Patriots

Notes: With Gronk missing, Hernandez thrives

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Notes: With Gronk missing, Hernandez thrives

By Danny Picard
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @dannypicard
FOXBORO -- There were five Patriots completely absent from Tuesdayspractice at Gillette Stadium. Albert Haynesworth, Mike Wright, Rob Gronkowski, RyanWendell, and Eric Kettani were nowhere to be found, while linebacker BrandonSpikes was back on the field in a t-shirt and shorts. Offensive lineman DanConnolly was also on the field on Tuesday in a t-shirt and shorts, afterseemingly injuring his arm on Monday.

The rest of the roster remained the same as Monday.

@font-face font-family: "Times New Roman";p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; a:link, span.MsoHyperlink color: blue; text-decoration: underline; a:visited, span.MsoHyperlinkFollowed color: purple; text-decoration: underline; table.MsoNormalTable font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; div.Section1 page: Section1; For the second straight day, Patriots training camp wasall about second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez.

It seemed like every chance New Englands quarterbacks couldget, they were getting him the ball on Tuesday afternoon, similar to what theywere also doing on Monday.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski left Mondays practice abouthalfway through with a slight limp, forcing him to miss Tuesdays session. Hernandez has benefited greatly from it, as he once again became thePatriots and more specifically, Tom Bradys No. 1 target, which includesevery receiver on the team.

The Patriots were wearing shorts and shells on Tuesday,and the two-hour practice began with Brady hosing down the rookies as they hadto slide through the mud and recover loose balls. Its not the most dangerousway to welcome the newcomers to the organization, but it also cant be toocomfortable practicing while soaking wet and completely muddy.

After that, it was business as usual, with Brady startingthings off by running through offensive sets from the two-yard line, using hisrunning backs and tight ends as his only targets.

Then it was time for the running backs and linebackers togo head-to-head with each other, with backup quarterback Brian Hoyer throwingthe passes. The highlight of this drill was linebacker Jerod Mayo playing roughwith the much smaller Danny Woodhead, knocking him to the ground just as theball got to him. Woodhead got up fine, and both players exchanged a friendlyhandshake.

The Gillette Stadium practice fields were hit with somerain for about 15 minutes, midway through the session, but that didnt stopanything.

Coach Bill Belichick continued to have his team run through11-on-11 drills for the rest of the practice, while mixing in some specialteams work throughout.

And even in the 11-on-11s Hernandez was the main target allday long.

The Patriots announced a roster move, waiving S Ross Ventrone and claiming rookie OL Mark Wetterer off waivers from Cincinnati, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston.

Danny Picard is on twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard.

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.