Pace of play key as NFL players return from lockout

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Pace of play key as NFL players return from lockout

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
The suits and briefcases portion of this offseason should end in about 10 days. That will bring on the whistles and shoulder pads stage. And that's when the 2011 season will get very interesting and a possible war of attrition begins. Coaches haven't had hands on their players in nearly five months. Thesmoking desire to cram knowledge, technique and conditioning into men who ensure the coaches' continued employment and professional success can finally be released. But will the players be ready? "It's important that players have the proper time to prepare mentally for what they're about to go into with training camp," former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel saidFriday on WEEI's Big Show."And by that I mean, 'What's expected of them? What plays that are going to be run? What's the packages? What's the installation?' and then go out there and execute it in practice. But I think to just go suit up and throw pads on and go play isgoing tobe a detriment to the players and one that will probably get some guys injured."Consider the various dynamics coaching staffs face once the owner-player battle ends. Physical evaluations: The fact that players could visit team doctors during the lockout will help smooth the return of guys coming back from injuries in 2010. Still, who's gotten stronger? Faster? Who is woefully out of shape and simply won't be suited to be on the field? Scheme tweaks: For the last few months, coaches have had little else to do other than self-scout -- throwing out plays that didn't work or weren't used and installing improvements. How do you get the new stuff in to the established players in this compressed time? How do you get the rookies and new acquisitions versed in every single thing that your team is about? Practice adjustments: Two-a-days as we've known them are going away. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, teams will be allowed a helmet-less, non-contact practice in place of a second full-pads workout. Bill Belichick alters his schedule every year. The past two, he's been heavy with two-a-days and having the players in pads often. That'sprobably been because of the team's relative youth. There's little doubt that Belichick is going to hate having the standard physicality legislated out of camp. Health concerns: Between dehydration, muscle pulls and the inevitable contact injuries, the attrition is going to come early. There's talk of expanded training camp rosters which will give teams more cannon-fodder and allow principal players to take fewer reps. For instance, the Patriots are going to have to add a kicker or two immediately because Stephen Gostkowski -- coming off quad surgery last season -- is not going to be in a position to kick all day long. Time management and delegation: Head coaches who also wear a personnel hat -- like the Patriots -- are going to see their leader splitting his time between free agent negotiation and acquisition, rookie contract progress, assistant coach oversight, scheme implementation, planning, and so on. This could be one of the most challenging seasons ever for coaches. Vrabel said that the move from negotiation to actual football has been a topic discussed. "It's been called it the 'transition phase' into the season," he explained. "You have to have time for a new league year to begin. And with a new league year comes free agency. Then there's a learning process from the players that are on your roster before training camp. There's a lot that goes into it and guys like (Chiefs GM and former Patriots personnel man) Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick that are used to being general managers are going to feel the crunch of this process. But they'll live and they'll be able to survive."Survive? No question. Thrive? It will be fascinating to watch unfold. Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Does Garoppolo need to play Thursday? ‘It’s not my call,’ he says

Does Garoppolo need to play Thursday? ‘It’s not my call,’ he says

FOXBORO - Hard to put a shine on the clunker that Jimmy Garoppolo submitted Friday night in Carolina. Another red zone interception dropped, a fumble recovered by a teammate and almost half (four) of his nine completions caught behind the line of scrimmage. 

Not exactly what the Patriots were hoping for in the third, and perhaps, last preseason outing for their Week 1 starter. Which raises the question: does Garoppolo need to play Thursday in the Jersey swamp?

“It’s really not my call,” he said. “You always want to be out there with your guys. It’s just the nature of the beast; you’re a competitor, you want to be out there, but whatever Coach [Bill Belichick] asks me to do, I’ll do.”

Were Belichick to decide to keep Garoppolo on ice, that would mean the third-year pro would go 16 days between his ugly appearance in Carolina and opening night at Arizona. That is less than ideal. In fact, it seems like a bad idea for an unproven player in dire need of as many reps as can be afforded him (which is why playing Tom Brady last week still makes no sense in this man’s opinion).

“We have to take that into consideration, too,” admitted Bill Belichick. “Again, whether that overrides something or it doesn’t, we’ll just have to see, but yeah, it’s definitely a consideration.”

“I really don’t even think about it like that, to be honest,” said Garoppolo. “Whatever they ask me to do, they ask me to do. “

Garoppolo insists he found out he was starting against the Panthers with only slightly more lead time than he was given the week prior against Chicago. So, there’s a good chance if he plays this week that he won’t know until the day of, which is certainly an acquired taste.

“At first it was a weird - I can remember back in my rookie year it was a weird thing not knowing,” he said. “You just get used to it after a while, mixing and matching with all the different guys, knowing guys’ tendencies and how they play, and you just react to it, really.”

If Garoppolo does get that chance, the Pats need him to react more decisively and more confidently than his last time out. In a summer of unknowns, that’s one thing we can be sure of.

 

 

Branch: 'I ain't saying a damn thing' about reason behind suspension

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Branch: 'I ain't saying a damn thing' about reason behind suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch was suspended by the Patriots for about a week, a period spanning from before the team's second preseason game against the Bears to just before its third preseason game against the Panthers. When asked about Branch's time away from the field, Patriots coach Bill Belichick called it "a club matter." 

Branch was back in the Patriots locker room on Monday following his first practice since being reinstated, and he followed his coach's lead when it came to shedding light on the reasoning for his week-long departure.

"If Bill ain't telling ya'll, I ain't saying a damn thing, I guarantee that," Branch said. "If ya'll looking for something from me, it ain't happening. I'm just happy to be out here and get ready to play against the Giants. Glad to be out here with my teammates. We're all grinding for the same goal so that's where we're at right now."

Branch was asked if his team-issued suspension was the source of any embarrassment now that he's back.

"I ain't got nothing to be embarrassed about," he said. "Everything's copacetic. My teammates are good. The coaches are good. There's no reason for me to be embarrassed at all."

Branch did acknowledge, however, that the time he missed could have been better spent. While the Patriots practiced without him, he worked out on his own in order to try to stay in shape. At Monday's practice, he was not part of a group that went down to a separate field to do conditioning following warm-ups -- perhaps an indication that his conditioning was where the team expected it to be upon his return. 

"Everything in life is a learning experience," Branch said of his suspension. "I could definitely say it's a learning experience. Every snap on the field is valuable. Every one I missed out there, you know, other people are getting better while I was, you know, staying stagnant or going down with the personal workouts I was doing. I missed some valuable time out there."

Branch is a a big personality on a team that typically takes a business-like approach to the field. Oftentimes during training camp or pre-game warm-ups, when there is music playing within earshot, Branch is not afraid to break out a dance move or two. He also is one of the few Patriots who chooses not to participate in organized team activities in the spring, opting instead to show up for mandatory minicamp before returning home until having to report for training camp. 

Might his seemingly care-free style wear on teammates or coaches, he was asked?

"You gotta ask them, man," he answered. "I'm out here to have fun. I don't want to play football and be mad. If someone else has an issue, you gotta ask them. It ain't my problem."

Signed as a free agent after he was released by the Bills in 2014, Branch has made an impact as a consistent contrbutor on the interior of New England's defensive line. He made 17 starts for the Patriots last season, including both playoff contests, often lining up next to former first-round pick Malcom Brown. 

A second-round selection out of Michigan back in 2007, Branch has had a long and productive career, providing teams with an impossible-to-teach 6-foot-6, 350-pound frame. With the Patriots, though, he's had a bit of a revival as 2015 was his second-highest season-long grade he's ever received from Pro Football Focus, behind only the season he had in 2011 as a member of the Seahawks.

"I love it here," he said. "Love the guys in the lcoker room. Love everything. The atmosphere, the winning attitude. Everything about being here is awesome so I love this place."

The fourth preseason game is traditionally a game that's used by teams to get a look at players vying for final roster spots. Branch seems to be a safe bet to make the roster based on his skill set and experience, but he said he's hoping to play against the Giants on Thursday after having missed each of the last two preseason games.

"Definitely. Like I said before, every snap on the field is valuable experience and time missed if you don't get it," he said. "Every rep I get out there, I'm going to use my full ability to make sure I get everything I can out of it."

Belichick taking wait-and-see approach with Stork's status

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Belichick taking wait-and-see approach with Stork's status

FOXBORO -- Bryan Stork has had a whirlwind few days. 

On Wednesday, news broke that Stork had been informed of his release. Then before that move became official, the Patriots and Redskins worked out a trade to send the third-year center to Washington. After that, indications were that Stork was retiring, and the Redskins were unsure as to whether or not he would even report. 

Stork eventually made up his mind, tweeted that he was ready to start a new chapter in his career -- a tweet he has since deleted -- and made his way to the Redskins.

The latest update on Stork's saga is that he failed his physical and that his right have reverted back to the Patriots. When asked about the situation, Bill Belichick chose to wait on illuminating the media of his plans since the picture was still a bit hazy.

"I don’t know if that’s official," Belichick said of Stork's rights. "That sounds like the way it is going to go."

Asked if the Patriots would be releasing Stork, as they originally intended, Belichick replied, "Well, we’ll find out exactly what the story is and whenever that is we’ll make the best decision that we can."

Stay tuned.