccaneers on Aug. 16 but returned to the game. Several reports indicated that was not the reason for Amendola being held out of practice and the game last week.

On the lower practice field, Rob Gronkowski worked alone on several agility drills with cones in shorts with trainers while WR Mark Harrison and DL Armond Armstead (both on Reserve/NFI) also worked with trainers in shorts and sweats.

The fact that Gronkowski was running and working on agility drills was not news since he’s been doing that for a couple of weeks in training camp. The fact that he was spotted working aggressively in the open by media may be an indication that they are at least thinking of activating him off the PUP by Saturday’s deadline so that he does not have to sit out the first six weeks of the season.

As is the case with the PUP list for Gronkowski, if Harrison and Armstead begin the season on the non-football injury list, they will not be eligible to play in the first six weeks of the season.

DB Alfonzo Dennard and Cunningham were in full pads and also working with training staff on the lower field before practice began.

After Monday’s full pads practice, the team will practice again on Tuesday, hold a walkthrough Wednesday and then play the Giants on Thursday.

Read More: 2013 training camp, Danny Amendola, Gronk, Jermaine Cunningham
Patriots practice Monday: Danny Amendola misses his first practice 08.19.13 at 2:41 pm ET
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Danny Amendola (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Danny Amendola (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — After catching six passes for 71 yards and a 26-yard touchdown grab on Friday night against Tampa Bay, wide receiver Danny Amendola was not spotted at the start of Patriots full pads practice on Monday outside Gillette Stadium.

The team is not required to announce practice reports until the season begins so there will be no official word from the Patriots if injury was the reason for the absence.

The injury-plagued Amendola is in his first season with the Patriots. He has played in just 12 of 32 games in the past two seasons, including nine starts.

Last October, Amendola suffered a dislocated clavicle. The clavicle popped in and came millimeters from puncturing his trachea and aorta, which could have killed him. Rams’ medical staff called around the league for information but no teams had ever had players suffering a similar injury.

Amendola was anesthetized before popping the clavicle back into place. He was able to recover after just three weeks and recorded 11 catches for 102 yards in a tie with the San Francisco 49ers.

Other Patriots not spotted at the beginning of practice were DL Armond Armstead, DE Jermaine Cunningham, WR Mark Harrison, CB Brandon Jones and TE Rob Gronkowski.

Returning to the practice field Monday was corner back Ras-I Dowling after missing practice time last week and missing his second preseason game on Friday.

In a rookie hazing tradition, the grass at the far end of the practice field was soaked with a water hose to prepare for the annual slip-and-slide, when veterans spray the rookies as they run through and slide on the ground.

The Patriots will practice again on Tuesday before a walk-through Wednesday, after which the team leaves for Detroit and their third preseason game Thursday night against the Lions.

Read More: 2013 training camp, Danny Amendola, Jermaine Cunningham, New England Patriots
Camp Confidential: At midway point of preseason, here are five up and five down for Patriots 08.18.13 at 11:56 am ET
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Brandon Spikes had an impressive performance Friday against Tampa. (AP)

Brandon Spikes had an impressive performance Friday against Tampa. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Two weeks into camp and with two preseason games complete, here’s a look at five players who are on the rise, and five players who need to have a good week to bounce back in the wake of Friday’s game against Tampa Bay.

UP

Brandon Spikes: The electric linebacker, who is always interesting, gave the New England defense an early jolt on Friday night with some big plays. He was extremely disruptive in the running game — as usual — but also showed a nice flair for getting to the passer Friday night. While both of his sacks came on non-traditional pass rush situations, Spikes, who has one career regular-season sack, created havoc in the backfield which led to negative plays for the Bucs. He upended Doug “Muscle Hamster” Martin on one play where the undersized back tried to block him, and that ended up in a sack. He added another later in the first half. If he can continue his evolution from two-down linebacker to more of a complete threat (and stay healthy), he could be in for a truly great year.

Zach Sudfeld: The undrafted rookie out of Nevada has gone from anonymous free agent to quaint underdog story to someone who is continuing to put together consistent performances. He had a pair of catches Friday against Tampa, including a touchdown grab on a pass from Ryan Mallett and a reception from Tom Brady on a two-point conversion that was a really sweet pickup. While he still is a work-in-progress when it comes to his blocking on the NFL level, at this point, it would be unfathomable if he didn’t make the roster. He’ll face another challenge in his development next week against the Lions.

Tom Brady: Frankly. the quarterback has been stunning in his two preseason outings. In 39 snaps, he’s a combined 18-for-20 for 172 yards, two touchdowns and no picks — about as well as you could play, considering the massive turnover at the offensive skill positions. On Friday against Tampa, he orchestrated a masterful opening scoring drive that went 15 plays and 80 yards and took 6:48. Along the way, Brady and the Patriots were able to overcome a pair of penalties on the New England offensive line (Logan Mankins and Ryan Wendell), and ended up punching it in on an impressive 26-yard pass play from Brady to Danny Amendola. His performance must be taken with a grain of salt because the calendar hasn’t yet turned from August to September, but if there were any questions about his physical well-being (no problem with the left knee on Friday, his mental health (after losing his favorite target in Wes Welker) and overall passion for the game (just ask the offensive linemen who got cussed out after the penalties), the quarterback has left no doubt: He’s all in.

Logan Ryan: The rookie defensive back out of Rutgers continues to climb the depth chart, and had one of the best moments of the preseason for any first year player when he picked off a pass Friday night against the Bucs. It was similar to a situation in practice earlier in the week when he was able to read the play and jump the route, a nice play that displayed vision and ball skills. He’s not quite a starter, but he’s certainly done enough to rise to the level of backup, and a good, consistent series of practices — as well as two more good outings in the preseason — should cement a spot with the No. 2 defense on the depth chart by the start of the regular season.

Danny Amendola: While the rookies like Sudfeld, KenBrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce have gotten most of the headlines this summer for their work, Amendola has been the best and most consistent wide receiver for the team since the start of camp. He had an impressive outing in the Friday’s win over the Bucs, catching six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. It’s clear that even though he and Brady are continuing to build chemistry, there’s no reason to think Amendola won’t catch at least 80 balls if he stays healthy.

DOWN

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Read More: Brandon Bolden, Brandon Spikes, Danny Amendola, Jermaine Cunningham
Updating Patriots positional battles: LeGarrette Blount, Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson all starting strong 08.10.13 at 1:28 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount

In May, we took a look at some of the positional battles we were most excited to see in Patriots training camp. Now, almost two weeks into camp and with one preseason game already in the books, we take a look at how some of those battles are shaping up.

Running back: Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount. We didn’t include Stevan Ridley Shane Vereen and Leon Washington on this list because it’s pretty clear their spots are secure at this point. While the battle between Bolden and Blount was a little underwhelming through the first two weeks of camp (due in large part to the fact that there has been relatively little hitting, and physical, between-the-tackles yardage is the presumed specialty of the Bolden-Blount combo), Blount really opened some eyes on Friday night with a team-high 101 rushing yards — including a 51-yard touchdown run on a slo-mo reverse — and now appears to have the edge on Bolden. Bolden did get some reps late in the game (and also picked up a questionable running-into-the-kicker penalty) and finished with four carries for 14 yards. Bolden is coming back slowly from offseason surgery, but he does need to have a good week to answer Blount’s strong performance in the preseason opener.

Defensive tackle opposite Vince Wilfork: Kyle Love, Armond Armstead, Tommy Kelly. We put this list together the day Love was cut, so we can effectively eliminate him. Meanwhile, Armstead has a murky future because of a recent surgery. But even if they were on the field in Foxboro on a regular basis, they’d be hard-pressed to replicate the work of Kelly, who has emerged as the clear leader at the position. Kelly started at the defensive tackle spot opposite Wilfork on Friday and looked impressive, caving in the pocket and even getting to the quarterback (along with Chandler Jones) to force an early sack and a fumble. There might be a temptation to overuse him because he’s playing so well, but the 32-year-old has shown no signs of wear, at least at this point. The only question is who is competing to work as Kelly’s backup, a group that includes Joe Vellano and Marcus Forston. Forston popped up on the radar a few times Friday night, but right now, the job is Kelly’s to lose.

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Read More: Aaron Dobson, Adrian Wilson, Armond Armstead, Brandon Bolden
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