One day after getting his team back on the practice field after a holiday break, Head Coach Bill Belichick is looking to get the squad back to full speed.
With a full squad taking part in practice, this is no time for the Patriots to ease up. Even guys who are a bit dinged up will be participating, as Belichick doesn't see the good in having guys get no activity for too long a period.
"I would expect everybody to be ready to go and get back into it," Belichick said. "It's time to get back to sharpening our techniques and getting our game back to where it needs to be."
There are several specific areas the team will be addressing this week. With a little extra time thanks to the bye, the Patriots can work on whatever problems his team has incurred this season. Among the biggest issues is kickoff coverage, where New England is among the bottom teams in this category.
"We are going to do things that we have talked about that we are not doing as well as we need to do them and we want to try to improve them," Belichick said. "There are a number of things that Carolina does that are a problem, but we want to try to get a jump on a couple of those early and start incorporating those into the aspects that we are going to be working on today. For example, we are going to be working on kickoff and kickoff return today. Carolina is one of the top kickoff return teams in the league so a lot of the things that we need to do on kickoff coverage will certainly apply to Carolina's kickoff return as an example."
On average, teams are starting their drives at their own 30-yard line against the Patriots. Fortunately the unit will have time to prepare for its next test, which comes on the form of Carolina rookie Steve Smith in Week 17. Smith has 46 returns for 1,267, an average of more than 27 yards per return. He has taken two all the way for touchdowns and is one of the few dangerous weapons Carolina has.
Kickoffs will be the focus Friday, but the Patriots are not where Belichick wants them to be in other areas of the game. Statistically speaking, New England ranks 20th in total offense, and 25th in total defense.
"We've played well sporadically, but I don't think it has come together on a whole game basis," Belichick said. "The bottom line is the score and we've done the things we need to do to win, but statistically we are in the bottom half of the league in a lot of categories. Those are things we need to improve on."
Defensive end added to practice squad
The Patriots made a change to their practice squad, signing rookie defensive end Setema Gali. Gali played at Brigham Young, where he earned first-team Mountain West Conference honors. He led his team with 10 sacks as a senior.
To make room for Gali, New England waived linebacker Maugaula Tuitele from the practice squad. Tuitele has been on the practice squad and active roster for parts of the last two seasons. This season he appeared in one game and contributed a special teams tackle.