Patriots Training Camp with Bob Socci

Today, I had the opportunity to spend a day at Patriots training camp as a member of the press, shadowing Patriots radio play-by-play announcer and Patriots.com Beat Reporter Bob Socci.  I first met Bob at the NFL Kickoff event with the Patriots broadcast team, held at Mr. Sid last year.  (Note: I will be going back to a similar event on September 6th).

Bob learned about the work I had done as a sports blogger and offered to help me by inviting me to Patriots training Camp with him.

Before Practice Began:  “Pre-Game” Videos and Fan Experience

I arrived a little bit early so I could do a live stand-up in front of Gillette Stadium and also conduct some interviews with fans.

First, I interviewed a long-time Pats fan named Jan.  She meets a friend at Gillette every year who gives her the insight on the players at Patriots training camp.

After that, I interviewed Arjun, a 6th grader from Philadelphia who likes the Patriots so much that his parents decided to make the trip north this year.  He was very excited to see the team live for the first time.

Many young fans like Arjun also had the opportunity to take advantage of Fan Experience activities held around the practice fields.  My Dad further explored some of the activities while I was with Bob and the rest of the media.

They had football activities where they tracked your performance and created a Player Profile.  Jimmy from the Patriots staff was really nice and created my card with Pat Patriot’s stats.

Training Camp Profile Card

There were also a number of booths with give-aways for participating in small games like mini-golf skee ball and photo opportunities like the one with my dad.

IMG_6825

Becoming Official Pats Media Member for the Day

Bob Socci met me soon after my interviews in front of the stadium.  I said goodbye to my dad and Bob took me to go get my press pass.

IMG_6818.JPG

We walked to the other side of the stadium and went through media security there.  After I gave them my name and affiliation, they handed me my press pass.

My press pass from training camp

All media members received a detailed Patriots preseason roster and media guidelines from the media security table to help us learn about who we were covering and what coverage was permitted and when.

img_0201

On my way to the media tent, Bob explained a few things to me about the training camp roster:

  1. Since there are many players on the roster and the roster is not finalized, there may be pairs of players who share a number
  2. Rookies wear numbers based on when they were drafted during training camp and their camp numbers do not usually correspond with their position.  The team’s first draft pick, T Isaiah Wynn wears #50, their second pick, RB Sony Michel wears #51, their third pick, CB Duke Dawson wears #52, and so on.  For the regular season they receive new numbers.
  3. During training camp, quarterbacks wear red while the rest of the offense wears white and the defense wears blue.  On the roster, offensive players who share a number with defensive players (and vice versa) have (o) for offense or (d) for defense next to their name.

Bob also mentioned that during camp, there would only be a 10-20 minute session for media to take photos and videos, and that no tweeting was allowed during camp for media members.  We were allowed to take notes during the no photo/video portions of practice.

Bob told me that after practice the media guidelines would be more flexible.  The only major rules were to stay within certain interviewing boundaries and not take any photos or video of players with their families without permission.

Before practice began, Bob introduced me to the vice president of media relations at training camp, Stacey James, as well as fellow media member Jim McBride.  I also had time to catch up with ESPN Patriots beat reporter Mike Reiss, who I had met earlier in the week at Sports Broadcasting Camp.   I also met a friend of Bob’s, Steve Yood, along with his sons Alex and Josh.

Watching Practice from the Media Tent

Practice started about 5 minutes after we arrived at the media tent.  During practice, I also met Marc Cappello of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Josh Brogadir of WCVB, and Steve Atkinson of Boston Sports Extra.  They were surprised to see someone my age in the media tent.  Some of them told me what they did at my age and how they wished they had started earlier.

The Patriots practice began with some warm-ups.  The team stretched, jogged a little bit, and threw the ball around.  Afterwards they began a walk-through of some plays they would use later in 11 on 11 drills.

Positional drills began after the walk-through portion practice.  This was the portion of practice when the media photo and video session took place.  Offensive lineman competed 1 on 1 against defensive lineman, wide receivers caught balls from a receiving coach, and quarterbacks stayed together as well to take practice throws.  During this time, PK Stephen Gostkowski practiced field goals.  Here is some of my video coverage.

After the photo and video session ended, positional drills continued.  The QBs began throwing to the receivers directly.  Soon after that, they had the Pats secondary go 1 on 1 against receivers catching passes from QBs Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Danny Etling.  The Pats ran a few more offense vs. defense practice plays before starting the 11 on 11 drills.

The Patriots alternated personnel during the 11 on 11 drills with quarterbacks Brady and Hoyer getting most of the reps at QB .  Before practice ended, the Pats held a few more running drills on the hills around the field.  Then, for most of the team, practice ended.  A few guys, including Danny Etling, put in a little extra work after the full team practice.

Some of my Observations from Day 4 of Patriots Training Camp

Keep an eye out for Phillip Dorsett and Jacob Hollister

img_0202
WR Phillip Dorsett (#13) after catching a ball from the coach during positional drills

I kept a tally of Brady’s ball distribution during a couple of his drills, and his most frequent target during those drills was Dorsett.  Dorsett had an especially strong catch on a deep pass from Brady during the offensive walk-through.  Hollister had a nice jumping catch in the end zone that Brian Hoyer threw to him during 11 on 11 drills.

Patriots RBs could be a big part of the offense again this season

Brady wasn’t just throwing to receivers and tight ends today.  Brady, Hoyer, and Etling all participated in a drill where they threw short passes to RBs including James White and Pats 2018 2nd draft pick from the first round, Sony Michel.  Michel caught a short pass at the 30 yard line and took it to the house during 11 on 11 drills.

After practice, I was happy to see Meredith Gorman who I worked with last summer at the Boston Herald.  Meredith, now with Patriots.com, conducted a 1 on 1 interview with Michel.

img_0204
Meredith Gorman, who now works for patriots.com, interviewing rookie RB Sony Michel after practice

Great to see Julian Edelman back on the field

I enjoyed seeing Tom Brady connecting with WR Julian Edelman for the first time since Super Bowl LI.  Even though he is suspended for the first four games, Edelman missed the entire season last year and now he is back and seems ready to play and make more amazing catches like the one that most remember as “the catch” from the Pats 5th Super Bowl win.   Edelman looked like his old self out there making some good plays along with Pats newcomer WR Jordan Matthews.  Other pass catchers I liked seeing were TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Chris Hogan.  Gronk had a catch deep up the seam even though he was tightly covered, which is one reason Pats fans love watching him.

Image result for edelman catch
Super Bowl LI “the catch” by Edelman

Brian Hoyer had some good end zone connections

I watched all 3 of the Pats quarterbacks perform today but the QB I was most impressed with was Brian Hoyer.  Hoyer made successful end zone connections on his first two passes, including a great throw to Jacob Hollister in the corner of the end zone.

IMG_0148.JPG
QBs Hoyer (2) and Etling (58) during practice
IMG_0191
Brian Hoyer after practice

 

Don’t Discount New England secondary

img_0206
Stephon Gilmore being interviewed after practice

Even though one of last year’s starting CB and Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler signed with the Titans in the offseason, I still believe that Pats will have a good secondary.  For example, today I saw CB Stephon Gilmore break up several pass plays in 1 on 1 coverage against Julian Edelman, nearly intercepting one pass thrown by Tom Brady.  Rookie and Pats 2018 #3 draft pick CB Duke Dawson also came close to picking off Brady while covering Phillip Dorsett.

Trey Flowers was back at practice with bandage on forehead

Flowers returned to practice after leaving yesterday with an ice pack on his head.  In other injury news, Jordan Matthews left today’s practice with an unknown injury, and CB Keion Crossen (back) and RB Mike Gillislee (unknown) did not practice.  Bob Socci told me that WR Kenny Britt, CB Cyrus Jones, CB Jonathan Jones, and WR Matthew Slater were on the PUP list.  However, I did notice Britt participating in warm-ups.  According to the official training camp roster, WRs Darren Andrews and Cody Hollister are on the Reserve/NFI list.

After Practice: Media Session and Tour

After practice ended, Bob and I headed to the designated player interview zone.  I watched some of the interviews.  Bob Socci conducted a stand-up recap with Megan O’Brien as they discussed their own observations from the day.  Some of the topics he mentioned in the interview were things we talked about in the media tent together during the practice:

img_0207
Bob Socci and Megan O’Brien Day 4 Recap

James White, Sony Michel, RB Rex Burkhead, T Trent Brown, DE Derek Rivers, and QB Brian Hoyer were among those interviewed.  Although he didn’t stop for interviews, I did see Gronk walk by, as well as a few other players like Phillip Dorsett and Dont’a Hightower.  I also saw the McCourty twins with all their family on the field.  I think it is really cool that after many years on different teams they will now play on the same team and they seem to be enjoying camp together.

Nobody was interviewed at the podium today like Tom Brady was yesterday.  This area is primarily used for interviews with star players like Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

IMG_0163.JPG
The empty podium at practice today

In between and after the media interviews, I met some media members including Levan Reid of WBZ, Joe Gallant of WNRI (a radio station in Providence), and Megan O’Brien of Patriots.com.   I also said hello to patriots.com’s Meredith Gorman and the Boston Herald’s Meghan Ottolini.

After the post practice interviews were over, Bob took me inside Gillette Stadium so I could see the media area.  He showed me the TV studio where Patriots All Access is aired.  The studio was filled with football helmets on the shelves and Patriots logos all around.  Bob mentioned he hosts a show with Scott Zolak in the studio next door.  We also walked by the game day media workroom, the writing rooms for various newspapers and blogs, and the weekday press conference room which was the biggest room of them all.

In total, I spent about 4 hours with Bob today and feel like I learned so much about covering the Patriots.  In addition, I saw so much from the media’s point of view.  It was truly incredible and surreal at times.

I’d like to thank Bob Socci and Stacey James for making this experience possible for me.  I’d also like to thank all the media members who spent the time to talk to me and give me tips on sports reporting.

Advertisements

Scouting Report: Atlanta Falcons

matt-ryan

The Falcons were Carolina’s closest competitor in the NFC South last year.  Most people think due to a weak division, they will be again.  But I say no.  The Falcons have some serious problems.  They have no offensive depth, and the defense has some good players, but also some holes, underachieving players and depth problems.  The Bucs are a big sleeper, and I think the Saints young receiving staff could even top what the Falcons have.  Matt Ryan is being cocky by saying this offense can score 30 points a game.  This team will have a rough ride, and Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and more overrated stars will fall.  What does this team have to win?

3 Players to Watch For

1. Tevin Coleman, RB

I know how much attention Devonta Freeman got last season, but with the kind of numbers he put up, and with Tevin Coleman healthy and ready to improve in his sophomore year, I think Freeman had a one and done season that will never happen again.  He is a potential bust for the Falcons in 2016.  Coleman underachieved last year, and he’s hungry to prove to defenders that he still is what he was in college.  I don’t see him doing that badly again.  I see at least 500 yards, and he could even come close to topping Devonta Freeman’s yardage this season, even with the Falcons counting on Freeman to start, at least to begin the season.

2. Mohamed Sanu, WR

Sanu may have not been as impressive in 2015 as he was in 2014 when A.J. Green and Marvin Jones were hurt, but Sanu is still a major underrated sleeper.  Having just one receiver ahead of him helps this year, even though Julio Jones is a little better than A.J. Green, so Sanu should get more targets.  Sanu knew he didn’t want to return to Cincinnati, but this was an interesting and underrated free agent pickup by Atlanta.  The Falcons clearly trust Sanu to step up this season, as they released Roddy White and return specialist Devin Hester, who’s probably the best ever at his position.   The Falcons do have some depth at the position in Justin Hardy, Devin Fuller, Eric Weems and Nick Williams, the only key names are Jones and Sanu.  Sanu is a big sleeper on the Falcons, and I think even with the offense struggling, him and Tevin Coleman will come through this season.  The question is, will guys they trust like Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman, even Julio Jones keep doing their job, and will problems at tight end and even the o-line make a mark?

3. Courtney Upshaw, OLB/DE

Since being drafted by the Ravens with an early 2nd round pick in 2012, Upshaw has never been an explosive player, and the Ravens have plenty of other linebackers that they’ve started in his place, like Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and 2014 1st rounder C.J. Mosley.  Suggs and Dumervil have been hurt a lot, but even in a starting role, he’s only racked up 5 sacks.  He’s played in every regular season game since his NFL career started, and still only 5 sacks?  Upshaw does have a lot of upside, but he will have to compete with the youngsters for a starting job in Atlanta after the Ravens declined his fifth year option.  However, I think he’s a sleeper to rack up more sacks than he has so far in his career.  If he finishes camp strong, he should take a starting job at outside linebacker opposite rookie Deion Jones or veteran Sean Weatherspoon, who came boomeranging his way back to Atlanta after a 1-year stint in Arizona.  Courtney Upshaw could be a strong source for the Falcons pass rush this season.  Trust me, he will show up!

 

3 Questions That Must Be Answered

 

1. Can the offense consistently be a force?

That’s very tough to say.  This offense has never been known for consistency, but when they do well, they do very, very well.  the Falcons have usually either gotten off to a terrible start, or fallen apart after a potential playoff contending run.  I don’t trust Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman to consistently run this offense, although when Ryan finds his receivers in the games he performs in, the Falcons thrive.  I see Matt Ryan as a bust.  He usually is a dominant offensive force but it has tapered off over the last couple seasons, and since when is Devonta Freeman an elite RB based on one great year.  If Freeman struggles, and then Tevin Coleman fails to fill the starting position has well, they could have a problem at RB.  They will be missing elite Steven Jackson, who is lost in free agency, declining in condition as he ages.  I don’t think this offense can be a consistent force, and that will be one thing causing the Falcons to have the terrible season I’m projecting.

2. Will some small defensive tweaks help in 2016?

Vic Beasley Jr. is moving to defensive end, and the linebakcer corps is revamped with Courtney Upshaw and Sean Weatherspoon along with draft pick Deion Jones playing next to veteran Paul Worrilow.  Beasley should be able to find his groove at a new position, and after a rookie year disappointment, could finally be the intriguing pass rusher he was in college.  Upshaw, Weatherspoon and Jones are all getting a fresh start with a new team, even though Jones is new to the NFL, and Weatherspoon has been here before.  The secondary even looks like a minor improvement, even with Jalen Collins suspended for a quarter of the season.  Robert Alford now plays across from Desmond Trufaunt, and Ricardo Allen plays accross from Collins.  I think in the end, the moves will add up to minor improvements in 2016, but nothing major, and it won’t quite make up for the problems on offense.

3. Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman: STUD or DUD?

I know Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman have don some pretty good things in their past, but Ryan just doesn’t have it in him anymore, and Devonta Freeman looks to me like a one year wonder that will be overused in 2016, with Tevin Coleman being held to minimal touches, ready to break though.  Ryan lost production in 2015, and I could see that continuing to happen to him in 2016, and this year Freeman.  Both have overachieved at certain points, and really, this Falcons offense is going to have some serious problmes this year if they can’t even figure themselves out.

 

3 Bold Predictions

1. Vic Beasley Jr. or Courtney Upshaw will lead the team in sacks

I think this year is the year for some of Atlanta’s younger pass rushers to thrive.  Adrian Clayborn, Paul Worrilow, Sean Weatherspoon and Dwight Freeney aren’t as productive as they used to be, and young pass rushers Vic Beasley Jr. and Courtney Upshaw could be sleepers to rack up double digit sacks.  Personally, I see the duo will get between 8 and 12 sacks apiece, and the older guys will all be held to 5 or 6 sacks at most.  Upshaw and Beasley are major sleepers, and the guys around them are getting to the age where their prime has ended and they can’t do what they used to be able to do anymore.

2. Tevin Coleman will lead the team in rushing

Like I said earlier, I don’t think Devonta Freeman will ever be what he was last year again.  Tevin Coleman was a highly drafted RB in the 2015 draft, and like a lot of the 2015 RB class, I think he should blossom this year.  He may not get many carries to start the season, but once he gets the chance to prove he’s better than Freeman, his carries will increase, and he will thrive in the Falcons system. Tevin Coleman is a big sleeper, and I like what he’s doing, especially with my faith in Devonta Freeman pretty low right now.

3. Julio Jones will break the 1500 yard barrier, but he’ll be 1 of 5 or more to do so

Julio Jones is a dominant wide receiver, but this year’s wide receiver group is domInant as well, especially with Jordy Nelson and Dez Bryant.  I’m sure Julio Jones will break the 1500 yard barrier, but he is one of many that is highly capable.  I expect Antonio Brown, OBJ, Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson and maybe A.J. Green or DeAndre Hopkins to match that stat.  Plenty are capable, and several will do it.  I don’t even expect Julio to make the Top 3 in receiving yards.  This wide receiver group is loaded, and lots of shocking stats will prove it.

Schedule Breakdown

The Falcons have a couple winnable games, but have a relatively tough schedule, and the way things are looking, I don’t think the Falcons will fare very well.  With revamped defense and young offense, Week 1 already boasts a tough match-up against the Bucs.  Even at home, the Bucs are a major sleeper and I like Tampa to win this.  That could be winnable though.  Then they face a similar team in Oakland, that’s another loss, especially on the road.  The Saints offense could be a little overwhelming for the Falcons secondary in New Orleans, and they will lose under road trip pressure.

Weeks 4-6 boast some very strong opponents.  They can not beat Carolina this year.  The Broncos will be tricky and tough on the offense in a road match-up, and they definitely can’t beat Seattle on their own turf.  They get a one week break at home, hosting the Chargers.  I do think they can win this one, Stevie Johnson is likely out for the year, and although I do see some improvement in San Diego, nothing major will happen.  This is an easy W for the Falcons at home.  But it’s back to the tough schedule in Week 8 against the Packers, who will blow them out.  Then they go to Tampa Bay.  If they can’t beat the Bucs at home, it definitely won’t happen on the road.  After a tough 6-week stretch where the Falcons go a horrid 1-5, they play one more game before the bye, in Philadelphia.  The Eagles will be pretty bad as well, but still have enough in them to beat a sucky Falcons team with home field advantage.  The team will enter the bye at a horrid 1-9, one of the worst first 10 weeks in the league.

Then after the bye come another two terrible match-ups, as they host the powerful Cardinals and sneaky, underrated Chiefs.  Two losses at home fresh off a bye is not good, but is bound to happen with these match-ups, much unlike what would of happened in these games a couple years back.  They get a tough break at the end of the season though.  One tough game stuffed between three easier match-ups.  The first is against the Rams in Los Angeles.  I have to give LA the win here though. At home, the Rams defense will outsmart Matt Ryan’s offense.  They host the 49ers, which I think is an easy W for Atlanta.  The Niners have it even worse then they do.  The Falcons at least have stars on offense.  That just isn’t there in San Francisco.  They get beaten by Carolina on the road, but I think they will close out the season with a third win in New Orleans.  With that weak a defense, this is one game Matt Ryan and the offense could thrive in.

My Prediction

FullSizeRender (18)

The Falcons will have a lot of trouble on the road, and the offense may struggle to get going.  An inconsistent Falcons team will not win on the road, even with easy match-ups against the Eagles and Rams.  I say they finish the season 3-13 instead of 2-14 or 1-15.  3-13 is pretty terrible, but at least the Falcons got those wins a little easier then the teams below them in my ranks, and hey, they won three easy home games.  They were just inconsistent and did terrible on the road.  Yes, even with a 3-5 home record.