Minicamp: Randy Being Randy?

Accounts of Randy Moss' performance at Patriots minicamp have varied wildly from "hard worker" to he was "dogging it." Because we were there, we have been asked to clear the air and let you know what was really going on. Was Randy trying, or was it more of the Randy we've all seen from the past?

While digging through the web for our Newswire update one thing that jumped out at me was a blogged piece by a sports media watcher and his take on the Randy Moss coverage. While I normally don't comment on what other media members write, or those who cover the media, I felt it appropriate this time. The timing goes well after PI's recent chat with author James Lavin.

A couple media members had some interesting things to tell me about this blogger and his site. The blog's purpose - from what I gather - is to keep an eye on the pulse of the Boston media market and its coverage of the local sports news. So you can imagine what fellow members of the media said. Not all of it was bad; so don't let that ruin your desire to read the next few grafs of what I'm about to tell you on Randy Moss.

The subject of that blog was the media's coverage of Randy Moss starting over in New England. Moss was dealt to the Patriots on Draft day in a move that brought the mercurial star (and all his baggage) to Foxboro where he will play alongside Tom Brady and the rest of the team-first players at Gillette Stadium. Moss, deservedly or not, brought with him a reputation as a lackadaisical player who plays hard when he wants to play hard and is well known for his attention-grabbing shenanigans. The descriptions of his first practices with the team have ranged from loafing to he's turned a new leaf, and everything in between.

The blog entry mentions three articles, which I'll use as references, because the writer's statement that he doesn't know what to think of Moss begs for clarification. Plus, if they're reading all the stuff that's published, you probably are also.

In case you missed King's article in Sports Illustrated -- the one that pumped up the organization and painted a picture of Randy the hardworking, determined-to-get-my-career-back-on-track, go-getter -- let me share.

At 2 a.m. on April 29 coach Bill Belichick called Moss in Houston and informed him that he would have to accept a $6.25 million reduction in his $9.25 million base salary and undergo a physical in Boston within 10 hours if he wanted to be a Patriot. Moss immediately agreed to the pay cut and hired a private plane to rush him to New England. He also changed two weeks of personal plans for early May so that he could attend the Pats' off-season program, though he was not ordered to do so by Belichick. At New England's Organized Team Activities -- practices without pads that NFL teams hold each spring -- Moss felt he was lagging in conditioning drills, so when the Patriots took the last week of May off, he stayed in Foxborough for four days of aerobic work.

King had plenty more to say on Moss and his efforts, including some comments by Tom Brady on how hard Randy worked in the OTA's.

New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss (6) runs a route against wide receiver Chris Dunlap (9) during the football team's first day of mini-camp in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday, June 5, 2007. Moss was acquired from the Oakland Raiders during the off season. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

King knows much about football and the Patriots, but his perspective may be skewed. Quite frankly, King hasn't been around the team nearly as much as the other media members who took a decidedly less positive view on Moss.

The local media wonks that reportedly beat up on Moss, are some of the TV faces you see on cable and at least one writer / aspiring TV personality. It appears they are not reserving judgment on Moss' potential rewards until they see him practice and play hard. They simply weren't impressed with what he did in minicamp.

One negative take on Moss comes from Michael Felger, a long time Boston Herald writer who has since been busy trying to jump-start his TV and radio career. I only saw Felger there one day of the three-day camp, but reportedly he was there more than that, so take from that what you will.

Felger's take on Moss:

You'd have thought Moss would have taken the opportunity to make an early statement, maybe run from drill to drill across the field, lead the sprints at the end of practice, blow by the slower and smaller players trying to cover him, whatever. Show a little hustle. Little things.

But it pretty much was the opposite. Moss was content to remain in the pack. He never was first in line. He certainly didn't make defensive backs look foolish. Aside from climbing the ladder once or twice on high throws, he didn't give any hints of his prodigious physical gifts. It's true the entire proceedings were run at about three-quarters speed, but that didn't stop Brady, Welker and Harrison from giving full effort. Moss' speedometer seemed stuck at around 60 percent.

Felger was compared to the next Ron Borges in the blog - which is a bit dramatic. Felger wasn't nearly alone in his negative impression of Moss' effort. There were a lot of media folks sitting next to us at Foxboro who echoed Felger's sentiments on Moss. "He doesn't really look like he's running hard," was one comment I heard. "He looks like he's mailing it in," was another.

New England Patriots WR Randy Moss (6) shares a laugh with his teammates during the Patriots OTAs (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

If you recall, Felger was one of the first to report the Patriots were interested in Moss, citing a reliable source from Wisconsin. Many in the media, us included, thought it was little more than speculation, but as it turned out, Felger's info was pretty close.

Looking around at another national media member who makes the rare trip to Gillette during the summer, Len Pasquarelli of ESPN was enamored with Moss' performance. The veteran media member has seen more than his fair share of football, and has made numerous guest appearances on the Boston airwaves. Pasquarelli had this description in his Patriots minicamp article

Running an inside crossing route from his outside left vantage point, and with just a hair of separation between himself and free safety Eugene Wilson at the back of the end zone, wide receiver Randy Moss propelled himself toward the football with a burst. And just as the Brady aerial reached the apex of its trajectory, it intersected the highest point of Moss' leap, about 18 inches below the crossbar.

And slammed into the Velcro mitts of the newest addition to the Pats' offensive arsenal.

There was, rather incredibly, barely a reaction on the field from players or coaches to the athleticism demonstrated by pitcher and catcher on the play. No whistles. No hoots. Not a single attaboy offered. Brady did, after all, only what has come to be expected now, delivering the pass with surgical precision, and into a small window of opportunity.

Understandably, Pasquarelli was smitten by Moss' athleticism. It was impressive at that moment. It is impressive now. Moss made plays like that all three days. As many have written about Moss in the past, he has exceptional ability when he tries. Pasquarelli picked up on the part of Moss' actions that speak louder than words.

It seems as if Moss has tried hard to say all the right things. But it's obvious, too, that he has done all the right things.

During the first two days of minicamp, counting every warm-up and every drill, Moss had only one dropped pass. He has worked to assimilate the offense and to learn the different wide receiver positions, something that the mix-and-match Belichick style demands. And the New England brain trust remains as convinced now as it was the day it acquired Moss that his drop-off in production over the past three years is far more reflective of the situation he was in than an erosion of his physical skills.

So as I ramble on, you need to understand, it's not where a writer is from that affects what you read in his/her columns, it's what their impression was from what they saw (limited or not), and what agenda they (or their editor) may have in the published piece.

Quick takes: King was given a private audience with Brady and possibly others when he wrote his piece. As the rest of the media, including Pasquarelli, walked off the field after practice, King headed down the path for players only. It is in King's best interest to write something reflecting the positives of the moves by the organization and the Moss situation in order to continue that unusually generous media access. Whether it affected what he wrote or not, is up to you to decide and for him to know. His readers voiced their own opinions. (LINK)

Pasquarelli had plenty of time to see Moss during warm-ups as well as in team drills. He chose to focus on when Moss dialed it up in the team drills. Sitting among the rest of the local media, I believe Pasquarelli was subjected to more of the local opinion than King.

Agendas aside, I'll tell it like it is with no preconceived notions on Moss. Whether anyone else likes what they read is their call. To quote the team's head coach who so eloquently puts it: "It is what it is."

How Moss Really Looked: As reported earlier, Moss looked like he was running at half speed in practice. We (the local media) spent three days watching Randy stretch, watching Randy run, and watching Randy catch. In those three days, not once was Moss the most energetic or determined-to-make-a-good-impression player on the field. He did what he had to do in practice, which is why Felger wrote what he saw. It was Randy being Randy in Manny-speak (Red Sox reference).

Moss has an unnatural ability to look like he's running slowly, but actually be moving very fast. The fluidity of his movements may be one of the factors that led me to make the first statement, but not entirely. I've watched Patriots practices and games for well over a decade as a media member, and longer as a fan. I've seen players halfheartedly run routes because they were tired or hurt. I'm familiar with game speed and practice speed. And in my opinion, Moss was moving at practice speed most of minicamp and only occasionally moved at game speed when the ball was coming his direction.

Predictably Moss' best day of practice was Day 2, his day with the media. That was the day Peter King (SI), Len Pasquarelli (ESPN), the NFL Network and everyone else showed up to see (and hear) Randy.

Moss caught nearly every pass thrown his direction, making it look easy. He is such a natural talent that he doesn't have to try hard to make spectacular plays, they just come that way. I think he intentionally baits defenders with his style of route-running, and that makes him more successful. It's one reason why Moss seems to blow by defenders who think he's not going to go all out.

One thing that I picked up on, which certainly does not come from my being a New England media member, was when Randy (or any other player) didn't consistently run hard and hustle. You know it when they're not going hard. You can see it compared to the guys around them, and you take notice. You tend to root for the guys who - although they may be less talented - work hard on every play. Wes Welker is one of those guys, the blue-collar type. He hustled all three days of camp. There wasn't a moment when you looked over in Welker's direction that he wasn't either running nearly flat out, or doing his best to improve.

Welker's hustle may have made me realize that Moss wasn't practicing as hard as he could have. To be fair to Randy, it is the middle of the summer and the season is nearly three months away. Randy wasn't the only one not going 100% all of minicamp, and that's to be expected.

Was Moss dogging it? Not unusually so, but I can see why some people thought he was. If you compared him to some of the younger players or Welker, then yes, he definitely looked like he was dogging it. If you compare him to some of his fellow veterans, then it is more accurate to say that he was probably just trying to fit in as he worked on getting to know his new teammates.

Donte Stallworth offers Randy Moss encouragement and a chuckle at Patriots minicamp June 6, 2007 (Photo Jon Scott /

The real test for Moss is training camp and the preseason. The real test comes when he has to run routes and he knows he's not the intended target. The real test come when Brady looks his direction as the third option on a route and he's either ready for it or he isn't. Those are the moments Tom Brady supersedes the rest of the quarterbacks in the league (the ones that used to play with Randy). Those are the times, when Brady guides the team 70-yards for come-from-behind victories. Those are the tests that Moss better be ready to pass. You can't turn it on and off like a light switch at those moments, you have to be ready, and being ready comes from practicing being ready.

I think Randy can be a tremendous asset for Tom Brady and the Patriots in 2007, at least if he's got it "turned on." Some early bettors are predicting Moss won't be (such an asset). For now, I will reserve final judgment on Randy, but I'm not won over by what I've seen so far from practice.

Jon Scott has covered the NFL and the New England Patriots for various publications the past 12 years. He began writing about the Patriots for the network in 2001. Jon is a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. You can find him on the Patriots Insider boards under the handle JSinCT.

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