FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observations from Patriots camp:
1. What is the over-under on when Randy Moss poisons the Patriots locker room? Will he be a cancer by September? Maybe November? Well, not so fast. The Patriots have a well-earned reputation for bringing in troubled players and having them completely change their ways. The reasons are two-fold. Bill Belichick is a no-nonsense coach who knows how to crack even the hardest of hardheads. Plus, the locker room is packed with some of the greatest professionals in the NFL and that professionalism is bound to rub off on everyone, even the malcontents. Belichick gave another reason -- it's the incoming players themselves. "Players like Randy are successful," he said, "and they work hard to get that success. Football is important to him. He works hard, he studies and he does all the right things. So it starts with the player himself."
2. You might see an offensive juggernaut this year from the Patriots. In fact, it is safe to say the Patriots have never surrounded Tom Brady with this much offensive talent. "I'm excited," Brady said. "I think every year there's always excitement. I think the thing you realize is there's a lot of work to be done. You bring in a guy like Wes [Welker] and Kelley [Washington] and Randy, obviously, and Donté [Stallworth], and they have their own type of skill set and we've got to just find a way to incorporate them. They're doing well. I think the best thing is, I don't know if you guys can see it, but in the run drills they're blocking just as hard for the running backs as they are in those pass plays when they're going out. There's guys that are clearing out, running through the middle of the field and running as hard as they can so they can clear room for a teammate. It's a very unselfish group, and I think that's what makes a great receiver group and it's only going to help our offense."
3. On the day I attended Patriots camp, there were some 8,000 fans in attendance. To say that they are enthusiastic about this team would be a dramatic understatement. Every pass play, run, scamper, kick return and player fart is greatly cheered by the fans. "When we run out in practice and when we run laps [because] we're getting in trouble, we get cheered for that, so I don't know if they know why we're running," Brady said. "I don't think they'd be cheering us if they did."
4. I don't know how much he will play this season. I don't know how much longer he will even stay in football, but the other Brady, tight end Kyle Brady, recently signed by the Patriots, is one of the few guys in football I root for. Brady has been one of those unheralded sort of players who rarely gets publicity or accolades and truly doesn't care if he does or does not. He just blocks and hustles and goes about his business like a professional. He has done this for 13 seasons. If there were only a few thousand more like him in sports ...
5. I know, I know -- I have a man-crush on Belichick. But please let me explain. Belichick is the best coach in league history because he has done something which should be impossible: win multiple championships in the salary-cap era. Yet he is the best for other reasons. First: He won Super Bowls in the free-agent era. Greats like Vince Lombardi, Paul Brown and Chuck Noll, among others, were able to keep their teams together because of the lack of a salary cap and more restrictive free-agent rules. Second: Belichick has been able to deal with the bad boy athlete as well as any coach in the modern era. Though there are exceptions, players in the Lombardi and Brown eras, and even into the Noll dynasties, mostly respected authority. The coach said jump and the player asked how high? Today, in the era of Belichick, a coach says jump, and the player says "f--- off. I don't do jumping." So Belichick has mastered playing under a salary cap, won championships despite the ravages of free agency and gotten the me-athlete to listen. Also, no coach with the exception of Brown, the late Bill Walsh and maybe one other coach in history has been more innovative than Belichick. Some of his defensive schemes in Super Bowls both as a head coach and defensive coordinator are legendary. Thus my top five head coaches of all time (and this list changes on occasion): Belichick, Brown, Lombardi, Walsh and Noll.