Running back Antowain Smith passed his second attempt at the conditioning run this morning and was on the field taking reps for the first time Saturday morning.
Smith, who is expected to battle with J.R. Redmond for the starting job, got a few touches during the practice, which focused heavily on the ground game. Head Coach Bill Belichick said Smith's load would likely increase after he gets a few practices under his belt.
Smith said he had taken and passed the test when he came in for New England's mini-camp. However, when he did the series of sprints on Thursday, he tightened up and did not run as well as he would have liked.
"It felt good being out there, but at the same time I was a little sluggish because of all the running I had done beforehand," said Smith, who was never subjected to a conditioning run in four years with Buffalo. "I was anxious to get that first contact and get a feel for what the guys up there are trying to do."
It was a good practice for Smith to be a part of. As usual the running game was the focus for the morning. The offensive line was broken into sections in order to get more of a focus on individual work. The three groups were right tackles with tight ends, centers and guard, and finally left tackles with tight ends.
When the lines were brought together for group work, the offense opened some holes, drawing praise from Belichick during his press conference. In the same breath Belichick was critical of his defenders.
"I thought we had a good practice. Offensively we had some success in the running game," Belichick said. "You know as a coach anytime you see one good thing out there, that means it wasn't so good on the other side. We didn't look too good defensively up front. But offensively the running game was as productive in a practice as anything we've had since I've been here."
The success of the offensive line came despite a couple shifts and changes. Damien Woody moved to left guard because of a bruised right thumb suffered late Friday afternoon. The injury prevents him from gripping the ball for snaps, so Mike Compton traded places with Woody. Also, rookie Kenyatta Jones worked at left tackle and Adam Davis was in at right guard again. Joe Andruzzi did not practice because of a stiff back.
Though he looked good as a guard, Woody said the move was only until the bruise heals.
"I tried snapping with the left hand, but I'm just going to play a little guard until this blows over and then I'll go back to where I belong," Woody said. "I know all of the positions anyway, so I am just out there playing. It's just because of the thumb. I can't grip the ball right now. I just don't want to be sitting around doing nothing."
The full-contact drills were halted following a quick scuffle between offensive lineman Grey Ruegamer and defensive end Greg Spires.
After the full-speed work, the team did some seven-on-seven passing drills. On the first play Drew Bledsoe connected with Bert Emanuel, who made a nice catch by turning his body back as ran downfield. Tight end Rod Rutledge showed in the drill that he is not going to give up the starting job without a fight. He continued his strong play by making a few catches in the drill. On one play he worked himself behind the linebackers and caught a pass over his shoulder in full stride, earning praise from some coaches.
The tight end competition is a bit depleted because Johnny McWilliams (hamstring), Jabari Holloway (hamstring) and Arther Love (groin) are all still out. However, Rutledge and Jermaine Wiggins have both made several catches in drills. Chris Eitzmann has struggled at times as a receiver, but his blocking has been good at times.
-- Wide receiver Terry Glenn missed the Saturday morning practice. Belichick said the receiver fell on the knee Friday. Glenn was not at the morning session because he was getting tests done
-- Rookies Jace Sayler and Richard Seymour got a few reps with what has been the first-string defense so far in camp. Belichick said Seymour is progressing well.
-- "He flashes some plays every practice where he does something that looks real good," Belichick said. "But he's got a lot to learn. He's getting more each day."
-- The special teams units worked on kickoff returns. The 11 players on the first kick return team were Tony George, Antico Dalton, Larry Izzo, Rob Holmberg and Matt Stevens up front. Behind them were Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Marc Edwards. Jones was the deepest blocker in front of Kevin Faulk and David Patten.