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Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona criticizes new kickoff rules

Nick Folk unloads a kick during Friday's OTA at Gillette Stadium.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Joe Cardona joined teammate Matthew Slater in criticizing the NFL’s new kickoff rules, saying Friday the decision to limit returns wouldn’t have been the main change if player safety was the league’s main goal.

The new rule permits players to fair catch kickoffs no matter where they are on the field and receive the ball at their team’s 25-yard-line or at the spot of the fair catch.

“We have to operate in the rules that are given to us even if it was a unilateral decision,” Cardona said. “We all as players want to play football and we want to play football as safely as possible. We want to show kids that it’s a safe sport to play so that we can continue to grow the game, both domestically and abroad.


“It is a uniquely American export, so I think it’s a matter of playing the game within the rules and how it’s been developed and doing it safely,” Cardona said. “When it comes to safety, we want to play within the rules and just make sure we’re covered health-wise on the back end.”

The change comes after the Patriots, who voted against the rule change, invested heavily in special teams in the offseason. This year they drafted kicker Chad Ryland in the fourth round and punter Bryce Baringer in the sixth round.

Those additions could leave Cardona snapping to new faces. The repetitions gained during OTAs and minicamps will help refine the Patriots operation despite the changes, he said.

“It’s just getting in as good a rhythm and being ready to work really in a focused way leading up to training camp,” Cardona said. “We’re adjusting. They just have to get used to me.”

The 31-year-old also spoke about the 2023 installment of the Army-Navy football game, which will be held at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 9. Cardona went to Navy and went 4-0 against the Black Knights during his tenure.


The two-time Super Bowl champion recalled thinking that his first game in The Rivalry was the biggest one he’d ever played in.

“I might have been right, you never know,” he said. “You know exactly what you’re playing for, exactly who’s watching when it comes to basically every single service member in the Army and every sailor in the Navy.”

Henry and Co.

Tight end Hunter Henry has had an experienced partner in his position group meetings in each of his seasons with the Patriots.

For his first two years, that was Jonnu Smith. Smith was traded to Atlanta, but the Patriots found Henry a running mate in Mike Gesicki. Henry said having those veteran players creates competition but also cooperation.

“In the room, guys see things in different ways. I might say something, be able to input something to him on how he sees a route or a blocking scheme,” he said. “At this level, you’re going against the best all the time. So it’s a chess match.”

Those shared bits of information are tested often in practice, where Henry and Gesicki match up against the Patriots’ versatile group of safety/linebacker hybrids.

“They do a great job of mixing things up, making it hard on us,” Henry said. “You have to keep your eyes up and be really locked in on what things are pre-snap and post-snap.”


Jones is sharp

Mac Jones looked sharp during Friday’s practice. He completed a deep pass to Henry in the middle of the field that was well placed into a tight window … Cardona’s near-10 minute interview took place during showers. The long snapper recalled a military saying: “If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training.” … Bailey Zappe said he made frequent trips to and from Dallas, where he worked with QBCountry, a quarterback training company … Jahlani Tavai and Marte Mapu played rugby together growing up in California and their families are close, Tavai said … Mandatory minicamp starts Monday.

Varun Shankar can be reached at Follow him @byvarunshankar.