Notes from Day 2 of Pats mini-camp

Notes from Day 2 of Pats mini-camp

FOXBORO -- I know what you're all clamoring for: Mini-camp notes! Well here, you heathens. Have at them.
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs George Atallah were at Gillette Tuesday. Don't fret -- the CBA allows the Players Association to make five unofficial visits in the offseason. As far as we know, this was one of them.
Jonathan Fanene, who had his left leg worked on by a trainer yesterday, missed Wednesday's session. Rookie running back Brandon Bolden was also unavailable, though he watched practice from the sideline. Jermaine Cunningham only showed face at about 1:14 PM, as he walked with Brandon Spikes and Myron Pryor out of the bubble.
Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Gronkowski, Logan Mankins, Tracy White, and Matthew Slater also continued their rehabilitation and running. Vollmer and Mankins rolled in about an hour after practice began. The pair had a brief chat with De Smith and Patriots owner Robert Kraft before starting rehab work.
Offense, wearing blue, and defense, wearing white, split up to start. The offensive line practiced against dummy 'D' while the rest worked on the running game. Defense practiced separately against the pass.
Tom Brady again did some passing drills against air. Aaron Hernandez, who seems to generally hate his helmet, actually put the thing on only while actually in the route. He made the grab.
When the Patriots mixed in some defense, a lot of time was spent with Brady and his backups working on seam routes and dropping passes in over DBs who hadn't turned around.
More work for Patrick Chung in the return game. Donte' Stallworth also got some special teams reps, as we saw in OTAs.
There were a few consecutively ugly series during 7-on-7. First, Ryan Mallett and Brandon Lloyd missed a connection. Then Hoyer had a bad throw. Brady followed up with a grounder to Joseph Addai in the flat. Had to be the rain.
We saw a couple different coverages practiced in the Red Zone (we're not at liberty report on scheme). Brady found Gaffney in the end zone on a sweet play -- Devin McCourty and Will Allen were left looking foolish. All the while, newly anointed defensive coordinator Matt Patricia knelt and watched his men. You have to wonder if they're happier when the offense completes the play, or the defense breaks it up. Probably depends on which coach you talk to.
Alabama fans will be happy to hear rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower had a nice pick-6 during 11-on-11 against Brian Hoyer who underthew a crossing route. Roll Tide.
Sterling Moore had an impressive pass break-up against the old man Jabar Gaffney.
Donte Stallworth made a contested catch in the end zone against Ras-I Dowling, a play on which there was probably a little more contact than is ideal. Stallworth spiked the ball near Dowling after the play.
Tight end Bo Scaife looked pretty good today. He looked pretty mad when he went up for a high pass and got pulled down around the shoulders by Tavon Wilson. The guys on the sidelines heckled the play.
Again on the sidelines Wednesday were coaching assistants David Patten and Billy Yates, both former Patriots. Patten and Deion Branch spent a long time talking together.

Patriots pregame rituals: Step-by-step with the players on game day

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Patriots pregame rituals: Step-by-step with the players on game day

What goes through Dont'a Hightower’s mind in the minutes before he takes the field and lowers himself into a cauldron of collisions, pain and exultation?

Not a thing.

“I rest. I literally rest,” said the Patriots Pro Bowl inside linebacker. “I don’t do anything else. I sit at my locker, I don’t listen to music. I don’t do anything out of the ordinary. I don’t look at film, I don’t look at notes. I’m just relaxed. Calm before the storm. I’ve done enough preparing, I’ve done enough notes, I’ve done enough of that stuff during the week. If I don’t know it by now, I don’t know it. It’s not gonna help me last minute. It’s only gonna make me play slower.”

By the time an NFL team hits the field – in the Patriots case, runs out of a giant, inflatable helmet while Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” blares – they are primped, polished, taped and glistening.

But what is their day like leading up to that? I asked a few Patriots to take me through their game-day prep from wakeup to anthem to give me insight into what we don’t see.  

You can hear Hightower, Nate Solder, Alan Branch, Devin McCourty and Rob Ninkovich detail the steps they take to get game-ready. French toast is involved. So are naps. And sock preparation.

It all builds to that moment of theater that Ninkovich says is what players truly miss when they leave the game – that feeling of euphoria.

“When we finally get to run out, that’s the most exciting time in the world,” says Solder. “The crowd wasn’t there earlier when we went out there and all of a sudden, the crowd is there. Very exciting, very fun, especially with the guys you work so hard with.”

Says McCourty, “I always think when I run out of the tunnel to look up and say, ‘Thank you’ just to be able to play.”

Listen to them tell their stories here:

Just Belichick being Belichick at Friday presser

Just Belichick being Belichick at Friday presser

On Wednesday, the Patriots media room was festooned with AFC Championship Game adornments. A big red backdrop behind the podium, Patriots and Steelers helmets arranged on a table facing each other with the Lamar Hunt AFC Champion Trophy in the middle. 

Bill Belichick, who's not big on festoons, noted the helmets during his press conference and deadpanned, "So exciting...". That clip got some run. 

On Friday, when asked to recall his first Conference Championship as a coach, he mentioned the 2001 AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh and the fact that Belichick, Lawyer Milloy and Tom Brady were all required to fly to Pittsburgh on the Friday before the game to do media duties. 

"That was awesome," Belichick snarked. Then, looking to the area where the display was on Wednesday, Belichick smiled and said, "Where's all the stuff from Wednesday? Did it get thrown out?"

He is the turd in the NFL's punch bowl and it's endlessly amusing.