It wasn't exactly the red carpet welcome, but nine rookies experienced the first professional football workout of their career Friday morning.
Yes, that number was correct. New England's roster has just nine rookies. It was easily the smallest contingent in three years of rookie camps with the Patriots for Head Coach Bill Belichick. In terms of Xs and Os, there wasn't much the players could do in the practice bubble, particularly defensive end Jarvis Green, the lone rookie on the defensive side of the ball.
"We don't have anywhere near enough guys to do any teamwork, but I think we can get some things accomplished in terms of individual techniques," Belichick said. "We are also giving the players some information that I think they will need through the course of their career here with the New England Patriots.
"The main thing is to try to emphasize how important it is for them to be conditioned and ready to go when they come back in May."
Because of the limited numbers, the players got a lot of individual attention. Most of the learning they will do this weekend will be in the film room. The message they were given upon arrival came loud and clear.
"Come in and work hard," said second-round draft pick Deion Branch. "Work hard and earn your spot on the team."
While the first one-hour practice wasn't the usual football workout the rookies are used to, Branch said it was probably a good way to kick things off.
"It's just like that for right now," Branch said with a laugh. "This is just mini-camp. The less people there are, the more attention and advice we can get from the coaches. It's a good opportunity because we can get all the advice we need before all the veterans come in. Hopefully when that time comes we'll be ready to run with the big guys."
Nothing new on Phifer, Katzenmoyer
Not all the talk from Belichick dealt with the rookies. He said the team still hopes to reach a deal with outside linebacker Roman Phifer.
"Until it is done it's not done," Belichick said. "You can come close and then it can break apart and you can start far apart and it can come together in a matter of hours."
Though vague on the status of negotiations, Belichick removed all doubt on his hopes.
"We want him back," Belichick said. "I have all of the respect in the world for Roman. I hope that he is back with us next year, but it needs to work out on both sides. When it does it does. If it doesn't then it doesn't and we will take another course of action, but I think that it is something that we would still like to happen and hopefully he feels the same way."
Belichick also said he has spoken with Andy Katzenmoyer, but not concerning the linebacker's participation in the offseason program. There was no indication as to whether the former first-round pick would show up for the mandatory mini-camp later in the offseason.