The most demanding week of training camp continued with Wednesday morning's full pads practice, and the competition is beginning to heat up following Tuesday afternoon's fight that was induced by another Rodney Harrison hit.
"That's part of training camp," Belichick said. "It's hot. Everybody's tired. There are some short fuses and that's going to be part of it. But in the end, we are all wearing the same jerseys on Sunday afternoon. We're a team and we have to work with each other and compete against each other. But at the same time, we have to take care of each other and put our energy into our opponents. But there's a fine line on that in training camp because everyone is trying to earn their job and establish their level of play. It's competitive. So sometimes it turns into a little thing."
With the fisticuffs in the rearview mirror, the team went back to work. Both the offense and defense had their moments during the workout, which included more situational work with special attention paid to the running game. Kevin Faulk continued a strong camp with some nifty running, including a couple between-the-tackle runs where he squeezed through traffic past the front seven for nice gains.
If Faulk is to expand his role in the offense, it will be on those kinds of runs. The Patriots would like to eliminate some of the offensive predictability when he is on the field in terms of running screens, draws and delays – the space type plays in which Faulk excels.
A noticeable addition to the backfield was fullback Larry Centers, who replaced linebacker Jason Hunt on the roster and wore No. 43. While his signing was reported a couple of days earlier, Wednesday was his first day on the field with the team and he jumped right into the action.
"He's had a great career," Belichick said. "What can you add to it?"
In 14 seasons, Centers has started 105 of 189 games, caught 808 passes for 6,691 yards – both records for a running back – and rushed 594 times for 2,106 yards with 41 touchdowns (14 rushing, 27 receiving). The pass-catching fullback caught a career-high 101 passes in 1995 for the Cardinals. He caught 80 passes two years ago in Buffalo, but grabbed just 43 last year with new quarterback Drew Bledsoe going downfield more often rather than dumping down to Centers.
The offensive big plays came in the passing game when Tom Brady fired down the left numbers, threading the needle between two defenders to hit rookie tight end Spencer Nead in stride for about a 40-yard touchdown.
Quarterback Rohan Davey also connected on a long touchdown toss with Dedric Ward, who was so wide open he was backpedaling in the end zone alone when he made the catch on what was an obvious coverage breakdown. Cornerback Leonard Myers let Ward go by him, but there was no safety behind to pick up the receiver.
Rodney Harrison's aggressive play may be rubbing off on Roman Phifer and his defensive teammates. Phifer drilled tight end Rodney Trafford over the middle today during some work on the passing game. The hit qualified as the loudest of camp to date.
In the last team session of the practice, Maugaula Tuitele made a nice athletic play on a tipped Kliff Kingsbury pass, snared it out of the air and raced up the sideline with the interception. Kingsbury threw the ball well with the exception of that pass into coverage over the middle.
The quarterbacks did some of that ho-hum individual pocket work that might compare in excitement to the baseball spring training drill that has the pitchers covering first – necessary, but hardly exciting. This drill featured the quarterbacks moving around in the pocket while being hit by two people with blocking pads and promotes good pocket footwork, strength and ball security.
That drill would have paid dividends if the quarterbacks were standing in the pocket during some pass protection/rushing work between the linemen. First round pick Ty Warren had a couple of impressive power rushes, including one where he drove guard Russ Hochstein back into the imaginary quarterback. During some two-on-two work in that drill where the defensive linemen might mix in some twists, newcomers Brenden Stai and Bill Conaty worked well together in holding off the rush.
The special teams portion of practice featured specialty work with the kickoff return team handling squibs and short, high kickoffs. The field goal block team also worked on the scoop-and-score drill following a block that Troy Brown and Atwan Harris made famous in the 2001 AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh. Brown scooped up a blocked field goal and flipped it to Harris for a touchdown that gave New England a 14-3 lead.
Camp Notes: The following players sat out the practice: wide receivers David Patten, Deion Branch, Scott McCready and Chas Gessner; linebackers Willie McGinest and Tully Banta-Cain; defensive linemen Richard Seymour and Anthony Pleasant; cornerback Otis Smith; running backs J.R. Redmond, Fred McCrary and Antwoine Womack; and offensive linemen Kenyatta Jones, Joe Andruzzi and Gene Mruczkowski. … Cornerback Ty Law was in pads and sweatpants, but participated in most of the full-team work in practice as he continues to progress. … Dan Klecko wore a red no-contact jersey after getting his bell rung in Tuesday's practice when he took a blow from Ted Johnson while working at fullback. Klecko took a regular turn on defense at outside linebacker. … Tight end Christian Fauria and guard Mike Compton returned to practice.