Commentary

Patriots engulfed in 'dog' fight

As training camp heats up, intensity rises and tempers flare

Updated: August 2, 2012, 12:43 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Since entering the NFL as a rookie free agent in 2008, cornerback Kyle Arrington has been part of training camps and full seasons with three teams -- the Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and now the New England Patriots.

He has seen his share of practice fights among teammates, and this one was right up there.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Spikes
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaBrandon Spikes, with teammate Nate Solder, was at the center of a sizable skirmish.

In an instant during 11-on-11 drills Wednesday night at Gillette Stadium, a sea of blue jerseys was mixed with a flurry of white jerseys. Some players were shoving, others were trying to be peacemakers, giving it the look of a baseball-style bench-clearing situation. It seemed like almost every Patriots player on the roster was involved in some form or another.

"That was a nice-sized brawl," Arrington said.

A practice scuffle isn't always viewed as a bad thing in the world of football training camp, as it highlights the competitive nature of the players' work, and also can light a fire under some to raise their level of performance. They are commonplace around the NFL.

This one was as big, if not bigger, than any we've seen around these parts in Bill Belichick's 13 years as coach. Second-year offensive tackle Nate Solder and third-year linebacker Brandon Spikes were in the middle of it, with Solder getting a good shove on Spikes while Spikes was on the ground. It was hard to tell what led to that uncharacteristic reaction from the mild-mannered Solder, who was punished by the coaching staff by being told to take a lap around the field.

Meanwhile, Spikes walked off with a trainer, and at which point, one wondered if perhaps things had gone too far. A little dust-up is one thing, but a potential injury to a teammate, especially one who had just returned to the field after offseason knee surgery? That's close to crossing-the-line territory.

In the end, however, the emotional Spikes returned to the field and participated in parts of practice. There was no serious injury and players afterward said it's simply part of the game.

"It's training camp, you go against guys every day, and you grow tired of one another," Arrington said. "At the end of the day, it's all love among the team, and we all have the same goal. It's football. Guys are competing and guys get emotional. It comes with the game."

Earlier in the day, Belichick had declared that the team had officially arrived in the "dog days of camp," which might have led to more chippy play than usual.

"I think that's something all of us need to go through -- players, coaches, just grinding through it," Belichick said. "Mentally just be ready to get up and go every day and start all over again; try to get a good night's rest and have a good day each day. That's part of team-building and working through it when you're tired [and] you don't feel good. It's a long season. This is one of the many challenges we'll face."

Couple the "dog days of camp" with a crowd of 22,633 on hand to watch the practice inside Gillette Stadium, and the ingredients were in place for some fireworks. Another factor was that the defense seemed to have the upper hand, leading to frustration among those on the offensive side of the ball.

Things started to percolate with veteran center Dan Koppen, who was part of two more minor dust-ups earlier in practice. Then came the main event.

"The fans being here -- you try to prevent it as much as possible, but when it comes to football and competitiveness and emotions, you definitely don't want to jump in it. You want to police it as much as possible, hold guys back and let coaches handle it," Arrington said.

"This is the game of football," running back Danny Woodhead added. "Things, it's not like they're crazy. We're out there trying to get better and do our jobs. That's how things are. We're trying to do our best."

By the end of practice, the entire team huddled at midfield and every player stayed to sign autographs for the fans. There didn't seem to be any lingering bad feelings.

"At the end of the day," Arrington said, "it definitely stays on the field."

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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