Patriots

'Good vibe' to NHL playerowner meetings in NYC

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'Good vibe' to NHL playerowner meetings in NYC

The reports of an end to the lockout at the beginning of this week got hockey fans excited, and both NHL owners and players are doing their part to keep the momentum moving forward.

With NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr both absent from the proceedings, the players and owners met in two separate sessions at the Westin in New York City that lasted about eight hours. According to a source with knowledge of the discussions, Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle has been a key figure in the meetings while attempting to bridge the considerable gap between the two sides.

There seems to be a good vibe to the meetings, said one NHL player, who was not present at the meetings. Lets just hope that it continues.

A group of 18 NHL players and six NHL owners including principal owners from the Bruins, Lightning, Penguins, Jets, Flames and Maple Leafs sat down for the meetings that skeptics saw as a PR stunt orchestrated by the league, but in reality became a place where the two sides appeared to gain some traction.

There appears to be some effort being made by both the players and the owners to get a CBA completed prior to Wednesdays Board of Governors meeting, so that the full group of NHL owners can potentially ratify something this week. If that were to be the case perhaps the NHL could start the regular season as soon as Dec. 15 when it appeared just as likely the entire season could be cancelled if there wasnt a drastic change in talks.

More likely the two sides will continue to bridge the gap, and move toward an agreement over the next few weeks with a possible start at the beginning of January. Whether the season starts in 10 days or three weeks, that's good news provided the progress continues.

NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly addressed the media together shortly after midnight -- the first time that has happened in negotiations. Daly said "I think everybody wants to get a deal done, which is encouraging" while crediting the players. Fehr said "it might be the best day we've had so far, but still a lot of work to be done."

According to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review NHL reporter Rob Rossi, Burkle, co-owner Mario Lemieux and superstar Sidney Crosby had begun hatching a plan over the last week to bring all sides together to end the acrimonious lockout.

Two sides began the day far apart on player contract rights, "make whole" money and other key elements to the deal, and it remains to be seen how much closer they've come to getting a deal done.

With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

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With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

Continuity along the offensive line was one of the reasons the Patriots were able to have the season they had in 2016. They tossed aside the early-season experiementation that Bill Belichick favored at times in order to establish a starting five that could be relied upon, if healthy, start to finish. 

They attacked 2017 with the same approach, but because of injury the consistency simply has not been the same. Both starting tackles, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, have missed time injured this season, and Cannon will sit out again on Sunday as he continues to deal with an ankle injury. 

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The interior of the line has remained largely in place until this week when center David Andrews came down with an illness, missed two practices, and was ruled out. 

On a line where familiarity is key, where the center is the one making the calls, the one in constant communication with Tom Brady, what now?

The Patriots will likely turn to second-year man Ted Karras, who has the ability to play both guard spots and also backed up Andrews for the vast majority of training camp. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder was released at the end of camp, quickly signed to the Patriots practice squad, and then he re-signed to the active roster in Week 1 when Malcolm Mitchell was placed on injured reserve.

Karras, drafted in the sixth round in 2016 out of Illinois, was named a practice player of the week earlier this year and he earned some praise from Belichick before the Patriots took off for Mexico City.

"Ted works hard," Belichick said. "He loves football. He gets there early, stays late."

Belichick noted that Karras (nine snaps, all against the Broncos) hasn't played much this season, but he did see plenty of work early last season when he filled in for an injured Shaq Mason. He was the Week 1 starter at right guard in a win ver the Cardinals and he played 41 snaps in Week 2 against the Dolphins. 

The Patriots offensive line could also potentially turn to Joe Thuney at center. He's practiced there before and got some experience at the position during his time at NC State. This seems like the less likely move since the Patriots would then have to deal with two new players at different spots -- center and left guard (whether the player replacing Thuney would be Karras or rookie Cole Croston) -- which could have a domino effect on the rest of the line. 

However the Patriots choose to handle it, they'll face an interesting test south of the border. The Raiders feature a pair of talented pass-rushers in Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack, who Belichick says play all over the offensive line, yet Oakland is tied for last in the league in sacks. 

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Bill Belichick takes time to admire yet another opposing punter

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Bill Belichick takes time to admire yet another opposing punter

If the Patriots are about to go up against one of the more talented punters in the league, one way or another, you're bound to hear about it from Bill Belichick.

Sometimes Belichick will go into great detail on opposing punters in one of his weekly press conferences. Sometimes he'll go out of his way to highlight a punter during one of his "breakdowns" on Patriots.com. 

He went the latter route this week, gushing over Raiders punter Marquette King.

"We usually don't have the punters on the highlights here, but King's a very athletic punter," Belichick said. "He runs a lot of fakes, a guy you have to really be conscious of as a both holder on field goals and punts on fakes."

King is the No. 2 punter in the league when it comes to net punting (45.5 yards), and he's tenth in the league in terms of the number of punts dropped inside the 20-yard line. 

"King is an athletic guy," Belichick reiterated, "and he can change field-position big time."

Add him to the list of big-legged punters -- "weapons," if you will -- Belichick has praised in the past.

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