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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Crazy number of Patriots fans at practice, Andrews vs Stork, Cooper injury update

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The Patriots had a larger fan turnout to a practice than almost every single NBA or NHL team gets to an actual game.

1. The New England Patriots drew 21,781 fans to their training camp event on Saturday. That’s a huge turnout and it’s bigger than what most North American Sports teams bring to their regular season games. When you look at the NBA and the NHL, only the Chicago Bulls (21,820) and the Chicago Blackhawks (21,859) average bigger crowds than the Patriots draw at camp. The Patriots also collected more fans than four MLB teams: Miami Marlins (21,739), Cleveland Indians (19,201), Oakland A’s (19,173), and Tampa Bay Rays (16,692).

Keep up the great support!

2. When Patriots center Bryan Stork disappeared for the second half of Saturday’s practice, the door was wide open for David Andrews to take the starting job. Now there’s a chance that Stork isn’t hurt, but any time he is off the field is a negative for his odds to win the starting job. This reminds of what head coach Bill Belichick said about edge defender Rob Ninkovich:

“Durability is more important than ability in this league,” Belichick said. “Not only has [Ninkovich] not missed a game, he’s barely missed a practice. He’s out there every day, so that builds the communication and consistency with your defense, with his teammates, with everything. He’s a guy you don’t even think about being out there, because he’s always out there. That’s huge in the overall development of your team or particularly that unit.”

Stork misses practices and games, while Andrews has won offseason strength and conditioning awards and has been at every practice. Don’t be shocked if Andrews wins the job.

3. Patriots right guard Jonathan Cooper was carted off the practice field and has been diagnosed with a plantar fascia strain, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. It’s a foot injury that occurs for multiple reasons, but it’s commonly related to tight calf muscles or a tight Achilles tendon. I suffered from a similar injury when I ran a half marathon without having trained in the month prior. I don’t recommend it.

Since it is a strain instead of a tear, the recovery time is expected to be 2-3 weeks, although there will be another week or two until he’s back at 100%. He should be ready for the regular season.

And while the initial reaction is an easy, “we traded Chandler Jones for this?, but remember that the Patriots also acquired a 2nd round pick that turned into left guard Joe Thuney and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. Thuney is looking like a day 1 starter, so all is not lost from this transaction.

4. Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson is in the midst of another fantastic training camp, which seems to be normal for him. He always dominates and then disappears when the games start. Remember that he hasn’t passed 700 receiving yards in a single season since he was in high school. A former teammate shared some insight on Dobson’s mental approach.

Dobson clearly has all of the physical talents in the world, which is why the Patriots have kept him around, but he overthinks everything. He gets choppy when the game is for real and he loses his fluid athleticism. I think the coaches should have watched how the Broncos utilized Demaryius Thomas and deployed Dobson in the exact same way. Get the ball to Dobson and let him use his athleticism to win- and the more he touches the football, the greater his confidence grows.

This also reminds me of the 2014 story that surfaced about Dobson “mouthing off” to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Head coach Bill Belichick snuffed out that story in a hurry. The story overlapped with the Patriots early season struggles, but perhaps it was also a coaching move by Belichick to protect a player that has confidence issues.