I know from the outside working for Barstool seems like it’s all fame and glory and panties being thrown at you. But it’s also work. It’s a duty. It takes commitment. So while writers for other sites were at home yesterday whipping up a batch to Women’s Diving, I was battling the throngs at the practice field behind Gillette to bring you these Training Camp observations. It’s a sacrifice, sure. But it’s a responsibility I won’t shy away from. Between the massive crowd, crappy sight lines, the chaos of a 90-man roster (they currently have NINE guys with numbers between 65-and-69), all the new faces and the different stations they rotate through, I know I missed a lot. And due to my own rust after an offseason trying to repress memories of yet another Super Bowl, I’m probably wrong about some of the names and events. If so, I’ll run a lap for every mistake. But here’s how Camp so far looks to me:
*For starters, you can’t say enough about the crowds they’ve been getting. Yesterday threatened rain all day and it felt like the skies could open up any second. And still 14,000 people came out to watch a practice. Not a game… not a game. We talkin’ practice. The national press pissed themselves last week when 4,000 showed up in Denver to watch Peyton Manning’s first workout. But every Pats workout draws a crowd like MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Sorry to all the seamheads and puckheads, but anyone who thinks we don’t live in a football town is deluding themselves.
*I have to think that in the offices on Yawkey Way they hear about these crowds and can’t wrap their brains around the fact Mr. Kraft isn’t trying to squeeze a buck out of it. If Larry Lucchino was running this thing they’d charge to get in, bombard us with Sweet Caroline and have a sign that says “America’s Most Beloved Practice Field and Temporary Bleachers.”
*One thing that always throws me when I go to an NFL practice is how little actual hitting they do. In the back of my head I always expect “The Junction Boys” with Belichick up in the scissor lift with a bullhorn driving them to the point of exhaustion. But in reality they do less actual contact in drills than my team of 6th graders does. No Angle Drills. No Oklahomas. No Bull-in-the-Ring. Then again, they don’t get bored between plays and start kneeing each other in the balls when the coach isn’t looking like my 6th graders, either.
*We’re in like Year 9 of the rebuilding of the Pats secondary, and again there are a lot of names and numbers to get used to. Patriots DBs are like Pokemon to me. I know them as a group and some I can even name without trying, but most of them are indistinguishable. It’s all Wheatleys and Wilhites, Browns and Barretts and Butlers. I’m just hoping this year finally it settles down into 4-6 recognizable, dependable backs. And while it’s early in the process still, the 1st unit seems to be McCourty and Arrington at the corners, with Chung and Steve Gregory at safety. In subpackages, Dowling comes in to play the outside and Arrington slides in. Also Tavon Wilson subs in at both safety spots. Alfonzo Dennard was out the practice I went to with a hammy, but in the pictures I’ve seen he’s built like a bank vault. One draft magazine had him listed at the highest rated nickel and we may end up thanking that cop he slugged like we do the guy who passed his bong to Aaron Hernandez.
*I didn’t see anything to make me think they’re changing to more physical, pressing style of coverage the way, say, the Jets corners or a Cortland Finnegan do. What I saw was mostly a base Cover-2 with man under. Even Dowling, who stands out among the corners for his size, isn’t jamming anyone on the line. When Brandon Lloyd split out wide, Dowling would line up on his inside hip and try to angle him to the sidelines, which is what they’ve done since the Colts took the physicality out of football. So if anyone is expecting them to bring back 1978 Mel Blount, I think you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.
*I thought Chung made a nice play on Gronk, timing a hit perfectly and wrestling the ball away. But the reports I saw all called it a drop, one of two Gronk had on the day.
*Which tells me that after the Summer of Gronk, the critics are laying in the weeds, guns loaded, taking dead aim at him. I think if he has the second best season a tight end has ever had, there’ll be media members saying his play has dropped off because he hasn’t focused on football. If he’s “only” got 2 TDs in the first month, someone’s writing the headline “Bummer of Gronk.” Mark my words.
*Dont’a Hightower is the “Dark Knight Rises” of the rookies: the one who lives up to all the hype. His size just jumps out at you. Not that he’s a head taller than anyone else like Nate Solder, he’s just solid as hell. His thighs are like bridge abutments, but he moves well, even in coverage. When the running backs split out, they’re sliding Hightower out and so far he’s showing he can stay with them.
*At one point they went to the far field for 1-on-1s (and kept the way more interesting punt drills on our side. Thanks for that) and the play everyone was talking about was when Hightower rag-dolled FB Eric Kettani into RB coach Ivan Fears and knocked him for a loop. According to one thing I read, earlier in camp Hightower fought Gronk to a standstill and Belichick told the rest of the offense if they didn’t block with perfect technique, Hightower was going to make them pay.
*After watching Hightower for a practice, I called my doctor to ask what to do with an erection that lasts more than 4 hours.
*Even in full pads, they weren’t hitting at full speed. But I did see a couple of nice collisions between Gronk and Chandler Jones. And felt them. Even from a hillside a mile away. They were the kinds of hits you expect from two guys who’ve had tough, nastyass older brothers doing the “Why you hitting yourself?” game to them their whole lives.
*The early consensus on Jones is he’s talented but raw. I watched him get suckered inside on a WR reverse to Jesse Holley with Brady as the lead blocker. But they also say he’s been blowing people off the line in 1-on-1s.
*On the DE front, Jones and Jake Becquette split time at the right end, both standing up and in a stance. Jermaine Cunningham took reps at the Ninkovich left end spot. The weird thing about Cunningham is how down on him everyone seems to be. He took most of the defensive snaps as a rookie and went on IR last year so you’d think he’d get some slack. But it’s easier to find someone who’ll say nice things about Josh Beckett than him. He’s got a lot to prove, I guess.
*As free agent signings go, Bobby Carpenter didn’t exactly get the Lebron treatment. But he’s been playing a lot in the middle with the 1st unit and yesterday was making most of the defensive calls. Not bad for a guy who was on the 1989 Bruins Stanley Cup Finals team.
*If Hightower doesn’t give you #PatriotsPriapism, Brandon Lloyd should. I’ll confess that since ’07, whenever Brady goes into a 7-step drop and throws deep, I’m thinking bad thoughts. And I’m rarely wrong. (See the INT he threw in the Super Bowl.) They just haven’t been able to get people open beyond 20 yards. Well Lloyd can change that. On one 11-on-11 route he split bracket coverage from (I think) Dowling and Arrington, veered to the outside and caught a 50 yarder in stride. And it’s possible he has the best hands of any receiver we’ve seen. The play of camp so far was the one he went up and pulled a ball off the top of Sterling Moore’s head. Not to get ahead of myself here, but it’s hard to fathom they’ve got a guy with his skills as their No. 4 option.
*I’ll struggle for a while getting used to Robert Gallery wearing Matt Light’s #72. At least they gave it to a 6-8 behemoth with long hair and a tattoo sleeve, so that should cut down on the confusion.
*It looks like Stevan Ridley is being groomed as the No. 1 back. But I think Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis never had a game with more than 15 carries all last year so being the lead back on the Pats is sort of like being the lead singer of a boy band. No one’s really going to stand out; just know your moves and keep up with the group.
*For those who are worried they can’t replace BJGE: Brandon Bolden has been impressing people. Green-Ellis was 5-11, 220 and undrafted out of Ole Miss. Bolden is 5-11, 220 and undrafted out of Ole Miss. We can all look forward to Bolden giving us 4 pretty decent years then getting ridiculously overpaid by Cincinnati.
*One thing you notice at these practices is the attention to detail. From coaches waving these pool skimmery things in front of the QBs in a distraction drill to working on their 3-point stances to situational stuff like running a “Fire” drill to practice getting the punt team on the field in an emergency (and everyone scampering like the anchorman gang fight in “Ron Burgundy” when Ben Stiller yelled “Policia!”) no detail is too small to coach these guys up on. It’s not exactly Navy Seal boot camp or, like I said, “Junction Boys.” But it’s not exactly bored-looking pitchers practicing covering 1st base for the whole month of March, either.
*If I could change anything, it would be to have Belichick mic’d up, even if only for a few minutes. At one point he called the whole team over to the far field to lecture them and it’s torture to think I was that close to him giving that “we’re building a house and we’re laying the foundation” metaphor speech without being able to hear it. @JerryThornton1