Most veterans hate training camp. But not Harrison. Not this year, at least.
“When you’re young,” he said, “you don’t appreciate training camp. When you’re older, especially when your time is dwindling, you appreciate the sweat, and the soreness, and the camaraderie with your teammates.
“I love the blood, the sweat, the hard work. I love coach Belichick [swearing at] us. Sure, you get tired and sore. You fall asleep in team meetings, and coach catches you, and you try to pretend you were paying attention. But because I’ve been injured, and am in my last years in the league, I really appreciate all this. I know time is running out on me.”
He also knows that many people are picking the Patriots...
“It’s good to look at the roster,” he said, “and say: ‘OK, we’ve got Randy Moss. We’ve got Adalius Thomas. We’ve got Wes Welker.
“But the Tedy Bruschis, the Mike Vrabels, the Tom Bradys don’t give a darn about where people think we should be. We know we have a competitive team. Whether that results in 10 wins, or 12, or 14 — who knows?”
Jabar Gaffney, in a battle to keep his job with the team with the roster now fat with receivers, made the catch of the day, a bomb at the goal line from Matt Cassel. Cassel put the ball over Gaffney’s right (inside) shoulder, and Gaffney got both feet inbounds for the catch.
Free-agent signee Tory James had a heads-up pick in the evening session. Cassel’s pass for tight end Kyle Brady went off Brady’s hands as he turned his hips upfield, and James plucked the ball out of the air.
Boston College product Larry Anam picked off fellow rookie Matt Gutierrez in another drill.
If Randy Moss goes down, there's Donte' Stallworth, Wes Welker, Troy Brown and on and on. If Adalius Thomas goes down, there's five linebackers with experience as high-level starters in the league.
Which is why it's understandable that Laurence Maroney is being treated with kid gloves at this point.
Yesterday, during the first day of training camp, the Patriots hung a red, non-contact jersey on their second-year tailback. He took no hits. He felt no pain.
And we say, good for the Patriots.
And to be ready for a 16-game slate, plus playoffs to follow, he needs to be healthy. So holding him back isn't a bad idea.
When he's ready, he'll be in there. What you'll see, too, is a lot different than what you were used to in Corey Dillon's three years as the lead back.
His game is a slashing, cutting style that fits perfect with the zone-blocking looks the Patriots installed last year, and took some lumps with.
Now, they have to hope the whole package comes together.
It was a match made in football heaven: the game's most versatile player, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, signing with the team known for placing a premium on versatility, the Patriots. The mind reels at the possibilities in regards to how New England might use Thomas, who played at least a few snaps at every defensive position on the field with Baltimore in 2005. (Honest).
On Friday morning, one of the first plays I noticed was Thomas dropping back maybe 10 to 12 yards into pass coverage and deflecting a Matt Cassel pass that was intended for third-year reserve tight end Matt Kranchick. It was vintage Thomas, a big, deceptively fast talent who finds ways to show up making plays all over the field. I wouldn't be shocked if Thomas winds up being the Troy Brown of the Patriots defense, meaning he might even tempt the coaches into playing him on the other side of the ball (No. 96 lined up at tight end?).
I'm expecting Brady and Moss to quickly develop a nice on-field rapport, and that could result in plenty of red-zone catches for Moss, who can still go up and get the ball with the best of them. But I still anticipate that the busiest man in the Patriots offense will wind up being mighty mite receiver Wes Welker, who will line up in the slot the majority of the time. The 5-9, 185-pound Welker used to bedevil the Patriots when they tried to cover him as a Dolphin, and New England is going to invent ways to get him the ball with some open field in front of him.
I saw him take a hand-off on an end-around Friday, and he made major contributions to the Dolphins on both punt and kickoff returns. True, Welker has only one career receiving touchdown, and another one on a kickoff return. But he's going to jack up those numbers considerably this season in New England, and his potential as a weapon for the Patriots is worth taking a mid-round flyer on.
When the Patriots take the field during the regular season, it will probably resemble a little of what transpired this morning; Tom Brady and Randy Moss walking out of the tunnel together. John Ingoldsby recounts his first impression of Moss at camp this morning, and what it portends for the duo.
The hope is that after tailing off from back-to-back seasons of 100-plus receptions with the Vikings in 2002 and 2003 to a total of 151 catches over the past three years, Moss' relocation will provide a kick-start to his career.
Now 30 years old, Moss hasn't been selected to the Pro Bowl since 2003 when he registered career highs in receptions and receiving yardage with 111 for 1,632 yards and tied the career high in touchdown catches he totaled as a rookie with 17.
For his part, Moss sounds rejuvenated, but his critics will be quick to say they've heard this contented talk before his time turned sour in Oakland, too.
New England coach Bill Belichick apparently barely noticed Moss on the field.
"We had about 70 players out there practicing today," Belichick said. "I couldn't give you a rundown on each guy."
Tom Brady, who is expected to speak the media for the first time in training camp on Sunday, probably could give a rundown on Moss' work. Brady and Moss could form a devastating combination, but the quarterback has long had a reputation for spreading the ball to different receivers.
Moss, of course, could open up room for others - something he say's he's always done. He even added he did not mind playing the role of a decoy, but, of course, he would like that role to be a limited one.
New England’s coaching staff ran the players through various conditioning drills to make sure they reported to camp in shape.
“It was tough,” New England wide receiver Wes Welker said of the conditioning drills. “They make sure that you’re in shape and are ready to come out here and compete. If you can’t pass that test then you aren’t going to survive out here in this heat running around all day. I did OK. I passed it, so I’m all good.”
New England’s rookies are not allowed to talk to the media, but defensive back Ellis Hobbs, in his third season with the Patriots, said training camp gets better with experience. His message to rookies is to hang in there.
“It’s not necessarily easier, but now you know what’s coming,” Hobbs said about his third training camp.
“That in itself makes it that much easier because you know how to prepare your body and you know how to take care of your body and you are not coming out of these All-Star games, the [NFL] combine, and things like that. A lot of that is a lot of mental wear and tear on your mind as well as your body. It feels good to get back out here and knock some of the rust off and keep it moving.”
Welker, entering his fourth NFL season, said he is adjusting well to his new team.
“I think it was strange at first but the more that I’ve gotten to know the guys, they’ve taken me in and made me feel real comfortable here,” he said.
“I’m excited,” Hobbs said about all of the new talent that New England signed in the off-season. “We got great players here. They’ve done a great job as far as not trying to be the ‘me guy’, or feel like they are above everyone else. They just kind of jumped in line with the rest of us. We have captains and everything on this team but really we just follow each other. We all try to go in the same direction and that’s to win.”