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Team Report - NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

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INSIDE SLANT

New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins was traded to the Buccaneers in exchange for second-year tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The deal, shipping a six-time Pro Bowler and team captain to Tampa Bay less than two weeks before the regular season sent shockwaves through the New England locker room.

Even head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged the enormity of the trade in a written statement announcing the deal.

"Logan Mankins is everything we would ever want in a football player," Belichick said. "It is hard to imagine a better player at his position, a tougher competitor or a person to represent our program. He is one of the all-time great Patriots and the best guard I ever coached. Logan brought a quiet but unmistakable presence and leadership that will be impossible to duplicate. Unfortunately, this is the time of year when difficult decisions have to be made - and this is one of the most difficult we will ever make - but like every other decision it was made for what we feel is in the best interests of the team."

His teammates, who were informed of the deal just before the day's practice, were seemingly still coming to grips with the loss of a veteran leader who'd spent the last nine-plus seasons as a mainstay on the team.

"What an awesome player," left tackle Nate Solder said. "So honored to play with that guy, to get to know him and his family. I can't say enough good things about him. He and his family have great morals, great ethics, great work ethic. Tremendous guy. He does what he says. Everything about the guy is genuine and authentic.

"It's all coming to us pretty quickly, so, really, I just reflect. I truly hope to have a great relationship with him as we go ahead in life."

"He's the type of guy that you don't know if you'll get that type of teammate ever again," Patriots co-captain Devin McCourty said. "He's a tough guy - the different injuries he's played through, being out there every snap, every chance he could get. Since I've been here, he's the kind of guy you look up to, and I'm a defensive back. Tampa's going to get one hell of a player."

Wright, acquired from Tampa Bay in the trade for Mankins adds much-needed depth to the Patriots' tight-end depth chart. Rob Gronkowski is cautiously working back from a torn ACL suffered last December, while Michael Hoomanawanui has been dealing with his own knee injury this summer.

The 6-4, 220-pound Wright caught 54 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns as an undrafted rookie last year out of Rutgers.

New England safety Duron Harmon played with Wright for the Scarlet Knights and thinks the tight end will certainly bring something to the table for the Patriots offense.

"He's a good tight end that's not your traditional tight end," Harmon said. "He does good things in and out of his breaks, catches the ball well. Just a change-up tight end that did well for himself last year."

Cornerback Darrelle Revis spent last season in Tampa with Wright and was also impressed with what he saw from the young pass-catcher.

"We're getting an exciting player who can catch, who can run great routes," Revis said. "He has a lot of speed at the tight-end position. He makes plays. I think he'll fit in well."

--Coming off the third preseason game victory over the Carolina Panthers, head coach Bill Belichick has a couple days before he must make his first round of cuts down to 75 players by Aug. 26.

Every summer Belichick talks about the difficulty of letting guys go, especially when most of those players have done everything the coach has asked and competed to the end of their talents in an effort to stick around in New England.

But the cuts are a reality of life for every NFL team. The one thing that Belichick often emphasizes is that just because a player gets cut doesn't mean he won't have a chance to contribute to a team, the Patriots or elsewhere, at some point.

"The 53 is, I guess one number, but it's really more than that when you get into practice-squad positions and really, we have a number of players that have played here and have ended up playing for other teams and vice versa," Belichick said on Saturday after breaking down his team's 30-7 win over the Panthers as he prepared for the first wave of cuts. "Players that are playing have people evaluating them, both on the teams that they're on and throughout the league and in other leagues for that matter. Guys that want to play football that have an opportunity, I think they want to take advantage of that opportunity and make the most of it for themselves. That's really all they can control. Whatever else happens is beyond their control."

And while he generally feels for the players that he must let go, it's a reality that everyone involved is well aware of when the team-building process begins in the spring.

"They can just do the best they can with the opportunities they get. Make the most of the ones they get and that will lead to more," Belichick said. "I think, honestly, everybody pretty much understands that. We all knew at the start of the season that rosters were at 90 and they were going to be cut to 75 and the 53 and so forth. Everybody knows it's a competitive situation. Just try to go out there and try to do the best you can to make the most out of it."

New England has had a number of interesting young players break free from the crowded pack this summer. Undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler has seen reps with the first defense throughout the summer in practice and preseason action. He seems destined for a roster spot, at least through the first month when free-agent addition Brandon Browner will have to serve a four-game suspension.

On the other side of the ball receiver Brian Tyms has made a serious run at the roster. Though there seems to be a crowded if questionable depth chart at the position, Tyms has made the most of his chances as he's proven himself an intriguing outside option and deep threat. He has a four-game suspension to serve to open the season, but the young veteran who's spent time with the 49ers, Dolphins and Browns certainly has been one of the youngsters to impress Belichick.

"I think Tyms has done a good job in camp of taking advantage of his opportunities," Belichick said of the young receiver who caught touchdowns in each of the first two preseason contents. "He's been durable. He's been a pretty consistent player for us, as far as being out on the field and working hard every day, showing some ability to make some big plays downfield both in practice and in the games, as well as on some of his short and intermediate routes, showing some ability to run with the ball after he catches it. He was a guy that was a little bit behind in terms of the overall installation of our offense from the spring, but he's worked hard and done a good job of catching on. There are still a lot of things he can improve on. We'll just have to see how it all turns out, but Brian has been a great guy to have on the team - his work ethic, his toughness, his competitiveness has been really good to have and to work with. He's worked hard to improve every day, so you can't really ask any more than that."

There are also veteran players who might find themselves in the competitive discussion as Belichick and his staff deal with the cuts down to 75 and then to 53 by Aug. 30. Running back Brandon Bolden, wide receiver Josh Boyce and defensive end Will Smith and others are all very much on the bubble.

It's the reality of the business, but it's certainly not a decision process that Belichick takes likely. Players' livelihoods are on the line, as is the success, on some level, of his football team.

"We talk about every player, I'd say, a minimum of two times a week just to talk about where that player is and how he's progressing and what he needs to do and so forth and so on," Belichick said. "We try to make decisions in preseason based on what's best for the player and what's best for the team - it's a combination of those two things. They're interrelated, but at the same time they aren't independent because you have to prepare the team, but at the same time, you want to give a player the best opportunity you can to see what he can do and have him show his skills and ability to compete with the other players that he's up against. There's no set formula. Each situation is different. Sometimes circumstances dictate some of those decisions; sometimes they don't and you have to make them. But however it turns out, we try to do what we feel is best for the team."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to start and play the bulk of the New England Patriots preseason finale on Thursday night against the Giants in New York. So far this preseason the second-round rookie has completed 24 of his 37 throws for 334 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 129.8 passer rating.

"I'm excited about it," Garoppolo admitted Monday. "It's a good opportunity to get out there and get some quality reps. It's going to be fun."

On the other side of the ball, the Giants will reportedly play their starters for the first 15-18 snaps of the game. So Garoppolo will get some time against a higher level of competition, at least early on.

"I came in with the mindset that I'm going to practice and study as if I was the starter," Garoppolo said. "If you want to be a successful player in this league, you have to take the mental reps, the physical reps, and take advantage of your opportunities.

"You always want to come in with a good attitude, thinking that you're going to succeed. Having that mindset really helped out a lot. It's the opportunity that matters. As long as you get an opportunity, take advantage of that. Just showcase what you can do with the players around you."

--Linebacker Steve Beauharnais admitted he was surprised that veteran defensive lineman Tommy Kelly had been cut this week. The second-year former seventh-round pick is one of many Patriots battling for their jobs heading into the preseason finale against the Giants, but he doesn't seem to be allowing that pressure to get the best of him.

"Obviously a lot of guys aren't going to be here anymore. It's a lot of motivation, knowing cuts are coming. It's a big game for me, and a lot of the younger guys here. It's the last test to prove ourselves. It's definitely going to be a big challenge. I'm looking forward to it," Beauharnais said.

"I don't think anybody should be nervous," he added. "Just control what you can control, really."

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Ryan Mallett vs. Jimmy Garoppolo for the backup quarterback job. While there was some question of whether the fourth-year veteran Mallett would be challenged this summer for the No. 2 spot behind Tom Brady by the second-round rookie, it appears the former third-round pick has retained his job. Mallett was thrown into action in the first quarter of the third preseason game against Carolina as head coach Bill Belichick wanted to simulate the unknown time at which a backup would enter a regular-season game. Later against the Panthers, Garoppolo had a few plays in which he looked like what he is, a rookie passer making the jump from the FCS level to the NFL. Garoppolo has had a solid summer, but it appears that Belichick remains more comfortable with his veteran backup and will keep three quarterbacks on the roster for the first time in the last three years.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Tyler Gaffney was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury Aug. 26.

--LB Cameron Gordon was placed on injured reserve with an unknown injury Aug. 26.

--DL Ben Bass, who had been dealing with a hamstring injury since being acquired in a trade with the Cowboys, was released Aug. 26.

--WR Wilson Van Hooser was released Aug. 26.

--WR Derrick Johnson was released Aug. 26.

--DB Travis Hawkins was released Aug. 26.

--DB Jemea Thomas, a sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech, was released on the first round of cuts Aug. 26.

--LB Deontae Skinner was released Aug. 26.

--DT Tommy Kelly was released Aug. 25. The veteran missed all but five games last season, his first in New England, to a torn ACL. Kelly had been working with the first unit at 3-4 defensive end this summer before getting his walking papers.

--LB James Anderson was released Aug. 25. The veteran free-agent addition had been used in sub and coverage situations in his first summer in New England, but had also battled an unknown injury. Anderson had 100 tackles for the Bears last fall. With his departure the Patriots have very inexperienced depth among the backups at linebacker.

--DE Will Smith was released Aug. 25. The veteran former Saints star had signed with New England this offseason after missing all of last fall in New Orleans with a torn ACL. He'd seen limited action on the practice field and in preseason games, most of that coming as a sub rusher in passing situations. He had done little to stand out.

--TE Justin Jones, an undrafted rookie out of East Carolina, was released Aug. 25. It was the second time the big-bodied youngster (6-foot-8) had been cut this summer. He was brought back the first time only because of a serious lack of healthy bodies on the depth chart at the position.

--T Sebastian Vollmer returned to practice Aug. 25 after missing a week of action to an unknown injury.

--NT Sealver Siliga (left hand) returned to practice action Aug. 25, his first time on the field since suffering the injury in joint workouts with the Redskins Aug. 4.

--LB Cameron Gordon, an undrafted linebacker, returned to practice after missing time to an unknown injury.

--OL Chris Martin was not on the practice field Aug. 25 as he continues to work back from an unknown injury that saw him on NFI for the bulk of his first training camp as an undrafted rookie.

--TE Rob Gronkowski warmed up on the field prior to New England's third preseason game, but left the stadium before kickoff. Gronkowski took a step forward with his first 11-on-11 practice action last week and remains on a conservative rehab schedule as he works back from last December's torn ACL with an eye on playing in the season opener in Miami.

--WR Aaron Dobson did not play in the third preseason game against Carolina, sitting out as he works back from offseason foot surgery. The second-year pass catcher came off PUP a little more than a week ago, but is still working toward full-contact action.

--DL Dominique Easley sat out the third preseason game. The first-round pick is working back from the torn ACL suffered last September at Florida. He came off NFI last week and took part in some 11-on-11 practice reps, but apparently is still ramping up toward game action.

--LB Jerod Mayo missed the third preseason game with an undisclosed injury. Mayo missed all of practice last week and has yet to take part in preseason game action. Mayo finished last season on injured reserve with a torn pectoral. Mayo was dressed for the game against the Panthers and on the sideline supporting his teammates.

--LB Dont'a Hightower dressed and was on the sideline for the third preseason game against the Panthers but did not play. Hightower has been practicing regularly all summer, so the reason for his absence against Carolina is unknown.

--RB Brandon Bolden did not play or dress against Carolina in the third week of the preseason. The third-year running back has battled injuries off and on all summer and spring, having missed time to an ankle injury. He had made his preseason debut in the second week of preseason action against the Eagles and the reason for his absence against the Panthers is unknown.

--TE Michael Hoomanawanui (left knee) returned to limited practice action last week but did not dress for the third preseason game. The veteran tight end has missed the bulk of the summer to the injury.

--DT Chris Jones continues to miss practice and game action to an ankle injury suffered in the preseason opener in Washington.

--C Bryan Stork continues to be sidelined with the unknown injury that's cost him the bulk of his rookie training camp.

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