Johnson raised more than a few eyebrows in these parts when he said this week that nobody in the Patriots secondary could cover him. Surely that would get a rise out of Talib, who will likely line up opposite the confident receiver in Sunday’s season opener at Buffalo, at least occasionally.
Apparently, Johnson’s comments hadn’t reached the Patriots cornerback.
“I don’t watch NFL Network or read the newspapers during the season,” Talib said Thursday after practice. “I’m a basketball fan, so my TV pretty much stays on NBA TV.”
If anything, Talib had nothing but positive things to say about Johnson, who has spent five years in the NFL — all with the Bills — and eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards each of the past three.
“We’re preparing,” said Talib. “He definitely demands a lot from a defense. He’s sharp in his routes. He’s really good on his releases.”
In two games last season, the Patriots had a lot of success against Johnson. He was held to eight catches total (two in the first game, six the second), for 109 yards and no touchdowns. In eight career games against the Patriots, Johnson has caught only 29 passes for 382 yards (47.7 yards per game) and three touchdowns. He has never had a 100-yard receiving game against New England.
No matter who gets the snaps at quarterback for the Bills — E.J. Manuel or Jeff Tuel — the Patriots defense will have to be ready for a rookie who is a serious threat to run with the football.
Just don’t count Tommy Kelly among those viewing Manuel as the next Michael Vick.
“He runs a little bit, but he tries to stay in that pocket and get that ball out,” said Kelly, who is listed on the Patriots depth chart as a starting defensive tackle. “He’ll run when necessary, but to say he’s like Michael Vick? No. But he’ll run, he’s definitely a threat, though.”
Manuel was the Bills’ first-round draft pick out of Florida State; Tuel is an undrafted rookie from Washington State. Tuel got more playing time during the preseason while Manuel dealt with a knee injury — Kevin Kolb was placed on injured reserve — but the Bills have named Manuel as the starter.
Whoever is under center, defensive end Rob Ninkovich said, the defensive strategy is pretty similar, even though there isn’t much tape on either quarterback.
“It comes down to the D-line having good pass-rush lanes, and everyone doing their job keeping the guy in the pocket,” Ninkovich said. “Quarterbacks that can run, you’ve got to keep them in the pocket, you want to let them throw the ball down the field, and not give them big rush lanes opening up so they can just step up and run for 10, 15 yards at a time.”
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard had his court hearing in Lincoln, Neb., moved back yet again. Dennard was supposed to appear Friday for a probation violation hearing. A Lancaster County District Court clerk said Thursday that Dennard’s hearing is now scheduled for Sept. 16 at 10:30 a.m., in Judge Stephanie Stacy’s courtroom.
Dennard was cited for DUI on July 11 in Lincoln, an incident that could violate the probation he received three months earlier, when he was sentenced for a felony assault conviction. Stacy sentenced Dennard on April 11 to a 30-day jail term — to be served in March 2014 — 100 hours of community service, and 24 months probation.
The initial probation violation hearing was scheduled for Aug. 27, then pushed back to Friday.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski was one of six Patriots limited in their practice participation Thursday — the injury report was unchanged from Wednesday — but he was active in the brief portion made accessible to the media. Gronkowski moved well, bursting out of a three-point stance, turning, and catching short passes. He was also involved in a short-yardage drill with no defenders. Offensive lineman Will Svitek (knee) was the only Patriot to miss practice, while five others — receivers Danny Amendola (groin) and Aaron Dobson (hamstring), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), and defensive backs Nate Ebner (ankle) and Duron Harmon (hamstring) — were all limited. Buffalo’s injury report was also identical to Wednesday. Three players were out: cornerback Stephon Gilmore (wrist), kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin), and center Doug Legursky (knee).
A playoff payoff?
Kelly spent his first nine seasons in the NFL with Oakland, and has never played on a team that went to the playoffs. Now he’s with the Patriots, who have been to the postseason in eight of the last nine years. “It makes me a little more happy to come to work every day, makes it a little more easy to put the work in every day when you know we’ve got a real good chance of winning, instead of going into a game thinking, ‘OK, we need to play lights out, and we need the other team to mess up,’ ” Kelly said . . . The Patriots made a series of roster moves, releasing offensive lineman Braxston Cave and tight end Matthew Mulligan, and adding Jordan Devey to the practice squad. Cave had been claimed off waivers on Sunday after being released by the Browns; Mulligan, a Bangor native who played at the University of Maine and has spent four years in the NFL (three with the Jets, last season with St. Louis), was signed as a free agent on Tuesday. Devey is an offensive lineman from Memphis who can play multiple positions . . . Despite losing once, the Patriots have scored at least 30 points in each of their last six games against the Bills, the longest such stretch against any opponent in team history. The loss (34-31) came at Buffalo in 2011; the wins have been 38-30 and 34-3 in 2010, 49-21 in 2011, and 52-38 and 37-31 last season. If you’re paying close attention, that means the Bills have scored at least 30 in four of those six games, so a high-scoring affair could be in order. The longest streak of a team scoring at least 30 points against the same opponent — since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger — is eight games, by Miami against the Jets from 1986-89.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.