Silvestro taking position change in stride

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Silvestro taking position change in stride

FOXBORO -- Alex Silvestro, defensive end, got the call about his position change in the offseason. After the shock wore off, he figured he should get to work.

"Okay," he had said to himself. "Now I gotta work on tight end things."

Easy, right?

Not even close.

Silvestro last played offense while at Paulsboro High School in New Jersey. Though to recall the fact is almost unfair -- it's not like that experience gave the now 23-year-old any advantage in the NFL.

"It's completely different," he laughed. "That's the thing. I think of things I did in high school and it's just nowhere near this. It's high school!

"I guess you could say I felt like I was starting over. I felt like a rookie again. I came in, tried to learn the system, took the best notes possible, listened to my coach and tried to learn everything he was trying to teach me to do the best I can on the field."

It is, after all, his best shot at making the team.

Silvestro went through Patriots training camp last season at defensive end but got cut. Since then he's been inching his way toward another shot.

New England signed him to the practice squad a few weeks after camp, and he was brought up to the 53-man roster during the week of the Super Bowl. At the time, it was thought Silvestro could add D-line depth in Andre Carter's absence so the Patriots could keep fresh pressure against Eli Manning all night.

But in light of Monday's comments from Nick Caserio's, Silvestro could have provided insurance for someone else. The injured Rob Gronkowski, perhaps?

"Alex worked on both sides of the ball in practice on our practice squad," Caserio explained.

"He was a defensive player but he's tough, he's smart, he's got good size, he's got good playing strength. He actually did a pretty good job for us last year in practice on the scout teams in the tight end role so we thought that it was something that he'd be able to handle."

Though he may be handling the concept, Silvestro still has a long way to go on the field. When asked what the biggest challenge is to the transition, he heaved a sigh, shook his head, and was silent for several moments.

"Honestly, just everything."

Caserio and the rest of the coaching staff knows its a tall order.

"There's so much that goes into that position blocking, receiving, catching, splits, alignments, blocking a certain technique, whether it's a six-technique, whether it's a seven-technique, whether it's a nine-technique," Caserio said. "But you just try to establish your foundation through the spring in training camp and work on those techniques in a real live setting, whether it's in practice or whether it's in the game."

Silvestro went back to Rutgers this offseason and worked out with a group of players there. He practiced 1-on-1s, talked to linemen about blocking, and asked for pointers on technique.

After returning to Foxboro, he met with tight ends coach George Godsey whenever he had questions. Silvestro said he had "tons" of them.

He's committed to not making the same mistakes again and again. And some strides have been taken. Monday was one of his best days of practice. His hands look softer. His routes look a little crisper. Silvestro has made a couple of excellent catches recently, with quarterback Tom Brady getting so excited after a connection Sunday, he pulled his new tight end in a quick hug back at the line.

The focus isn't on a perceived inadequacy or failure at defensive end. Caserio said coaches felt the position change was best for both the player and the team, and Silvestro is okay with that.

"How I took it was just an opportunity. The more I can do, the more valuable I am to the team. Anything that can help us win."

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

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Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.