Barring some unforeseen announcement of disaster, the Patriots made it through their three-day mini-camp unscathed and quite pleased with their work Saturday.
After watching five practices and having some light work remaining Saturday afternoon, Head Coach Bill Belichick felt his staff and players had accomplished the goals that were set heading in.
"I thought there was some improvement from where we started, and that's good," Belichick said. "Obviously we've got a long way to go, but starting to show signs of improvement means we're heading in the right direction.
"I think we are getting done what we need to get done in terms of teaching. This has not been a big evaluation camp; it's been an instructional camp. The players have been fairly attentive, and we got quite a bit of stuff in. That will give us a better jump when we got to training camp."
Part of the reason the camp came off so smoothly was the new facilities available at the Patriots new home, CMGI Field. With the added amenities inside the stadium for the team, meetings and film sessions were more efficient, one factor that has Belichick and the team open to discussion about conducting training camp on the grounds in the future.
"We've talked about it and it is a possibility," Belichick said. "We'd have to work through a couple of logistical things here. The housing would obviously be the No. 1 thing."
One key to holding camp at Bryant College is the ability to house the players in the dorm rooms on campus. With the housing comes a sense of camaraderie that can be built among the players.
"I think it is a little bit of a tradeoff," Belichick said. "I think there is some value to it, but on the flip side when you go away you just can't duplicate the facilities that we have here. I mean we could duplicate the facilities at Foxboro [Stadium], but we couldn't duplicate the weight room or the training room, the video equipment and just the efficiency that we have here would be a lot better than we could have at training camp. So that would be the plus, but the bonding, the going away to camp and being in some place that is not as nice as this gives you a little more of an appreciation for coming back here. So I think there are points on both sides."
Belichick also stressed again that the mini-camp was not a focal point for evaluation. However, it did appear that the offense was more crisp on the final day of the camp, which was spent working on the two-minute drill.
Quarterback Tom Brady started out a bit slow in his first seven-on-seven session, but then hit for a touchdown in his second attempt, which came against the first dime defense. In his first drive, Brady opened by trying twice to hit wide receiver David Patten, who was matched up against second-year cornerback Leonard Myers. Myers was up to the task, defending a deep ball and then a deep out very tightly to cause a pair of incomplete balls. Brady then was able to hit tight end Christian Fauria on two passes sandwiched around a strong ball to Patten going over the middle.
In his second two-minute drive, Brady completed six of seven passes, starting with a quick out to Fauria. He tried to hit Patten with a deep out, but for the third time Myers was there to break it up. After a series of short, complete passes to Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown, Faulk again and then Fauria, Brady and Patten finally got one on Myers, beating him deep in the end zone.
Damon Huard completed his first five passes in the drill, including a fine rollout on which he hit Fred Coleman along the sideline. Huard also found running back Walter Williams for three short passes and tight end Arther Love for one. He was hurt by some drops, one each by Coleman - with solid coverage by Myers and Daryl Porter - and Love, who was hit in the hands while moving down the middle of the field.
Rookie Rohan Davey completed three of his seven passes, including a pair of throws to rookie tight end Daniel Graham. The first was a throw down the seam on which Graham made the adjustment on a throw a bit behind him.
Even with mini-camp coming to a close, most players will be around for a couple more days. Sunday evening will be the Super Bowl ring ceremony, and Monday most of the team will participate in the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation Annual Golf Tournament before the players get time off before training camp.
Belichick highly respected
Belichick received some heady praise from his coaching peers in a poll run by CBS Sportsline.com's Jay Glazer.
Glazer asked each coach to vote for the three best coaches in the league, and he got 86 total votes. The clear winner was two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shanahan of Denver, who ran away with 21 votes. He was the only coach named by more than half of his brethren.
Belichick finished fourth overall with 10 votes, just behind Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher and Seattle's Mike Holmgren, both of whom received 12 votes. Among those tabbing Belichick were Shanahan and AFC East rival Gregg Williams of Buffalo.
"Belichick does a great job with the fundamental teachings that has to go on throughout the whole team - special teams, defense and offense," Williams said. "It's the way he gets them all playing under one roof, the way he gets them to all play together."
"He goes about his business, he's a no-nonsense kind of guy and he deserves 98 percent of the credit for what they did last year," Shanahan said.
One coach, who asked to remain anonymous for the poll, said, "Some guys are good builders but not good coaches, some can coach but not build, but he can clearly do both."
Interestingly enough, Associated Press Coach of the Year Dick Jauron of Chicago received just one vote from his peers.
Kicking game depth added
New England added yet another veteran with vast experience in special teams late Friday. Linebacker Ratcliff Thomas, who played in 34 career games with Indianapolis from 1998-2000, led the Colts with 31 special teams stops in 1999.
He was out of football for the 2001 season, but for his career Thomas has 24 defensive tackles, one interception and 55 special teams tackles.
"He just gives us a little more depth and competition in the kicking game," Belichick said. "That's really the main reason why we signed him. We'll work him in on defense and see how that goes, but he has been a productive special teams player."
The page is turned
With the teams ring ceremony set for Sunday night, the reminders of a Super Bowl campaign last season are still kicking around. However, as he has intimated several times, Belichick has put the 2001 season behind him, and he feels the players have as well.
"There are going to be some isolated days where there are going to be events, whether it be the White House trip or the ring ceremony that are still obviously a celebration of last year," Belichick said. "But I think once the off-season program started that was really the turning of the page and the start of this year. There are still going to be some isolated days along the way that will be part of the reflection back, but we will just try to enjoy those and isolate them as they come up. Our main focus and attention is on preparation for this season."
Asked if he was tired of talking about the Super Bowl yet, wide receiver David Patten offered a simple one-word response: "Very."
Yet, that's not to be confused with his excitement over getting that important piece of jewelry Sunday night.
"I am very anxious to get that ring," Patten said. "Come 6:30 Sunday I'll be there. This is something you work for all your life, and I am excited about it."
Because of the way the NFL preseason schedule played out, the Patriots will not be traveling to Albany, N.Y. to practice with the New York Giants during training camp, as had been discussed.
Last season the Giants spent a few days at Bryant College, and New England planned on returning the favor this year. However, the Giants were tabbed for the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 5 against the expansion Houston Texans.
"I talked to Jim [Fassel] about that and that is something that we wanted to work out last year, but since they have the Hall of Fame game, which is a Monday night game, it just would make the week too short for them on the other end," said Belichick, who added there were no plans to workout with any other teams during camp. "We will just play the regular preseason schedule and start with the Giants. Had they not had the Hall of Fame game I think that would have worked out, but since they are opening with Houston it just really squeezes that week down with them playing Monday night."… Cornerback Brock Williams was again limited to jogging, stretching and stationary bike work on the sidelines… According to several media reports, linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer was in town for a physical that will help determine his future, but Belichick was not asked about the situation during his session with the media… Among the former players expected on hand for Sunday's ring ceremony are cornerback Terrell Buckley and safety Matt Stevens… Don't forget to check out the first available images of New England's Super Bowl rings, as well as full coverage of the ceremony, Sunday evening here on Patriots.com. Reporter Paul Perillo will have the story, and Dave Querzoli will have all the video footage and highlights on Patriots Video News.