Patriots taking positive steps on injury front

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Patriots taking positive steps on injury front

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn
FOXBORO -- The New England Patriots are a close-to-the-vest, even-keeled team regardless of who the opponent may be.

That lock-and-load focus has been on another level leading up to Sunday's game against AFC rival New York Jets.

Of course, having focus always helps.

Healthy bodies? Even better.

The Pats are certainly moving in the right direction on the health front, with a couple of key players -- tight end Aaron Hernandez (knee) and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (back) -- returning to practice this week.

"Anytime you got another weapon out there, it helps out and really helps us move the ball and get us working down the field," said Pats wide receiver Wes Welker, whose success of late has been in part because of the absence of Hernandez. "The more weapons we can have out there, the better we can be."

The same goes for the Patriots defensive line, which came into the season with one of the deepest, most experienced lines in the NFL.

In addition to Haynesworth, who hasn't played in the last two games, New England's defensive line also includes battle-tested veterans such as Andre Carter (32-years old), Vince Wilfork (30 next month), Shaun Ellis (34), Gerard Warren (34) and Mike Wright (29) who returned to practice this week after being out due to another concussion - he missed final 7 games of last season due to a concussion.

The plan going into the season was to platoon players along the defensive line as much as possible, which would keep a fresh, hard-charging body on the field on almost every down.

But the absence of Haynesworth, 30, has meant more reps for the veterans. And over the course of a game, their ability to impact a game diminishes.

Getting injured players back on the practice field is just part of the process involved in their return to actually seeing action and contributing in a meaningful way. As important as the first day back is in a player's recovery, Day Two is even more telling.

"The question really is the second day, was that too much? Do they need to back off a little bit? Was that something they could easily handle and are we able to escalate the workload?" Belichick said. "If that second day goes good, that's probably a good indication the player is ready to move up. If it doesn't or it levels off or starts to stress whatever the injury is, then the medical people will back him off a little bit until we're able to raise up and get to a higher level."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Easley on character concerns: 'It's all rumors' until sources step forward

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Easley on character concerns: 'It's all rumors' until sources step forward

When Dominique Easley was released by the Patriots this spring, it wasn't because he wasn't productive when he was on the field. In fact, on a per-snap basis, he was one of the most productive interior pass-rushers in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Instead, there were some off-the-field factors, as well as injury concerns, that led to the Patriots choosing to cut ties with their 2014 first-round pick. 

As our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran put it, there were "philosophical differences" between Easley and the team.

Other, more scathing reports of Easley's impact in New England were released, including one report from the Boston Globe that included a quote from a former teammate saying he was a "locker room cancer."

Since then, Easley has landed with the Rams and has a chance to contribute to one of the most talented defensive lines in football. In an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Phil Savage and Amber Theoharis, Easley said he hopes that his new team will get to see that he's a better person than some have indicated.

"Just really," Easley said, "just hopefully that the Rams get to see what a great person and a great hardworker I am, and really, just a great person."

Easley went on to say that he's not sure who would speak of him negatively or why. He explained that it's not his "main goal" to prove there's nothing to worry about with his character, but clearly it's somewhere on the list. 

"There's been, obviously, stuff said about me," Easley said. "We don't know where it came from. I would say the person doesn't want to come out and say it, neither. As far as I know, it's all rumors until that person comes out and say that it was from them, and they can prove that they actually know who I am, or been around me long enough to know who I am and how I am as a person."

PFT: NFL plans to interview Manning about Al Jazeera PED allegations

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PFT: NFL plans to interview Manning about Al Jazeera PED allegations

Peyton Manning is retired, but that doesn't mean he's exempt from the interviews that the NFL plans to conduct as it looks into the allegations made by Al Jazeera's December PED documentary. 

It was reported last week by USA Today that the league's senior vice president of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch informed the NFLPA that players named in Al Jazeera's report would be interviewed in July. 

Among those scheduled to be interviewed are Packers linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews and Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Former Packers linebacker Mike Neal will also be interviewed.

(Harrison has taken issue with the league's request, and said on social media that he would only meet with the league if commissioner Roger Goodell showed up to his home.)

Manning was not mentioned in the letter obtained by USA Today detailing the league's interview plans, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk followed up on Monday to see if the NFL intended to speak with Manning. It does.

The former Broncos and Colts quarterback has been very vocal about just how strongly he denies Al Jazeera's claim that his wife, Ashley, received HGH for his use. Despite the fact that he's no longer playing, it will come as no surprise if, given his stance, Manning cooperates fully with the league as it seeks more information regarding the report. 

As Florio points out, if Manning hopes to return to the NFL at some point as an executive -- as many believe he will -- this is something he'll want to put to bed beforehand. That process will start with an interview.