One of the areas not among Bill Belichick'sspecific list of things that need to improve during the bye is the kick return game. The Patriots lead the NFL in kick return average (34.8 yards per return) through three weeks, with Ellis Hobbs pacing all individuals with a 36.0-yard average on 10 returns.
But while Hobbs is the one with the ball in his hands making things happen, Belichick was quick to point out that all special teams work is a team effort.
"Obviously, teamwork," Belichick responded when asked what's led to the early season return success. "I think Ellis has run the ball well and broken some tackles but he's also had some room to run. That's a function of the timing of the front line, the wedge, the returner and the off returner.
"It's unusual that a kickoff return is clean, opens up and parts like the Red Sea. There're usually a lot of things that have to be adjusted along the way particularly for the wedge, the off returner and the runner. The way we run it out there in practice and the way it hits in the game are usually a little different. It really comes down to the wedge making good decisions as to whose the most dangerous guy to block, blocking him and then the returner seeing those blocks and hitting the best opening."
Those guys doing the blocking, including special teams captain Larry Izzo, point plenty of praise back at the returner.
"I think we've been working real hard on it, each week trying to improve on the week before," Izzo said. "We get great effort out of our returners. We all understand that. So you take pride in getting your pride done so that you give Ellis or whoever we have back there an opportunity to be successful.
"[Ellis has] shown throughout his career here that he is a guy who is fast, he's quick, he runs hard, he breaks a lot of tackles, he has good vision. Those are things you look for in a returner and I think he has all of those. He takes a lot of pride in being a returner and helping the team with his returns. That's the kind of guy you want to block for, a guy who's fearless. He hits the hole and then he's going to break some tackles if he has to. So when you have a guy back out there like that, as a blocker you want to do everything you can to give him an opportunity to showcase his skills."
Price is right here
Two days after sending fullback Kyle Eckel packing, the Patriots filled the spot on the 53-man roster by signing 6-1, 197-pound wide receiver Maurice Price. The 23-year-old former rookie free agent out of Charleston Southern entered the league with the Chiefs last summer but missed his entire rookie season on injured reserve with a clavicle injury.
Despite making it through cuts in Kansas City this summer Price has yet to play in an NFL game, serving as a game inactive for the team's season opener at Gillette Stadium. He was cut just days after that game and signed to the Chiefs practice squad. He was cut from the team's practice squad on Sept. 19. He will wear No. 17 in New England, the jersey previously worn by Chad Jackson in his time with the Patriots.
"It's surprising. To come here to arguably the best team in the league after being in Kansas City all in one week … I'm just trying to get adjusted and learn," said Price, who also worked out recently for Seattle and Baltimore. "It happened so fast and I'm just trying to learn the offense as fast as I can."
Price tied for the Kansas City lead with six preseason receptions for a team-high 94 yards and one touchdown before injuring his quad in the third preseason game and missing the exhibition finale.
"He's a bigger guy. Most of his production came offensively at Kansas City in preseason – we got a good look at him," Belichick said. "Then he didn't play in the last preseason game or against us but we saw quite a bit of him in their first preseason games. [He's] a big kid catches the ball well and was productive this year in preseason. So, we worked him out here yesterday and signed him to the roster today."
New England also announced a couple practice squad transactions on Wednesday, re-signing center Ryan Wendell and re-releasing safety Mark Dillard. Wendell was a four-year starter at Fresno State who spent training camp in New England as an undrafted rookie before his release on Aug. 26.
Practice observationsThose not seen on the field during the 15-minute media viewing portion of practice included wide receiver Kelley Washington, cornerback Lewis Sanders, safety Rodney Harrison, tackle Mark LeVoir and defensive lineman Le Kevin Smith. Hobbs actually jogged back into Gillette Stadium when the media arrived and missed all the stretching and some positional drills, but was jogging back on the field in full dress as the media's observation window came to an end.
The workout, under sunny, warm skies, was a full-pads practice. There were no black jerseys on the field to signify practice players of the week. One interesting note from the limited action was that when the players broke up into positional groups after stretching safety-turned-wide-receiver Ray Ventrone did not go with the receivers. Ventrone worked with Izzo, Lonie Paxton and Chris Hanson, with Ventrone rushing punts with Izzo working on his wing-back protection.
A hand and some feetIn his opening comments of his morning press conference Belichick took a moment to congratulate the Red Sox for clinching a playoff berth with Tuesday night's win over the Indians. "I congratulate the Red Sox on their playoff appearance in whatever capacity that ends up being. I wish them well. The winning continues there." … Cornerback Deltha O'Neal and rookie *Jonathan Wilhite were kicking around a soccer ball in the opening minutes of the media availability in the Gillette locker room. Both players showed decent skills passing and juggling the ball back and forth through the air with their feet. … Something not often seen in the locker room, practice squad tackle Jacob Bender put spray sunscreen on his arms prior to heading out to practice. Bender has a large tattoo on his right arm that stretches below his short jersey sleeve and he seemed to focus on putting a little extra spray on that area to protect his body art. … Without a Patriots game, New England fans will have to chance to watch some of the other games from around the NFL this weekend. But don't exactly expect all the players to be doing the same. "Probably not. Here and there, but sit down and watch a whole game? I doubt," Thomas said. ... Because of the bye the team does not have to issue an injury/practice participation report until next Wednesday.