Patriots

La Russa, Crean appear as Belichick's guests at Patriots camp

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La Russa, Crean appear as Belichick's guests at Patriots camp

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, West Virginia – About 5 minutes prior to his media availability at the Greenbriar in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Bill Belichick emerged from the gleaming white sports complex with his right-hand man Berj Najarian in tow.

Nothing unusual there. But what happened next was. The appearance of legendary manager Tony La Russa and former Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean.

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They followed Belichick to his press conference and quickly became the topic of conversation when I asked the Patriots head coach if he was picking their brains prior to the practice. Belichick lit up.

“Yeah, we brought in a couple of big righties from the bullpen that can really throw hard and close it,” he said with a smile and laugh.

Belichick would expand on his relationship with both men. He met La Russa through author/writer Buzz Bissinger, who just so happened to go to high school with Belichick. Thus began a beautiful friendship.

“I’ll never forget the time he let me get in the dugout with him for an exhibition game,” Belichick recalled. “Baseball -- it seems like just throw it and hit it but there's a lot more to it than that. I saw just how much there is on every single pitch and the focus, concentration, all of that. . .  Different sports but Tony is very progressive. He had a great career as a manager, won a couple thousand games. I can't imagine what that's like but it must be pretty good. We've talked a lot about coaching teams, coaching players, dealing with different situations. He's been in a lot of big games, a lot of championships, World Series, things like that, different organizations. He's helped me a lot and given me a lot of insight."

La Russa doesn’t see it that way, noting there was a big difference in the way the two interacted.

"All I know is that when we're together, I'm asking the questions, he's talking and I'm taking notes,” said the former Cardinals skipper. “He's not taking my notes.”

La Russa, who’s now an advisor with the Arizona Diamondbacks, marvels at Belichick’s consistency in building his team year in and year out.

“I believe his ability and his staff's ability, and his team's ability to start at zero every year -- refuse to think about last year -- is an important part of why they are so consistent,” he admired. “It's true in our sport, too, like what Bobby Cox did in Atlanta. It's easy to celebrate the next year. The ability to turn the clock to zero is really impressive and very hard."

As for Crean, letting him attend practice is a great show of trust by Belichick. Crean is, after all, married to a Harbaugh. Yes, as in John and Jim. In fact, Crean was due in Baltimore’s training camp in the coming days.

"I've had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with Tom, watched him at Indiana,” said Belichick. “Again, different sport but I learned a lot from his organization. We speak pretty frequently. Different motivations, teachings, [but] coaching is coaching, even though the sport is different. Players are players, and there are different things you can do to help them. He is a very progressive guy."

Crean’s personality is contagious. He could sell you the car you already own, and had a few reporters ready to ditch our current careers and go back to whatever college he ends up at next. He’s clearly thought a lot about what makes Belichick special, and wasn’t afraid to share his thoughts on the subject.

"Everything matters every day,” said Crean. “As simple as that sounds, it's very complex and hard because there are so many things that can distract that, can interrupt that, can get in the way of it. When I think of fundamentals, and preaching the fundamentals and details on a day-to-day basis -- and then watching it come out in his team -- that's one place you're going to look. He leaves nothing to chance. It would be hard to imagine something missing his radar or the people that are around him. . . He's been very, very good to me, very helpful. I think that's one of the reasons he's such a great leader, great developer of teams, programs, players. He's always inquisitive -- he's helpful. You can get an idea of how great he is with his team because of the way he helps his friends."

When asked if he ever taught Belichick anything - as the Pats coach said - Crean laughed and quickly dismissed the notion. Regardless, it’s clear that Belichick has never been shy about expanding his horizons - sports, business leaders, ex-players, current ones - all in the name of improving as a coach and - as important - improving his team. There’s no disputing it’s worked. Look at all those rings.

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Tom Brady: Achilles injury 'nothing to worry about'

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Tom Brady: Achilles injury 'nothing to worry about'

FOXBORO — Within 30 seconds of his Friday press conference beginning, Tom Brady was talking about biscuits. That should tell you how small a deal he considers the Achilles tendon issue that kept him out of Wednesday’s practice. 

Brady practiced for the second straight day Friday, after which he confirmed that he will be good to go Sunday against the Dolphins. 

“I feel great. Ready to go, so I’ll be excited for Sunday and it feels good to get a little extra treatment,” Brady said. “I’m feeling great this time of year. It will be a fun week. Nothing to worry about.”

After that, Brady spoke about the aforementioned Thanksgiving biscuits of which he posted pictures on Instagram. He said they were good. Rob Gronkowski said he wanted some and that there would be “problems” if Brady didn’t bring any in for him. Everyone got a real kick out of it. 

It’s hard to imagine Brady’s status for Sunday having actually been up in the air. He has gone 134 consecutive regular-season games without missing time do to injury. His only absence in that span came in the form of last season’s four-game suspension for Deflategate. 
 

Friday Bag: By all accounts, Brady is well-heeled

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Friday Bag: By all accounts, Brady is well-heeled

I'm going dark meat to start things off. Love all meats here -- other than tofurky, which I'm not positive is a real thing -- but dark meat is the best value on the board. Give me a whole turkey leg (should qualify) and not only am I satiated, but I all of a sudden have something on my plate that few others do. Value! For potatoes, have to go mashed and gravy. My value game plan is already out the window, but I can't go with anything else. This will come back to bite me. Give me the bread stuffing and brussels for my sides. Not even factoring in cost here. When done right, those are my No. 1 and 2. Plenty of cash left. Feeling good. I'll take dinner rolls for the bread because all of those breads listed are just gravy sponges for me. Biscuits aren't $1,500 better than dinner rolls when it comes to absorption. OK. Dessert. Don't have as much cash as I thought, but this is fine. It's fine. I'm not a gotta-have-pumpkin-pie-or-it's-not-Thanksgiving guy. Give me apple and I'm happy. If I do that, I've only got $5,000 left. I'll take banana pudding pie for my final selection and use the leftover $500 for a scoop of Brigham's vanilla ice cream for my apple slice. 

Why yes, Jim. There’s my karaoke go-to “Brandy” by Looking Glass.  I also can do a nice rendition of Iggy Pop’s “Candy”, “4th of July Asbury Park (aka, Sandy)” by Bruce Springsteen, “Handy Man” by James Taylor, “Some Kind of Wonderful” by Grand Funk Railroad, “Laid” by James, “Bluer than Blue” by Michael Johnson, “J’aurais Toujours Faim De Toi” by The Police and James McMurtry’s “Choctaw Bingo,” which is the greatest song in American music. IMHO!

If the canned stuff is in front of me, I'm eating it. Not necessarily seeking it out, but I'll never scoff at it. No place for elitism at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Yes, Dave. Sometimes I just look at the Twitter question and think, “Hmmm. Good question. I don’t think I definitively know the answer to it . . . ” and then just scroll on by. However, in this instance, because of the promise made, I must respond. The answer is: I don’t know. Brady rarely has soft-tissue injuries because that’s everything his training and conditioning is aimed at stopping. I don’t know if this is just soreness or exertion-related or if someone stepped on the thing. Honestly, you’d prefer the latter because then it’s a trauma that would be healing as opposed to the thing being stretched like a banjo string. Either way, it was related to me that it’s not a big deal.

Not a huge concern, Rich. He was back at practice Thursday. Something to keep an eye on moving forward, but nothing to lose sleep over at this point. 

Happy Thanksgiving, Giant Wally. Neither has started practicing so it’s tough to handicap. Mitchell, to me, would be the safer choice if it were one or the other. Danny Amendola’s been brilliant but he’s got a ton on his plate and needs his workload trimmed. Mitchell could help with that (even if they don’t necessarily play the same spot in the offense). And Giardi? It’s eight years this month that he and I have worked together. Long road for two guys who worked at rival weeklies back in 1992 and 1993 (Barnstable Patriots for me; Falmouth Enterprise for him). Love having him on our team. Nobody does the hockey, baseball, football combo better nor does anyone else get in the trenches in locker rooms and press conferences and formulate fact-based opinions and analysis like he does. Big value in talking to players and coaches directly then passing it on to the audience.

If I'm the Patriots, I'd hold out hope that Mitchell can get to the point where he's healthy enough to contribute. He's on the right track, but he's still not practicing so we're in a holding pattern at the moment. The reason I'd go Mitchell over Valentine is that the Patriots are relatively thin at wideout. We're expecting Chris Hogan to come back and be himself eventually, but it looks like he's going to miss another game this weekend. Another injury to that spot and things would look dire there. Though the Patriots run defense could use the kind of boost that Valentine would provide, the Patriots can make up for deficiencies at defensive tackle a little bit easier. 

Absolutely, JT. The simple fact that the Patriots are 10 games into what will be a 17-to-19-game season means that the likelihood someone gets compromised physically is still pretty high. His relevance as a bigger back is presumably coming along with the cold and the wind. The Patriots have been screwing with bad coverage linebackers the past two weeks with Denver and Oakland and every other back is a better pass-catcher than Gillislee. I don’t think he’s been exiled. 

It's probably between Waddle and Jonathan Jones. Waddle has been tremendous in Marcus Cannon's absence, and Jones may have an argument as the team's most consistent corner from Week 1 until now. That says a lot about how Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore have played this year, but Jones' coverage has been sound, and his timing to contest passes has been impeccable. Kyle Van Noy deserves an honorable mention here as well. He's taken on the hybrid end/linebacker role with Dont'a Hightower out and more than held his own. Danny Amendola's volume of production would've been deemed a surprise, but with Julian Edelman out, not sure he qualifies. Always had the skill and trust from Tom Brady to do what he's doing. Just needed good health and opportunity. 

I'm looking on the defensive side. I'm looking at the front-seven in particular. I'm inclined to add to the edge with someone like Khalil Mack, Von Miller or Cameron Jordan -- all of whom are dynamic pass-rushers but would also excel against the run in Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. They need bodies there. But Aaron Donald -- who plays on the interior -- is just so talented that I wouldn't be able to pass him up. He'd rush the passer. He'd help their run defense. And he'd garner enough attention that it would make the others around him better. That's my choice. 

Just don’t call me late for DINNER!!!! Know what I mean Bob-O, Bobby, Bob-a-loo!!!!!!????? Happy Thanksgiving errrrryone. 

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