After toning things down a bit Sunday morning, the Patriots were back in shoulder pads and helmets for the usual late workout routine.
The wide receivers and defensive backs went one-on-one in passing drills. Troy Brown, who led the team in receptions last season, was his usual impressive self. He caught every pass thrown his way in the drill, each time beating a different defender.
Most of the passing routes were completed, with Bert Emanuel looking sharp. He caught a pass from Damon Huard to beat Otis Smith, and on his next turn went over Terrell Buckley to snare a pass from Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe also connected on a scoring pass with Shockmain Davis, who went high over Ray Hill to come down with the ball.
David Patten, who has looked sharp throughout, said the talent level of the receiving corps has the passing game clicking pretty well. He said having veterans like Emanuel, Torrance Small and Charles Johnson mixed with incumbents Brown and Terry Glenn makes for an impressive group.
"This is the best group I've ever been around," Patten said. "We are learning a lot from one another, but there is also a lot of competition between us. We knew from the beginning that they were brining us in and the best people would win the jobs."
After the one-on-one, the passing work continued in seven-on-seven drills, while the offensive and defensive linemen all worked on protection and pass rushing drills, respectively, on a separate field. From there the focus turned to red zone work. In those drills J.R. Redmond had his first fumble of camp. Shortly after that a scuffle broke out between Grey Ruegamer and rookie Richard Seymour. The scrum was the lengthiest of camp so far, with numerous players getting involved before things calmed down.
As usual, the day finished with two-minute situations. Bledsoe and the first unit had one of its most successful drives thus far. Bledsoe opened by hitting Small over the middle for a short gain, and then an incomplete screen made it third down. Again he hit Small to extend the drive. The next pass went to Kevin Faulk, who turned the short throw into a long gain.
There was a slight hitch in the drive when Lawyer Milloy got through the line and forced Bledsoe to throw the ball away. However Bledsoe responded by hitting Patten to set up a field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
Huard manned the second-unit drive and hit on four consecutive short passes to Ronney Daniels, J.R. Redmond and Jermaine Wiggins twice. After an incompletion intended for Wiggins, Huard went for broke on second down with a bomb for Johnson in the end zone, but the ball sailed long. After another short pass for Wiggins, Huard again tried Johnson deep, but the ball went incomplete with 3.8 seconds on the clock. Rookie Owen Pochman's field goal attempt would have been good in regulation posts, but instead it clanked off the narrow uprights being used.
Local punter draws praise
Former Boston University punter Brad Costello is making a bid to unseat 17-year veteran Lee Johnson as the Patriots punter. Apparently that bid is going quite well.
"You know, I have a lot of respect for Lee Johnson. I'll say that right off the bat," Belichick said. "I've coached a lot of punters. [Sean] Landetta, [Dave] Jennings and Tom Tupa were all very good punters and Lee Johnson has had a tremendous career. A terrific career. But any time a player's at the age that Lee is at, you never know. Again, each player has to come in and re-establish his level every year. And when a player's… Lee's past his prime, we all know that, so, you don't know where you're going to be the next year.
"We wanted to have Brad as a younger punter who would be in competition. And again, even though Lee had a pretty good year last year, this is a new year. Brad came in, he was pretty heavy in December, we brought him back in January, talked to him about his weight, his conditioning, not only what he needed to do in Europe, but also how he needed to do it and we put a plan together for him. He's lost a lot of weight, and he's improved his flexibility. Brad Seely went down and worked with him in Florida practicing, he went down there and saw him practice and worked with him down there and then talked to him through the course of the season in Europe on his technique and punting and so forth."
Belichick said Costello has been punting well, which is a continuation of his year with the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe. In eight games he punted 45 times and was second in the league with a 41.9 yards per punt average. In practice Sunday Costello was the holder for the first-unit field goal team. Ironically, it was Costello who replaced Johnson in Cincinnati when the veteran had his contract terminated on Dec. 7, 1998.