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Out of college, Patriots rookies in work-study

Page 2 of 2 -- Running comes naturally for Cobbs, a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection as a senior last year. Running routes, on the other hand, is breaking new ground. The Razorbacks' offense wasn't as complex as the Patriots' and didn't ask as much of its running backs in the passing game. "Most running plays are similar, and they're self-explanatory," Cobbs said. "The passing game is a lot more difficult. In college, we only had two or three different routes we had to run. Here, I don't know how many we have, probably 20. And then you get into different names, numbers, and colors."

"The problems coming from the [backfield]," coach Bill Belichick explained, "are in the passing game, in terms of protection, route running, and handling different coverages so the flow of control is distributed underneath to open up the pattern and not congest it. Backs that don't have a lot of experience with that, that's a big step for them."

Another big part of an NFL running back's job is pass protection, in which awareness is as important as aggressiveness, what with all the moving parts. "A lot of colleges don't have a lot of blitz pickup," Belichick said. "A lot of drop-back blitz pickup type of responsibilities, a lot of times it's play action, and a lot of times, when they do have pickup, the whole line goes one way and the backs go the other. It's pretty well defined. `You go that way and you have the first outside and I have the first guy outside of you.' It's pretty simple.

"In the NFL it's a lot different, it's much more assignment oriented. `You have the Mike [middle linebacker] or the Will [weakside linebacker].' And when the front changes, then you may have a new Will. Or the guy that was a lineman in the new front, he becomes a linebacker, and he's my responsibility, whereas in another position he isn't, even though it's the same guy."

The Patriots have their first passing camp in two weeks. Perhaps by then, Sam and Cobbs, having had two weeks to study the playbook, will look less mechanical and more like the guys New England drafted. . . .
The Patriots announced the signing of two rookie free agents, Hofstra's Bryant, a transfer from Ohio State, and Michigan tight end Andy Mignery. Both were among the five players invited to minicamp for tryouts, along with Harvard linebacker Dante Balestracci, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute quarterback Dan Cole, and Bentley College safety Ryan Ferguson. 

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