Bennett: 'You have to raise your level of play' to match Brady


Bennett: 'You have to raise your level of play' to match Brady

Joining ESPN's First Take on Wednesday, Martellus Bennett explained just how different it is to play in a system like New England's with a quarterback like Tom Brady. 

Asked about the expectations that will inevitably follow Bennett as he sees targets from Brady when covered one-on-one -- thanks in part to the attention Rob Gronkowski will garner -- the former Bears, Giants and Cowboys tight end said that he has no choice but to elevate his play. 

His new quarterback demands it. 

"Playing with Tom has been very exciting because he makes it so much easier for you when you go out there and play," Bennett said. "He's always spot on and his personality is contagious. The way he competes, he makes you rise to another level because it doesn't matter if it's walkthrough -- walkthrough you end up going faster because he's playing faster. You have to raise the level of play to where Tom's at.

"I think that's one of the most inspiring things [in New England], the way he's able to raise your play without even saying anything. It's just the way he does it. 'OK I gotta match that because if he's doing this, this dude's doing this, then I have to make sure I'm up there as well.' "

Bennett, who joined ESPN to promote his new children's book and app "Hey AJ It's Saturday," will have one final OTA practice with the Patriots this week. Then the team will re-join for training camp at the end of July. Though he's only been a teammate of Brady's for a short period of time, he's already very familiar with the signal-caller's work habits.

"He's just always up here," Bennett said. "He's never down. It's always the same Tom everyday. You go in, you know what you're going to get, and you know what he expects from you, and you know he's going to bring it. If you don't bring it, he's going to tell you, too. Like, 'Hey, I need you to pick it up.' "

Bennett insisted with a smile that he hasn't been on the receiving end of Brady's reprimands during minicamp or OTAs -- only coaching points and spot-on passes.

"Yeah I think he's one of the most accurate quarterbacks I've been with as far as like ball-placement and not having to think about where this ball's going to be," Bennett said. "You can just kind of feel where the throw's going to be. You expect back-shoulder it's there. Over the top, it's there. You just kind of can feel the game a little bit easier with him."

Here are a few other highlights from Bennett's discussion on First Take . . .

On the difference between Chicago and New England: "I think just the way the culture is already established. I think the last couple of years in Chicago, they were trying to establish a culture with new coaches. I think here it's a proven method, and you just come in, you plug in, you already know that it works so you have no questions about it. You just go in and do your job."

On what it will be like to play for a Super Bowl contender: "That's one of the most intriguing parts [of playing for the Patriots] is being around a winning culture. I think my entire time in the NFL, I haven't been on a winning team. When I was in Dallas, we didn't really win that many games, I don't think we had a winning record when I was there. In New York, we didn't. And the best we did in Chicago was 8-8. When you lose a lot of games, and you don't have a [team in] playoff contention, it just becomes a bunch of individuals trying to go out there and making the most plays that you can make. It's just natural for you. When you're losing, it's like, 'OK, I'm going to make sure I win my one-on-one battles. But when you're on a winning team, I think you just go out there and just, 'I'm going to do whatever it takes to win these games and get the team to where it needs to be.' Because you know what you're playing for."

On playing for Bill Belichick: "I like him because he's honest, he's up-front, and he's fair. That's all you can ask for as a leader. I talk to him all the time. He's funny. I laugh . . . I don't know if I'm supposed to laugh sometimes, but I always end up laughing. I mean, I have conversations with him. But I talk to everybody. I like him a lot. He's funny to me . . . I think his thing is, he wants guys to care about his teammates and care about the team. If you do that, he doesn't have a problem with you. If he feels as if you're not progressing or doing something to progress the team to be better or you're not doing your job, then I think that's when the issue comes. As long as you show up to work, you do what you're supposed to do and you're where you're supposed to be, then I don't think he has an issue with you."

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."