PHOTO: Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel, 7th-round draft pick out of USC responds to reporter's questions at training camp in Foxboro August 10th, 2005. (Patriots Insider Photo)
Spotlight: Troy Brown
By Jon Scott, Patriots Insider
How Brown Looks
The Patriots appear to be a better position to withstand catastrophic injury to a player or two this season. At least that's how it looks to those watching them practice. There's competition at every position, including receiver where players like Troy Brown are hoping to fend off bids by a group of talented rookies vying for his job.
"We've got 11 or 12 receivers in camp fighting for a job," Brown said. "I want to be one of those guys on the field Thursday night."
Brown, who expects to have to fight hard for his job, says he's working every day to get better and eliminate the things that he might not be doing so well.
Brown told PI last week that he tries to help the younger players when they ask him a question, including diminutive rookie Bam Childress. "They have to work hard," Brown said of the young receivers. "They have to practice what they do well, and work on the things they don't do so well."
With Childress, Jason Anderson and Eugene Baker on the fringe of the roster trying to work their way in, Brown knows there's talent and youth aiming for the coveted roster spot he's held for so long. The competition inspires him to push himself harder, knowing that the NFL is a business and there's no guarantee the team will decide to retain him come time for final roster cut downs.
"I just want to make it hard for them [the Patriots] to cut me," Brown said.
Rookies In The Mix
Watching practice with the limited team drills the players participate in, one thing becomes clear; The rookies are making plays. Both in the exhibition games and in camp, different newcomers are starting to make things happen that will boost their chances of sticking with the team.
Each rookie challenger has a unique set of skills different from Brown's own. Jason Anderson, who caught a touchdown pass against the Bengals, showed quickness with a spin move that helped him into the endzone. He has been making leaping catches in camp, the type that a receiver with his eight (6'-3") can make over the top of defenders. Anderson's reps have increased, even to the point where he is working with the first string in team drills at times.
Another receiver the team brought in for a look is veteran Eugene Baker, a 5th-year veteran out of Kent State. Baker, who was originally a fifth-round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons in 1999, has bounced around the league for a while. He was with the Carolina Panthers the year the Patriots played them in the Super Bowl.
Baker looks similar to the other receivers his size on the roster. He hasn't made any remarkable plays in camp as of yet, although his height (6'-1") allows him the advantage the other bigger receivers on the roster have of the Patriots smaller defensive backs.
Bam Childress has been interesting to watch in camp. As a small, elusive receiver with skills similar to Browns, the Ohio State receiver appears to have a slightly quicker burst than the veteran Brown. Watching Childress field punts you can tell the coaching staff likes what they see in his potential. Childress acknowledges his inexperience is something working against him. "Right now I'm just glad to have the opportunity," Childress said about joining the Patriots. "I'm glad I got picked up."Brown's Duties
When PI had a chance to ask Brown to share his thoughts on fielding punts, he was noncommittal preferring to speak in general terms about his duties. His usual role of returning punts is a task he hasn't been practicing during this training camp, that job has been given to the newcomers. Brown's reaction: He couldn't' say whether or not he would be fielding punts, but indicated, whatever they want him to do he'll do.
Does that mean playing defense? "We'll see," Brown replied.
Last season Brown spent time at cornerback as the secondary was in disarray following a spate of injuries to which sidelined Ty Law and Tyrone Poole among others. Brown worked with the defense from the start of training camp in 2004, so stepping in later during the season wasnt' a foreign concept to him. He has yet to don the blue jersey he wore last year while practicing with the defense which indicates the team doesn't feel it's necessary to have him split time on both sides of the ball.
Brown left little doubt that he expects to be a receiver, but is willing to do what it takes to make the team. If that means repeating his role at cornerback, returning punts or supporting his teammates, Brown's willing to assume those duties.
"My job is to go out there and catch the ball when they throw it to me and block when they run it," Brown said.
Brown has been working hard in camp, running all his routes to the end, taking few plays off. You can see the difference with Brown in the lineup as he finishes his blocks even when the play is on the other side of the field. The same can't be said for all rookies, but that might not be a fair comparison. Brown has had some breaks from practice, something his rookie challengers haven't enjoyed.
In Brady's first day back throwing in team drills he connected with Brown on a number of passes. In one he hit Brown on an out route usually reserved for fellow receiver Deion Branch. In another he hit Brown over the middle for a first down in traffic. In a third, he put the ball up for grabs down the right sideline. Brown made a leap up and over the defender to snatch the ball out of the air.
It's obvious Brady and Brown still have that unspoken connection between receiver and quarterback that has helped them to be successful in the past. Their comfort level and non-verbal communication is something the rookies haven't had a chance to pick up yet. It's also one advantage Brown enjoys which will help him as he works to fend off challenges for his roster spot.
What does this camp competition mean for the fan-favorite Brown?
It means like every other player on the roster, Brown has a chance of not making the team. It's a slim chance that one of the rookies could unseat him, but it is possible. Should Childress, Anderson or Baker take their game to the next level in the next couple of preseason games, Brown may have cause for concern. He knows this, and is handling it like a true professional the only way he knows how.