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Blount Happy to Be Back on the Field

By on August 1, 2015 at 1:37pm
blount 8-1 Photo courtesy Mike Reiss of ESPN.

“You want to be out there.”

That’s how LeGarrette Blount described his feelings after his first day at practice. Blount missed the first two days of practice due to a failed conditioning test. When he finally got onto the field on day three, he was New England’s best running back. He was physical and bruising as well as quick. He also got goal line carries during full team drills and appeared as though he hadn’t missed a beat for a Patriots offense that was glad to have him back.

When talking with reporters after practice, Blount was mostly evasive when speaking about his failed conditioning test, saying only that the test consisted of “conditioning” and that “I was out there the first day.”

When asked about the uncertainty surrounding Tom Brady, Blount took the cue from teammates and coaches and said that he could only worry about himself. He was also evasive when talking about his own suspension for the team’s first game stemming from a 2014 incident while he was a member of the Steelers.

With the departures of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen via free agency, the Patriots will likely need Blount to shoulder a heavy load this season. James White, Tyler Gaffney, and Jonas Gray could all contribute, but Blount is the most experienced of the group and despite his suspension week one, will still probably get the most carries especially later in games. Blount will turn 29 during the season, which is old for a running back. Durability hasn’t been an issue in Blount’s time with the Patriots but it will be something to monitor especially later in the season.

His one game suspension could open the door for another back, but it appears as though Blount will get every opportunity from the coaching staff to secure the lead back role. If today is any sign, he is going to take advantage.

 

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Day three of Patriots training camp was the first day in pads for the team and there were also a few fresh faces on the practice field. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley practiced for the first time and running back LeGarrette Blount was on the field for the first time this camp, evidence that he passed his conditioning test sometime within the past day. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower was wearing a red “no contact” jersey as he works his way back from offseason surgery.

The Patriots focused on special teams at several points. The kickoff team took the field at two separate points in practice and coach Bill Belichick concluded practice by having the field goal unit practice in full. Belichick also worked with punter Ryan Allen during practice.

Defensively, Logan Ryan and Jamie Collins stood out. Collins forced a fumble when he plastered Aaron Dobson during 11 on 11 drills, causing the offense to take a lap. Ryan had several impressive pass break ups in positional drills and 11 on 11 work. JaBaal Sheard also had some strong plays and rookie Trey Flowers looked explosive coming off the line during pass rushing drills. Malcolm Butler is looking like a player who is poised to start this season; he had several impressive plays and was a vocal member of the secondary. Rookie Malcom Brown also had a goal line stop during full team work.

Blount’s first practice was a good one as he showed his trademark physicality as well as good quickness and elusiveness. Dobson asserted himself on several occasions despite the fumble including a leaping catch in the corner of the end zone during drills and an impressive grab over rookie Darryl Roberts during 11 on 11s. As has occurred in the past, assistant coaches held large paddles up in front of the quarterbacks during drills to simulate long-armed defensive linemen with their hands up. Scott Chandler continues to show that he can be a great complement to Rob Gronkowski at tight end.

With it only being the third practice of camp and the first one in pads, much has yet to be determined for the 2015 Patriots. One thing that Patriots fans will be happy to hear is there appears to be no Super Bowl hangover in Foxboro. At this stage, health is the biggest thing and the Patriots are still working some key players back.

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In a surprising move, Robert Kraft stepped to the podium before coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday and came out strong against  a league office that he believes unfairly punished his team as well as Tom Brady. When Belichick stepped to the podium, he deflected all questions related to ball deflation or Brady, saying that he was on to training camp. Video of Kraft in full is below as well as Belichick deflecting Brady questions.

 

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brady-garoppolo

 

 

 

Tom Brady is the obvious choice to wrap the five most important Patriots heading into training camp series. The quarterback is entering this season amid something he has never dealt with before, a swirl of controversy. He is currently under a four game suspension and will sue the league in Federal Court to attempt to get the suspension wiped out. Even if he is exonerated in court and plays all 16 games, this story will not leave him anytime soon.

If he does have to serve any time. focus will switch to second year back-up and potential Brady heir Jimmy Garoppolo. If that situation occurs, Brady will have to help prepare Garoppolo while also coming to terms with the fact that he is guilty in the court and public’s eyes and will have to miss time. Brady is also cognizant of how he got his job in the first place, replacing a quarterback who could not play when Drew Bledsoe was injured in 2001.

Brady will have to deal with all this while also attempting to lead his team to a repeat as Super Bowl Champions. He also no longer has Shane Vereen or Stevan Ridley as well as a question mark at left guard. He is also one year older and not far removed from the September 2014 talk of his physical and performance decline. Of any quarterback in league history, Brady has done the most with less. However, 2015 will be his biggest test.

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I’m firm on this — if Tom Brady is unsuccessful in battling his ridiculous suspension in federal court, which may mean he won’t be in Gillette Stadium for the NFL opener. If that’s the case, then #NoBradyNoBanner!

#NoBradyNoBanner

#NoBradyNoBanner

Head coach Bill Belichick is always essential to the Patriots success, but the 2015 training camp will provide him with potential challenges that are beyond the norm. First, his team is fresh off a Super Bowl win in 2014 and will have to remain hungry and focused as the rest of the league is now working to take them off the top of the NFL mountain. Second, he still does not know which quarterback will start opening night and unlike other teams with that issue, this is not by design. Belichick has the best quarterback of all time on his roster, but as of now will not have him in September. He also has a defense with some major changes and an interior offensive line that is not quite figured out yet.

Belichick has always been a master as keeping his teams focused and turning any slight, real or perceived, into a mountain of motivation. The 2015 training camp will be a busy one for the hall of fame coach, as all the moving parts mentioned above will need to be squared away before the Thursday night opener against the Steelers. As of now, it looks like the NFL is going to uphold Tom Brady’s suspension (via ESPN), which will likely mean a court battle. This added distraction will be unlike a Belichick coached team has faced in a season. Although the Patriots fought through controversy in 2007 and 2013, they did not have their best player suing the league with a potential suspension hanging over his head.

If not handled properly, any one of the issues above could cost the Patriots games this season. There is little doubt that of all NFL coaches, Belichick is most likely to handle these situations well. The intriguing part of the 2015 training camp is that Belichick not only has coaching challenges (secondary, offensive guard), but major mental and off the field challenges as well.

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Gronk

Superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski lands at number three on the list of most important Patriots heading into training camp. Number two on the list will be posting Tuesday, stay tuned…

 

Rob Gronkowski is one of if not the most dynamic weapons in the NFL. No list of important players heading in to camp would be complete without him. Gronkowski finally had a season and postseason in which injuries did not play a major role in 2014, the first time that had happened since 2010. The result was dominance as Gronkowski re-established himself as one of the NFL’s premier weapons. He had 82 catches in the regular season for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the Patriots postseason run, Gronkowski hauled in 16 passes for 204 and three touchdowns, including one in Super Bowl XLIX.

With some potential early season quarterback uncertainty as Tom Brady waits to hear word on his appeal, Gronkowski’s presence in the New England offense will take on a greater importance than usual. If Jimmy Garoppolo is forced to start any games for New England, he will look the way of number 87 often. A great target at tight end can be huge for a young and inexperienced quarterback, and Garoppolo would have the premier player at the position to look to. Even if Brady’s suspension is completely wiped away, Gronkowski will still have a large role in the offense, as always.

Gronkowski is looking to have back to back fully healthy seasons and postseasons for the first time in his career. The one time that almost happened (2010- the AFC Championship game in 2011), Gronkowski was unquestionably the best tight end in the NFL and one of the best red zone targets out there. There is no reason to doubt that if Gronkowski stays healthy, he will be a major factor for New England this season. Regardless of who is throwing him the football to start the season, Gronkowski remains an opponent’s nightmare.

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