The Patriots moved practice indoors Thursday to the team's new practice facility due to inclement weather and poor field conditions. It was the first official training camp practice held in the facility, which opened late during the 2003 season. The team upheld its policy of turning no fans away, sending a live video feed of practice onto the ProVision screen inside Gillette Stadium for fans willing to brave the conditions. Thursday's second practice is closed to fans and the media as previously scheduled.
"It was nice having that facility," head coach Bill Belichick said. "I thought we had a good, quality practice this morning that wouldn't have been as good had we been outside on the wet turf and chewed up the field. It was good to be able to take advantage of that this morning."
The Patriots held a spirited and somewhat heavy practice for just ore than two hours, highlighted by special teams work and seven-on-seven passing drills mixed in between several 11-on-11 team sessions. One highlight was the popular one-on-one tackling drill between offensive and defensive players, which was full contact. Wide receivers Deion Branch and P.K. Sam displayed nice moves while getting around defenders, and diminutive wide receiver Michael Jennings proved to be much too quick for linebacker Dan Klecko. For the defense, which is at a disadvantage in this drill, linebacker Tully Banta-Cain put a nice stick on running back Malaefou Mackenzie.
"We had a lot of contact this morning, it was a pretty heavy practice in terms of hitting," Belichick said. "We worked a lot on the running game, did some goal line, worked on a lot of blitz pickup and things like that as a carryover from yesterday. I think the guys are banging it around pretty good. I think that's a big part of it. We play a week from tomorrow, so not only getting the legs and soreness and all that worked through, but getting used to the contact and getting acclimated to it and playing at that type of tempo is something that we try to do now when there's still a little bit of time to bounce back. We've really tried to pick that up a little bit over the last two practices."
Faulk gets vote of confidece
One player who has been seemingly overlooked thus far during training camp is running back Kevin Faulk. With the addition of Corey Dillon, Faulk's role in the offense is somewhat of an unknown. Belichick has been vague when talking about the expected roles of the running backs this season, but gave Faulk a vote of confidence today by saying the team is comfortable using him on any down in a variety of situations.
"I think Kevin has looked pretty good in camp. He missed the first couple of days, but Kevin looks good," Belichick said. "He has good quickness, good vision. I think he's handling the ball well both in the running game, passing game and working with him in the return game. His role? We'll see how that goes. I'm not sure of anybody's role is at this point. I think that he could certainly play on every down. And to what extent that will be, some of it will be affected by what he does, and some of it will be affected by what the combinations are that we have on the field and how it works in with everybody else. That's really out of his control, but I think he's performed well and certainly has shown that he is ready to go."
Faulk finished second on the team with 638 yards rushing last season, and added 440 more yards in receiving to finish with a career-high 1,078 total yards. He has caught more than thirty passes in each of his five seasons with the Patriots, in addition to being active in both the kick- and punt-return games. Faulk is also durable – he's missed three games in the last four seasons – fitting within the Belichick mold of versatility and durability.
"Kevin is one of the most coachable players I've ever been around," Belichick said. "He's the type of kid that when you tell him what you want to do, he works very hard to do it the way you want it. He's very flexible; he really tries to work on what you tell him to work on – the weaknesses. He's very diligent about it and he puts a lot into it. I have tremendous respect for that. And he's improved tremendously – he's improved his pass blocking, he's improved his route running and he's improved his ball security I think significantly. I have a lot of respect for any player who works hard like that."
Gorin getting reps
One player who is benefiting from the injuries along the offensive line is third-year tackle Brandon Gorin. With starting tackles Matt Light (appendix) and Tom Ashworth out with injuries, Gorin has been taking reps at right tackle with the first offensive unit. For Gorin, who played in six games last season after spending the entire 2002 season on the practice squad, these practices are important.
"I think every opportunity you have to get reps in this situation in camp and going with the number one offense is very valuable," Gorin said. "The last couple years my reps with the number ones have been few and far between, but now, with Light down and Ashworth down, it's a chance for me to get some valuable reps."
Moreland enters the fray
The Patriots added some depth in the secondary by signing [veteran] cornerback Earthwind Moreland, who participated in his first team practice Thursday. Moreland (5-11, 186) played the last two seasons in NFL Europe and has seen action in there games with the Cleveland Browns (2001) and New York Jets (2000).
Play of the Day
Today's POD came when quarterback Tom Brady hit Branch on a deep corner route over cornerback Asante Samuel. Branch brought in the pass near the sideline and quickly got within the endzone pylon for a touchdown. Samuel, who returned to practice for the first time during camp on Wednesday, immediately ran a penalty lap for reasons unknown.
Cornerback Ty Law and defensive tackle Keith Traylor returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday's single practice session. Defensive end Richard Seymour, who said he sat out Wednesday's practice as a precaution after feeling tightness in his leg, did not practice again today.
Others who did not practice include: Quarterback Jim Miller; cornerbacks Christian Morton and Randall Gay; running back Cedric Cobbs, tight ends Andy Mignery and Christian Fauria; linebackers Quinn Dorsey, Eric Alexander, Ted Johnson, Larry Izzo, Matt Chatham and Rosevelt Colvin; long snapper Lonie Paxton; offensive tackles Ashworth, Light and Tim Provost; wide receiver David Givens and defensive tackle DeVonte Peterson. Rookie tight end Benjamin Watson (contract dispute) and guard Wilbert Brown are not in camp.
By far the coolest feature of the indoor practice facility is the uprights on each end of the field that hang from the ceiling instead of being supported from the ground. …. Linebacker Ted Bruschi got the best of Dillon in one-on-one pass protection drills, while linebacker Mike Vrabel bowled over fullback Fred McCrary. … NFL officials were on hand for the third straight practice. … Wide receivers Troy Brown, David Patten, Bethel Johnson and Branch all worked with the first team offense. Branch made a nice catch over the middle in traffic from Tom Brady during seven-on-seven passing drills, while Patten got behind Law on a deep touchdown pass down the right sideline from Brady. … The defense displayed tight coverage during a later session of 11-on-11 team drills, forcing several short throws to the running backs and several no-throws. … Safety Rodney Harrison intercepted quarterback Rohan Davey during drills on a pass intended for Jennings. Davey was later intercepted by rookie safety Dexter Reid on a ball that deflected off Sam. … The team worked on special teams later in practice, with Jennings and Branch getting work as the kick returners.