Brady ratchets up the intensity in Patriots camp

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Brady ratchets up the intensity in Patriots camp

FOXBORO - Toward the tail end of practice on Sunday, the heat, the humidity and Tom Brady's competitive edge combined. One mistake too many led to offensive lineman Donald Thomas beginning a penalty lap with some loud Brady admonitions raining down on him from behind.

It doesn't start for real this week when the Saints roll into town. But it's the beginning of the beginning of real games.

And he wants it to be right sooner rather than later.

"You take six months off, so theres quite about a bit of time between February and when we start," Brady explained. "Theres a new group and youre doing new things and the communications different thats why were practicing. You get out here in this situation and its an important situation, were working on the two-minute and you cant afford mistakes, you know all 11 of us have to be on the same page. Thats why we do the two-minute at the end of practice, because youre tired, youre drenched in sweat and thats when your concentration needs to be at its best because thats when the game is on the line."

After a dozen days of practices, it's good to hear talk of "games" and not perfecting fundamentals and "just getting better every day."

It's an indication that the urgency of inter-team competition is about to take over.

Brady wouldn't go so far as to say he's looking forward to the Saints practices and preseason game as a measuring stick, though. It is, it seems, all about how the Patriots perform. The opponent is irrelevant.

"Well see how it goes," he said of the Saints practices, which begin Tuesday. "I think weve done it before, so hopefully we can get a lot out of it. Theyre the Saints a very good team. Its fun to have a game week and weve been trying to string practices together. Weve had some good ones, weve had some ones that havent been great and you try to learn from your mistakes and come back and not repeat them. So now you get to see a different set of defenses, opponents, matchups and personnel and were going to see where were at."

With the reduced amount of on-field practice time under the new CBA, there's been an adjustment in terms of preparation.

Brady addressed that, saying, "There hasnt been as much on-the-field work, but youve got to take advantage when youre on the field. Everyones really at the same spot. Were all playing by the same set of rules. Whoever maximizes their time on the field, their time on the walkthrough, is going to have an advantage. I think our coaches put a lot of emphasis on the walkthroughs and in the meeting rooms. Certainly when we get on the field were not expected to come out here and make a bunch of mistakes; because were only coming out here once a day weve got to bring the intensity and weve got to get things right."

And bringing his intensity is a priority.

"As an older player its not like I have to study my playbook a ton," he pointed out. "I mean I know what were doing, I know why were doing it and I know the calls. Its more mentally making sure that you bring emotion and energy and making sure that you have the enthusiasm and the execution is good.

"Everyone is working on something. Its not like you can just go through the motions out here or else you dont improve. Im competing just like everybody else. Im competing for my role and my spot and trying to be a good leader and trying to set a good example as a quarterback. I think thats my challenge: to come out here every day and bring everything that I have to try to make us a better team. "

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

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Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test. 
 

Report: Bennett playing with cracked bone, bone chips in ankle

Report: Bennett playing with cracked bone, bone chips in ankle

FOXBORO -- Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett admitted last week that he has been dealing with a variety of physical ailments throughout the course of his first season with the Patriots. "I've been fighting through [expletive] the whole year," he said, "and I'm not gonna stop now."

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

Bennett suffered a knee injury against the Texans last week that limited him in practices leading up to the AFC title game, but he's also had to cope with ankle and shoulder issues for much of the season.

On Sunday, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted: "Patriots love Martellus Bennett's toughness. Example: He plays with a cracked bone [and] bone chips in his ankle. Surgery likely this spring."

Bennett initially showed up on the Patriots injury report with an ankle issue after having his leg twisted awkwardly during a win over the Browns in Week 5. It hampered him for much of the regular season, and he seemed to aggravate it further while being tackled during a Week 12 victory at Met Life Stadium over the Jets. The following week, a win against the Rams, Bennett admitted he had what was probably his worst game of the season.

Bennett has continually played as the top tight end on the Patriots roster since Rob Gronkowski landed on injured reserve. He played in 64 of a possible 69 offensive snaps against the Texans in the Divisional Round, and he has played at least 43 snaps each week since the Patriots' bye in Week 9. For the season, he has played in 78 percent of New England's offensive snaps.

Bennett is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. He'll turn 30 years old in March.