What's old is new again. One day after the Patriots announced the signing of 42-year-old free agent quarterback and local legend Doug Flutie, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick commented on the experience the veteran passer brings with him to his second tour of duty with the Patriots.
"With Doug's situation, we've had a veteran quarterback here every year that I have been here and with Jim [Miller] signing with the Giants this is a good situation to bring in a veteran guy," Belichick said in his Saturday morning press conference at Gillette Stadium. "Things worked out with Doug. I am happy that he's here. I have a lot of respect for him. He's always been a tough guy to defend. I like his approach to the game and he brings a good competitive attitude and some leadership. I am glad we have him."
Flutie becomes the fifth quarterback on the New England roster, joining Tom Brady, Rohan Davey, Chris Redman and seventh-round pick Matt Cassel. Belichick said the team very well could go to camp with all five passers on the roster and that Flutie simply brings an experience level that even a guy like Brady, who has four years under his belt as a starter and three Super Bowl titles, doesn't have.
"Those guys don't have the type of veteran play that Jim Miller or Damon Huard or a guy like that would have," Belichick said of the rest of his quarterbacks. "It's just experience. Four years isn't ten years. It's a different perspective on the game and it's a guy who has taken a lot of snaps."
For Cassel, the only quarterback at the current rookie mini camp, getting the chance to learn from Flutie is intriguing. The former Boston College and CFL star becomes the third Heisman Trophy winning quarterback the USC alum has worked behind, as Cassel backed up Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart in his time with the Trojans.
"It's exciting," Cassel said. "He's 42 and I am 22. I think when he was getting the Heisman I was still two years old. So it will be an interesting contrast in age, but at the same time he's been successful at every level he's gone to. He's another guy I can learn from, as well as Tom Brady, and is another guy that hopefully can be a mentor and a tutor to me."
With that in mind Belichick said that Flutie's biggest contribution could come working with the young quarterbacks in the classroom, an idea that Flutie himself floated on a conference call shortly after signing on Friday.
"It could very easily be [in the classroom]," Belichick said of Flutie's potential value to the team. "It's definilty part of it."
Navy's Eckel not making waves
As an undrafted rookie free agent fullback Kyle Eckel faces the same challenges every other undrafted player does in attempting to forge an NFL career. But coming out of the Naval Academy Eckel also faces the uncertainty surrounding his military commitments.
The 5-11, 244-pound fullback finished his college career with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for the Midshipmen while averaging 4.7 yards per carry over his three seasons of action. But part of his commitment to the Naval Academy includes two years of active duty and five years of active reserves upon graduation.
"For the next six to seven months I am stationed in Annapolis, Maryland at the Naval Academy," Eckel said. "During that time the Naval Academy is going to give me some opportunities to figure out some stuff in the NFL. What exactly? I don't know. I am not sure. I am really just taking it one step at a time."
For now there is uncertainty surrounding the exact nature of Eckel's two-year active commitment, a question that may have hurt his status in the draft.
"Those two years, we are still picking and deciding, it's just unfolding as time progresses as to where, when and how I am going to do things," Eckel said. "I am going to know more as the summer progresses and as things start chugging along."
With no true fullback on the roster, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that Eckel could make the New England roster this fall. He believes if that happened there is a chance he would be allowed to continue to pursue his NFL career.
"If I made the team that would be a big plus, that would be a big step and just go from there," Eckel said. "It's tough for me because I don't really know. They take stuff into consideration. There hasn't been a guy in a few years so it's relatively new. And as the Naval Academy and the Navy moves on the staff is always changing. So this right now is pretty much new to everybody involved. We are just taking it as it goes along and they are doing a good job helping me out. I have to do my part on the football side."
One other factor that Eckel might have in his favor is the fact that Belichick has some familiarity and connections to the Naval Academy where his father Steve was a long time assistant football coach.
Stokes taking it in stride
Not long ago Patriots seventh-round draft choice Andy Stokes was an unknown NAIA football player out of tiny William Penn University. Now, thanks to the fact that the Patriots selected the 6-4, 253-pound tight end with the 255th pick in last Sunday's draft Stokes is the 2005 Mr. Irrelevant. Suddenly endless radio interviews, a late-June trip to California to be honored and unexpected attention are being heaped on a guy just trying to worry about earning a spot on an NFL roster.
"It sounds fun and everything," Stokes said of all that comes with the title of Mr. Irrelevant, "but I would have been just as happy to go 254."
The Mr. Irrelevant hype is in addition to the pure excitement for a guy from a small school facing long odds at even being drafted.
"It was probably one of the most exciting time of my life," Stokes said of his reaction to getting the call from the Patriots last Sunday. "You never think something like that is going to happen to you coming out of William Penn."
New England announced a few minor moves on Saturday, waiving one rookie free agent (Matt Phillips, fullback, Edinboro) and officially signing six players who were in camp on a tryout basis. The six players signed to the roster were Marshall running back Earl Charles, Carson-Newman punter Rhett Kopp, Virginia wide receiver Michael McGrew, Auburn defensive lineman Demarco McNeil, Richmond guard Michael Rogers and Miami defensive lineman Santonio Thomas. … Belichick cancelled Saturday's morning practice session, saying that the team was "down in numbers a littlie bit here and there's only so much we can get done with this group…we just don't have that many numbers to work with." With it raining outside the team then held its hour-plus afternoon session in the team's indoor practice facility. … Safety James Sanders' coaches at Fresno State have called him the best defensive back to ever wear the Bulldogs uniform and described him as the kind of player that coaches will like more in their system than in trying to decide if they actually want him. Sanders agrees with that assessment. "I feel that once coaches get to know me they really enjoy me because they know I'm a hard worker and I am a very coachable player." … Cornerback Ellis Hobbs is an Art & Visual Communications major at Iowa State. He lists Michelangelo Caravaggio as his favorite artist and beyond football would like to pursue a career in two-dimensional animation. … Stokes, considered by most as a pass catching tight end, admits blocking in the running game is something he must work one. And there is a good reason for that. "We didn't really run the ball," Stokes said of the William Penn offense. … But the offense isn't the only difference Stokes has noticed between William Penn and the Super Bowl champs. "Man, it's just so state-of-the-art here. Everything is so nice. I mean today, they already did my laundry for me and got it back in my locker for next practice. So it's quite different than where I played previously." … Eckel is a Pennsylvania native and grew up an Eagles fan. He admits it's bit strange donning a Patriots jersey just months after Super Bowl XXXIX and that some of his friends consider him traitor. "One of my friends asked me if New England paid for the knife I stabbed in Philadelphia's back or if that was coming out of my salary. I laughed." … Belichick made an interesting comparison in terms of football conditioning between this mini camp class and some of the other classes that have come through in recent years. He said this year's class was in "slightly better" shape and that "we had a couple groups there that were in pretty poor shape." … For the second straight day Ryan Claridge and Decori Birmingham were held out of practice and worked out with the training staff on the sidelines. … Lockers with nameplates for both Roman Phifer and Troy Brown remain in place in the Patriots locker room, despite the fact that neither player is currently with the team.