Edelman showing toughness as a returner

594808.jpg

Edelman showing toughness as a returner

FOXBORO -- On Sunday, special teams coach Scott O'Brien was asked what qualities make up a good punt returner. The first he named was toughness.

"It's like having to run through a door and you don't know what's at the other end," he said.

The metaphor could be applied to Julian Edelman's NFL career.

A college quarterback, he became a receiver in the pros. Last year, his third, he had just four catches, playing most snaps as a defensive back instead. He should at least have 'D' off his plate to start 2012, as a source says the plan for Edelman is "all offense."

Still, his most consistent progression might be in the return game.

"He's like a lot of examples through the history of the National Football League," said O'Brien. "Had no experience doing it, had some natural instincts, pretty good ball skills.

"But there is a learning process with all returners, no matter what experience they've had in the past because of the schemes and the coverage principles that we have to deal with here. It becomes a learning process of how they do things besides just the physical skills they do have."

Not just any talented player can step in on returns. Aaron Hernandez botched a fair catch on Friday. Pat Chung misjudged one -- fielding a punt near his own 2-yard line -- during minicamp.

Edelman said special teams work takes patience. Even in the offseason, even on his own time.

"I do find punters though, wherever I'm at. When I was in Los Angeles I found this kid and he would punt the ball to me Tuesdays and Thursdays. There's little drills that you can do where you're throwing towels, tennis balls, whiffle balls, just to get your vision where it needs to be. I'd have a buddy out there who'll try to run and put pressure on me."

O'Brien sees Edelman's biggest progression in field awareness. It's a big step forward for the 26-year old, just not the last step.

"This will be my fourth year -- not that Ive played in a lot of games and not that Im where I want to be, and I have a long way to go -- but anytime you get a lot of reps at something, youre naturally going to feel a little more comfortable with it," he said. "Were going in the direction we want to."

Overall team improvement is needed.

New England's 21.4-yard kick return average in 2011 ranked 29th in the league. Edelman returned 12 of the 46 team attempts. As the Patriots have rotated various guys in for reps since minicamp -- Donte' Stallworth, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Devin McCourty, Chung -- competition could heat up in search for the right fit.

Edelman? He'll keep hanging tough.

"I'm confident, but never comfortable."

Deal is done: Patriots announce they've traded Stork for conditional 7th rounder

stork-gallery_0.jpg

Deal is done: Patriots announce they've traded Stork for conditional 7th rounder

FOXBORO -- The Patriots didn't release third-year center Bryan Stork, though they informed him they would do so early on Wednesday. Instead, they traded him to the Redskins. 

The deal was announced on Wednesday afternoon. In return for the former fourth-round pick out of Florida State, the Patriots received a conditional 2017 seventh-round pick from Washington.

Stork is reportedly mulling retirement. If he does not report to the Redskins, and the conditions of the deal are not met, the Patriots would not receive compensation.

The seventh-round pick would provide the Patriots with a seventh-rounder in 2017 that they didn't have when the day began. The team traded its original seventh-rounder to the Lions last season in exchange for tight end Michael Williams.

(The Patriots could, in theory, receive a seventh-rounder from the Lions since they received a conditional seventh in a trade for linebacker Jonathan Bostic, who was sent to Detroit in May. But because Bostic is recovering from foot surgery, the conditions of that trade may prevent the pick from ever making its way to New England.)

The Patriots informed Stork of his release early Wednesday, but before that move was processed, the Patriots and Redskins were able to work out a deal. 

Stork has had difficulty staying healthy as a pro, his emotions sometimes got the best of him on the field, and teammate David Andrews had beaten him for the starting center role with the Patriots. Still, Stork's teammate and friend Jimmy Garoppolo said it was tough to see Stork move on.

Despite the question marks that accompany Stork's arrival in Washington -- that is, if he decides to report -- the Redskins were more than willing to pay the modest price to acquire him. They are desperate for help at the center position.

Gronkowski returns to practice; Mason, Branch still missing

patriots-rob-gronkowski-061316.jpg

Gronkowski returns to practice; Mason, Branch still missing

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had a welcome face back on the practice field on Wednesday, as tight end Rob Gronkowski returned to action after missing the team's previous five practices as he dealt with an injury. 

Gronkowski participated in the warmup period of practice and then remained with the majority of his teammates for drills. 

The last time Gronkowski was spotted on the field was last Monday, which was the first of three joint practices between the Patriots and the Bears. He pulled up after pursuing a Tom Brady pass, walked along the sideline, met with head trainer Jim Whalen, and then left practice early. He did not suit up for Thursday's game against Chicago. 

Gronkowski has not participated in a preseason game since 2012. 

Patriots not spotted at Wednesday's practice were Shaq Mason, Jonathan Cooper, Sebastian Vollmer (on the physically unable to perform list) and Dion Lewis (also on PUP). Alan Branch, who has been suspended by the team before last week's preseason game, was also missing. 

Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Malcolm Mitchell, Shea McClellin, Tre' Jackson (PUP) and Danny Amendola (PUP) were present for warmups but went to a lower field for conditioning. Amendola and Jackson were not in pads for the short-and-shells session. 

Jon Bon Jovi was taking in the session alongside Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft.