Went to my first ever training camp last night at Gillette. Here are some of my notes and observations - understanding that I never played organized football, never did a practice, never saw one, and always wondered what they were like, and how they possibly can cover the hundreds of plays and techniques well enough in just a a few dozen practices. Also, I won't try to cover the "key" stuff you can find on Reiss' Pieces or The Point After or the Pats camp blog. This was more about me following an NFL practice for the first time.
1. Sat right on the 50 yard line, 12 rows back for a perfect view. Gotta love General Admission!
2. Tom Brady did next to nothing the entire practice. Even his sprints were half hearted and 10 yards short. I mention this because, if you didn't like him (lets say the way Felger dislikes Moss), you could easily say he was "dogging it." Of course, it's Brady, on the second practice of two-a-days and everyone likes him so you'd never hear that. But the point is, it's easy to see how ANY guys, particularly veterans, could get picked on. All the vets did stuff with a confidence that looked more like boredom compared to the energy shown by any of new guys and bubble guys (who were probably trying to make up for talent/knowledge with effort).
3. Other than the linemen, there is basically no contact, even though this was a full pads practice, and even during the 11 on 11 stuff at "game speed." The defense never tackles anyone. This made me feel good about injury prevention, but other than the occasional "he would have been stopped" moment, you couldn't really tell if anyone was really exceptional. You are left completely to look at the fundamentals of technique and positioning and just the mechanics of "did they run the play the way it was supposed to be run?"
A few guys stood out as to their route sharpness and things like both feet in bounds - Welker particularly, then Gaffney. Caldwell seemed the best at the deep ball corner fade, but then again, Stallworth and Moss were not there last night.
4. Quickly realizing I was not going to be able to see any standout players, I focused on the whole mechanics of the practice. I found this the most interesting anyway - as in how they get all this stuff in.
So, here's what they did (all in my uneducated terms where necessary, I don't know the names of these drills). Also, I tracked where Belichick was as the practice unfolded:
6 minutes - I watched only the ST drill and forgot to note what other squads were doing. The ST drill is where Belichick was and I focused there. They practiced lining up to the left then right of center, three guys rushed that side of the line (no real attempt to stop them) and practiced how to leap across through to block the kick (the holder just tossed the ball up, no kicker) and then landed on a pad (I guess because landing on the turf twenty times in a row would be too risky). I thought it was interesting Belichick focused not only on ST, but really on just a pure technique thing. He was just telling guys how to leap so as not to get a roughing call and to best maximize chances of blocking the kick. (From this drill onward, I kind of lost track of ST, but my impression was that the kickers in particular mostly stood around the whole practice until their one time to shine came up.)
6 minutes - OL did a run block drill, O skill guys did a run play and/or goaline drill, DBs on pure deep coverage drill, front 7 DL/LB run "gap coverage" drill (vs. 2nd team D acting as offense)
6 minutes - RB/TE/WR pass route drills, DB/LB (1st team LB) pass defense drills (looked like practicing responsibilities in a zone coverage), DL (and 2nd team) LB did another "front 7" drill.
Belichick stayed with the front 7 run gap drills in both sessions. This drill seemed to focus on training the LB how to read the blocks, and where to go to fill the gap and stop the run.
6 minutes - 9 offense vs. 7 defense drill. Mostly about play mechanics for the run. other groups did minor drills on techniques. Belichick stayed with the 9 on 7 unit watching.
8 minutes - Full team 11 on 11, again, rotations between 1st and 2nd team. Play execution is the focus. Were players in the right spots, turned the right way, etc. Belichick focused here.
13 minutes - 7 on 7 drill, which is for passing play execution. the OL and DL units practiced pass rush and blocking separately. Lots of out patterns (Welker and Gaffney did well, though I did see a Welker drop, pretty unusual from what I hear.) They ran 10 plays focused on Offense, and then 8 plays focused on defense. Belichick had some stern words on the defense plays for a few guys in the middle, but I couldn't tell for sure who it was.
5 minutes - Punt drills, I didn't track what other units did during this time. Kelvin Kight had a really nice stop at the goal line to down a punt. This guy really stands out on special teams play. (Also, he was the lone guy taking extra reps after the practice was over. I wish he was a DB and not a WR, cause then he could make the team much more easily with his combo of ST skills and the always needed secondary depth.) Baughers punts were nice, as advertised.
20 minutes - 11 on 11 again, but this time in prep for the Tampa Bay game this Friday. The first 12 plays were "Pats O vs. Tampa D" the next 12 plays were "Pats D vs. Tampa O"
5 minutes - situational drill. Pats O (Cassel et. al.) was given this situation: down by 8 points, 1:30 on the clock, 1 TO left, staring from their own 25. The plays that worked were dump off throws (reminded me a lot of SB 36 last drive). However, they came up short on a pass to Watson in the endzone.
Next, the Pats O was switched around to go the other way, still down by 8, with 1:30 on the clock and 1 TO, but starting from their 35 this time. This time the drive ended with an INT by Merriweather. He smartly took a knee rather than take the easy pick-6, because of the game situation (D already up by 8.) Nice to see a rookie gets what a veteran DB in SD didn't get last year.
They finished up with 3 sprints, 80 yards down, 80 yards back. Brady at least did these.
5. Adalius Thomas spent the entire practice I saw as the SILB, calling plays and looking GREAT in zone coverage underneath. The guy can really move in the middle. I always though the SILB was just a run stuffer, but Thomas reminds me of how our LBs used to terrorize the passing game. Seau was next to him as the WILB. Lua and Woods got reps inside. Vrable played the entire time as an OLB. Didn't see Colvin much, perhaps on the far side of the field (I sat mostly on the strong side of the play).
6. The SB championship banners were rolled up. I'm not sure if this was because MLS plays here too right now, or whether it was to keep guys from thinking about the past. I could be over-reading into it, but I think some teams would have made a conscious decision to trot out past glory like that in order to impress on the new guys the organization they were part of. Not here. Everyone is 0-0 and they've done nothing yet.
7. Finally, Belichick has this manic habit of swinging this keychain/whistle on a rope thing as he strolls around watching things. He swirls it up in one direction till it winds tightly around his hand and stops, then he swirls it back the other way till it unwinds and then winds back up again -- very very fast, constantly going, and on and on THE ENTIRE PRACTICE. I wonder if anyone has been hit by it walking too close to him. I don't know, just one of those things you see.