It's nearly June, but in some ways, it feels like Groundhog Day to Mike Richardson.
The second-year cornerback from Notre Dame made it only as far as New England's third preseason game last summer. In that August contest versus Carolina, Richardson – who to that point was having an impressive inaugural NFL camp – suffered a season-ending wrist injury.
So, as he takes part in this week's passing camp at Gillette Stadium with other newcomers and select Pats veterans, he feels like he's still in his rookie year.
]()"In some aspects, it does," he conceded after Wednesday's late-morning practice. "Coming out here for the mini camps, I do have an idea of what to expect, so it's not as stressful as it was last year."
What was stressful was sitting on the sidelines, watching his teammates rip off 18 straight wins and a Super Bowl appearance … and not being able to contribute. But Richardson insists he was still able to improve his game just by observing.
"Just being able to watch and soak up a lot of the things that the veteran guys are doing. Just learning that has helped me a lot, focusing more on the mental part of the game."
"Being able to read offenses," he explained. "Knowing what the receiver is going to do in certain situations and formations."
But there's no substitute for hands-on, on-the-field training to make a player feel comfortable about his role with a team. And that's where Richardson finds himself again, mixing it up in this week's helmets-only sessions.
On Wednesday, Richardson still showed some signs of rust, getting outrun on a deep ball from QB Matt Gutierrez to WR C.J. Jones at one point in 7-on-7 scrimmaging, then getting there a step too late on a sideline out-pattern. But the fact that he's on the field is proof of progress in Richardson's mind.
"It feels real good to be back out with my teammates, actually being able to participate," he added, "do some things, keep working, just trying to get back in the swing of things. It's definitely valuable, especially for a guy like me who wasn't out here practicing a lot last year."
With the loss of Asante Samuel to free agency, Richardson understands that there's an opportunity for someone new to step into the starting role for the Pats at cornerback.
"It's all up to the coaches. I'm just going to come out here and do the best I can to show them that I can actually participate and make plays. You never know when you're going to lose someone, and somebody has to be able to step in. It's up to us to be prepared and make the plays.
"It's all about what you do out here," Richardson continued. "Once you step out onto the field, it's anybody's job. Anybody that shows up day in and day out and does the right things, [the coaches are going to] put out there."
This wasn't a full-squad workout for the Patriots. Only 36 players, mostly rookies and younger players, took part – 21 on defense, 15 on offense. Notable veterans in attendance were LB Victor Hobson, TE David Thomas, and S Tank Williams.
Williams, a free agent signee this offseason, is taking advantage of the extra practice-field time to get familiar with his new defensive scheme. "Whenever you come onto a new team, it's kind of like a whirlwind, learning a new language," he observed. "So, you just have to get up in there in your playbook and be as perfect as you can on the field because the more mistakes you make, the less opportunity you have to get on the field."
]()Matt Gutierrezand rookieKevin O'Connell** were the only QBs on the field, alternating reps during scrimmaging. Gutierrez started slow before finding his rhythm, while O'Connell continued to fluctuate between flashes of brilliance and rookie misfires.
Ray Ventrone picked up where he left off last week, wearing a white offensive jersey and working out with the wide receivers. Rookie draft pick Matthew Slater, meantime, also wore a white shirt, albeit underneath a blue piney. He practiced exclusively with the defense.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft spent much of the practice watching from the sidelines.