As the Patriots mini-camp moved from the voluntary to mandatory stage, Head Coach Bill Belichick and his staff continued to work toward implementing their system. Belichick's plan involves adding situations with each practice session, and Friday morning's consisted of work in the red zone.
Next up will be work on the two-minute drill and the kicking game with the ultimate goal being having as much of the entire package installed in time for the start of training camp on July 17.
"We've given the players a lot of information," Belichick said. "I'm satisfied with the way, as a group, they've approached it. I think we're definitely making progress. We still have a lot of new things to install. A lot of the interaction between the new players and the coaches and getting a new system is going to take some time. As we go day-by-day, I can definitely see some improvement on the field."
Belichick added that getting an accurate gauge on how quickly the players grasp certain aspects of the system is difficult. For example, players can perform well in certain drills – such as a blitz pick-up drill – because of the repetition. The true test won't come until training camp begins. Until then, the goal remains preparation.
"We want to get enough understanding of the offense now so that we're doing that again during training camp," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. "In some years, you wind up starting over at camp and you don't want to do that. It's important now that we're continue to progress."
McGinest moving in
Defensive end Willie McGinest is prepared for anything in Belichick's system. During the Pete Carroll era, McGinest was used as the elephant end, used almost exclusively as an outside pass rusher. While he'll still get more than a few chances to get after the quarterback, McGinest has been used in pass coverage and even lined up on the interior line during Friday's morning practice.
The Patriots have lined up in a 5-2 alignment most often during the week, with Chad Eaton, Jeff Marriott and Brandon Mitchell as the interior linemen flanked by Chris Slade and McGinest. One of the two outside guys usually drops in coverage, though, creating the look of a 4-3 defense.
Linebackers Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi have spent most of their time inside, but Johnson said on Wednesday that the team would also use 3-4 sets that would put Bruschi (or second-year man Andy Katzenmoyer) on the outside.
Time for some razzle-dazzle
Michael Bishop and the rest of the second- and third-string offense surprised the starting defensive unit with some trickery on one brilliantly executed play. Bishop handed the ball to running back Raymont Harris, who turned before hitting the line and flipped the ball back to Bishop. Wide receiver Tony Gaiter and Tony Simmons were both wide open and Bishop chose to hit Simmons for a long touchdown.
Simmons streaked down the left sideline and beat cornerback Tebucky Jones while Gaiter came across the deep middle after beating Ty Law. The flea-flicker worked to perfection and caught the defense totally off guard.
The Patriots have worked out without pads for the entire mini-camp schedule. Nobody was happier about that fact than Matt Bumgardner. The rookie free agent went over the short middle zone after a pass from rookie Tom Brady when he met up with McGinest. The pass was a bit behind him and McGinest was in perfect position to deliver the hit after Bumgardner's adjustment caused him to slow up a bit. Had the drill been full speed with contact, McGinest would surely have welcomed Bumgardner to the NFL with a jarring hit.
Bledsoe razor sharp
Most of the morning consisted of passing drills and Bledsoe was in mid-season form. On consecutive plays during a 7-on-7 red-zone drill, he connected with Terry Glenn, Troy Brown and Vincent Brisby for would-be touchdowns. The pass to Glenn was particularly impressive as he perfectly led the wide receiver to the back corner of the end zone with a perfectly thrown ball just over the outstretched arms of the defender.
The Patriots added their second addition to the scouting department this week with the hiring of former wide receiver Alexander Wright. The 32-year-old former Cowboy, Raider and Ram will be trained to work in a certain area but will brought along slowly.