The Patriots closed out the public portion of training camp 2004 with a single, spirited afternoon session at Gillette Stadium Wednesday afternoon. Dressed in helmets and shoulder pads the team continued to prepare for Saturday's second preseason game in Cincinnati with a pass-heavy practice as the team works to clean up what was a disappointing aerial performance last Friday night against the Eagles.
In his morning press conference, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was quick to point out that no one area of the passing game needs work at this point in the preseason, but rather all areas need to improve while working to get on the same page. Asked if he saw anything specific in the Bengals contest that sparked this week's emphasis on the passing game, Belichick held back little in his response.
"It wasn't any good," Belichick said. " You were at the game, right? The only passes we completed were ones that we scrambled around on or broke a tackle in the pocket or some loose play where we got it out to somebody, scrambled out of the pocket and hit somebody after the protection broke down and after the coverage broke down. That's great. That's football, but at some point during the year you have to go back there, drop back, block them, throw it, and catch it. That's what the passing game is, it's not playing junior high schoolyard football running around, everybody going different directions, the defense misses a couple of tackles or something and they will lob it down there and somebody catches it. You can't win doing that in this league."
With that in mind the team spent significant time working in seven-on-seven drills, team passing and red zone/goal line offense during Tuesday's two-hour sunny afternoon session. But while many look to the quarterback as the central figure in the passing offense, Belichick believes his entire unit needs to make positive strides on the turf of Paul Brown Stadium this Saturday night.
"Quarterbacks? You have guys coming through the line of scrimmage unblocked," Belichick responded when asked about his signal callers. "What do you want the quarterback to do? Then sometimes it is on the quarterback. We've got guys open and can't hit them. Sometimes it's on the receivers running bad routes. It's a combination of things, but I'm just saying at some point in a game you think you'd be able to drop back, throw the ball, and catch it. You would think that would happen at this level at some point in the game, and it didn't very often. There are a lot of people that are involved in that whole process. It's not just the quarterback. It's not just the receivers. It's everybody.
"There were breakdowns everywhere. We had breakdowns at every position, every position on the line, every other position on the field, too, the guys running the routes, the guys throwing the ball, the guys blocking."
Veteran linebacker Ted Johnson returned to the practice field for the first time since the second day of training camp. Johnson participated fully in the afternoon session with reps at his customary inside linebacker spot.
"It was the first day back in a few weeks and it felt good," Johnson said after the workout. "It's good to be out there. It gets old trying to rehab. So I was happy to be out there and help out a little bit."
Tackle Light-ens evening workload
Left tackle Matt Light may have lost some weight thanks to his appendectomy this offseason, but he certainly hasn't lost his sense of humor or playful approach to his work. The "versatile" fourth-year veteran took the final field goal attempt at the end of practice, a poor miss that just barely cleared the left side of the line and then rolled aimlessly toward the sideline.
But much like he did last training camp Light came up big for his teammates when it counted just a few moments later, cleanly fielding a Josh Miller punt on the run and in doing so earned a night off from evening meetings for the entire team. Light ran around holding the ball in the air after the catch and then wrapped Miller up in a bear hug as someone yelled, "See you at 8:30 in the morning!"
"I didn't really give myself a chance," Light said of fielding the kick. "I counted myself as about a 20-percent chance of catching it."
After discussing the impressive punt return Light also gave his humorous take on a few other subjects, like what happened to his appendix after it was removed?
"The hospital has ways of disposing of that. I haven't seen it since. We parted ways. It's over."
And what about the mustache the offensive lineman is sporting during camp, replacing the bushy goatee he grew last fall?
"It is a political year and what the people need is a mustache."
Wednesday afternoon notes
Players not participating in practice action included Christian Morton, P.K. Sam, Malaefou Mackenzie, Je'Rod Cherry, Dana Stubblefield, Cody Scates, Matt Chatham, Cedric Cobbs, Jim Miller and Andy Mignery. … A day after displaying a Mohawk hairdo courtesy of the veteran players, Scates and many of the other rookies were clean shaven under their helmets on Wednesday. … Ty Law was noticeably absent from the practice fields for the second straight afternoon. … Rookie safety Guss Scott was also absent. … Deion Branch made a nice adjustment and catch on a ball thrown well behind him by Rohan Davey in a seven-on-seven drill. … Adding to his other duties in camp, Troy Brown took reps as the up-back on the punt team during a special teams segment. … In Law's absence, second year cornerback Asante Samuel took most of the reps in the secondary with the first defensive unit. … Second-year safety Eugene Wilson picked off Kliff Kingsbury and returned it for a touchdown in a team defense drill. … Undrafted rookie free agent Randall Gay took a few reps with the first unit in the same drill. … Brown continues to take practice reps at cornerback. … A newly-bald ball boy gave Adam Vinatieri a break, kicking for the field goal team at the end of practice.