]()The Patriots evening practice took place under the watchful eyes of three officials on hand to help the team navigate through the latest rules changes and points of emphasis in place for the 2008 season. While most to the alterations are minor,Bill Belichickstill felt it was good to operate with stricter constraints than the normal training camp setting provides.
"We have the officials here so we will have them officiate the different aspects of practice through Thursday as we try to tighten up our techniques in pass coverage, offensive holding, offensive line, play alignments and stuff like that," Belichick said at the start of his press conference. "It will be good to work with them for the next couple of days."
The yellow flags were noticeable during the evening practice, mostly for scrimmage infractions, but more than a few were tossed for defensive holding during some passing work. The linebackers in particular seemed to fall victim to the zebra's eyes with head linesman Philip McKinnleyand side judge Laird Hayesmaking the calls.
Of the changes this season, there are two that drew the most attention: the defensive communication system and the force-out rule. The former appears simple enough on the surface, but listening to umpireButch Hannahdiscuss it during his session with the media brought about some gray areas.
One defensive player is allowed to don a helmet with the device, indicated by the same green dot that quarterbacks have. Since not all defensive players are on the field for every snap, teams are allowed to have two such helmets but only one on the field at the same time.
So if the Patriots were to designate Tedy Bruschi, for example, as the player with the communication device, and the linebacker were to leave the field, another player would be allowed to switch helmets. If a substitute player enters the game with the green dot helmet, he would have to report to the umpire, who would then ensure that only one such player is on the field at a time.
But there would seem to be some logistical questions that could arise if a team constantly subbed back and forth, making life difficult on the umpire. A team violating this rule would be penalized 5 yards for an illegal substitution.
The force-out rule is much more cut-and-dried. In the past, the officials had the ability to exercise their judgment on completions near the sidelines when receivers were in the air and failed to come down in bounds due to a defender's hit. Now, they no longer have an option. If the receiver fails to get both feet in bounds, it's an incomplete pass.
The lone exception to this rule would be if a defender holds the receiver off the ground and carries him out of bounds. In that case, the play could be ruled a completion. But Hannah pointed out that such an example was so rare that the league had to go back two years to an NFL Europe game to find one for the instructional video they show the players and media. So, don't expect too many completions on plays when a receiver doesn't get his feet in bounds.
Belichick said the new rule has led to a slight change in the way the coaching staff approaches such plays along the sidelines.
"A lot of times, in the past you teach the defender to play more of the ball because playing the man doesn't really help you. If you knock the guy out of bounds and you get the force out called then they will give him the catch anyway," Belichick said. "So you might as well go for the ball, if you miss it, you miss it but the play is pretty much an out of bounds play anyway.
"Now, I think there is a little more of the defender to play the man as opposed to the ball and try to knock the player out then try to knock the ball loose. Again, it is a very fine line. We certainly don't want to miss an opportunity on the ball over there but in that split second judgment I think that there are players that can play it a little bit differently in that situation."
Upon further review
Other items of note included: All muffed handoffs are now considered fumbles, and a direct snap from center that doesn't reach the quarterback is now considered a fumble as well. In the past, a forward handoff was deemed an illegal forward pass but was ruled dead if it hit the ground, and a snap that didn't reach the quarterback was considered a false start. Also, teams that win the coin toss now have the option of deferring their decision to take the ball until the second half.
The 5-yard incidental facemask penalty was eliminated. Now, only violators deemed guilty of grasping, pulling or twisting an opponent's facemask, which is a 15-yard personal foul, will be flagged. Reviews for field goals and extra points where the ball is above or below the cross bar and below the uprights will now be allowed as well.
]()In addition, the league is calling for mutual respect among its players and coaches and player safety as part of their points of emphasis. Taunting and the destruction of game equipment will be met with a 15-yard penalty.
Rodney Harrison became the third Patriot to be activated from the physically unable to perform list Tuesday evening. Harrison enjoyed a lively workout, lining up with the first group alongside Brandon Meriweather (James Sanders was not in uniform) throughout. Harrison didn't make any of his signature plays (read: hits) but he was visible around the football.
There was an interesting item in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle, citing two league sources, that indicated Al Daviswas upset that LaMont Jordansigned with New England. The report claimed that Davis released Jordan under the provision that he not sign with the Patriots of Denver.
"One thing I know about the media, a lot of times they have no idea what they're talking about," Jordan said. "I'm quite sure that if my release was contingent on that, it wouldn't have just been heard in the Bay Area. It would have been heard all over. Everybody wants to take a shot at the Patriots, so I'm quite sure the media would have taken a great opportunity. From my understanding, my release wasn't based on that. My release was based on the fact the Raiders no longer wanted me out there. I think that's what it comes down to."
Who's hot: Brandon Meriweather – This isn't so much for what he did Tuesday evening but more so for his overall play thus far in camp. His best moment came early in practice when he patiently stuck to his assignment and ran stride-for-stride with Jabar Gaffneyon a deep ball that took quite some time to develop. Tom Brady's pass was well thrown but Meriweather, as has been the case all summer, was in good position and prevented the completion.
Who's not: The linebackers –Admittedly it's a very difficult drill for all the defenders, but the running backs and tight ends really had their way with the linebackers during some one-on-one work early in practice. Almost every pass was completed and many of them went to wide open receivers. Other than Tank Williams, who generally stuck pretty close to his man, the rest of the cover guys struggled badly.
Play of the day:
It should come as no surprise to learn that Brady and Randy Mosswere once again involved in this category. During a seven-on-seven drill midway through practice, Brady looked deep for Moss down the right sideline. Terrence Wheatleywas tight in coverage but Moss stopped, jumped and grabbed the pass while the rookie looked on helplessly.
With the PUP list down to nine with the return of Harrison, seven others were not in uniform for the practice. Richard Seymour, Matt Light, Jason Webster, Vince Redd, Anthony Clement, James SandersandDavid Thomasall missed the workout. Thomas appeared to injure his ankle midway through Monday's practice and left with a trainer. He was present for the morning walkthrough but evidently was not well enough for contact. … Chad Jacksonmade a terrific catch during some situational work near the goal line when he lunged back for a Brady pass that was well behind him. The play was reminiscent of Troy Brown's famous catch against the Giants way back in 1996. … Wheatley made up for his earlier misfortune by blanketing Moss in the corner during some team work. Brady tried to hit his favorite target but the rookie was up for the challenge and knocked the ball loose. … Fernando Bryantcame up with a pick of an overthrown Brady pass during seven-on-seven drills. Later during full squad work, Antwain Spannwas the recipient of a tipped pass off the hands of Jerod Mayo. … Wednesday's practice is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.