Conditioning was the question of the day heading into the first full Patriots training camp practice Wednesday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. And it remains a bit of a question, because while 16 players did not participate in practice, only seven were said to have injuries. Nine other players, including five projected starters in running back Antowain Smith, cornerback Ty Law, fullback Fred McCrary, cornerback Otis Smith and center Damien Woody, all spent the afternoon session as spectators from the sidelines or exercise bikes.
The injured players who did not participate in the session were guard Joe Andruzzi (knee), safety Scott Farley (leg), wide receiver Chas Gessner (leg), wide receiver Scott McCready (arm), offensive lineman Gene Mruczkowski (leg), tackle Kenyatta Jones (knee) and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain who was reported earlier this week to have had an undisclosed injury that would delay his appearance on the practice fields. The non-starters who did not practice Wednesday but did not have specified injuries included running back Michael Cloud, fullback Patrick Pass, linebacker/end Willie McGinest and running back Antwoine Womack.
While the exact status of the players not linked with specific injuries is not known, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has always been adamant in the fact that no player can step on the practice field until he has passed the team's conditioning test. Belichick would not get into the results of the test when asked about specific players during his morning press conference, namely those of running back Antowain Smith who has failed the test on his first try in each of the last two seasons, but did say that the players are at different levels in terms of conditioning.
"Some players did better than others, like usual," Belichick said. "I won't get into specific…We aren't going to call all the races. Some guys are a little ahead of others as usual in the conditioning process. I think overall the team has worked hard in the offseason and I think overall we are in reasonably good shape but there is always room for improvement.
"Some guys are in different stages, some guys are ahead of others. We're just not going to do it specifically player-by-player."
Top pick Ty Warren downplayed the anxiety involved with being a rookie in his first NFL training camp. The 6-5, 300-pound former Texas A&M defensive lineman took reps with the third unit at left defensive end Wednesday afternoon.
"It's football," Warren said just after practice. "I am up here with the pros and everybody is good on this level. I'm just trying to do what the defense calls for me to do. You win some and you lose some; you just have to bounce back. It's not scary at all though. It's just football. I've been playing it since the second grade and it's fun to be out here with all the guys. It's what you look forward to."
But Warren did admit to the fact that things happen quicker in the NFL and that he still has quite a bit to work on in all areas of his developing game.
"It was a transition today," Warren said. "Coming from college everything [here] is going real timely, everything is more organized and going faster. It was definitely moving faster with all the guys here today. I am just focusing on getting better at the little things that I need to get better at. I am out here with the veterans trying to get better."
And that effort to improve was most evident following practice when most of the players had already left the fields and were headed to the locker rooms. Warren and defensive line elder statesman Anthony Pleasant remained on the practice fields working on various drills together.
Former Patriots running back Ron Burton, the team's first ever draft pick, was honored Wednesday as the team officially named a community service award after the team alum. The Ron Burton Community Service Award will be given to a Patriots players each year who, as Patriots owner Robert Kraft put it Wednesday, "exemplifies the qualities of Ron and what he has done in the community."
As part of the ceremony, Kraft presented the former Patriot with a $5,000 check to benefit the Ron Burton Training Village.
"I am truly honored," Burton said while accepting the gift. "I remember when I started I had absolutely nothing and people reached out. People ask me why do you do all this and why do you give all this money back and I say to them people helped Ron Burton. If they hadn't helped Ron Burton years ago, I wonder where I would be today.
"I just can't thank you enough, Robert, for allowing me to be a part of the Kraft family and all that you do. It's a blessing for me."
No blood, no foul
Troy Brown and Rodney Harrison had a minor standoff when the Pro Bowl hard-hitting safety gave the Pro Bowl wide receiver bit of a helmet-and-shoulder-pad hello when Brown caught a pass across the middle in a team drill. But while Brown threw the ball at Harrison after the hit and then threw off his helmet, both players laughed off the incident after practice.
"He's mad at me right now," Harrison said laughing and nodding in Brown's direction. "He threw the ball at me. But I just tapped him. I really didn't hit him. If I would have hit him he would have really felt it. But obviously he was kind of t-ed off at me, he threw the ball at me. But that is part of it."
"It wasn't the hit," Brown clarified showing no ill effects of the play. "It was the poke in the eye. He didn't do it on purpose. You know how it is when you get hit in the eye, it hurts bad. It's like hitting your little toe on the end of the bed. You get [angry] at the bed. The bed didn't do anything wrong. I reacted to getting hit in the eye. But we leave that stuff on the field. I knew he was coming. He's an aggressive player. I'm an aggressive player. It's just a poke in the eye. If he had just hit me, I wouldn't have been upset."
In case you missed it, Patriots owner Robert Kraft announced before Belichick's press conference that the team had given the coach a two-year extension on his original five-year contract. The sides agreed to keep the details of the agreement private, but Belichick is now under contract through 2006. He has a 28-23 record in three seasons in New England and is 61-67 overall in his NFL head coaching career. … Steve Szabo remained a fixture on the practice fields working with the defensive line, although he has not been officially added to the organization in any capacity. The former Jaguars linebackers coach is an eight-season NFL veteran who also worked with the Patriots during mini camp. … With all the players out of action the first units on both sides of the ball were probably a bit misleading in the first official practice of the camp. Offensively, the line consisted of Matt Light at left tackle, Mike Compton at left guard, rookie Dan Koppen at center, Russ Hochstein at right guard and Adrian Klemm at right tackle with Tom Brady at quarterback, Kevin Faulk as the only back in many one-back sets and the receivers rotating through. On the defensive side of the ball the first group had Bobby Hamilton at left end, Jarvis Green at nose, Richard Seymour at right end, Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin as the outside linebackers and a rotation of Ted Johnson, Roman Phifer and Tedy Bruschi at inside backer. The secondary had Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison at safety and rookies Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel as the corners. … The team announced a minor move Wednesday by releasing offensive lineman Joe Schey and guard Corey Mitchell and re-signing rookie free agent wide receiver Kerry Watkins. … Both Robert and Jonathan Kraft made appearances at the afternoon practice. … Brown did some pushups following an uncharacteristic drop during one drill with the quarterbacks. … Second-year tight end Daniel Graham made the play of the day on a reception from Rohan Davey. Davey rolled left in a team session and threw towards Graham in the short flat. The throw was bit behind the former number-pick and he had to reach back with his left hand to make a spectacular one-handed catch before falling out of bounds.