Postcard from Patriots Camp: Day 23

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Postcard from Patriots Camp: Day 23

FOXBORO -- A select group ran an interesting drill Friday.

Tom Brady, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, and Rob Gronkowski occupied an otherwise empty field three different times. With either Lloyd or Gaffney at center, Brady and Gronkowski practice some routes on air (if Gaffney was at center, Lloyd would receive).

Considering Lloyd and Gronkowski missed time at the beginning of the week, it's not surprising Brady might want to get in some extra time with each. But it looked like they might be simulating, conditioning for a two-minute drill. Interesting.

Two more notes out of that:

Gronkowski had at least two drops. Against no defense.

At one point Gaffney acted as running back in the drill. He moved with apparent ease, the right quadriceps he tweaked Wednesday not appearing to give him trouble.

WEATHER
Hot, but not unbearably so. There was a nice breeze whirling around all day.

WHAT THEY WORE
Full pads.

WHAT THEY DID
1:39-1:51: This was different: The team split, offense and defense on separate fields, and worked on some basics. Defense worked on its base formation -- kn'aw mean?

1:51-2:00: Running.

2:00-2:26: Drills.

2:26-2:44: 11-on-11.

2:44-2:49: Punt! Aaron Hernandez and Jeremy Ebert got more reps returning. Ebert is still inconsistent in receiving back there.

Speaking of, Edelman had a weird Ebert moment during punt return. A ball hit him in the chest right at his hands, bounced off his shoulder, and was gone. Muffed.

2:49-3:11: 7-on-7.

3:11-3:17: Punt!

3:17: 11-on-11. This round saw an interesting look from the defense. The line was made 1s, the backers were 2s, and the secondary 3s.

3:36: A big huddle and some self-congratulatory applause.

And later Rookie DE Chandler Jones got a chance to field a punt from Zoltan Mesko. If he made it the team would have the night off from meetings. Sho'nuff, Jones secured the ball. The team went absolutely bananas. "I'm taking him out to dinner!" crowed Kyle Arrington.

WHAT WE SAW
Literally the first thing I saw was DB Malcolm Williams on the field in uniform. RB Eric Kettani was the other notable return. Otherwise, Stevan Ridley was in shorts and Tavon Wilson was a no-show after both got dinged up Thursday. Also in shorts: Jabar Gaffney, Alfonzo Dennard, Spencer Larsen, James Ihedigbo, Tracy White, Kyle Hix, Markus Zusevics, Sebastian Vollmer, and Myron Pryor. Absent: Jake Ballard, Visanthe Shiancoe, Jonathan Fanene, Gerard Warren, and Matt Kopa.

Guys seemed loose from the get-go. Brandon Spikes was doing pushups, on his own urging, during the first 10 minutes of practice. He's got a lot of energy, that one.

Wes Welker left the session early, at around 2:59. Couldn't tell you why; I didn't see any injury.

During 11-on-11, Julian Edelman had a nice catch over Ross Ventrone for a touchdown. The receiver then tried to dunk the ball over the goal post. I'll let you guess whether the 5-9 Edelman was successful or not.

Here's one to keep an eye on The tight ends worked on coming out of chutes -- metal cage looking things -- to practice staying low and bending their knees coming out of blocks. On one rep, Aaron Hernandez turned, planted his foot, and slipped. He sat on the side for a few moments, testing the range of his left ankle. But he didn't appear bothered for the rest of the day.

While special teamers practiced punt and the lines did 1-on-1s, Brandon Spikes stepped off to the side with linebackers coach Pepper Johnson. The pair worked on pass rushing, Spikes practiced his punch and rip.

Former Patriots Ty Law visited camp today. He reconnected with Brady for a few moments when the quarterback had time before 7-on-7. Highlight of seeing Law? He had five kids in tow -- five kids who got very thirsty under the sun. Law trotted off at one point and came back with a green Gatorade water bottle. He went down the line and squirted water into each kid's mouth for him. You can take the man out of football.

Toward the end of practice, 11-on-11 was run using the scout team offense. The team was running Eagles plays in advance of Monday's preseason matchup.

Odd: When the lines went 1-on-1, Logan Mankins was jogging some pass patterns. He even made a one-handed grab. Why? I don't know.

WHO'S HOT
Nate Ebner had a nice little day for himself. The DB had two picks, and nearly two more, on tipped balls. I do believe this is his fourth practice in a row with at least one interception.

Ryan Mallett had a decent day for Ryan Mallett. During the day's final run of 11-on-11, he hit Aaron Hernandez with a very well-placed pass, over the outstretched fingers of Derek Martin, in the end zone.

WHO'S NOT
Danny Woodhead. In the day's first round of 11-on-11, the running back missed two straight passes from Tom Brady. Brady was visibly frustrated and had some words for Woodhead.

Brandon Bolden. He didn't look bad all day, but did fumble a ball which was recovered by the defense. You can bet he ran a lap for that one.

WHAT THEY SAID
"Last day of school -- I'm on the first thing smoking" (i.e. creating exhaust). -- Ty Law on what the end of camp feels like.

Patriots make Floyd a healthy scratch for AFC title game

Patriots make Floyd a healthy scratch for AFC title game

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will go with four receivers against the Steelers as Michael Floyd has been listed as a healthy scratch for the AFC title game. 

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

The Patriots had all five of their wideouts -- Floyd, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola -- available to them for Sunday's matchup, but they're opted to use the four who are most experienced in the team's offense. 

Hogan (thigh), Mitchell (knee) and Amendola (ankle) were all listed as questionable going into the weekend, but all have been deemed physically ready to play as their team vies for a Super Bowl berth. 

Floyd had his worst game as a member of the Patriots last week in the Divisional Round against the Texans. On two routes, both slants, Floyd ran the pattern in such a way that there appeared to be some miscommunication between him and quarterback Tom Brady. One was picked off and the other was almost picked. 

Floyd admitted as much last week, saying that there are still intricacies to the Patriots offense that he needs to pick up -- including exactly how Brady wants certain routes run.

Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans last week but felt optimistic soon thereafter that he'd be good to go for the conference championship. Mitchell hasn't played since suffering a knee injury against the Jets in Week 16. 

Other Patriots inactives for Sunday include quarterback Jacoby Brissett, running back DJ Foster, offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, safety Jordan Richards and corners Justin Coleman and Cyrus Jones.

Curran: Pats already winning the mind game

Curran: Pats already winning the mind game

FOXBORO -- There’s this book called “The Obstacle is the Way,” written by an author named Ryan Holiday.

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

Therein, the 29-year-old author explains how many highly successful people use adversity as a springboard. Holiday explains that dwelling on impediments to success -- whether they be personal shortcomings, daily challenges that confront us or just bad luck -- hinders our ability to accept them and move on undeterred . . . which is critical to success.  

It’s a book I first became aware of when reading a feature on John Schneider, the Seahawks GM. Schneider said he was told about the book by Bill Belichick confidante and former Patriots executive Mike Lombardi in 2015.

“[Lombardi] said, 'That's really where you would get a great vibe for what [Belichick] is like and what his philosophy is and how he approaches life and his football culture and all. I went out and purchased it right away, and it was awesome.”

The book came to mind last week when Mike Tomlin, in his postgame address to his team, lamented that the Patriots were “a day-and-a-half” ahead of Pittsburgh in prep time and that the Steelers wouldn’t be back in Pennsylvania until 4 a.m.

Already there was that “I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’ . . . ” woe-is-me approach that gave not just Tomlin an issue to fixate upon, but his players as well. Kind of like the idle intimation Tomlin made after the 2015 opener that the Steelers headsets gave them issues.

Of course, by Monday morning, the Steelers had more to deal with, as Antonio Brown broadcast live 17 minutes of locker-room footage. The Steelers fixated on that through Wednesday. Then the flu descended on their locker room and reportedly affected 15 players. Early Sunday morning, the Steelers had the fire alarm pulled at their hotel and -- even though they didn’t evacuate -- it’s shaping up as something the Steelers will be muttering about for weeks.

Or even years. They still think they got jobbed out of a Super Bowl by “Spygate” even though the 2001 Patriots beat them because of two special-teams touchdowns more than anything having to do with alleged taped signals.

Contrast that with the Patriots. After they sat on the tarmac in Providence for three hours on New Year’s Eve waiting to take off for the finale in Miami, Tom Brady talked about the opportunity the delay afforded the team to catch up on rest or preparation.

It’s just the way the Patriots have been hard-wired since Belichick took over. Screw the mottos, like “Do Your Job” or the hokey “One More”. (Can someone tell me that if “One More” occurs, what's next year’s saying? “One More One More?”) If there’s been a mantra for success that underpins everything the Patriots have been about it would be: “It is what it is.”

Quarterbacks coach passes away? (Dick Rehbein in 2001.) Very sad. But it is what it is. Starting quarterback has artery sheared? (Drew Bledsoe in 2001.) Is what it is. A league-sponsored witch hunt is carried out prior to the Super Bowl with the starting quarterback in the crosshairs? (Deflategate/Tom Brady in 2015.) It is what it is. That quarterback’s ultimately yanked off the field for four games? (Brady's suspension, 2016.) Is what it is.

Bill Parcells once said, “If you give a team an excuse they will take it every time.”

So it was with that in mind when the Patriots in 2003 boarded a plane for Miami and Belichick told them they were going down there to win and that he “didn’t want to hear about the heat or the plane ride or the f****** orange juice.” The Patriots got the point and extracted a 19-13 overtime win -- the first time they’d won there under Belichick.

The Patriots have had plenty of fire alarms pulled on them over the years -- three times during their week in Indy prior to Super Bowl 46, at least once in Arizona prior to SB49 -- and never did those cause the outcry that this minor disturbance caused.

That has to do with the mythology around the Patriots and Belichick that’s grown and festered for a decade-and-a-half.  The rest of the paranoid NFL imagines a KGB-style intelligence agency and wound up more concerned with the Patriots than readying a great team tto unseat them. Which is handy when explaining to your owner why the Patriots routinely win at the rate that they do. They cheat. What better way to cover your ass?

It can work for a while, right Ryan Grigson?

Another pro sports dynasty that enjoyed the kind of long-term dominance New England's in the midst of also won a lot of games because opponents got spooked by dead spots in the floor, hot locker rooms and cold showers in the original Boston Garden.

In other words, this mental tenderness exhibited by teams that choose to rage at the unfairness of it all rather than laugh and soldier on is nothing new.

Today, the ill-feeling, sleep-deprived, Steelers -- who had to cram their preparation around the distraction caused by a great player -- will play their most important game in six years.

God willing, the headsets work.