Availability key for Rex Burkhead during transition to Patriots

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Availability key for Rex Burkhead during transition to Patriots

It can be difficult to pick up the Patriots offense even for players who are on the practice field on a daily basis. For those who aren't? They have some catching up to do. 

It remains to be seen just how much, if at all, that reality will impact how Patriots running backs are deployed moving forward.

Though Mike Gillislee was given what looked like typical "big back" responsibilities early in training camp when the pads were introduced -- he had back-to-back touchdown runs during one of the first goal-line periods of the summer -- he's hardly practiced at all since then, sidelined with a reported hamstring issue. 

During joint practices with the Texans last week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about the difficulties that a new player faces when he's trying to learn a system and a new set of teammates without the benefits of practice time.

"Yeah, well that’s one of the challenges of training camp," Belichick said. "No pads in the spring so you only have so many padded practices and preseason games at this time of year. Each one that’s missed is an opportunity to improve on the field, but what we can’t do is let what we can do take away from what we can’t do.

"The things that we can do in terms of training or whatever drills or learning experience we can gain, we have to try to gain as much as we can. And then when the opportunity comes to do the things that we can’t do, we have to be able to take advantage of that. Look, this is not the first time a player has ever missed a practice in training camp, so let’s not act like this is an historical event. Every team deals with it every year, but you do the best you can with it. You work through that players individual circumstances and where your team is and you do the best that you can with the opportunities that you have."

Though there's plenty that Gillislee can do in terms of workouts and sitting in on meetings, contrast his situation with that of Rex Burkhead, and the difference in the number of on-the-field opportunities for the two players has been stark.

Burkhead has been present and on the field for the vast majority of Patriots training camp practices, and In Saturday's game against Houston, he saw 13 snaps, finishing with seven carries for 20 yards and three receptions for 50 yards. One of those catches went for a 22-yard touchdown where he freed himself from linebacker Zach Cunningham with a nifty move over the middle of the field. 

"Rex has missed very little time," Belichick said when asked about Burkhead's progress on Sunday. "He’s basically been out there every day and we’ve worked with him in all areas of the game that we think he can contribute in, which is all three downs offensively and the four phases of special teams that he’s been involved with, from Day 1."

Burkhead, who signed a one-year deal with the Patriots this offseason after four years with the Bengals, has been used in a variety of roles, as Belichick alluded, including in hurry-up packages and on the goal line. His frame (5-foot-10, 210 pounds) and his skill set could make Burkhead a viable option as the team's "big back" should Gillislee miss time in the regular season. But he's also a more-than-capable pass-catcher, as he showed against the Texans. 

How he'll be used when the games matter remains to be seen, but he's available, and at this point that may be his most important quality.

Jerry Jones, Cowboys kneel before national anthem against Cardinals

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Jerry Jones, Cowboys kneel before national anthem against Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, so the speculation was that he would not allow his players to kneel during the national anthem.

The Cowboys and their owner did kneel, though not during the anthem.

Following a weekend of kneeling and protesting across the NFL, the Cowboys and their owner displayed their own version of unity Monday night, kneeling on the field before rising as a group before the playing of the national anthem.

The Cowboys went into the locker room and returned to the field for the anthem, lining up between the sideline and the yard markers on the field.

Arm-in-arm, they dropped to a knee as a giant flag was carried onto the field, with Jones and his family in the middle near the 50-yard line.

Numerous boos rang out across University of Phoenix Stadium as the Cowboys kneeled and continued as the players rose, still arm-in-arm, and stepped back to the sideline as the flag was unfurled across the field. They remained connected as Jordin Sparks sang the national anthem.

The Arizona Cardinals had their own symbol of unity after a weekend of protests in the NFL, gathering along the goal line arm-in-arm during the national anthem. They were joined by owner Michael Bidwell, his family and general manager Steve Keim.

More than 200 NFL players kneeled, sat or prayed during the national anthem on Sunday after President Trump said any player who does not stand for the national anthem should be fired.

Three teams did not take the field for the national anthem and numerous NFL owners came out against Trump's statements.

EX-PATS PODCAST: Brown and Koppen in-depth conversation on national anthem protest

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EX-PATS PODCAST: Brown and Koppen in-depth conversation on national anthem protest

Former Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown joins Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen in this week’s episode of “The Ex-Pats Podcast” to discuss the protests from around the league and Donald Trump’s comments on Friday night. Troy spoke critically of the President on CSN’s Postgame Live show on Sunday, and the two former players react to what former teammate Matt Light said Monday morning on Toucher & Rich.

Also, the guys talk about the thrilling win for the Patriots against Houston, including whether Brandin Cooks has found his way into Tom Brady’s “trust tree” (24:40), Rob Gronkowski playing a monster role in the passing AND blocking game against Houston (29:00), and how concerning the defense has looked in the first three weeks of the season (32:30).