Ty Law has never been short on confidence or flash, but as he enters his ninth season in the NFL, he has learned to hold back making predictions as to how good the Patriots secondary can be. Perhaps he learned that lesson following a missed playoff year on the heels of a world championship.
But with two-time Pro Bowler Rodney Harrison joining a secondary that includes four-time all star Lawyer Milloy along with Law's three Pro Bowls as well as proven veteran talent in Otis Smith and Tyrone Poole and rookie draft picks Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel, Law was asked if this year's secondary will be better than last.
"We won't know until we go out and play together," Law said. "I can't answer that. We thought we would have had a better secondary last year than we did in 2001 but we didn't make the playoffs and statistically we were better in 2001. We still had the same personnel so you can't say from year to year until you go out and start playing. It's all about when we get out there and play off each other. Right now everybody's good in shorts. Hopefully we can be productive."
If experience equals production, the secondary will be near dominant, but if experience becomes a nice word for old, then the unit could struggle. Law is 29. Milloy will be 30 in November. Smith will be 38 in October. Harrison will be 31 in December. Poole is a young 28.
Smith is truly the only member of the group "old" by NFL standards, but when athletes hit 30, they inevitably face questions about when their skills might begin to erode. Of course, the money-age combination can be deadly in the NFL.
Law owns the team's highest salary cap number up near $10 million, but is coming off his third Pro Bowl in a season where he arguably played as well as any member of the defense. But his cap figure could eventually affect his status, which means the April drafting of Wilson in the second round and Samuel in the fourth could be preparation for Law's eventual departure.
"Ever since I've been here, they've been drafting cornerbacks," Law said. "Good. It's good young talent. I guess we're getting old huh? I'm [in my ninth year], I've probably had 10, 11, 12 corners starting on the other side of me. I know I'm going to be on the field somewhere.
"But it happens. I've been around here for a long time. If somebody goes down, we need someone to step up. I remember when I was a young corner getting drafted when they had established veterans here. That's a part of the game. There's never enough talent on the team. If we have five corners on the team, five corners will play some how some way."
Milloy has suddenly found himself answering age questions as well and feels similar to Law.
"I've been here how many years and how many safeties have lined up next to me?" Milloy asked rhetorically. "I'm supposedly getting older. I don't feel like I'm getting old. I know a lot of young guys that were sitting on the bench halfway through the season and I can't remember the last time I wasn't lined up out there. I think people should look more toward dependability than age. I'll be 30 this year. Maybe I have more grays in my hair, but I'm still having fun with it and I still have the opportunity to shine."
One way to fight age is with conditioning and Milloy worked as hard as ever in the offseason, admittedly driven by rumors that he might be traded.
"Once that came out, I put my daughter down and hit the weight room. All it did was add a little extra fuel to my fire as far as working out and getting ready for the season. Right when I think that maybe I'm peaking out, I have this extra thing helping me get stronger, faster and re-focused. I used what was going on to motivate me."
Law, who has seldom been a regular participant in the team-run offseason program will leave this mini-camp at its conclusion and fly to St. Louis for his annual work with famed track coach Bob Kersee.
"It's more of a track regimen – total body conditioning, dieting and weight lifting," Law said. "I'll leave two-a-days here and go to two-a-days down there. I'm usually on the six-week program and I'll go right up to training camp. I started doing it before the 1998 season and I'll do it as long as I play football.
"The best athlete is the conditioned athlete. If you're in great condition, you show your maximum potential. I think Bob Kersee puts me in the best shape I could be in."
Add to Law and Milloy a healthy and conditioned Harrison along with Smith, who's noted for his own offseason regimen, and the Patriots will have a conditioned secondary with valuable experience, but one looking to find a certain chemistry that may have been missing last year. It'll be just one more thing to watch when training camp opens at Gillette Stadium in late July.
Near the end of the morning session the defense did some team work out of a 4-3 front. In the look Willie McGinest and Rosevelt Colvin were the defensive ends, Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green were at tackle, and Ted Johnson, Tedy Bruschi and Roman Phifer were the backers with Johnson as the man in the middle. The front worked with the regular rotation of guys in the defensive backfield. … Veteran cornerback Ty Law left the field early on in the morning practice, but returned for the afternoon action. In Law's absence, rookie fourth-round pick Asante Samuel took the reps at corner with the first defensive group. For the second day in a row rookie second-round pick Eugene Wilson also took reps at corner with the first unit. … Many of the same faces sat out practice action Friday including rookie free agent receivers Rob Milanese and Chas Gessner, Joe Andruzzi, seventh-round pick Tully Banta-Cain, rookie free agent running back Derek Watson, Anthony Pleasant, Otis Smith and Kenyatta Jones. … Those players wearing the red "non-contact" jerseys remained the same as well with Colvin, Rick Lyle, Daniel Graham and the four quarterbacks sporting the distinctive attire. … For the purposes of positional drill work Green, Dan Klecko, Ethan Kelley and Ken Kocher worked the nose, while Seymour, Lyle, Bobby Hamilton, Buck Rasmussen and Ty Warren were the ends. … While a lot of time is spent on the passing game in these types of non-contact camps, the offense worked on the running game against a scout team holding bags during the morning session. … The first unit offensive line continued to consist of Damien Woody, Mike Compton, Matt Light and Adrian Klemm, although on Friday Stephen Neal and Russ Hochstein alternated at the right guard position. … Patriots owner Robert Kraft once again took in portions of both the morning and afternoon sessions. … After missing nearly the entire rookie mini camp with a leg injury, second-round pick Bethel Johnson has participated fully in this camp. A full-speed Johnson has shown off his incredible 4.27 speed in a number of receiver drills as well as in some return work. … Mike Cloud showed decent speed and catching ability out of the backfield in practice action on Friday. The former Chiefs and Boston College running back is in camp for a free agent tryout and Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick noted in his press conference that should the team decide to pursue a contract with Cloud it would be to compete for a back up running back spot and special teams job. … The Friday afternoon session consisted of a lot screen pass work by the offense, sub and blitz package work by the defense and special teams. During the defensive blitz work Law, Milloy, Harrison, Poole, Wilson and Antwan Harris were all on the field at the same time. Veteran free agent linebacker Don Davis made a nice read on an interception during the drill. … During the kickoff team work the returners fielding the kicks were Kevin Faulk, Dedric Ward and Deion Branch. … The three-day mini camp will come to a close on Saturday. … Just a reminder a limited number of Patriots individual game tickets go on sale tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. at all Ticketmaster outlets.