Howard Ulman of the Associated Press writes that the Patriots are trying out several different players at kick returner to boost a unit that averaged just 21.4 yards per return in 2011, good for 29th in the NFL. "Obviously, last year was an area of still inexperience for us," says special teams coach Scott O'Brien. "You're always looking to improve it, no matter how good you are or how poor you are." Running back Danny Woodhead and receiver Julian Edelman have traditionally been the team's primary returners, but Ulman reports that running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley as well as receiver Donte' Stallworth have also gotten reps at the position during camp.
Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports that the Patriots announced their offseason award winners on Monday for the players who performed the best and showed the most improvement in the team's spring workouts. "The winners include linebacker Bobby Carpenter, safety Patrick Chung, defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, wide receiver Julian Edelman, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, linebacker Jerod Mayo, linebacker Trevor Scott, left tackle Nate Solder, linebacker Jeff Tarpinian and running back Danny Woodhead," writes Howe.
Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com believes that first-year running back Brandon Bolden has the best chance among the team's undrafted free agents to win a spot on the 53-man roster. Yates writes that Bolden has "shown up in several drills" and "looks to be in the running back competition mix" with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Danny Woodhead. "In the eyes of this scribe, he's been superior to Shane Vereen thus far," writes Yates. The Patriots currently carry seven undrafted free agents on their roster and usually end up keeping at least one on their roster to begin the regular season.
Greg A. Bedard and Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe report that defensive end Jermaine Cunningham has made great strides this offseason after a disappointing 2011 campaign. After playing in just 48 defensive snaps last season, Cunningham was one of 10 players recognized by the Patriots for their performance in spring workouts, and his work ethic has caught the eye of his teammates. "Any time you have a guy who's always giving a ton of effort, you obviously respect what they're doing, so we all respect and think that Jermaine is going to go out there and give it everything he's got," defensive end Rob Ninkovich tells Bedard and Benbow.
Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com writes that quarterback Tom Brady has been impressed with the progress of tight end Aaron Hernandez, specifically in running routes and getting separation from defenders. In an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio on Sunday, Brady noted that Hernandez has improved in his ability to run and cut at full speed and has "really gained a lot of body control." "You get those 1 on 1 matchups, and he got a lot of those last season and made a lot of yards after the catch as well, because he's tough to guard 1-on-1," added Brady. "He's really become someone that our offense can really trust."