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What to watch for in Thursday’s Patriots-Giants preseason finale 08.28.14 at 7:30 am ET
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Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo

Here are seven things we’ll be looking for Thursday night when the Patriots meet the Giants in the preseason finale for both teams.

WHO DOESN’T PLAY

When it comes to the preseason finale, it’s just as important to figure out who doesn’t play as opposed to who does play. As we detailed here, if you’re a starter — or even a veteran — and you find yourself on the field for anything more than 10-15 snaps on Thursday night, it’s a bad sign. (The only area where this might be an exception is along the interior of the offensive line, for reasons we will address shortly.) Based on the work the Patriots were able to put in last week against the Panthers when they looked mostly razor sharp on both sides of the ball, don’t expect many of the starters to see the field against the Giants, despite the fact that we know New York is going to roll out its starters for between 15-18 snaps.

THE ROOKIES

A good chunk of this relates back to the first point — we know quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is going to start and get the bulk of the snaps. But given the fact that history tells us those who don’t play are likely to have a secure roster spot, we’ll be keeping an eye on a few first-year players and monitoring their playing time. Cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back James White have been among the rookies who have played well enough to land a roster spot over the course of the summer — if they end up sitting Thursday night, it’s a good bet they’ve made the roster.

JIMMY GAROPPOLO

Thursday will be the first professional start for Garoppolo, and he’€™ll get a chance to show what he can do against a No. 1 defense for the first time in the preseason. The New England coaching staff will be interested in seeing him in as many different situations as possible: two-minute, end-of-half, under pressure from a steady rush, as well as a potential four-minute offense situation. Everything is on the table when it comes to evaluating Garoppolo. From this viewpoint, Ryan Mallett still is the No. 2 quarterback on the roster, but the rookie will get his opportunity to show what he can do come Thursday evening in North Jersey.

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Read More: Brian Tyms, Bryan Stork, Dan Connolly, James White
Devin McCourty on Logan Mankins: ‘Don’t know if [you] get that type of teammate ever again’ 08.26.14 at 6:23 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For those Patriots who played with Logan Mankins, Tuesday was harder than any offseason or training camp practice they’ve had this season.

After their first practice without the six-time Pro Bowl left guard, they came off the field and had to face the reality that the business side of the NFL and the Patriots had hit home. Mankins’ locker was in tact along with some team equipment but his teammates were left to answer questions about his sudden departure to Tampa Bay.

“He’s the type of guy you don’t know if get that type of teammate ever again,” safety Devin McCourty said. “He’s a tough guy. The different injuries he’s played through, being out there every snap, every chance he could get. When I got here, he wasn’t at here at first because he was home and he missed first couple of games. He came back and you could see the difference up front in how everybody played. He went to the Pro Bowl in a half-year. I think that just spoke volumes about a guy who you just see his leadership stand out as soon as he steps on the field.

“Since I’ve been here, he’s a guy you look up to, and I’m a defensive back and that’s watching the offensive line. Tampa is going to get one helluva player, and guy.”

McCourty the player then spoke like McCourty a team captain.

“There are some things you can’t control. You just accept,” he added. “It’s tough, it’s tough. You just tell yourself, and it starts the older guys on the team, you have to go out there and play. You can’t just sit there and sulk or be disappointed in your mind. You just have to go out there and play and make sure the younger and go about it and play and follow your lead. That’s the way I looked at today.

“This time of year is difficult. When we have 90 guys, whether it’s a guy like Travis Hawkins, in my room every day asking me a bunch of questions, working his tail off. Coach says it every year, this is a tough time for everybody. Coaches don’t like making these decisions. This one felt a little bit more because of the type of player Logan was and how long he’s been here.”

Mankins is gone to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright and a 2015 fourth-round pick. Matthew Slater is another Patriots player who, like Mankins, has served as a captain before. He admitted that once the team was informed by Bill Belichick of the trade before practice Tuesday, it was tough going about business.

“It is difficult,” Slater said. “You know a guy for a number of years, you get to know his family, his kids, and that makes it tough. There is always a human element involved. We signed up to do a job here, and we understand what that job entails, and we understand what comes along with that, but at the same time, you can’t separate yourself from the human element, and the emotions and feelings that come along with it.

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Read More: Devin McCourty, Logan Mankins, Matthew Slater, Nate Solder
Nate Solder, Matthew Slater hit the links in support of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation 06.30.14 at 1:25 pm ET
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PLYMOUTH, Mass. –  Being an NFL football player takes a tremendous toll on one’€™s body. The long, scorching hot days of training camp leading to the daily grind of a regular season is incredibly tough to handle, both physically and mentally.

The time between the end of mini camp and the start of training camp gives players one last month to catch their breath and rejuvenate their bodies one last time before the start of the new season, which for the Patriots begins with the first day of training camp on July 24.

Left tackle Nate Solder and special teams specialist Matthew Slater spent one of their last free Monday’s relaxing, joining a number of former professional athletes and local celebrities for a round of golf at the Pinehills Golf Club supporting the Joe Andruzzi Foundation.

“Just continuing to train and get my body in shape,” Slater said of what the next month will be like for him. “You try and do the best you can for your body to prepare for an NFL season and that is a strenuous process, but one you enjoy at the same time. Just doing the best we can as individuals and as a team to get ourselves ready for what lies ahead.

“It’€™s definitely an exciting time of the year. You work all year to get to this point being the start of a new season. We put a lot of work in and there is still a lot of work to be put in. We’€™re just excited about the 2014 season and what is in store for us.”

Monday’€™s event will raise funds and awareness in support of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which helps cancer patients and their families make critical mortgage, rent and utility payments during financially-challenging times and to help fund pediatric brain cancer research. Last year’€™s tournament raised a record $278,000.

“It’€™s great support and seeing what we’€™re about –€“ that we are in the community, we’€™re apart of the community,” Andruzzi said of the support he gets from current Patriots players. “They are here playing for the Patriots, but they are also living in the community so we’€™re helping the people around them, people in this area and all throughout New England. For them to pay it forward and join forces with us is a great tribute to us.”

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Read More: Joe Andruzzi, Joe Andruzzi Foundation, Matthew Slater, Nate Solder
Why Matthew Slater feels ‘there’s a lot to be excited about’ with Darrelle Revis, 2014 Patriots 04.22.14 at 4:01 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Matthew Slater is a natural-born optimist.

Every time the Patriots special teams captain speaks, you can hear it in his voice. So, it should come as no surprise that Slater is like all the other Patriots players who are reacting to the addition of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and the chances for the 2014 Patriots.

“I’ve gotten a few chances to visit with Revis,” Slater said Tuesday, taking a break from his workout at Gillette. “Obviously, competing against him over the years, got a chance to meet him and spend some time with him in Hawaii this year. Really a good guy, does everything the right way, plays the game the right way, and you respect that about a guy, no matter who he plays for. If he plays the game hard and plays the game the right way, you respect it and he’s definitely one of those guys.

“I don’t really follow a whole lot of football in the offseason. I heard it and that would be great if he came [to the Patriots] I thought. Obviously, when you get a player like that, you’re excited about the opportunity to play with them. You know what he brings to the table. They’re 31 other teams out there that are trying to get done what they need to get done. And we’ve got to try to focus on us and improve.”

Slater and Revis spent time together in Hawaii this past January, when Slater participated in his third straight Pro Bowl. His father, Jackie Slater, was a seven-time Pro-Bowler. With 10 Pro Bowl nods between them, the Slaters are the second most nominated family in NFL history. (Archie, Eli and Peyton Manning have 18).

Revis is just one of a handful of new additions that will be on hand this spring and summer when the Patriots get back on the field to begin practicing for real. In addition to Revis and Browner, there’s wide receiver Brandon LaFell and all the draft picks and rookie free agents who will be descending upon Foxboro. This week marks the true beginning for NFL teams, as players are permitted back at their club’s facilities for offseason weight lifting and training.

“There’s a lot to be excited about,” Slater said. ‘There’s some extremely talented players that we’ve added to the roster along with some extremely talented players that we’ve had here for a while. All that is on paper. It really doesn’t mean anything right now. We haven’t even had one practice together. We have a long ways to go.

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Read More: Archie Manning, Darrelle Revis, Eli Manning, Jackie Slater
Matthew Slater explains why Patriots are ‘ultimately the perfect fit’ for his career at 2:09 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Matthew Slater knows a good thing when he sees one.

Being special teams captain on a perennial winner like the Patriots, with a chance to go to the Super Bowl nearly every season certainly qualifies.

Add to the fact that his coaches are special teams coach Scott O’Brien and head coach Bill Belichick, and it’s no surprise that Slater is loving life in New England, with no intentions of going anywhere else. Slater is entering the third and final year of a deal worth $5.4 million, signed in March 2012.

Taking time out from his offseason workout program inside Gillette Stadium, Slater, the special teams captain of the Patriots for the last three seasons, says he and the Patriots are a perfect fit because of the coaching he has received.

“I really feel like this is ultimately the perfect fit because coach Belichick understands that you have to have solid effort in all three phases to have a good football team,” Slater said. “That’s something he values and they value here and fortunate for me, I’ve been able to have a little bit of success doing that.

“I definitely think the cerebral part of the game, and really thinking about what you’re doing, having a plan of attack, understanding how you’re being attacked or blocked, understanding what you’re trying to do return-wise. He’s really opened my mind to just being more than a fast guy that’s running down and throwing my body around. It’s a thinking man’s game, believe it or not. He’s really helped me in that area. There’s also been things physically that he’s challenged me to do better. I’m really thankful to have played for a coach like that.”

Ironically, Slater, who is already entering his seventh season with the Patriots, has been in New England longer than his current special teams coach.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Brad Seely, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots
4 thoughts on Patriots, free agency, who’s still out there at WR 03.17.14 at 6:30 am ET
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1. Dane Fletcher signed with Tampa Bay on Sunday, the second inside/middle linebacker the Patriots have lost to this point in free agency. (Brandon Spikes went to Buffalo earlier.)

Fletcher isn’t a tremendous loss — he was a backup who provided defensive depth at the position, as well as some special teams value. (His shining moment in 2013 likely came in the regular-season win over the Broncos, when he stepped in for a struggling Dont’a Hightower and played significant snaps down the stretch and into overtime.) But from a personnel standpoint, that means a new generation of linebackers likely will be given the chance to step into the void, a group that includes Steve Beauharnais.

Even with a few guys capable of stepping into that spot, there’s the likelihood that New England tries to go out and acquire one more linebacker/special teamer, either in the draft or free agency. The Patriots tried to go after former Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, but he ended up signing with the Titans.

From this viewpoint, South Dakota linebacker Tyler Starr could be a late-round possibility in the draft. (For more on why he might be a fit with the Patriots, check out our story here.)

It’s not a colossal priority at this point, but it’s a personnel question that needs to be addressed between now and the start of offseason workouts.

2. The last few seasons, the Patriots have made a habit of adding veteran free agent wide receivers in free agency — not household names, but relatively anonymous guys who might be a fit in Foxboro. Last year, that group included LaVelle Hawkins, Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones, none of them ultimately worked out.

And so, on the surface, there might be inclination to link them to Brandon LaFell — who was acquired Saturday as a free agent — to last year’s group. But taking a look at LaFell’s work, he might be a step up from that group. LaFell has some positional versatility, having worked on the inside, in the slot and split wide, and his versatility, combined with his surprising size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), likely puts him a step ahead of veteran wide receivers acquired in year’s past.

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Read More: Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Special teams 01.27.14 at 7:00 am ET
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With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We kick off the series with a look at the special teams.

Depth chart: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, kick returner LeGarrette Blount, punt returner Julian Edelman, long snapper Danny Aiken, coverage man Matthew Slater

Overview: It was a good year for the specialists. Gostkowski emerged as a legitimate Pro Bowler, ending the year with several clutch field goals, including game-winners to beat the Bills and Broncos and big late kicks against the Jets and Texans. He also successfully executed an onside kick in the dramatic win over the Browns. (He finished the year 35-of-38 on field-goal attempts, as well as 65 touchbacks.) Ryan Allen had a good rookie year as a punter and holder for Gostkowski, finishing the regular-season with 29 punts landing inside the 20 (good for 10th in the league) and a 45.9 average, good for 14th in the NFL. (He was also one of the best things about the Patriots in the AFC title game, dropping three first-half punts inside the 20 and doing his part to help tilt the field for New England in the early going.) Blount was slow to get started as a kick returner but he finished with a flourish — he had two returns in the regular-season finale against the Bills for 145 yards. Meanwhile, Edelman was one of the more consistent punt returners in the league all season — he was 12th in the league in average yards per return with 10.7. This year he also became one of the best punt returners in history, as his 12.3 career average is now tied for seventh on the all-time list. While there’€™s some question about the futures of Blount and Edelman — both are free agents — figure on Gostkowski, Allen and Aiken all coming back in 2014. While there were guys who drew an exemption because of *ahem* injury, it’€™s worth noting that special teams was the only area where the Patriots had two Pro Bowlers (Slater, Gostkowski).

Best moment: Blount’€™s 83-yard kick return in the regular-season finale against the Bills was probably the one that stands out the most, but you could also make a case for Gostkowski’€™s game-winners against the Broncos (in overtime) and Bills (in the regular-season opener), or his kick to force overtime against the Jets, as well as his career-best 54-yarder against the Saints. And while Edelman didn’€™t take one all the way back to the house this season, he did have a nifty 43-yard return against the Steelers in November, his longest of the year.

Worst moment: It wasn’€™t on one of the specialists, but the penalty at the end of the Oct. 20 game against the Jets when Chris Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on a late field goal attempt from Nick Folk likely was the worst moment of the year for the special teams. Regardless of what you might think of the penalty, it allowed the Jets an extra chance to win the game in the extra session, and they took advantage. One more — Gostkowski’€™s performance down the stretch in the loss to the Dolphins in Miami was also probably the roughest outing for him on the season. He missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter and also booted a kickoff out of bounds in the fourth quarter to help set up Miami with terrific field position on what would be its game-winning drive.

By the numbers: 229 – The number of points the Patriots received in the annual special teams rankings compiled by Dallas Morning News football writer Rick Gosselin. That was good enough to land New England at the top of the list. (Gosselin’€™s rankings, which are held in high regard by NFL front offices, are compiled by ranking all 32 teams in 22 categories and assigning points according to their standing — one for best, 32 for worst. For more on this year’€™s list, click here.)

Money quote: “Matt is one of the best in the league [at working as a gunner on punt coverage]. I think he has a lot of the qualities that we were talking about. Sure, any time they have to double somebody, that makes it one less guy they can use somewhere else in the return. He almost always draws two guys out there, unless they’€™re in an eight-man rush. Most of the time there’€™s two guys out there ‘€“ fourth-and-short, where they’€™re trying to protect the box ‘€“ but he draws a lot of double teams and deservedly so. He does an outstanding job of covering punts. As I said, it’€™s a tough position to play, but he’€™s got all the qualities that we talked about to be good. He does a good job for us.”€ — Bill Belichick on the work of special teams captain Matthew Slater

Read More: Julian Edelman, LeGarrette Blount, Matthew Slater, position-by-position breakdown
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