Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Rookies looking to catch on
By Mike Reiss
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez first entered the huddle with quarterback Tom Brady in organized team activities, he thought he was a supporting actor.
"You don't even dream, coming from Connecticut, playing with a quarterback like that. It's like a movie star out there," Hernandez said after Wednesday's practice at mandatory minicamp. "You don't think about it when you're out there, but at the same time I go home and think 'it's crazy.'"
Rookie receiver Taylor Price, a third-round draft choice who had just finished his second practice with the team, acknowledged that he had a similar experience.
"You get into the huddle and he calls a play; obviously he's been here for a while and he knows what he's doing. You just have to zone in and listen to him," he said. "After the ball is snapped it's just football -- go out and play catch."
Over the last two days of practices, one aspect that has stood out is Brady's work with Price and Hernandez.
On Tuesday, which was Price's first practice with the team, Brady had a choice of which receiver he would throw to during half-speed route-running work with quarterbacks. Whenever Price stepped up alongside some of the team's other pass-catchers, Brady made it a point that his football was going in Price's direction.
Then on Wednesday, as Brady was watching a 7-on-7 drill led by backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, the quarterback took note of a sharp route run by Hernandez in the red zone. After Hernandez caught the pass for a touchdown, Brady's voice boomed out to congratulate him. Brady himself later connected with Hernandez, the team's fourth-round draft choice out of the University of Florida, in drills.
How much Price and Hernandez ultimately contribute to the team's offense remains a question mark, but if the last two days are any indication, they'll be given significant opportunities to do so.
While other younger players worked on one field, they both stayed with many of the team's veterans on the other field.
"Everything is going good, I'm going out every practice and working as hard as I can, trying to make some plays," said the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Hernandez, who seems to be helped by the fact that Florida's offense has similar concepts as what the Patriots run.
Hernandez's versatility is hard to miss. Sometimes he'll be split out wide, while other times he's on the line. It's also not uncommon to see him in motion.
"I've been in quite a few spots," he said. "I just come out every day, they put me places, and I try to go as hard as I can."
Throughout the first three weeks of organized team activities, Price couldn't even do that. He stayed home because of the NFL's rule that a player can't join his team until his college holds graduation ceremonies (Ohio's graduation was on June 12).
While at home, Price had studied parts of the team's playbook that he learned at rookie minicamp, and the team sent him additional information in the mail. He said he regularly spoke with receivers coach Chad O'Shea on the telephone in what were "review sessions" and that helped him be fluid and smooth on the field and know where to line up over the past two days.
After Wednesday's practice, Price walked off the field with head coach Bill Belichick, whose message to him was to keep his head in the playbook.
"It's a good start, but I have a long way to go. There is nothing easy to learn out here," said Price, who has the makings of a David Givens-type physical presence on the outside at 6-feet, 212 pounds. "I don't know as much as I should know yet, but I'm getting to that point. I'm just learning gradually every day."
Price, who battled through a cramp in his left leg on Tuesday, plans to stay in Foxborough for most of the time leading up to training camp.
As for Hernandez, Wednesday marked the first time that he spoke with reporters since a Boston Globe report, which quoted anonymous sources, stated that he failed multiple marijuana tests in college and that led to him slipping in the draft. Hernandez later issued a statement that he failed just one test.
"That's in the past. I'm just worried about the future and the present," he said. "I just keep coming out every day. I forgot about the past. I just keep grinding and do the best I can for this team."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.