Commentary

Patriots compete with themselves

Working out Plaxico Burress example of Bill Belichick's roster-building method

Updated: August 13, 2012, 10:07 AM ET
By Field Yates | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After adding Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth to a receiving group that already featured Wes Welker, Deion Branch and record-setting tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez this offseason, the New England Patriots entered training camp primed to improve an offense that generated the second-most points in all of football last season.

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The early returns from the free-agent newcomers, particularly Lloyd, have been promising, as quarterback Tom Brady seems to have the added element of a perimeter receiving threat that the team lacked in 2011.

Though injuries have thinned the receiver group in training camp, news that free agent Plaxico Burress was in Foxborough for a Sunday workout came as a surprise to many.

Perhaps it should not have.

Rather, the Burress workout, which seemingly was an opportunity for the team to evaluate the 35-year-old as a potential emergency option down the road, is a reminder of the value coach Bill Belichick and the organization continues to place on creating competition.

Stallworth, who looks to be competing for one of the available roster spots at his position, emphasized that notion following Sunday's practice.

"I think one thing Bill always preaches is competition always makes your group better," he said. "He creates an environment of competition, that's what he does, that's what he's always done."

"Whenever you come here, you know there's going to be some competition. You know there's going to be guys that are working to earn spots."

Defensive lineman Ron Brace, who enters his fourth season with the Patriots, admitted that he might have been surprised by the various players that the team brought in for workouts during his rookie season, but knows now that it's "a part of the business."

[+] EnlargeDonte Stallworth
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesDonte Stallworth says competing for a roster spot is to be expected with the Patriots.

"You can't worry about who they bring in, who they kick out, that's just what happens," Brace said. "People come in and people go. You've just got to worry about doing what they ask you."

A culture of relentlessly looking for ways to improve and preventing players from becoming satisfied has become ingrained under Belichick's watch, as retired punter Josh Miller, who spent the 2004-06 seasons with the Patriots, said during a 2010 interview.

"I remember times when we were 7-1, walking onto the [practice] field, there'd be 30 guys coming off the field that were supposed to work out Tuesday but they worked them out Wednesday," Miller said. "Nothing happened by accident. They let you know, 'Hey, we know we're 7-1,' but there was white guys, black guys, skinny guys, fat guys, fast guys, slow guys. Every position [was] spoken for."

When asked about Burress on Sunday, Belichick alluded to the fact that the team works out numerous players as a means to keep tabs on the available free-agent pool, but did not offer specific comments about Burress.

But regardless of how the workout transpired, the fact that the 6-foot-5 receiver was brought to town served notice to Belichick's message of perpetually creating competition.

Competition has become something that his team appears to not only relish but to thrive off, as Welker expressed when speaking about going up against his own defense during practice.

"It's competitive out there, and guys are getting after it and really trying to get ready for game situations," he told reporters. "That's the way it's going to be and you have to be ready for them. This is the best way to prepare for it."

Added Stallworth, when speaking about the hypothetical situation of the team inking Burress to a deal: "We'll accept him as part of the family."

Indeed, competition is welcomed by all in New England.

Field Yates contributes to Patriots coverage for ESPNBoston.com.

Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.

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