There was a new face on the practice fields Monday morning at Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium, and while guard Brenden Stai may not be a household name or even a recognizable face, he is a strong addition to the depth on the team's somewhat questionable offensive line. With the recent loss of Stephen Neal to injury, and the unpredictable timetable for the return of both Joe Andruzzi and Kenyatta Jones, Stai is a welcome addition to the competitive mix on the right side of the line.
Stai is a 6-4, 318-pound, eight-year NFL veteran who spent an injury-abbreviated 2002 season with the Washington Redskins. He started the first five games a year ago, but then missed the rest of the year with a knee injury. Stai says the surgically-repaired knee is now fine, as seen in his passing of the Patriots conditioning run before taking the field today. Confident that he would find work this season, Stai decided New England was a good fit.
"As far as the knee goes, it is fine now as evident this morning with me running and coming out here and testing for them and having them take a look at me to sign me," Stai said. "[The Patriots] took an interest early on in the offseason, just asking 'How is Brenden? What's his knee like?' That's pretty much what all the teams were doing. I was kind of like the first on their short list for anything that was to go wrong. So it was inevitable for me. It was just a matter of me pulling the trigger on something that I thought was right and I believe that this was the right situation for me."
While Stai admits that joining his fifth new team in five years makes him a bit of an oddity, especially considering he has started every game he has played in in that time, he also thinks it has given him a bit of practice in learning quickly.
"I've had an unusual career because twice I have been traded a week before the season, for whatever that reason is in the side of the person trading me, I couldn't tell you." Stai said. "But I know this, I've kind of developed a reputation of being able to go in and start within a week because both times I was a week out of the regular season and I ended up starting both times. When it comes to learning the offense it is a matter of taking what you know from the past and just assimilating it to the new language and just going out there and taking responsibility and having fun."
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said Monday that Stai will have a good chance to earn playing time at guard and brings added depth to the line as a whole.
"He'll certainly get an opportunity to play," Belichick said. "He's been with several teams in the league and has started a number of games. He played in Pittsburgh, which has some offensive similarities to what we do, we've been able to evaluate that. But he'll certainly get an opportunity to compete there. I think we have good competition now at the guard position. Even though it is unfortunate about Neal, but with the addition of [Bill] Conaty, Stai, the other players that are here and eventually Andruzzi will be back, I think we'll have good competition at that spot."
While Stai was most an observer during practice Monday, spending most of the time in the back pocket of Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, his experience should make for a smooth transition to the line mix. His 105 games played and 96 career starts in time with the Steelers, Jaguars, Lions and Redskins immediately make Stai one of the most experienced members of the New England line.
To make room for Stai on the roster the Patriots waived rookie free agent safety Scott Farley.
Despite reports that a deal was done with free agent fullback Larry Centers, the team was not yet confirming the signing Monday morning and Centers was not at the practice. … Anthony Pleasant did not dress for the morning session, although he did do some early agility drills and conditioning work. Most of the other inactives for the morning session remained the same. … While Troy Brown returned to full practice action, David Patten remained on the sidelines. It was reported on Sunday that the receiver had "tightened up" a bit. … Ty Law seemingly took part in all the practice action, but wore sweatpants rather than his football practice pants. … Tom Brady made a number of strong completions during a seven-on-seven drill early in practice. After hitting Daniel Graham on a short slant, Brady completed two deep balls down the left sideline to David Givens and Bethel Johnson. Givens beat rookie corner Eugene Wilson and then continued his way to the end zone, while Johnson made a nice over-the-shoulder catch beating Tyrone Poole before falling to his knees. … During the special teams portion Daniel Pope and Ken Walter took turns punting, while Johnson, Kevin Faulk, Brown, Dedric Ward, Wilson and Samuel returned the kicks. … Veteran offensive lineman Bill Conaty has been working with the second offensive line group at both left and right guard. … The offense worked some passing out of the shot gun formation Monday morning, and much like year ago Mike Compton handled the snaps while center Damien Woody moved to left guard. … Deion Branch had the unfortunate luck of being tabbed with the drop of the day when he clearly beat Poole down the left sideline, drawing the attention of most fans, but then dropped the sure touchdown. … Patriots owner Robert Kraft took in a bit of the practice action, watching a portion of the second part of the session. … The entire defense had to take a lap around the practice fields late in practice after failing to have 11 men on the field for a play in a team segment.