Thursday NFL Nuggets: Rookies Arrive, Tight End Shuffle, Matt Light Joins ESPN

Published On July 18, 2012 | By Courtney Fallon

Getcha popcorn ready, folks. The countdown to the official start of football season is upon us. We’ve got one week until training camp, and three weeks until preseason. Without further adieu, let’s take a look at what’s making headlines around Gillette Stadium.

THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN – Early this morning, Patriots rookies rolled into Foxboro for the start of training camp. The rest of the team will join them on July 25th; the first full practice begins on Thursday the 26th.

Around lunchtime, the @Patriots Twitter account gave us a sneak peak inside the Pats lunchroom, tweeting this picture and also citing all first-year players were present and accounted for.

Jake Bequette, Jeremy Ebert, and Tyler Urban grab lunch at Gillette Stadium

Check out the rookie roster: (Players in bold were selected from the 2012 NFL Draft)

DE Jake Bequette – Arkansas
RB Brandon Bolden – Mississippi
CB Alfonzo Dennard – Nebraska
WR Jeremy Ebert – Northwestern
DB Nate Ebner – Ohio State
DL Marcus Forston – Miami
DE Justin Francis – Rutgers
LB Dont’a Hightower – Alabama
DE Chandler Jones – Syracuse
WR Matt Roark – Kentucky
TE Tyler Urban – West Virginia
OL Jeremiah Warren – South Florida
FS Tavon Wilson – Illinois
OL Markus Zusevics – Iowa

Over the next several days, the Rooks will get acquainted in their new surroundings running through drills, fitness and conditioning tests, and of course, testing their knowledge on the playbook.

Speaking of rookies, Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower recently signed a four-year deal with the team. He was the last of the Patriots seven draft choices to sign a contract. According to a source out of, Hightower inked a four-year deal reportedly worth $7.7 million, with nearly $6.3 in guaranteed money. Many predict Hightower – New England’s 25th overall selection – to make a significant impact on the Patriots front-7 early on in the camp.

ONE SHORT OF A FULL TANK – New England is currently carrying 89 men on the roster, and they’re looking for one extra body to fill the spot. Would it be too hard to believe that extra roster slot could be filled by a tight end? In a story first broken by NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, today the Patriots met with free agent TE Visanthe Shiancoe, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings.

How serious are the Patriots about Shiancoe? Given the timing of the visit, there could be more interest than usual.

Currently, the Pats are carrying five tight ends on their roster, but no clear-cut favorite to fill a back-up role behind Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Among the Pats other 3rd tight end options, is former New York Giant Jake Ballard, who is recovering from an ACL tear in Super Bowl XVLI. While Ballard did torch New England’s secondary on more than one occasion (4 catches, 67 yards and a game winning touchdown in Week 9), given the timing of his injury, he will most likely sit out this season.

The Patriots did pick up a few of tight ends this offseason, Daniel Fells, Bo Scaife, and Iowa rookie Brad Herman as an undrafted free agent. The Scaife experiment fizzled quickly, after the veteran came into OTAs visibly out of shape. Fells nursed a leg injury through the spring, while rookie TE Brad Herman was placed on season-ending injured reserve back in May.

If Shiancoe were to join the team as the 90th man on the roster, it could make things interesting. The Patriots personnel groupings could change. With an extra blocking tight end, we could see Hernandez move into more of the halfback/wide receiver role fans saw later in the team’s Super Bowl run. Mixing it up with three tight end sets would add a much-needed level of versatility to the team offense.

Additionally, if the Patriots carry more TEs on the roster, it could trim down lengthy list of receivers on the depth chart pretty quickly. Including special teams specialists, the Patriots currently have 11 on their staff.

LIGHT SIGNS WITH ESPN – Matt Light is coming out of retirement to join the ESPN analyst team, becoming the second funniest thing to join to the four-letter network since Woody Paige’s wipe-board. The hilarious, burly offensive lineman spent 11-seasons defending Tom Brady’s blindside on the Patriots offensive line.

At this retirement ceremony, owner Robert Kraft reminded us the “ultimate prankster” was always able to keep it L-I-G-H-T on, and off the field.

Among his many great attributes, Bill Belichick says Light had “great knack for putting dead animals in people’s lockers or in their car” and recalls a time when Light ditched a team meeting to shop for “cowboy boots and belt buckles.”

I wonder which anchor in Bristol he’ll prank first. I predict a “This Is SportsCenter” commercial headed to a TV near you.

NO MORE SNACKS – And in other news making headlines around the NFL, Jets head coach Rex Ryan reports he has lost a whopping 106 pounds since undergoing lap band surgery back in March 2010, shrinking his waistline shrinking from 48 inches, to 38 inches.

In a hilarious tidbit shared by Newark Star-Ledger’s Jenny Vrentas, Rex says his teenage son is shocked by his new, slim physique. Exclaiming to his father, “You’re going to have a six-pack!” to which Ryan fires back, “Yea, I’ll drink one.”

Never a dull moment with the Jets head coach.

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