Patriots prep for Moss's return to Gillette

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Patriots prep for Moss's return to Gillette

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- "Gone but not forgotten" is a perfect phrase for Randy Moss.

Though traded three weeks ago, you hear about him constantly. In every pregame, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is asked how opponents will adjust to his Moss-less offense. In the postgame, he is asked if his team misses Randy or not.

It makes sense.

During his tenure with the team, "Brady to Moss" became one of the most thrilling possibilities on game day. Quarterback Tom Brady connected with the speedy, athletic wideout almost instantly and Moss went on to set the NFL single-season record for touchdown catches (23) in his first season in New England.

Moss had only 9 catches for 139 yards in four games before being traded this year, but his body of work as a Patriot was impressive: 259 passes for 3,904 yards and 50 touchdowns in three-plus years.

So, yeah, the trade of the seven-time Pro Bowler was dramatic. And, yeah, fans and reporters alike have questions.

Getting them answered in such a notoriously tight-lipped locker room, though? Toss-up.

"No, I haven't talked about Moss,'' running back Danny Woodhead said. "You're going to get pretty standard answers, you know what I mean?''

That everyone has moved on?

"Yeah, that's exactly right,'' Woodhead smiled.

Sunday's matchup with the Minnesota Vikings makes ducking Moss-talk more difficult. This week Randy Moss isn't just New England's formerly disgruntled downfield threat, he's Minnesota's current downfield threat. He will again run his routes at Gillette Stadium, but this time he's the Pats' problem -- a football, not personnel problem -- to handle.

So this time the guys had an opponent to address on Wednesday. Thing is, nobody stuck around. The locker room was emptier than usual.

At least Brady's media time is inescapably scheduled. He admitted the two have exchanged some text messages but if he misses Moss he didn't say.

The conversation was drawn in X's and O's.

"Moss can probably tell the Vikings the plays. He knows the signals and stuff,'' Brady said. "That's why you gotta change 'em. Hopefully he tells them one thing and then you fake it and they're guessing and maybe they guess wrong.''

Cornerback Kyle Arrington took the same businesslike tone.

"We know him well and he knows us well, so it's just going to be who goes out there and performs better technique-wise, game plan-wise . . . who's going to do the better job,'' he said.

"There are a few techniques that we're going to use to our advantage that we know in trying to stop him and I'm sure he's going to tell his guys, Brett Favre and the offensive side of the ball, the same thing about us. It should be an interesting match up."

Interesting for one reason in particular. Bill Belichick brought it up in his press conference.

"Weve worked against Moss and obviously have a good knowledge of him, but he knows a lot moreWe know one guy. He knows all of us, so I dont know if there is a big advantage there."

Good point, Bill. Minnesota certainly sees the value in its acquisition.

"I think it's been positive. He's been a positive voice around here; he's brought excitement,'' defensive end Jared Allen said. "I think he's been a positive influence in the locker room. You can see he wants to win.''

A win for Randy Moss this Sunday means a loss for the Patriots. If that happens those questions about life without 81 will carry a brand new bitterness. And it will make it that much harder to move on.

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

Garoppolo: Make the best of this opportunity as starting quarterback

Garoppolo: Make the best of this opportunity as starting quarterback

Jimmy Garoppolo, who will start the first four weeks, talks to the media today about trying to take advantage of the opportunity of being the Patriots' quarterback.

Garoppolo takes snaps with first group in 11-on-11 period

Garoppolo takes snaps with first group in 11-on-11 period

FOXBORO -- Less than 24 hours after Patriots coach Bill Belichick called it a priority to get Jimmy Garoppolo ready to start for the first quarter of the regular season, it looked like not much had changed at Patriots practice. 

When the offense ran plays early in the practice -- whether against no defense or in 7-on-7 work -- it was Tom Brady who was the first quarterback taking the snaps. 

Later in the session however, the focus seemed to shift Garoppolo's way, as he was the first quarterback to take snaps during the 11-on-11 and hurry-up periods. It was the first sign of Patriots training camp that things will be different on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium this summer as they prepare to go without Brady as he serves his four-game suspension to start the year. 

From Garoppolo's perspective, though, his late-practice snaps didn't necessarily feel like a watershed moment. 

"Nothing's really changed," he said. "When they put me in for the reps I'm in for, I'll go out there, do my best, and do whatever the coaches ask. Mindset's basically the same."

Since his rookie season, as a second-round pick out of Eastern Illinois, Garoppolo has insisted that his mindset has been to prepare as the starting quarterback -- even though that was an unlikelyhood. 

Now that he has his chance, he wants to make the most of it. 

"It's a great opportunity . . . Gotta go out there, take advantage of it," he said. "You don't get many opportunities in this league, and you might only get one, so you gotta make the best of it."

Garoppolo had a solid first day of on-the-field work, going 4-for-6 in competitive 11-on-11 work. He also went 6-for-8 in 7-on-7 red zone snaps, and he was 3-for-5 (with one rep where he couldn't find an open receiver and held onto the ball) during one period where the team split the field in half to go 4-on-3. 

In terms of the sheer number of snaps, Brady and Garoppolo shared the workload, getting 20 each, with Brissett getting fewer attempts in team work. But the timing of those snaps is what many in attendance paid attention to. 

When Garoppolo got to work with the first group in the 11-on-11 period, he worked behind what appeared to be the first-team offensive line: left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Joe Thuney, center Bryan Stork, right guard Jonathan Cooper and right tackle Marcus Cannon.

The crowd Garoppolo was throwing to was a mix of what might be considered starters and reserves -- which the Patriots often do so that quarterbacks have some chemistry built up with all the team's weapons. His attempts went to LeGarrette Blount, DeAndre Carter, James White, Martellus Bennett, Aaron Dobson and Chris Hogan. 

Garoppolo's quick release was on display throughout, and he didn't appear to make any obvious mistakes. In fact, no Patriots quarterbacks were intercepted on the day. 

Brady, meanwhile, looked like his typically-sharp self. He was 3-for-6 in 11-on-11 work, 5-for-8 in 7-on-7 work in the red zone, and 4-for-6 in the half-field work.

It was an atypical finish to Thursday's practice, however, as someone other than Brady took the first snaps during a competitive period. 

Felger: Jimmy G. may be McDaniels' ticket to a new head coaching job

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Felger: Jimmy G. may be McDaniels' ticket to a new head coaching job

So Josh McDaniels says he wants to be a head coach again?

Perfect. The timing couldn't be better. Because in Jimmy Garoppolo, McDaniels may have the perfect resume stuffer.

If the same man who helped coax a Matt Cassell-led offense to 11 wins and the eighth-highest number of points in football in 2008 can do something similar with Garoppolo in 2016, then McDaniels should be able to write his ticket.

"I want to be a head coach at some point in my life," said McDaniels on Wednesday. "I've learned a lot over the last few years. Hopefully, gained a lot of wisdom. If and when that time comes, I'd look forward to doing it again.''

It's something of a mystery why McDaniels hasn't already made his return to the head coaching ranks. Despite his failure in Denver, it would seem he has sufficiently rehabilitated himself to once again be at the top of most searches. So either he hasn't quite gotten the offer he's wanted or there are some other forces at work that have kept him with Bill Belichick the last few years.

Of course, many have wondered if one of those forces could be a promise of future employment in New England. You know, the heir apparent. So when McDaniels says he wants to be a head coach again, maybe what he means is that he wants to be the head coach of the New England Patriots.

Would that be a good or bad thing?

Judging by McDaniels' work the last time he left Tom Brady and the Patriots in 2009, the prospect is scary. He started out 6-0 in Denver (including a fist-pumping, overtime win over the Pats in Week 5), but then dropped 17 of his next 22 games and was promptly fired. He surfaced in St. Louis as an offensive coordinator the next season, only to lead an offense that finished dead last in the NFL in points scored (second-year QB Sam Bradford started 10 of the 16 games that season). Then it was back to New England the protective glow of Brady.

As for his GM work, McDaniels carries the shame of drafting Tim Tebow in the first round. But he also came away with receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in the same draft. He also traded Jay Cutler to Chicago for two first-round picks, a third-rounder and Kyle Orton, a decisive win. In other words, personnel-wise, his two-year stint wasn't a complete disaster.

But most everything else was. He was hated inside and outside the building for his authoritarian nature and lack of experience, a deadly combination. He was caught cheating when his (ahem) video director Steve Scharnecchia (yes, Dante's kid) was caught filming a 49ers walkthrough in London (wonder where he learned that from?). He constantly battled with players. He was reviled.

But that's in the past, and Garoppolo could now be his ticket back to a job he covets. Unless, of course, the Pats go 1-3 under Garoppolo and the offense sputters. Then we go back to talking about Tebow and how it ended in Denver.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN.