Patriots: Polamalu still 'head of the class'

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Patriots: Polamalu still 'head of the class'

Patriots players return to Gillette Stadium on Tuesday, but the coaching staff is already back to work after the bye week, and while continuing preparation for Pittsburgh, coach Bill Belichick said the Steelers "look good as usual" and use a lot of the same plays and schemes as last year when they were AFC Champions.

Also playing similarly to last year, according to the Patriots, is safety Troy Polamalu, who's the returning Defensive Player of the Year.

In a conference call on Monday, Belichick was asked about Polamalu, and the injuries he's had this season. But the Patriots coach doesn't believe he's struggled one bit.

"Wasn't he Defensive Player of the Year last year? It's not like he didn't do anything," said Belichick. "He's just one of the top defensive players in the league."

Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien agreed.

"You look at Troy Polamalu in his ninth year. The guy's playing as good as any safety in the league," said O'Brien on Monday's conference call. "You've got to know where this guy is, on every single play. He's a very instinctive player. He's a guy that can really disrupt the game, if you don't have knowledge of where he is on every play. He's playing really fast . . . He's one of many defenders on that defense that's going to be tough to go against. He's at the head of the class."

The Patriots also praised Pittsburgh's offense on Monday, and more specifically, wide receiver Mike Wallace.

"He's a big-play receiver," said Belichick. "He's really fast. There's no way you're going to catch him. So, you've got to be careful about how much space he gets when he catches the ball. But I think he's improved a lot from when we played him last year."

"He was big, and could always run in college," said Nick Caserio. "He's just become more consistent in all phases: route running, catching the ball, understanding coverages, just understanding how the defense is playing. And really, these last couple years, including this year, he's played at a very high level."

Patriots get roster exemption for Ebner, add TE Pascoe and OL Halapio

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Patriots get roster exemption for Ebner, add TE Pascoe and OL Halapio

FOXBORO -- The Patriots, as expected, have been given a roster exemption for safety Nate Ebner. Therefore, while Ebner is playing for the USA Rugby Men's Sevens team in the Rio Olympics, his spot will not count against New England's 90-man roster. 

"I’ve talked to Nate several times," coach Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. "Wish him well in his endeavor. It’s a great opportunity for him to follow his passion, participate in the Olympic Games. We’re pulling for him to bring back something around his neck."

With the roster exemption, the Patriots found themselves at 88 players on their roster. In order to fill their last two openings, they signed offensive lineman Jon Halapio and tight end Bear Pascoe, Belichick announced. 

Halapio, a product of the University of Florida, was a sixth-round selection by the Patriots in 2014. He was released at the end of training camp that year, and he later landed on the Broncos practice squad in December of 2014. Before the start of last season, Halapio signed with the Cardinals. He was released on Sept. 5. 

In between NFL gigs, Halapio has spent time with the Boston Brawlers and the Brooklyn Bolts, both of the Fall Experimental Football League. 

Pascoe, 30, is in his eighth NFL season. He has spent time with the Giants, Falcons and Lions, primarily as a blocking tight end. In his career, the 6-foot-5, 257-pounder has caught 40 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns in 85 career games. 

Ebner will participate in the Olympic rugby competition with Team USA beginning on Aug. 6, and fellow Patriots special teams ace Mathew Slater will be paying attention.

"I’m just so happy for him," Slater said. "And I know why rugby means so much to him, and many of us are familiar with the situation with his father, and his father obviously introduced him to the game of [rugby]. So, that connection with father and son is bigger than sport itself.

"I know this means a great deal to him and we’re all excited for him. I’m just trying to figure out where I can get my Ebner rugby jersey. I’ll be supporting him and watching him along the way."