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 Draft Report Cards: AFC East Edition

Welcome to my first NFL Draft Report Card article of 2018.  I have given a grade to every pick of the 2018 NFL Draft and compiled the grades onto 32 report cards, one per team.  I averaged all the grades on each team to determine my final grade for each team’s NFL Draft.  To avoid overly long articles, I have split it into eight parts, one for each NFL division.  Let’s start with the AFC East, the home of the New England Patriots.

NFL Draft Report Cards

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AFC East                                                              NFC East

AFC North                                                           NFC North

AFC South                                                           NFC South

AFC West                                                             NFC West

 

Miami Dolphins

Grade: B

What They Did Right: The Dolphins started off the draft on a strong note.  Rather than trading up for a QB of the future that they do not need quite yet, they took Minkah Fitzpatrick, a versatile defensive back who fits well into a Dolphins secondary that needs significant help.  This was a big steal by the Dolphins, and it’s not the first time they have done this.  They took T Laremy Tunsil, originally the projected No. 1 pick after he slid in the 2016 NFL Draft.  They also did a good job filling their needs early on, taking a strong pair of tight ends, a defensive back, a young RB, and a linebacker.

What They Did Wrong: They made some reaches in the later rounds, and they took a second linebacker, TE, and cornerback when they could have used some offensive line help.  But there are no fatal flaws here.  The Dolphins arguably had the best draft in the AFC East.

Buffalo Bills

Grade: B

What They Did Right: The Bills had a spectacular Day 1.  They took two grade-A prospects in Round 1, making smart trades to put themselves in position to get what they needed.  Josh Allen has very high potential, and he will definitely compete for the starting job.  Tremaine Edmunds brings much-needed help to the linebacking corps on the outside and on the inside.  They got a steal in Edmunds with the 16th pick. They also had two other quality steals. They took DT Harrison Phillips after he nearly fell to Round 3.  They do not really need a DT, but Phillips was a valuable pick for the Bills at this point in the draft.  They also scored a steal in G Wyatt Teller. Not only was Teller projected to be drafted much earlier, but he fills the hole that Richie Incognito left behind.  Teller has the chance to compete for a starting job and thrive in one across from fellow Bills linemen John Miller and Vladimir Ducasse. They topped off their strong draft with a couple of good wide receivers in the late rounds.

What They Did Wrong: The Bills already had what is emerging as one of the league’s premier secondaries.  Yet they drafted not just one, but two defensive backs. In the meantime, they failed to fill some of their more important needs like tackle and linebacker (they could have still used another prospect there after Edmunds). Despite many steals, they also took a couple guys too early, and they could’ve done a better job addressing their current needs.

New England Patriots

Grade: B-

What They Did Right: The Patriots addressed all of their major needs despite many trades down. They ended up with nine total draft picks and they used them wisely. They eventually selected a QB, RB, WR, TE, offensive lineman, corner, and a linebacker. They started things off strong with two good players out of Georgia to address major needs. They also picked up a major steal in WR Braxton Berrios.

What They Did Wrong: The Pats may have waited too long for a QB, but reports say that they would have traded up if Baker Mayfield is available, which would not be the right strategy either. They could have also taken a linebacker or a tight end earlier. They had four picks in the first two rounds, and they used them on one T, one RB, one CB, and a trade down. I didn’t really see RB and CB as needs that were urgent enough to spend a first or second rounder on, and they did not need to trade down. Their grade gets a boost for addressing all their major needs, something no other AFC East team did in my eyes. But they waited too long for certain needs I saw as urgent.

New York Jets

Grade: C+

What They Did Right: The Jets started off strong by taking an NFL ready QB with the 3rd pick. I also liked the players they picked in the 3rd and 4th rounds. These two players addressed needs and are on my list of draft sleepers. But the Jets draft began to plummet from there. Day 3 did not end up looking so good for them.

What They Did Wrong: The Jets could have had a good draft if they continued to address their needs or take top available prospects in the later rounds. But they took CB Parry Nickerson when they did not need a corner, and took a running back I had never heard of when they were totally fine at running back. They have Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell to handle the backfield. I doubt the RB they drafted will ever make an NFL roster, let alone an NFL start. They also took another DT in Round 6 when they had already done enough to address the defensive line.  If they were going to take two d-linemen, at least one of them should’ve been a defensive end, which is more of where the Jets need d-line help.

That’s all for Part 1 of my NFL Draft Report Cards. Stay tuned for more post-draft analysis soon.