Patriots adjust to new rules, move forward

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Patriots adjust to new rules, move forward

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn
FOXBORO A year ago this time, New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty was just another highly touted rookie draft pick looking to prove his worth.

The first signs that McCourty might be able to contribute in a meaningful way came during the early days when the Patriots opened camp with full contact practices.

Fast forward to 2011.

This is a new season, and a new Patriots team operating under a new set of rules following the recently agreed upon Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players and the owners.

Among the most noticeable changes on Day 1 was the shoulder pad-less players during the morning session.

The days of full contact, two-a-day practices are a thing of the past, with teams not allowed to have multiple practices in pads on the same day during the preseason. Once the regular season begins, teams can only practice once a week in pads for the first 11 weeks, and three practices with pads over the final five weeks.

"To be honest, whatever the rules are, they are and I'm willing to do it any way," said Patriots linebacker Jerrod Mayo. "Two-a-days, three-a-days, whatever."

Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch added, "the biggest thing is we understand the situation. We gotta deal with it. We're just going to move forward and get ready for the season."

For veterans like Branch, it's not that big of a deal.

The physical pounding of two-a-day practices doesn't do him or any of his experienced brethren any good.

The same cannot be said for younger players.

It's not unusual for a player to look so-so in walk-thru sessions, only to shine when lights are bright and the pads are strapped.

In addition, fewer full contact practices also means fewer opportunities to simulate what they'll experience in real games, which adds another degree of difficulty to the evaluation process.

"We're just kind of taking it hour by hour," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "I wouldn't even say day-by-day yet; just one step at a time, try to get through practice and try to get everything up and running."

And when you throw in the fact that young players and rookies had less time to work together due to the labor stalemate between players and owners, it makes it all that much tougher for young players to make an immediate impact.

McCourty, whose seven interceptions last season as a rookie was the second-highest total for a rookie in Patriots history, acknowledged that simulating the physical bump-and-grind of Sundays without hitting as much in practice, will be challenging.

"That's a challenge each year, but that's part of being a pro," McCourty told CSNNE.com. "How to go a long practice, get better without getting that physical wear and tear on your body. You always have to go through that as a player. The season's are long, so you can't come out here and kill each other every day. As a pro, you have to get better without always the physical, grueling part."

Before, this was an option.

But with the new rules for contact in practice, McCourty and the rest of the Patriots have no choice in the matter.

"I'm just playing football," McCourty said. "That's what I did last year; just go out and play football. Go out and don't worry about anything else."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

Quick Slants Podcast: Antonio Brown’s betrayal; Matt Light; eyeing up Pittsburgh

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Quick Slants Podcast: Antonio Brown’s betrayal; Matt Light; eyeing up Pittsburgh

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discuss the aftermath of Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live video. Curran interview Matt Light ahead of the AFC Championship. They dissect the press conferences of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and look at how to beat the Steelers.

SUBSCRIBE iTunes | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | AudioBoom

2:29 Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live aftermath

13:14 Stopping Le’Veon Bell

27:16 heywassyonumba? with Patrick Chung and Kyle Van Noy

32:30 Injury report updates for AFC Championship

36:51 Brady and Belichick’s press conferences

44:50 Matt Light interview

Belichick asked if playing at home helps: 'Go ask Dallas and Kansas City'

Belichick asked if playing at home helps: 'Go ask Dallas and Kansas City'

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick knows that how you play, not where, is what matters most. 

That's why when he was asked on Wednesday about the advantage the Patriots will have by playing at Gillette Stadium in the AFC title game, he wasn't willing to go all-in on how a comfortable environment will positively impact his team.

"I don’t know," he said. "Go ask Dallas and Kansas City."

The Patriots apparently thought enough of home-field advantage that they played their starters throughout their regular-season finale win in Miami, exposing their best players to potential injury in order to maintain their positive momentum while simultaneously ensuring a better road to the Super Bowl. 

The Patriots fans in attendance on Sunday will help when the Patriots take on the Steelers, Belichick acknowledged. But there's much more to it than that. 

"Yeah, of course," he said, "but the game is won by the players on the field. That’s who wins football games – the players. And they’ll decide it Sunday night."

And if you needed any further proof, just ask the Cowboys and Chiefs how helpful their home crowds were in the Divisional Round.