Welcome back, NFL

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Welcome back, NFL

All things considered, theres never a bad time to welcome in the start of a new NFL season. Honestly, Ive done the research, and never in the history of professional American football, dating back to the first ever game between the Dayton Triangles and Columbus Panhandles (October 3, 1920), has a self-respecting fan woken up on the morning of the season opener and thought: No, no. This ALL wrong. Somebody make it stop!

Well, not including Bills fans.

Anyway, while theres never a bad time to kick off another NFL season, there are years here in Boston, at least when we undoubtedly need it more than others. For instance, lets say its been a particularly troubling summer for the Red Sox. Lets say, and Im just throwing out numbers here, that the Sox are in the midst of a stretch where theyve lost 13 of 17 games and find themselves much closer to the American League basement (6.5 games) than either of the two Wild Card spots (14 games). Lets say the Bruins are headed for a presumably lengthy lockout, the Celtics are still two months away and, just to sweeten the pot, its been raining nonstop for two days. In times like this times like NOW the NFL season turns from luxury to necessity. From a cold beer at the end of the work day to an 8 a.m. Irish coffee that an alcoholic needs to kick start the morning.

We get the shakes just thinking about it. About that moment when the opening kickoff takes flight tonight at MetLife Stadium (8:30 pm, NBC), as the bulbs start flashing and Al Michaels announces to the world: And the 2012 NFL season is officially underway . . .

Followed by the kick sailing out of the end zone for a touch back.

Wah. Wah.

Yeah, so the NFLs not perfect. Nothing is. And from now through February, well all be faced with our share of NFL-related pain. First and foremost, theres the fact that for the next 22 Sundays and Monday nights youll be able to look across the room at your wife or girlfriend and know that shes legitimately questioning your relationship. Theres also the anger that comes with every Patriots loss, and the emptiness that accompanies every bad fantasy week. On the hopefully rare occasion that the Pats and your fantasy team lose on the same week, the sky will get dark and youll question why you ever put yourself through this in the first place. Youll think: Holy crap, Im a grown man and still falling into a depression over a fake football team.

And then there are injuries. Theres nothing worse than watching one of these players go down, and knowing in a split second that you wont see him again until next year. Or the look on a guys face when hes got a towel over his head and one leg up on the back of a motorized cart like hes being ushered off to the glue factory.

(Quick note: Nows a good time to remind everyone that its very possible for a player with a torn ACL to walk off under his own power. Brady did it. Terrell Owens did it. Many players have done, and will do it again. I say this because theres nothing more infuriating than watching a guy clearly tear his ACL and then hearing the fan next to you yell: Wait! Hes walking off under his own power! Hes gonna be all right!! No, hes not. Youre just making it worse.)

There are ACLs and broken bones, and then there are concussions. And you know that will once again be in the spotlight. Current players will be knocked out, while others will be suspended. Former players will die in their 40s and 50s. The producers at Outside The Lines and Real Sports will be working overtime to expose all thats wrong with the system and why the NFL needs to be stopped. And there might be a few times when you actually believe them. When you see the research, think about the numbers, and wonder: Man, what the hell are we rooting for here?

But it wont last.

At the end of the day, you can never stay mad at the NFL.

Not even after tonight, when youre forced to sit through a three-hour tribute to one of Bostons two most painful post-"18-1" losses.

We all know its coming, right? It's going to be a celebration in New York. There will a banner and speeches and endless discussions about Eli Mannings place in history. If were lucky, theyll throw in a couple clips of Welkers drop just to eliminate any sense of self-worth.

It will be a bittersweet beginning to most exciting season in sports.

But here in Boston, it couldn't have come soon enough.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Cooper carted off, reportedly dealing with plantar fascia injury

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Cooper carted off, reportedly dealing with plantar fascia injury

FOXBORO – There was some offensive line attrition this morning at the first full-contact practice of training camp.

Most notably, guard Jonathan Cooper left the field on a cart.

Cooper, acquired from the Cardinals in the Chandler Jones trade, went down during a drill when the offensive line was firing off and hitting bags and carrying the blocks out. It appeared to be his right foot that was afflicted. He was down for a few minutes and the team had to move the drill away from him as he stayed down. Quarterback Tom Brady went over to check on Cooper before Cooper was helped gingerly to a cart alongside trainer Jim Whalen and was carted away.

Ian Rapoport from NFL Media reported after Cooper went down that the former first-rounder is battling plantar fascia, a painful foot ailment.

That’s what led to him needing to be held off, according to Rap.

Meanwhile, center Bryan Stork kinda just slipped out of practice. He was first noticed missing when he did not take part in 1-on-1s which came early in practice. He was out there for the beginning of practice so whether he was hurt, sent off for whacking people or had a dentist’s appointment isn’t known.

Bill Belichick wasn’t available after practice. Otherwise we’d have the full scoop.

We’ll keep an eye on that for Sunday.

Running back D.J. Foster and guard Shaq Mason meanwhile didn’t take part in 1-on-1s and retired to a lower field for some conditioning. Guard Josh Kline’s workload is also a bit limited while guard Tre Jackson and tackle Sebastian Vollmer are on the PUP list still.

The Patriots have practice Sunday and are in the stadium for a night practice on Monday before getting Tuesday off.

Tom E. Curran can be followed on Twitter: @tomecurran

Postcard From Camp, Day 3: Patriots in pads for physical practice

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Postcard From Camp, Day 3: Patriots in pads for physical practice

FOXBORO -- Every day from Patriots training camp, we'll be providing you news and observations from what occurred on the field with Bill Belichick's club. Day 3 of on-the-field work was the team's first day of work in pads. Here's what we saw...

* The Patriots had a few new absences on Saturday. Rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell was not present, nor was rookie defensive lineman Vincent Valentine, who traveled to Nebraska for a friend's funeral. Running back Brandon Bolden was also a new absence. 

Running back Dion Lewis (on the physically unable to perform list) was not present, though other players on PUP (Sebastian Vollmer, Tre' Jackson, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Clay Harbor) were around as spectators. Defensive lineman Alan Branch (on the non-football injury list) was also not spotted. Nate Washington, who became ill at the end of the first day of practice of camp, did not participate for the second consecutive day, but he was present. 

* Soon after the start of practice, offensive lineman Shaq Mason and running back DJ Foster went to a lower practice field for some conditioning. 

* Guard Jonathan Cooper went down about an hour into practice during a drill where offensive linemen worked on finding their blocking assignments and hit other offensive linemen carrying foam pads. Trainers tended to what appeared to be his right foot. He walked slowly off the field with the help of the training staff. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Cooper is battling plantar fascia.

* The first contact drills of camp appeared to focus on the running game. While at one end of the field tight ends and fullback James Develin blocked defensive ends setting the edge, at the other end, corners tried to get by run-blocking receivers. Edge defender Chris Long put a good pop on tight end Bear Pascoe to start the drill. 

* After a set of one-on-ones between receivers, corners and safeties, Tom Brady congratulated Aaron Dobson for an impressive grab. Chris Hogan went airborne to give Dobson a congratulatory bump, and Matthew Slater went out of his way to give both Dobson and Hogan a fist-bump. 

* The first good collision of camp came when LeGarrette Blount took a handoff from Tom Brady and ran hard into Jamie Collins. Collins felt the brunt of the impact, but Blount fell down. One snap later, Dont'a Hightower filled a running lane and pushed rookie guard Joe Thuney back behind the line of scrimmage. Later, during the same drill, Long had another noticeable rep where he set a firm edge and ripped rookie tight end Steven Scheu to the ground. 

* During a kickoff period, Brady and Garoppolo worked a side session with Rob Gronknowski, Martellus Bennett and Aaron Dobson. Nate Washington and Julian Edelman watched closely. 

* During a half-field period, Keshawn Martin had a perfectly-placed deep ball from Jimmy Garoppolo slip through his hands with Justin Coleman in coverage. Martin, who beat Coleman in a one-on-one drill earlier in the day, had a step on his defender but couldn't convert. 

* Joe Thuney stood out as one of the top performers in one-on-ones between offensive linemen and defensive linemen. He appeared to win matchups with Malcom Brown, Frank Kearse and Trey Flowers. Fellow rookie lineman Ted Karras also held his own in that period. 

* Rob Ninkovich looked quick in one-on-ones. Now in his 11th season, he ripped by Marcus Cannon twice relatively easily. 

* During a non-competitive 7-on-7 hurry-up period, Brady had a pass deflected by a paddle. It was the second straight day Brady had a pass blocked by a ball boy, and he was audibly displeased. Fans may want to pull out the earmuffs next time that happens. 

* Jacoby Brissett was picked off by Vinnie Sunseri later in that non-competitive 7-on-7 drill. 

11-ON-11s

* During 11-on-11s, James Develin put a sound block on Dont'a Hightower to clear a hole for LeGarrette Blount. 

* Garoppolo (who took the first reps), made a high throw to Chris Hogan that was dropped. Hogan said later that it was a pass he should have caught, and one that he probably didn't need to jump for. On that rep, Jabaal Sheard got around Marcus Cannon and would have put a hit on Garoppolo.

* Terrance Knighton showed good mobility down the line of scrimmage to put a thud on James White for no gain. He's more than just a space-eating tackle, he said following the session.

* Chris Harper, who had a good day catching the football on Friday, showed up as a blocker at one point Saturday. He sealed off Jordan Richards to open a running lane for Blount. Harper later beat Cyrus Jones over the middle for a diving catch on a Brady throw. Jones made what may be considered a rookie mistake, running by Harper without touching him down while Harper was on the turf. Harper alertly got up and ran for extra yardage. That may be a teaching point for the rookie second-round pick later in meetings. 

* Cre'von LeBlanc came up with a nice pass breakup on a Jacoby Brissett pass to Harper.

* During the 11-on-11 period, Blount fumbled, and the ball was recovered by Ninkovich. Hard to tell who forced the fumble, but Blount was sent for a lap after his turnover. 

* Perhaps the play of the day came on a well-thrown corner route from Brady to Gronkowski. The big tight end reached in the back corner of the end zone, reeled in the pass, and fell to the turf. Patrick Chung, perhaps the team's top defender of tight ends, was in coverage. Brady went out of his way to give Gronkowski an attaboy after the play, which had fans roaring. 

* Malcolm Butler couldn't believe it when Hogan caught a touchdown in the back of the end zone. It looked like Butler had a hand on the ball as Hogan brought it in, but the Pro Bowl corner couldn't knock it out. 

* Call it a draw between the offense and the defense during goal line work at the end of practice. Blount got in the end zone twice for offensive wins. Shea McLellin showed up with a run stuff on the goal line, and Long was held by tight end Bryce Williams on the final rep, giving the defense the win there, in my opinion. 

Phil Perry can be followed on Twitter: @PhilAPerry

Will Dobson finally change the storyline this year?

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Will Dobson finally change the storyline this year?

FOXBORO - Aaron Dobson is like the tide. Hitting a predictable high-water mark around the same time every season then gradually receding to a predictable low.

At least that’s how it’s seemingly gone for the first three seasons of the wideout’s NFL career. In truth, it’s not really been as bleak as we’ve all intimated it to be.

There have been bright spots for the 2013 second-rounder and there is upside to his game. But the combination of injuries, inconsistencies and annual drops into obscurity have obscured the very notion that anything he does between May and August should be taken seriously.

Saturday, Dobson was back at it again with the summertime fun making two terrific early-practice grabs on the first day in pads. That was a continuation of what he put out there in May and June when he looked nothing like the guy who pattycaked so many passes in 2015.

When the team’s key skill players broke off to a separate field midway through practice it was Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett and Dobson working out.

Dobson knows the party line on him. He basically summarized what folks feel has been lacking with his game.

“I’m just trying to keep improving and stay consistent and show my teammates that I can stay consistent and dependable,” Dobson told me Friday.

We’ve done the Dobson Propaganda “This may be the year…” piece before. Like last summer when Josh McDaniels gushed about Dobson and we dutifully talked him up. It wasn’t without cause. The guy does things nobody else on the roster at the wideout position can do because of his height and leaping ability.

I asked Dobson if he’s yet shown the best of what he can do.

“I feel like I can play football,” he said. “It’s up to me to show my abilities to everybody. It’s hard to really say. For me, I’m just trying to get out and get better every day, every day, every practice.”

He couldn’t have envisioned this, though. Fourth season and still with some nitwit standing in front of him talking about his football mortality in New England.  

“Going through what I’ve gone through has been difficult but you just have to stay grounded,” he said. “You can’t let it hold you back, you can’t let it keep you down, you can’t worry about the past, you just gotta worry about the future and what I can do to help myself.”

There are things beyond Dobson’s control that have intervened. A stress fracture in his foot in 2013 that bled over into 2014 when surgery was deleted then performed in the spring.

But there are things which seem preventable too that keep arising. Like the number of times Dobson is unable to catch the ball cleanly and double-catches the ball.

I asked him about that.

“You gotta let the ball in,” he said. “Regardless. When it comes to double-catching, you just gotta make the catch, when it comes to you.”

You hear the things he’s said before – all said with a self-deprecating smile. No ego. You see the things he can do in the air. And you think…this year?

Then you watch that drill with Brady and Garoppolo, Bennett and Gronkowski. And throw after throw, when Dobson could either catch the ball out front with his hands or let it come into his chest or cradle it into his stomach, he chooses the latter. The less safe, less polished, easier way to catch.

And you know the coda to this Dobson story like the ones in the past comes with the caveat, “we’ll see…”

Tom E. Curran can be followed on Twitter: @tomecurran