Patriots veterans trust in team's youth movement

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Patriots veterans trust in team's youth movement

FOXBORO -- First it was Donte' Stallworth. Then Jabar Gaffney. Then came Dan Koppen, Deion Branch and Brian Hoyer. One by one, veterans fell, casualties of training camp cuts. And with them went the Patriots' average age.

Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe pointed out over the weekend that of all the teams fielded by Bill Belichick during his tenure with the Patriots, this is the youngest roster he will take into a Week 1 game.

It's a youth movement that's opened eyes in the locker room.

"Yeah this locker room is starting to make me feel old now," Wes Welker said. "But it's been good. A lot of energy, a lot of energetic type guys and young guys. And, you know, I think the main thing is focusing day in and day out and understand it's a long season and you gotta keep on maturing and keep on playing well throughout the season."

Logan Mankins -- all of 30 years old -- joked about it, too.

"I am getting old," he said. "See all this gray hair? I guess it happens to us all."

Between New England's young tackles and tight ends, Mankins may find himself surrounded by relative whippersnappers, but he trusts them as he trusts veterans. He doesn't really have much of a choice.

"We are a lot younger team," he said. "Some older guys are gone so you just gotta count on each other that they're going to do their job, put in the film study, put in their work on the field so hopefully it shows up on Sundays."

The defense is where the Patriots have seen the most significant infusion of youth. Its starters, including rookies Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, average 25 years old. Second-rounder Tavon Wilson also worked his way into a prominent role for the defense during training camp. And second-year corner Ras-I Dowling should also contribute a great deal to the secondary when healthy.

"To be honest with you, I think we have a mature group," said Jerod Mayo, now in his fifth season one of the elder statesmen of the defense. "Guys come to work every day. They come in early and leave late. We're fortunate to have them."

But even Mayo knows there's no substitute for experience, and he's hoping that the enormity of playing in their first regular season NFL game doesn't get the best of his rookie teammates, from whom much is expected.

"It's definitely an unknown," he said. "We talk about the different speeds of the game, we talk about the preseason, the regular season and the playoffs. But I'm sure those guys . . . We've been prepared. We've been preparing, and the coaches have been doing an unbelievable job of getting us ready."

Thuney stands out in first day of one-on-one work

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Thuney stands out in first day of one-on-one work

FOXBORO -- With the introduction of fully-padded practices typically comes the opportunity for linemen on both sides of the football to shine. Unfortunately for the Patriots offensive line, Saturday was sort of a rough day.

Guard Jonathan Cooper, who has been playing as the right guard on the first offensive line unit through the early portion of camp, had to be carted off the field with a foot injury. Center Bryan Stork left practice in the middle of the workout for an undisclosed reason. Guard Shaq Mason took off for some conditioning on a lower field soon after practice began. And, while healthy enough to be on the field, Marcus Cannon had difficulty trying to keep defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard in check. 

One of the bright spots for offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia's group was rookie third-round pick Joe Thuney. The North Carolina State product has served as the left guard for the first-team offensive line thus far, and he more than held his own when the hitting commenced. 

He never appeared out of sorts next to left tackle Nate Solder, he blocked up to and through the echo of the whistle on a play-to-play basis, and he was one of the most impressive Patriots -- rookie or otherwise -- during the first one-on-one period for linemen during this year's camp. 

On his first snap, he was matched up across from last year's first-round pick Malcom Brown and held his ground against the team's top defensive tackle. Later, Thuney handled veteran free-agent pickup Frank Kearse. And on his final rep, he walled off second-year player Trey Flowers. 

For Thuney's part, those few minutes, encouraging as they might have been, had to be flushed from his memory quickly. 

"You can't think too much into one specific drill," he said. "You just gotta try and take it one play at a time and not put too much stock in one drill or one rep. If you have a bad one, just move past it. If you have a good one, move past that too and just go to the next play."

Thuney's aggressiveness and his understanding of the playbook to this point have to be as encouraging to the Patriots coaching staff as -- what appears to be, at least -- his sound technique.  

Mild-mannered in his interactions with reporters, Thuney was touted as a versatile and intelligent player coming out of college. He gushed about his college teammate Jacoby Brissett's leadership qualities soon after Brissett was drafted by the Patriots in May, and he's gone viral for his ability to slay the Rubik's Cube in a blink. 

He has some nasty to him, though. 

"I think inside every offensive lineman there's an inherent desire to play through the whistle," he said. "Obviously we don't want to play dirty or anything, but we try and play as hard as we can from whistle-to-whistle. And yeah...I do take pride in that." 

Thuney wasn't the only rookie lineman to play well on Saturday. When Cooper went down, it was sixth-rounder Ted Karras who began to see more work. 

Together, they caught the eye of at least one veteran defensive lineman. 

"They're physical," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "That's a good start. Obviously they'll have to work on different techniques. Coming from college you have different terminology, a different playbook, a different style of game probably. 

"I try to help them out as much as I can even though we go at it. After the play if I feel something, I'll definitely share with them, whether [to] help them going up against myself or help them in the long run because we're all on the same team at the end of the day."

Whatever lessons Thuney's received thus far -- whether they're from coaches or from teammates on the other side of the line of scrimmage -- it looks like he's taken them to heart.

Patriots excited by massive fan turnout for Saturday's practice

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Patriots excited by massive fan turnout for Saturday's practice

FOXBORO -- For years now, Patriots training camp practices have become an event. The opportunity to get an autograph, the sunny weather and the non-existent entry fee all make the two-hours-or-more practices a significant draw. 

But rarely do the crowds get as big as they were on Saturday. Fans filled the bleachers and lined the ramps that scale the outside of Gillette Stadium just to get a glimpse of what Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots were up to. 

The team's official Twitter account announced after practice that a whopping 21,781 fans had been in attendance. 

"It's awesome," said defensive end Chris Long, who spent the first eight years of his career in St. Louis without ever having made the playoffs. 

"As if being in pads the first day isn't exciting enough, you come out and these fans give you a real boost. It just speaks to the passion that these fans have. We're warming up in the hot tub, and we can see the fans filing in on ESPN or NFL Network. They beat us out on the field. It's pretty cool what they've got going here."

Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, a Connecticut native who grew up following the Patriots, has spent time with the Redskins, Broncos and Jaguars, but Saturday's crowd caught his attention. 

"If I wasn't playing, I'd be up there too," he said. "This is a winning franchise and . . . the fans are loyal. This is a place that I've played at in the past, and the games are always sold out and the fans will give you a hard time when you're on the opposing team. I just happen to be on the good side now."

The Patriots are in the middle of their first stretch of five consecutive days of practice. Two of their first three practices have been held with temperatures reaching around 90 degrees, and Saturday's practice was the first padded session of the week. They'll go through their in-stadium practice on Monday night before they're given a full day to rest.  

Players indicated that having the kind of fan support that they had Saturday seemed to give them a jolt. Especially for the players who are new to the organization. 

"There's excitement in the air with these fans," Long said. "They're awesome sports fans. Boston sports have always been known to be passionate, but until you're here, you don't really get a feel for it. They are a lot of fun to play in front of out on the practice field."

Knighton kicks himself off Twitter

Knighton kicks himself off Twitter

FOXBORO -- If you're on Twitter and you follow Terrance Knighton, you know where he stands on all sorts of topics. 

He thought the Sen. Elizabeth Warren speech at the Democratic National Convention would be "epic." He watches the WNBA. He loves the Celtics. He hates it when his dog looks at him naked. He wants an uncensored sports talk show on the radio when he's done with his playing career. 

And those are things you could gather from his timeline in the last week alone. 

Three days ago, the avid Twitter user called it quits. For the time being. 

"I'm just gonna try something different," he said when asked about his self-imposed Twitter ban. "The environment that I'm around, everyone's just focused on football. I'll be off it for three weeks, and as soon as I break it in three weeks, I'll have a lot to say I'm pretty sure." 

Knighton said he's not concerned about getting himself into any trouble with what he may say on the social-media site, but given the amount of focus he wants to put into his job, it makes sense for him to back away now that training camp has begun. 

"I would never say anything to get in trouble," he said. "But I speak on everything so right now, all the Democratic and Republican conventions, I just keep them quiet right now." 

He added: "In the locker room, you don't see guys on their phones all the time. You don't see guys joking around. They're always doing something productive to win. I decided to give [Twitter] up for three weeks, but like I said, I can't wait to get back to Twitter because I always have a lot to say."