The amazing comeback attempt of running back Robert Edwards hit a pothole Monday when he did not pass the mandatory conditioning run, meaning he won't be allowed to practice until he re-takes and passes the test.
Edwards and rookie cornerback Leonard Myers were the only two players already in camp who failed the run, which consists of twenty 60-yard sprints. Each player has to run all the sprints under a specific time in order to be deemed ready to practice.
"Both those players will be on the P.U.P. (Physically Unable to Perform) list, which means they won't practice until they can pass the test," Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "This is another step for Robert, and when he is able to take it, we will move forward. He has come a long way, but there are still a number of steps for him to hit on."
For Edwards, it was a huge disappointment. All the players were told what the conditioning test would consist of ahead of time, and he has been passing the exam on his own for several weeks. However, when it counted, he got overanxious.
"I ran the test during the three weeks we were off at home plenty of times and I made it every time," Edwards said. "I did well and the temperature was a lot hotter down there and I made it. I think it being the first day and me wanting to do well to impress the coaches I put a lot of pressure on myself and then anxiety set in and my body tightened up and I couldn't run as fluently as I wanted to."
The one positive was that not passing the test had nothing to do with the knee injury that caused him to miss the last two seasons. However, he faces long odds because of his extended time away from the game, and his chance to show he can withstand the physical nature of training camp is short.
"I wasn't in any pain, but my body just tightened up a little and I wasn't able to run as fast as I needed to to make the time," Edwards said. "It's very frustrating because I really wanted to be out this evening and practice and get a head start on everything and get my feet in the water and test everything and see how I do. But now I have to wait a day or two or whenever I run the test again and hopefully I'll pass it and be able to get out there."
Edwards does not know when he will be able to take the test again. The rest of the veterans have to pass the test when they report Thursday morning. Also on the P.U.P. list with Edwards and Myers are defensive ends Willie McGinest (back) and Brandon Mitchell (leg) and rookie tight ends Jabari Holloway (hamstring) and Arther Love (groin). Holloway is day-to-day, while Love will be out longer.
Wrestling champ getting a look
Each year one or two undrafted rookies seem to come out of the woodwork and raise a few eyebrows on the field. This year's first candidate is Stephen Neal, a former two-time college wrestling champion who hasn't played football since his days at San Diego High School.
The 6-4, 295-pound Neal will be working at defensive end. Just a few weeks ago the 24-year-old came up just short at the World Wrestling team trials. He knows he is a long shot for the NFL, but he's ready to give it a go.
"I just got really lucky. The Patriots are giving me the opportunity to see if I can work hard enough and maybe make the team," Neal said. "This is a big leap. I've been working hard my whole life at wrestling. The big thing is if I can work hard mentally and physically in this sport to see if I can come around."
Coming out of high school, Neal weighed just 210 pounds. He had some looks from a few Division II football programs, but nothing much. His future in wrestling was much brighter, and he wound up having a stellar career at Cal-State Bakersfield University. As a freshman heavyweight he was took fourth place at nationals, and second the following year. Then he won back-to-back titles in 1998-99 and ended his college career on an 83-match winning streak.
Neal then won the 1999 World Championship and earned Freestyle Wrestler of the Year honors from FILA, the International Wrestling Federation. The only other American to achieve the honor was two-time Olympic champion John Smith, who was recognized in 1991. While in high school Neal once pinned New Orleans running back and former Heisman winner Ricky Williams, but is the NFL a realistic goal?
"This is obviously a project, but it's one we think we might be able to see some upside on," Belichick said. "He's a raw guy, a big, strong, physical, raw guy who was a championship wrestler. We've known about him, but he's been wrestling. He has kind of pulled off on his quest for the Olympics in order to pursue a pro football career.
"Even with a kid like Steve, he's got so far to go from a technique standpoint and learning the technology. We could go a week on this and say this is a waste of time, or we could go a week and say this really has some promise. Obviously we saw enough things that we liked to take a shot on this."
Neal got connected with New England through agent Neil Cornrich, who also represents Belichick. Neal and Cornrich were introduced by 1996 Olympic Greco-Roman silver medalist Matt Ghaffari, and Cornrich sent Neal to workout at Ohio State. After showing some potential, he had his tryout at Foxboro Stadium with the Patriots.
Now, he's facing a very steep learning curve as he starts from scratch with terminology and defensive schemes.
"I feel like I'm one of you guys (the media)," Neal said. "I'm looking at all the guys they have in here, and I have a behind-the-scenes access pass. I get to see all these NFL guys, which is exciting. I'm here to try and work as they do and to learn more than they have to in short period of time."
Neal doesn't count on throwing players around like he did when he was on the mat.
"These guys are pretty big. The weight limit in wrestling is 285, and these guys are all 300," He said. "Wrestling is more about endurance, and this is more explosive and speed bursts. Beyond that, I'm interested in finding out what goes on here, just like all of you guys."
To make room for Neal, the team released offensive lineman Terrance Beadles. New England is at its roster limit, meaning any other signings would require a player to be let go.
Rookies get a rolling start
Belichick could only require rookies, quarterbacks and players who were injured or had offseason surgery to report Monday. With veterans not reporting until Thursday, the young players will be able to strap on the pads and hit each other a few times before camp really gets going.
"This is a chance for our players to work on individual fundamentals," Belichick said. "We did a lot of passing in the mini-camp, but this will be a chance for the offensive and defensive linemen to go one-on-one, and we can do a little bit of live tackling. We can work on the bags and do some of the techniques that these players really haven't had a chance to work on."
The early work is a benefit for the rookies, who haven't seen full contact since their college days ended.
"So far it is the same as the mini-camp and the rookie camp," said offensive lineman Kenyatta Jones. "I think after today, when we put on the pads, it is going to feel a little different for us. That will be the first taste of what playing with the pros is like.
"The biggest difference is going to be that in college, we were there on a scholarship. Here we have to compete for a job. Everyday you have to go out and get better. As the days go by, you have to learn from the veterans and make yourself better. Getting here early gives us a chance to go over the plays and get an edge. We'll feel more prepared when the veterans show up later in the week."
NotesBelichick expects wide receiver Terry Glenn in camp when the rest of the veterans report to Bryant Thursday… He also said negotiations with first-round draft pick Richard Seymour could possibly be done Monday. Seymour is the only healthy draft pick yet to sign. There are reports that Seymour has signed a six-year contract, but Patriots officials said no contract had been signed as of 4:30 p.m.