June 08, 2003
Mini Camp: A Look Back
BY: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
FOXBORO, MA -- As Tom Petty's song says, "The waiting is the hardest part."
That's what Patriots fans will have to do for the next six weeks until their team opens training camp in Foxboro and football season officially begins.
With minicamp in the books PatsFans.com takes a look back at the interesting quotes and reports that took place since last Thursday.
As Belichick begins implementing the team's changeover to a 3-4 base defense, all eyes were on where each of his players would be lining up, and the first interesting scenario began with Roman Phifer who was reportedly seen working at inside linebacker.
When asked Belichick immediately told reporters not to read too much into where guys were seen lining up. After all it's only the beginning of June and he reminded them that minicamp for now is more of a teaching camp, and that no one was going to earn a starting job just yet.
He then went on to say that because of Roman's versatility he felt that "he can play in there for what we would want him to do."
"Roman, like a lot of our players, has some versatility," Belichick told the media on Thursday. "He can play outside. He's also been working a little bit inside and I think overall the linebacker position is one that has looked pretty good, really, all spring. We've got good competition in there."
"We've got a good group of veteran players that played well, not one year, but for a number of years. They've been consistent players that can rush the passer, they can cover, they can play the run. So I think overall, that's a pretty solid group and hopefully they'll be a very productive group this year. But basically [Rosevelt] Colvin, [Willie] McGinest, [Mike] Vrabel, Matt Chatham are working outside although we know Phifer can go out there and he's had a lot of work out there in the last couple of years. [With Tedy] Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Don Davis, (Larry) Izzo, Phifer, we've got good depth inside as well.
The early bad news was that Colvin, the free-agent pick-up from Chicago, was seen wearing a red jersey on Thursday, meaning that he couldn't be subjected to hard contact. However he took part in all the drills and Belichick said it was just a precaution for players still healing from injuries or offseason surgeries. Colvin reportedly had minor shoulder surgery after the season.
Other players other that Colvin who were reportedly sporting red jerseys were defensive lineman Rick Lyle and tight end Daniel Graham. As for players that did not participate in the practices, that list reportedly included cornerback Otis Smith, guard Joe Andruzzi, tackle Kenyatta Jones, rookie free agent receiver Chas Gessner, rookie free agent receiver Rob Milanese and rookie outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. Belichick told reporters that he expected them to be ready at or around the beginning of training camp.
BRADY BACK TO 100%
The injury that has been talked about the most during the offseason was to quarterback Tom Brady, who suffered an injury to his shoulder during the final regular season game against Miami. All signs however seem to indicate that Brady is back to 100%.
"The shoulder feels good," Brady told reporters on Thursday. "It has made a lot of improvement in the last month or two. It felt really good today and it has felt good the last couple of days we've been out here, since Monday. It's felt really good."
Belichick said during his press conference that Brady has been "fine" and that he didn't see any negative affects on him at all.
RB'S - CLOUD IN TOWN
Meanwhile there was a new face in Foxboro last Thursday, with former Kansas City Chiefs runningback Mike Cloud in to try and give head coach Bill Belichick a reason to overlook the four game suspension Cloud currently has hanging over his head. The Former Boston College standout was hit with a four-game suspension late last season after steroids were apparently found in his system. Cloud claimed he never knowingly took steroids and reportedly said he thought he was merely taking a league-approved protein powder. Unfortunately for Cloud trace amounts of steroids were apparently in the powder despite not being listed anywhere on the label.
Cloud appealed, but the suspension wasn't lifted. Much like the situation with former receiver Terry Glenn during the 2001 season, in the event that the team did opt to sign Cloud he wouldn't officially take up a roster spot until after he finished serving his suspension, although he'd be able to participate during training camp.
"Mike is going to try out, he's not signed," said Belichick the next day after reporters had found out Cloud was in Foxboro. "He is not on the team. But we'll make a decision on that at some later point in time in conjunction with [his suspension]. We'll just have to take a look at the whole situation and decide what we want to do and also he has to decide what he wants to do."
"So far, I think [his performance has] been good. Mike has got some quickness, he is a good runner, he showed up in the kicking game a little bit in yesterday's practice and he's done that before. I think it's going fine. We'll just have to re-evaluate it at the end of camp, both our situation and his and then put it all together."
Now the question remains, was this a message to Antowain Smith? It's tough to say. The only other candidates pushing him for a job are Antwoine Womack who is recovering from major knee surgery along with Kevin Faulk and J.R. Redmond who was the forgotten man in the Patriots backfield last season.
Hopefully Smith doesn't need to be pushed. So far Belichick says the veteran runningback has had his best offseaon ever.
"I think Antowain has had his best offseason here," said Belichick. "He's worked hard this year. He's in better condition than he has been at this point, compared to last year. We know what kind of player and what kind of person Antowain is and I am expecting that he will be ready to go and give us his best and that's really all we can ask him to do. I think he's given every indication that that's his mindset and that is what he is ready to do."
CONTROVERSY IN THE SECONDARY?
The week wasn't without controversy. When the trade talk ended prior to the NFL Draft when safety Tebucky Jones was dealt to New Orleans, Lawyer Milloy was apparently surprised to hear that his name had been mentioned during that deal. He told reporters on Thursday that the prospect of being traded opened his eyes. It's a business, and he understood that. Now he says he has a job to do.
''This is a business,'' Milloy told the Boston Globe regarding the Patriots offering him to the Saints, who eventually acquired teammate Tebucky Jones. ''Once that came out, that day I put my daughters down and I hit the weight room and just prepared myself to possibly move on. I stayed focused.
''All [the trade talk] did was add extra fuel to my fire as far as working out and getting ready for this season," said Milloy. "Right when I think that maybe I'm peaking out, I've got this extra thing helping me get stronger and get faster and get refocused. I kind of used what was going on to motivate me.''
''It was a reality,'' he continued. ''It opened my eyes. But what it did was, right now I'm in the best shape I've ever been in, I'm a lot stronger, and I came in with a refocused attitude.''
Carrying a high $4.4 million salary and a cap number that according to the Globe is roughly $5.7 million, it leaves the Patriots in a tough spot as they'll need to do some maneuvering in the event that want to add any other players. However don't expect teammate Ty Law to help. He's reportedly already made it clear that he's not taking any cut in pay either.
''Myself and Lawyer, we're in a position where we don't have to chase money,'' Law told the Globe. ''If we wanted to play for an organization that's going to win, if a paycut is necessary for that, that's fine. If that's what you wanted to do as an individual."
Law is well aware that despite all the other different players New England has had start opposite him since he's been with the team, coupled with the fact the team drafted cornerbacks Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel this spring, his job is pretty secure. Eventually if the team feels they need to move in another direction Law says he won't have any difficulty finding work.
"If they bring in another corner, time moves on," Law told the newspaper. "Just like the great Rod Woodson, Jerry Rice, Joe Montana had to move on. I think I've done enough here to prove that I should be a Patriot, but at the same time the people upstairs could think differently. I don't know. That's just all speculation, too, but I'm prepared either way, because I can play the game. I know the day I leave, I know I'll have 30 other teams knocking on my door, `Ty, would you come play for me?"
Meanwhile Eugene Wilson was the man seen working opposite Law while Otis Smith continues to recover from offseason surgery and Poole learns the defensive system.
Former Patriots Safety Victor Green for now remains on the team's radar screen. Belichick says he's talked to Green recently but nothing's materialized so far. "I talked to Victor last week and at this point he is not here," said Belichick. "Could that change? It could. I wouldn't rule it out and say that it definitely couldn't happen, but again at the same point we are here at the end of mini camp or close to it and he is not here."
NEW FACES UP FRONT
Up front there were some new faces. Richard Seymour and 1st round draft choice Ty Warren worked at the ends, with Jarvis Green, Ken Kocher, Ethan Kelly, and 4th round draft choice Dan Klecko who according to Belichick are competing for the nose tackle spot. Rick Lyle will also work at both the end and tackle spot, with Anthony Pleasant working at right end. On the other side Bobby Hamilton will apparently be working with Warren at the left end, but it will likely be a while before Warren would be ready to start.
"Right now, you have got to start somewhere," Belichick told the media on Friday when asked about the defensive line situation. "Like we usually do in training camp, we may end up shuffling [the line-up] later on, maybe a week through [training camp] and put [Ty] Warren in there. I don't know. We will start there."
Richard Seymour played inside at the nose in 2001, but Belichick feels that due to his height and arm length that he's better suited to play end. That's likely where he will see most of his time for now.
The coaching staff has already talked to Jarvis Green about moving back inside. For now it appears that competition will be fierce for the nose tackle spot, and since there isn't "an established nose" Belichick says that Green may have an opportunity to win a spot in the line-up.
"We have talked to Jarvis about [moving back inside]," said Belichick. "Hopefully he has not forgotten everything that he has learned at end. There is always a possibility that we could move him back out to end for a number of reasons."
"The upside for Jarvis is that there really isn't an established nose at this point on our team. He has an opportunity to go in and really get a headstart and a jump on that position and maybe win it if he is the best guy, beating out [Richard] Seymour and [Anthony Pleasant]. Maybe he will beat them out. I don't know."
With Jones and Andruzzi on the shelf, Stephen Neal was reportedly seen working at right guard in place of Andruzzi. Neal filled in for Andruzzi against the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium back in October, but was lost for the season when he suffered a shoulder injury after being the only player to fight for a loose ball while the rest of the team failed to acknowledge that the play wasn't over on a backward lateral.
Meanwhile Adrian Klemm filled in for Jones at right tackle, while Matt Light and Mike Compton were at their normal spots.
SPEED ON OFFENSE
Wide receiver Bethel Johnson has continued to impress many with his speed, including his coach who was asked if he'd ever coached a faster player.
``I don't think so,'' Belichick told the Boston Herald. ``He's fast and he's explosive. Maybe Leonard Thompson when I was with Detroit. (Ricky) Upchurch in Denver. But not many. He can go.''
Early reports are that Johnson struggled catching the ball during the camp. Hopefully it's something he can work on over the next six weeks.
One guy who doesn't have any problem catching the ball is veteran wideout Troy Brown, who after suffering a knee injury in week three last season against Kansas City is apparently back to 100%.
According to the Boston Herald Brown was zipping around the field without a trace of impediment during the team's minicamp. "Yeah, running around without a limp. It definitely feels good," Brown told the Boston Herald on Friday. "It's been a while since I've done that, so I'm beginning to feel a little like my old self." Brown wound up missing only two games before finishing the year with 97 catches last season.
Teammate Deion Branch may have started out strong and then fizzled last season, but he's apparently earned the respect of veteran teammate David Patten. The Providence Journal reported on Sunday that Patten was impressed with Branch's ability to learn the Patriots offense so quickly. It ended up earning him playing time after his experienced veteran counterpart, Donald Hayes, wasn't able to keep himself in the line-up before later admitting he was having trouble picking up the team's complex offensive playbook.
"You just don't see someone pick it up like Deion did," Patten told the newspaper. "There's so much thinking involved that we didn't have at the collegiate level it's unbelievable."
"When I was in school, I only had to worry about the corner and the safety. Then when I came into the league I had to worry about who (the middle linebacker) is, who's the (weakside linebacker), whether it's a three-man front or a four-man front. Then remember that all those things help determine the route you run, but you can't decide on that until you figure out what coverage they're in. All that is going on in your mind as you break the huddle and go to the line. This is what you're asking a rookie. And a lot of these guys can't do it."
The Boston Globe reported last Thursday that while backup QB Damon Huard is entering the final year of his contract; there has been no talk about an extension. The same applies for center Woody, whose agents have reportedly not heard from the Patriots since negotiations broke off in March. While Huard is no surprise Woody certainly is. Other than his inability to shotgun snap he has been the one bright spot in the Patriots offensive line over the past few seasons. His ability to block downfield and open holes has made him a valuable asset, along with the fact he hasn't missed a game since being drafted.
Needless to say hopefully the Patriots take one last shot at getting a deal done before training camp starts.
The players are free to enjoy their final month without football for the remainder of this year over the next six weeks, but that doesn't mean they don't need to think about their weight or conditioning. Belichick emphasized this point before the players left Gillette Stadium on Saturday and hopes they got the message.
"We talked to them strongly about it," Belichick told the Providence Journal. "Hopefully the new guys not only heard what I had to say but also what the other players had to say about the importance of conditioning and being ready to go in the National Football League. It's a long season and the competition's stiff. There are a lot of well conditioned athletes and you can't afford to not be in that group."
Training Camp officially begins on July 23.
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