Patriots focus on football after rough offseason
A training camp filled with potential pitfalls went about as
smoothly as the New England Patriots could have hoped.
They addressed the Aaron Hernandez situation early, minimized
the attention on Tim Tebow and found promising young wide receivers
after losing their top two from last season.
And Rob Gronkowski may be ready sooner than expected after back
Now the AFC East champions in nine of the last 10 years must
address on-field mistakes like those they made in a 40-9 exhibition
loss to the Lions last week.
”Regardless of what happened (in Detroit,)” coach Bill
Belichick said, ”we still have a lot of work to do on our football
team. We just have to take advantage of those opportunities to do
They can do that without being distracted by off-field
The Patriots cut Hernandez the day the star tight end was
arrested and before he was charged with murder the afternoon of
June 26. The day before training camp, Belichick discussed the
matter at length on July 24. The next day, Tom Brady talked about
it. And the next day Tebow, Hernandez’s teammate at Florida,
discussed it and his own evolving role on the team.
Gronkowski had surgery on June 18, about five weeks before camp
began, and was on the field Monday doing individual drills. It
appears the tight end is likely to miss no more than a few games
rather than start the season on the physically unable to perform
list, which would require him to sit out the first six.
The Patriots avoided another potential health problem when Brady
participated fully in practice the day after leaving the field
midway through a practice with a mild left knee sprain Aug. 14.
Bring on the regular season.
Here are five things to watch as the Patriots try to break an
eight-year championship drought:
SOFT SCHEDULE: The Patriots play only five of their 16 games
against teams with winning records last year. None of them are in
the division, so the Patriots should win the AFC East again. They
should make another run at the Super Bowl after losing last
season’s AFC championship game to Baltimore. And they tend to peak
at the right time with a 23-1 record in the last half of the past
THE KIDS BETTER BE ALL RIGHT: After losing Wes Welker and
Brandon Lloyd, who combined for 192 catches last year, the Patriots
are counting on veteran Danny Amendola and three rookies – free
agent Kenbrell Thompkins and draft choices Aaron Dobson and Josh
Boyce. Young wide receivers historically have had difficulty
learning the Patriots’ offensive system. But if they go to the
right spot on the field, Brady will get the ball to them. The
Patriots also hope another rookie, free-agent tight end Zach
Sudfeld, can continue his strong training camp in the regular
GETTING TO THE QUARTERBACK: The Patriots were mediocre in
rattling the opposing passer with just 37 sacks, tied for 15th,
last season. But with end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a
Hightower having a year of experience after being drafted in the
first round last year, that should improve. ”This year I know the
playbook 20 times better,” Hightower said. ”I’m a lot more
comfortable now and whenever you’re comfortable, you’re able to
play the way you want to.” Jones missed nearly three full games
with an ankle injury and was second on the team with six sacks.
Hightower had four.
SECONDARY ISSUES: The Patriots were vulnerable to the big play
last season. The secondary improved when they acquired cornerback
Aqib Talib from Tampa Bay on Nov. 1, allowing Devin McCourty to
move to safety on a more permanent basis. ”Aqib picked up our
system very quickly when he got here last year and has been
confident and very fluent in it,” Belichick said. Starting
cornerback Alfonzo Dennard has been sidelined for part of training
camp and faces a hearing Sept. 6 for a potential probation
violation after his arrest in Nebraska on July 11 for first-offense
drunken driving. Rookie draft picks Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon
have promise but may not be ready for steady duty. Veteran safety
Adrian Wilson was added as a free agent.
STEADY LEADERSHIP: Belichick is the coach on the sideline. Brady
handles that job on the field. In their 13 seasons together, the
Patriots have reached the playoffs 10 times and won three of their
five Super Bowls. ”Tom’s like a coach out there on the field,”
Amendola said. ”He knows every intricacy of the offense. He helps
young guys out a lot. He’s a leader.” As long as Brady and
Belichick are around, a long playoff run is realistic.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
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