By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - We hadn't had a chance to speak to rookie corner Alfonzo Dennard until Thursday.
The well-regarded rookie corner whose stock plummeted just before the draft after an arrest in Lincoln, Nebraska had been kept under wraps.
But his athleticism and skill - even on the first day - was hard to overlook. Wearing No. 37, Dennard got beat on plenty of plays. But he also showed excellent short-area burst, a build ideal for playing the "star" position against the opposition's slot receiver, and a touch of aggressiveness.
"Alfonzo's done a good job of trying to pick things up here," Bill Belichick said Friday before the Patriots' second training camp practice. "Our system's a little different than what they ran at Nebraska. He's worked hard and he also got a lot of attention there the first couple days before everyone else got here. That was good for him to get a little bit extra coaching, extra time."
Dennard was viewed as a late first-rounder when the college season began in late 2012. As the season wore along, he suffered an injury that dropped his stock just a bit. But an arrest a week before the draft sent his stock plummeting. It wasn't until the seventh round that the Patriots pulled the string.
Dennard could end up being a huge bargain if he plays to his athletic potential. If he fails to do that, the damage isn't too significant.
"I'm just trying to learn the playbook and learn from the veterans as much as I can," said Dennard. "I'm just trying to play football, I don't try to idolize anybody."
As for his court date on assaulting a policeman?
"It's over and done," Dennard said. "I'm just trying to keep my mind level on football and stay focused."
Actually, it's not over and done. He's due to go on trial for his alleged infraction in December.
Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe.
The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.
“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”
Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.
Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.
“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”
Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.
Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.
Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children. He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.
Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.
Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004. He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.
The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993.
In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.
“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”