By: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
August 02, 2004

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FOXBORO, MA -- While they may be only a little less than a week into training camp, it appears there are a few players that seem to be gaining the attention of the New England Patriots coaching staff.

Cornerback Randall Gay caught head coach Bill Belichick's eye on Monday, making several plays on the Gillette Stadium practice fields. While it's too early to really know just where Gay will factor into the final roster this early in training camp, Belichick said the rookie free agent is handling himself well so far.

"I think there are players that are ahead of him at this point," said Belichick on Gay's performance. "But he's young, he's learning a system and going up against a group of guys who are a pretty competitive group, but I think he's handling himself pretty well and he's hanging in there."

Belichick has a history of being fond of players who come out of LSU's program. The Patriots coach has a lot of respect for Nick Saban, and he found out plenty about Gay before bringing him into Foxboro.

"I talked to Nick about him," said Belichick. "Nick is a great coach, he knows his players well, and what he told me [about Gay] was 100 percent accurate."

Another player who seems to be making progress is offensive lineman Stephen Neal, who is recovering from two separate shoulder surgeries over the last two years and is trying to return to the Patriots line-up. Being away from the game for as long as he has will certainly present a challenge for him as Belichick admitted that he's not sure where Neal will fit in this season.

"That is a good question," said Belichick when asked where he felt Neal's progress was up to this point. "I don't really know. He hasn't played football in over a year. Well over a year. Where that puts him, I don't know."

"There are a lot of things to like about Steve. But his overall experience level and the time he's had away from football, particularly recently, are the hurdles that he has to get over."

When asked how Neal could regain his coach's confidence, Belichick said it will simply take time to see how or if he'll fit back in.

"I think that can be done with a good, solid preseason," said Belichick. "It could be done. I'm not saying it will be. I don't think it is the kind of thing that is going to happen in a few days."

"I think he's moving along at a good pace and doing well, but he's got a long way to go."

Meanwhile tight end Zeron Flemister, who recently signed with the team has been getting a lot of reps in practice and seems to be making progress learning New England's offense.

"He has gotten a chance to do some things here, particularly in two-tight end offense where he is sometimes more the move guy and plays a little bit more in space and those type of responsibilities rather than as a really in-line type of tight end," said Belichick. "Yes, he has gotten a lot of reps. I think that has certainly helped him pick the system up. He is smart, but it has helped him pick it up and helped him get the actual playing experience to take that teaching to on the field game experience. I think so far he has done a decent job for us."

In the end the opinion the coaches have of each of these players less than a week into camp may be different by the time the exhibition games are over and the team eventually trims down to the final roster. With plenty of practices still in front of them, and considering the fact that they haven't proven a thing just yet, there's only one place left to show they belong at this level.

"What you see on the field," said Belichick. "That is where it all needs to be shown. A guy could answer all of the questions in the classroom right and then that is good. He can do well on a test, whatever the case is. What you need is consistency on the field. That is where we are all judged and that is where the game is played. It has to transfer out there and it has to transfer as a unit."

TROUBLE BREWING?

After last year Rodney Harrison proved during training camp that it doesn't matter who you are, you better be careful if you're carrying the football when he comes in to make the tackle. Many remember Harrison putting several hard shots on veteran wide receiver Troy Brown last year, and this year his new target seems to be runningback Corey Dillon. Harrison put a good hard hit on Dillon during practice on Sunday, and according to Patriots fan Karen Cardoza he didn't let up on the veteran on Monday either. "The Harrison/Dillon saga continues," said Cardoza. "Rodney laid him out and I'm sure this isn't the end of it."

According to Harrison the conflict seems to have started when Dillon violated what is generally known as a "veteran understanding," causing the All-Pro safety to lay him out. "In a tackling drill, I came up as if to make a tackle and I didn't expect him to duck his head and (run into) me," Harrison told the Boston Herald on Sunday. "I thought there would be a veteran understanding, but there wasn't."

"When I saw him later in the practice, I gave him a good shot. But I'm not out to hurt anybody. I'm out to play the game the way I always do."


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