August 17, 2011

Patriots Beat: So little time to learn so much

By Mike Lowe
Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Wow.

Tom Brady, Bill Belichick
click image to enlarge

They have a lot to pack into this training camp because of the lockout, but Coach Bill Belichick, right, and quarterback Tom Brady are ready to get the preseason under way.

The Associated Press

Everyone figured that the first few days of NFL training camps would be wild, but wow.

Albert Haynesworth. Chad Ochocinco. For basically, draft pick scraps.

In two Thursday trades, the New England Patriots addressed two of their biggest needs -- a defensive lineman and a deep threat at wide receiver.

But before anyone starts planning a trip to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl, let's remember one thing: Both these players are going to have to make the transition to a new team and new system -- and they're going to have to do it quickly.

A shortened preseason, no offseason and new rules governing what you can do at practice are going to force players to learn on the fly.

"To be honest, it's going to be a crash course for everyone," said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo, who should benefit greatly from the huge presence of the oft-troubled Haynesworth in front of him. "We've been out of football for so long and we're all going on this journey together."

This is a preseason unlike any other. Coach Bill Belichick described it thusly at his Thursday morning press conference:

"We're trying to juggle a lot of balls in the air between player personnel rules, contract rules, practice rules, assembling a team, trying to get everybody in here, trying to get them out on the field, start getting our training camp going and trying to adjust some practices and things like that from what we normally do," he said without taking a breath. "So it's just trying to get everything under way and get a smooth flow here. There's a lot of work to do but we're excited to get started."

The players, especially those who have been around Belichick for a while, understand what's ahead.

"It's going to be tough for a couple of guys because they're going to ask a lot of us," said Vince Wilfork, in his eighth season as defensive nose guard. "And we've got to be ready to give.

"It's going to be tough at times but you know what? We're in it for the long haul. We signed up for it. We're just excited. We're going to get this work going and hopefully see where it takes us. Hopefully it takes us in a great place."

It might, if every player can grasp what many call one of the most complicated systems -- both offensively and defensively -- in the NFL. It won't be easy, especially for rookies (who have never been through an NFL training camp), free agents (who are learning a new system) and players acquired in trade (ditto), such as Haynesworth and Ochocinco.

That, said Belichick, is where the coaches have to step in.

"I think it's somewhat incumbent on us as a coaching staff and an organization to give the team the best opportunity to perform well," he said. "That may be doing things a little bit differently than we've done them in the past to accommodate the schedule that we're working in. We have the same training camp but we don't have the same lead-in time.

"We'll make the modifications that we think are best today -- and that may change going forward here in the next few days or weeks -- to try to maximize the opportunities -- meeting and practice opportunities -- that we have with our team. Whatever it is, we'll try to do it the best we can for our team."

The players seem to realize there's going to be less room for error in camp this year.

"You've got to learn quick and, guess what? We don't want to take any steps backwards," said Wilfork. "So we have to learn each day and make the time we have on the field and in the film room, we've got to take that time and make it positive. It's going to be tough but I think we'll get there. No question in my mind."

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

Twitter: MikeLowePPH


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