The week ahead for Patriots and the NFL

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The week ahead for Patriots and the NFL

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Tuesday. Big day for the cellular telephone industry. But it starts tonight. "Post-lockout Player Procurement Panic 2011" has begun. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tweeted that all rookies, signed or unsigned, could begin negotiations with teams tonight, but could not be signed until 10 a.m. Tuesday morning. What does that mean for the Patriots? Well, chances are they're on the phone with first-rounder Nate Solder and all the other draftees right now, as well as undrafted players like Mark Herzlich. They can also start talking totheir ownfree agents who may be headed out of town, their own franchise players, restricted free agents and exclusive rights free agents. That means Matt Light (free agent), Logan Mankins (franchise) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (RFA) can be contacted. And the Patriotscan do the same with any and all free agents from other teams. Can't sign 'em yet. Have to wait until Friday at 6 p.m. to sign 'em. Thursday at 4 p.m., teams can start to waive players or terminate their contracts. Nick Kaczur, Bret Lockett and Tully Banta-Cain could be in danger. Banta-Cain's situation is interesting because, while he had his sports hernia during 2010, he eschewed the chance to have it fixed after the season then re-aggravated it during the lockout. Still trying to determine whether that's an injury that would preclude Banta-Cain from being cut without an injury settlement. By August 4, all teams have to be under the 2011 salary cap of 120.375 million. Top 51 salaries will count against cap beginning that day so August 3 could be a big day for bloodletting. A few points we're still trying to lock down are 1. when padded practices can begin; 2. when unsigned rookies must vacate team (allowed to report Tuesday it seems); 3. when media and fan access begins. Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Lengel hopes to help Patriots function as 'well-oiled machine' when asked

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Lengel hopes to help Patriots function as 'well-oiled machine' when asked

FOXBORO -- Want a sense of what it's like for a player to come into the Patriots locker room in the middle of the season and drop everything in order to familiarize himself with a new place and a new system?

Ask Matt Lengel about his socks.

"It just got to the point where I was living out of my suitcase in my hotel room," Lengel said on Thursday. "I was like, just forget it . . . I'd wear the same thing in the facility. I just didn't care. 

"I didn't want to think about having style. I didn't have time to do laundry. I was wearing the same pair of socks for a week, and then I'd find another pair and kind of let the other ones dry out a little bit. That's just what you gotta do. Things happen."

The second-year tight end was signed by the Patriots off of the Bengals practice squad back in Week 9 as a depth piece. But now with Rob Gronkowski on season-ending injured reserve after undergoing back surgery on Friday, and with Martellus Bennett dealing with an ankle issue that has limited him since Week 5, Lengel is a play away from becoming the lone available tight end on coach Bill Belichick's roster. 

"Matt's got a little bit of experience," Belichick said this week. "He was on the Bengals practice squad last year so he's picked things up, I'd say, ahead of a rookie type player. He has some experience there and he's got some skills. He's done a good job with what we've asked him to do. Works hard. He's been a dependable guy."

When Gronkowski was dealing with a chest injury that kept him out of the team's Week 11 win over the 49ers, Lengel was activated for the first time and saw the first six snaps of his professional career. In front of a handful of family members who flew in from different parts of the country he played six snaps, including one where he laid a strong block on first-round pick DeForest Buckner to help spring running back LeGarrette Blount for a 20-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Lengel was inactive last weekend against the Jets, but will likely be back in uniform Sunday versus the Rams. He acknowledged this week that he felt as though he's progressed with his understanding of the offense with each passing week, and he indicated he would be ready to do whatever he's asked should the Patriots need him to take on a larger workload.

"Mentally, I feel a lot more comfortable," the 6-foot-7, 266-pounder said. "Even coming into the facility in the morning, going through meetings, sitting in a meeting, being told what to do, everything is just processing a lot smoother than it did. 

"When I first got here, I'd get [to the facility], try to learn the offense, then I have to pay rent back at my place in Cincinnati, but then I gotta find a place to live here. Then I'd come home after all that and I'd study. Now that's all calmed down. I go home, and I'm not living out of a suitcase right now which is nice. I'm not wearing the same pair of socks for two weeks just because I don't feel like dealing with it in the morning. It's pretty nice. It's a lot easier."

Remembering those first few weeks with the Patriots, Lengel referred back to something he'd heard about Mark Zuckerberg that helped him get by. Eliminating small choices -- like what to wear -- that popped up over the course of Lengel's day might've helped him save energy to pour into his new gig.

"He wears the same thing every day," Lengel said of Facebook's founder. "He says it's because he doesn't want to spend the energy. I don't really care about trying to impress anyone with fashion here. My fiancee's back in Cincinnati. I'm just wearing the same pair of sweatpants, same pair of jeans for two weeks in a row until I can move into my new place and find a washer and dryer. 

"That's the thing for me that helped. It really did take a little bit of anxiety out, a little bit of stress out. You're just trying to cut all the unnecessary out of your life for at least a few weeks."

Soon after he arrived to Foxboro, Lengel described himself to reporters as more of a blocking tight end given his experience. A member of the Northeastern football program before it disbanded, Lengel eventually transferred to Eastern Kentucky and finished his college career with 33 catches for 361 yards.

The Patriots will likely use a variety of players to piece together the responsibilities normally taken on by tight ends in Gronkowski's absence should Bennett need a breather. Fullback James Develin may see an increased role since he meets with the tight ends on a daily basis and understands their duties. Offensive tackle Cameron Fleming could continue to be used as a blocking tight end in certain situations in order to fortify the edges, as he's done in the past.

But there have been times -- like on Wednesday of this week -- when Lengel has been a one-man position group, getting one-on-one tutorials from tight ends coach Brian Daboll. Lengel said he has tried to make the most of those moments, as he has every meeting, in order to allow the Patriots offense to function without a hitch on the occasions he is called upon to be in the huddle.

"The way I look at it is this place is a well-oiled machine," Lengel said. "I'm here coming in to be a spare part. I don't want to do anything to hinder the performance of this team. I only want to try to make it better. Asking any questions, if anything is unclear, coach Daboll is awesome about letting me ask. He encourages me to ask questions because we're all just working for one purpose, and that's the team. That's a huge theme around here, and that's really impressed me about being here. Guys are all in for the team."

It's been a little more than a month since Lengel got the call letting him know it was time to get his suitcase together and head back to the area where his college career began. Coming off of a trip to London with the Bengals for their game against the Redskins, Lengel was watching NBC's "The Voice" with his fiancee when he was informed that the Patriots wanted to sign him to their active roster. 

"I was like, 'What? Huh?' In the NFL you just never know who's watching," Lengel said. "That's what's crazy about it. You always have to prepare like your name is going to come up. There's just always that voice in the back of your head saying, 'Hey, your time might be coming soon.' "

With Gronkowski out and Bennett playing hurt, Lengel's time in New England could come sooner than anyone anticipated.