During the two-plus weeks the Patriots have been in training camp, there haven't been many of the lighthearted moments we've seen regularly in past years. For a short time late in Monday morning's practice inside the Dana-Farber Field House, Bill Belichickwent above and beyond in that department.
In the past, linemen such as Matt Lightand Vince Wilforkhave been given the task of securing punts in order for the team to avoid running sprints or other unenviable tasks. Belichick really threw things for a loop on Monday when he conducted a brief goal line 7-on-7 period in which he had the offense and defense switch sides.
At the controls for the 'offense' was none other than Wilfork, who drew smiles all around by calling for various personnel groups, waving players in motion and generally doing his best Tom Bradyimpersonation. Before the snap, that is.
Once the plays began Wilfork had his troubles. Working against a 'defense' that featured receivers and running backs, the Pro Bowl nose tackle managed to complete just 1-of-4 passes with the lone connection going to Patrick Chungfor a touchdown. In his defense, two of the three incompletions were well thrown but Jerod Mayoand Darius Butler couldn't make the catches. The lone real misfire came when he tried to hit Butler on a fade pattern but his high, wobbly wounded duck was overthrown and out of the back corner of the end zone.
The exercise generated a lot of enthusiasm on both sides, and in the end Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Sam Aiken, Brandon Tate, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Laurence Maroneywere left doing most of the celebrating.
Shortly thereafter, Belichick restored order and everyone returned to his normal role. Well, sort of.
Operating in a team period, Brady was back at the helm against the regular defense. On the second play, Wilfork dropped well behind the line of scrimmage into a middle zone. Brady either didn't see the mammoth nose tackle or tried to throw the ball through him. The ball bounced off Wilfork's hands, and even though he failed to make the interception he began high-stepping into the offensive backfield as he celebrated. Brady did not look pleased but responded with several well thrown completions, the first of which went to Moss.
Even though the Patriots wore the shells instead of shoulder pads, there was quite a bit of attention paid to the running game. Fred Taylor was the lead back for a good portion of the drills, followed by BenJarvus Green-Ellisand Sammy Morris.
During his conference call with the media a day after the preseason opener, Belichick mentioned that he wanted to have one back receive 10-12 carries in a given game in order to establish a rhythm rather than giving all of the backs two or three each. Green-Ellis got the start against New Orleans while Taylor did not play. Perhaps his heavy workload on Monday is an indication that Taylor will get the bulk of the carries against Atlanta Thursday night.
There were a couple of new names among the list of players missing practice. Most notably, outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cainwas in attendance but sat out the workout. Also, wide receiver Darnell Jenkinsand inside linebacker Thomas Williamswere not present. Banta-Cain and Jenkins were shaken up during Sunday afternoon's practice.
In addition to that trio, Matthew Slater, Leigh Bodden, Bret Lockett, Terrence Johnson, Dane Fletcher, Gary Guyton, George Bussey, Nick Kaczur, Damione Lewisand Jermaine Cunninghamdid not practice. Johnson, Fletcher and Guyton were all seen rehabbing their injuries.
With Banta-Cain out of the lineup, Marques MurrellandDerrick Burgessmanned the outside linebacker spots. Burgess took most of his reps down in a three-point stance but the defense remained in their 3-4 base set.
Bracing for more
Ron Brace was back on the field for his second day of practice. He took reps with a group that included Myron Pryor at nose and Brandon Deaderick at right defensive end. Player personnel director Nick Caserio, who handled the daily press conference duties Monday morning, said that Brace was behind but showed signs of improvement during the spring.
"There are certain things in the offseason that you can monitor, between the classroom work, between the offseason coaching sessions. He was headed in the right direction and unfortunately he wasn't able to be out there until [Sunday]," Caserio said. "Ron will work hard and I'm sure try to get himself up to speed. It's good to have him out there and we'll see how he does."
Who's hot: Alge Crumpler – The veteran tight end has great hands and he's had them on display throughout camp. He caught several passes during a goal line drill early in practice and was able to consistently get open. He may move as well as he once did, but if he gets his hands on it he generally catches it.
Who's not: Darius Butler – Fret not, Patriots fans, this has nothing to do with the young corner's play in coverage. Butler spent some time working on offense while at UConn and Bill Belichickeven mentioned him as a possibility to work in that capacity at one point last year. So watching him drop a slant pass from Vince Wilforkin traffic was disappointing. A guy with the athleticism to be considered as a two-way player has to make the catch in that situation.
Play of the day: The fun and games weren't limited to the 7-on-7 drill where the offense and defense switched sides. The quarterbacks worked on short dumps and screens while having several players in their face acting as defensive linemen. One quarterback would throw while the others would rush. Randy Mossevidently thought he could do it and took a rep as quarterback. He attempted to look off his pass rushers but Brian Hoyerread the receiver perfectly and rejected the pass with authority.
Kevin Faulk remains one of the surest bets as a pass receiver on the Patriots. He grabbed a Brady pass effortlessly with one hand before turning upfield during a team period. The play came just one snap after Green-Ellis had a similarly wide throw glance off his hand and fall incomplete. Green-Ellis' attempt was slightly more difficult, but watching Faulk catch his gave the impression that he would have snagged both. … Mayo made a nice, leaping interception of rookie Zac Robinson after dropping deep into his zone against a scout team offense. … Dan Connollyand Ryan Wendellworked as fullbacks during a goal line offense package that featured more passing than running. … Tate, Morris, Devin McCourty, Taylor Priceand Faulk worked as kick returners. Julian Edelmanwas initially paired with Faulk but running backs coach Ivan Fearsreplaced him with Tate for the final rep of the drill. … The Patriots officially close training camp on Tuesday with a pair of joint practices with the Atlanta Falcons in Flowery Branch, Ga.