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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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QBs Hoyer (2) and Etling (58) during practice
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Brian Hoyer after practice

 

Don’t Discount New England secondary

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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:

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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.

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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.

Brockton Rox from the Press Box

Ever since the Futures League added a Worcester team, I have wanted to go see a game.  When I learned my next door neighbor for many years, Jake Rosen, was playing for the Brockton Rox against Worcester at Hanover Insurance Park, I made plans to go.  Jake was the starting shortstop and batted 9th this past Thursday, July 19th.

I got in touch with Jake a few days before the game, and he told me that I could interview him if I got there about an hour before the start of the game.  We walked to the Holy Cross football field away from the pre-game music.

Jake-Andrew before Game 3

Check out the full interview below:

After the interview we watched Jake warm-up we had great seats right next to his team’s dugout. 

Before the game started, my dad bought me some chicken tenders with fries which was delicious.  On our way back to our seats, we stopped at the Bravehearts press box.  We knocked on the door, and announcers J.R. Suyemoto and Donny Porcaro invited us in and gave us a place to sit after I handed them my business card.  The game was broadcast live on Facebook as it always is and saved on the Bravehearts Facebook page.

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With Worcester Bravehearts play-by-play broadcasters J.R. Suyemoto (right) and Donny Porcaro (left)

The game was starting soon, and we were getting settled in the press box.  Paul Lambert shared the line-up cards with us so we could follow along.

In the meantime, Jake and the rest of the team were just about ready for the game.

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Brockton Rox SS Jake Rosen just before the game began.

Rox LF Charlie Maxwell led off the game with a single, but the Rox lineup was relatively quiet in the first few innings.  The Bravehearts were also kind of quiet at the plate in the first couple innings, but C Brett Coffel hit a big double in the 2nd inning, and the Bravehearts had 1st and 2nd in the 1st inning despite failing to score a run.  Worcester didn’t really get going until the 3rd inning.  Their leadoff hitter, 2B Mariano Ricciardi, walked to begin the inning, and DH Chris Rinaldi drove him in with an RBI double.  3B Dustin Harris drove Rinaldi in with a long single, and after Mack Cheli, their star hitter, singled, SS Eddie Haus hit another single to load the bases.  Coffel struck out, but Kirk Sidwell drove in a third run with his single and the bases remained loaded.  However, Joseph Pesce grounded it to the pitcher, who threw it to the catcher (Jack Kelly) to start a 1-2-3 double play and prevent the Bravehearts from scoring more runs.

Brendan Connelly, a Brockton Rox reporter from WATD (a South Shore radio station), walked in and sat next tome in the press box.  He told us that he also works at the Boston Herald as a high school sports reporter.  I told him about my Herald radio experience and how I am going to help cover my high school’s sports teams this year.

He helped us by giving us insight on some of the best Rox players and the team overall.  Brendan also told us that the Futures League was a Summer League that featured elite college baseball players, and that some of the league’s top players get drafted into the MLB.  It would be really cool if Jake was drafted by an MLB team and I really enjoyed watching him from the press box.

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With Brendan Connelly of WATD Radio

The Bravehearts made it 4-0 in the 5th inning, when Brett Coffel singled for his 2nd hit of the day and Joseph Pesce knocked Coffel in with a single of his own.  They scored a 5th run on a Mack Cheli sac fly with men on 1st and 3rd.  Eddie Haus tried to get another rally going when he hit an infield single on the next at bat, but the Rox ended the inning before the Bravehearts could get another man on base.  The Rox scored their first run in the 7th after Jack Kelly tripled and scored on a sac fly.

But after a crazy 3-run 7th, a home run by Joseph Pesce in the 8th, and a dominant performance throughout the game by the pitching staff (including 7 strong innings thrown by starter Joseph Mancini), the Bravehearts won, 9-1.

Even though the Rox lost 9-1, seeing my neighbor Jake Rosen hit and play in such a big stadium was incredible, especially from the press box.  Jake hit a hard grounder up the middle in his second plate appearance but was robbed of a single on a close play. Although this was not a great night at the plate for Jake, his defense was strong throughout the game.  Late in the game when I went back to my seats on the first base line, I saw Jake prevent an infield single by a speedy Braveheart:

 

Being focused on one player, I learned of another golden baseball player tradition, never step on foul line when walking on or off the field.

I noticed Jake avoiding the line every time he walked on and off the field.  I asked him after the game if he did it on purpose and he said, “Of course, rule of baseball…”

 

I did a little digging on this superstition and found this story from MLB Pitcher Mel Stottlemyre who last stepped on a foul line in 1987.  Here’s what happened per The Baseball Almanac:

“The first batter I faced was Ted Uhlaender, and he hit a line drive off my left shin. It went for a hit. Carew, Oliva and Killebrew followed with extra-base hits. The fifth man hit a single and scored and I was charged with five runs. I haven’t stepped on a foul line since.”

I really enjoyed my first Futures League game and I owe special thanks to Jake Rosen, J.R. Suyemoto, Donny Porcaro, Brendan Connelly, and Paul Lambert, all who made the experience that much better.

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I definitely plan on going again because the Bravehearts do a great job at making the game fun even between innings like letting kids run on the field and pie eating contests.  My younger brother Ryan who is a gamer, loved the video game music after each play.

Check out my video about this experience:

Stay tuned for more baseball posts soon.