Postcard from Camp: Saints make a visit

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Postcard from Camp: Saints make a visit

Day 14 at camp was something new and different. The Patriots finally had a chance to hit players that weren't their teammates as the Saints came to town for the first of two joint practices.

WEATHER
Another perfect day at Gillette. Temperatures in the 80s. Bright sun. Few clouds. Good opportunity to work on a farmer's tan.

WHAT THEY WORE
Full pads for everyone. The only red jerseys on the field were worn by the quarterbacks on both sides. Jon Bon Jovi, who was in attendance as a guest of Robert Kraft, wore Levis.

WHAT THEY DID
2:00-2:30 Teams warmed up and stretched.

2:30-2:45 Players broke off into positional groups and worked on drills.

2:45-3:00 This is when the Pats and Saints began the intermingling process. Both teams ran one-on-one drills with receivers and tight ends trying to beat safeties and corners. Linemen from both teams squared off in pass rush drills, while backs did their best to stuff linebackers in pass protection drills.

3:00-3:05 Patriots punted to the Saints here. Matthew Slater stood out as the best gunner on the field. Zoltan Mesko was hanging them high and long.

3:05-3:15 Both teams went through 7-on-7s at this point. Drew Brees showed off his pin-point accuracy, hitting tightly-covered receivers for diving grabs. Former Patriot David Thomas beat Bobby Carpenter for a nice laid-out grab in the end zone. Dont'a Hightower and Carpenter -- two of the new guys -- seemed to communicate well when the Saints went in motion. No blown coverages by the Pats.

3:15-3:20 Saints punted to the Pats here. Edelman had the highlight of this brief session with a few quick moves that would have sprung him for a huge gain, and maybe a touchdown, had it been a 100 percent live situation. Steven Ridley also got some time in the punt return game, but as a punt rusher.

3:20-4:15 Here's where we got to see both teams go at it in 11-on-11 work. Kyle Arrington started at the right corner spot in the Patriots' base package, not Ras-I Dowling. When the team brought in another defensive back, Arrington bumped down into the slot and Dowling went to the outside. Arrington didn't necessarily look uncomfortable on the outside, but he did get beat long by Joseph Morgan for the Saints' longest pass play of the day. Patrick Chung had a tough day trying to deal with Jimmy Graham. He got beat on a couple different occasions and also let an easy pick slip through his hands. Steve Gregory got a chance to show his stuff as a pass rusher, coming in off the edge on at least two occasions. Tom Brady was lucky that it wasn't a game situation because Saints players busted through the Patriots tattered offensive line more than once. Will Smith had his way with Nick McDonald, who was playing left tackle at one point. Though he didn't hit a ton of big plays, Brees appeared to be in mid-season form, moving through his progressions quickly and making accurate passes to several different receivers.

WHAT WE SAW
Dont'a Hightower (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) was able to stick with little Darren Sproles (5-6, 190) as Sproles ran a route out of the backfield. Sproles ended up dropping the pass from Drew Brees, but Hightower showed impressive quickness to not be thrown by Sproles' mid-route cuts.

Hernandez stretched out to make a fantastic one-handed catch downfield from Hoyer. The TE was less happy when he couldn't make another one-hander over Johnson in the corner of the end zone, but that might have been the catch of the camp had he made it.

Jon Bon Jovi, Robert Kraft and Saints owner Tom Benson held a powwow before the practice session.

Members of the military got a standing ovation from the 14,830 fans in attendance as they walked around the edge of the field near the end of practice.

WHO'S HOT
Easy to see why Matthew Slater was a Pro Bowler last year. He looked nearly unblockable during Patriots punts. He was consistently the first player down the field (with two Saints chasing behind him), and he did a good job of not over-running the returner.

Brees was accurate, and though he threw one pick to Gregory, didn't seem to try to force anything. His backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles got a lot of work.

Seemed to be another pretty good day for rookie defensive end from Rutgers Justin Francis. He looked strong in drills against the Saints offensive line and made a nice play to snuff out a shovel pass from Chase Daniel to Darren Sproles.

WHO'S NOT
No Brandon Spikes again today -- he missed Monday's session as well -- so Bobby Carpenter took snaps with the first team defense.

After a solid Monday, Tom Brady went back to looking sub-par. He started okay in 7-on-7, going 9 for 11. Rob Gronkowski was held on one ball, but the other miss was an interception -- Saints LB Curtis Lofton got his hands on the ball during red zone work. He also threw a pick during the 2-minute drill when Malcolm Jenkins made a diving grab over the middle. Several missed connections were scattered over the field today.
Deion Branch had limited participation today. He's been used sparingly of late. This is one to watch . . .

CB Will Allen looked lost during one-on-one drills against Saints receivers. He got beat easily for long touchdowns on consecutive chances. He has missed some practice time of late, and it looked like he wasn't really ready to be back.

WHAT THEY SAID
"It's good to see old friends." -- Donte' Stallworth, who was drafted by the Saints in the first round of the 2002 draft.

Phil Perry and Mary Paoletti contributed to this report.

Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

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Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have signed free-agent tight end Rob Housler to a future contract. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound target last played for the Bears but was released at the end of training camp.

Housler won't be eligible to participate with the Patriots during the postseason, but he will be available for the offseason program and training camp leading up to the 2017 campaign. 

Housler taken in the third round by the Cardinals with the 69th overall selection in 2011. In 65 career games, he has 109 catches for 1,166 yards and one touchdown. 

The Patriots may have been intrigued by Housler's skill set last summer when he caught one pass for 52 yards -- making two Patriots defenders miss in the process -- during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots and Bears held joint training camp practices in August that would have given Patriots coaches and scouts a closer look at everything Housler has to offer as a player. 

Housler was one of the better athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2011, running a 4.55-second 40-yard dash (fastest among tight ends), posting a 6.9-second three-cone drill, and recording a 37-inch vertical leap.

Bill Belichick and his staff hit big on a future-contract signing two years ago when a running back with a significant injury history was available to scoop up at the behest of then-assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi. Since then, the Patriots still have never lost with Dion Lewis in uniform. 

Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

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Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

FOXBORO -- On a daily basis, Patriots players are in the presence of perhaps the best late-30s player to ever lace up cleats. That's why it's noteworthy when those who inhabit the same locker room as Tom Brady marvel at another player playing at a high level despite being one of the oldest in the league. 

That's exactly the case with Steelers linebacker James Harrison, 38, who is the oldest non-quarterback, non-kicker in the NFL. 

Since the Patriots last saw Harrison, he's become an every-down player for Pittsburgh's improving defense, missing just nine total defensive snaps for the Steelers since Week 14. He's saved his best football for the postseason -- three sacks, two quarterback hits and seven quarterback pressures in the last two weeks, per Pro Football Focus -- and the Patriots have noticed.

Julian Edelman, who wears the same Kent State t-shirt to every Patriots practice, raved about his "fellow Flash."

"He’s an unbelievable stud," Edelman said of Harrison, who went undrafted seven years before Edelman was taken in the seventh round. "The guy has been doing it consistently for a long time.

"I’ve been a huge fan of him before I got in the league, and just to see and kind of have an idea where he came from, it’s unbelievable to show how hard he’s worked to get to where he’s got. He’s a large man that is fast, explosive, and if he’s coming my way, it’s going to be a 'get down.' "

While Edelman will do his best to avoid the 6-foot, 242-pounder, Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett will likely be asked to block Harrison at some point. The Steelers defense will move Harrison to different spots at times, but he does much of his work on the outside where Bennett will be situated. 

"Harrison is playing well," Bennett said. "He’s almost as old as my pops, and he’s still playing like a beast out there."