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Letters from Patriots Camp, Volume 3

Camp

Today was the last day of Patriots practices being open to the public. Soon enough the press will be limited to watching stretching and then booted off the premises in order to preserve the Stasi-like secrecy of the operation. So it seemed like I owed it to the Patriots/Barstool fanbase to drop everything, suffer through the heat and humidity and the B.O. of some of the guys with press passes, and bring you up to speed on what you’ve missed. I did it for you. And not just to get physically closer to Tom Brady than I have ever been in my life. The sacrifices I make for you, without asking anything in return. …

–Practice began like this:

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Like I’ve said from Day One, there has never been a Patriots camp like this in the Belichick Epoch. Granted it’s a relative term, but this has been the most relaxed, medium-intensity camp I’ve seen since the Pete Carroll days down in Smithfield, RI. Also, when Gronk waved from across the far field, through the screams you could actually hear every woman of childbearing age ovulate. And next time those two come out to a Siegfried and Royish intro, I’m wearing a condom.

–Practice began with Snoop Dogg on the PA system. It went silent for a while. Broke into some Queen, got quiet again. Then settled down into a steady dose of live Springsteen. It was like Belichick’s 18-year-old borrowed the car and it took him awhile to find his own preset buttons on the SiriusXM.

–Eric Decker has had an infamously bad start to his personal camp, cutting the wrong way on routes, running himself covered, and worst of all, dropping passes. Which got me and some of the other guys in the media tent reminiscing about established veteran receivers who didn’t (to steal a line from Gunner Sgt. Hartman) pack the gear to hack it Belichick’s beloved Corps. Donald Hayes. Joseph Addai. Reggie Wayne. Joey Galloway. Doug Gabriel. I just assumed that Jordan Matthews was this year’s example. But Decker is running out of time and the patience of his coaches and quarterbacks.

–It didn’t help Decker’s cause any that in 11-on-11s Duron Harmon ripped a ball right out of his hands for a PBU. Though in a drill where they ran No Huddle against No Defense, he was out there with the first unit. For what ever that is worth. The three remaining fauxball games are probably more important for his professional future than anyone on the roster.

–Speaking of who is with the 1s and who is with the 2s, with Marcus Cannon still getting healthy, your starting tackles are Trent Brown on the left and LaAdrian Waddle at RT. Isaiah Wynn. Meaning that, as it stands, they traded a wideout who’s making Top Five money at his position for a guy who is currently the backup right tackle.

–Also in full squad workouts, we saw more good plays out of Ja’Whaun (still teaching the spellcheck in my head and on my phone that one) Bentley. He broke up a Brian Hoyer pass intended for Gronk, then followed that by trailing the running back in motion across the formation, getting outside and turning the play inside for no gain. So far, Bentley is the breakout performer among the rookies and don’t be stunned if he’s in the regular linebacker rotation with Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and ahead of Elandon Roberts.

–On that note, maybe Roberts is hearing Bentley’s footprints or what, but it seems like every practice he loses his mind and tackles somebody. This isn’t Rudy trying to impress Ara Parseghian and pissing off a young Vince Vaughn. Here that nonsense will get you sent back to Ned Beatty’s steel mill where you might die like poor Pete.

–Another rookie revelation has been JC Jackson, who gets in the mix with the starting corners on occasion. He stayed stride for stride with Devin Lucien on a deep ball that bounced off his shoulder, he was in such tight coverage. One corner I suspect will be the first out the door at cut down time is Jomal Wiltz the 2nd year FA. It just seems like any time there’s a deep ball completed you check to see who got beat and it’s No. 22. Chris Hogan caught a Brady pass over him in 11-on-11s that would have gone for 100 miles. And there would’ve been another long TD except the pass was intended for Phillip Dorsett. Which is a synonym for “a drop.” Dorsett’s hands are the two of the best defenders in the Pats secondary.

–One of my favorite drills they ran were the receivers doing square-ins while an assistant jabs at the ball with a boxing glove on the end of a long stick that looks like it could’ve come out of Jim Carrey’s sleeve in The Mask. In a literal sense, that is the 10-foot pole they won’t touch Dez Bryant with.

–It does point to the level of detail they practice with, no matter how relatively relaxed this camp is. For instance, toward the end of practice running full team reps with the play clock running. Having the returners hold a ball, then drop it as the catch the punted ball as it comes down to them. Another example is they ran a series of drills where receivers ran change-of-direction routes while corners tried to mirror them. The CBs were mostly competitive in those, especially Stephon Gilmore. Though on one Julian Edelman turned Cyrus Jones basically inside out. It’s hard for an ignoramus who writes blogs to know what it is the coaches are grading the wins and losses on something like that. But afterwards the cover guys all had to drop and give them 20. Or they just did it because they’re hardos. But they are always looking for new ways to work on the fine points.

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–On the topic of corners, there was talk over the weekend that Jason McCourty is on the roster bubble because he didn’t see the field against the Redskins Thursday. I’ve witnessed enough camp cuts I never saw coming to try and never be shocked, but that one would shock me. This guy is an established veteran who, if you go by Pro Football Focus, had a higher grade than Malcolm Butler in 2017. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be able to pick up the coverages and communication, since gestated in a womb alongside their secondary captain. Stranger cuts have been made on this roster over 19 camps. But Jason Pierre Paul could count them on one semi-hand.

–I got to hear my first “Linda” call since last season. It’s almost enough to make me think Belichick specifically got a MILF with an “L” name to fall in love with him just so he could use her name as a play call.  And if I was coaching these linebackers, I’d have to line Christian Sam up at Sam every single play or I’d never keep it straight.

–Eric Rowe does look like the starting CB at the moment. He generally lines up opposite Gilmore. He high pointed a ball to knock it away from Cordarelle Patterson in the corner of the end zone. And yet for some reason, Dorsett beats him and practically no one else. If it sounds like there’s panic in my typing voice about replacing Malcolm Go! with a guy who was part of the crew that made Nick Foles look like 1999 Kurt Warner, then you’re reading me right. Thursday night should be interesting, to say the least.