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Tom Brady on his regular-season dress rehearsal: ‘I think we can be a lot better’ 08.23.14 at 12:46 am ET
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Tom Brady and Julian Edelman look to have another big season in the passing game. (Getty Images)

Tom Brady and Julian Edelman look to have another big season in the passing game. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — To Tom Brady, the numbers Friday night said one thing. The feeling he took from the 30-7 preseason win over the Panthers said another.

There’s no disputing that 17-for-21 for 204 yards, two touchdowns and a 138.9 quarterback rating are numbers most NFL quarterbacks would take in their final regular season tune-up. But, of course, Tom Brady is not most quarterbacks.

He knows that the rhythm wasn’t there to begin the game, as a miscommunication with his wide receivers on third down and a stumble and near fumble on the second series would indicate. He didn’t appear to have his timing on the first two series, both ending in punts. Then Ryan Mallett came in on the third series to get some work in with the starters.

Brady tripped over someone’s foot and fell awkwardly to the turf, handing off to Shane Vereen in the nick of time, but not before a defensive lineman came barreling over him to get to Vereen.

“I couldn’t tell because I had my back turned, but I think someone just got my foot,” Brady said. “I don’t know if it was a defensive lineman or offensive lineman, but, yeah, you never want that to happen. That, against a good team like this, usually ends drives, and that one certainly did this time.”

Brady certainly recovered. On the next series after Mallett came out of the game, Brady led the Patriots down the field, going completing all four pass attempts, including a 40-yarder to a wide-open Vereen in the right flat on the Vereen staple — the wheel route — for a touchdown.

“Yeah, it was a slow start all the way around, but it was good to make some plays there late in the second quarter and then the third quarter,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of work to do, but it was fun being out there. It’s great to win, especially this game. They’re a good football team and if you don’t execute well, they’re going to be really tough. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys [from] playing them last year. They’ve got a great team.”

Even on the 60-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski before the half, Brady and Bill Belichick thought that maybe with some slightly better clock management, they could’ve made things easier on themselves and their kicker. Still, for the starters to put 20 points up on the board against one of the better defenses in football provides some confidence going into the season.

“Yeah, it wasn’t bad, but there are a lot of things that we left out there,” Brady said. “We got bailed out there a few times on a few defensive calls. Missed some blitz stuff, missed some throws. I think we can be a lot better. It’s an important week for us to try to get better. The days are winding down until all these games count. It gets pretty exciting here in a few weeks, but you’ve still got to try to use these days to make as many improvements as we can. This game was good because you can really see where you’re at and you can see the things you need to get better. I think there’s a lot of things we can improve on.”

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Read More: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, Luke Kuechly, New England Patriots
Why Shane Vereen could be on track to deliver a seismic season at 12:34 am ET
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FOXBORO — Shane Vereen is the most versatile player the Patriots offense has.

While they have highly-touted players in Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, no one player can more things than Vereen.

If Vereen stays healthy, he could put up some giant numbers this season — similar to dynamic running back Darren Sproles, now of the Eagles.

The 2011 second-round pick out of Cal has certainly showed some flashes of stardom, but he’€™s yet to play a full season — playing in five, 13 and eight games respectively in his first three seasons in the league.

A 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, the running back’s strength is catching passes out of the backfield –€“ something he displayed Friday night, catching two touchdown passes in the Patriots’€™ 30-7 win over the Panthers.

“I was just glad the offensive was able to string together a couple drives — string together some plays,” said Vereen. “We kind of hurt ourselves a little bit, we still have a lot to work on, but it was good to get out there and develop some kind of rhythm.”

On the first touchdown Vereen was able to showcase his speed, as after catching a short pass from Tom Brady out of the backfield, the running back took off up the right side bursting past members of the Panthers secondary for 40 yards and the first touchdown of the game.

“I was hoping — running that fast I definitely didn’€™t want to get caught — I would hear it from everyone here in the locker room [if I did],” Vereen said.

His second touchdown came in the third quarter — also from Brady — a 6-yard quick out route from the backfield as he outstretched the ball just inside the pylon. At first it was ruled he was out of bounds inside the 1-yard line, but Bill Belichick challenged the play and it was overturned for his second touchdown of the game.

“€œI couldn’€™t tell if I stepped out of bounce or not, but I tried like hell to get in there,” Vereen said.

Vereen finished the game with 75 all-purpose yards — five catches for 57 yards and six rushes for 18 yards.

Plagued by injuries, last season was cut short when he broke his wrist in the first game of the season in Buffalo. He did return later in the season, but only played in eight total games — rushing for 208 yards and a touchdown, while catching 47 passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns. His rookie campaign was also shortened to five games due to a nagging hamstring injury.

Going off his numbers last season — if converted to a full 16-game season — Vereen would have finished with 416 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, while catching 94 balls for 854 yards and six touchdowns. Added up he would’€™ve had a 1,248 all-purpose yard season with eight total touchdowns.

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Read More: Darren Sproles, Shane Vereen,
Tom Brady throws a pair of TDs to Shane Vereen in sharp preseason outing 08.22.14 at 10:02 pm ET
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Tom Brady was in complete command in preseason game No. 3 against the Panthers. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Tom Brady was in complete command in preseason game No. 3 against the Panthers. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — The night didn’t start out smoothly for Tom Brady but by the end, his numbers spoke volumes as the Patriots starting quarterback had a productive night in the dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Brady played five series, finishing 17-of-21 for 204 yards, with a pair of touchdown passes to Shane Vereen as the Patriots built a big lead on their way to a preseason win over the Carolina Panthers. Brady’s quarterback rating was 138.9.

Brady looked a little shaky on his first two series, misfiring with Brandon LaFell on a third down pass and tripping and nearly fumbling a handoff to Shane Vereen on the next series. On the fumble, he appeared to be kneed in the back.

He came out of the game as Ryan Mallett got his only look of the night with the starting unit. Mallett led the Patriots down the field to a field goal.

Brady then played the next three series, including opening up the third quarter. Brady connected with Vereen on a perfectly executed wheel route down the right sideline for a 40-yard touchdown in the second quarter. On his final drive of the night, Brady connected with Julian Edelman on consecutive passes for gains of 18 and 35 yards, with the latter coming on a perfectly thrown ball over Edelman’s right shoulder on a go route.

Brady capped off his drive by finding Vereen in the flat on a red zone route at the Panthers 4. Vereen turned his body and stretched for the pylon for the touchdown.

Brady is likely to sit out next Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Giants at MetLife Stadium.

 

Read More: Julian Edelman, New England Patriots, Shane Vereen, Tom Brady
Shane Vereen says nerves are ‘absolutely’ building as regular season approaches 08.21.14 at 9:42 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Perhaps the most important part of preparing for the third preseason game is the shift in the mental focus.

Shane Vereen, a running back and multi-talented and multi-faceted part of the Patriots offense, should feel pretty confident and sure of his place on the 53-man roster when final cuts are made on Aug. 30.

But it’s the nerves and mental preparation of this week that help him get fired up and focused with the regular season opener just three weeks from Sunday.

“Absolutely, I’d say say so,” Vereen said when asked if getting into a regular season week type of routine this week helps. “But at the end of the day you still have to work on what you have to work on and that’s what we’re trying to get out of this week.”

Of course, the main reason outsiders view this week as so important is that it’s traditionally the week starters play the first half and in some cases, come out to start the third quarter to simulate a regular season NFL game.

“I think people might say just because the starters play more so than they have in the past two games but at the same time, you have to look at each opportunity, each rep, as an opportunity, as a chance to get better and prepare yourself for Sept. 7,” Vereen added.

Vereen once again will be called upon to fill many different roles in the Patriots offense, including one of the most reliable third-down options Tom Brady has, along with Julian Edelman. Vereen says he has seen Brady up close and personal enough to know that there are some things that don’t change, like Brady’s game focus and his expectation of precision in execution.

“I can’t say I’ve learned a whole lot, because this is my fourth year now,” Vereen said. “I’ve seen him lead us now for three seasons. He does exactly what he’s done every other year. He’s led us well, he’s led the offense well and we look forward to seeing that from him for the rest of the year.”

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Read More: 2014 training camp, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Shane Vereen
With LeGarrette Blount gone, do Patriots need to add backfield depth? 03.28.14 at 9:30 pm ET
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The departure of LeGarrette Blount to the Steelers means there will be more on the plate of Stevan Ridley in 2014, who now appears likely to return to his role as the closest thing the New England offense has to a featured back. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen figures to work in a change up role as the third down option and pass catcher out of the backfield, and Brandon Bolden will stick in his role as all-purpose backup.

But is there a need to bring in another body for depth? While running back isn’t considered an overwhelming priority for the Patriots (there are other greater areas of need, at least at this stage of the team-building process), it wouldn’t be a surprise for them to address it with a mid-round pickup in the draft, especially considering the fact that the bargain basement has been pretty much picked over, at least at this point. (The best options right now are probably Andre Brown, Michael Bush and Justin Forsett, as well as broken-down editions of Felix Jones, Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee.)

With the understanding that the Patriots would be targeting a guy like that no earlier than the third day of the draft because of other areas of greater need, here are three backs who might be available to the Patriots this year as mid- to late-round possibilities:

a) Storm Johnson, Central Florida – A multidimensional back who has already drawn the attention of the Patriots — the 6-foot, 209-pounder was one of a handful of players who went through a workout for the Patriots’ brain trust when they were in Florida this past week for the league meetings — last season he had 1,139 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 30 catches for 260 yards and three receiving touchdowns.

b) Andre Williams, Boston College Remarkably, the 5-foot-11, 230-pounder led the nation in rushing last year for the Eagles, ending up with 2,177 rushing yards and becoming a Heisman finalist as a result. At the combine, he fully acknowledged the fact that he needs to improve when it comes to his work in pass protection as well as a receiver out of the backfield, but his colossal yardage total from last year will almost certainly make him attractive to someone.

c) Bishop Sankey, Washington – A little on the smaller side, like Johnson, this 5-foot-9, 209-pounder offers value in the passing game as well as the running game. Last season, he ran for 1,870 yards for a 5.7 average and 20 touchdowns to go along with 28 catches for 304 yards and one touchdown.

Of course, this doesn’t begin to take into account what the Patriots do at the kick return spot in 2014. Blount’s departure could open the door for any number of possibilities on special teams, including Josh Boyce, Devin McCourty or collegian Jeremy Gallon, who had a private workout for New England special teams coach Scotty O’Brien earlier this week in Ann Arbor. While the different looks that the three backs present should be enough to keep opposing defensive coordinators on their toes in 2014, it’s clear the Patriots do need to address the position going forward, especially considering the fact that Vereen and Ridley are heading into the final year of their rookie deals. Certainly a spot to watch going forward this offseason for New England.

Read More: Andre Williams, Bishop Sankey, Brandon Bolden, Devin McCourty
4 things we learned from combine Tuesday 02.26.14 at 12:31 am ET
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Four things we learned from the combine Tuesday:

1. Daniel Sorensen could be this year’s Nate Ebner

On Tuesday, Sorensen — a safety out of BYU — put up some impressive numbers in the on-field workouts, and one thing that could help grab the eye of the Patriots is the fact that he posted a 6.47 in the 3-cone drill — the fifth-fastest of any position since 2006, and the best performance of anyone at the combine this year. He was second in the 60-yard shuttle (10.8) and fifth in the 20-yard shuttle (3.95). The 6-foot-1, 205-pound strong safety (a former linebacker who moved into the secondary after he lost weight on his mission trip) also had a 32-inch vertical and 9-foot-6 broad jump, both impressive numbers. Considered a special teams ace while at BYU, he could be a late-round pickup or undrafted free agent for a team like New England in need of secondary depth and special teams assistance.

2. Shane Vereen‘s brother Brock knocked it out of the park

The safety out of Minnesota finished in the top 5 in the 40 (4.47, best among all safeties), 3-cone (6.9) and short shuttle (4.07). The 6-foot, 199-pounder also bench pressed 225 pounds 25 times (best for all safeties and cornerbacks) and posted a 34-inch vertical and 117 inches in the broad jump. Considered anywhere from a mid-round to a late-round pick entering the combine, he may have solidified his status as a second-day pick based on his work this weekend in Indy. (For what it’s worth, he semi-jokingly talked about wanting to play against his brother instead of on the same team. But at the same time, he noted that he did have a meeting with the Patriots while at the combine.)

3. Justin Glibert is the best corner in the draft, but Darqueze Dennard isn’t far behind

We had Gilbert available to the Chargers at 25 in our first mock draft, but his performance this weekend will likely push him up the draft boards around the league and make him a legitimate top 15 candidate. On Tuesday, the 6-foot, 202-pound Gilbert recorded the fastest time of the day in the 40 (4.37) while also showing impressive explosiveness with a 35.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-6 broad jump. Meanwhile, Dennard (the cousin of Patriots corner Alfonzo Dennard) was also equally as impressive, showing fluidity and good range, running a 4.51. The 5-foot-11, 199-pound Dennard (who we had at No. 14 overall to the Bears) also solidified his first-round status with a really good weekend. (Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and TCU’s Jason Verrett are also likely late first-round possibilities.)

4. It’s going to be a mixed market for bigger corners

For teams looking to replicate the Seattle defensive blueprint of a super-sized secondary, there are a few intriguing possibilities out there, with one big corner doing well on Tuesday (Utah’s Keith McGill) and another struggling a little (Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste). McGill is a 6-foot-3, 212-pounder who moved from safety to corner as a collegian, but really flashed some nice speed (a 4.51 40), as well as some good performances when it came to the rest of the measureables (39-inch vertical leap and 10-foot-9 broad jump). As for Jean-Baptiste, he was a little underwhelming — another big guy who was converted to corner as a collegian, he was relatively slow when compared to the rest of the corners (4.61). He did do well in the vertical (41.5, best among defensive backs and tied for second overall) and the broad (10 feet, 8 inches), but his speed may be a factor when determining where he ultimately ends up in the draft.

Read More: 2014 combine, Bradley Roby, Brock Vereen, Daniel Sorensen
Brock Vereen leaning on big brother Shane during pre-draft process 02.23.14 at 1:57 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — The last few years, the Patriots have had the Gronkowski brothers (Dan and Rob) and the McDonald brothers (Chris and Nick).

How about the Vereens? Older brother Shane was taken out of Cal in the second round of the 2011 draft by New England, and has become one of the better third-down backs in the league. And now, younger brother Brock is poised to enter the NFL — the strong safety out of Minnesota just finished a senior season where he posted 56 tackles, one interception, six passes broken up, one forced fumble and 2.5 tackles for loss. As a result, he was named a first team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches, and was an honorable mention pick by the media.

However, the 6-foot, 199-pound Brock (who was a teammate of his brother for a year in high school) isn’€™t so sure about the idea of being on the same team with his big brother. When asked if there was a part of him who wanted to be taken higher than Shane, he quickly replied.

“I think the biggest part of me wants to hit him,”€ Brock said with a smile. “€œI just can’€™t wait until we meet on the field.

“€œBoth of us want to play against each other so much, that we really haven’€™t talked about being on the same team,”€ he added. “But if that were the case, it’€™d be a blessing.”

Having a brother around who has been through the pre-draft process — as well as a few seasons in the league — can be a real benefit.

“I’€™ve been very fortunate as to always to have an older brother at the level I was trying to get to,”€ he said. “€œWhen I was in high school, he was already in college, and now, the situation here. Just to have that insight, and to understand the ins and outs of certain things that some people might not find out until they’€™re actually in the NFL, it’€™s definitely a blessing.

“I think the biggest thing is that nothing’€™s personal. That you [have to] understand you’€™re not here to go to school. This is a business, and there’€™s a change of mindset that comes with that.”

Brock, who said he’€™s heard everything from third-round pick to free agent when it comes to his draft status, did acknowledge that he met with the Patriots on Saturday. But it’€™s all been part of a whirlwind schedule as he gets acclimated to the pre-draft process.

“€œIt’€™s been chaos, but it’€™s been such a blessing to even be here in the first place,”€ he said. “Just trying to make the most of it. Obviously, the goal is to impress a couple of people and turn some heads, but at the same time, you have to have fun with it.

“€œI was told how chaotic and fast-paced it would be, but I never expected this. Drug tests as three in the morning, breakfast and I haven’€™t slept since. But like I said, it’€™s fun. I wouldn’€™t trade it for anything.”

Read More: 2014 combine, Brock Vereen, Chris McDonald, Dan Gronkowski
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