Patriots

Notes: Physicality picking up in training camp

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Notes: Physicality picking up in training camp

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Rain forced the Patriots inside their practice bubble on Monday afternoon. The urgency imposed this week by head coach Bill Belichick and his staff forced the aggression to escalate. There were several solid hits in the nearly three-hour practice but the best action centered --- as it has for most of this training cam -- around the second-year tight ends. Rob Gronkowski delivered two crunching blocks during practice, rag-dolling linebacker Gary Guyton on one and leveling safety Sergio Brown on the other. Meanwhile, tight end Aaron Hernandez got absolutely leveled by safety Patrick Chung. "I wasn't expecting it but it was still a good little pop and it got me aggravated," Hernandez admitted. "He plays hard and you gotta be ready at all times."On Saturday, Bill Belichick spoke about how important this week of preparation was to the team. The intensity seems to have been ratcheted up accordingly. Hernandez said a hit like Chung's is necessary to prepare a player for the season. He added,"you need to learn how to hold onto the ball which we learned last week."
Hernandez put the ball on theground twice in the preseason opener. Wes Welker confirmed personnel man Nick Caserio's contention that Welker's moving well in this camp.
"I feel great," Welker said. "I feel like I've gained a step from two years ago. This is the best I've felt in a long time and I just want to continue to play well and get better." Asked which aspect seems different, Welker said, "The main thing is getting off the ball and that's something I lacked a little bit before but that was last year."As for an appraisal of Chad Ochocinco, Welkerempathized with the transition, saying, "You can't ask any more of a guy coming in here and trying to learn the offense. It's frustrating at times as it was for me whenI first got here. There's always that learning curve."Specifically, what's difficult?
"There's just so much," he said. "So much language, so many signals, so many route conversions. It's all the way around it's not one thing it's so many things."Welker deftly eluded a question about entering the final year of his contract saying he's "concentrating on the here and now." Ochocinco seemed perturbed when a sideline throw from Tom Brady wasn't where Ocho wanted. Ocho blurted out a loud, "Come on, man!" The two players had a running dialogue over the next few minutes. Defensive end Andre Carter was outstanding in 1-on-1 drills against linemen. Fellow DEs Eric Moore and Mark Anderson toiled after practice for several minutes working on their 1-on-1 moves as well. Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, James Sanders and Mike Wright all worked out separate from the team on Monday.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran.

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.