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Sunday afternoon practice notes

While the regular season is still more than a month away, Bill Belichick is using this week as a dress rehearsal of sorts to prepare for the upcoming slate. There are four days of practices (including Sunday) before the preseason opener against the Giants at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots are treating them like normal in-season workouts.

The names of the days may have changed, but after substituting Sunday-Wednesday for Wednesday-Saturday, there is very little difference between this week and a normal regular season week.

"We're going to treat it like a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday routine," Belichick said before his team took the field after its first day off of camp on Saturday. "In terms of what we do on a daily schedule it will be like that. We'll work on some regular first and second down type things today. We're going to try to keep a regular four-day practice structure to cover things we would generally cover during the regular season."

Belichick added it's important for the team to re-establish it's level of play each year and that the Giants, with their vast array of formations, motions and schemes, are a good team to begin that process against. The Patriots are in a rather odd predicament in that they'll be facing three preseason opponents (New York, Washington and Philadelphia) again in the regular season. That leaves for more review work in the preseason than might normally occur.

Whereas teams might address a problem or two that came up during the preceding game every year in the preseason, because the Patriots will face the same opponent for real a few weeks later, Belichick is allotting time to correct any mistakes that inevitably crop up.

"We have a long week between the Giants and Washington (Aug. 7-16) so we have budgeted some of that time to cover some things that we have not covered as thoroughly leading into the Giants game," Belichick said. "We've also tried to leave a little space there figuring there will probably be something that will need to be addressed."

The practice predictably had some highs and lows, especially given the incredibly muggy conditions the team worked in. The offense got off to a good start, running the ball well during nine-on-seven drills early. Kevin Faulk got the nod and carried on the first two plays before Antowain Smith took his place. Faulk ran well between the tackles and definitely is in the mix for an every down role.

Tom Brady was sharp early in the seven-on-seven drills, which were highlighted by a terrific throw to tight end Christian Fauria deep down the right hashmark. Fauria caught the pass in stride for a huge gain. But there were a few drops in the drill as well, and Damon Huard failed to hit a wide-open Larry Centers on a similar play to the one Fauria made.

Defensively things seemed to improve as the day progressed. During the team period, Faulk once again took the first carries but didn't find as much room as earlier. Faulk's presence was particularly interesting given the Patriots opened in a three tight end set, which is normally a grind-it-out formation. Perhaps Belichick plans to get Faulk some carries early against the Giants No. 1 defense Thursday night.

Rookie corners Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel continue to kick around the first unit and both remain impressive. Samuel came up with an interception against a scout team on one play while Wilson stepped in front of Dedric Ward and returned one for a touchdown on another. Ty Law was in pads but still wore sweats instead of his normal practice pants.

Camp notes

The weekend's transactions led to a couple of number changes in the lineup. Centers now sports the No. 31, vacated when cornerback Ben Kelly was released on Friday. Centers' old number, 43, is now being worn by newcomer Frank Moreau, a running back who signed Friday afternoon. In keeping with the numbers theme, Moreau also donned a yellow scout team jersey with No. 21 on it, signifying the Giants Tiki Barber. Moreau also returned some kicks. …

Willie McGinest appears to be getting closer to returning. He remained with the strength coaches but donned his practice pants. Belichick reported before practice there were a few players nearing a return but did not specify if McGinest was one. … Fullback Fred McCrary made his full-time return, taking part in 100 percent of the day's activities. He seemed to be moving well and reported no ill effects from his first day back. Also, wideout David Patten was back at full strength while Deion Branch remained on the sidelines. … Guard Brenden Stai worked with the first unit at right guard, a spot previously occupied by Russ Hochstein. … Just after the team returned from a water break, the players exhorted fans to sing "Happy Birthday" to Brady, who turned 26 on Sunday. Matt Light and Faulk encouraged the fans as they gave the quarterback a nice applause. Brady walked off the field with a birthday card at the end of practice. … While the offense was running some Giants plays during the team period, the unit seemed unsure of its assignments and Belichick sent it for a lap. It was the first time in camp the entire offense had to run while the defense has made the trip at least three times for failing to have 11 men on the field. … Practice ended with some two-minute work for the defense. The unit consisted of Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin up front, Tedy Bruschi and Roman Phifer at linebacker, and six defensive backs – Wilson, Samuel, Lawyer Milloy, Rodney Harrison, Tyrone Poole and Antwan Harris. The drive ended when Rohan Davey overthrew a wide-open Troy Brown over the middle and saw his pass intercepted by Milloy after it went off Brown's hands. … The Patriots have two practices scheduled for Monday (9 a.m.-11 a.m. and an evening session yet to be determined). Check with patriots.com or call the camp hotline at (508) 543-1776 for the latest information.

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