The Patriots gathered at Foxboro Stadium for the first official day of practice under Bill Belichick and the morning reviews were less than complimentary. The team's new head coach was visible disappointed with what he felt was an overall lack of conditioning on the part of the players and he let his displeasure known both on and off the field.
The team took part in a mandatory conditioning test on Sunday, and judging from the list of healthy players on the sidelines in the morning workout, the results were not good.
"As you could see, we had a number of players not participating," Belichick said. "I'd say that overall the return of the team has been no better than average. We have too many guys who are overweight, too many guys who are out of shape, too many guys who just haven't paid the price they need to pay at this point of the season.
"I think it's basically a situation where you can't win in this league with 40 good players when the other team has 53. You need to match them and I guess I haven't done a very good job of getting through to the players on what they need to do to prepare for an NFL season."
The team was asked to complete a running test Sunday afternoon, which consisted of 20 sprints. Depending on the position, the sprints varied in length and the players had a certain amount of time to complete them. For example, offensive linemen had to run 40 yards in six seconds with only 30 seconds of rest in between. Quarterbacks, linebackers, fullbacks and tight ends had to run 50 yards in seven seconds and defensive backs, tailbacks and wide receivers went 60 yards in eight seconds.
Anyone who failed to complete the test was not allowed to practice. That list included safety Tony George, backup quarterback John Friesz, guard Derrick Fletcher and rookie free agent wide receiver Martinez Williams. The players will not be allowed to participate in workouts until they pass the test and will be fined $3,000 per day. Those players spent the morning riding exercise bikes and running laps around the two practice fields.
Backup tackle Ed Ellis was released on Sunday after failing his physical. Ellis, who had his stint in NFL Europe cut short due to discipline problems, played just one game during his three years in New England. Wide receiver Tony Gaiter was re-signed after being released the day before and participated in the workout.
As for the practice itself, Belichick put the squad through a fairly routine workout. With an abundance of injuries to the offensive line, quarterback Drew Bledsoe operated behind a makeshift unit that included free agent pickup Grant Williams at left tackle, Jason Andersen at left guard, Damien Woody at center and Max Lane and Greg Robinson-Randall at right guard and tackle, respectively.
Eight-year veteran Vincent Brisby occupied the starting wide receiver spot alongside Terry Glenn, and newcomer Raymont Harris was the lead running back. The offense enjoyed some success during a goal line drill late in practice, scoring touchdowns on four straight plays. The prettiest came on the first play, when Bledsoe hit tight end Rod Rutledge after a nicely executed play-action fake.
Defensively, Bobby Hamilton, another newcomer, worked with the first unit at end with Chad Eaton on the inside and Brandon Mitchell on the outside. Willie McGinest remained in the multi-dimensional role he occupied during the mini-camps. Ted Johnson, Tedy Bruschi and Chris Slade were the linebackers and the secondary consisted of Ty Law and Kato Serwanga at the corners with Lawyer Milloy and Larry Whigham at safety.
CAMP NOTES: In addition to the players mentioned above, there were several others who missed practice. Guard Lance Scott, tackle Bruce Armstrong, guard Todd Rucci and tackle Adrian Klemm all sat out with knee injuries. Rookie tight end Dave Stachelski was forced to the sideline after suffering an injury to his left foot and linebacker Ted Johnson skipped some drills late in practice because of a sore hamstring. … The wide receivers and defensive backs went 1-on-1 during an early drill and the receivers seemed to get the upper hand. Troy Brown beat free agent pickup Antonio Langham badly for a touchdown on one play and Tony Simmons got the better of Tebucky Jones on another. … Both Harris and second-year man Kevin Faulk ran well during the workout and both scored touchdowns in the goal line drill.