FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots will hold their 20th practice of training camp with Wednesday's walkthrough, and they have improved considerably on a nearly daily basis. Most notably, it's been a big week for the offense, which has expanded its playbook while getting on par with a defensive unit that started fast and controlled much of the team drills at practice.
Within that span, there have been plenty of other storylines throughout camp, so let's run through some of the most interesting ones from the last week.
1. The best part of training camp happened Monday when I got an up-close-and-personal look at the way Dante Scarnecchia coaches his offensive linemen. Due to the Patriots' media policy, I can't report direct quotes, but the coaching legend was fiery, passionate, demanding and hilarious all at once. When I was a few feet away from the positional work, I didn't even watch the rest of the field. It was too good.
2. There were times when he had his linemen laughing hysterically while they were trying to fend off a double team in a live drill. And there wasn't a single moment when he let off the gas or lost anyone's attention. It was impressive stuff, and it was obvious why so many of his players sing his praises.
3. Just in the last two weeks, Matt Light, Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen — the team's three longest-tenured offensive linemen — spoke highly of Scarnecchia, calling him the best in the league at his job, saying they appreciate him and don't want to take him for granted, and many things of the like.
4. Tom Brady was a tad bit ticked off when Wes Welker jumped about two seconds early during a two-receiver passing drill Tuesday, and the quarterback punted the ball straight into the air in frustration. Judging by that punt and the failed field goal attempts from Welker and Chad Ochocinco later in practice, it's safe to assume Zoltan Mesko and Stephen Gostkowski have some decent job security.
5. Andre Carter, who can play defensive end and outside linebacker, switched to No. 93 on Saturday after the Patriots released defensive lineman Steve Williams. Someone has to get Carter some new shorts, though. His pair still had No. 68 emblazoned on them during Tuesday's practice.
6. Carter's father, Rubin, played for the Broncos from 1975-86, and his time coincided with Bill Belichick's stint in Denver (1978). "I might need to get some stories so I can get on my dad a little bit from back in the day," said Carter, "but I'm sure it's nothing but positive."
7. Carter's father used to always joke with Andre, saying he wanted him to just play tennis or badminton. Andre nearly took his advice until he started playing football as a sophomore in high school. And even when he realized he had potential, he was simply happy enough to earn a four-year scholarship to Cal and assumed he'd get a regular job after college.
8. Now, the seventh overall pick in the 2001 draft is having a really good week of practice, and it should be very interesting to watch him if he gets an opportunity Thursday against Tampa Bay. Based on Carter's history and his appearance on the practice field, he has the potential to be the Patriots' best outside pass rusher this season.
"Knowing the system and getting my football legs back, it took a minute," Carter said. "When I first came in the first week, I really didn't take that many reps. I knew the coaches were just slowly trying to progress me into the system. It's a day-to-day process, and I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to come here and work hard."
9. I'd expect Carter to make his preseason debut along with Brady, Ochocinco, Welker, Rob Gronkowski, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, most of the offensive line, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Devin McCourty. Remember, the Patriots played without 33 guys last week, so there wasn't a lot to learn about this team, aside from a good chunk of the backups.
10. I still don't think Albert Haynesworth will play, and I'd be stunned if Light was out there. Light returned to practice Saturday and participated in contact drills Sunday and Monday. I'm guessing he's a week away at the very least.
11. Brandon Spikes, Taylor Price, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, James Sanders and Ras-I Dowling haven't practiced all week, so it's safe to assume they won't play Thursday.
12. This is a big week for undrafted rookie Jeremy Ross, who could handle the kickoff duties in Tampa. Ross was a heralded kick returner out of Cal, but he hasn't shown anything to this point in camp. However, he has shown some strides as a wide receiver, especially in the last few practices. His highlight of camp came Monday when he pulled in a very nice touchdown catch deep in the end zone on a throw from Ryan Mallett.
13. Ross and linebacker Jeff Tarpinian are the only undrafted rookies who look like they have a shot to make the team directly out of camp, but they're still long shots. If Ross showcases some kick-return potential, he could bump Tate from the roster. Tarpinian, on the other hand, hasn't practiced since Saturday due to an unknown injury, and that's not conducive to making the roster.
14. Running back Sammy Morris, an 11-year veteran, was asked how long he'd like to keep playing. Before he could give much of an answer, one of his young kids interrupted, "Till you're old." The 34-year-old eventually responded, "As long as I can. Either until I can't physically do it or there's no more opportunities. The desire is still there to play, and I'm going to keep playing."
15. Morris brought up something interesting about being a veteran leader to the team's three rookie running backs. Sure, the advice comes on the field, but he can also teach them how to be better professionals. One interesting example: He told them to start hydrating in preparation for the Tampa humidity over the weekend, rather than waiting until the day before.
16. Light doesn't typically take himself too seriously. He was discussing a meeting with Belichick while they were finalizing Light's new contract, and the left tackle said there was a lot of transcendental meditation involved, even citing Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
"It's not really speaking," Light said, with his face starting to crack. "It's more of a humming. I don't want to get into it. A lot of candles. Like hot yoga with singing and a choir and a band of midgets. But I don't want to get into all that. It's awkward."
17. It's been a good week for Dane Fletcher, who had a strong showing against the Jaguars while taking charge of the defense with the headset in his helmet. Belichick also pumped his tires in the ensuing days. But Mayo stays hard on Fletcher during practice, shouting at him during drills and always demanding the best out of the second-year linebacker from Montana State.
"Obviously, after a year under the system, you become more comfortable even without the offseason," Mayo said of Fletcher. "He's making strides, and he's doing well out there."
18. Things can get a little monotonous for everyone at training camp, and Belichick thought it was funny when he said reporters were "digging deep" for topics during a lengthy discussion about kickoffs during Tuesday's news conference. Belichick loves that stuff, though, since he coached special teams for nearly a decade with the Lions, Broncos and Giants.
"Hey, I could talk about kickoff returns all day, let me tell you that," Belichick said. "That was my life for 10 years almost."
19. Getting back to an earlier point, if Light doesn't play Thursday, it should give rookie left tackle Nate Solder a valuable opportunity to play with the rest of the starting offensive line. If he's ever needed during the season, he'll at least have some game reps under his belt with Mankins, Koppen, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer.
20. Gronkowski has been an absolute destroyer in the red zone throughout training camp. Whether he's covered or not, it just never looks fair when Brady throws him the ball, and I can't even think of a time when they misfired on a connection in the end zone. It is certainly possible for Gronkowski to surpass his 10-touchdown total from his rookie season.
"You've just got to use any weapon that you've got," Gronkowski said of the recipe for red-zone success. "Obviously, I don't have the greatest speed, but I'm a little bit bigger. I've got to use the body more. I've got to be able to block out the defender and everything."
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