It didn't take long for Darius Butlerto learn he couldn't take plays off in the pros.
"Ah, not too long. I think, my first day out here," he said after a recent practice.
Butler, a rookie cornerback from UConn, is currently undergoing a trial-by-fire initiation to the NFL. When the Patriots team defense faces off against their counterparts on offense, Butler is often matched up against future Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Randy Moss.
But Butler insists he can't allow himself to be star-struck on the field, though it is in the back of his mind.
"I really don't have time to do that when I line up against that dude. I'm just focused on my assignment," he said. "But it's always been a dream."
Butler is one of many young players who's changing the face of the New England secondary. One thing he's learned already is that the veterans at his position are always there to help out when he needs advice.
"We've got a good group of veterans. Leigh Bodden'sbeen around for a while. Shawn Springshas definitely been around a while. Brandon [Meriweather]and James [Sanders]pretty much know the system. Everybody's been helping me out. It's been good so far."
Butler is fighting for a very limited number of starting jobs in the Pats secondary. And one of his competitors is a guy who knows what it's like to be a rookie corner facing Moss. Terrence Wheatleyhad that assignment last summer.
What a difference a year makes. Wheatley says he's now "more relaxed" out on the field.
"I don't really feel a whole ton of pressure on me," he explained. "Obviously, there's pressure to perform, but pressure is what you make it. So, I'm just trying to go out there and perform everyday. Whatever happens, happens.
Coming off a season-ending injury, Wheatley is welcoming the added competition in the defensive backfield.
"Everything is open," he said. "You've got to go out there and do what you need to do and not worry about the competition itself. Worry about the competition within yourself, and the rest will take care of itself."
One of the new Patriots DBs who's constantly competing against himself, it seems, is rookie safety Pat Chung. When the team runs sprints before stretching at the start of practice, Chung is usually leading the entire team.
"Gotta get warm, man. Gotta get warm. It's conditioning," he answered when asked why he's so gung-ho about sprints. And no, he added, the veterans don't feel like he's showing them up. In fact, he said they've been encouraging him to continue running full-speed.
Chung has also become known for spontaneously dropping to the ground on the sidelines and doing pushups during practice. That's something he brought with him from Oregon, where he played his college ball.
"It's a habit," Chung said. "When you're just sitting around watching plays, getting mental reps, just knock out, like, 20. It's just to get better while you're not out on the field. You're always getting better."
Who's Hot: Shawn Crable
After missing the morning workout, Crable came back this afternoon and had what would have been a sack of QB Tom Brady during team offense vs. team defense.
Who's Not: Russ Hochstein
He committed not one, but two false start penalties during the team period and was forced to run laps around the field.
Play of Practice: Brady to Galloway TD
These end-of-game scenarios at the end of practice have become appointment viewing for training camp aficionados. With a lap around the field at stake for the loser, Brady led his offense against the New England defense in a goal-line, winner-takes-all play. At the snap, he immediately looked left for WR Joey Galloway, who ran a perfect corner route against Leigh Bodden. Brady placed the ball precisely in Galloway's hands for the score in the left corner of the end zone.
- WR Joey Galloway, OL Stephen Neal, DL Jarvis Green, and LB Shawn Crable, all of whom missed the morning session, were back in full pads for the afternoon practice.
- Several other players who took part in the morning were absent in the afternoon, including OL Dan Connolly, NT Vince Wilfork, WR Randy Moss, WR Wes Welker, TE Benjamin Watson, DL Richard Seymour, and DL Ty Warren. In addition, Springs, LB Paris Lenon, LB Tedy Bruschi, OL George Bussey, and DL Mike Wrightwere not on the field. The remaining list players, WR Brandon Tate (NFI) and OL Mark LeVoir(PUP), remained there.
- In a passing drill, with linebackers covering tight ends and running backs, Adalius Thomasthoroughly harassed Tyson DeVreeat the line of scrimmage. So much so, that DeVree couldn't get into his route and the play was blown dead before it even had a chance to begin. The offense had its moments, too, like when RB BenJarvus Green-Ellisattacked LB Eric Alexanderhead-on. The smaller Green-Ellis sprinted to Alexander at the snap and shoved him back a yard, creating just enough space for the back to scoot out to his right in the flat and make the reception.
- In 7-on-7, CB Jonathan Wilhitehad an easy interception bounced straight off his chest. The ball was thrown directly to him, in what looked like a misread route by the wide receiver. Mad at himself, Wilhite promptly dropped to the ground and pumped out 10 pushups. From the sideline, QB Tom Bradyplayfully ridiculed Wilhite for the drop.
- Brady was more pumped up than usual today, it seemed. Several times, he was overheard trash-talking with members of the defense. In particular, he took exception to a pass interference penalty by Butler, who tripped WR Ray Ventroneon an out pattern.
- Wheatley picked off Brady during team work. On a 50-yard bomb intended for WR Greg Lewis, Wheatley blanketed Lewis and positioned himself in just the right spot to turn and grab the slightly underthrown pass. Wheatley caught the ball and fell backwards into the endzone for what would have been a touchback.
- Overall, this wasn't one of the more spirited sessions – Brady's passion notwithstanding. It's understandable, however, as today's temps were in the 90s and the air in Foxborough was uncomfortably humid.