Saints be praised: Gregory, Pats defense embrace new challenge

833471.jpg

Saints be praised: Gregory, Pats defense embrace new challenge

FOXBORO -- Steve Gregory rushed in off the edge of the Patriots defensive line and made a beeline toward Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Coming in on a safety blitz, Gregory wasn't allowed to finish off the play full speed; Brees, along with every other quarterback on the field, was wearing a "no contact" red jersey. Still, the Patriots safety explained that Tuesday's joint practice with New Orleans was an effective simulation of what Patriots players might see once games begin.

"It simulated a game a little bit more than going against your own guys for so long," Gregory said. "It kind of gave that game atmosphere a little bit. You kind of had to be on top of your stuff, play your schemes, against something where you don't really know what's coming at you so. It was a good test for us."

Gregory signed a three-year deal with the Patriots this offseason after six seasons in San Diego. He said his new team's first practice with the Saints helped him and the rest of the Patriots secondary get better at their on-field communication as they saw formations and plays they haven't seen for the last two weeks. He admitted that as the Patriots defense went against the Patriots offense so frequently during camp, players began to pick up on each other's tendencies, making it easier to be in the right place at the right time to make a play. Tuesday was different.

And going against the Saints -- one of the best offensive teams in football in recent years -- made it an especially challenging day.

"To get out there and communicate with each other, against another team, in a situation that would be game-like, that was great," said Gregory, who picked off a Brees pass in 11-on-11 work. "It was great for us to grow today and get better back there.

"The Saints have a lot of talented guys out there, especially Drew, their running backs, receivers and tight ends. It poses challenges for defenses so it's good for us to go against an offense like that."

Gregory will be back at it again later this morning, trying to get a handle on Patriots coverages at something close to full speed. And even though he's not allowed to sack Brees, Gregory hoped he'd be at the line again, rushing in hard, not letting up until the last second.

"It's awesome man," Gregory said of the two opportunities he had to rush the quarterback on Tuesday. "DBs, we always think we're the best blitzers on the field. Any time we get a chance to go, we love it."

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

LeGarrette Blount knows where he wants to be for 2017. Ever since he re-joined the Patriots in 2014 following a short stay in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound back has been very open about how he wants to play out the rest of his career in New England. 

Those feelings haven't changed, even as he faces free-agency after having recorded the best season of his seven-year career.

"I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England," he told NFL Total Access on Monday. "I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I've become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is.

"We'll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I'm in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to."

Blount finished 2016 with career-highs in attempts (299) yards (1,161) and touchowns (18). His ability to help the Patriots close games in the fourth quarter was notable throughout the course of the season, and he was among the most effective goal-line backs in the league. His 18 rushing scores are a franchise record.

Toward the end of the season, as Dion Lewis worked his way back into the Patriots offense, Blount had his workload cut into, and his fumble in the Super Bowl was a near-catastrophic moment -- his devastated reaction to which was caught expertly by NFL Films. But a big-picture view of Blount's year would reveal that he  posted the most prodictive "big back" season the Patriots have had in more than a decade.

Blount signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason after seeing his 2015 prematurely ended by way of a hip injury. He turned 30 in December.

Garoppolo's mom keeps him apprised of trade rumors: 'She's all over that stuff'

Garoppolo's mom keeps him apprised of trade rumors: 'She's all over that stuff'

Jimmy Garoppolo can't help but hear trade rumors that involve his name. He heard all about them during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Now his mom's keeping him up to date. 

"My mom loves telling me the news updates," Garoppolo told ESPN's Adam Schefter, "so she’s all over that stuff, but it’s been working really well . . . 

"I’m telling you, she could be your assistant. She’s all over the place. Her and my dad on Twitter and stuff like that. I don’t even think they know how to tweet, but they always have something going on . . .

"They know what to hit me with and what to keep quiet. They know me so well that they know what I’d like to hear and what I don’t need to hear. There’s a couple slip-ups here and there, I’m not going to lie to you, but they’re just so excited about it. It’s an exciting time, and they’re loving it."

Garoppolo tried his best to deflect questions about his future as he prepared for Super Bowl LI, but he could only insulate himself so much from those conversations. After six quarters of well-played football, he's chummed the waters for quarterback-starved franchises. As the draft nears, offers are expected to hit the Gillette Stadium offices, and it will be up to Bill Belichick and his staff to determine whether they should part ways with Tom Brady's backup. 

Schefter asked Garoppolo about one team in particular that could be interested: the Chicago Bears. Their general manager Ryan Pace is an Eastern Illinois alum, like Garoppolo, and Garoppolo is a Chicago-area kid. 

"I get asked about [that possibility] all the time from my friends and family back in Chicago," Garoppolo said. "They’re good reporters, my family. But I keep telling them I really don’t know how it would feel until . . . if it was to happen, I wouldn’t know how I’d feel until it did, you know? So it’s kind of one of those things, it’s hard to say right now."

Garoppolo added: "For the most part I am just trying to stay level-headed, trying not to think about it, over think it too much because at the end of the day I am still under contract. It is not my decision if I get traded or if I don’t, so I am just trying to take it all in stride. At the end of the day, you just have to enjoy it. The NFL, it is a hard place to be, hard place to succeed and when you get an opportunity you have to go and take advantage of it."

The idea of getting an opportunity, though, is an enticing one. Before the 2016 season, Garoppolo was very open about how he looked forward to his opportunity to start with Brady suspended for the first four weeks of the season. And with Schefter, he acknowledged that there are times when it's hard not to be impatient when you're the guy behind the guy.

"There’s times," Garoppolo said. "Obviously the kickoff happens and you are ready to roll. The juices get flowing again. You get the adrenaline, the butterflies. It’s football, you have to love the atmosphere . . . 

"We all play the game. We all want to be out there on the field and get an opportunity to play. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there is probably the best way to put it. We’re competitors at the end of the day. We want to be out there, I want to be out there competing and playing with my teammates.”