This will be a little lighter edition this morning because I’m getting ready to head down to Gillette to watch UMass battle Maine for my first college game, so it should be a lot of fun.  Although UMass is coming off of a 45-0 beating last week against Wisconsin, so it will be interesting to see how they respond against a team who has beaten them in two out of the last three meetings.  Either way, being from New Hampshire, there’s enough neutrality from our family due to the proximity of both schools that it will be nice not to have a serious rooting interest in either one, so it will be more about enjoying the environment and the game of football.

Tomorrow, of course, will be a completely different story.

It’s hard not to be excited about the start of the NFL season, and we’re one step closer after a week full of analysis that lacks the substance of seeing a complete four quarters of a game that has all the pieces of the puzzle in place.  If you haven’t heard, the only player that appears to be in doubt heading into Sunday’s game is Aaron Dobson, who was listed as “Questionable” on Friday’s injury report after being limited for the third straight day.   He’s seemed relatively upbeat all week, but out of the three rookies he seems to be the only one ailing.  Needless to say it will be interesting to see how many snaps he sees this weekend.

One thing worth noting on Dobson that Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald pointed out is that he’s noticed how important the mental aspect of the game is, and it’s one thing he feels is definitely different from college.

“Definitely coming into this level, you’ve got to be great at technique,” Dobson told the Herald. “There are a lot of good athletes in college who can get by with athletic ability. Being at this level, we’re playing guys who are working hard, have athletic ability, study film, do it all to go over and above. Everybody is good, so you’ve got to be on the same level as everybody else.”

As for Rob Gronkowski, there were some that thought after the release of tight end Matthew Mulligan this week that Gronk could miraculously be ready to go, but on Friday the team officially listed him as “Doubtful”, which means there’s a 75% chance he won’t play.  The “glass half-full” people will say there’s a 25% chance he will, but it would be a surprise to see them rush a player back that they actually ended up losing twice in one season in 2012.  There’s too much riding on getting him back, so one would have to believe they’re not risking having him experience any type of setback.

Meanwhile one thing Howe also noted yesterday was that while Alfonzo Dennard didn’t play a down of preseason football, nor did he take part in any of the team drills at the practices that were held in front of the media during camp, he wasn’t on this week’s injury report.  He’s obviously a big key to their secondary this year, so the fact he’s healthy is definitely a positive.  The only thing looming over his head now is his current legal situation, which should he survive that he’ll hopefully be able to simply immerse himself in football and avoid any future issues.

Speaking of the defense another question for this weekend is going to be seeing how the Patriots’ pass rush looks Sunday getting after Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.  One key player is obviously going to be Chandler Jones, who started off strong last year but was slowed by injuries.  In what little action we’ve seen from Jones this preseason he’s looked terrific, and it’s going to be interesting to see if he’s able to take the next step this season toward becoming the dominant player many believe he can be.

The good news is that Jones has already gotten a vote of confidence from one of his teammates, and he told Mike Petraglia of WEEI.com that Gronkowski actually praised him his rookie season, which he said definitely helped him.

“I want to get you every day in practice,” Jones told Petraglia, recalling what Gronkowski said to the rookie last year. “You’re good, you’re good. I was like, ‘Wow, Rob Gronkowski telling me this.’ So, it kind of a gave me a little confidence boost. It helped. It helped a lot. I told him that the other day.

“Gronk did help me, saying that to me gave me some confidence going out on the field. It gave me a little extra boost, it did.”

Hopefully he’ll able to channel that into making sure Manuel has a miserable day on Sunday.

BELICHICK TALKS ABOUT HOW HE GETS UP FOR EACH SEASON

Head coach Bill Belichick opened up a little bit on Friday and was surprisingly candid, which was certainly a nice change.  Having been in the league as long as he has, one of the questions asked to him was about how he’s able to stay invigorated and excited each year.

“Every year is different,” explained Belichick. “Every year is a great challenge; great opportunity. Every time it comes around, it’s nice to be able to go up to the plate, get a turn at bat.”

“I like football. Really, I like the game, I like the players, I like what it’s all about. Every part of it –whether it’s assembling a team, working with new players, working with veteran players that are experienced and extremely talented at the highest level, game planning, scouting, preparation, practice, games – I enjoy all of it. It beats working.”

When asked about if he felt the same way about it “beating working” when he was with the Baltimore Colts in 1975, he lamented about the fact that situation was a little different.

“Yeah, because I wasn’t getting paid,” said Belichick.  ”It wasn’t $25 a week. You can call that working but after taxes, there wasn’t even gas money. So, yeah. It’s great to work with great people. We have great ownership here, we have great assistant coaches. I like the players that are on this team. They work hard, they’re very committed to winning; the staff, the support staff. It’s a great, great opportunity here and I’m privileged to have the opportunity to coach this team. Yeah, I’m happy to be here. ”

REASON FOR CONCERN WITH BILLS QB MANUEL?

It’s easy to sit there and believe that the Patriots should have their way with the Bills on Sunday because they’re facing a rookie quarterback, but it’s tough to discount what Manuel was able to accomplish in his brief time on the field.  The rookie played in just the first two games, but missed just five of the 21 passes he attempted in his first outing, and just two of the twelve he threw in the second.  Overall he finished 26-of-33 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, giving him a team leading 112.0 QB rating.   As mentioned in yesterday’s edition the Patriots have already lost games to rookie quarterbacks in two out of the last three seasons.   Hopefully New England’s defense can help make sure he doesn’t make that list.

I’m off to Gillette.  But here are today’s links:

MOVING ON TO TODAY’S LINKS:

BOSTON.COM:

Why the Patriots will win the Super Bowl – Zuri Berry - Berry provides an interesting look at why he feels the Patriots will reach the NFL pinnacle this season.

Predicting the Patriots’ Season Game-By-Game - Zuri Berry – Berry goes through the entire year and predicts the outcome of each game, which a quick synopsis in a slideshow style read.

A foot in the door for Ryan Allen – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer has an article on rookie punter Ryan Allen, which includes quite the goofy picture of him at the top of the article.

NOTEBOOK: Rob Gronkowski officially ‘doubtful’ for opener – Michael Whitmer - Whitmer files his notebook this morning which leads off with the fact Gronkowski seems unlikely to play this week, as well as some additional injury notes.  He also has comments from Vince Wilfork and the challenge he faces stopping the Bills ground game.

BOSTON HERALD:

Kyle Arrington turns corner – Jeff Howe – Howe has a good read on Arrington this morning, who he writes Bill Belichick should be pleased with the veteran corner after having had a good training camp.

Bills occupy Vince Wilfork’s thoughts – Mark Daniels – Daniels has comments from Vince Wilfork on this week, who said he didn’t watch the Broncos and Ravens game and is simply focused on trying to slow down C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson this weekend.

NOTEBOOK: Mark Harrison in wait room – Jeff Howe –  Howe files his notebook this morning which leads off on wide receiver Mark Harrison, and the undrafted free agent from Rutgers hopes some day he’s able to contribute in the offense.

CBS SPORTS BOSTON:

10 Questions About The Patriots’ 2013 Season – Michael Hurley – Hurley has 10 questions about the upcoming season, including whether or not the Patriots will feel the loss of Zoltan Mesko, who was huge in affecting field position for them.

ESPN BOSTON:

Football journey: LeGarrette Blount – Mike Reiss – Reiss as always does a great job with helping us get to know players, and today’s entry focuses on the newly acquired running back.

Pats try out 11, including Graham Harrell - Field Yates – Yates has notes on the 11 players who worked out for the Patriots, which included two quarterbacks.

ATTLEBORO SUN CHRONICLE:

Hightower ready for Round 2 – Mark Farinella – Farinella has a good read on linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who hopes to contribute even more in his second season.

PATRIOTS.COM:

Opening Day Bills vs. Patriots Pregame Six-Pack – Andy Hart – Hart has his six thoughts for this week, and believes Danny Amendola should have a good afternoon against the Bills.

Bill Belichick’s Press Conference Transcript – This press conference on Friday was terrific, so if you haven’t read the transcript there are some additional gems in here as well, including Belichick talking about his own football athletic ability.