Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that in a candid interview session with reporters yesterday running back Corey Dillon expressed that he had been disrespected by the media and at one point whipped out his bio and asked a reporter(Michael Felger of the Boston Herald) to read from a lengthly list of accomplishments. For seven of his nine seasons, the bruising runner posted at least 1,100 rushing yards, including a franchise-record 1,635 with the Patriots in 2004. But last year was among the worst of his career. Though he matched a career high with 12 touchdowns, he rushed for just 733 yards during a season in which he "was limping for a month and a half." Dillon said he is energized and ready to go, and expecting to do big things this season. Michael Felger of the Boston Herald and Tom Curran of the Providence Journal also report on Dillon.
Mike Reiss and Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe report that Patriots owner Robert Kraft presented more than $50,000 in grants to Community MVPs yesterday at Gillette Stadium. Then he answered questions about another potential payout -- to receiver Deion Branch, who did not attend the team's mandatory minicamp because of dissatisfaction over his contract status. "I think the world of Deion," said Kraft. "I'm hoping everything works out, but I'm going to leave that to coach [Bill ] Belichick and [vice president of player personnel] Scott Pioli. They've done a pretty good job of handling that. These are things that somehow have a way of working themselves out."
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that with the wide receiver corps depleted and two veteran tight ends on the roster, as well as two promising rookies, the Patriots may very well highlight the position like no other team in the league. Whereas San Diego (Gates), Kansas City (Tony Gonzalez) and Miami (Randy McMichael) feature productive tight ends, the Pats could conceivably have four on the field simultaneously if Watson splits out wide, Daniel Graham and rookie Dave Thomas take either side, and rookie Garrett Mills lines up at H-back or fullback. At 6-foot-3, 253 pounds and blessed with 4.4 speed, Watson appears ready to capitalize on a defensive trend that plays right into his strengths. The movement toward smaller, faster linebackers and fields flooded with defensive backs makes the mismatch possibilities endless.
John Tomase of the Boston Herald offers his Patriots notebook where he discusses rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski. The rookie was asked to make what looked like a 45-yard field goal at the end of practice. If he drilled it, everyone could call it a day. If he missed, they'd run sprints. With linebacker Mike Vrabel calling last-second timeouts to ice him and the defensive linemen barking like rabid pit bulls, Gostkowski drilled the kick straight down the middle as cheers erupted. Owner Robert Kraft watched from the sideline and loved every second of it. "That was terrific," he said. "They put more pressure on him and they were calling timeouts. That was unbelievable. What a way to team-build." Tom Curran of the Providence Joural also offers a similar report on Gostkowski.
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant offers a story on safety Tebucky Jones. Greenberg reports that Jones is happy to be back for a second tour of duty with the Patriots, who in April 2003 traded him to the Saints for several draft choices because they were unwilling to meet their free agent turned franchise player's price on a long-term contract. But this time, three years later, Jones was more than happy to meet the Patriots price. He banked some big money when he signed that five-year, $18.75 million deal with the Saints. Now Jones, having scored that once-in-a-lifetime payday, is focused on having a much easier commute, and a serious shot at his second Super Bowl ring. "It's a winning tradition," Jones said before the Patriots wound up their three-day minicamp Thursday. "I'm surrounded by people who have that focus and hunger."
Eric McHugh of the Patriot Ledger writes that linebacker Monty Beisel is hoping he has learned from past mistakes after a poor showing in 2005. Except for some solid fill-in work for an injured Tedy Bruschi in the playoff win over Jacksonville, most of the snapshots of Beisel that fans and media members filed away in their mental scrapbook of the 2005 season were bad ones. Now it seems that Beisel, 27, has reclaimed his place in the starting lineup. The Patriots had several post-Willie McGinest options, but Plan A appears to be Beisel teamed with Bruschi inside - a combination that they did not use last year. This combination would allow Mike Vrabel to move back to outside linebacker.
Eric McHugh of the Patriot Ledger writes that Bill Belichick offered up his thought's on former Patriot left guard, John Hannah, who will be honored tonight when The Sports Museum holds it's fifth annual salute to area sports icons, "The Tradition," at TD Banknorth Garden. "We didn't play against John that much," said Belichick, who was 2-1 against Hannah's Patriots with all the matchups coming in 1975 and '76, "but I think he's kind of a prototype guard, especially for that day. (He was) not as tall as the tackles, but thick. Very hard to move. Had a lot of power, a lot of lower body strength ... On contact (he) could get movement, not just block a guy but actually create some movement and punch a hole open. You couldn't power rush him. Of course, when he played with (left tackle Leon) Gray it was hard to get much done on that side of the line." Hannah anchored the 1978 offensive line behind which the Patriots rushed for 3,615 yards - still a single-season NFL record.
Mark Farinella of the Sun Chroncicle writes that Doug Flutie is gone and there's no one else in the Patriots' camp with more than a year of NFL experience at quarterback. As far as anyone's concerned right now, Matt Cassel is Tom Brady's backup. That may change between now and July 29, or any time afterward, but until it does, the second-year veteran from Southern Cal -- who almost got more playing time last year in his NFL rookie season than he did in four collegiate seasons -- is in line for a pretty significant promotion.
The Boston Globe's Mike Reiss offers his daily Patriots blog with news and notes.
Previously in the Blitz...
Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe offers a story on quarterback Matt Cassel. Brady and backup Cassel are in constant competition, from sprints to leaps, and Cassel says it has helped him become a better quarterback. Cassel, the second-year player of out Southern Cal, is hoping to be the Patriots' No. 2 quarterback this year. If (and more likely, when) the Patriots sign a veteran reserve, Cassel won't give up the No. 2 position easily. "You can't worry about who's out there, who might be coming in," Cassel said yesterday between workouts. "You can't because it'll take away from your game. All I can do is concentrate on what I can do, and how I can get better." Solomon also offers Patriots notes in his articles and reports that Deion Branch was again not present at either of the workouts yesterday and will not attend today's final workout of mini camp. Tom Curran of the Providence Journal also offers a similar article.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe previews the competition between rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski and veteran Martin Gramatica. Cafardo writes that yesterday, Gostkowski and Gramatica nailed field goals from 30, 35, 40, and 50 yards in one direction, then the other. Much like Vinatieri in 1996, expect Gostkowski to get a lot of preseason opportunities. It's tough to cut a fourth-round pick, but it's also difficult to cut a proven veteran such as Gramatica, who appears to be back in form after leg injuries led to him being waived by the Buccaneers in November 2004, and out of football in '05.
Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe takes a look at veteran wide receiver Troy Brown. With the minicamp holdout of Deion Branch, the free agent departures of David Givens, Andre' Davis, and Tim Dwight, and the trade of Bethel Johnson, Brown is the lone receiver in camp who was on the active roster last season.
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that after tuesday's practice, Brady said he makes it his goal to outperform every quarterback on the roster in every drill, as if his job's at stake. He treats 7-on-7 and two-minute drills like the final drive of a Super Bowl. "I'm not used to this," rookie wide receiver Chad Jackson said. "I've never seen anything like it - a quarterback taking charge, yelling at the team, trying to get everyone up in the huddle. If you mess up a play, he's mad about it. This is new for me. He's a great quarterback to learn from." Brady's competitiveness is legendary and it comes into focus on days like yesterday, when, with absolutely nothing at stake, he refuses to settle for anything less than 100 percent effort.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald offers a story on linebacker Monty Beisel. Felger writes that Beisel has been working with the first unit at inside linebacker, next to Tedy Bruschi and right now he looks to be firmly in the plans for 2006. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gave him credit yesterday for his smarts, strength and conditioning. One thing that may help Beisel is that he's been able to stay at the weakside, inside spot (the "will"), where the play-calling duties aren't nearly as demanding as they are at the strongside "mike," which is being manned by Bruschi. Last year, Beisel bounced between the two. More than anything, the Pats are hoping that experience proves to be the key for Beisel, no matter where he ends up. "I think he has improved," Belichick said. "I think he has improved quite a bit. He has a much better understanding of our system now than he did at this time last year and he has a lot more experience in it."
John Tomase of the Boston Herald offers his Patriots notebook. Tomase highlights a rumor going around that the Broncos have contacted the Patriots about trading wideout Ashlie Lelie for Patriots tight end Daniel Graham. According to a league source, the Broncos approached the Patriots with such a proposal, but the Pats said no thanks. On yesterday's practice, Tomase notes that safety Eugene Wilson missed practice due to an unspecified injury. Tomase also points out that the Patriots seem to be highlighting fullback play more than usual, with rookie Garrett Mills and veteran Heath Evans getting a lot of reps.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers a story on safety Tebucky Jones. Curran writes that after spending two seasons with New Orleans and one with Miami, head coach Bill Belichick commented that Jones is pretty much the same player that he was during his previous time with the Patriots. The strongest part of Jones' game was his physicality. He could hit, leap to high-point passes and be versatile enough to either play up in the box or back in coverage. The downside -- which was often maddening -- was his failure to wrap-up players and his sometimes costly misdiagnoses on angles. But the combination of Jones' work ethic, ability, versatility and general good humor will likely outweigh the irritating plays he's bound to make.
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant writes that Corey Dillon appears to have taken on the role of mentor to rookie running back Laurence Maroney. Maroney, 21, calls Dillon, 31, a great teammate and says that Dillon is always giving him helpful tips. Asked if that is surprising given that he was brought here to take Dillon's job, Maroney said, "No. We're both trying to help the team win."
Eric McHugh of the Patriots Ledger offers a story on defensive lineman Johnathan Sullivan, who was acquired earlier this month in a trade that sent wideout Bethel Johnson to the New Orleans Saints. McHugh writes that on the first day of minicamp, Sullivan was backing up Vince Wilfork at nose tackle (a brand new position for him) and seeing action as a defensive tackle when the Patriots employed a 4-3 look. Sullivan counts two former Saints teammates - safeties Tebucky Jones and Mel Mitchell - on the roster, and of course he's been reunited with Richard Seymour, his former buddy at Georgia. "We played one year (together), but that one year we were around each other all the time," Sullivan said. "We were pretty close." If Sullivan can be even remotely close to Seymour in production and impact, the Patriots will have pulled off an all-time swindle.
[Ian Clark](http://www.unionleader.com/article.aspx?headline=On Football: Pats' rookies step up&articleId=ab1b9b42-55c5-4535-b978-3e78626c3671) of the Union Leader writes that with all of the questions and storylines coming out of New England Patriots' mini-camp, two men garnering extra attention are the Patriots top draft picks, running back Laurence Maroney and wide receiver Chad Jackson. Not only are they players hung with the high expectations that come from being picked early, but Maroney and Jackson deserve some extra attention because both could be impact players in their rookie years.
Michael Parente of the Woonsocket Call asks the question "Who will fill Willie's shoes?" Parente writes that the key to replacing one of the most productive outside linebackers in franchise history could revolve around the development of 27-year-old inside linebacker, Monty Beisel. Even though he rarely plays on the perimeter, Monty Beisel's performance this summer will help determine how the Patriots fill the void left by the departure of Willie McGinest. The logical choice to supplant McGinest would be Mike Vrabel, who's played that position for the past five years in New England, but he had to move inside last season because Beisel and Chad Brown struggled in their efforts to replace Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson. The Patriots will continue to watch how he interacts with Bruschi, and if they're convinced Beisel can shoulder the load as a starting inside linebacker, it'll allow them to move Vrabel back to the position he's most comfortable with, thereby strengthening the defense and replacing McGinest.