Last Tuesday, I went down to Gillette Stadium to watch the New England Patriots joint practice with the Philadelphia Eagles.
I made the trek with the NFL Rundown crew, a weekly podcast I’m on which covers the Shield, as well as weekly pick ‘ems. Kyle Stevens and Justin Demers are my co-hosts, and Andy Woodward of the statistic department provided some fantastic input during the pod. You can find that here.
But this is not (just) a shameless self-promotion!
I made some observations at camp, beginning with a surprise.
Jimmy Garoppolo impressed me. Coming from a college team at Eastern Illinios University, I focused on one stat about this small-school guy. He lost to a team (Towson) that lost to the University of New Hampshire in the 2013 regular season. The, kindly-put, sub-par UNH squad beating a team which beat an NFL Quarterback made me queasy. Turns out I shouldn’t have been worried. He looked confident, poised. He floated balls over Linebackers in pursuit and flung missiles into tight-windows past the defense of an over-bearing ballhawk safety. Garoppolo even showed great command of the hurry up offense and appeared to be a field general, showing promise for a rookie.
The special teams units did not. The kickoff coverage team did not do a great job in bottling up the returners of the Eagles. Brandon Boykin and Darren Sproles took turns fielding Gostowski’s kicks. Once, Sproles took the ball from the back of the endzone and gashed up the seam. He seemed to be breaking off a big run, possibly taking the kick all the way back. Then, almost by mistake, Danny Aiken, the Patriots Long Snapper, plowed over Sproles. It was a jarring, surprising hit and the large crowd took notice with a collective “Oh!” followed by laughter. But the special teams were not a laughing matter as Sproles’ run was not atypical, many of the kicks were returned to the 35 or deeper.
O.K. – with one exception. The only thing I liked about the ST was, during an attempt of a 35-yard Field Goal, the Patriots faked it. The holder (Garoppolo) rolled out and hit #62, down lineman Ryan Wendell, in-stride and Wendell waddled (sorry, I couldn’t write gallop and the consonance was too much) all the way inside the five-yard line before he was brought down.
Nate Solder is big. Like really big. I know he’s listed at 6-foot-8, 320lbs, but he is much, much bigger in person. He could eat me. As an appetizer.
Patriots fans clap for anything. Really anything. Gassers? Why not? Brady-Gronk pitch and catch on the sidelines? Of course. Semi-decent player walks by? Endless applause.
It got chippy. On one of the kickoffs, an Eagle took exception to the roughhousing of the Patriots and burst into the pile with a shove. Patriots rookie Corner Back Shamiel Gary responded to Eagles’ five-year veteran Safety Chris Maragos. The two started jawing and shoving until there was a solid group of ten other players/agitators standing by. It was great to see the fire in training camp.
Slice and dice, moves cool as ice. Henry Josey of the Philadelphia Eagles, Rookie out of Mizzou, was on fire. LeSean ‘Shady’ McCoy showed flashes, and back-up Darren Sproles broke some loose, but no one had sharper cuts and better instincts whether to bounce the ball outside or stay in than Josey. He chewed up the Patriots lousy run defense. The defense couldn’t stop the rush.
Or the pass, for a matter of fact. Darelle Revis was burned deep – twice. Both times by Jeremy Maclin. Of course, this set off the disapproving twitters (both literally and metaphorically) for the disgruntled fan-base. To be fair to them, the Patriots are paying him $12 million this upcoming season. To be fair to him, it’s mini-camp and he was jogging on the latter half of the first burn deep, essentially a straight-line route towards the goal-line.
Cary Williams got it from the crowd. After calling the Patriots “cheaters” last week, he got toasted by both Brandon LaFell and Develin.
By the way, chicks dig James Develin. The Fullback of the New England Patriots made ladies swoon and opposing Linebackers grumble this past week. He caught EVERYTHING. He made the catches he was supposed to, as well those which he wasn’t supposed to. James Develin, former back-up FB, lighted it up on the field for more than five thousand dollars.
Then the cool stuff.
A very affable Riley Cooper paused to snap a photo and shake hands with the NFL Rundown crew.
Then Matt Barkley walked past, shook mine and Kyle’s hands, and didn’t respond to Kyle’s USC mantra of “Fight On!” which was hilarious. (Seriously, he said it about five time to no avail.)
Something that impressed me was Mark Sanchez’s focus. His concentration was unmatched at camp; he did not look up or acknowledge Kyle when he called three times in a row, “Sign my butt, Mark!” of course referencing the infamous Buttfumble.
So as Patriots camp draws to a close, that’s what you need to know.
Sam Fortier is an official Freshman (MOO!) at Syracuse University as of this Wednesday. He wants you to know he is the unofficial president of the Chase Wright fanclub, as well as a consumer of bratwurst.