Through seven days of training camp, the most noticeable Patriots player has unquestionably been Rodney Harrison. Whether it was saying hello to Troy Brown during the first practice or leveling an unsuspecting running back with a shoulder, Harrison's physical presence has been impossible to ignore.
On Tuesday afternoon, the offense decided it was time to put an end to its punching bag days. Shortly after a team period began, Kevin Faulk took a short screen pass from Damon Huard and made his way upfield. Picking up a couple of nice blocks, Faulk gained significant yardage as he headed toward the sideline. But before he got there, Harrison tackled him to the ground, inadvertently hitting him across the head with a forearm. Tackling is generally a no-no during camp and Harrison's actions weren't taken lightly.
While some offensive players have expressed – at least on the field – their displeasure with Harrison's style (Brown threw the ball at the safety after he was poked in the eye after the aforementioned hit), there had yet to be much in the way of retribution. That all changed on Tuesday.
Faulk was unhappy with what he perceived to be at the very least an unnecessary hit. He threw the ball back in Harrison's direction, but before he could defend himself any further, several of his offensive teammates took matters into their own hands.
Tackle Tom Ashworth, who while providing one of the blocks on the play chose not to break camp protocol by not cutting Rosevelt Colvin at the knees, was among the first to arrive. He had a few choice words for the veteran safety and the two were soon exchanging blows.
Things did not end there, however. Matt Light, who wasn't even in the play, reacted strongly and raced into the fray. Soon several players were involved in the scrum – perhaps as many 20 all together – with Tedy Bruschi jumping over the top of the pile trying to pull Ashworth away. It took several blows of the whistle from the coaches to settle things down and resume work.
"That's just part of football," Ashworth explained after practice. "Guys are competitive out there and sometimes things happen."
Harrison, who already has dealt with more than his share post-practice explanations regarding his knack for physical play, seemed a bit more serious when discussing the latest incident.
"Some people don't like it, most offensive guys don't like it," he said. "You always have to protect yourself. When I hit somebody it's while they're looking at me. It's not like I'm taking any cheap shots. I'm not hitting them low at the knees. They're celebrating in the end zone when they score a touchdown. Sometimes you get frustrated. We win battles, they lose battles; they win battles, we lose battles – that's just the nature of football."
Harrison's chippy style has be one of the stories of camp thus far. This latest hit didn't seem as severe as some of his earlier licks were, but evidently the offense had grown tired of his act anyway.
When practice resumed, play could best be described as testy. There was some pushing and shoving and more heated words being exchanged before Bill Belichick stepped in and put it to an end. He gathered the offense for a brief meeting and things returned to normal shortly thereafter.
What resulted was one of the most spirited and hotly contested practices of camp. It seemed every positive play – offensively or defensively – was met with roaring approval from the respective sides. That culminated with some red zone and goal line offense near the end of the workout.
The defense looked strong in the former, allowing a short completion from Tom Brady to Brown on what would likely have been a Colvin sack under game conditions followed by a short gain by Antowain Smith and an incomplete pass. Huard took the next shot and came up empty as well. Two minimal gains by Smith preceded a Huard throwaway.
Rohan Davey had better success, though, running a nice play action fake and hitting Dedric Ward for a touchdown on his first play.
The offense got some revenge on the goal line, with Smith plowing his way into the end zone on back-to-back plays against the first unit.
Patriots Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett has a new title: Director of Football Development and Promotions. Tippett had served as the team's assistant director of pro scouting for the past five years and now will focus his attention on community outreach affairs projects and business development initiatives, as well as various player development and alumni programs.
"It's all about the team and whatever I can do to help," Tippett said of his new job. "I'm here for the long run, I've spent my entire career here as a player and I'm looking to do the same. This is an opportunity to pursue new challenges and to develop programs that can make a long and lasting impact in the New England community."
There is perhaps no one more reliable on the Patriots roster than kicker Adam Vinatieri, but even the best ones have off days. Vinatieri closed practice with some field goal work but missed four straight – all to the left and well inside 40 yards – after making his first attempt. He finished with three straight conversions, making him 4-for-8 on the day. …
There were some new names on the sidelines not in uniform for the practice including Fred Baxter, Mike Compton and Deion Branch. That group's status was unknown. Also, Christian Fauria, Roman Phifer, Ty Law and David Patten were out of action. Fauria has been in and out of the lineup in recent days while Phifer also missed some time earlier in camp. Patten missed his third straight day with an apparent leg injury while Law, who returned to full-time duty on Sunday, was back in sweats on Tuesday. …
With Baxter and Fauria out, the door was open for rookies Rodney Trafford and Spencer Nead. Both shook loose for several catches, with Nead coming up with a touchdown grab from Brady during situational work near the goal line. In fact, the defense had only 10 guys on the field on the play for the second day in a row, earning another group lap around the practice fields. … The first offense had success on the goal line, but the second unit wasn't as successful. That's because linebacker Don Davis came up with a monster hit on J.R. Redmond inside the 1 that kept him out of the end zone. … The Patriots worked in a lot of shotgun formations with Damien Woody handling most of the work himself with Compton on the sidelines. Most of Woody's snaps were accurate. Russ Hochstein and rookie Dan Koppen also did some snapping. …Kliff Kingsbury hooked up with Dan Stricker, who beat Tyrone Poole in coverage, for a long touchdown pass that brought the crowd to its feet. … Daniel Graham was the target of many throws throughout the day and the tight end looked good. Brady referred to the second-year man as "Grahambo" several times, most notably after he took a short screen and rumbled 25 yards downfield for a big gain. … The Patriots made a slight change to their practice schedule, moving all future evening sessions from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. The new schedule will be in effect Wednesday when the team's double sessions will run from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. and then 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Both practices are open to the public but times are subject to change and weather can alter that schedule. As always, please check patriots.com or call the information hotline at (508) 543-1776 for the most up-to-date information.