Best and worst from Patriots practice


Best and worst from Patriots practice

By Tom E. Curran Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Wednesday night's practice inside Gillette Stadium was reserved for Patriots' season ticket holders. Boxed out? Fear not. Some Best, Worsts and OthersBEST SALUTE TO THE MASSESAt about the midpoint of the session, Patriots' president Jonathan Kraft addressed fans, thanking them for their loyalty and patience during the lockout. He told fans that, even though head coach Bill Belichick might not like early appraisals, Kraft believed the team had a "great" draft and had made "great" pickups in free agency. He predicted a "special" season. Special in a good way. BEST "MOE & CURLY" IMITATION (OR LOVE HURTS)The defensive linemen did a drill in which one player put his hands toward the other and tried to get them on his jersey. The player whose space was being violated needed to slap the hands away before they got contact. Kyle Love and Mike Wright were matched up for the drill and somehow when Love went to put his hands on Wright, Wright slapped them aside and went upside Love's head. And they laughed. My, how they laughed. BEST IMITATION OF CHAD JOHNSONHave I watched every rep of every practice? Noooo. Have I seen enough occasions where Chad Ochocinco had balls ricochet off his hands or shoulder pads to conclude that he hasn't been at peak performance level? Yesssss. But Wednesday night, Ocho had a very good practice, especially in red zone drills working with Tom Brady and in 1-on-1s with a defensive back. The way Ocho gets out of breaks low and fast is very impressive. As opposed to Deion Branch, whose route-running is subtle and economic, Ocho covers a lot of ground fast and seems to work on explosion rather than disguise to get separation. It's also interesting to watch the interplay between Brady and Ocho. During the 1-on-1s, Ocho perfectly set up rookie defensive back Malcolm Williams with a little slant-and-go move off the left. When Ocho turned to look for the ball, Brady had thrown it to the outside. Ocho was looking inside. Ocho turned and looked back at Brady, aghast. Brady pressed his thumb against his chest to indicate it was his mistake, not Ocho's. BEST ABILITY TO CHEW UP SPACEDuring a red zone passing drill, the potency of Rob Gronkowski's size-speed combo was on display. Running 1-on-1s, the offense should always win in a drill like this. But to see Gronkowski start on the right, run directly at safety Sergio Brown, shake left then step through to the right and leave Brown standing there was alarming on two counts. First, it shows how much space the 6-7 Gronk can cover with each stride. Second, it was disturbing to see Gronk walk past an NFL safety like that. He also posted up Patrick Chung at the goal line on a route where Chung had otherwise outstanding coverage for the better part of three seconds. Gronk's a tough, tough cover. WORST DISGUISING OF GIDDINESSPatriots' offensive tackle Matt Light spoke to the media during the early part of practice. He said there's "never been a time in my life when I've been more ready to play football." Light added that, for the rookies, "It's going to be a little bit of a challenge. It's gonna be uphill for them for a while."As the days fall off the calendar and first-round pick Nate Solder's holdout continues, the hill's incline grows steeper. ODDS AND ENDS Yahoo! writer Jason Cole was at the stadium Wednesday night. He's got a good relationship with Bill Belichick among national writers and says he'll be popping out a story on Albert Haynesworth's addition to the team. Darius Butler was not seen at practice Wednesday night. Players are supposed to give their final approval of the newly-hatched collective bargaining agreement on Thursday. But the CBA isn't done yet. At issue? Drug testing and the appeals process for personal conduct fines and suspensions. The league is pushing for HGH testing. It's not been agreed to yet. The players want there to be an arbitrator to rule on appeals of punishment handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (Goodell currently reviews all appeals). As a practical matter, until the CBA is completed and approved, no players working under newly-signed contracts (except rookies) can practice.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran.

Flashback: Belichick breaks down lasting impact of Buddy Ryan's '46' defense


Flashback: Belichick breaks down lasting impact of Buddy Ryan's '46' defense

When news broke on Tuesday of Buddy Ryan's passing, it wasn't very long before the NFL community at large paid tribute to one of the most well-respected defensive minds in the history of the league. 

Ryan, a longtime coordinator and head coach, leaves a legacy that includes two sons -- Rex and Rob -- who have carved out length careers spent on NFL sidelines. His legacy also includes a defensive scheme that confounded offenses, particularly in 1985, when the Bears '46' defense dominated all comers. With eight men in the box and just three defensive backs, Ryan's defense could be as confusing for quarterbacks as it was intimidating.

On the day of Ryan's passing, we can add to the list of Ryan rememberances a long quote from a Bill Belichick press conference back in 2012. The Patriots were getting ready to play Rex Ryan's Jets, but as the topic of conversation shifted away from the game itself and toward football philosophies, Belichick explained how Ryan's '46' defense changed the game, and where it can still be seen today. 

(To see the video of the press conference, you can head here. It's a bit slow for the first six or seven minutes, but when Belichick is asked about the idea behind being a "game-plan offense" and which coaches inspired him to take that mindset into his own career, things start rolling. Belichick rattles off the names of those who influenced him, including Annapolis High coach Al Laramore, Phillips Andover's Steve Sorota, Navy coach Wayne Hardin, Baltimore Colts coach Ted Marchibroda and several others. He calls the list of coaches who educated him -- including his father, of course -- a "menagerie." If you're into those types of Belichick responses about football philosophy and his own personal football upbringing, it's a video that's worth your time.)

Here is Belichick's response to a question from Sports Illustrated's Greg Bedard, then of the Boston Globe, concerning Ryan and his '46' scheme. A tip of the hat to Chris B. Brown of Smart Football for pointing out the quote on Twitter early Tuesday. 

Q: You mentioned Buddy Ryan earlier. How come we don’t see more 46 defense? I’m not talking about for a full season – not everybody is the ’85 Bears, but in a one-game situation. Is it because of the quarterbacks and the shotgun?

BB: "A lot of the success that Buddy had with the 46 defense came in the ‘80s when there was a lot of two-back offense. It was one of the things that probably drove the two-back offense out. If you remember back in the ‘80s when Buddy was in Philadelphia, he had a lot of trouble with the Redskins and their one-back offense, a lot of trouble. There were a lot of mismatches of Art Monk and Gary Clark on the middle linebacker and stuff like that.

"I think the 46 was really originally built for two-back offenses, whether it be the red, brown, blue and the flat-back type offenses and eventually even the I-formation. I think it still has a lot of good application; a lot of teams use it in goal-line situations. They either use a version of it like a 5-3 or cover the guards and the center and however you want to quite fit the rest of it, but that principle you see a lot in goal-line, short yardage situations. You see it and some teams have it as part of their two-back defensive package.

"As it has gone to one-back and it’s gotten more spread out, if you’re playing that, it kind of forces you defensively to be in a one-linebacker set. You lose that second linebacker and depending on where the back lines up and what coverage you’re playing, then there’s some issues with that. If you’re in a one linebacker defense and you move the back over and the linebacker moves over then you’re kind of out-leveraged to the back side. If you don’t move him over, then you’re kind of out-leveraged when the back releases and that kind of thing.

"There are some issues there that, I’m not saying you can’t do it, but you have to work them out. In a two-back set, I’d say it was probably a lot cleaner and it always gave you an extra blitzer that was hard for the offense. Even if they seven-man protected on play-action, there was always an eighth guy there somewhere. You didn’t have to bring all eight; if you just brought the right one and they didn’t have him or somebody would have to have two guys and that creates some problems.

"I think that’s what Buddy, really, where the genius of that was. He had by formation a different combination and group of blitzes so depending on what formation you were in, then he ran a blitz that would attack that formation and then when you changed formations, then he would change blitzes. Now, plus the fact [he] had Dan Hampton, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary, [Otis] Wilson, [Wilbur] Marshall, that was a pretty good group there. You could have probably played a lot of things and that defense would have looked pretty good, especially when they put Hampton on the nose. That was pretty unblockable."

Amendola forced Brady to break a ping pong paddle in first week with Patriots


Amendola forced Brady to break a ping pong paddle in first week with Patriots

Tom Brady has never been one to hide his emotions when he's on the field, and it sounds like he's not much different at the ping pong table.

When asked about Brady during an interview on ESPN's NFL Insiders show, Patriots receiver Danny Amendola recalled one story from his first few days at Gillette Stadium back in 2013.

"He's the best teammate," Amendola said. "He's so competitive . . . I remember one story, it was my first week in the building and he wanted to play some ping pong. I didn't know how to go about it. I knew I was better than him, [but] I didn't want to beat him too bad because I wanted him to throw me the ball.

"I knew I was better. Needless to say, his competitive nature unleashed a broken paddle by the end of it. It's the reason we love him, and the reason why he's the best quarterback."

That first encounter at the ping pong table didn't seem to hinder Amendola's relationship with Brady in the least. In their first game together, Amendola fought a groin injury and still ended up with 10 catches for 104 yards in a win over the Bills. Since then, when healthy -- and particularly since New England's most recent run to a Super Bowl title -- Amendola has established himself as one of Brady's most trusted targets.

Amendola and the rest of the Patriots are facing a start to the regular season without their No. 1 quarterback as Brady awaits a decision from the Second Circuit on whether or not it will rehear his case against the NFL. Should backup Jimmy Garoppolo take the reins in Brady's place, however, Amendola said he'll be confident. 

"He's a great player," Amendola explained. "He's been in the system a couple of years now and he's learned a lot. He's picked up everything that Tom has taught him and then also what coach [Bill] Belichick has to offer him. So we're all excited to see where he goes and see what the future holds for him."

Amendola says he feels 'really good' following offseason surgeries


Amendola says he feels 'really good' following offseason surgeries

Danny Amendola did not participate in OTA or minicamp practices that were open to reporters, but that doesn't mean he's ailing. 

"I feel really good," Amendola said while paying ESPN's NFL Insiders show a visit. "I had a couple minor procedures done after the season. Everybody knows how long the season can be. I wanted to go into next season feeling as fresh and ready as I can."

Amendola joined a relatively long list of Patriots regulars -- including LeGarrette Blount, Julian Edelman, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon -- who were not spotted during spring workouts. There exists, however, some optimism that he'll be ready to participate in training camp.

Though Amendola has battled nagging injuries in three seasons with the Patriots, he's often played through them rather than miss time. The 30-year-old wideout has played in all but six regular-season games since 2013.

Amendola is coming off of his best year in a Patriots uniform, finishing 2015 with 65 catches for 648 yards and three scores. He now helps make up a receiving corps that will include Edelman, newly-acquired wideouts Chris Hogan and Nate Washington, Aaron Dobson, DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper and rookies Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien.