The Patriots hosted their annual season-ticket holder event inside Gillette Stadium Wednesday night and a terrific crowd was on hand to watch the team work out in helmet, shorts and shells. The practice consisted of a lot of individual work early before progressing toward situational football.
Bill Belichick also had special teams coach Scott O'Brien put the troops through the paces with the kickoff, kickoff return and the hands team (onside kick recovery) all getting reps.
The highlight came from the offense, which worked on the two-minute drill and some red zone scenarios. Tom Brady was sharp for the most part, hooking up with Rob Gronkowski and his newest weapon, Chad Ochocinco, frequently.
Roughly halfway through the practice Patriots presidentJonathan Kraft addressed the crowd and expressed his excitement for the season. He also added words of praise for his father, chairman and owner Robert Kraft, for his work in helping to end the lockout.
"While both sides were talking over each other," Jonathan Kraft said, "he made them talk to each other."
Several players stayed on the field after practice, signing autographs for the 18,334 fans in attendance (a five-year high), for about an hour. It was a lively atmosphere and the players seemed to enjoy the environment.
"Anytime you step out on the field and hear the fans yelling it gives you a lift," cornerback Devin McCourty said. "As a defensive back it was tough because every time a receiver caught the ball there was a big cheer from the crowd."
The official made their annual trip to training camp Wednesday night and will spend three days working with the Patriots. They met with the team earlier in the day to discuss rules changes and various points of emphasis for the upcoming season.
Back judge Perry Paganelli was joined by field judges Doug Rosenbaum and Scott Edwards and they briefed the media on the changes, which mostly center around player safety. Further protection of defenseless players, which in addition to receivers in the act of making a catch include running backs in the grasp, quarterbacks after a change of possession, kickers and punters and players receiving blindside blocks, will be on display.
The biggest rule change is the automatic review of all scoring plays. Anytime a touchdown is recorded the play will be looked at by the replay official. Paganelli explained most plays will be reviewed while the celebration is taking place but admitted a slight delay could occur if added time is needed, in which case the umpire will not put the ball in play for the point after until given the go-ahead from upstairs.
In another attempt to protect players, all players on the kickoff team will need to line up no further than 5 yards behind the line of the kick. Players must have a foot or a hand on the line in order to prevent a 5-yard penalty. Paganelli said this rule was the only one that Belichick asked for further information, explaining that the coach wanted to know how it would administered. Paganelli said once the ball was whistled in play for the kick, all players had to be within 5 yards of the ball.
The points of emphasis included some slight alterations to the roughing the passer rules preventing blows to the head. Officials now have discretion when a defender hits the quarterback in the head. If he deems it not to be a forcible blow, he no longer is forced to throw the flag.
"If it's a glancing blow, like the one we saw [on the instructional video] on Peyton [Manning], then it won't be an automatic call," Paganelli said. "It has to be a forcible blow to the head in order to be a foul."
The Patriots made some roster moves on Wednesday, officially announcing BenJarvus Green-Ellis signed, as well as adding free agent center Chris Morris, offensive lineman Jonathan Compas and running back Richard Medlin. The team also released running back Thomas Clayton and rookie free agent offensive lineman Mike Berry.
Green-Ellis was a restricted free agent but wouldn't say if he signed the tender or agreed to a new deal.
"I let the [agents] and everybody else handle the contracts," said Green-Ellis, who watched the practice wearing a T-shirt and shorts. "Of course, I'm keeping the contract situation out of the news."
Morris, a 6-4, 305-pound, five-year NFL veteran, has spent time with Oakland (2006-09) and Carolina (2010). Morris was originally a seventh-round draft pick by Oakland in 2006. The Michigan State product has played in 51 games with 11 starts. He's also spent time as a long snapper, which given Matt Katula's inactivity thus far in camp, could be significant.
The 6-3, 300-pound Compas was a rookie free agent with Oakland in 2009 but was waived before the season began. He hooked on with Tampa Bay and played in two games for Bucs as a rookie. He was released by Tampa Bay last Sept. 24 and was out of football the rest of the season. Medlin is a 5-11, 200-pound rookie free agent out of Fayettville.
I am Moses
According to ESPNBoston.com, the Patriots worked out veteran defensive end/outside linebacker Quentin Moses. Moses is the third edge rusher the team has taken a look at this week, joining Matt Roth and Raheem Brock. Brock Tweeted earlier in the day that his workout went well. A third-round pick of the Raiders in 2007, Moses has played 44 games over the past four seasons for the Dolphins. Last season, Moses played in 15 games, recording 18 tackles and one sack. He has tallied 3.5 career sacks.
Who's hot: Rob Gronkowski – The tight end was simply dominant, particularly during some red zone work toward the end of practice. Even when he is covered reasonably well, his vise-like hands lead to completions and Brady hooked up with him several times throughout the night.
Who's not: Sergio Brown – It wasn't so much that the second-year safety wasn't competitive, but he had the unfortunate assignment of trying to prevent G-Force from catching the ball. Brown was victimized no fewer than three times, and on each one he seemed to be in decent position but was powerless to prevent the connection.
Play of the day: In a play that Patriots fans hope to be seeing a lot of, Brady hooked up with Ochocinco for a beautiful 40-yard connection during 1-on-1 drills involving wide receivers and defensive backs. Ochocinco went deep down the left sideline and caught the pass over his outside shoulder around the 5-yard line.
The Patriots running back corps added Green-Ellis but may have lost a member as rookie Shane Vereen left practice early with an apparent leg injury. He appeared to tighten up before having the medical staff take a look. Shortly thereafter he left the field and did not return. ... The recent transactions have brought some number changes with them. Rookie Stevan Ridley has switched from 37 to 22 while the yet unsigned Nate Solder went from 74 to Nick Kaczur's old 77. Newcomers Medlin (37), Compas (74) and Morris (66) were all in uniform. … Brady celebrated his 34th birthday, although it did not come with the normal fanfare from the crowd the day generally brings. … Tomorrow's practice session is currently slated for 4:30 p.m. and is open to the public. These times are subject to change so please check with Patriots.com for the latest updates to the schedule.