Curran: Already, Patriots are gaining separation


Curran: Already, Patriots are gaining separation

By Tom E. Curran Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Which teams might actually benefit from the lockout? One of them was on the field at Gillette Stadium Thursday night. And it wasn't the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Patriots beat the bejeesus out of Jacksonville. Of the Pats' presumed 2011 starters, only Aaron Hernandez, Gary Guyton, Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather were on the field at the start of the game. Throw in Kyle Arrington, Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham as guys who'll have big roles, and that's 7 regulars out of 22. The Jags played every player but backup quarterback Luke McCown and center John Estes. And they lost by 35. And the Patriots played poorly for most of the first quarter. This is not a league doormat. The Jaguars are a middle-class NFL team, as last season's 8-8 record will attest. Yet, after stopping the Patriots on their first two drives - an Aaron Hernandez fumble ended the first; the second was a three-and-out - New England scored on its next eight possessions. Asked what his biggest concern was after the game, Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said, "We aren't going to play our backend people that much again this preseason. That is more of a relief than a concern because that was pretty ugly out there at the end."Actually, the final 50 minutes were pretty ugly for the Jags. If the Patriots' backend people are that much better than the Jaguars' - and I will allow the fact rookie Blaine Gabbert was running the Jacksonville show and that counts for something - than what would the starters look like?The point is this: bad or middle-class teams benefit from offseason work. OTAs, minicamps, passing camps and meetings. All are opportunities to coach up the backend guys Del Rio refers to. Without that, those players are left to their own devices. Which, in the case of the Jaguars, appears to have been XBox. The Patriots have an established program with arguably the most talented coach and teacher in the NFL. Bill Belichick stuck the green dot on the back of Dane Fletcher's helmet and the second-year, undrafted player set the defense. He went with a three-man line of Darryl Richard, Kyle Love and Eric Moore. Their defense came up with four sacks, allowed 120 passing yards and held Jacksonville to 3-of-13 on third down. On the offensive line, he went with rookie Nate Solder, Thomas Austin, Rich Ohrnberger, Mark Levoir and Steve Maneri. The Patriots put up 475 yards of offense behind those guys. Belichick's plan is to figure out the bottom of the roster first, then fine tune the starters and regulars in later preseason games. He was notably pleased with the result. "We looked at a lot of people here tonight, a lot of young players," he explained. "That was kind of the idea - to get them in there and let them play - and we let them play against some better people there in the beginning of the game, so we'll get a good evaluation of them."It was far from perfect. Two Hernandez fumbles, one by running back Danny Woodhead, a delay-of-game penalty, a formation penalty, a PAT snap that sailed over the holder's head, some missed tackles early in the game; there will be plenty of teaching points. But the difference between the Patriots' scrubs and a mix of the Jacksonville starters and scrubs was jaw-dropping. Jacksonville looked positively unschooled. In each of the past 13 seasons, the 12-team playoff field has had at least five teams qualify that didn't qualify the year before. I'm not sure you're going to see that kind of turnover this year. Some of the bad teams - the eight that got new head coaches - may be even worse because they haven't had necessary prep time in a new system. And middle-class teams like Jacksonville may not have stable enough situations at positions like quarterback or established programs that often equal success. The lockout hurt everybody. But because of the continuity and organization of the Patriots, it hurt them less. And that was obvious Thursday night. Tom E. Curran can be reached at Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran.

Curran: Too early to read anything into Patriots' practice groupings

Curran: Too early to read anything into Patriots' practice groupings

FOXBORO – On Thursday, we noted that the early part of Patriots practice -- 7-on-7 passing -- had Tom Brady running with the starters. When 11-on-11s came, it was Jimmy Garoppolo The Patriots flipped it on Friday. 

A major part of training camp is seeing who’s running with whom to get an idea of which way the coaching staff is leaning. But not all reps are created equal, as Bill Belichick pointed out Thursday morning. 

“There’s a balance,” he explained. “Players that will probably play together, you let them work together, but you never really know how that’s going to go. And in the end everybody’s got to work with everybody until those things get worked out, get declared. 

“I don’t think we’re really in that spot yet,” he added. “But, you know, you get into the season and you want a certain receiver running a certain route, a certain situation, that’s who it’s going to be. I don’t think we’re really there. Offensively, we’re just installing our offense. We don’t even have 50 percent of our red-area offense [installed], and that’s what we worked on yesterday so we’re a long way from really trying to nail down a lot of specifics. But you saw some times in practice where the quarterbacks would be working with an individual receiver, maybe during a special-teams period, things like that. There’s some of that but we’re not in that full-scale mode yet.”

And it will take a while before you can really read the tea leaves on groupings and figure out who is near the top of the depth chart. Some guys are still in 100-level classes. Others are more highly evolved.

“Everybody can work with everybody, that’s not a problem -- I’d say the knowledge base, the overall level of execution of certain things is higher in one group than it is in another group. We have some players with less experience spending more times on the basics and the fundamentals, Not that they don’t practice some of the little more sophisticated things, but that’s not the point of emphasis for them. It’s for them to work on their fundamentals and more of the basics first. But it’s a balance, it’s a tough thing in camp that you’ve got to balance, and at some point you’ve got to turn the corner and get your players that are going to be ready to play, whoever those are, ready to play.”

That time’s not now. And it may not come in force until after the Bears and Saints joint practices and preseason games. So take every report of reps and combinations with a grain of salt for the short term. And we’ll keep pumping them out.  

Bennett on chemistry with QBs: 'I've dated two girls at the same time before'

Bennett on chemistry with QBs: 'I've dated two girls at the same time before'

FOXBORO -- Martellus Bennett has what may be seen as a difficult task this summer: Pick up some measure of chemistry with not one but two new quarterbacks as he learns the Patriots offense. 

Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo have different skill sets, different arm slots and different release points. Their timing with their throws probably isn't identical, either. Still, Bennett has to figure out how to get in lockstep with both while deciphering a complicated offense with a playbook built up over 16 years. 

But the challenge of working in unison with two quarterbacks shouldn't be much of a challenge at all, Bennett explained. 

"I've dated two girls at the same time before," Bennett said with a laugh. "That's the old Martellus though."

During his short time in New England, Bennett has shown he is not afraid to engage in colorful back-and-forths with reporters, and Friday was no different. 

Here are some other highlights from Bennett's interaction with the media on Day 2 of training camp: 

* On if he could see himself in New England long-term (Bennett is currently in the last year of his contract): "Yeah. I don't really think about next year. Right now, I'm just trying to have the most fun playing football this year. It could be taken from me at any time. I didn't get to finish the season last year. For me, it's just a joy to be out there playing and enjoying the game. I'm enjoyig the process and making progress every single day. I'm haven't even thought about tomorrow, I'm just worried about my todays."

* On the pressure to perform for his new club: "I always feel pressure to perform. It's a performance-based game. If you don't perform, they move on from you. Every single player out here has pressure to perform. It's our lives on the line, it's our careers. Every single day, you just try to show them what you can do. That way you can get a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more. I've always had that pressure on myself. I don't play for myself. I play for my family. My wife and my daughter and my teammates so I have pressure on me every single day because if I don't play well, it affects my wife and my daughter so that's my mentality when I come on the field."

* On what it's like to play with Brady versus other quarterbacks: "I wouldn't compare apples and oranges. I've been fortunate to play with a lot of great quarterbacks. With Tom, he's just really good. I just tell [teammates] every day: 'Man, you guys are lucky, you guys have played with Tom Brady forever.' He's just a really good quarterback."

* On competitiveness he's seen from Brady, who spiked a helmet on Friday : "He's been competitive even when we're just working out. It's fun because he plays at such a high level that you have to match that level. Oil and vinegar don't mix. You just want to make sure you rise to the top when he rises to the top as well."

* On where he sees players on the team exhibit competitiveness: "Everywhere. Even in the cafeteria."

* On how it feels to get back on the football field: "It's like when you break up and you finally get back with the girl that you love in the first place."