This may be the toughest time of training camp, from a mental standpoint – a week in, having settled into a grinding routine, and with, as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien noted before today's practice, 'no light at the end of the tunnel.'
But just days away from the first preseason game, against the Jaguars here at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 11, there is something to look forward to. Just ask the likes of Brian Hoyer.
"I think [preseason games] are always significant," said the Patriots backup quarterback, "especially for guys like me, where this is your one guarantee in the year that you'll be in there playing. So, I feel like they're real games and I'm looking forward to Thursday night."
In fact, Hoyer says he approaches every day like game day. And with the new laws governing curtailed practices that came with the new collective bargaining agreement, every meeting, every practice, every snap is tantamount to a game-day situation in his mind.
"Yeah, the film work, the meetings, the walkthroughs … those are crucial. Last year, you didn't always have the walkthroughs. You would just come out and practice. Now you have to treat the walkthroughs like a real practice, even though it's literally at a walking pace.
"We just try to come out here and get better with the reps we do have, and be better than the day before," he added. "It's definitely different, but you have to take every advantage you can."
Plus, being the backup to Tom Brady, Hoyer realizes he's only one play away from being thrust into the action. But Hoyer tries to have fun with the pressure of it all.
"Being the backup quarterback, you have to be ready to go at any point. I try to treat practice like that. Obviously, I'm not always taking the first reps, but when I go in there, I'm assuming I'm getting thrown into the middle of a game.
"When you work on it in practice, it becomes game reality. So, I try to come out and execute like it's a game, whether it's third-down, red area, goal line, all that stuff, it's what's going to happen in a game."
Perhaps the most fun that he, Brady, and rookie Ryan Mallett have in practice, however, is in the barrel-toss drill. It's a training camp tradition, where the coaches place a large trash barrel in the left corner of the end zone and the signal callers take turns trying to float a perfect pass into it.
So far this summer, Hoyer and Mallett have sunk one each. Brady, who's been on target for the most part, has either fallen just short or a little long on his closest attempts.
"It's a good drill for us to compete, and we have fun with it," Hoyer said. "I'm always going to try to win that thing.
"[Tom] is ultra-competitive, as Ryan and I are, too. To get him in something, just feels good. Right now, it's 1-1-and-0," he concluded with a smile. "We have a little trash talk going on between us."
Arrington in the mix
As one of those players forced to sit out the first week because he'd signed a new contract (part of the new CBA rules), cornerback Kyle Arrington is glad he's finally back on the field.
"Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, you want to be out there with the team. You see them grinding and busting their butts for a week straight … and now I'm out here. Ready to put my feet in the water, jump in and have fun," he said Saturday, this third day back in action.
Now in his third season with the Patriots, Arrington re-signed as an exclusive rights free agent after a 2010 campaign that saw him start at cornerback much of the year, and even accept a role as a part-time pass rusher.
"I'm ready to come back," he declared. "What happened last year, happened last year. I'm ready to do bigger and better things."
Other Notes from Saturday, Aug. 6
Who's Hot: Aaron Hernandez
During the team period at the end of practice, the second-year tight end caught three touchdowns in red-zone offense. On back-to-back plays, he made great diving efforts in the right corner of the end zone. Later, on the left side, he hauled in a score with one hand.
Who's Not: Albert Haynesworth
For reasons unknown to the media, the defensive tackle hasn't been on the practice field the past two days.
Play of the Day: Fletcher pancake of Koppen; Brady to Gronkowski TD
All this happened on one furious play. In red-zone action, inside linebacker Dane Fletcher shot through the A-gap and, with a thunderous crack of shoulder pads, sent center Dan Koppen crashing to the ground on his back. In the process, he nearly knocked Tom Brady down as well, but the quarterback deftly side-stepped the intrusion, calmly scanned the end zone, and found tight end Rob Gronkowski on the end line crossing toward the right corner. Brady fired the ball between several defenders and hit Gronkowski in the hands, without breaking stride,, for the score.
Quote of the Day: "I'm basically the guy that just collects the paper and puts it all in the right stack and gets us organized. It's a collaborative effort."
Offensive coordinator/QBs coach Bill O'Brien