Patriots see room for improvement in return game

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Patriots see room for improvement in return game

FOXBORO -- Patriots special teams coach Scott O'Brien didn't waste any time making his presence felt on Thursday. He could be heard across the practice field as he coached kick return blockers just a few minutes into the day's practice session.

"Drop your weight," he screamed, "and move him!"

Though it was early in the afternoon, this drill was more than a warm-up. He was teaching, and there was an urgency in his voice as he demanded that the big men in front of his returners perfected their technique on pad-wielding defenders.

"I want to hear the pad," O'Brien bellowed.

Special teams has always been an area of concern in New England. Head coach Bill Belichick is usually quick to emphasize that their are three phases to the game, not two. But in the last year, the kick return game has received extra attention because there has been significant room for improvement.

The Patriots were 29th in the NFL last season in yards per return at 21.4.

Kick returns in general were down to 53.5 percent year -- lowest in league history according to CBSSports.com -- because of a rule that moved the kickoff line five yards forward. More kicks were returned in the colder months, Belichick explained on Thursday, but that still didn't help the Patriots' performance.

No matter the weather, he wasn't pleased with the results from their return game.

"We didn't return them very well in any conditions at any time, and still haven't based on the New Orleans game," Belichick said. "That's obviously an area that we can improve in that we have worked hard in, but based on the results still need to do a lot more work on.

"It's an important area of the game, a big momentum play, a way to answer the opponent's score or the start of the half, whatever the situation is there. It's a big play in the game an an important play in the game. We put a lot of stock in that, as we do every play."

The Patriots have tinkered with their kick returners since return specialist Brandon Tate left before the 2011 season. Matthew Slater has seen time as a returner, as has Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman. In recent practices, it appears Donte' Stallworth and Shane Vereen have been the top pair asked to return kicks.

Stallworth is one of the faster players on the team -- when he came into the league, he ran a 4.2 second 40-yard dash -- while Vereen is a shiftier runner, who has shown good vision in limited action.

Belichick was asked Thursday for his thoughts on Jeff Demps, a rookie free agent and Olympic sprinter, who plans to play football this season. Demps' speed might make him an immediate candidate to return kicks wherever he lands.

The Patriots scout every player, Belichick said. But he noted that Demps wasn't at the combine and didn't have a spring workout.

"He's a running back, he's returned kicks, he's fast," Belichick said when asked for a scouting report. "I'm sure you could dig that out."

It remains to be seen if Stallworth, Vereen, or someone unexpected -- like Demps -- will be the solution to New England's return issues. Whoever the Patriots call upon will receive plenty of instruction -- and hear plenty from O'Brien -- as Belichick seems intent on improving that element of his team's game.

Brady legal team granted 14-day extension

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Brady legal team granted 14-day extension

Tom Brady’s legal team, including recent hire former US Solictor General Ted Olson, have been granted the extension they were seeking for the deadline to file for a rehearing in the Deflategate case. 

Despite the NFL’s opposition - lawyers for the league requested Monday that the motion be denied - the court ruled Tuesday in favor of the NFLPA and Brady. They now have until May 23 to file the request for a rehearing or rehearing en banc with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which last week reinstated his four-game Deflategate suspension.

Once Team Brady makes the request, the court still has to agree to take up the case again. And while many legal experts speculate the odds of that happening are low, this case has continued to confound observers as it has played out. 

 

Massarotti: Moving on from Garoppolo makes me nervous

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Massarotti: Moving on from Garoppolo makes me nervous

Tony Massarotti says if the team thinks Jimmy Garoppolo has something, don’t trade him because Tom Brady has more time left than they thought.

NFL wants Brady, NFLPA to move it along with their rehearing request

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NFL wants Brady, NFLPA to move it along with their rehearing request

UPDATE, 4:55 P.M. : Despite NFL opposition, the court rules for Tom Brady’s legal team and grant them until May 23 to file a request for rehearing.

It looks like the NFL is finally ready to put this whole Deflategate thing to bed. And now that it's won the most recent court decision, the sooner the better, it seems. 

Tom Brady and the NFLPA requested a 14-day extension to file their petition for a rehearing in front of the entire Second Ciruit Court of Appeals, which would double the normal amount of time typically granted to request a rehearing. 

But the league made a court filing on Monday saying "there is no need" for an extension beyond the normal 14-day window.

"The first pre-season game is just over three months away," wrote Paul Clement, co-lead counsel for the NFL. "Time remains of the essence."

Last week, the Second Circuit's three-judge panel ruled that Roger Goodell was within his rights as commissioner of the NFL to punish Brady with a four-game suspension due to Deflategate. As a result, district judge Richard Berman's initial decision on the case was overturned and Brady's suspension was reinstated.

Soon after the ruling was handed down, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah joined the Dan Patrick Show and explained that Brady and his team expected to have two weeks to put together its rehearing request. He did not, at that point, make reference to wanting extra time.

"I think the process now, we want to try to figure out and weigh all the options," Atallah said. "I think we'll do that in the next couple days. We have 14 days from the time of the decision to take any action or pursue any further appeal if we want, and I think we'll probably take up most of that time."

As soon as the request is filed, according to Pro Football Talk, it will act as a stay on Brady's suspension. That means he'll be eligible to play until a) the request is denied or b) the request is accepted, heard by the whole Second Circuit, and the ruling goes to the NFL.

If Option B is the scenario that plays out, it could take months, meaning it's possible Brady could play the entire 2016 season before a ruling comes down.