Before Tuesday's joint practice with Philadelphia, NFL referee John Parry took questions from the media to clarify some of the rules changes and points of emphasis for 2014.
The most notable change involves clipping. In the past, it was only considered a penalty if a player rolled up on the back of an opponent's legs. From now on, it will also be an infraction if a player rolls up on the side of the legs.
Check out our favorite photos from Patriots joint practice with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday, August 12, 2014.
"We're looking for rolling," explained Parry, a 15-year NFL veteran, eight of them as ref, who worked Super Bowl XLVI between New England and the New York Giants. "If a player's legs get trapped beneath the guy throwing the block, we're going to flag that."
Parry said so-called cut blocks from the side will still be permissible.
Also new in 2014, during replay reviews in the booths on the field, referees will be able to consult with designated members of the officiating department at the NFL's command center in New York. The idea here, according to the league, is to improve the consistency and accuracy of replay decisions, and to shorten the time of reviews. In addition, replay reviews are being expanded to include recovery of a loose ball in the field of play.
The item that has received the most discussion thus far is a point of emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding. Flags for these infractions were up significantly during the first week of the preseason, including in the Patriots-Redskins game.
Another point of emphasis will be direct and forceful contact to the head, face or neck, regardless if contact is prolonged or not. Parry noted that defenders are allowed to use their hands and body to shield themselves from an oncoming receiver if the defender has already established his own space.
After the flood of flags thrown in Week 1, Parry predicted that the first few weeks of the regular season would see similar downpours of the yellow laundry.
"Once those rules and points are established," he added, "I think you'll see those numbers [of flags] come down."
The Dallas Cowboys announced the Patriots and Cowboys pulled off a trade on Tuesday with New England sending first-year cornerback Justin Green to Dallas in exchange for defensive tackle Ben Bass. The 6-5, 294-pound Bass played in two career games with the Cowboys, both in 2012, and missed all of last season with a separated shoulder. Bass was an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M in 2012.
Also, according to the agent for Jerel Worthy, the Patriots and Packers worked a deal to send the former second-round pick to New England for a conditional late-round pick. Worthy, a defensive tackle out of Michigan State, was a 2012 second-round pick but hasn't done much in his time with Green Bay. He has just 2.5 sacks in 16 games over the last two years.
The deals are a clear indication the Patriots are concerned with their depth at defensive tackle with Dominique Easley just returning to the field and Chris Jones (ankle) and Sealver Siliga (hand) dealing with injuries.
Signing with a new team in the middle of training camp is not the ideal way to make the club but such is life for three tight ends looking to provide depth for the Patriots. Steve Maneri, Ben Hartsock and Terrence Miller are all vying to provide some insurance behind the injured Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui.
All three signed Aug. 10, coinciding with the Patriots decision to let rookie tight ends Justin Jones and Asa Watson go. Clearly it was an indication that Bill Belichick was still searching for some answers lower down his depth chart at the position.
"Steve and Ben both have a lot of experience in the blocking part of the game, similar to [Matthew] Mulligan from last year," Belichick said. "And Terrence probably has a little more experience in the passing part of it in college, so we'll see how it goes."
Hartsock and Maneri are considered blockers while Miller, an undrafted rookie out of Arizona, is more of an athletic pass catcher at 6-4, 234 pounds. While Miller appears to be in the mold of a 'move' tight end, the rookie was more concerned with doing whatever is necessary than pigeon-holing himself into any particular type.
"I would describe myself as whatever the coaches want me to be," he said with a smile. "My strong suit is catching passes and running routes but honestly I see myself as whatever the coaches want me to be."
Miller knew Gronkowski at Arizona but the two did not play with each other. Gronkowski sat out the 2009 season following back surgery and that was Miller's first year with the Wildcats, so the two did not overlap on the field. But the two are friendly as Gronkowski was on campus during his rehab, although Miller says he hadn't spoken to him in quite a while before landing in Foxborough.
"I pretty much leave Gronk alone. I watch him but I don't bother him much. He just pops up in Arizona. I just bumped into him randomly in the hallway. He didn't know I was going to be here," said Miller, who originally signed with the Jets but was released in June.
Maneri was with the Patriots in 2010 after being claimed off waivers from Houston. The Temple product was a tackle back then, and his 6-7, 280-pound frame caught the eye of his former teammates.
"There's a lot of things that changed in three years," Maneri said. "Everybody's like, 'you slimmed down!' Everybody's saying, 'Damn, you lost a lot of weight!' Some guys didn't even recognize me, because it was 30 pounds ago."
The transition from tackle has been smooth for Maneri, who played tight end in college. But most of his work has been as a blocker – he has just six catches in 23 career games.
"It's a whole other concept of the game," he said. "You have to learn the passing game. As a lineman you're blocking all the time and as a tight end you have to learn a whole other part of the game
"Luckily for me I have a great teacher in Coach [Brian] Daboll. We've been at it for hours and hours and hours. We're doing pretty well, all three of us. We're all new so we're all sharing the experience together and we're coming along great."
Hartsock, the elder statesman of the group by far entering his 11th season, said he was looking forward to the possibility of joining such a successful organization.
"It's exciting to be part of this team because this team is the quintessential role-player team," Hartsock said. "You find a spot on this team and you see that's how you win championships."
Buy: Aaron Dobson – The second-year receiver came off PUP on Monday and was in uniform again with the Eagles in town on Tuesday. While he did not take part in any work against Philadelphia, Dobson said he was feeling better and looking to get back in the swing of things quickly.
Sell: Tavon Wilson – With competition hot and heavy at the safety spot, Wilson has missed some practice time recently with an unknown injury. He's been well enough to be in uniform but on Tuesday was in shorts and did not participate in any team work. Missed opportunities for a guy looking to find a role on defense.
Play of the Day: Most people figured Cary Williams would get picked on for his comments about the Patriots last week and Kenbrell Thompkins was able to do the honors. Thompkins beat Williams, as well as safety Malcolm Jenkins, deep down the left sideline and hauled in a perfect Tom Brady bomb for a big play.
Belichick was issued a challenge, and it didn't take long for the Patriots coach to accept it. New York Giants president John Mara took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a social media campaign designed to raise awareness for the disease, and sent out the challenge to Belichick, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Jets owner Woody Johnson.
Belichick and Kraft addressed the team after practice on Tuesday, and about a dozen buckets of water were dumped over their heads as the two stood inside a circle of players, much to the delight of all involved.
The challenge has gone viral in recent weeks and it involved people dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads and then challenging others to do the same. The people involved make donations toward ALS research, and those not accepting the challenge are supposed to increase their donations.
Belichick was made aware of the challenge and addressed it during his appearance on sports radio WEEI in Boston on Monday.
"I plan on doing something with it. We'll take care of it," he said. "I certainly know a number of people who have been affected by ALS, probably most prominently Steve Gleason, who I have known for a number of years. I'm certainly willing to support trying to find a cure for that and try to help people who have that disease. I am 100 percent behind it."
The more you know
The Patriots depth chart at cornerback appears to be quite deep but safety is a different story. Belichick has rotated several players next to Devin McCourty including Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner and even undrafted rookie Travis Hawkins.
Lately he's been using corners Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan along the back end periodically as well.
"I think Kyle has a really good skillset to play anywhere back there," Belichick said. "He's fast, he's tough, he's a good tackler, which your safeties need to be. Not that your corners don't need to be, but I'd say it's even more important at safety. He tackles well, he runs well, he's a very athletic player. So I'd say his toughness and his tackling are similar to Devin, same type of player who played corner to safety with similar type skills – speed, range, toughness. Those assets you need at safety, and Devin has them and Kyle has them."
Rookie Taylor McCuller has been used on both offense and defense throughout camp. A linebacker by trade, McCuller has seen most of his action as a fullback, which has given the West Texas A&M product quite a lot to handle this summer.
"He works hard. He's a good kid, he's pretty smart to be able to handle multiple responsibilities plus the kicking game," Belichick said. "[He's got] a long way to go; not really very experienced on either side of the ball or special teams, and he's making a big jump from where he played last year to where he's playing now.
"I'd say probably at least half the fullbacks in the NFL played defense in college, so I don't think it's rare. Some do, some don't at that position. There are just as many defensive players playing fullback as there are offense. Like James Develin played linebacker in college."