Two days before facing the Atlanta Falcons in their first live action of the new season, the Patriots took the practice field one last time Wednesday. The team put the final touches on their preparation for Friday night's game, as training camp starts to come to an end and the preseason games kick off.
The team continued to emphasize both the running and kicking games. The Patriots started practice as usual with a kicking drill, this time working on punting situations with players running in and out quickly to get into position. Kevin Faulk, Hank Poteat and Bam Childress were back returning punts along with rookies Willie Andrews and Vernell Brown. The veteran Faulk muffed one punt but he appears to be the frontrunner early on in camp to be the Patriots opening day punt returner.
The Patriots have practiced a lot of inside running plays during the first week and a half of practice. The team struggled last year running the football, especially between the tackles. They are putting in a lot of time to improve in that area this season. Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney and Faulk have all been running a lot of traps and draws. It will be interesting to watch the Patriots offense in the preseason because the more they practice; the more they look like they want to feature a power running game this season.
New England did some red zone work. Matt Cassel led the offense first. He completed a nice pass to tight end David Thomas and rookie running back Patrick Cobbs continued his strong showing with a couple of quick bursts through the middle. Cassel still sits in the pocket too long on some plays but once he gets rid of the ball, his passes have a lot of velocity and more often than not, are right on the money.
Cassel threw a bullet to Kelvin Kight coming across the middle and you could actually here the ball hit his pads. He then came right back and floated a completion to tight end Walter Rasby, displaying a nice touch as well. The young quarterback isn't as accurate when he's under pressure, however, and still needs more experience. He should get plenty of playing time in Atlanta to show the coaches how much progress he's made since last year.
The players were very vocal throughout practice, yelling at each other for motivation. There seemed to be a lot of energy and excitement on the field today, something you don't always see during the dog days of training camp. It looks like the players are sick of hitting each other and are looking forward to finally playing a game against real opponents. They'll get their chance against the Falcons as the 2006 season officially kicks off this Friday night in Atlanta.
Robert Kraft speaks on new NFL commissionerPatriots owner Robert Kraft took time out of his busy schedule to give us his thoughts on new NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Wednesday after practice.
"Many believed it couldn't be done before the season started," Kraft said on the election of the new NFL commissioner. Kraft was one of the 32 owners that selected Goodell as Paul Tagliabue's replacement.
Kraft seemed comforted by Goodell's experiences as Tagliabue's closest aide. "He already knows so many people within the organization," Kraft said. "[Goodell] said in his acceptance speech that he received an MBA from the school of Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue – that's a good thing to have."
Kraft stressed that all the owners were involved in the selection process, saying that he thought everyone would be pleased with the selection. He explained that they started with a list of 185 applicants, witling it down to 19, and then to 11. A committee of eight interviewers cut the list of 11 down to five.
"It was hard to make a choice, but you couldn't go wrong with those five candidates," Kraft said. The Patriots owner also seemed impressed with Fidelity vice chairman Robert Reynolds, one of the final five finalists.
"He's got a board of directors that consists of 32 members. Luckily he already knows so many people all the way down," said Kraft with a smile. "We really didn't want to wait until the season started, and I think he'll do a fine job."
Who's Hot: Freddie Roach – One week after landing on the downswing, Roach is starting to make an impact. We can't be too quick to throw a player aside just because he doesn't look good as soon as camp starts. Roach looked lost early on but he's starting to pick things up and is rising up the depth chart. He could be one of those Patriot-kind of players. Someone who doesn't blaze a great 40-time but understands the game of football and makes plays on the field. He's a punishing tackler at the point of attack, as a lot of the Patriots ball carriers are finding out and he also displayed some nice coverage skills by picking off a Todd Mortensen pass in the afternoon practice. After not getting many reps early in camp, Roach has done a complete 180. I would say no player has come as far in training camp as Roach has. He's gone from fighting for a job on the practice squad to battling for a spot on the final roster.
Who's Not: Wesley Britt – While Roach is moving up the depth chart, it appears Britt is heading in the opposite direction. At mini-camp and the start of training camp, Britt was seeing a lot of time at right tackle with the first-team offense but that's changed of late. Brandon Gorin and rookieRyan O'Callaghan have been splitting reps with the first-team, followed by Britt. It's hard to pinpoint what coaches are thinking and how they see the team shaping up but one would have to believe that it's not good news for a player to be getting less and less reps as camp goes on. Britt will have to play well in the upcoming preseason games because from the little I've seen of him, the team may have found themselves a keeper in O'Callaghan.
Play of the Practice – The Patriots didn't do a lot in the afternoon session but Cassel fired some nice bullets out of his machine gun of an arm. On one play Keron Henry ran an out on Ellis Hobbs and Cassel fired a dart that sailed a little high. Henry extended and pulled the ball down in front of Hobbs, drawing cheers from the crowd. The only bad thing about the play is Hobbs – sporting a No. 21 DeAngelo Hall scout team jersey – is doing little in camp to remind anyone of the Falcons Pro Bowl cornerback.
Camp NotesInjured Red Sox player Trot Nixon was on hand and was seen jawing with Coach Belichick while the players stretched … As group drills began, wideouts Reche Caldwell and Kelvin Kight each dropped the first passes thrown to them by receivers coach Ivan Fears. At the same time, across the field, punter Josh Miller threw fly route passes to snappers Lonie Paxton and Jon Condo and kickers Martin Gramatica and Stephen Gostkowski – just for kicks…Tight end David Thomas was sporting a new pair of red gloves after working barehanded all training camp … During practice, punter Josh Miller and kicker Stephen Gostkowski both gave away footballs to kids in the crowd … Linebacker Jeremy Mincey played coverage well today, knocking down a pass from Todd Mortensen that was intended for Garrett Mills … Troy Brown, Ben Watson and Richard Seymour took the afternoon practice off … Linebacker Mike Vrabel was the scout team Alge Crumpler, catching a nice pass from QB Corey Bramlet over the middle.