There is a myth that the Pete Carroll Patriots didn't practice hard enough, that the practices were easy. By most accounts, that's not true. But there is a noticeable difference in the approach the 2000 Patriots seem to be taking to practice that didn't exist the past three years.
For example, the pre-practice routine is vastly different. Last year, players would arrive to practice and before the workout officially began, some guys were stretching and loosening up, but many sat down or goofed off waiting for the practice horn to sound.
At Wednesday's workout, there was none of that. There is more of a business-like approach from the players and anyone who thinks that's not part of achieving success is fooling himself or herself. The players out on the field early Wednesday were either stretching or working on some aspect of their game, whether it be long snapping or some other drill. The quarterbacks worked with position coach Dick Rehbein throwing a medicine ball for arm strength and then took snaps from the team's centers. Dante Scarnecchia worked on technique with his offensive line. Jeff Davidson fired footballs through the Jugs machine at the tight ends from about 5 yards away. The punters were timed getting their punts off as well as for hang time. Those who weren't working simply stood aside and waited for practice, but there was no horseplay.
So while Carroll's practices weren't easy by any stretch, they may not have had the same business-like approach at least from the players' standpoint. The players obviously have received the message that things will be different and maybe it took an 8-8 season to realize they overrated themselves.
"He has a different approach than Pete. Everybody knows that," Willis McGinest said. "He's more to the point. It's two different styles. It's obvious. Each coach isn't going to be the same. He jokes around. He's not a robot."
Not basic after all
The team wrapped up this voluntary mini-camp Wednesday with two more practices surrounded by meetings and film work. There is a tremendous amount of learning taking place and middle linebacker Ted Johnson admitted being surprised by the how complicated Bill Belichick's defense is. He expected it to be more like he played back in 1996 when he said they only used three defensive calls in the whole Super Bowl.
"We have so many options on defense as far as running a 3-4 or a 4-3," Johnson said. "We can do a lot of different things and we can be creative with the personnel we have. We're multi-dimensional as far as our fronts and that is as confusing as anything for offenses. It's a little overwhelming right now, but it's a very disciplined system that's very black and white.
"We have a lot of calls in this defense because of the multiple fronts. Sometimes Chris [Slade] will be on the strong side and sometimes Willie [McGinest] will be on the strong side. I thought this would be a simplified defense, but I was mistaken. We have so many different things we're doing. It's much more involved than the 1996 defense. There's a lot of carryover from 1996, which I like."
Belichick is already involved with giving his defense its call through hand signals and Johnson admitted that it's taking time to grasp what the coach wants. "Yeah, I'm confused. We have so many new calls and new defenses and he's already giving his signals for these calls. I don't know if he's telling me to go pound sand in another language or if he's giving me a coverage.
"It's tough. He doesn't wait for you. He's teaching it at his speed and you better catch up. He doesn't wait for anyone and he expects you to know it and go out there and not screw it up. There's pressure on all of us to go out there and get it right."
Clearing up the defense
It's now clear that the Patriots will use both a 4-3 and 3-4 front as confirmed by Johnson. Watching the formations used in Wednesday's workout, it's obvious that Belichick intends to take advantage of the versatility offered by McGinest. In many looks, McGinest will line up on the line of scrimmage standing upright similar to Slade on the opposite side. McGinest will rush the passer and drop into coverage just as Slade will. It appears that Slade will be over the tight end more often, but there are formations where McGinest could line up as the strong-side linebacker as well.
Will Ty get his way?
Ty Law has made no secret of his desire to return punts over the past year. On Wednesday, Law did just that on Day Two of the voluntary mini-camp. Asked if he would be filling that role on a more permanent basis, Law said, "I don't know. They just told me to get back there so I did. I'd love to, but I don't know anything about that right now." He was walking away as he was asked about the extra duty and clearly didn't want to cause a stir with the issue. But last year, he openly campaigned for the job and it became a hot topic during the preseason. Carroll never gave him the opportunity to fill the job because of the injury risk factor.
Quote of the day
McGinest was asked his thoughts on being Adrian Klemm's (the Patriots top draft pick) childhood idol. His response: "Who's Adrian Klemm?"
"Adrian Klemm's your first draft choice; your second-round pick."
"Is that right?" McGinest asked. "What number is he?"
"Number 70. He's a left tackle."
"Oh yeah. No wonder he keeps punching me in my face. He's grabbing my facemask and holding my jersey. But that's a compliment. It'll make me go at him a little bit harder now," McGinest joked.
Other quick hits
The team worked on first- and second-down plays again during the morning workout, which was open to the media. Special teams work also was filtered in.
Law slipped during one repetition and was slow to get up as he hobbled off the field on what appeared to be a gimpy ankle. But he shook it off and returned to action without incident.
Rookie running back Patrick Pass, a seventh-round pick out of Georgia, impressed with his pass catching ability. He caught a deep pass down the left sideline and also made a nice running catch going over the middle. Another receiver who looked ahead of where he was a year ago was tight end Rod Rutledge, who is a step quicker than last year and also showed better concentration catching the football. It'll be interesting to see if he can maintain some consistency in that area with the tight job up for grabs for the first time since Rutledge arrived in New England in 1998.
Quarterback Michael Bishop made – surprise, surprise – a nice athletic play rolling out of traffic to his right and throwing a strike downfield over Law to wideout Vincent Brisby.
Part of the Jets offense under Charlie Weis was a counter screen where the quarterback starts to roll in one direction, but turns back and lobs a screen pass to a running back, forcing the defense to alter its direction to make the play. That same type of screen was seen Wednesday in practice. The Patriots haven't been tremendously effective running screen plays over the past three seasons.
Whether it will carry over or not remains to be seen, but several veterans, including Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Ted Johnson and Vincent Brisby appeared in special teams work during practice. Under Carroll, very few veteran starters played special teams and would stand aside during that portion of practice.
McGinest said he doesn't know what his specific title will be. "I'm a linebacker and a defensive end. It'll keep people guessing."
There was an old familiar face on the practice field Wednesday. Wide receiver and kick returner Tony Gaiter is back with the team. Gaiter was a sixth-round draft pick in 1997 and spent time on the practice squad as well as a short stint on the active roster.
Belichick announced an addition to the personnel department. The team hired 61-year-old scout Jake Hallum, who was with the Philadelphia Eagles last year and for the previous four years.