By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - We hadn't had a chance to speak to rookie corner Alfonzo Dennard until Thursday.
The well-regarded rookie corner whose stock plummeted just before the draft after an arrest in Lincoln, Nebraska had been kept under wraps.
But his athleticism and skill - even on the first day - was hard to overlook. Wearing No. 37, Dennard got beat on plenty of plays. But he also showed excellent short-area burst, a build ideal for playing the "star" position against the opposition's slot receiver, and a touch of aggressiveness.
"Alfonzo's done a good job of trying to pick things up here," Bill Belichick said Friday before the Patriots' second training camp practice. "Our system's a little different than what they ran at Nebraska. He's worked hard and he also got a lot of attention there the first couple days before everyone else got here. That was good for him to get a little bit extra coaching, extra time."
Dennard was viewed as a late first-rounder when the college season began in late 2012. As the season wore along, he suffered an injury that dropped his stock just a bit. But an arrest a week before the draft sent his stock plummeting. It wasn't until the seventh round that the Patriots pulled the string.
Dennard could end up being a huge bargain if he plays to his athletic potential. If he fails to do that, the damage isn't too significant.
"I'm just trying to learn the playbook and learn from the veterans as much as I can," said Dennard. "I'm just trying to play football, I don't try to idolize anybody."
As for his court date on assaulting a policeman?
"It's over and done," Dennard said. "I'm just trying to keep my mind level on football and stay focused."
Actually, it's not over and done. He's due to go on trial for his alleged infraction in December.
NEW ORLEANS - Devonta Freeman practically wore out the Superdome turf with one long gain after another, Tevin Coleman wouldn't be denied near the goal line and the New Orleans Saints hardly looked like the team that made an emotional homecoming nearly 10 years ago to the day.
Cheers turned to boos, and many fans filed out early.
Coleman rushed for three touchdowns, Matt Ryan passed for two TDs and Deion Jones returned an interception 90 yards for a score to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the winless New Orleans Saints 45-32 on Monday night.
"It was real fun. Everybody was doing their job and everybody was playing for each other," Coleman said. "Everything clicked, and we got it done. It's a real big win for us to beat this team here."
The game coincided with New Orleans' celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Saints' memorable return to the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006, 13 months after Hurricane Katrina. But there would be no reprise of New Orleans' dominant and emotional 23-3 triumph over Atlanta a decade ago.
The Saints' depleted defense struggled to slow Freeman, who rushed for 152 yards and caught five passes for 55 yards. Coleman also was effective in the passing game out of the backfield, with three receptions for 47 yards to go with his 42 yards rushing.
"We have to stop the run better," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "They were over 200 yards in situations where you knew the run was coming, even at the end of the game."
Ryan finished with 240 yards passing for Atlanta (2-1), which did not turn the ball over and moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
Drew Brees put up his usual big numbers - 376 yards and three TDs passing - and hit tight end Coby Fleener seven times for 109 yards and a TD. But Brees' tipped pass that resulted in Jones' TD return early in the fourth quarter gave the Falcons a 45-25 lead that proved too much for New Orleans to overcome.
Devin McCourty says the early season results show the New England Patriots have bought in to what the coaches are saying