It certainly didn't feel much like football season at Gillette Stadium Saturday morning. A cold May rain was falling, and the parking lots were empty. A few fans browsed the teams Pro Shop, but New England Revolution soccer jerseys were getting equal play alongside the Patriots paraphernalia. The Gillette turf was set up for the other football it wasnt a field, it was a pitch. Tom Brady who? This is Taylor Twellman country.
But in the Patriots practice bubble, the soundtrack was all NFL whistles, hits, grunts and attaboys as the team held Day 1 of its two-day rookie minicamp.
Coach Bill Belichick was in midseason form after the morning session as he addressed the media. Wearing the sweatshirt that gray Friar Tuck abomination that is as much a part of him as Vince Lombardi he played it as close to the vest as ever.
Consider his quote on rookie wideout Chad Jackson, who the Patriots liked enough to trade up for in the second round of the draft: We drafted him because we feel like he has the ability to contribute in our system. As a receiver, he can get open and catch the ball. That's what every receiver has to do. How all of that manifests itself, we have a long process to go through to see that."
Not exactly a rave. But really, there wasn't a whole lot to talk about, since he had seen these rookies play in person for all of 90 minutes that morning.
Its less an evaluation than it is an instructional period, Belichick said. You have to go out and practice it and then come back and look at it and sometimes teach it again or look at a situation that maybe it is the same but it's not quite the same. I think the evaluation really is in training camp and the preseason games much more than it is in a camp like this. We just try to go at a good learning pace. You adjust as you go.
But, for the late draft picks and UFAs, these minicamp sessions do provide a unique opportunity. There are fewer bodies to compete with, but just as many watchful eyes.
They're going to get a lot of attention, Belichick said. They're going to get a lot of opportunity here and as the veteran players come in and we merge the whole team together, then these players will get less, absolutely. They need to know and understand that and take advantage of every opportunity that they get.
For players on the bubble and that describes most of the rookies in camp - seizing opportunities is always foremost on their mind.
Lineman Dan Stephenson, who played for former Pats coordinator Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, said the Irish coach reinforced that point during a post-draft phone call.
"He didn't really give me any specific advice, he just said it was a special time and to make the most of an opportunity," Stephenson said.
Stephenson is one of three Notre Dame products at rookie camp, along with UFAs Matt Shelton (WR) and Corey Mays (LB).
Shelton said that while he was comfortable with the Patriots system thanks to the ties to Weis, he knows that this wont matter much in the long run.
"Its not (Weis) decision at the end of the day, its Coach Belichick," said Shelton, a speedy six footer. "I don't have an in that regard. I have an understanding of some plays, but its really new to me."
But he did admit to enjoying the familiarity of having college teammates next to him.
"Its very helpful to have Dan and Corey around, they're great kids, I'm happy to be here with them," he said. "Still, I don't think you can really prepare for this level. They can prepare you as much as possible, but it's a whole different ball game. A lot of learning."
Having some friendly faces around was also a bonus for a University of Florida contingent that was five strong.
"I'm not sure why it is," said UFA CB Vernell Brown on the glut of Gators. "They make the decisions about that kind of stuff. But I must say, it does make the transition process easier, having guys you know with you."
Brown trained with fellow Pats hopeful Jarvis Herring (S) in the offseason, and enjoys the idea of taking on Chad Jackson again at the next level.
"Chad's a great player," he said. "We went against each other all the time in college and well do that here."
Jackson enjoyed the company as well.
"Me and the guys have great camaraderie, the guys from Florida, talking about old times and helping each other out," he said.
The biggest media hit of minicamp was probably rookie Stephen Gostkowski. Traditionally, kickers aren't much of a drawing card, but the departed Adam Vinatieri was a bonafide icon in New England. Gostkowski, who will wear No. 3, is good-looking, well-spoken and quick-witted (Papa Ginos ads?), and seems to have the same patience with the media as Vinatieri had. He's even a Red Sox fan.
Of course, he's three Super Bowl rings and countless clutch kicks shy of Vinatieri status, but you have to start somewhere.
"I was excited when I got the call this is the type of team I wanted to come to," the fourth-round pick out of Memphis said. "Knowing there was a vacant spot, that the guy who kicked last year was gone, that's what you look for coming out of college."
As to filling Vinatieri's golden boots, Gostkowski reminded reporters that veteran Martin Gramatica is looking to do the same thing.
"Its still early," he said. "Nothings set in stone yet."
Good insight. For a rookie, at least.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
- Texas tight end David Thomas was the last player in the lockerroom for the media session, and was instantly surrounded by humanity. Fortunately for Thomas, media relations czar Stacey James started clearing out the room shortly after the reporters converged.
- Numbers game: Lawrence Maroney will wear No. 39 with the Pats, with his collegiate No. 22 taken by Asante Samuel. Other numbers: Chad Jackson (17), Willie Andrews (38), Garrett Mills (45), Jeremy Mincey (58), Ryan OCallaghan (68), David Thomas (86).
- The only veterans seen milling around the lockerroom were linemen: Dan Koppen, Wesley Britt and Lonie Paxton. With only four OLs among the rookies, the Pats may have needed a couple of extra (big) bodies.
Be sure to check the Hot News for updates throughout the weekend.
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