Like most children of the modern age, Barkevious Mingo grew up playing the popular Madden football video game. Often, he used the Patriots as his team because they one of the best.
Today, he's actually playing for the Patriots after New England stunned him by trading for the former Cleveland Browns linebacker last week. Mingo was sitting in his hotel room in Tampa, where the Browns were in town to face the Buccaneers, when he received a call telling him he'd been dealt to the Patriots, who were a short flight north in Charlotte. Mingo hopped a flight and was on the field at Bank of America Stadium Friday night for pre-game warmups.
He didn't dress for the Panthers game, but is anxious to do so as soon as possible for his new club.
"A little bit of shock," he said Monday about last week's turn of events, "but honestly, proud to be part of a team like the Patriots. I'm looking forward to every opportunity I have here."
Cleveland selected the now 25-year-old Mingo sixth overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, but after registering five sacks in 15 games as a rookie, he saw his playing time and role on the Browns defense decline over the next two seasons. Earlier this year, the Browns declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Mingo's rookie contract, meaning he is scheduled to become a free agent after this season.
In the meantime, he's doing whatever he can – staying late, coming in on off days, meeting with coaches and teammates – to absorb as much of his new playbook as quickly as possible.
"It's hard. These guys have got a couple of months [of preparation] on me," he acknowledged. "Yeah, it's a challenge, but the guys here are really helping me come along, pointing me in the right directions, and just getting me ready to play. Just trying to put myself in the best position to help a team that's already a great team."
"He has got a lot of catching up to do," head coach Bill Belichick emphasized. "We'll spend, and we already have spent a lot of time with him. He has worked hard, he has put in a lot of extra hours already in the brief time that he has been here to try and absorb all of the information that we give him, so we'll see how it goes."
Mingo has some established relationships with a handful of Patriots teammates. In Cleveland, he worked for a couple of seasons with defensive end Jabaal Sheard, whom New England acquired in 2015. He played against Dont'a Hightower in college and worked out for a while with Jamie Collins during their pre-draft preparations.
"Very exciting," Mingo added. "This team is stacked at every position. They have guys on the outside who can cover, interior guys that are holding gaps, and linebackers that are hitting those gaps and making big plays. I'm just glad to be a part of it.
"It's a huge culture shock. I felt like the winning spirit was making its way into Cleveland with those new coaches, but it's definitely been established here a long time. I'm a New England Patriot now. The past is the past and this is the future. Fresh start with a great organization. Just ready to play football."
Branch is Back, Knighton's Not
His one-week team suspension complete, defensive tackle Alan Branch was back on the practice field for the Patriots Monday. Afterward, he welcomed a few minutes of media inquiries, but declined to elaborate on the details of his disciplinary action.
"If Bill isn't telling you, I'm not saying a damn thing, I guarantee that," Branch smiled. "If you're looking for something from me, it isn't happening. I'm just happy to be out here and get ready to play against the Giants [in the fourth preseason game Thursday]. I'm glad to be out here with my teammates. We're all grinding for the same goal. That's where we are right now."
Asked if he harbors any ill feelings following the suspension, Branch insisted, "I love it here. I love the guys in the locker room, love everything, the atmosphere, the winning attitude. Everything about being here is awesome. I love this place."
Meanwhile, Branch's fellow d-tackle, Terrance Knighton, was cut loose by New England after a brief, disappointing stint with the club.
"It just didn't work out," Belichick explained. "He came in, worked hard, lost weight, got in good condition, tried to do the things that we asked him to do, but there are just other people ahead of him."
Freeny's New Deal
Linebacker Jonathan Freeny inked a two-year contract extension in recent days, keeping him a Patriot. This marks the second consecutive season in which the Patriots have extended Freeny's contract.
"It's pretty rare when that happens," he admitted, "so, the fact that it happened and that I'm able to be here is something I'm happy with. It's a blessing and I'm thankful for it.
"It's a good feeling that hard work is paying off and the coaches appreciate me being here."
Freeny originally signed a one-year, veteran free agent contract with New England in March 2015. After just a few games last season, the Patriots extended that deal for another year. Now, Freeny has some job and financial security through the 2018 season.
Not Standing For It
Much controversy has been stirred by San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick's decision to remain seated during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner before games this preseason. Players and coaches around the league have expressed opinions – many of them quite strong – about Kaepernick's form of protesting what he believes is racial injustice across America.
In the Patriots locker room, the reaction has been diplomatic.
"I just always stand for the National Anthem, I stand at attention for it," said long snapper Joe Cardona, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. "It's something that means a lot to me and it means a lot to all members of the military and those who have come before and stood for that flag and stood not only for the flag itself, but what it stands for. But it is his right to not stand, granted to us by the Constitution. With that freedom he has every right to do that.
"It's more representative of how great this country is that someone can, someone has that freedom to not stand. I think that shows how great this country really is."
"It's just his decision. Everyone has their own opinion on what they want to do," echoed safety/co-captain Devin McCourty, "but I think he has the right to make that decision and do what he wants."
Belichick, whose father was a longtime coach at the Naval Academy, preferred to abstain from offering his view on the matter.
"We're really focused on what we do and getting ready for the Giants, improving our football team. We're not here to talk about political commentary or ideology and all of that," he told reporters.
For the first time since late July, guard Jonathan Cooper (foot) was able to suit up for practice. After the team stretching period, he retreated to the lower field with several other teammates to work on conditioning running and other rehabilitation exercises.
Also returning to the field after an extended absence was Cooper's fellow guard, Shaq Mason (right hand), who was sporting a cast/brace on his injured extremity. Mason joined Cooper on the lower field, along with tight end Rob Gronkowski (lower body),
DEs Rob Ninkovich (torn triceps muscle), Jabaal Sheard (right knee), and Shea McClellin, WRs Danny Amendola and rookie Malcolm Mitchell (left elbow), and guard Tre' Jackson.
Curiously, there was no sign of veteran special teams co-captain Matthew Slater or rookie LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, who did not appear during the Carolina game this past Friday night.
Also still absent entirely: right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (hip) and running back Dion Lewis (left knee).