Gillette Looks Alive During First Day of Training Camp

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Gillette Looks Alive During First Day of Training Camp For the first time in six weeks, there was some real electricity around Gillette Stadium, and it had little to do with the lightning strikes that surrounded the New England Patriots’ practice fields.

The NFL draft? History. Minicamp and OTAs? Sayonara. An 11-win season without a trip to the playoffs? Forget about it. The Patriots have fully moved into their preparations for the 2009 season with the start of training camp.

“It’s good to be back, once you’re here,” said wide receiver Wes Welker after the team’s first practice Thursday. “The day before is mixed emotions, but once you get here, it’s a lot of fun and it’s purely football. You get your mind focused on that, and you get going.”

“I get excited just to get back out there and get it started, but once you hit the field, then, man, this is training camp again,” echoed wideout Greg Lewis. “That sort of hits you. But you still want to be out there and just have fun and make the most of each opportunity you get to go out there on the field. A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to play in the NFL, to play for the New England Patriots, so you’re privileged and you need to act like it. [You need to] go out there and work hard, have fun and make the most of it.”

Double Time
Unlike their 2008 training camp, the Patriots are kicking things off with seven consecutive days of double sessions. Last year, they alternated two-a-days with single practices throughout the beginning of camp.

“We’ll be out here doing double sessions for a while,” said coach Bill Belichick. “I think that will build up our stamina, consistency and test the durability and the staying power of the players on our team a little bit.”

Perhaps not wanting to get too intense right away, Belichick kept some of the older players from taking part in both practice sessions. Wide receivers Randy Moss and Joey Galloway missed the morning practice, while linebacker Tedy Bruschi and defensive lineman Richard Seymour were among the several players who were held out of the afternoon session.

“We’ve done it differently from year to year, but that’s where we are this year,” Belichick said. “There’s not much light at the end of the tunnel.”

Remembering Jim Johnson
The death of former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson really hit home at Gillette Stadium. Lewis, who spent his first six seasons in Philly, was emotional when he touched on the subject.

“When I got there, Jim was a guy that was real tough on me,” Lewis said. “Being on the scout team, he was sort of always on me at practice because I was doing well on the scout team against the defense. He would always come talk to me. ‘Stop doing this. Stop doing that. Let them do this,’ or whatnot. We always had a rapport, and we would always talk.

"To the Philly organization, he meant a lot. He was like the face of the defense. He designed all of the blitzes and all of the stuff that it did. For him to be lost, it’s a big blow to the team, for the people that have been with the organization, his family, the Philly fans and for the NFL.

"Everything happens for a reason. They’re just going to have to move forward from this situation. He was a great guy. I sent his wife some flowers, and I talked to [Eagles head] coach [Andy] Reid about him and left it at that.”

Johnson had been a football coach since 1977, when he started out as the secondary coach at Notre Dame. He was with the Eagles from 1999 to 2008, and he was widely considered to be among the best defensive coordinators in the NFL throughout the last decade. Johnson died of cancer Tuesday.

“Jim is probably as good of a defensive coordinator as I’ve seen in the league in the time that I’ve been in it,” Belichick said. “I spoke with Jim quite frequently. We’ve exchanged a lot of ideas. I have great respect for his philosophy, his schemes, the way he attacks offenses and his ability to utilize the personnel. I think he’s got a real good football mind.

"I tried to work with him several times. That never quite worked out. I first knew him when he was at Notre Dame. I had great respect for him. He’s a good friend and a real good football coach, a tough guy to compete against. On behalf of the team and the organization, our condolences go out to the Eagles and Jim’s family. He was one of the best.”

Star of the Day
Cornerback Shawn Springs is on the non-football injury list and didn’t practice Thursday, and that gave second-year corner Jonathan Wilhite more reps. Wilhite, who started four games last season and really shined, had a tremendous opening day. He draped his coverage responsibilities and had an interception in the morning session.

Scene of the Day

The Patriots continued practicing through a hard rainstorm during the morning session, but the workout ended 40 minutes early once a flash of lightning was spotted just beyond the southeast corner of the fields behind Gillette Stadium. As a result, the team canceled the players’ on-field media availability and opted for a series of press conferences in the game-day press box. Running backs Kevin Faulk and Fred Taylor, wide receivers Lewis and Welker, linebacker Pierre Woods and Belichick each spent 10-15 minutes with the media. …

Quote of the Day
… Which leads us to this.

While Lewis was sitting to the side of the room, Taylor mentioned that the former Eagles wide receiver can always be counted on for a joke to lift the team’s spirits. Later, Lewis was asked what it’s been like getting to work with wideout Randy Moss, to which he replied, “Randy is a character. He is almost as funny as me.”

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