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.

NFL Week 4 Picks

 

 

BYE: Eagles, Packers

My Record: 27-21 (28-21 w/TNF)

Week 1: 9-7

Week 2: 9-7

Week 3: 9-7

 

I may have not had the greatest start, but looking on the bright side, I’m 1-0 this week, better than Pete Prisco on the season, and my picks for Week 4 are here.  Who do you have winning?

 

Lock Of The Week

 

Cardinals, 26, Rams, 23

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Look, the Rams are 2-1, but first of all, the Rams would be 1-2 if it wasn’t for the nasty storm that hit Tampa Bay, and Case Keenum should not be their starting QB.  The Rams only beat the Seahawks because their offense wasn’t doing anything against a tough Rams defense.  That was in LA, against an offense that sometimes has to be saved by the overpowered defense in order for the team to win games.  This is in Arizona, a great all-around team.  The offense will be tough on the Rams D, and the Rams offense will be under as much pressure as they were against Seattle.  But this time, the Cardinals offense will actually take advantage of that fact, and top a good, but not great Rams defense.

 

Upset Of The Week

 

Buccaneers, 25, Broncos, 23

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I know, Trevor Siemian has maintained the Broncos good offensive status, and the Broncos defense may be unstoppable.  Especially for Jameis Winston and the young Bucs offense, who can get pressured easily.  But there’s one underrated force that you probably aren’t paying attention to.  The Bucs defense.  The Bucs defense could actually surprise the Broncos.  I think that Denver could come up short, if this Bucs D wakes up and strikes.  I know how good the Broncos have been, but at home, this is winnable for Tampa Bay, and it’s a big upset, but the Buccaneers are a big sleeper team, and I thought going into the season the Broncos were overrated and will lose some games most people don’t think they will.  Those predictions is probably wrong, but these teams will show signs of those potentials.

 

The Other Games

 

Jaguars, 24, Colts, 23

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With no true home team, this game is an interesting one.  I think there is a chance that the Jags eventually move to London, so they may have slight advantage because they don’t have as many fans when they play at home, but they won’t need it.  Even though the Jaguars are 0-3, they just barely lost to the Ravens, and the Chargers are just on fire, so they were though, and the Packers are a good team that beat them.  The Colts lost to the Lions, and even though they tried to come back, they were losing during the whole game.  They also lost to the Broncos, who are good, and somehow they beat the Chargers.  Doesn’t make sense.  The point is the Colts are unpredictable, but haven’t actually done that great even at a better record.  If they have a match-up that works for them, they win.  Otherwise, they lose.  The Jaguars are ready to strike, and they won’t let the Colts work their inconsistent, but strong magic.

 

Redskins, 31, Browns, 23

 

Look, even with Terrelle Pryor shining at WR/QB, the Browns aren’t going to win with a 3rd and 4th string quarterback.  Corey Coleman is also hurt and Josh Gordon may never be back.  The Redskins haven’t been great yet, but they’ve had very tough match-ups.  This week should be a lot easier, and Kirk Cousins and the Redskins offense will lash out and annihilate the Browns.  The defense has nothing to stop them, and the offense shouldn’t score enough to challenge them, even though the Redskins defense is only mediocre.  This should be a win for Washington, especially on their own turf.

 

Patriots, 35, Bills, 23

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I don’t know what the Patriots are doing at QB, but I know the Pats, they will not start Edelman at QB.  They will refuse to and avoid playing him at QB when possible.  I’m suspecting Jimmy Garoppolo gets the start since he’s had longer to recover, but you never know.  Assuming he starts, he means real business, and will make sure to put up plenty of points to prevent the Bills, who actually might’ve been a decent team if Watkins wasn’t hurt and the defense doesn’t get embarrassed by this, to challenge.  The Bills will score a good amount, but Garoppolo and the Pats will find a way to be better.  I really like them for that.

 

Seahawks, 27, Jets, 23

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The Seahawks were in some turmoil when the offense couldn’t get going, but they got some momentum last week, until Russell Wilson sprained his MCL.  Luckily, he’s healed quickly and will likely play, but will he be himself?  Doesn’t matter.  Especially against the Seahawks, who also have a very tough defense, I do not see the Jets coming back from last week in any sense.  Eric Decker is now out, and the Jets still don’t have a good tight end.  Their only good weapon, Brandon Marshall has Richard Sherman to deal with!  He won’t be going anywhere.  The Jets defense is all right, but look, the Seahawks defense is a lot better, and like I said, the Jets will not bounce back from last week in any sense.

 

Panthers, 37, Falcons, 30

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The Falcons have been good the last two weeks, especially offensively, and even with a big weak spot at corner that could fail to cover Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, the rest of the Carolina defense is good.  The Falcons defense isn’t that good, actually, even if they look good, and they could give up a lot of points to Carolina.  This is going to be a high scoring game, and both teams will make an effort to win, but in the end, I just don’t see the Falcons scoring quite enough on the Panthers defense to top them.  Besides, I think Cam Newton and his offense will really excel in this game, so the Falcons will have tough competition.

 

Lions, 27, Bears, 26

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The Bears have already struggled this season.  Now they’re without Jay Cutler and Jeremy Langford.  I never really thought the Bears would do that good anyways.  Even though they do now have Brian Hoyer and former Lions running back Joique Bell, who might actually be more developed than Langford, the Lions have a pretty good offense that will take advantage of the weak Bears defense.  This will be another offensive battle, and the Lions in this case have a better offense than the Bears.  They may be without Ameer Abdullah, but Matthew Stafford has a great connection with Marvin Jones, and also has strong weapons in Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin and Eric Ebron.  Even pass-catching running back Theo Riddick is getting some good receiving yards in. So I think the Lions are capable of beating the Bears on the road.  This game is slightly in their favor, and they have a good offense to prove themselves.

 

Texans, 34, Titans, 29

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Even with J.J. Watt out for the season, I still think the Texans are the favorite to win the AFC South.  This match-up is crucial, and I still think the Texans can win it at home, even in a now tough AFC South that anyone could win.  This is another great game for Lamar Miller, like Week 1’s lock over the Bears was.  He will wreck the Titans defense.  The entire offense is in good hands against the undeveloped Titans defense.  The Texans defense may have its issues without J.J. Watt, but look, the Texans defense still isn’t bad.  They have Vince Wilfork, Jadeveon Clowney, Johnathan Joseph and maybe Brian Cushing.  They’re definitely better than the Titans defense.  The Titans offense is good, but will come up short against the Texans D.  It could be a close one though.

 

Ravens, 26, Raiders, 24

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When these two played last year it was in Oakland, and Seth Roberts just barely got the Raiders the win.  But things are different now.  The Raiders are getting good and the Ravens have improved from last season.  The Ravens are 3-0, but beat the Bills, Jaguars and Browns.  Not so tough competition.  The Raiders beat the Saints and Titans, and lost to the Falcons.  It was tough to beat the Saints and Falcons.  The Falcons offense lashed out in Week 2, and the Saints are just a high scoring team.  The Falcons won in an offensive shootout when they were featured against the Saints on Monday Night Football.  Back to this game though, the Ravens and Raiders are now at about equal level. The Ravens have slightly better offensive depth, while the Raiders have more defensive stars.  I think in a home match-up, the Ravens will score slightly more, and pick up the wins.  I used to always say, two even teams, home team wins, and pick home teams even more than I do now, but now I make some exceptions if injuries, momentum and pressure are involved.  This is no exception.

 

Cowboys, 38, 49ers, 23

 

The Cowboys are without Dez Bryant and Tony Romo, so this could actually be a tough match-up, but against the 49ers, a 4-12 team last year, Dak Prescott’s revised offense should be able to win it, even on the road.  Despite seeing the 49ers as a team who could produce offensively in the first two weeks, in Week 3, they looked like the same old, terrible Niners.  Which Niners will they be this week?  Honestly, I think they will produce something on offense against a below average Cowboys defense.  Now that you think about it, how the 49ers do on offense really depends on how good the defense is that they’re facing.  Maybe they just had some tough defensive match-ups last year and Blaine Gabbert, even Colin Kaepernick could lead the 49ers to a decent record.  Maybe 8-8.  But this week, the 49ers defense, even being mediocre, will be overwhelmed by Dak Prescott’s tricks.  So I see scoring for San Francisco, but not a win in the end.

 

Chargers, 33, Saints, 27 OT

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The Saints have a good, consistent offense, but the Chargers offense has really fired up this season.  Look at what Melvin Gordon has done after a bust season last year.  Even with Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead leaving for the season with torn ACLs, this offense has produced week after week.  The defense lew an overtime game and a game with 2 minutes left against the Colts, but the Chargers haven’t failed to score and stay in it.  Philip Rivers, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams have really stepped up for this offense, with Antonio Gates (for now), Allen and Woodhead out.  The Saints will score a lot, but it won’t be enough to match Chargers.  This game will be a close offensive shootout that could go to overtime.  Both defenses will be annihilated, and both offenses will thrive.  But in the end, the Chargers haven’t lost at home, and they won’t end that.  With home field advantage, the Chargers do have a slight advantage over the Saints.  They could have a pretty good season, but the problem is, so will everyone in their division.

 

Steelers, 40, Chiefs, 37

 

I just can’t see the Chiefs offense thriving in Pittsburgh, and I can’t see the Steelers being annihilated two weeks straight, especially at home this week.  The Chiefs defense did annihilate the Jets last week, but Le’Veon Bell is back, and this Steelers offense will start to get really good.  Even though the Steelers defense isn’t great, with a home field advantage, I think the Steelers can win this tough Sunday Night match-up.   In a neutral match-up, I think the Chiefs would win.  But the Steelers have home field advantage.  Their defensive weaknesses won’t show, and the Chiefs’ mild offensive depth problems will.  Home field advantage sure can mean a lot in a tough Sunday Night game.  

 

Vikings, 20, Giants, 16

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You’ve seen what the Vikings defense can do.  They’ve kept the Vikings undefeated with Teddy Bridgewater out.  The Giants don’t have Rashad Jennings or Shane Vereen.  The Vikings defense will ruin them.  The Giants offense isn’t prepared for what’s coming at them.  The Giants defense is good too, but they have weaknesses, The Vikings will take advantage of those.  Look, this will be a defensive game, a low scoring match-up that comes really close.  But in the end, especially with home field advantage, the Vikings will take advantage of what they can do, and take the win.  The Giants can’t do much about it.  I’m praying for this Vikings defense to do well, because they’re on my fantasy team.  But the Vikings can win this thing, I believe in them, and their defense.

 

Thursday Night’s Game

 

Bengals, 20, Dolphins, 19

 

I knew the Bengals could pull this one off and they did.  The defense was clutch as expected, and the offense thrived, even without Tyler Eifert or many receiving weapons at all.  They relied mainly on their rushing game, and annoyed the Dolphins pass rush, who was having trouble handling too much at once. A.J. Green had an awesome game too.  I knew this game would be a low scorer, somewhat close, where the Bengals defense was the main force in their win, and dominated.  I knew the offense wouldn’t score much but would do its job and not blow the game.  I knew the Dolphins offense wouldn’t do enough to prevent the Bengals from winning, and I had a feeling the defense wouldn’t be able to save them. I’m not surprised the Bengals got the win here.