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Patriots.com News Blitz - 5/10/2006

Mark Farinella of the Sun Chronicle writes that the process begins anew this weekend, as the Patriots' rookies and undrafted free agents descend upon Gillette Stadium to take their first steps toward becoming professional football players. The Patriots' rookie orientation minicamp will take place Saturday and Sunday at the practice fields behind Gillette, and while it's not the same environment the newcomers will face in July when training camp begins -- there won't be hundreds of fans ringing the sidelines to cheer their every move, as minicamps are closed to the public -- they will be exposed for the first time to an environment that's designed to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff.

Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe offers an injury update on Patriots left tackle Matt Light. According to Light, it's been a rough road back to health. Light hoped to return to action late last season, but a setback in his rehab kept him on the sideline. Seven-plus months after suffering the initial injury, having tossed his crutches aside, he believes he's turned an important corner. "I'm feeling as good as I possibly can at this point," said Light. "Not to say everything is perfect, because if you've been playing football for more than a couple years, usually nothing is perfect. But it's coming along really well." That's good news for the Patriots, who have a solid young nucleus on the offensive line, with four of their top seven players signed to long-term contracts. Light is locked up through 2010, while second-year left guard Logan Mankins (2009), second-year swing tackle Nick Kaczur (2009), and fifth-year guard Stephen Neal (2009) -- who combined for 43 regular-season starts in 2005 -- also have multiple years left on their deals. Centers Dan Koppen and Russ Hochstein have contracts that expire after 2006, while tackle Brandon Gorin's deal extends through 2007.

John Tomase of the Boston Herald explores the friendship between Bill Belichick and University of Florida head coach Urban Meyer. The Patriots selected a pair of Gators in last month's draft - second-round wideout Chad Jackson and sixth-round linebacker Jeremy Mincey - and then signed three more to free agent contracts, including team MVP Vernell Brown, an undersized cornerback Meyer labels a Patriots kind of player. The two coaches have formed a friendship based on mutual respect, with Belichick incorporating Meyer's five-wide sets into the Patriots offense and Meyer earning an inside peek at the construction of a dynasty.

Tom Curran of the Providence Journal reports that New England announced the signing of 15 undrafted free agents on Monday. The Pats have hit on undrafted players in the past, most recently with corner Randall Gay in 2004 and nose tackle Mike Wright in 2005. The Pats tabbed nose tackle Remi Ayodele (6-foot-2, 300 pounds, Oklahoma), center Brian Barthelmes (6-6, 288, Virginia), quarterback Corey Bramlett (6-4, 219, Wyoming), corner Vernell Brown (5-8, 165, Florida), wide receiver Erik Davis (6-2, 192, Vanderbilt), defensive end Kader Drame (6-5, 290, Syracuse), tackle Randy Hand (6-6, 305, Florida), safety Jarvis Herring (5-11, 205, Florida), safety Keon Jackson (5-11, 206, Toledo), linebacker Corey Mays (6-1, 234, Notre Dame, linebacker Freddie Roach (6-2, 248, Alabama), wide receiver Matt Shelton (6-0, 172, Notre Dame), safety Sam Smith (6-0, 200, Delaware St.), corner Gemara Williams (5-8, 180, Buffalo) and linebacker Pierre Woods (6-5, 249, Michigan).

Eric McHugh of the *Patriot Ledger * reports that the Patriots signed veteran inside linebackers Barry Gardner and Jeremy Loyd on Monday. Not counting this year's crop of rookie free agents, the signings give the Patriots 12 linebackers, including rookie Jeremy Mincey, a sixth-round pick out of Florida who will convert from defensive end. The team has to fill Willie McGinest's spot in the starting lineup, but neither Gardner (6-1, 245 pounds) nor Loyd (6-2, 235) should be considered the favorite to assume that role. Loyd, 25, has appeared in only 14 games in his first two seasons (both with the St. Louis Rams) and has yet to record a defensive stat. A former rookie free agent with the Cleveland Browns, he missed the entire 2004 season with a shoulder injury. Gardner, 29, has played in 110 career games for the Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2002), Browns (2003-04) and New York Jets (2005). He was the 35th overall pick in the 1999 draft - a rags-to-riches story for the former walk-on at Northwestern - but he has started only six games since 2000. Five of those starts came at the tail end of the 2004 season with Cleveland, when he subbed for an injured Andra Davis at middle linebacker and caught the eye of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Eric McHugh of the Patriot Ledger also offers a capsule look at the Patriots 15 undrafted rookie free agents.

Tom Curran of the Providence Journal writes that quarterback Doug Flutie's agent, Kristen Kuliga, said yesterday that the 43-year-old still hasn't decided if he's going to return to the Patriots in 2006 to back up Tom Brady. A decision was reportedly going to be made last week but that's on hold. Flutie currently is out of the country.

Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes. Reiss also offers his latest Patriots mailbag.

Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.

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