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Haynesworth in action; Sunday practice notes

Posted Jul 31, 2011

Albert Haynesworth was on the field Sunday for his first practices as a Patriot.

Albert Haynesworth made his practice field debut Sunday morning, appearing for the first time in his No. 92 blue jersey for the morning walkthrough. The former Redskin and Titan then took part in the full-pads afternoon session on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.

Haynesworth got off to a nice start in the afternoon, blowing up a few offensive linemen and making plays in both group and team defensive work. But then he was taken to the ground on a partial cut block and afterwards was seen down on one knee talking to the training staff. He did not take any more reps on the afternoon, finishing the day standing near defensive line coach Pepper Johnson while watching his new teammates. He then did ab work with other injured players while veterans did some conditioning at the end of practice.

Haynesworth’s participation indicates that he’s passed Bill Belichick’s conditioning run, a prerequisite for any player to begin working out in training camp. Based on Haynesworth’s issues with Mike Shanahan’s conditioning run last summer, that at least a positive sign for Patriots fans.

Now Haynesworth – who starred as a 4-3 tackles with the Titans and balked at playing nose tackle and just about every other position in the 3-4 last year for Shanahan – can begin the process of finding a role for himself on the New England defensive front.

“I think with any player, you’re trying to identify their strengths and their weakness, what they do well,” Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio responded when asked in his morning press conference how Haynesworth might fit in. “The reality is, any player we bring into this program, they’re going to define what their role is going to be with their performance and what they do on the field. The more they can do and they can execute those assignments and those techniques, then they’ll be put in that position. But the players are going to determine what their role ultimately is on the team.

“But Albert’s been a good football player in this league, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic and he’s a disruptive player. I think we’ve always taken the approach that if the guy’s a good football player, we’ll find a way to use him. In the end, it’s up to the player to determine what his role is going to be moving forward.”

Haynesworth -- who was listed at 350 in Washington, but shows up at 335 on the New England roster -- actually looked relatively svelte on his 6-6 frame.

Who’s hot: Albert Haynesworth – Haynesworth got off to a nice start in his first practice, shooting a gap to meet a running back in the backfield in an interior, half-line running drill. Later he blew up a couple more offensive linemen in group and team work, seeming to catch the likes of Rich Ohrnberger and Ryan Wendell off guard with both his speed and power. The one concern is the fact that big No. 92 seemed to sit out the second-half of the afternoon workout. But fans were given a taste of Haynesworth’s potentially dominant physical skills on Sunday.

Who’s not: Chad Ochocinco – No. 85 struggled in the afternoon workout with dropped passes and miss-timed jumps on other balls. Things got so bad that Ochocinco was one of a handful of players jumping offside on post-practice conditioning runs. He seemed to be fighting the ball at times, and at this point may be thinking too much about his routes and reads. Regardless, he has very high expectations and left something to be desired on Sunday.

Play of the Day: Ryan Mallett and Taylor Price connected on a beautiful bomb down the right sideline in group work, beating Thad Turner for what was a gain of more than 50 yards. Though Price trotted into the end zone for the would-be touchdown, replay may have shown that he stepped out of bounds near the 5. Either way it was a pretty play and showed off Mallett’s strong arm and solid deep ball ability.

Jermaine to the situation
The Patriots have used a lot of four-man fronts to open training camp, including sets on Sunday that saw Vince Wilfork and Haynesworth lined up as a pair of pretty formidable defensive tackles.

In those sets second-year player Jermaine Cunningham is lining up as a defensive end with his hand in the dirt, a position he played in college. But the former second-round pick didn’t seem to put too much into the time spent early in camp on the new-look front.

“We’re just starting up our defense and just doing the same thing going out there playing defense,” Cunningham said, downplaying talk of more 4-3 work.

Regardless of the front, Cunningham knows he’s expected to make a big jump in his second season.

“That’s my goal coming into every season since college, just keep getting better,” Cunningham said. “I feel like that’s my job right now and that’s what I’m going to do.

“I just try to absorb from everybody, just be like a sponge.”

Law Firm on the way; Light too?
According to Caserio, restricted free agent running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is expected in the fold in New England, possibly as early as this week.

“We’re talking to Benny. I would think that at some point here during the week, I think he’s going to be here,” Caserio offered. “When the players that sign or are under contract are here, they’ll be out there. But we’re talking to a number of players and I’d say that’s fair that Benny falls into that category, sure.”

Caserio was less specific about the future for Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Light, who’s swimming the unrestricted free agent waters right now.

“I think with a lot of players, conversations are ongoing, we’ve had discussions with multiple players whether it be the rookies, whether it be some of our free agents,” Caserio said when asked for an update on Light. “Matt’s been a good player for us for a long time. I’d say there are discussions that are ongoing. I don’t want to put a time table on it, but Matt’s made a lot of contributions to this team. He’s been a good player for us, so we’ll see what happens.”

Lockout hangover
Though most of the players have gone with the “it is what it is” and “that’s in the past” theory in regards what was lost during the lockout, Caserio was a little more honest in his assessment as to where the Patriots are at this point in camp compared to where they might have been in a normal year.

“I think we have a long way to go,” Caserio said. “Those first two days, you want to look at as sort of an acclimation period and then the first day with pads. I think the biggest thing is where we are right now. Once you put the pads, the focus is on the improvement and the individual techniques and the fundamentals. Those are the areas and those are things that if you don’t work on them on a consistent basis, on a day-to-day basis from the end of the season up until training camp, those are the things that go quickly. The important thing is to have that fundamental baseline whether it’s throwing and catching – we dropped a snap during one of the run periods yesterday – or getting in and out of breaks, safeties taking to get to their landmarks, taking the correct routes. The basic fundamentals as it applies to their positions, I think that’s where we really have a lot of work to do. We have a long way to go.

“I would say probably just the overall conditioning is probably not where it needs to be, but it’s part of the process and we’re going to work as hard as we can to get our players to that [level] and our expectations aren’t going to change; we are going to demand the same things that we normally demand of them and they understand that. And it’s their job to work on things on their own when they can. I think the fundamentals and the individual techniques and the communication, those are the things that I think we’re a little bit of a ways off on right now and hopefully that will improve the more we’re out there and the more the players are working with one another.”

Notes
The only player inexplicably absent from the morning walkthrough was running back Eric Kettani. The other 10 absentees were either unsigned rookies or veteran players with new contracts who aren’t allowed to practice until the new league year begins. … Attendance was similar for the afternoon practice with Kettani remaining out of action. Nine players worked in shorts with the medical staff, including James Sanders, Josh Barrett, Matt Katula, Marcus Cannon, Mike Berry, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, Myron Pryor and Ron Brace. … Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo watched the afternoon practice from the player family area. Rondo has apparently developed a relationship with Vince Wilfork, a regular attendee at the Boston Garden. … Second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski joked that he wouldn’t have necessarily simply handed over the No. 85 jersey to Ochocinco for free as his fellow sophomore Aaron Hernandez did. Gronkowski got more serious when asked about recently-released veteran tight end Alge Crumpler. “He’s a great leader. I already miss his presence. He wasn’t just an awesome player, but a great guy off the field.” … When asked for his first impressions of Ochocinco, Gronkowski pointed to the receivers route running and the way he gets in and out of his breaks. … Ochocinco is getting a crash course on the New England offense, and according to Deion Branch that’s no easy lesson. “It’s pretty hard. It’s not one of those types you come in…a lot of guys go through a bunch of different offenses. I’ve been in like four myself. But this is quite complex. But if you take it one game at a time you’ll get it.” … In case you missed it, the Patriots re-signed veteran safety Brandon McGowan and linebacker Tracy White while releasing rookie free agent linebacker Anthony Leonard. White was on the field watching the afternoon practice. … For complete detailed rundowns of both the morning walkthrough and the full-pads afternoon session, click on over to the Patriots Football Weekly blog.