Whenever two elite competitors go at it in a physical environment there is a chance for the battle to go a bit too far. It happens every summer on every training camp practice field in the NFL.
It happed for the first time this summer in Foxborough on Tuesday as Bill Belichick’s Patriots returned from a day off for another full-pads practice that included the first real fisticuffs of the summer.
The scuffle occurred in an 11-on-11 drill in the red zone when Stephon Gilmore’s tight coverage on a Tom Brady throw to Julian Edelman in the back right corner of the end zone concluded with the feisty slot receiver tossing the free-agent cornerback addition to the ground and throwing a number of punches before teammates and others intervened to break up the short, two-man matchup.
Belichick immediately sent both players to the locker room for the rest of the day, although Edelman walked across the field first, seemingly cooling off a bit, before he was followed shortly thereafter by Gilmore.
“That’s football. I mean you have a lot of guys out here competing. One thing leads to another. But it’s football,” third-year defensive end Trey Flowers said.
And while fighting on a football practice field is far from a huge deal at almost any level, in New England players know it will be handled swiftly by Belichick.
“Repercussions,” Flowers said of the long, lonely walk across the fields back to the locker room for Edelman and Gilmore. “You get into a fight in a game you have to get kicked out. So there are repercussions for all your actions.”
That’s true even if those action sometimes spur positives like increased energy or competition in the practice environment.
“You can kind of get a fire started or things like that,” Flowers concluded. “You kind of get guys riled up, you get a lot more competition and guys bring some energy. But we also know that you can’t fight in a game. So you have to keep your composure and handle it, as far as the next play, in between the whistles.”
No days off!
After four days of practice, including two in full pads, the players had a CBA-mandated day off on Monday. Not so for the coaches, who live lived boss’ famous February phrase. Belichick explained that he and his staff very much put the day to use to review what has happened to date and prepare for five-straight days of practice this week.
“Go back and look at the first week of camp and talk about all those things – the operation, what we got done, if there was anything we were behind in or maybe even a little bit ahead on, kind of how it’s going – and then talk about the plans for the next five days, big picture, and more specifically, today’s practice and the immediate challenges,” Belichick said. “Start to get into things like working players at different positions. We’re getting into our sub third-down packages, so it’s different personnel groups, so how we want to work the rotations on those, that type of thing. And then at some point, we’ll change those up and change the rotation. So where we’re going to start, and then at some point, what’s the next step to give ourselves depth and cross-train some players. So, things like that, look at our overall workloads, what we’re doing and how much it is relative to other years and where that needs to go, things like that.
“I mean, that was after 18 [holes], a couple hands of gin and a little time on the beach,” Belichick concluded with a smile.
Paxton retires a Patriot
Legendary Patriots long snapper Lonie Paxton was a surprise visitor -- along with his young son in a Paxton No. 66 jersey – at Belichick’s morning press conference. The three-time Super Bowl champion and man who famously did snow angel’s on the Foxboro Stadium field following Adam Vinatieri’s Snow Bowl-winning kick, signed a one-day contract with the Patriots on Tuesday to retire as a member of the team. Paxton last played with the Broncos in 2011, spending the final three years of his career in Denver.
“It means the world to my family and I,” said Paxton, who now works for GoPro and lives in San Diego. “There are so many great memories and teammates and friends and family. I ended marrying a girl from Boston. My mom was born in Boston. So just being signed as a Patriot, leaving and coming back and being able to close the loop on that is kind of a nice cap to I think a solid career.”
Boxing great Marvin Hagler visited Patriots practice on Sunday and met with the team later that afternoon. That came after Belichick had shown the players Hagler’s legendary battle with Thomas Hearns. The coach was asked what the takeaway was from having Hagler visit with the defending champs.
“Great. It was a great experience for all of us, for the team – a legend, a great champion in a different sport,” Belichick explained. “He talked about a lot of the things that we talk about – preparation, focus, mental toughness, just kind of what it takes and it’s interesting. Obviously, a different sport. You’re only working with one guy, we’re working with a lot of guys, but the level that they’re at and the skills that he developed and preparation that he went through is very enlightening.”
The fight itself was also a teaching point for Belichick’s troops.
“We watched the Hearns fight. We talked a lot about that, some of the things – I mean, obviously a different sport – but strategy and having to make adjustments and being ready to go and so forth,” Belichick said.
Play of the Day
Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass intended for Matthew Slater in 11-on-11 work appeared destined for interception when cornerback Justin Coleman went up to high-point the ball. Somehow, though, the ball deflected off Coleman’s hands to Slater for the long completion and touchdown. It wasn’t how it was drawn up, but it ended a big play for the offense on a day whey Slater was more active than usual in the passing game.
*Harvey Langi: *The undrafted rookie linebacker out of BYU got some high-end reps on Tuesday working on the edge of the defensive front. He seemed to be getting some of the action that has been going to Kyle Van Noy, who has had a very strong start to camp. Langi appears to be very much in the early mix for a role at linebacker, including as a pass rusher.
Jimmy Garoppolo: The fourth-year backup had another tough day on Tuesday that included another interception. The play in question saw Garoppolo look for Chris Hogan crossing, only to pull the ball down. Strangely he then decided to throw the ball to the receiver, who was blanketed by Coleman, resulting in the easy interception that likely would have been a pick-six in game action. Later Garoppolo took a lap for a failed exchange with center Ted Karras. Garoppolo, the talk of much offseason trade speculation, has thrown at least five interceptions in camp competition while having too many slow reads and inefficient reps.
Tuesday’s practice took place in full pads under sunny skies and warm temperatures in the 80s. … Linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive tackle Alan Branch remain on PUP, while rookie tackle Andrew Jelks remains on NFI. All three players were on the field in sweats but spent the bulk of the morning doing rehab work on the lower practice field. … Wide receivers Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell were again full pads but began the workout on the lower field doing rehab. Amendola then took part in the second portion of the practice, though Mitchell did not. … Safety Duron Harmon was not seen on the practice field, nor was rookie receiver Cody Hollister. … Tight end newcomer James O’Shaughnessy left the practice fields with trainer Jim Whalen and did not return. … Second-year linebacker Elandon Roberts suffered a non-contact injury to his lower left leg/foot early in practice. He was attended to by the training staff and then re-taped the area before returning to action. He seemed to take most of his regular reps the rest of the day. … Personnel wearing shirts from the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers watched the practice from the sidelines. … The Patriots are scheduled to return to the practice field again on Wednesday morning at 9:15 a.m.