by Scott Benson

Road trip!

After reading Chris Warner’s A Letter From Camp earlier this week, I decided to load the family in our brand new Wagon Queen Family Truckster (the dealer made a, um, error) to see a 2008 Patriots practice for myself. Here’s some early impressions of players we were seeing for the first time:

  • LaMont Jordan is as wide as he is tall, seemingly. I mean that in a good way. He looks pretty comfortable for a guy who just got here, as he takes handoffs and leans into the scrum with authority. While waiting for his next rep, I notice him standing near Sammy Morris, who now looks like a scat back compared to the new arrival.
  • This isn’t our first time seeing him of course, but Laurence Maroney still impresses us in passing drills that pits the backs and tight ends against the linebackers in hand-to-hand combat. They can’t cover him, so Victor Hobson and others decide to try to level him at the chuck. That did’t work either, though there were some ear-pleasing pops in there.
  • Speaking of the linebackers, Jerod Mayo looks like he may be a versatile player. He alternates between coverage drops and fills against the run, and doesn’t look out of place doing either. Bill Belichick checks in at one point. I wonder what the learning curve is for Mayo, who appears to run with the first group at times, and if it will match up with the fans’ understandable expectations for the 10th pick in the draft.
  • The thought of expectations turned my attention towards returnee Adalius Thomas, who has carried the weight of them too. With him manning the right edge now, firing upfield towards the quarterback, will he jump to the forefront of a more aggressive, attacking Patriots defense? He may be the second most important defensive player New England has, behind Vince Wilfork.
  • I’m already optimistic about the secondary, after seeing veteran Fernando Bryant and rookies Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite. It’s Wilhite who jumps out first, as a gunner in punt coverage drills. He proves too quick and elusive for the double team assigned to him, always maintaining a good angle to the ball. He’s been kind of an afterthought to the arrivals of Bryant, Jason Webster and the 2nd round pick Wheatley, but I left practice thinking he can’t miss the roster. Nor can Wheatley, who seemed at ease competing with the likes of Randy Moss when the team broke into an 11 on 11 two minute drill. After jostling for position, he knocked an end zone pass away from Moss even though the veteran is roughly eleven feet taller than him. I watch Bryant as he works both sides of the field – he moves smoothly and is alert to the ball, which got him an interception on a tipped Tom Brady pass that came in too high for Sam Aiken. He looks like a guy who’s played 100 NFL games. I wouldn’t expect spectacular, but reliable and workmanlike? Yeah.
  • Still, that doesn’t make it any less important that Webster (he hasn’t been practicing of late) and Ellis Hobbs (PUP) return to the field soon. If they do, they’ll find Dom Capers (for some reason, I grabbed my wife’s camera and snapped him alongside Rodney Harrison, who was practicing for the first time), who’s been entrusted with rebuilding the backfield After Asante.
  • A final word here for Chad Jackson, who made the play of the day when he lunged backwards for a low thrown Brady ball in the double-time two-minute drill. My skepticism aside, that was a hell of a good catch. The defense, as surprised as I, steals the ball after the whistle. This causes the refs, on hand to work through new rulings with the Pats, to fumble around trying to get the ball spotted again while the clock ticks down. Brady looks antsy before stopping the time with a ferocious spike, at which point he voices his displeasure with the refs in a tone that singes our eyebrows some fifty feet away. The crowd laughs, for a second, before falling into a brief, uncomfortable silence.
  • Later, in the parking lot, my wife says “was he serious? I thought he was joking!” I shake my head, “nah, I think he was pissed.” Her eyes get wide, as if she’s just seen something completely unexpected. As we navigate the concrete bobsled run that is the 95 South interchange (what’s up with that?), I think to myself that whatever Brady has in him that would cause him to be that fired up on a warm, lazy evening in late July, some five weeks before the season and six months before the Super Bowl…..I wouldn’t discourage it.