I have spent the first few days of this trip focusing on two young teams who are trying to find their identity and get some wins under their belts in the St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts.
Thursday was about spending some time with a team that already has it all figured out and has been hugely successful in the NFL for many years in the New England Patriots.
First of all, you can tell that continued success has an impression on the fans. The attendance at New England’s training camp on the practice fields outside of Gillette Stadium was much higher than the Rams and Colts combined.
Secondly, this was the most physical training camp action I have seen this week. I spoke with nose tackle Vince Wilfork after practice and he said it has always been that way ever since he has been in New England.
Big Vince was sweating buckets as he walked into our interview area and had clearly been put through the mill out on the practice field. But he told me he preferred it that way and he could not think of another way of getting ready for the season.
He made the point of saying that if you’re not allowed to tackle in practice, how are you ever going to be any good at it during the season? He might have a point when you consider how many missed tackles plagued the 2011 campaign.
It has been interesting to see the different approaches teams take to preseason training. Of course, having spent only one day with each club, it should be noted that teams change their schedules and all go through some form of hitting during the week and I probably just missed it when I was in St. Louis and Indianapolis.
But the Rams and Colts were definitely protecting their players a little bit, while the Patriots were going after each other a little more. That probably explains why wide receiver Julian Edelman and linebacker Niko Koutouvides got into a scuffle and were sent to the locker rooms by head coach Bill Belichick.
There was also an old-school feeling to the Patriots training camp practice and that should come as no real surprise with Belichick in charge. On one play, offensive lineman Donald Thomas jumped out to a false start and was forced to run a penalty lap of the field. Wes Welker also suffered a similar punishment for drawing a flag on a play.
While some players might not like that kind of treatment and probably felt they had left that behind in high school, the Patriots seem to buy into everything Belichick is selling. And of course it makes sense for them to do that – winning cures everything in the NFL.
Thursday saw me sit down with Wilfork, tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd.
All four of the guys made the point of saying that the reason for New England’s success is because no single player is considered more important than the team. Okay, I’m not sure that applies to Tom Brady, but it does give a unique insight into the mentality of the Patriots.
They are all willing to work hard, toe the company line and do whatever it takes to win football games. And they do so happily because they have won a lot of them over the years.
The only negative of the day – apart from the rather hairy moment when I asked Wes Welker about the pass that slipped through his hands in the Super Bowl - was not being able to pin Belichick down for an interview.
But I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised given the fact the hooded one is so focused on football every day of his life and probably worries he could be watching film of practice instead of speaking to me.
That’s just the way it goes in this business sometimes. There are rarely days when you shoot 100 per cent in terms of hitting on all your interview requests. Having said that, Belichick is the first to have said no this week !
But I’m hoping to round out the week in positive fashion on Friday as I will interview Tom Brady at 12 noon and then wrap up with tight end Aaron Hernandez. And then I fly home to England later this evening.
I’ll check back in with a report on today’s interviews and a complete round-up of my trip on Monday.
Thanks for reading.