Things slowed down a bit for Sunday's morning session as the Patriots took the field under gloomy overcast skies wearing shorts and the mini-shoulder pads they began using occasionally last season.
Before the team met to get their stretching done, Head Coach Bill Belichick called them together for a short talk. The players enthusiastically broke from that meeting and began a mostly informative workout that featured some passing work, special teams and subpackages on defense.
The defense, which has been the stronger unit thus far in camp, took it to the offense right from the start. Working in 7-on-7 drills, quarterback Tom Brady found very few open receivers. He watched one of his early throws land well behind David Patten and deflect off the wideout's shoulder into the waiting hands of Otis Smith.
The defense continued to limit the offense's effectiveness during the early part of practice before the groups split up and worked separately. On defense, secondary coach Eric Mangini put his troops through the paces while defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel handled the remainder of the dime package.
With so many regulars missing, it's hard to tell which players were fill ins and which might actually be part of the unit once things begin for real. For what it's worth, Anthony Pleasant, David Nugent and Riddick Parker played up front with Mike Vrabel and Roman Phifer at linebackers. The six defensive backs were Ty Law, Otis Smith, Lawyer Milloy, Tebucky Jones, Victor Green and Antwan Harris.
There was no live period to evaluate this group's performance, though, as Crennel simply used a scout team to show formations and worked them out in that manner.
The special teams got some work throughout the morning with coach Brad Seely working on blocking techniques with linebackers Ratcliff Thomas and Ryan Phillips and safeties Chris Hayes and Je'Rod Cherry.
Adam Vinatieri did plenty of kicking, both on field goals and kickoffs. Belichick explained yesterday that he would do the bulk of his work in the morning workouts and take it easier in the afternoon in an effort to preserve his leg. Vinatieri is the only place-kicker in camp.
One of the most available jobs in camp is kickoff returner and Belichick will give several players a shot to claim it. J.R. Redmond took some reps, as did rookie Deion Branch, Kevin Faulk and David Patten. That's an area to keep an eye on once the preseason games begin.
The units re-joined at the end of practice for more 7-on-7 work and Brady continued to struggle. He watched an errant pass bounce off a defender into his receiver's hands on one play, then had his next attempt sail over Branch's head into Rob Kelly's arms for an interception.
Brady showed his toughness by bouncing back, hooking up with Walter Williams deep down the sideline shortly after. Williams was split out wide on the play and matched up against Phifer. The speedy second-year man out of Grambling took advantage and blew right past the coverage and grabbed Brady's bomb in stride for a touchdown.
Running back Antowain Smith, who has yet to practice because he failed Friday's conditioning run, said he would be given his second chance on Monday morning. If he passes at that point, he would presumably be allowed to practice with his teammates later in the morning for the first of double session workouts.
"It hurts the team because they rely on me to provide a running game and now Kevin [Faulk], J.R. [Redmond] and Walter [Williams] are taking all the reps," Smith said between practices on Sunday. "[Conditioning tests] have never been one of my strong suits. When I get a chance to take it again tomorrow morning I'll pass it and get back on the field."
Willie McGinest remained among the missing for the third straight day for personal reasons. Still no indications of what those may be, but veterans like McGinest shouldn't be affected much by missing a few practices.
Wideout Donald Hayes sat out his second straight practice with a left leg injury. Defensive end Setema Gali had a wrap on his back with ice during the morning and could be limited for a while. …
Under Belichick, the Patriots have worn T-shirts with a theme for training camp each summer. Last year, the shirts read: "Wanted: Winners" on the back. This year, they read: "Targeting September" and have the logos of Pittsburgh, the Jets, Kansas City and San Diego inside a bulls-eye. Those four teams are the Patriots four September opponents and indicate Belchick's desire to get off to a better start in 2002. In his two previous seasons in New England, Belichick's September record in 1-7.