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Notes: Garoppolo going about his business

It can't possibly be easy, for either of them.

The Patriots know that Tom Brady will have to serve a four-game league suspension starting Week 1 of the regular season. That means the offense will be under the direction of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo during that time.

Head coach Bill Belichick has acknowledged that a priority of this preseason is to get Garoppolo ready for that month-long stretch of starts. At the same time, Belichick declared that Brady's job will be waiting for him when he returns. And Brady has been open this week in saying he would like to take some snaps before the preseason ends.

 "It's a tough situation at times, but you just can't worry about that too much," Garoppolo admitted Wednesday. "It's one of those things where if you start worrying about that, you can't focus on whatever it is: your reads, your checks, whatever it may be. You just have to go about your business the same way you always have.

"I'm not trying to do something crazy that I've never done before. I'm trying to be myself and do what I do."

The third-year passer and his future Hall of Fame teammate appear to be doing their best to get the best out of one another on the field and in the meeting rooms.

"We're in every meeting together and there's always a good back-and-forth in our room," Brady revealed this week. "I think that's really encouraged by Josh [McDaniels, the offensive coordinator] to speak up and say what you think. If you see someone maybe doing something a little bit different, we're always trying to be on the same page. I'm glad we've been winning, that's been fun to watch. We can always do better at our position and we're going to try to, we're going to need to. It's a tough schedule we've got but we're going to do the best we can do."

"We have a ton of conversations, day in and day out," Garoppolo added. "We're together, like 24/7. But he's been helpful this whole way, whether it's encouragement, helping me with little things here and there. He's been nothing but help, and I thank him for that."

So, who's starting Friday night in Charlotte?

"Like always, your guess is as good as mine," the young QB smiles. "I'm preparing like I'm going to be the starter… This will be a good test. It's pretty much the closest thing we'll get to Week 1, so we'll see how it goes."

Same old same old?

Garoppolo made reference to the "good test" afforded by the third preseason game, which is generally the one in which starters see the most action. Belichick spoke earlier this week about the similarities and differences between Preseason Week 3 and a regular season affair. He acknowledged the playing-time aspect, but emphasized that when it comes to game planning, he could make no comparison.

Tight end Martellus Bennett discussed the whole concept with reporters Wednesday and said he felt the third exhibition is often a bit overrated by some observers.

"All my snaps are full speed. I don't slow down," he explained. "I just go full speed the whole time so it's just a regular game for me. It's always the same whether it's the regular season or preseason. Put my pants on the same way. Put my shoes on the same way. Tie them the same way. Same gloves, same face mask."

Patriots roster getting slimmer

Two more players have been let go by New England, according to media reports. Veteran wide out Nate Washington never fully got up to speed after an unspecified malady limited his availability in the opening days of training camp. Meanwhile, erstwhile starting center Bryan Stork was reportedly going to be released by the Patriots earlier today, but ended up being traded to Washington for a conditional seventh-round draft choice, media reports indicated late this afternoon.

Garoppolo called it "tough" to see Stork go, "but that's the business, I guess."

New England is now down to 81 players. NFL teams must trim to 75 by next Tuesday afternoon.

Practice Report

Tight end Rob Gronkowski (lower body) returned to the practice field, his first appearance there since the first joint practice with Chicago last week. Gronkowski was in shells and shorts, like the rest of the team, and took part in team drills after the stretching period.

Several other injured Patriots – 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 – retreated to the lower practice field for conditioning and rehabilitation work.

Still entirely absent: right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (hip), running back Dion Lewis (left knee), defensive tackle Alan Branch (reported team suspension), and guards Jonathan Cooper and Shaq Mason.

Rock star Jon Bon Jovi took in practice from the sideline as a guest of team owner Robert Kraft.

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