Before training camp Bill Belichick was adamant that his team would spend extra time on the running game and he has lived up to his word.
After a season in which the Patriots struggled to both run the ball and stop the run, the coaches are making sure that's an area that gets adequate attention this summer.
Earlier in camp, it looked like the offense might have a slight edge on the ground, but the defense has come on. Thursday the offense spent much of the full-team portion of practice running the ball from deep in its own end with Kevin Faulk getting a bulk of the carries. The defense seemed to bottle him up pretty well.
The blue shirts also did a nice job containing Antowain Smith on some of the outside runs the offense likes, preventing Smith from getting any momentum while he tried to turn the corner.
As part of working on the running game, though, the offense mixed in its share of play action passes, and rookie cornerback Asante Samuel came up with the play of the day on one such play. Brady faked the hand-off and threw deep downfield to Troy Brown, but Samuel made a fine leaping interception before turning back upfield for about a 30-yard return. The ball was slightly underthrown, but the rookie made an excellent play on the ball.
The defensive backs didn't fare as well in one-on-one drills with the receivers at the goal line. The offense completed nine straight touchdown passes during the drill before David Givens could not reach a fade. Later in the drill, both Samuel and fellow rookie Eugene Wilson made stops against Givens and Dan Stricker, respectively.
Safety Lawyer Milloy was not as fortunate on one play during team work as he made a beautiful break underneath an intended receiver but was unable to hold on to the Rohan Davey pass for the interception.
The tight end position has looked strong in camp with Christian Fauria looking much more comfortable in the offense than he did last summer when he was learning it for the first time. In some one-on-one work with the safeties, Fauria was uncoverable as he shook free for several catches. Daniel Graham has had a strong camp catching the ball, but could still polish his route running. Between those two, however, the Patriots could see a major increase in production from that position. Rookie Spencer Nead, who struggled catching the ball in mini-camp last month, also has done a solid job in training camp.
During some hurry-up work where the offense started on the 35 with seconds remaining, Fauria also made a heads up play when he caught a low pass near the sideline and rolled out of bounds before being touched to stop the clock. On one possession, the field goal unit sprinted on to the field in emergency mode with the offense out of time outs and did a nice job getting the field goal off before time expired.
Camp Notes: The special teams portion of practice featured kickoff coverage, including onside kicks, and field goal work. Adam Vinatieri missed a couple while working independently with holder Dan Pope, but during full team work, was perfect, connecting on every try. … Cornerback Eugene Wilson had the hit of the day when he took down Dedric Ward after a completion. … The quarterbacks wear red no-contact jerseys, alerting defenders that they are not to be touched during practice. On one pass rush, however, Rosevelt Colvin came flying around the edge and was ready to bury Kliff Kingsbury but instead grabbed his red jersey and shook the quarterback forcing an errant throw. … Fullback Fred McCray was back in full pads, but remained on the sideline and may practice Friday. Wideout David Patten also was in pads, but didn't participate in practice. After practice, however, he threw the ball around with his five-year-old son, who was catching 10-yard passes with ease and sprinting into the end zone where he would toss the ball up, point to the sky and do a cart wheel as part of his celebration. He also looks like he has wide receiver speed and athleticism. … Richard Seymour also was limited in practice, but was in full pads. Anthony Pleasant took the reps at right end alongside Jarvis Green and Bobby Hamilton. … The following players sat out the practice altogether: Wide receivers Deion Branch, Chas Gessner, Scott McCready and Bethel Johnson; running backs Antwoine Womack and J.R. Redmond; offensive linemen Joe Andruzzi, Kenyatta Jones, and Gene Mruczkowski; linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Willie McGinest; and cornerback Otis Smith. … Running back Mike Cloud obviously also missed practice after undergoing leg surgery.