FOXBOROUGH — Patriots owner Robert Kraft has stepped forward to support Houston, the city that hosted the Patriots during two of their greatest triumphs. In recent days, floods from Hurricane Harvey have ravaged Houston, the site of Patriots victories in Super Bowl XXXVIII and Super Bowl LI.
Kraft announced on Monday that he will match donations up to $1 million for the American Red Cross in support of the Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund.
“When natural disasters have impacted our country, they have always unified communities and rallied support throughout the nation,” Kraft said in a team release. “We have already heard stories of heroic rescues and strangers helping strangers in this time of need. These stories have inspired us, as we always encourage bringing communities together, building bridges and helping others. We are eager to join in these efforts and provide our support.”
Enormous floods have swallowed the same highways and roads the Patriots traveled less than two weeks ago for their second preseason game. Several people have died, and tens of thousands have evacuated their homes.
Five Patriots players — Danny Amendola, Eric Rowe, Elandon Roberts, Malcom Brown, and Cameron Fleming — grew up either in Houston or close by. Each of them remembers enduring major storms, from Hurricane Katrina, to Hurricane Rita, and Hurricane Ike.
None, however, compare to the unprecedented size of Hurricane Harvey, the first storm of a Category 3 or higher to hit the United States in 12 years.
“Just stuff like that, there’s nothing that you can really do about it,” Roberts said. “But what you can do right now is pray for the area and hope that they rescue all the people that’s trapped right now and just continue to pray because it isn’t over yet.”
All of the Patriots players aside from Brown, who wasn’t made available on Monday, confirmed their families are safe. But startling images of destruction in their hometown resonate.
“It’s a little surreal, but I’m from there so I’ve seen it all the time,” Fleming said. “I know how it’s supposed to look and how it looks now, so I think that’s a little bit more jarring than thinking about the places I used to go when I was in high school and then seeing them there now.”
Kraft is one of many around the NFL to extend his support in recent days. Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt set a goal of raising $200,000, a number that was shattered in two hours. So he upped the number to $500,000.
Texans owner Bob McNair announced he would donate $1 million to the United Way of Greater Houston’s Flood Relief Fund. The NFL Foundation also said it would match McNair’s $1 million donation.
Kraft, known for his generosity and community outreach, called Houston a “special city to our family and organization.”
“I’m definitely thankful that Mr. Kraft cares and he shows that he cares,” Fleming said. “Houston holds a special place in my heart because it’s my hometown, so I think that’s awesome.”
Returning to field
Matthew Slater and Rex Burkhead returned to practice Monday as the Patriots began preparations for their final exhibition game Thursday against the Giants and their season opener against the Chiefs Sept. 7.
Slater hadn’t been spotted since he suffered an undisclosed injury in camp Aug. 2. Burkhead didn’t practice last week after his standout game against the Texans in the second preseason game.
Slater’s teammates felt the six-time Pro Bowler’s presence at practice.
“It puts you at ease, him being out there, because he’s an extension of the coaches,” said safety and fellow special teamer Brandon King. “A lot of people talk about having that extension of the coach on the field, and he’s definitely one of those guys. He’s been around here for a decade playing at a high level.
Slater didn’t skip a beat upon his return to the practice field, according to King.
“When Slate’s out there, he’s giving 100 percent no matter what he’s doing,” said King. “If he’s going to be out there, he’s giving nothing but Slate.”
Patriots sign three
With only five days remaining before the Patriots need to trim their roster to 53, three new faces appeared on the practice field.
Pass rushers Nick Usher, Mikey Bart, and linebacker Christian Kuntz — all undrafted free agents — round out the 90-man roster. Bart donned No. 64 at practice, while Kuntz wore No. 46 and Usher wore No. 66.
“We feel like we’d be able to give them an opportunity to play [in the final preseason game Thursday] and take a look at them,” coach Bill Belichick said, adding that their inclusion against the New York Giants isn’t set in stone. “We’ll see where they are,” he said. “If they’re not ready, no [they won’t play]. If they’re ready, then possibly, yeah.”
Usher, a UTEP alumnus, earned All-Conference USA Honorable Mention in 2015 and 2016. The Seahawks cut him in late July. Bart registered 34 tackles for North Carolina last season. He signed with the Cardinals in May but was waived a few weeks later.
The former Duquesne linebacker Kuntz, who was named Northeast Conference Player of the Year in 2016, said he received a call from the Patriots on Saturday while at his home in Pittsburgh. He signed Sunday and arrived in Foxborough later that night.
Kuntz thought his first practice with the Patriots went well.
“I’m just trying to get acclimated with everything like the calls,” he said. “Trying to get to know some guys around here. Just communicating on the field, but I think it went well.”
Eight players were missing from practice Monday, including receivers Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell, safety Nate Ebner, linebackers Harvey Langi and Shea McClellin, offensive tackles Nate Solder and Tony Garcia, and defensive end Derek Rivers.
Solder, Langi, Mitchell and Ebner all were present in the locker room following practice.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who returned from the PUP list last week, worked with the defensive linemen.