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Michael Smith has a feature on Patriots guard Russ Hochstein in today's Globe. Hochstein, originally a fifth-round pick in 2001 by Tampa Bay, was cut during training camp last year by the Patriots before being resigned to the practice squad and eventually finding himself as the starting left guard late in the playoffs. He later signed a three-year contract in March. "With Woody's departure to Detroit via free agency, Hochstein comes into today's first training camp practice as the projected starter at left guard," writes Smith. "That sounds nice, but Hochstein knows the truth. There are no playing time guarantees (but there are incentives) hidden in the fine print of the three-year contract he signed in March, and thus, no reason to relax. Anyway, how can Hochstein rest on his laurels when, in his words, he has none?"
Patriots.com learned late Wednesday that the Patriots agreed to terms with former Pro Bowl offensive tackle James "Big Cat" Williams on an undisclosed contract. Williams, 36, played in 166 games over a 12-year career with the Chicago Bears before sitting out the 2003 season.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that while three of the last five Super Bowl champions have failed to even make the playoffs the following season, the Patriots hope to defy those odds. "Of course, the Patriots know that fact as well as anyone," says Felger. "They were one of the guilty parties." … His notebook looks at the signing of Williams, the three remaining unsigned draft picks and the roster bonus for cornerback Ty Law.
The Boston Herald's Michael Gee (sorry, subscribers only) says that the 2004 Patriots are in a unique position, a team attempting to defend an NFL championship two seasons after failing to do so. "There's no reason the Pats shouldn't be favored - except one," suggests Gee. "Winning consecutive titles is hard to do, and the cause lies in human nature, not something discussed in the average preseason preview."
Tom E. Curran of the ProJo goes into list-mode heading into training camp, discussing, among other things, "five story lines guaranteed to be beaten into a bloody pulp" and "five nicknames one hopes won't stick." … In his Patriots Notebook he looks at unsigned first-round pick Benjamin Watson.
Chris Kennedy has a camp overview in The Republican, including a great take on Belichick's infamous first-day conditioning test. "In recent seasons, fans and media could always count on Antowain Smith to fail the test. Smith, who now plays for Tennessee, would quickly admit he never really liked working out in the off-season," writes Kennedy. "Hey, he was honest."
Michael Parente of the Woonsocket Call gives the Patriots special teams an overall "A" grade in a special teams preview. "Two of the key figures in the title defense for the New England Patriots might be the two players who spend the least amount of time on the field," says Parente. … He also offers up a general camp overview.
Eric McHugh takes a look at "10 questions the Patriots will have to answer" in The Patriot Ledger. He also includes a detailed camp primer. … Mike Reiss examines the Patriots unsigned draft picks, with no new news to report from Drew Rosenhaus, the agent for Guss Scott and Cedric Cobbs. … Mark Farinella has his own addition of the ever-popular "burning" questions in the Sun Chronicle. … In similar fashion David Pevear of The Sun takes a look at five camp questions. … Ken Powers (sorry, subscriber only) of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette says the Patriots will have motivation in all forms today when they open camp. … AP Writer Howard Ulman has a brief camp overview in the Standard Times. … Ian M. Clark previews the defense in his Patriots Notebook for the Union Leader.