Taylor Price over Terrence Wheatley (AP Photo)
With the Saints coming to town, the Patriots continued to iron out some things in preparation for their first preseason game of the year. Kisha Tapangan brings her update from Foxboro for Day 10 of Patriots training camp.
In one of the lastl practice sessions before welcoming the New Orleans Saints to Gillette Stadium, the Patriots placed their focus on the details and getting ready for their season opener on Thursday, August 12th against the 2010 Super Bowl Champions.
The key observations for Monday include: some focus on the running game, the officiating rule change, Patriots team cuts and signings and the Patriots welcome the Saints.
For this week’s Kisha’s Key Point, the subject of cornerbacks and their renewed spark has been a highlight of camp so far.
Running Backs Get A Running Start
The Patriots running game has taken a back seat in stories it seems, but this doesn’t mean that the likes of Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Laurence Maroney, BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk haven’t been productive at training camp.
For a party of Monday’s afternoon session, 11-on-11 was the main focus with several of the snaps by Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer emphasising the running game. Struggling last season with dropped balls and hesitating at the line of scrimmage, Laurence Maroney had success today find critical weak spots in the defense. Kevin Faulk, a 12 year veteran running back, looked crisp and solid as he maneuvered right through holes made by the offensive line.
Sammy Morris had several impressive moments on Monday that emphasised an improvement on his explosiveness at the point of impact. Although no full tackles were being made, Morris’ strength and speed were easy to notice.
A few plays on Monday also included tight end Alge Crumpler doing what he did best when he was in Tennessee, providing blocks that boosted opportunities for the running game. Look for Cumpler to be used more frequently in this manner during the season.
Changes in Officiating the Game
Prior to Friday afternoon’s training session, officials from the NFL came to Gillette Stadium to explain the new rule changes that are to be in effect immediately.
The major difference is that an umpire will be moved from behind the defensive line to 15 yards behind the offensive line. The only time that it will be allowed for the umpire to be in the former position is during the extra point, field goal attempts and within the two minute mark in which case most teams execute a hurry-up offense.
As explained, the reasoning for the change is mostly for the safety of the officials, all 17 of them, in the NFL. It has been noted that several receivers have been known to use an umpire in the offensive backfield to divert a defender.
All of these issues have been discussed throughout the league and Bill Belichick spoke briefly of the topic during his Monday morning press conference,
“There are some changes. We'll see how those go - moving the umpire and things like that. We'll see how it goes. I'm not sure what kind of
an effect it will have...”
The Patriots have utilized hurry-up offenses in prior seasons and having to wait for an official to drop back 15 yards behind the offensive line could have a large effect on some offensive plays.
Cuts and Signings
No matter how productive a player might have been at training camp, there is still no guarantee of spot on the roster. That was the case Monday afternoon for former Brown University wide receiver Buddy Farnham and Louisville defensive lineman Adrian Grady, both undrafted free agents.
Farnham had the odds stacked against him from the beginning with stiff competition coming from 2010 third round draft pick Taylor Price and second year standout Julian Edelman. Also, the surprisingly improved showing of Brandon Tate has also decreased the chances for the Massachusetts native to earn a spot on the roster.
Grady has predominately been used as part of the Patriots practice squad. The defensive lineman has spent time with the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams before he signed as a free agent with Patriots in 2009.
Both spots on the 80 man roster were quickly filled with the signings of former Steelers’ guard Darnell Stapleton and former Patriots’ practice squad member cornerback DeAngelo Willingham.
Patriots Welcome the Saints
How did the Patriots play against the Saints last season? Here’s what Bill Belichick said about last year’s game,
”They certainly handled us down there in every phase of the game. They handled us defensively. They handled us offensively. We had a couple plays in the kicking game, but [those] were far outweighed by everything else.”
With a productive training camp so far and a young team to take on the new season, the Patriots first preseason game against a team like the Saints will be an effective measure of how much the team has improved so far. Belichick continued to explain,
“...It will be a good opportunity for us to compete against somebody that we know has a high quality of performance, coming off a great year.”
Upcoming joint raining camp sessions with the New Orleans Saints are as follows:
Tuesday, August 10: 9:00am - 11:00am & 3:45pm - 5:30pm
Wednesday, August 11: 9:00am - 11:00am
The times listed are tentative as of Monday, August 9th and are subject to change.
Kisha’s Key Point: Cornerbacks Have The Spark
Last year, cornerback Darius Butler was drafted in the second round and struggled to show the immediate impact the Patriots needed in defense. This year is a different story. With his rookie year in the books, Butler is determined to improve his overall game. One of his shining moments last season was a pick that led to the longest return for a touchdown, 91 yards, in franchise history.
Competition for the top cornerback position in this year’s training camp has not been an easy one for Butler. Collegiate standout and 2010 first round pick Devin McCourty isn’t making it simple for the sophomore. This is the type of competition that needs to happen, especially for the cornerback position.
It goes without saying that with the departure of Asante Samuel in 2007, the lack of the deep defensive presence has been evident. During several of the 1-on-1 drills, both McCourty and Butler showed exceptional quickness and read of the field and often kept up with the receivers stride for stride.
The other cornerbacks on the roster have also improved. Kyle Arrington has become a lot better at coverage and is dramatically faster and smarter this year. Terrence Wheatley has had more reps at training camp due to the injuries of Jonathan Wilhite and most recently, Leigh Bodden.
The cornerback competition may not be as highly anticipated as the contest for a wide receiver or linebacker roster spot but keep in mind that having the better player could be the difference between an incomplete pass and a defensive touchdown.
Kisha Tapangan is a contributing writer for PatriotsInsider.com She also maintains her personal blog Necessary Roughness and can be found on Twitter @KishaT. Be sure to check in all camp long for regular updates by Kisha from Foxboro