Patriots' Hobbs: Swagger Or Overconfidence?

New England Patriots defensive back Ellis Hobbs doesn't fret about speaking his mind. He jaws at teammates, boasts to the media, and never looks back at a mistake. Such are the traits of some of the best defenders in the league. The problem facing Hobbs is; he hasn't yet had a chance to put his money where his mouth is on a consistent basis. If Hobbs has his way, that will change in 2006.

Asked if cornerback Ellis Hobbs appeared more confident in his second season, coach Bill Belichick remarked, "I think Ellis has always been confident."

Confident enough to gamble for an interception in last year's preseason, miss the ball, give up a touchdown and then declare afterward that he would do the exact same thing if the situation presented itself again.

Confident enough to stick his nose right in the middle of the action in his first career start -- last Nov. 13 in Miami -- and deliver an interception, a fumble recovery and a key pass breakup in the end zone in the closing moments.

Confident enough to jokingly (maybe) yell at free-agent newcomer cornerback Eric Warfield a few weeks ago at the team's minicamp after the nine-year veteran dropped a potential interception.

"It's not a big change for me," Hobbs said of his vocal approach at the minicamp. "I did it a lot last year, just a little less noticeable. Lots of guys talk. We all talk. One thing we say out there is nobody whisper, nobody be quiet. If you know what you're doing, speak up. If you don't know what you're doing, don't speak up."

As a rookie third-round pick out of Iowa State, Hobbs could talk the talk because he walked the walk. Once veteran Duane Starks was mercifully removed from the starting lineup, Hobbs -- all of 5-feet-9, 188 pounds -- stepped in and played like a seasoned pro. Despite starting only the final eight games, he tied for the team lead in interceptions with three and defensed 12 passes.

With Hobbs firming up one side, fellow cornerback Asante Samuel showed marked improvement down the stretch. In fact, the Patriots played very strong pass defense late in the year -- quite a contrast from the dismal effort they put forth in September, October and part of November.

Heading into his second season, Hobbs may not need a confidence boost, but he said he does feel more comfortable in the Patriots' system. "Oh, man, it's like night and day for me," he said. "You know the program. You pretty much know the scheme. A lot of things we do are carrying over from our offseason (training). You've got a jump on the defensive schemes. Now it's about coming out here and getting our repetitions."

Although Hobbs and Samuel likely will enter training camp as the starters, they will be pushed by a host of players, including Warfield, Chad Scott and Randall Gay. Warfield (88), Scott (77) and Gay (11) have combined for 176 career starts, with Gay's coming for the Patriots the last two seasons.

"Every aspect of my game has to go up," Hobbs said about the challenges facing him this season. "Anything that stays the same or takes a step backward will be a failure. That's how the NFL is. You have to always progress forward."

CAMP CALENDAR: Training camp begins at Gillette Stadium on Friday, July 28 and is scheduled to close on Thursday, Aug. 17.

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