Belichick commends Crumpler, Branch

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Belichick commends Crumpler, Branch

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick met the media on Wednesday to discuss the bye week.

Well, not the week's plan itself, because there aren't many specifics to delve into. New England will play at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 16. Who against? It's yet to be determined. So in the meantime, all the Patriots can do is get the reps in that will make them better.

"Were just trying to work on some things that we feel like we need to improve on,'' Belichick said. "Weve got a good list of those. It doesnt matter who we play, just things that we feel we need to do better. I think theres definitely some carryover in the three potential opponents" -- the Jets, Ravens or Chiefs -- "that we could face, but more important than that, right now, its trying to work on things that we feel like need to get worked on. Then well deal with whoever we have to play after this weekend.

As this will be the ninth Patriots playoff berth in the Hoodie Era, there was an air of 'business as usual' hanging around Gillette. And this despite the fact that 25 players from New England's last playoff team, just last season, aren't involved in 2010's Super Bowl run.

Deion Branch is one guy who's been there, done that. Branch was on Tom Brady's receiving end when the Patriots brought home Lombardi trophies in 2003 and 2004. He earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXIX for his record-tying 11 receptions.

Belichick says that not much has changed about the player -- even after five seasons with the Seahawks -- and that's a good thing.

"The similarities far outweigh the differences. Hes a very intelligent player, really smart, really instinctive guy. No matter what the route, no matter what the coverage is, he always seems to do the right thing, make the right adjustment, make the right decision, make the right adjustment and I think that gives the quarterbacks a lot of confidence in him.

"Deion prepares well," Belichick continued. "Hes got good experience, but hes also got a good skill set. He can get open and catch the ball. He can run with it after the catch. Hes returned kicks in the past. Hes got some running skills and certainly has got a lot of experience. As a pure receiver, he knows how to get open and he has the skills to get open."

Branch has returned to his natural role on this roster without much stress. But there have been some more difficult transitions for this team in light of how much turnover there's been.

Tight end Alge Crumpler has had to make adjustments. A four time Pro Bowler with the Atlanta Falcons, Crumpler has a mere six receptions for 52 yards for the Patriots this season. New England has been featuring two-tight end sets frequently this year -- those sets have just favored rookies Aaron Hernandez (6 TD receptions) and Rob Gronkowski (10)

Does decreased catches bother him though? Belichick says no.

"You see a lot of players roles change and its not a problem and then you see other guys have a harder time making that adjustment. Without having worked with Alge before, I didnt really know exactly how it would go with him, but really, since day one, whatever weve asked him to do, hes not only tried to do them but hes very receptive to everything, a whatever you need type attitude, asking, Do you need me to do this? Do you need me to do that? Or how do you want me to do something else? and then hell try to do it that way. So he's been great.

"Alges been a big contribution to this football team in a lot of ways, probably too many to mention."

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

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Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

 

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

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Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.

An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.

Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”

“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”

James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.  

He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?

Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.

“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”

To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.  
 
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.

“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”

We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.