Kiln-like conditions reveal champs' feet of clayPosted: Tuesday August 13, 2002 12:03 PM
This is the 12th in a series of postcards Sports Illustrated's Peter King will e-mail from his annual NFL training camp tour.
Monday, Aug. 12
Team: New England Patriots
2. I think one of the things the Pats will have to worry about this year is depth in the secondary. They've had a couple of injuries there -- not serious ones, but it looks to me as if they're playing with pretty marginal NFL backups.
3. I think it was heartening to see offensive coordinator Charlie Weis coaching from a cart this afternoon. Weis nearly died from complications after gastric bypass surgery June 15, and he'd been confined either to his home or a rehab center while recovering. "DAVID!" he yelled when seventh-round rookie wideout David Givens failed to stretch out for a ball early in practice. "Make an effort for that ball!" Weis looks lighter -- he had the surgery, in large part, to cut some weight from his massive frame -- and coached hard today.
4. I think Cam Cleeland looks spry, returning from his Achilles tendon tear. He has practiced well and has a heck of a chance to make this team. Daniel Graham, the rookie first-rounder, isn't practicing now because of a sore knee, but the Patriots' tight-end picture should be significantly improved. Christian Fauria leads the pack, followed by Cleeland and Graham.
5. I think, watching quarterback Tom Brady, everything points to the guy being anything but a one-year wonder. First of all, no Patriots player out-worked him in the offseason program. Secondly, he's throwing the ball with more zip than I ever recall last year. "Sometimes I catch one from him and say, 'Whoa!'" wideout David Patten told me. "He doesn't know his own strength. Maybe it's his baseball background. He's really throwing it hard." Thirdly, no one's a serious challenger to him. I'll be really surprised if Brady's not really good this year.
Belichick will not give this team any medals for the workout today. "We're in the dog days," he told me before practice, and it showed. Most everything was in slow motion. I found it interesting last year when assigned to be the pro football writers' pool reporter at Patriots practices at the Super Bowl that their effort and crispness were so impeccable that Belichick, in six hours of practice over three days, never once raised his voice to the team. He was at one with his team, and vice versa. Today, he lit into a few guys, as did Weis and inside linebackers coach Pepper Johnson. Belichick stopped practice at one point and yelled for the offense to huddle up again, angered by tackle Kenyatta Jones' dawdling. Damon Huard got picked on successive plays by Tebucky Jones and Ty Law. Rookie QB Rohan Davey fumbled two snaps from center. On the second, he and center Grey Ruegamer had to run a lap of the field as their penance. Tackle Matt Light false-started. Lap. Defensive end Bobby Hamilton jumped offside. Lap. Belichick spied Lyght jogging, not sprinting, during post-practice running. "Faster than that!" Belichick yelled. "C'mon Lyght! You oughta be well-rested!"
Veteran Pats beat man Kevin Mannix said it was the loudest he'd heard Belichick in a couple of years.
Now here is why I wouldn't fret if I were a citizen of Patriots Nation:
Belichick has a way of smoothing out the rough edges.
Last year, during the Friday pre-Super Bowl practice, the Patriots changed a Red Zone pass route. When Patten lined up wide right deep in the Red Zone, he would most often run straight downfield for several yards and then a quick out to the sidelines. Now, in the Super Bowl, Patten would run and out-and-up. Why? Belichick saw on Rams defensive tape that cornerback Dexter McCleon bit hard on the out; if Patten turned up, McCleon would jump on the out and miss covering him deep. And so, with a 7-3 lead in the first half and the ball on the Rams 8, Brady faded back, and Patten juked to the sideline and sprinted upfield. McCleon did bite, and Brady threw him a rainbow. Patten made the catch, the Pats took a 14-3 lead -- and the rest is history.
That's why today is a little tiny red flag. But I don't worry about a Belichick team when practice is not very good one day in the middle of August.
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