For the second day in a row, threatening skies and rain forced the Patriots to close practice to the public as the team moved Thursday morning's workout to the new FieldTurf area where the old practice bubble once stood.
Bill Belichick and his troops went through the paces in a steady rain for much of the practice before the clouds relented and the sun peeked through for the latter portion of practice. Unfortunately, that change did little to shed any light on the situation with the missing players from yesterday's opener.
Antowain Smith, Michael Cloud, Patrick Pass and Damien Woody all suited up for practice after spending Wednesday afternoon's workout on the sidelines. Ty Law, Otis Smith, Willie McGinest, Fred McCrary and Antwoine Womack all remained out of pads.
This development led to speculation that the first group had successfully passed their conditioning runs, which they were presumed to have failed a day earlier. The latter group apparently had yet to do so, and because they weren't designated as having specific injuries on Wednesday, as a number of others not in uniform were, the speculation was they failed the test. But that's not necessarily the case.
Just don't expect Belichick to clear up matters any time soon. "If a player is not out on the field practicing, there's something that isn't quite right with the player," the coach said. "Not saying he is never going to play again. It's just saying he's not ready to go out and do what all the other players are doing."
What the coach didn't say was why those not in uniform weren't "quite ready" to suit up. It was unclear if anyone – even those who returned to action – had ever failed the conditioning run in the first place. Antowain Smith refused comment following practice, while Cloud reported his absence on Wednesday had nothing to do with any failed tests.
"I wasn't injured, it was more of a personal thing why I didn't work out yesterday," Cloud said of his status. But it's all cleared up and I'm here today. Everything is cleared up and we're out here practicing."
With no definitive answers to report as to why that group wasn't allowed to practice Wednesday (and some again today), we'll move on to what actually did happen on the field. Belichick welcomed the rain as an opportunity to increase his team's concentration level, and the conditions certainly had an impact on the performance.
Early on the rain wreaked havoc on the passing game, leading to many dropped balls and errant passes. But later things improved and there were a few stellar catches. Dedric Ward came up with the morning's best, making a brilliant diving grab of a Tom Brady pass deep over the middle. Rosevelt Colvin dropped deep in zone coverage and lunged to knock the ball away, but it was just out of his reach and Ward showed tremendous concentration in holding on.
But the day's focus was on contact and the running game. Belichick noted that turning up the physical play is one of the keys early in camp, as the players need to adapt after months of conditioning and little contact. Offensive and defensive linemen went one-on-one during drills with several decisive victories being earned.
Woody shook off the rust of a day of inactivity and introduced Jarvis Green to the world of first unit play. Green was manhandled by the Pro Bowl center in their first matchup, although his performance improved his next time through. Rookie Ty Warren got the better of Russ Hochstein on one rep before Hochstein took out his revenge on another rookie, Ethan Kelley, later. Mike Compton taught a lesson of his own when he swallowed up Dan Klecko up the middle.
During the nine-on-seven drills, Kevin Faulk got the majority of carries even though Smith was back in pads. Faulk looked good running behind a starting line of Woody at center, Hochstein (right) and Compton (left) at guard and Adrian Klemm (right) and Matt Light (left) at tackle. The unit opened some impressive holes during the session.
The second offensive line consisted of rookie Dan Koppen at center, newcomer Bill Conaty (right) and Matt Knutson (left) at guard and Brandon Gorin (right) and Tom Ashworth (left) at tackle.
For the second straight day, a minor altercation took place during practice. Yesterday Troy Brown took exception to a harder than normal practice hit from Rodney Harrison, although not much came of the incident as the wideout simple returned to his teammates behind the offense. Today's situation was a bit more serious as Light and Richard Seymour exchanged punches and shoves before their teammates could separate them. The incident did not appear to be serious as cooler heads prevailed. …
There was an addition to those out of practice as veteran defensive end Anthony Pleasant sat out the morning session. Pleasant ran in a group with McGinest, rookie Tully Banta-Cain (undisclosed injury) and rookie wideout Chas Gessner (leg) on the regular practice field with strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik.
Belichick has given some of the elder statesmen an occasional day off during camp in the past but it's unknown whether that was the situation with Pleasant, especially so early in camp. … Assistant strength and conditioning coach Markus Paul worked with corners Law and Otis Smith alongside Woicik. …
Klecko took some time to chat with his father, former New York Jets defensive tackle Joe Klecko, on the sidelines during a break in the practice. The elder Klecko was on hand to watch the workout but admitted to having a hard time acclimating himself to the Patriots grounds.
"I broke out in hives when I walked in that gate out there," the former Pro Bowler said. "I played for the Jets, everyone knows that, but [Dan] has his own world now and we're going to be involved in that world. The Jets-Patriots game is going to be a tough game. I make no comments about that game at all." … Former Giants Pro Bowl tight end Mark Bavaro was also on hand for the morning session. According to the Boston Herald, Bavaro will work with the team as a special liaison to the players. …
Linebacker Mike Vrabel made a terrific athletic play late in practice when he rushed off the left end and leaped to bat down a Brady pass. Vrabel almost intercepted the ball but still drew a spirited reaction from his defensive teammates for his efforts. … Rookie cornerback Eugene Wilson received a rude introduction to the world of NFL special teams while working as a gunner on the punt team. Wilson tried to make his way through a pair of veteran vise guys Je'Rod Cherry and Chris Akins and was completely stuffed.