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Bills fast approaching, Pats get serious - The Sun Chronicle : Patriots

Bills fast approaching, Pats get serious

Belichick & Co. bring in new tight end while fine-tuning for opener

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Posted: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 12:00 am

FOXBORO - A sense of calm enveloped Gillette Stadium Tuesday as it appeared that the Patriots finally moved fully from the chaos of the end of the preseason into the sharper focus of the regular season.

It took one more roster move, the signing of former Maine tight end Matt Mulligan, to fill the 53-man roster. And while there was no guarantee that Mulligan's addition would be the end of the furious tweaking that took place after the Saturday deadline, it sounded in a round of conference calls Tuesday as if the team's braintrust was ready to get down to serious business.

"We're trying to get back on a normal week now with Tuesday being the normal, traditional Tuesday and then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, finishing up our preparations for Buffalo," Patriots' coach Bill Belichick said. "Part of this week is just getting into a routine, getting into our regular season meeting, practice, preparation schedules - coaches and players - as well as preparing, doing all the things we need to do to get ready for Buffalo, which is considerable as well. Fortunately, we've had a couple extra days on that and that's been helpful."

Belichick's addition of Mulligan was a further sign that veteran Rob Gronkowski, although very publicly exposed to media scrutiny at practices earlier in the week, would not be available when the Patriots visit Ralph Wilson Stadium for the opener on Sunday (1 p.m.; Ch, 4, 12). Gronkowski is still recovering from offseason back surgery and is still considered unlikely to play until the end of the month.

Mulligan is likely to be a short-term solution to the depth at tight end, where Michael Hoomanawanui and rookie Zach Sudfeld were the only healthy options to start this season.

"He's an experienced tight end that we've played against before," said Belichick of the former Black Bear, a veteran of four NFL seasons with the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams. "We'll put him in there in that group and see how it all comes together. He's had a lot of success blocking and he's a tough, physical player. But we'll see how it goes."

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday that he anticipated no problems with incorporating Mulligan into his planning.

"Well, I'll certainly be more familiar with him as we go," he said. "This is certainly not an unfamiliar situation for us, or any staff, to be in where the roster has a little bit of flexibility and turnover here at this time of the year. Last year, I think (Hoomanawanui) came onto our roster around this time and played right away."

Hoomanawanui, as the most experienced healthy Patriot tight end (he joined the team early last season), took a pay cut of approximately 50 percent to stay on the roster. There are incentives in his new contract that would bring his salary for this year up to $1 million, still $300,000 less than he would have made previously.

He said he opted for the security of staying in one place for a while rather than taking his chances again on the free-agent market.

"It's tough going from team to team," he said. "I've done that once before, last year, and the learning curve is tough. Usually the guys that pick up on it are the guys that'll stick around. And I admit the first couple of weeks I even got a little bit of heat from everyone, people in the circle, but it's just the nature of the game, just come in here and produce early.

"It was difficult," Hoomanawanui added. "I didn't really start going until maybe the third, fourth game, midseason even. So being able to come back here in the offseason, in the spring, in training camp, definitely helped my cause."

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