Soon enough the crowd at Gillette Stadium will be flocking to see the likes of Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, Ron Brace and the Patriots' 2009 rookie class.
But on May 2 the crowds inside Gillette were to see the Dalai Lama (wearing a red Patriots hat for a period time) put forth his own double-session as he presented his message of hope and compassion. His morning session was entitled "The Four Noble Truths," while the afternoon focus was "The Path to Peace and Happiness."
The 30 players (including draft picks, rookie free agents, players on hand for tryouts and a trio of first-year veterans) on the practice field just outside the stadium for New England's rookie minicamp were hoping to continue the initial step on their own path to peace and happiness, one that would of course be most pleasant if it included a roster spot and playing time with the Patriots this fall.
"It's always good to get back on the field this time of year," head coach Bill Belichick said. "You have the young guys come in here that are eager beavers and really just want to try and soak everything up. It's good to have some new faces out there and it's fun as a coach to be working on some fundamentals and some real basic things, which they all need. It's a long way to go. One step at a time, and we're underway."
"I'm excited," said Butler, a cornerback who was a second-round pick. "Because the last time I played football was January 3 -- actually playing football and not just working out and running 40s. As a football player, it's good to get back out here and compete."
Expectations vary, of course, from player to player, but for Belichick, he has the same goal for every rookie at this point: Work hard to learn the proper technique, assignments and the system as quickly as possible.
"So, ultimately, at training camp they'll be able to compete against players that have already done that," Belichick said. "Right now, there is a huge gap between any of those rookies and our veteran players. Our guys have been through the system. They know it. They've trained all spring, and they're much more familiar with what we're doing. We've got to try to close that gap with the young players so they can compete with them from a conditioning and training standpoint physically.
"From a mental standpoint, as far as terminology, nomenclature, and all those things go, and also from a technique standpoint of how we do certain things technique-wise to be effective. In some cases they have to learn new ones or improve the ones they currently have. Right now, I think for the rookies is that it's just a game of catch up."
The rookies seem to appreciate the time to work with players at their own level before jumping in with their more experience teammates.
"I'm out here with a bunch of guys that are my age and coming into the same situation. It's good to be out here with those guys, get a little used to everything, then come out here with the vets," Butler added.
"It's not really overwhelming," said sixth-round pick long snapper Jake Ingram, "it's just a new experience and we've all got a long way to go. I've got a long way to go, a lot to learn. I thought I knew things in college, but I come here and I don't have the slightest clue. I'm excited about learning from the coaches and working hard."
Nose-tackle-in-training Brace, a second-round pick out of B.C., may be a rookie on the field, but he's already talking like one of the veterans.
"Defense in college is easier than it is in the NFL. Here, you just have to put in more film room work, more of your own time reading that playbook, making up posters or quizzing your teammates," Brace said of the early adjustments he's making in an effort to standout when training camp arrives. "The difference-makers are the people that put in the hard work."
After their initial weekend of work the rookies are not allowed, by NFL rules, to return to their team again until either May 15 or after their college's graduation, whichever comes later. Between now and then the players will focus on the "homework" Belichick and his assistants have assigned.
"It depends on each individual player," Belichick said. "But generally speaking, they need to get into good condition, learn the material we've given them and take care of any bumps and bruises or any physical or personal issues that are outstanding, get ready to go when they come back in here in the middle of May."
--LB Vinny Ciurciu, a seventh-year veteran who spent last season with the Vikings, was one of eight players signed to contracts with the Patriots after attending rookie minicamp on a tryout basis May 1-2. First-year veteran WR Robert Ortiz, first-year running back Omar Cuff and second-year defensive lineman Steve Williams also earned deals.
Three rookie free agents out of Navy -- RB Eric Kettani and wide receivers Tyree Barnes and Shun White -- also inked deals as did UCLA rookie free agent P Aaron Perez.
--LB Tyrone McKenzie, New England's third-round choice out of South Florida, injured his right knee during rookie minicamp action May 2. According to the Boston Globe, citing a source close to the rookie, the injury is a torn ACL that will sideline him for his rookie season. McKenzie had a unique college career, playing at both Michigan State and Iowa State before attending USF.
Though he played primarily outside in college, McKenzie was set to transition to the inside in New England where he was expected to battle for early reps. The injury leaves the Patriots thin at inside linebacker where second-year rising star Jerod Mayo will start, likely alongside veteran Tedy Bruschi. Returning second-year former rookie free agent Gary Guyton is the only backup with any game experience on the roster at this point.
--New England added five rookie free agents leading up to its rookie minicamp April 30 including Virginia LB Antonio Appleby, Michigan State QB Brian Hoyer, Arkansas DB Jamar Love and Kentucky DB Marcus McClinton. The final guy is listed as an offensive lineman, but Kent State's Jermail Porter is actually a heavyweight All-American wrestler who's never played football and is looking to make the Stephen Neal-like jump from the mat to NFL success.
--S Brandon McGowan signed with the Patriots May 5. The four-year veteran has played in 25 games with 13 starts in his career, all in Chicago. The 5-11, 207-pounder was undrafted out of Maine. He has 115 career tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on his resume, although he missed all but two games a year ago on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
They Said It:
"That would be a motivational speech like one we haven't heard." -- Coach Bill Belichick referencing the Dalai Lama delivering two speeches at Gillette Stadium while New England was holding its rookie minicamp May 2.
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