For the second week in a row, the Patriots are breaking in another new linebacker, thanks to a trade. A week ago, it was Akeem Ayers; this time, it's Jonathan Casillas, late of Tampa Bay, who arrived late Tuesday. The deal that saw New England send a 2015 fifth-round draft pick to the Bucs in exchange for Casillas and a 2015 sixth-rounder.
"The day of the trade, I got wind basically that some teams were interested, but I went to work, lifted weights, watched film of the game as a Buccaneer. I left the facility thinking I was still a Buccaneer," Casillas recounted to reporters Thursday.
"As it got closer to 4 o'clock, my agent started calling me more and basically saying New England is interested. I got excited, but at the same time, a little nervous. I didn't really want to leave a place I called home for the past two years, but at the same time, I had an opportunity to come to probably THE franchise since I've been alive in the NFL. I'm just happy to be here. Trade day was a little stressful, but I got here that night and was at work yesterday."
Casillas, a six-year veteran who also played for New Orleans, admitted he's going through a "cram session" trying to learn his fourth new defense in as many years. He's trying to absorb as much as possible to be ready if called upon to play Sunday afternoon against Denver. Not an altogether unlikely scenario, as Ayers played last week after only a few days in New England and even registered a sack against Chicago.
But how will the admittedly undersized 'backer be utilized by the Patriots? Though he says he's traditionally played a Will (weak side linebacker in a 4-3), he's being asked to do more inside linebacker work so far this week in Foxborough. He also has experience on the "core four" special teams units of kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage, and punt return.
"Just talking to Bill [Belichick] and [the coaching staff], I'll basically be playing on some sub packages, passing situations – nickel, dollar personnel – just adding some depth," Casillas continued. "I think our linebackers are good, man. Big guys that can run, very physical. I'm just helping add a little different element to that: a little speed, a little quickness."
That quickness may have been hampered recently by a hamstring injury, but Casillas insisted he could have played for Tampa Bay last week (he was inactive) and is back at full strength now.
"I feel great. Last week I could have played down in Tampa. I don't really know exactly why I didn't, but I'm healthy. I've been healthy. I covered about six kickoffs today full-speed. If you're going to test a hamstring out, that's a good way to do it. I feel pretty good."
McCourty on Manning
Safety/co-captain Devin McCourty acknowledged that Denver is easily the best offense the Patriots have faced thus far in 2014.
"The [Broncos] offense is probably a little better than it was last year," he added, "and it was easily the best offense in the NFL last year."
The personnel is mostly the same as last season, he noted, and Denver has added another offensive playmaker in wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Patriots overcame a huge deficit to beat Denver in Foxborough last regular season, but then were thumped in the AFC title game out in Colorado.
McCourty was asked how the Patriots can learn from last season to prepare for this Sunday's matchup.
"Like always, you want to watch the film, see what they did well against us. Obviously, if they do something well, a team is going to come back and do it in some shape or form, maybe not the exact same look. You don't want to be out there guessing… Thinking you know a check, and then next thing you know, an 80-yard pass is you're your head. If you'd just played your technique… you always want to be careful with that.
"You don't want to try to overthink yourselves and outsmart Peyton Manning, to tell you the truth," McCourty concluded.
The longest-serving mayor of Boston, Tom Menino, lost his battle with cancer Thursday. He was 71.
Menino played a key role in all the Patriots Super Bowl celebrations in downtown Boston, and was remembered today by co-captain Vince Wilfork.
"I've been to some events with him, and it's sad. It's a sad day. Our thoughts go out to his family. In the community, he's well known. It's just a tough break, and hopefully we can all see what he did and what he meant to this city and we can carry on his legacy, because he was always out there. But it's sad and it's tough."
The ongoing saga of DT Alan Branch continues. After making his practice debut on Wednesday, Branch was not on the field Thursday, but according to the team, it was not injury-related. He and DE Chandler Jones (hip) were the only Patriots who didn't take part in the session.