Vereen getting comfortable in Pats system

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Vereen getting comfortable in Pats system

FOXBORO -- Shane Vereen wasn't expecting to see his first carries as an NFL running back in the fourth quarter of a blowout, but that's exactly when the call came.

With just over five minutes left to play in the Patriots' 34-3 Monday night win over Kansas City, Vereen came in off the sideline and carried on six of the next seven Patriots plays. Caught up in the excitement, he doesn't remember what was called in the huddle immediately before his first NFL carry.

"They called my name and my heart started pounding," Vereen said Friday. "But once Tom Brady called the play it was time to go and I wasn't really thinking about anything. I'm pretty sure it was a zone to the right, but I couldn't even tell you right now. I can't really remember everything."

He carried twice more on the drive, and 10 plays after his first NFL carry, he recorded his first NFL touchdown. That play-call he'll never forget: an outside zone run to the left side.

The touchdown didn't mean much in deciding the game's outcome -- it was the final score for a game in which the result was, at that point, all but decided. But still, Vereen believes that play, and all the others he saw in the game's final minutes, meant something to his progress as a rookie running back.

"I think it was a big step for me personally," Vereen said. "As far as my development I think it helped. At this point, any game situation would help any rookie in that case. It was a good thing I was able to get some burn."

Vereen had trouble getting on the field early in the season because of a hamstring injury he sustained in just his second training camp practice with the Patriots. The rookie second-round pick out of the University of California played in just three games before Monday night, mostly on special teams.

He saw a lot of work in the kicking game on Monday, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN, playing on the kickoff, kick return and punt return units.

Now that he's healthy, Vereen can focus even more on the mental aspect of the game, something that he says he is becoming more and more natural for him.

"There's an obvious learning curve," he said. "But I feel more comfortable with it now than I did before and each day that I'm in the system and learning things, I feel more and more comfortable with it."

Vereen isn't sure how he'll factor into Sunday's game against the Eagles -- whether he'll be in for mop-up duty again, or if he'll receive more meaningful carries -- but he appreciates the fact that he's on a team that's unafraid of using several running backs. It means that his opportunities are just a call away.

"Whoever's in there, whenever we go in, I think everyone has complete confidence in that person that's in the game," Vereen said. "When you are that person in the game, you have complete confidence in yourself, and the other backs around you that you'll be able to get the job done."

For his part, Vereen wouldn't mind if his job continues to include more responsibility.

"It feels good to be able to help contribute to the team in any way shape or form and I was able to do that last weekend," he said. "It was good helping the team out."

First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

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First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

First impressions from the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals:

 

Steven Wright recovered nicely after the first inning, but the damage was done.

Wright's last five innings featured just three hits allowed -- one in the infield. But the first inning did the Red Sox in -- two walks followed by a three-run homer, then a single and a two-run homer.

Whether this was a matter of rust for Wright -- who last pitched three weeks ago Friday night -- or an early inability to command his knuckleball is uncertain.

The fact is, Wright dug an early hole for his teammates, and he had the misfortune to do so against a team with the best bullpen in baseball.

To his credit, Wright kept the game somewhat within reach thereafter, but the five-run head start proved too much of a jump.

 

It's time to worry a little about Jackie Bradley.

Bradley was just 7-for-40 in the just-completed road trip, and things didn't get any better on the first night of the homestand.

In the first, he came up with two on and two out and struck out swinging to strand both baserunners. In the third, he came to the plate with runners on the corners and, again, struck out swinging.

We're seeing the same kind of slump that Bradley fell into in previous seasons, where even contact is hard to find, with nine strikeouts in the last 16 at-bats.

Problem is, with Andrew Benitendi on the DL, there aren't a lot of options for John Farrell with the Red Sox outfield.

 

Trying to get Fernando Abad and Junichi Tazawa back on track in low- leverage mop-up didn't work.

Tazawa had a perfect seventh, but gave up a monster shot into the center field bleachers to Lorenzo Cain to start the eighth.

Abad entered, and while he did record a couple of strikeouts, also gave up a single, a walk and threw a wild pitches before he could complete the inning.

Getting some work for the two was the right idea, given that the Sox were down by three runs at the time. A good outing might help either regain some confidence and turn the corner.

But not even that could be accomplished Friday night.

 

Brady comes off the bench to throw TD in his preseason debut

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Brady comes off the bench to throw TD in his preseason debut

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - There will be a moment in the days between September 3 and October 3 when Tom Brady stops what he’s doing, sets his jaw and mutters, “*$%^## Derby…”

During his first – and perhaps only action of the 2016 preseason – Brady had some very good plays, was let down by a few drops (like Derby’s on a third-down toss) and had a near pick on a downfield throw to Martellus Bennett.

Brady was in for four possessions, entering the game after Jimmy Garoppolo ran the team on the Patriots first three series.

Brady missed the first preseason game then plunged trainer’s scissors into his thumb just prior to the second preseason game and missed that one as well.

With a fair amount of buildup to this game, Brady’s first pass was a deep in-cut to Aaron Dobson that went for 37 yards after Dobson stepped out of a tackle.

That was followed by a crossing pattern drop by Julian Edelman and a high throw to the end zone on third-and-5 that doinked off the left hand of tight end Bennett under the goalpost. Seemed like a mistimed jump on the high throw over the hands of a couple defenders.

On Brady’s next series, a pair of Tyler Gaffney runs gained 20 before Brady dropped a fade in to the hands of Chris Hogan for a 32-yard touchdown. It couldn’t have been placed any better if Brady had been allowed to walk to Hogan and hand it to him.

Brady’s conversion pass to Dobson was incomplete.

The Patriots got another chunk play from LeGarrette Blount to start their next drive and Brady then hit Edelman for 6. But his throw to the left sideline on third-and-4 was bungled by Derby, ending the drive.

Brady’s final series was bleak. His first throw was batted down by Kawann Short. His second one, a deep throw across the field to Bennett after Brady stepped up in the pocket, should have been picked by Kurt Coleman. Brady was sacked on third down.

Garoppolo came in for the final two series of the first half and started the third quarter.

Brady spent much of the first quarter apart from the offense when it was on the sidelines, standing with arms folded. When the offense was on the field, Brady mostly sat by himself on the bench. There wasn’t any significant interaction between he and Garoppolo, who huddled with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after his series’ ended. Brady did the same after he came off the field with Garoppolo hovering nearby.

Brady finished 3-for-9 for 76 yards and a touchdown. As a team, the Patriots were 0-for-7 on third down in the first half. 

First half Patriots observations: Brady and Long up, Garoppolo and Solder down

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First half Patriots observations: Brady and Long up, Garoppolo and Solder down

The Patriots had their share of good and bad in the first half of their preseason game with the Panthers on Friday. Here's who we saw as some of the team's top performers, as well as some of the players who may have to make some corrections in the second half. 

* Tom Brady was only 3-for-9 in his four series, but he completed his passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown pass to Chris Hogan might have been the best throw of the preseason for any Patriots quarterback as he hit Hogan in stride, over the shoulder, for a 33-yard gain. Brady was close to having a second touchdown pass, but it glanced off the out-stretched hands tight end Martellus Bennett in the back of the end zone. Brady was nearly picked on his final drive, again trying to hit Bennett. He was sacked on his final play of the half.

* Jimmy Garoppolo had a difficult time early in this one. He was 5-for-9 for 37 yards, and he picked up an intentional grounding penalty. Garoppolo also was strip-sacked by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, but James White recovered. Garoppolo was nearly picked by Luke Kuechly early in the first quarter when there was an apparent miscommunication between Garoppolo and Julian Edelman. 

* Chris Long had a standout half with two pressures, a pass-breakup that led to a Devin McCourty pick, and he drew a hold. The veteran defensive end has shown a good motor and a knack for getting to the quarterback in each of New England's first three preseason games. 

* Logan Ryan also had a strong first half in his preseason debut. His first five targets in coverage resulted in no completions, an offensive pass interference penalty and an interception. His former college teammate Duron Harmon also had a pick of Panthers backup Derek Anderson.

* Nate Solder allowed the pressure that eventually led to the sack of Brady by Kony Ealy. He also was flagged for a false start. Being that it's the third preseason game -- when starters typically go deep into the game -- he'll likely have a chance to redeem himself in the second half.