Patriots' Dennard doesn't disappoint in NFL debut


Patriots' Dennard doesn't disappoint in NFL debut

FOXBORO -- Rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard showed up at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon, not knowing what his game-time status would be.

With his hamstring injury seemingly healed, the seventh-round pick was activated for the first time in his career. He didn't find out until today, but that doesn't mean he didn't feel prepared.

"I know I had a pretty good jump in practice," said Dennard after the Patriots' 31-21 win over the Denver Broncos. "I participated like they wanted me to. And they just told me, the more you compete, the more you get a chance."

Dennard got his first chance in the second quarter, and Peyton Manning targeted him right away, when the Broncos needed a first down.

With Denver trailing 14-7 with under six minutes left in the first half, Manning tried to force a 3rd-and-5 rocket over the middle to Brandon Stokley. Dennard made good of his first chance to make a big play, and batted it down, forcing the Broncos to punt, which led to a Patriots 93-yard drive and a field goal to give New England a 17-7 lead at the end of the half.

"It felt pretty good, going against Peyton Manning," said Dennard after the game. "I know he's a great quarterback, and I had a lot of comfort from Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, all of them just told me to go out there and play my game, and everything will come to you."

Dennard admitted to being nervous in his first NFL appearance. He also admitted to being rusty. Neither is usually a good mix when going up against someone like Manning's stature.

"Ya, I kind of felt a little rusty," said Dennard. "Basically because I wasn't practicing enough, because I was out with a hamstring injury. So, I was kind of like shaky going out there. I was thinking too much, basically. I think it's like a mental error."

That shakiness didn't necessarily translate into failure for the rookie on Sunday. And after his big third-down break-up in the second quarter, Dennard was in on another big break-up late in the game.

With the Broncos trailing 31-14, Manning tried to force a pass deep down the left sideline to Eric Decker, but Dennard was there to break it up. It was a big play, but would have been even bigger, had the rest of the Patriots defense done the same. Instead, the Broncos recovered from Dennard's effort, and scored their third touchdown of the game minutes later on the other side of the field.

It wasn't enough for Denver's offense though. And Dennard can walk away from his first career NFL game knowing that he did his job. And he did it in big spots.

Still, as it goes in New England, there's always room for improvement.

"I feel like I have to do a lot more work," said Dennard. "Technique-wise, I was kind of sloppy. I've got to watch the film first.

"I feel like I haven't done anything to be all hyped about," he added. "You know, because I haven't gone on the field and did anything. So, tonight I feel like I did an alright job. I've got to watch film and see what my correction is."

"It looked like Dennard was in on a few plays," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick after the win. "Well take a closer look at it on film. I think there are a couple other things that werent so hot, but he did show up and make a couple plays, so that was good . . . We had a lot of guys contribute, but it was good to see Alfonzo out here. Good to see."

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

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 delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

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.”