There aren't a lot of fiery, vocal, in-your-face leaders on this Patriots team. New England seems to have an inordinate number of guys who consider themselves "leaders by example."
You can add Dan Connolly to that list now.
The 9-year veteran interior offensive lineman was elected one of the club's six co-captains Wednesday, joining five other players who have considerable experience in that regard: quarterback Tom Brady, linebacker Jerod Mayo, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, safety Devin McCourty, and special teams ace Matthew Slater.
It might be more than a coincidence that Connolly is the only new name among the captainship ranks. He replaces fellow offensive lineman and three-time co-captain Logan Mankins, who was traded to Tampa Bay last week and left a considerable leadership void in his wake.
Check out photos of players talking with the media during the week leading up to the 2014 regular season opener against the Miami Dolphins.
"We have a good group of guys on the offensive line. Yes, he was our leader," Connolly asserted, "but we all take it upon ourselves to take over that role. I guess they've elected me as an offensive captain. It's an honor, but everybody has to do their part. It's up to me to just do my job, and all I can do is prepare for the opponent we've got. This week it's Miami.
"I'm not a big talker," he added. "Hopefully, whatever I do on the field will lead guys to do the right thing. You probably need somebody to talk, but if you've got guys doing the right thing, you've got a good team."
"Dan's had a really good year," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "He's had a really good spring. Good training camp. Been out there everyday. He's been a versatile guy for us as he always has. He's always been ready to play all three [interior] spots, plus contribute in the kicking game. He's a sharp guy that works hard. He had a good offseason. He was able to train throughout the bulk of the offseason. He's done a solid job for us really at a number of positions."
For Brady, this will mark the 13th consecutive year he's earned the distinction from his teammates.
"It's very flattering from my teammates, and I try to represent them the best that I can in whatever fashion the team asks me to do things and wants me to convey messages to the coach," Brady told reporters Wednesday morning. "We've got a great group of young men who've really committed themselves to really being the best teammates they can be. I hope I do a great job. I'll work hard at it. We've got a lot of other great captains -- guys that I've always been able to rely on and depend on. It's a big responsibility and I accept it."
Humility seemed to be the thread that wove all the new captains' comments together.
"It's always an honor. It just goes to show the respect my teammates have for us," remarked Wilfork. "There are a lot of guys on this team who could be captain. To me, everyone's a leader. We just happen to have that 'C' next to our name. We've been around so long, they understand how hard we work. It could have been any six guys in this locker room, but I'm always humbled and privileged to be captain of this football team."
"I'm very humbled that have that honor," echoed Slater. "It's something you can never take for granted. Your peers, the guys that select you for that position, they know you better than anyone – they see you at your best, at your worst, know your imperfections – so, it's an extreme honor for me. Hopefully, I can represent the team and the organization as best I can."
Wilfork and Mayo have now been elected five straight seasons. McCourty and Slater enter their fourth consecutive seasons in team leadership. Last season, McCourty served as a replacement co-captain, along with DE/OLB Rob Ninkovich, after Wilfork and Mayo were lost to season-ending injuries.
Gronk a go, or no?
Rob Gronkowski got a lot of Patriots fans' hopes up Monday when he declared himself ready for the season opener and announced he'd be out on the field in Miami. The next day, however, Belichick poured a bit of cold water on those hopes.
"Well, I'm glad that Rob's optimistic about his situation. We'll go through the week of practice and take a look at everything, everybody and see where everybody is at and do what we feel like is best for the team. With all due respect to Rob," the head coach said on a media conference call, "I'm glad he feels the way he does, but in the end, we'll have to make the decision that we feel is best for the team and we'll do that as we go through the week."
On Wednesday at his in-person press briefing, Belichick was asked again about his tight end's prospects, and again, he wouldn't commit one way or the other.
"Rob always works hard," stated Belichick. "I don't think that's really ever been an issue since he's been here. He works hard in the weight room, works hard in the film room, in the meetings and he works hard on the field. I don't think you could ever question Rob's work ethic. I never have. I think it's always one of the best on our team."
Brady is certainly among those hoping to see No. 87 on the field Sunday, even if it's only on a limited basis. Say, in red zone circumstances, for example.
"Red area is about tight spaces. There are a lot of bodies in a really short part of the field. And it's really about great execution," the QB explained. "It's good throws, it's great blocking, it's good timing, it's great catches. There's not a lot of space down there. Guys like Gronk, who have such a great catch radius, you can throw balls in certain areas where only he can get it, and I think that's been a great advantage for him over the years."
Wright on track
Gronkowski has been helping out fellow tight end Tim Wright this week, according to the newcomer. In practice, Gronk has pulled the youngster (acquired in the Mankins trade) aside to give him some extra advice on the Patriots offense.
Meanwhile, Wright is trying to earn the trust of his quarterback, who admitted Wednesday that he doesn't look to throw to players in whom he doesn't have much confidence.
Less than a week into his Patriots career, how is Wright doing in that regard?
"Just trying to be consistent," Wright stated, "doing the things outside the building, as far as being in your playbook and watching film, learning everything you can so when you step on that field, you can be consistent and showcase to the quarterback that you can have his trust."
"We'll see how [Wright's] role plays out. It's been fun to get to know him," added Brady. "It's been a very short period of time. A lot of our focus has been trying to get ready for Miami, and whatever role he can find for himself will be a benefit for us. He's done a great job trying to learn everything since he's got here. I didn't get a chance to play with him last week [in the preseason finale], but we'll see what happens this week. We're trying to get to know each other and spend extra time communicating, gain his understanding of the things that he expects versus my expectations. It's really a learning process."
Transactions on practice squad
New England released three players from the practice squad Wednesday and quickly filled those spots with three new ones.
Gone are QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, safety Kanorris Davis, and DB Daxton Swanson. The team re-signed o-lineman Chris Barker and added tight end Allen Reisner and running back Marcus Thigpen. Barker has been with the team since last season. Reisner has played for Minnesota and Jacksonville since entering the NFL in 2011. Thigpen spent the past two seasons with Miami.