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.

10 Bold Predictions For The Upcoming NFL Season

1 day into the season, here are some things to look out for.

1.The Cowboys will sign Montee Ball, and he’ll dominate

Montee Ball was ditched by Denver last season after injury.  Before then, he was a star.  Now CJ Anderson is there.  In Dallas, their old star, DeMarco Murray, is gone.  Ball can fill in that slot, and I believe he can make a comeback to the top 10 fantasy running backs.  The Dolphins may also need him to backup Lamar Miller, but Dallas is a better fit for Ball. Comeback Player of The Year, no decision.

2. Peyton Manning will conclude his NFL career

This year I think is Peyton Manning’s last. Manning is getting older, and he isn’t as dominant anymore.  I would rank Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford before him, at this point.  The burning question is, how will to Broncos do without him?  Unless they get a sharp rookie QB, not as good.  More like 10-6, 9-7 than 12-4, 13-3.   I expect Manning to announce his retirement any moment now.

3. The Packers will struggle at receiver

The Packers still have Randall Cobb, but Davante Adams is not a WR2, and James Jones is not a good WR3.  they’ll depend on Aaron Rodgers, Cobb and Lacy.  Who else do they have.  This is not as dominant of an offense without poor Jordy Nelson.  Nelson is amazing, probably top 3 in the league, of any position, along with Rodgers and DeMaryius Thomas.  Hope for 11-5, 12-4 if the D is sharp.

4. The Seahawks defense will slow down

Besides Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett, who do they have anymore.  This years ‘Hawks will be more base offense, using Marshawn Lynch, and Jimmy Graham like their wide receiver that can fill that hole, while they continue using the same old guys like tight ends.  I wouldn’t be shocked if Graham became a receiver permanently. This is another slowing team.  In the future, look Eagles, Cowboys, Colts, Ravens, Steelers, Pats and Bengals.  Maybe also the Pack if Nelson returns.  Not the Seahawks as much.

5. The Texans will not perform offensively

the defense in Houston is amazing.  J.J Watt and Vince Wilfork on one defense, joined by Brian Cushing, Jadeveon Clowney, and Johnathan Joseph.  But the offense, when you think about it, isn’t so great.  Brian Hoyer is not very good, and with Arian Foster out, Alfred Blue, Chris Polk and  Jonathan Grimes are the only running backs left.  And at receiver, DeAndre Hopkins I think is overrated.  Then you have Jaguars and Titans former sleepers Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts III.  Shorts could be alright, but I don’t feel it in Washington.  And that leaves you with rookie Jaelen Strong, and I feel that Strong is a strong player.  Then at tight end, Garrett Graham, C.J. Fieodorowicz and A.J. Griffin.  The offense is not as good as you might think.

6. The Vikings won’t get better, but get worse

This sounds stupid, stating the fact that Teddy Bridgewater is emerging and Mike Wallace got bring some power to his options, but the defense has not improved very much, and that will impact the team.  Adrian Peterson has returned, but that thins their other options.  If they don’t play, what happens if Peterson gets hurt like he did in 2013?  At receiver, it’s the same.  After Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson are the next best options.  And the tight ends are better that 2014, but they can’t always catch passes.

7. The Buccaneers go 2-3 in the first 5, but won’t win another game

The Buccaneers have easy matches against the Titans and other bad teams early on that they can easily win.  But when their schedule gets tougher in the last eleven weeks, don’t expect another victory.  Everyone on the Bucs is pretty much a sleeper or developing player.  EVERYONE.  Even Doug Martin and Bobby Rainey.  When they don’t have an easy match, they can’t win.

8. The Rams will make the playoffs

Things are looking up in St. Louis.  Nick Foles is a less injury prone quarterback, so that straight-up trade for Foles was worth it, even if it was good for Philly too.  At wide receiver, I see potential in sleepers Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt.  These two players never fully adapted last season, and they can this year.  The defense has also improved.  Aaron Donald should be better in year two, and Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree should still be within stardom.  There are also many more offensive sleepers that push it so much, that the Rams should get an NFC wild card, giving them a ticket to the playoffs.

9. Matt Ryan, Tevin Coleman and the Falcons will have a bust season

I wouldn’t go expecting much from rookie Tevin Coleman, or any Falcons running back, and I have a feeling Matt Ryan will also have a bust season.  Even with Julio Jones and Roddy White at receiver, the rest of the offense is in bad condition.  And the defense isn’t any better.  The Falcons are not going to perform this season, at least that’s what I think.

10. The Colts will power the defense to win Super Bowl 50

The Colts already have a great offense.  Andrew Luck, Frank Gore, TY Hilton and Andre Johnson are all primed for a breakout.  And there’s more.  Don’t forget Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.  The Colts will be the best offense in the NFL.  But imagine the defense doing the same.  Dwight Freeny, Robert Mathis, D’Qwell Jackson and Vontae Davis are all great players. What stops them from working together to make the defense much better than it really is?  They have super bowl potential.

NFL Week 1 Picks: Football Is Back

Football is back and better than ever!  So are my picks.  I’ve included a team of the week guessing segment at the bottom.

Lock Of The Week

Bengals, 30, Raiders, 13

The strong Bengals defense, made up of Vontaze Burfict, AJ Hawk and Geno Atkins has by far enough capability to stop a near last place Raiders offense.  Trent Richardson and Michael Crabtree, the latest additions, will be stopped by their guards most of the game, and Derek Carr will be a clear sack target.  The Raiders offense clearly has a lack of weapons to compare to strong Bengals D-Line and overall defense, ranked 4th overall by my preseason fantasy rankings.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, it may be hard to run for it, with Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck on watch, but Weapons like A.J. Green and young tight end Tyler Eifert.  They’ll be facing a weak Raiders secondary.  So, there isn’t much to explain.  The Bengals are clear winners of this meeting.

Notable Locks

Carolina over Jacksonville

New York Jets over Cleveland

Philadelphia over Atlanta

Upset of the Week

Rams, 24, Seahawks, 23

Although the Seahawks have a leading defense, the loss of superstar safety Kam Chancellor will be a setback on the “12 man team”.  So, the Rams passing game should step it up, even if the best they got is Tavon Austin and Jared Cook.  Austin and Kenny Britt are primed for a breakout with Zac Stacy broken down.  They can partially outsmart the Seahawks secondary, and get at least a few TDs out of it.  Running the ball?  That’ll be tougher, especially with Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennett covering them.  Maybe they can squeeze out a clutch rushing TD, but probably not.

Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson aren’t in a great position either.  Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree and Aaron Donald should stop them.  Passing?  They can try Jimmy Graham a couple times but he can’t score infinite touchdowns.  The wide receiver options are slim, with Golden Tate and Percy Harvin, 2013’s main targets, elsewhere.  The ‘Hawks are left with Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and rookie Tyler Lockett.  They also have clutch options Ricardo Lockette and Chris Matthews.  The Seahawks are panicking at this point.  Looks like it’s jut an off day for The Legion of Boom.

Notable Upsets

Chicago over Green Bay

Other Games

Patriots, 23, Steelers, 21

Jets, 23, Browns, 7

Dolphins, 24, Redskins, 14

Colts, 30, Bills, 17

Broncos, 31, Ravens, 6

Texans, 30, Chiefs, 14

Buccaneers, 28, Titans, 24

Panthers, 17, Jaguars, 14

Chargers, 20, Lions, 17

Eagles, 37, Falcons, 24,

Cowboys, 27, Giants, 24

Bears, 27, Packers, 26

49ers, 27, Vikings, 20

Saints, 21, Cardinals, 17

Team Of The Week

Clues

  1. The coach coached a playoff team in the 2014 season.
  2. This team has not been above .500 for 2 or more years
  3. An important receiver departed this team this off season
  4. This team is in the NFC
  5. This team was named after the city’s most popular baseball team

What team is it?

Guess in comments.