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Patriots’ Thompkins Having a Good Camp So Far In His Second Season

Kenbrell Thompkins is off to a good start so far this preseason. (USA TODAY Images)

After having a full season under his belt, Patriots receiver Kenbrell Thompkins appears more comfortable with things as he begins his second training camp here in New England.

So far, while it’s only been two days, Thompkins has continued to impress through the early part of camp, including laying out for a reception against Darrelle Revis for a touchdown on Friday. The catch drew plenty of cheers from the crowd who were on hand to watch the team in their second practice and considering who it was against, it’s certainly something that fans likely hope they’ll see more of should he earn a spot on the roster by the time the final cut downs come.

He received a lot of criticism over the latter of half of last season when his production plummeted, but that doesn’t appear to have sidetracked him. Instead it’s only made him work harder and Belichick had some praise for him on Friday.

“Hard working kid; one of our hardest workers,” said Belichick. “He really tries hard to do everything right. Very attentive, very coachable and he’s very hard working.”

Hard work and desire is something that can’t be coached and is always appreciated by Belichick. Plenty of players have had talent yet have come and gone, largely in part because they didn’t want to put in the necessary effort to make themselves better. Guys who work hard tend to do well here and it appears Thompkins has committed himself to trying to take the next step with this offense.

While the team is only two days in, there’s still a long way to go and Thompkins is just trying to take everything in stride. When asked about his expectations for the upcoming season, Thompkins said for now he’s just focused on trying to keep working.

“I haven’t even got that far yet,” he said via the Boston Globe. “I’m just trying to make sure that I’m preparing for camp and looking forward to tomorrow.”

Belichick Glad to Have Patriots LB Mayo Back

Jerod Mayo is back after going down in week six of 2013 with an injury. (USA TODAY Images)

Just six games into the 2013 season, the Patriots suffered their second loss on the defensive side of the football and it was perhaps one of their more significant blows in terms of a leadership standpoint.

After already losing one leader in Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo suffered a torn pectoral injury against the New Orleans Saints, knocking him out for the season as he ended up on injured reserve shortly after.  It caused a lot of shifting at the linebacker position and the Patriots adjusted enough to battle their way to the AFC Championship, although it didn’t quite turn out the way that they hoped.

After an offseason of rehabilitation for Mayo the seventh year linebacker is back, which is good news for a defense that wasn’t quite the same while he was gone.  Mayo tends to fly under the radar given the amount of dirty work he tends to do inside, having lead the team in tackles in 2012.  He also garners the respect of the players around him, which is something Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talked about on Friday and said that’s something Mayo’s been able to do since he’s been here.

Having Mayo back in 2014 should give the Patriots’ defense quite a boost.
(USA TODAY Images)

The veteran has been a full participant so far and doesn’t seem as though he’s been hampered by the injury. Having him back out there obviously means a lot to his defense, especially given how players look up to him. Belichick pointed out that Mayo’s earned the respect of his peers since he’s been here, noting the fact that he earned the role of captain in just his second season.

“Even when he was captain his second year, he had a relationship with the older guys,” said Belichick. “Now he’s a more veteran player but he’s still pretty attached to the younger guys like Jamie Collins, [Dont’a] Hightower, guys like that, in addition to guys not at his position. He’s got great work ethic, great presence on the football field and great personality that’s, I’d say, in a very good way professional but also has a good rapport with all the players and the coaches.”

When asked about how Mayo compares to past linebackers like Tedy Bruschi or Mike Vrabel, Belichick, who upon his retirement called Tedy Bruschi “the perfect player”, said Mayo is “similar but different to Bruschi.”

“I’d say more Bruschi but different; similar but different. Tedy had a little different personality but a lot of the same characteristics and played a position – look, when you play a position in the middle of the defense, it’s like playing quarterback – you’re in the middle of the offense. You have to be the main communicator, the person that everything runs through. That’s inherent in the position of linebacker, middle linebacker, just like it is in quarterback on offense.

“Some of that comes with the position. It would be hard for a cornerback to do that or a wide receiver. They could do it maybe off the field but it would be hard to do it on the field just because that’s not the way really the communication flows. But when you take players like that and they’re in the positions like Bruschi was or Jerod, then that all comes with it. It helps to push it up.”

Patriots Huddle: Saturday’s News, Notes and Links 7/26

Rob Gronkowski is feeling good so far through two days of training camp. (USA TODAY Images)

Here are some news and notes on this Saturday morning:


Saturday will mark the first session of contact for the Patriots, who will experience their first padded practice of the season.

Kyle Arrington told the Boston Herald on Friday that this changes the tempo of things and he’s looking forward to seeing what the coaches have planned.

“We’re going to put the pads on, so I’m guessing you’ll see a more physical day than the previous two,” cornerback Kyle Arrington told the newspaper. “We’ll see how it goes. It’s going to be a different type of practice, a different type of tempo. We’ll see what the coaches have in store.”


Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talked about linebacker Jerod Mayo on Friday and said that he’s fit in since he’s been here,

“He’s, I’d say, really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player,” said Belichick.  “Not that there aren’t other players that are instrumental in that but I think he touches pretty much everybody, not just the defensive players but all the guys; not just the older guys but the younger guys.”

The veteran has been a full participant so far and doesn’t seem  as though he’s been hampered by the torn pectoral muscle that ended his season in week six.  Having him back out there will obviously mean a lot to his defense and having his leadership will mean a lot as well.  Belichick pointed out that Mayo’s earned the respect of his peers since he’s been here, noting the fact that he earned the role of captain in just his second season.

“Even when he was captain his second year, he had a relationship with the older guys,” Belichick said via “Now he’s a more veteran player but he’s still pretty attached to the younger guys like Jamie Collins, [Dont’a] Hightower, guys like that, in addition to guys not at his position. He’s got great work ethic, great presence on the football field and great personality that’s, I’d say, in a very good way professional but also has a good rapport with all the players and the coaches.”


So far, while it’s only been two days, Patriots receiver Kenbrell Thompkins continues to impress through the early part of camp, including laying out for a reception against Darrelle Revis for a touchdown.

That caused quite a roar from the crowd who was on hand to witness it and it hopefully has Thompkins building some confidence as he tries to bounce back from a year that started out promising in 2013, but ended up seeing drop down the depth chart by the end of the season.

When asked about his expectations for the upcoming season, Thompkins said for now he’s just focused on trying to keep working.

“I haven’t even got that far yet,” he said via the Boston Globe. “I’m just trying to make sure that I’m preparing for camp and looking forward to tomorrow.”


Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis has received quite a warm welcome from the fans through the first two days of training camp, which is certainly a little different than what he’s experienced in past seasons when the Patriots and Jets used to battle each other back when he was in New York.

Instead of getting booed, Revis has been on the other side, this time with the crowd rooting for him as he goes against the Patriots’ offense.

He admitted on Friday that it’s been a little bit of an adjustment.

“It’s been awesome, but it’s been kind of weird in a way,’’ Revis told the Boston Globe.  “They’ve accepted me and I’m just happy to be here and play here.’’

When asked about his relationship with Bill Belichick, the veteran also said the two are working well together and he’s enjoyed it so far.

“Our relationship is great,’’ Revis said. “We communicate well. Like I said, Bill is open to anything. Being on the other side, you look at him totally different, but being here, he’s open. He’s open to anything, and our friendship is great.’’


After having the rug get pulled out from underneath his season in 2013, Gronkowski had to spend his offseason rehabbing and working his way back from his torn ACL, which so far has appeared not to be affecting him from what he’s shown during the first two days of training camp.

Gronkowski said being back out there is “a dream come true again” and he’s glad to be back.

“It’s feeling good out there, running routes, getting balls thrown, and it just feels great to be out there with my teammates, being in the huddle, catching balls from Tom Brady — it’s a dream come true again,” Gronkowski told the Boston Globe. “It feels like it got taken away and now I feel like I got it back, so it’s awesome.”

After the injuries he’s been dealt the past couple of seasons, he was also asked if he plans on changing his approach.  According to Gronkowski, that’s definitely not happening.

“Nah, I ain’t changing that one bit,” he said. “I’m going to go full speed out there and I’m going to keep smashin’ and dashin’ everything I do, so . . . maybe if it’s not necessary one single bit I’ll go down, but if I can make some plays, make some extra yards, get in the end zone, I’m definitely going to go full speed and I’m going to take the hits.”

Here’s a collection of observation links from Friday:
Friday Camp Observations 7/25 – Derek Havens

Observations from Patriots camp: Day 2 – Mike Reiss & Lee Schechter

New England Patriots Training Camp: Observations from Day 2 – Jenn McCaffrey

Patriots Training Camp Observations: Rookie Jimmy Garoppolo Struggles – Doug Kyed

Observations from training camp: The Patriots have their first injury – Mark Daniels

Another Good Session for Kenbrell Thompkins, but Jimmy Garoppolo struggles – Christopher Price



Kenbrell Thompkins catching on – Rob Harms: Harms has a good article on Thompkins, who so far has come up with some nice diving catches and has looked good through two days of training camp.

Darrelle Revis now on other side of Pats-Jets rivalry – Michael Vega: Vega has more from Revis, who also said, “he’s in the best shape of his career.”

Rob Gronkowski ‘feeling good’ about recovery – Shalise Manza Young: Manza Young has more from Gronkowski, who so far looks like he’s settling back in thus far.


Patriots Training Camp Notes: Competition Brewing on Offensive Line – Erik Frenz: Frenz looks at the competition that’s starting to come together on the offensive line and he feels it looks like center and the right guard spots are up for grabs.

Four Sneaky, Important Patriots at Training Camp – Jeremy Gottlieb: Gottleib has some thoughts on several different players,  including linebacker James Anderson.


Patriots Beat: Contact brings list of questions – Jeff Howe: Howe has more on the fact the team will be battling it out in pads on Saturday and looks at some of the things to keep an eye on.

Patriots Notebook: Rob Gronkowski won’t go changing - Jeff Howe: Howe writes that Gronkowski’s only going on way: full speed.

Patriots feast on Kenbrell Thompkins’ 2nd helping – Chris Mason: Mason has more on Thompkins, who said he’s just trying to improve his fundamentals.

Darrelle Revis goes on full display – Jeff Howe: Howe has a good read on Revis, along with some quotes from safety Devin McCourty, who said Revis has been a ‘hard worker’ since he’s been here and it’s showed out on the field.


Patriots release TE Nate Byham – Mike Reiss: Reiss notes the release of Byham in this piece.

Gronk: ‘I’m here and I’m ready’ - Lee Schecter: Schechter has an article on Gronkowski, who admitted he’s not yet up to 100% just yet.

Brady scoffs at talk of only 4 more yearsStaff

Darrelle Revis: Best shape of my career – Mike Reiss: Reiss has comments from Revis, who said he’s feeling great and that he’s much better than he was last year when he was coming off his injury.

Belichick: Revis has instincts of Harrison – In this piece there’s some additional comments from Bill Belichick’s press conference.


Curran: Gronk ‘flying to checkpoints’ at camp - In his recent television appearance Tom Curran feels that so far things look good with Gronkowksi after seeing him do things like “elevate and land on his tiptoes.”


New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Jerod Mayo: “He’s the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player” – Jen McCaffrey: McCaffrey has comments from Belichick on Mayo and noted how much the veteran means to his football team.


Patriots not Revis’ first choice — Jets were -Sam Galanis: Revis admitted that the Jets were on his radar when he was getting ready to leave Tampa Bay, but he’s happy to have ended up in New England.

Belichick on Patriots CB Revis: “I’ve Been Impressed With Him”

Bill Belichick has enjoyed having Darrelle Revis on his side of things. (USA TODAY Images)

For the longest time Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his coaching staff have had to come up with ways to help their offense deal with Darrelle Revis when he was a member of the New York Jets.

Now after finally getting him on his side, Belichick’s apparently been pretty pleased with what he’s seen.

During his meeting with the media on Thursday he had some kind remarks for the veteran cornerback, telling reporters he’s enjoyed finally having the opportunity to have a personal relationship with him.

“He has worked hard. Smart guy. I’ve been impressed with him,” said Belichick. “[He's] very professional. Has a good understanding of the game. He’s a smart player. He has a real good focus and instinct. He’s a smart player scheme-wise, but he knows how to play. He’s a very instinctive player. On a personal level, I never really had a personal relationship with him. So I’ve enjoyed that part of it.”

So far he’s been a quiet leader and someone players have gravitated toward on the defensive side of the football and seems to be fitting in quite well.

Friday Tom Brady also talked about what it’s been like going up against Revis, with the quarterback saying on Friday that he enjoys going against someone of his caliber.

“He’s a great player,” said Brady. “He challenges us, he challenges the receivers, and it’s nice to go against someone like that.”

The good news is if Brady can be competitive against Revis, it will make going against the rest of the league a little easier heading into this season. So far like his coach, he’s enjoyed having Revis as a teammate.

“We’ve had great corners here in the past, but he’s a great competitor,” said Brady. “Having the chance to compete against him on another team, I certainly appreciate having him on our team.”

Patriots Huddle: Friday’s News, Notes and Links 7/25

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski got some additional work in during the team’s first training camp practice on Thursday. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Here are some news and notes for this morning:


Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has already had football taken away from him once after suffering a knee injury in the home opener back in 2008.  Otherwise, he’s started and played in every game since taking over as the starter back in 2001 and on Thursday he told reporters that he doesn’t take anything for granted.

“It goes pretty fast so I think you just appreciate it and there’s very few people that have the opportunity that I have and I’m very appreciative of it,” Brady said. “You never know when the last one’s going to be, so you just appreciate the moments that you have.

“Every year is something different and this could be your last training camp. You never know. So you’ve got to make it count and you can’t take anything for granted in the NFL. So I try to do the best I can for this team and, hopefully, it leads to a great year.”

Brady had his ups and downs during the team’s first public practice, including spending quite a bit of time working with tight end Rob Gronkowski on Thursday.  The two got in a little extra work after Brady and Gronkowski went over to the team’s second practice field and the two continued working as Gronkowski ran a variety of pass routes.

Brady acknowledged that there’s going to need to be some additional work needed as they continue trying to improve.

“It’s a long training camp. It’s going to be a lot of effort and a lot of work, ” said Brady.  “There is no easy way about it. You just have to grind and put the work in and listen to the coaches, try to make the improvements. Hopefully when we start the season, we’ll be a lot better team than we are now.”


A lot of talk this offseason centered on how the Patriots could keep their success with offensive linemen going after what now-retired former o-line coach Dante Scarnecchia had been able to accomplish.  His replacement, Dave DeGuglielmo, told the media on Thursday that he’s not worried about following Scarnecchia and is just taking advantage of the system that was already in place.

“Following him? You know, I have a job to do, and I’m trying to do the best I can every day,” DeGulglielmo said.  “I think the system is in place, so it’s not like we’re reinventing anything here.

“I’m trying to teach the system. I might use different coaching phrases, but it’s the same stuff. Same technique, generally the same offense. I’m not changing anything, that’s for sure.”


For the second straight year Kenbrell Thompkins has been impressive and on Thursday he caught the attention of fans who were on hand for the team’s first public session.

During 7-on-7 work, Thompkins hauled in a couple of touchdown receptions and both were ones where he had to catch the ball over his head in the back corner of the end zone.   He also joined a group that included Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on the other field while working on fade routes without a defense.


Coming off of a ruptured Achilles that he suffered back on September 29th last season, Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork appeared a little lighter when he took the field on Thursday and was a full participant during the team’s first practice.

Wilfork said that so far he’s feeling good.

“If I had limitations, I wouldn’t be practicing. Right now, I’m on the field and I’m healthy,” Wilfork said via ESPN BOSTON after the two-hour session. “I’m pretty sure there’s going to still be some stuff that I may need to do, so ‘so far, so good.’ I’m not looking back. I’m looking forward.”

The veteran tackle also said his goal now is to just prove that he can continue being a key part of the defense.

“I just have to prove I can come out and give my team what they need,” said Wilfork.  “Me as a person, I’ve never been a selfish player; I was a team player. If I wanted to be selfish, I could have been a shot putter. I’ve done that. I was a state champion shot putter, but it wasn’t my thing. My thing was to be with teammates, a good group of guys, and we’re all working toward one goal and that’s to be able to win and push one another. That’s why I chose football.

“For me to prove anything, no; I have to prove to my teammates they can trust me when the [game] is on the line. They have to do the same thing with me. It starts now. Camp is, that’s the platform for everything. If you can [become] a better football team in camp, you’ll be pretty decent.”

(To try and make things a little easier, here’s a quick rundown of the links from the media with observations from Thursday’s session:)
Thursday’s Training Camp Observations 7/24 – Derek Havens

Patriots Training Camp Notes: Kenbrell Thompkins Shines On Opening Day – Erik Frenz

Observations from Patriots camp: Day 1 - Mike Reiss & Lee Schechter

Practice observations: Rob Gronkowski limited in first workout of training camp – Jeff Howe

Thursday Training Camp Notes: Rob Gronkowski Returns to the Field, Kenbrell Thompkins Looks Impressive - Christopher Price




Tom Brady brings fresh perspective to his 15th season – Ben Volin: Volin has an article on Brady who despite being in his 15th season still treats the experience like he’s a rookie.

Notes: Dave DeGuglielmo ‘not reinventing’ Patriots offensive line - Michael Whitmer: Whitmer files his notebook this morning which leads off with comments from new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, who is just trying to carry on Dante Scarnecchia’s system.


Patriots Training Camp: Day 2 of Practice, Schedule – Zuri Berry: Berry has today’s practice schedule, with the team set to hold another session beginning at 9:15am.


Patriots Notebook: Progress for Aaron Dobson – Jeff Howe: Howe files his notebook this morning, which leads off with some positive news on Dobson.

Josh McDaniels thrilled to start again – Adam Kurkjian: Kurkjian has notes from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who said “it’s great to get started” after the team’s opening session.

It’s Rob Gronkowski time – Jeff Howe: Howe has an article on Gronkowski, focusing on some of the work the veteran did yesterday including spending some time getting in some work on improving his blocking technique.


Patriots coverage from national view – Mike Reiss: Reiss has links from national media outlets, which offers a few different perspectives.

Patriots camp report: Day 1 – Mike Reiss: Reiss has additional notes from yesterday, including some notes on Aaron Dobson, Vince Wilfork, and James White.

Wilfork practices without restriction – Mike Reiss: Reiss has an entry on Wilfork, who also said he has a little more appreciation of the game after being out last year.


Tom Brady pumps up Kenbrell Thompkins and pumps the brakes on Rob Gronkowsi – Mike Petraglia: Petraglia has some quick notes followed by the remainder of Brady’s press conference from Thursday.


DeGuglielmo homecoming brings levity to Pats line – Phil Perry: Perry has an article on offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, who is doing things in his own way.


No passing of the torch at Patriots’ camp – Glen Farley: Farley has an article on the fact Brady didn’t look like a guy who was ready to hand the football over to Jimmy Garoppolo on Thursday.

Patriots Huddle: Thursday’s News, Notes and Links 7/24

Bill Belichick and the Patriots will hold their first public session Thursday at 9:45am. (USA TODAY Images)

Here are some quick news and notes for this morning as the team will finally hit the field for their first public session at Gillette Stadium.


Patriots head coach Bill Belichick met with the media on Wednesday for his first media session as the team begins preparation for the 2014 season.

As we know there’s been quite a transition roster-wise this offseason, with the team making quite a few new additions throughout the roster, although most of the attention is obviously on the defense given the addition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

There will be changes and adjustments ahead, however, Belichick said they’ve already put in a fair amount of work during the spring and adjusting to roster turnover is simply part of what goes on in the NFL.

“We’re certainly not anywhere near where we need to be or will be, but I’d say we’ve already crossed part of that bridge in the spring,” said Belichick. “We had 13 practices together and at this time of year, as we do in the spring, we work a lot of different people in different combinations and let the competition sort itself out.

“I think that we’ve had good, productive communication at all the positions. There’s always going to be turnover. There’s turnover every year on every team. This is nothing unique. We’ll just see how it plays out. I don’t think that necessarily has to be a problem but it could be. I don’t know.”


For the first time in a while Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will hit the field and be able to take part in training camp, giving him the opportunity to hopefully start working on getting himself ready for a better 2014 season.

He’s had a rough couple of years in terms of injuries, but so far everything appears to be going well as he continues coming back from tearing his ACL against the Browns in Week 14.  Offensive captain Logan Mankins met with the media on Wednesday and said that it’s been great having him out there.

“Well, it’s a positive,” said Mankins on Gronkowski being out there working with them.  “We were all hoping Gronk would have a good recovery and so far he has. We’ll just see where he is, how good he is right now. It’s great to have him out there. He’s a dynamic blocker. He does a great job in the blocking and he’s a big target for Tom [Brady] to get the ball to and he gets open. Anytime you can have Gronk on the field, it’s great.”


The Patriots made a couple of roster moves on Wednesday, releasing recently signed receiver Tyler McDonald in favor of first year wideout Greg Orton.

This is the second stint for Orton in New England, having spent time with the team’s practice squad  when he was previously signed back on December 31st, 2013.  The Patriots had previously released him back on May 22, 2014.

As for McDonald, he lasted just five days with the club after signing as a rookie free agent last Friday.  The former South Carolina State standout caught 51 passes for 956 yards along with seven touchdowns as a senior, but unfortunately now he’ll be looking for a new team.



5 things to watch at Patriots camp – Jeff Howe: Howe has five things to watch heading into training camp, including keeping an eye on the front seven.


Notes: Third-down stops a focus of Patriots defense – Shalise Manza Young: Manza Young files her notebook this morning, which leads off with the fact the team spent time this offseason focusing on getting better about getting off the field on third down.


Patriots Training Camp: Day 1 of Practice, Schedule – Zuri Berry: Berry outlines the schedule for today, with the team set to hit the field at 9:45am.


Patriots’ evolving D keys Super hopes – Mike Reiss: Reiss has an article looking at the defense, and feels this is one of the years where the team’s defense has created as much buzz as their offense.

Did Patriots do enough to improve offense? – Mike Reiss: Reiss takes an overall look at some of the team and gives his thoughts on the upcoming season.


New England Patriots training camp position previews: Wide receiver is not a sure thing, but could grow into something great – Nick O’Malley: O’Malley spotlights the receiver position, which he feels could potentially end up being a strength for the team.


Patriots’ Logan Mankins a training camp veteran – Rich Garven: Garven has an article on Logan Mankins, who spoke with the media yesterday and despite being the third longest tenured player on the team, he said not much has changed.


Bill Belichick Press Conference Transcript - In case you missed it, here’s the transcript from Belichick’s press conference on Wednesday.

Rob Ninkovich Press Conference Transcript - Ninkovich spoke to the media yesterday and here’s a transcript of what he had to say.

Logan Mankins Press Conference Transcript – Here’s another for offensive captain Logan Mankins

Devin McCourty Press Conference Transcript - McCourty also met with the media on Wednesday and here’s a recap of what he had to say.

Gronkowski is among several key players returning in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

Despite an AFC Championship appearance, 2013 managed to carve out its own niche in Patriots history and joins another season that fans will have a hard time forgetting.

There was 2008, which was “the Year Tom Brady Was Injured” and will probably forever be remembered for that reason.  Odds are pretty good that 2013 will be there with it and will likely be remembered as “the Season Everyone Was Injured”.

It was ridiculous.  By the time December hit following Rob Gronkowski’s knee taking a hit against Cleveland that more or less derailed his and the Patriots’ season, 20 injuries had been suffered, with Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald pointing out at the time that it cost players a combined 87 games collectively over that span.

They lost three big key players on the defensive side of the football, with Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly as the key names who were wiped off the roster and strangely enough, each one fell right after the other.  Wilfork went first, (gone in week four down in Alanta), followed by Kelly (injured his knee in Week 5 and was inactive for three games before ending up on IR) and then finally, Mayo (Week 6 against the Saints).

The offensive side of the ball was also a mess.  They suffered a big blow when Danny Amendola re-aggravated his groin in Week 1 against the Bills (which cost him the next three games and he never looked the same) followed by a broken wrist by Shane Vereen (given the short-term injured reserve designation, which sidelined him for 8 games), a concussion to Amendola against the Saints in Week 6 that cost him another game, Sebastian Vollmer’s gruesome broken leg in week eight against the Dolphins that ended his season, followed by the foot injury suffered by Aaron Dobson that cost him three games and was re-aggravated in the season finale and has him now on PUP.

Yet somehow, this team was playing in Denver in January and only needed one more win for a Super Bowl berth.  That in itself is a miracle when looking back on what they endured along the way.  It’s actually hard to believe that game only took place six months ago, yet thankfully, the landscape now feels completely different.

Added over the offseason were some key additions, including experienced defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, with Revis as the one who could potentially be on defense what Randy Moss was for the offense in 2007. Sprinkle in some other good acquisitions such as Chris White, James Anderson, and Will Smith, along with their draft picks, and this has the opportunity to be one of the more competitive camps in recent memory.

From there Gronkowski’s back and relatively healthy, having even avoided being placed on PUP.  Wilfork appears to be on track and is expected to be out there, while Tommy Kelly is on PUP but hopefully if all goes well, he’ll get the opportunity to play alongside Wilfork for a full season, which was something he had hoped to do last year.

Now that the injuries are behind them, Rob Ninkovich said on Wednesday that he and the rest of his teammates are looking forward to what he feels should be a better year.

“You look at last year, and you definitely put that to bed as far as like what we did last year,” said Ninkovich.  “But you want to take some of the good things that you did out there and improve on those and then you see the things that you need to improve on. As a whole defense, you want to be better this year, this season. I think that, definitely as a defense, we’re going to be a better defense, but we’ve got to put the work in. So that starts today. Again, I think the things that we did last year well, you want to continue to do those and then also improve in some areas.”

On the offensive side of the football, the health of Gronkowski will be the thing most people will be watching this season.  Between his fractured forearm in 2012 followed by his knee injury in 2013, he’s had a rough patch over the past two years that he’s likely hoping to put behind him.

Also in focus will be the health of Dobson along with Amendola, both of whom are two big keys as they’re each players who will benefit greatly with Gronkowski out there.  Amendola and Gronkowski only played together in just over five games in 2013, with Gronkowski getting knocked out of what would have been their sixth.  Gronkowski sat out the first six games and Amendola was sidelined in week seven with a concussion that he suffered against the Saints.

With Dobson, the number of that trio being together drops even further.  The three only took the field as a group in four contests last season after he missed the game before Gronk’s injury when he suffered his foot injury against Denver.

Bill Belichick said on Wednesday that while Gronkowski’s health is important, he stressed that the health of everyone is critical as the team tries to avoid an injury bug that took down far too many players last year.

“The health of the team is the most important thing that we have,” said Belichick.  “That’s for all 90 players now and 53 players once we have our final roster. We always try to do everything we can to help all the players stay healthy and stay on the field. We do that for everybody; every single guy.

“It’s a consideration for all them. Certainly Rob, but everybody. We don’t single out ‘these players’ and ‘those players’. It’s all the players, all of them.”

Hopefully this time around he’ll have more of them for longer than he did in 2013.

Devin McCourty spoke to the media Wednesday and talked about the fact the defense will need to be better on third down in 2013. (USA TODAY Images)

One of the topics of discussion that came up on Wednesday during the team’s first press conferences of the 2014 training camp was about their issues on third down in 2013.

Linebacker Rob Ninkovich tackled it first, acknowledging that it was a problem both in 2012 and 2013 for their defense. They allowed opponents to convert 42.2 percent of their third down attempts, ranking them 26th in the NFL. Looking at a lot of the situations they were in, it was alarming to see how they fared certain situations last season.

Here’s a quick run down of all their 3rd downs from 2012 and 2013:

Situation: Att: Conv: Pct: Att: Conv: Pct:
3rd and 10+ 38 7 18% 44 10 23%
3rd and 10 21 8 38% 25 6 24%
3rd and 9 6 2 33% 6 1 17%
3rd and 8 8 6 75% 12 5 42%
3rd and 7 17 8 50% 16 6 37.5%
3rd and 6 19 6 32% 18 10 56%
3rd and 5 16 4 25% 34 15 44%
3rd and 4 18 3 17% 17 10 59%
3rd and 3 19 11 58% 15 10 67%
3rd and 2 20 11 55% 21 12 57%
3rd and 1 23 16 69.5% 24 13 54%
*Taken From Our Stats Database

Going down the line, plays of between 3rd-and-6 and 3rd-and-8 were an issue in 2013, with opponents converting a combined 21-of-46 (46%).  From 3rd-and 10 and beyond teams went 16-of-69 (23%), essentially converting just under 1-in-4 attempts.

They did manage to improve from where they were in 2012, albeit marginally, after allowing a conversion rate of 25% in 2012 from that same distance.

“We’ve got to get off the field,” said Ninkovich.  “That’s huge. Some of the third-and-long situations, we weren’t able to get off the field. I know third-and-long screens hurt us last year, too, so specifically that play and the third-and-long situation as a whole, we’ve got to do a better job. Obviously, everything is working together, so coverage-rush, rush-coverage all works together. That’s just one area that we definitely need to work on this year.”

Devin McCourty, who was immediately greeted by those same reporters with similar questions about their issues, revealed that it was something that appeared to be a focus for the team heading into this season. According to McCourty, giving up big plays on third down was something that was talked about during the spring and with the turnover personnel-wise, it’s something that was watched on film as they try to make sure some of the new guys understand what needs to be fixed as they now begin trying to correct it.  

“I think when you look back at last year a lot of the things just go to straight X’s and O’s,” explained McCourty during the team’s media sessions on day one Wednesday.  “You can’t focus so much on last year, because some of the people, when you’re watching film, aren’t even here this year.  It’s just trying to improve scheme things, what some of the guys did last year that are still on the team, how to view things, how to see it better, how to anticipate it better. ”

“For third down, it’s always a key in every game,” said McCourty.  “A lot of times it comes down to your season being on third down in a  key situation so we’ll definitely watch that and try and improve.  Like Rob [Ninkovich] was saying, with screens and different plays that happened to us.  You always want to look at those things and see how you can get better. That started in the spring, trying to develop those things and look at them, just so all the players can be aware of what hurt us last year and what we need to be ready for this year.”

Belichick: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski ‘Cleared to Play’

Unlike last year, Rob Gronkowski won’t be a specator during the start of training camp. (USA TODAY Images)

So far things are off to a better start for Rob Gronkowski and it appears that unlike last year he’ll be able to get a full training camp under his belt heading into the 2014 season.

During his meeting with media on Wednesday Patriots head coach Bill Belichick revealed that the veteran tight end “has been cleared to play”, which is a great sign as he continues coming back from a torn ACL last season.

“Rob’s always worked hard,” Belichick said via the Boston Globe. “He worked hard as a rookie. When he’s here. I can’t speak to when he’s not here. It’s good to see all the players out there. And the ones that aren’t out there that are working to get back, we’re looking forward to getting them back.”

Gronkowski missed the first six games of 2013 and played in seven games before tearing his ACL against the Browns at home in Week 14, which ended his season.  Overall he finished the year with 39 catches for 592 yards along with four touchdowns.

Patriots Huddle: Wednesday’s News & Links 7/23

Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots report this morning before Thursday’s public practice session. (USA TODAY Images)

As the players report this morning, here are this morning’s links:


Do Patriots finally have a premier secondary? – Shalise Manza Young: Manza Young has an article on the Patriots secondary, which now may be among the NFL’s best.

Patriots training camp — what to watch for – Sean Leahy: Leahy looks at what to keep an eye on as camp begins, including which injured player will be the most important to watch.

Money may dictate Patriots’ roster moves –  Ben Volin: Volin looks at several players who may be in trouble due to their contracts.


Bill Belichick, captains meet with media today to open training camp – Jeff Howe: Howe has a quick entry this morning with Bill Belichick set to meet with the media this morning.

For Patriots new season starts now – Jeff Howe: Howe has his article previewing training camp, with some thoughts on several players and positions.


Patriots’ evolving D keys Super hopes – Mike Reiss: Reiss has a quick article on the defense, which will likely be the biggest key surrounding their success this season.

Wake-up call: Bill Belichick gets it started – Mike Reiss: Reiss notes this morning’s media schedule, with Belichick set to meet with the media, along with several other players.


Patriots report: Will Super Bowl drought end at 10 years? – Lorenzo Reyes: Reyes has a spotlight on the Patriots and wonders if this will be the year they’re finally able to win it all.


Five Areas to Monitor as Camp Opens – Oliver Thomas: Thomas has his thoughts on what to watch for with the players reporting today, including how the linebacker position comes together with the return of Jerod Mayo.


Patriots Offensive Line Preview: Can Stork, Rookies Deliver An Added Boost? – This morning’s position preview focuses on the Patriots’ offensive line, which will hopefully do a better job of keeping Tom Brady upright this season.


Gasper: Is Gronk’s health the biggest concern? – Christopher Gasper: Gasper appeared on CSNNE and wondered about the overall health of the team, which obviously includes Gronkowski.