Corey Dillon broke his silence after the final practice of Patriots mini-camp that will be open to the media, and he had a clear message in mind: there's plenty left in the tank.
Dillon was making his way off the field when he was asked if he'd be talking. Mike Felger from the Boston Herald and ESPN Radio Boston was the reporter who caught Dillon's attention, and evidently the veteran running back was ready for just such an encounter.
Much to Felger's surprise, Dillon reached into his shorts and pulled out a rolled up piece of paper that contained his career biography complete with statistics and highlights. As others began making their way over, Dillon asked Felger to read the information and said when he was finished he'd be happy to answer whatever questions there may be.
After sifting through various highlights from Dillon's stellar 10-year career, complete with numbers that place him among the top 20 rushers in NFL history, Felger asked Dillon if he thought people have forgotten about all the things he'd accomplished.
"I don't know," Dillon said with a smirk. At that point, Dillon was asked how he'd rank last year's performance.
"Not good," he said. "Not by my standards. It is what it is and it was what it was. I dealt with injuries the whole year, but that's last year. I'm healthy. I'm ready."
And thus began a 10-plus minute look into Dillon's 2006 mindset, and it didn't take Dr. Melfi to understand the psychological approach he'll be taking into the season. He blamed injuries for much of his struggles in 2005, saying he was banged up "sometime in October." But he's feels healthy now and intends on proving that in 2006.
"To be honest with you this is the best that I've felt at this point in time in the last three years," Dillon said. "I feel good about where I am, I'm still not close to where I want to be. I'm going to get there and hopefully by training camp I'm going to be ready to go."
Dillon was asked about the draft day phone call he received from Bill Belichick shortly after the Patriots made Laurence Maroney their first-round pick. The 31-year-old veteran expressed appreciation, calling Belichick "a very, very great coach," but added that the gesture was unnecessary.
Maroney and Dillon have spent a lot of time together on the field during mini-camp. The youngster said on Wednesday that the guidance has been beneficial, and Dillon intends to continue the mentoring for as long as Maroney wishes.
"Why not?" Dillon said. "What kind of person would I be if I have all this knowledge and experience in this league and not share it, I would be a schmuck and I don't want to be a schmuck. So why not share it?"
Clearly Dillon's motives were calculated and he chose to get his points across after an offseason filled with doubts concerning his long-term effectiveness. Coming off the least productive season of his career, Dillon understands the questions but is irked by the lack of faith being shown.
"[The media] is being unfair to me now," he said when asked if he was treated unfairly last season. "I feel disrespected. I feel like I have accomplished zero. And that's terrible. For a guy of my status, I've been doing this for a long time and to be crossed up … hey, who cares. I sleep easy. I sleep real good at night. I know who I am. I know my status and what type of player I am and what I bring to a team and as long as I know that I'm fine with it."
Benjamin Watson continued to impress on Thursday. The big tight end made another spectacular touchdown reception in the corner of the end zone when he extended as far as he could and brought the ball in while getting both feet in bounds. Watson has been on the receiving end of many of Tom Brady's passes throughout camp as his relationship with the quarterback continues to develop.
"It's one of those things where you have to spend time with him," Watson said. "He has to have confidence in you that you are going to be where he wants you do be. Tom knows where everybody is supposed to be at all times so if he expects you to be somewhere, you better be there if you want the ball. I'm just getting more used to doing those things."
So far, even though it's just mini-camp, it seems Watson has been exactly where Brady has wanted him and the third-year tight end has been rewarded with the ball.
Thursday mini-camp notes
· Tom Brady was wearing a bulky knee brace on his left knee. The quarterback wasn't wearing the brace during the first two days of mini-camp. Brady sported a similar brace last season after the Buffalo game when it was reported that he had an injury to his shin. Overall, this wasn't Brady's best day throwing the football. A lot of his passes were high and sailed over the receiver's head.
· The Patriots officially list Garrett Mills as a fullback but he's been working both at fullback and tight end. When the team was practicing its goal line offense, Mills was lined up at fullback a lot and slipped out of the backfield as a receiver.
· Another college coach made his way to Patriots mini-camp as Boston College head coach Tom O'Brien took in Thursday's practice. O'Brien was seen chatting with Robert Kraft for a while, as the two watched the Patriots go through different drills.
· Reche Caldwell, Laurence Maroney, Chad Jackson, John Stone, Bam Childress, Kevin Faulk, Gemara Williams and Willie Andrews worked on returning kickoffs. Andrews looked explosive and could make his way onto the team as a return man.
· Martin Gramatica kicks the ball extremely low. He had a similar problem toward the end of his career in Tampa Bay that led to some of his kicks getting blocked. Both Gramatica and rookie Stephen Gostkowski hit a majority of their field goal attempts but Gostkowski clearly has the stronger leg of the two kickers.
· Chad Scott has been getting a lot of playing time when the team goes to their goal line defense.
· Eugene Wilson was present for the third straight day but he continues to watch most of the defensive drills from the sidelines.
· During a team goal line segment the first group of defenders included defensive linemen Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Johnathan Sullivan and Richard Seymour across the front. That group was backed by linebackers Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Monty Beisel, Rosevelt Colvin and Larry Izzo, withTebucky Jones and Chad Scott serving as the only defensive backs on the field.