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D-Line, Tight Ends add depth as training camp transitions to next phase

Posted Aug 18, 2014

News and notes from the final public practice of 2014 training camp.

Almost a year after suffering a season-ending right knee injury in college, Dominique Easley took his first 11-on-11 reps in practice as a Patriot – and showed no sign of having had a year off.

New England’s first-round draft choice lined up at defensive end and looked explosive in his live-action opportunities.

“It feels really good. I haven’t done that since last September,” Easley told reporters afterward. “So, it’s just a work in progress, trying to get better every day.”

The youngster added that he never had any doubts that he’d be ready at some point in training camp, nor was he nervous about suiting up as a pro for the first time, which he did last week for a couple of days before the Eagles game.

However, he laughed when asked if he thought this day might never come.

“Somewhat, yeah… when I’m not on the football field, I feel like I’m a lost kid. Mentally, I’m good to go. I already went through [a similar knee injury] one time. I just have to work in with the team, do what I can for the team.”

Getting “classroom reps” throughout the early part of the summer has proven critical for Easley’s development as he tries to get caught up on the field.

“It’s really important. You’re supposed to know everything when you get on the field. It’s been a challenge,” he conceded, “but I’m into it. Bill [Belichick] holds I high expectation. I’m just trying to work to his expectation and be better than that.”

Easley was joined on the practice field Monday by a pair of new d-line teammates who were acquired last week – Jerel Worthy and Ben Bass. The latter, picked up in a trade with Dallas, is taking things a bit slowly at the moment as he recovers from a hamstring injury.

“I’m good now,” said Bass. “I was running out here today, hopefully, trying to get back more into practice tomorrow. They’re just gradually getting me back into it, but it’s good. I’m ready to go.

“It’s been a little hectic, you know,” Bass admitted. “It was unexpected being traded over here, but it’s been a good experience so far. Two years ago, I was in Rob Ryan’s defense, and this is pretty much the same defense, so, it’s a little bit easier to grasp than something completely different.”

Worthy, meanwhile, hadn’t played this summer in Green Bay, before being traded to New England, because of a lower back injury. He passed his physical upon arrival in Foxborough, though, and was in uniform in full pads for Monday’s session.

“We’ll see. He didn’t play very much last year. He played quite a bit his rookie year,” Belichick said of Worthy. “He was a good player coming out of Michigan State, played well in a good conference against good people. He’s got some athleticism and he’s got some size and we’ll just see how it all fits together for us. [I’m] happy to be working with him. We’ll see how it goes.”


Hooman re-joins TEs

The Patriots had gotten razor thin at tight end , with just one player – Steve Maneri – lining up for the team against Philly in last week’s preseason contest. On Monday, however, a welcome sight, as Michael Hoomanawanui got back on the field for the first time since late July, and Rob Gronkowski took another step in the right direction when he upped his practice workload to include 11-on-11 action.

Hooman spoke to reporters after his light workday, saying he as “getting there” when it came to being able to take part fully in practice.

“It’s always disappointing if you’re watching from the sidelines, or inside. Watching film’s hard when you’re not out there. It’s unfortunate, but, good to be back. I’ll be out there as soon as I can.

“I feel good. It’s hard to simulate what it is to be out there in real-time situations, but I’m doing the best I can.”

Gronkowski saw considerable reps during the team periods against a full defense, and admitted he still needed to “knock the rust off.” At one point after making a catch near the sideline, rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler reached around Gronk to strip the ball away from him.

The tight end position was helped further by the return of rookie Justin Jones, who was re-signed after having been cut after the preseason opener at Washington. Room on the 90-man roster was made for Jones when the team released rookie long snapper Tyler Ott.


Camp concludes

A capacity crowd of onlookers was treated to another spectacular summer day as the Patriots wrapped up the public practice portion of their preseason. From here on out, only credentialed members of the media will be allowed at Patriots practices, and even then, only for a limited window of time.

“Kind of shifting gears to sort of a different phase of the season and our preparation,” the head coach said Monday. “It’s good to get back out on the field this week. I thought we had two real good weeks [of joint practices] with Washington and Philadelphia, but there’s a lot of things that we need to just work on that apply to the Patriots. This is a good week for us to do that.

“It’s also kind of the first week where we’ll have to prepare ourselves for the game as opposed to being able to work against a team that obviously gives us a good look at what they’re doing. Part of that whole process of learning how to practice, learning how to prepare ourselves for our opponents, giving our other offense, defense or special teams unit a good look from the other side of the ball is going to be an important thing for us to accomplish this week in practice and make that efficient.”

This is also the last week of the summer that clubs can keep 90 players on their active rosters. Cut-down dates are August 26 (to 75) and 30 (to the final 53-man roster).

“We’re closing in now on some roster decisions, so a lot of things are kind of colliding here on one point. But that’s the way it is, that’s the way it always is,” Belichick observed. “We have a lot of things going on.

“I think it’s been good,” concluded about this year’s training camp. “The facilities here have been great. The additions that Robert [Kraft], the Kraft family have made in the offices, meeting rooms, the training room, the weight room, all those things have really been good, have helped the flow go smoothly. I feel like it’s been a good start to the season. Obviously we have a long way to go, we haven’t done anything yet, but I think we’re making progress.”



Stock Watch

Buy: Jimmy Garoppolo – After back-to-back impressive performances in the first two preseason games, the rookie signal caller is getting better in practice as well. He’s shown noticeable growth in a short period of time.

Sell: Will Smith – It’s been a very quiet summer for the veteran defensive end.

Play of the Day: During 11-on-11, Tom Brady dropped back to pass around midfield and was nearly sacked by linebacker Jamie Collins up the middle. Brady released the ball maybe quicker than intended in the direction of Danny Amendola, who was running from right to left. Linebacker James Anderson stepped in front of the pass, though, and had nothing but green grass in front of him. Would’ve been a nice “pick-six” in live game action.

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