Patriots players like what they see from Moss
In his first mandatory minicamp with the Patriots, Randy Moss is saying and doing all the right things, writes Len Pasquarelli.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Halfway through a seven-on-seven red zone passing drill Tuesday morning, New England quarterback Tom Brady unleashed a laser that appeared destined to clang off the goalpost crossbar at the far end of the Patriots' practice field.
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.
As for Moss? Well, he did what used to be routine for him, displaying his once-unparalleled skills in a snippet of brilliance. The question here, though, as the Patriots moved through their mandatory three-day minicamp and the first real exposure of Moss to his teammates: How often can Moss, dogged by doubts surrounding his attitude and suspicions that he is a player in decline at age 30, summon up such seemingly mundane but also magical moments?
It's a question to which no one yet has an answer. And certainly, a three-day minicamp in early June isn't where the team will arrive at a formula for how Moss best mixes with the other ingredients of a team with very high expectations in 2007.
"Just watching him, man, he can still go get it," said Wes Welker, another of the highly regarded wide receivers acquired by New England in the offseason, when asked about the catch that Moss authored in the seven-on-seven drill.
The it that Welker referred to, of course, was the football. But to succeed with the Patriots, a franchise on which virtually every player has a well-defined role and is expected to embrace it, guys have to get it in another obvious sense. Even with the golden boy Brady on hand, New England remains a collection of players handpicked by coach Bill Belichick for the express design of having the sum outdistance the individual pieces.
And so when Belichick insists that Moss was acquired "because we thought he could help the team," there is an element of NFL coach-speak that justifiably elicits rolled eyes from the media audience. But there is also the reality that, in rolling the dice big-time on Moss, the Patriots expect the sometimes petulant wide receiver to roll with the accepted flow here.
So far, at least, so good.
It seems to have occurred to Moss that, to get off the detour road that he's been traversing the past several years, and get back on course for Canton, a Super Bowl ring would serve as a handy compass. That reality is part of the reason he made financial concessions to come here. Still, he won't completely divorce himself from the persona he's established.
"I don't need any new beginnings," said Moss on Wednesday, referring to past incarnations in Minnesota and Oakland, during his first official interview since the trade that brought him here. "I've already had two of those. I'm sort of enthused and energized about being here. I like what I see so far."
And so do New England players, coaches and front office-types, who seem to agree that Moss has quickly gotten in lockstep with the mentality that pervades this team.
"He's a football player," Wilson said. "And it doesn't hurt to have too many of those."
I don't need any new beginnings. I've already had two of those. I'm sort of enthused and energized about being here. I like what I see so far.
Moss didn't hurt himself in the eyes of his new colleagues by accompanying teammates to the funeral services for New England defensive end Marquise Hill last week. And he showed up on Monday, as well, for the team's annual charity golf tournament. Word is that he tooled around the course in a cart and, at one point, screeched to a stop and did a NASCAR-style "doughnut" that brought him to within inches of Belichick.
If he isn't yet officially certified as one of the guys here, Moss seems to have solidified his standing with even some originally dubious Patriots players as a guy who wants to be part of the league's No. 1 franchise. But, as Brady pointed out, Moss still has to define himself with the Patriots.
"I don't know what people say about him, and I try not to prejudge people," Brady said. "You never know the experiences that someone may have had, or the opportunities they may have had. I try not to prejudge teammates or stereotype guys before they get here. I just let the relationship develop as it is. I've been excited to have him around."
On the sideline both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, Moss helped Brady warm up. After Wednesday's practice, Moss suggested the two already have struck a relationship, at least on the professional level.
"I'm not going to try to get in his way, anything he does on the field, and I don't think Tom will try to get in my way," Moss said. "To be honest with you, I don't plan on changing. I'm just here to be ... what I am and to try to win football games."
At least on the surface, it appears that Moss has won over the ardent fan base here.
At the Gillette Stadium pro shop, there are more than 500 Moss jerseys already on order. The holdup: Whether or not Moss, who is currently wearing uniform No. 6, can finagle No. 84 from its current owner, tight end Benjamin Watson. In the locker room and in a city that can be harsh at times, Moss has been well received. He remains, even after a three-year stretch in which he averaged just 50.3 catches per year, the most high profile of all the Patriots' offseason wide receiver additions.
New England acquired three other wide receivers during the offseason -- Welker, Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington -- in an effort to revamp the depth chart. The Patriots haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2001. Even in his three-year slump, Moss has a 1,000-yard performance, in 2005. The team's leading wideouts over the past four seasons averaged 63 catches. Even in an offense that distributes the ball as well as the New England's, Moss could catch that many passes.
"He's a guy," Stallworth said, "who will always draw [double] coverage, because you have to respect him."
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.
Moss hinted, after Wednesday's practice, that he agrees with that assessment.
"The football side of not winning," he said, had a lot to do with the last three seasons. "Winning brings a lot of joy. And with losing comes a lot of sorrow. Hopefully, we can all come together here, me included, and win a lot of games."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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