Postcard from Camp: Saints make a visit

838023.jpg

Postcard from Camp: Saints make a visit

Day 14 at camp was something new and different. The Patriots finally had a chance to hit players that weren't their teammates as the Saints came to town for the first of two joint practices.

WEATHER
Another perfect day at Gillette. Temperatures in the 80s. Bright sun. Few clouds. Good opportunity to work on a farmer's tan.

WHAT THEY WORE
Full pads for everyone. The only red jerseys on the field were worn by the quarterbacks on both sides. Jon Bon Jovi, who was in attendance as a guest of Robert Kraft, wore Levis.

WHAT THEY DID
2:00-2:30 Teams warmed up and stretched.

2:30-2:45 Players broke off into positional groups and worked on drills.

2:45-3:00 This is when the Pats and Saints began the intermingling process. Both teams ran one-on-one drills with receivers and tight ends trying to beat safeties and corners. Linemen from both teams squared off in pass rush drills, while backs did their best to stuff linebackers in pass protection drills.

3:00-3:05 Patriots punted to the Saints here. Matthew Slater stood out as the best gunner on the field. Zoltan Mesko was hanging them high and long.

3:05-3:15 Both teams went through 7-on-7s at this point. Drew Brees showed off his pin-point accuracy, hitting tightly-covered receivers for diving grabs. Former Patriot David Thomas beat Bobby Carpenter for a nice laid-out grab in the end zone. Dont'a Hightower and Carpenter -- two of the new guys -- seemed to communicate well when the Saints went in motion. No blown coverages by the Pats.

3:15-3:20 Saints punted to the Pats here. Edelman had the highlight of this brief session with a few quick moves that would have sprung him for a huge gain, and maybe a touchdown, had it been a 100 percent live situation. Steven Ridley also got some time in the punt return game, but as a punt rusher.

3:20-4:15 Here's where we got to see both teams go at it in 11-on-11 work. Kyle Arrington started at the right corner spot in the Patriots' base package, not Ras-I Dowling. When the team brought in another defensive back, Arrington bumped down into the slot and Dowling went to the outside. Arrington didn't necessarily look uncomfortable on the outside, but he did get beat long by Joseph Morgan for the Saints' longest pass play of the day. Patrick Chung had a tough day trying to deal with Jimmy Graham. He got beat on a couple different occasions and also let an easy pick slip through his hands. Steve Gregory got a chance to show his stuff as a pass rusher, coming in off the edge on at least two occasions. Tom Brady was lucky that it wasn't a game situation because Saints players busted through the Patriots tattered offensive line more than once. Will Smith had his way with Nick McDonald, who was playing left tackle at one point. Though he didn't hit a ton of big plays, Brees appeared to be in mid-season form, moving through his progressions quickly and making accurate passes to several different receivers.

WHAT WE SAW
Dont'a Hightower (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) was able to stick with little Darren Sproles (5-6, 190) as Sproles ran a route out of the backfield. Sproles ended up dropping the pass from Drew Brees, but Hightower showed impressive quickness to not be thrown by Sproles' mid-route cuts.

Hernandez stretched out to make a fantastic one-handed catch downfield from Hoyer. The TE was less happy when he couldn't make another one-hander over Johnson in the corner of the end zone, but that might have been the catch of the camp had he made it.

Jon Bon Jovi, Robert Kraft and Saints owner Tom Benson held a powwow before the practice session.

Members of the military got a standing ovation from the 14,830 fans in attendance as they walked around the edge of the field near the end of practice.

WHO'S HOT
Easy to see why Matthew Slater was a Pro Bowler last year. He looked nearly unblockable during Patriots punts. He was consistently the first player down the field (with two Saints chasing behind him), and he did a good job of not over-running the returner.

Brees was accurate, and though he threw one pick to Gregory, didn't seem to try to force anything. His backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles got a lot of work.

Seemed to be another pretty good day for rookie defensive end from Rutgers Justin Francis. He looked strong in drills against the Saints offensive line and made a nice play to snuff out a shovel pass from Chase Daniel to Darren Sproles.

WHO'S NOT
No Brandon Spikes again today -- he missed Monday's session as well -- so Bobby Carpenter took snaps with the first team defense.

After a solid Monday, Tom Brady went back to looking sub-par. He started okay in 7-on-7, going 9 for 11. Rob Gronkowski was held on one ball, but the other miss was an interception -- Saints LB Curtis Lofton got his hands on the ball during red zone work. He also threw a pick during the 2-minute drill when Malcolm Jenkins made a diving grab over the middle. Several missed connections were scattered over the field today.
Deion Branch had limited participation today. He's been used sparingly of late. This is one to watch . . .

CB Will Allen looked lost during one-on-one drills against Saints receivers. He got beat easily for long touchdowns on consecutive chances. He has missed some practice time of late, and it looked like he wasn't really ready to be back.

WHAT THEY SAID
"It's good to see old friends." -- Donte' Stallworth, who was drafted by the Saints in the first round of the 2002 draft.

Phil Perry and Mary Paoletti contributed to this report.

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.”