Patriots O-line gets first look without Light, Mankins, Waters

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Patriots O-line gets first look without Light, Mankins, Waters

FOXBORO -- The Patriots' offensive line is a work in progress.

They'll tell you that every position is always a work in progress. But realistically, without Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Brian Waters, they have some holes to fill.

The first glimpse of how Bill Belichick will fill those holes was evident on Thursday night in the team's preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium.

The first offensive line that Belichick threw on the field consisted of Nate Solder at left tackle, Donald Thomas at left guard, Dan Koppen at center, Dan Connolly at right guard, and Marcus Cannon at right tackle.

It was a first possession that saw Brady get pressured, and even strip-sacked by Saints defensive end Will Smith at his own 40-yard line, to give the Saints the ball, and the eventual 3-0 lead on an ensuing field goal.

"We knew going into the game that they were just going to give us basic protection," said Smith afterwards. "So we just wanted to get a good rush, the four-man rush that we have been working on all camp. I got a good angle on him and got past them. It's always good to get a sack, especially against Brady. It helped our team score, so, we got points on the board."

Smith was knocked wide out of the pocket by Solder, but as Brady held the ball, Smith eventually got back into the play and hit Brady hard.

Solder said afterwards that he didn't remember the play specifically, but did admit that he needs to improve blocking Brady's back side.

"There's a lot of things that I felt more comfortable with," said Solder. "With that being said, there's a lot of things that I know I need to improve, because I've seen some of the good competition out there. I know that maybe I'm not to where I want to be yet."

In the Patriots' second possession, Belichick replaced Koppen with Ryan Wendell at center. He stayed with Wendell in that spot with the top unit for the rest of the game.

Belichick wouldn't go into specifics about any movement on the offensive line.

"We played a lot of people at every position," said Belichick afterwards. "So, I don't think there was any position that we didn't play a lot of people. That's what these games are for, to evaluate the players."

Smith's sack wasn't the only sign of pressure that the Saints put on the Patriots Thursday night. But still, he doesn't think New England's offensive line will look like it does now, when the regular season begins.

"It's still early," said Smith. "They're banged up. I don't think that's going to be their starting lineup come Week 1. But we know they're gonna be a good team and possibly a team we're gonna see later on down the road."

Curran: Too early to read anything into Patriots' practice groupings

Curran: Too early to read anything into Patriots' practice groupings

FOXBORO – On Thursday, we noted that the early part of Patriots practice -- 7-on-7 passing -- had Tom Brady running with the starters. When 11-on-11s came, it was Jimmy Garoppolo The Patriots flipped it on Friday. 

A major part of training camp is seeing who’s running with whom to get an idea of which way the coaching staff is leaning. But not all reps are created equal, as Bill Belichick pointed out Thursday morning. 

“There’s a balance,” he explained. “Players that will probably play together, you let them work together, but you never really know how that’s going to go. And in the end everybody’s got to work with everybody until those things get worked out, get declared. 

“I don’t think we’re really in that spot yet,” he added. “But, you know, you get into the season and you want a certain receiver running a certain route, a certain situation, that’s who it’s going to be. I don’t think we’re really there. Offensively, we’re just installing our offense. We don’t even have 50 percent of our red-area offense [installed], and that’s what we worked on yesterday so we’re a long way from really trying to nail down a lot of specifics. But you saw some times in practice where the quarterbacks would be working with an individual receiver, maybe during a special-teams period, things like that. There’s some of that but we’re not in that full-scale mode yet.”

And it will take a while before you can really read the tea leaves on groupings and figure out who is near the top of the depth chart. Some guys are still in 100-level classes. Others are more highly evolved.

“Everybody can work with everybody, that’s not a problem -- I’d say the knowledge base, the overall level of execution of certain things is higher in one group than it is in another group. We have some players with less experience spending more times on the basics and the fundamentals, Not that they don’t practice some of the little more sophisticated things, but that’s not the point of emphasis for them. It’s for them to work on their fundamentals and more of the basics first. But it’s a balance, it’s a tough thing in camp that you’ve got to balance, and at some point you’ve got to turn the corner and get your players that are going to be ready to play, whoever those are, ready to play.”

That time’s not now. And it may not come in force until after the Bears and Saints joint practices and preseason games. So take every report of reps and combinations with a grain of salt for the short term. And we’ll keep pumping them out.  

Bennett on chemistry with QBs: 'I've dated two girls at the same time before'

Bennett on chemistry with QBs: 'I've dated two girls at the same time before'

FOXBORO -- Martellus Bennett has what may be seen as a difficult task this summer: Pick up some measure of chemistry with not one but two new quarterbacks as he learns the Patriots offense. 

Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo have different skill sets, different arm slots and different release points. Their timing with their throws probably isn't identical, either. Still, Bennett has to figure out how to get in lockstep with both while deciphering a complicated offense with a playbook built up over 16 years. 

But the challenge of working in unison with two quarterbacks shouldn't be much of a challenge at all, Bennett explained. 

"I've dated two girls at the same time before," Bennett said with a laugh. "That's the old Martellus though."

During his short time in New England, Bennett has shown he is not afraid to engage in colorful back-and-forths with reporters, and Friday was no different. 

Here are some other highlights from Bennett's interaction with the media on Day 2 of training camp: 

* On if he could see himself in New England long-term (Bennett is currently in the last year of his contract): "Yeah. I don't really think about next year. Right now, I'm just trying to have the most fun playing football this year. It could be taken from me at any time. I didn't get to finish the season last year. For me, it's just a joy to be out there playing and enjoying the game. I'm enjoyig the process and making progress every single day. I'm haven't even thought about tomorrow, I'm just worried about my todays."

* On the pressure to perform for his new club: "I always feel pressure to perform. It's a performance-based game. If you don't perform, they move on from you. Every single player out here has pressure to perform. It's our lives on the line, it's our careers. Every single day, you just try to show them what you can do. That way you can get a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more. I've always had that pressure on myself. I don't play for myself. I play for my family. My wife and my daughter and my teammates so I have pressure on me every single day because if I don't play well, it affects my wife and my daughter so that's my mentality when I come on the field."

* On what it's like to play with Brady versus other quarterbacks: "I wouldn't compare apples and oranges. I've been fortunate to play with a lot of great quarterbacks. With Tom, he's just really good. I just tell [teammates] every day: 'Man, you guys are lucky, you guys have played with Tom Brady forever.' He's just a really good quarterback."

* On competitiveness he's seen from Brady, who spiked a helmet on Friday : "He's been competitive even when we're just working out. It's fun because he plays at such a high level that you have to match that level. Oil and vinegar don't mix. You just want to make sure you rise to the top when he rises to the top as well."

* On where he sees players on the team exhibit competitiveness: "Everywhere. Even in the cafeteria."

* On how it feels to get back on the football field: "It's like when you break up and you finally get back with the girl that you love in the first place."