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Cornerback Warfield learning on the job

FOXBOROUGH -- Cornerback Eric Warfield, signed by the Patriots as a free agent after eight years and 77 starts with the Chiefs, acknowledged he's off to a slow start with his new team.

Warfield said he first realized his situation at the team's June minicamp, as he attempted to absorb New England's defensive scheme.

``It was a struggle," the 30-year-old Warfield said yesterday. ``You would think a guy coming in with eight years under his belt would have seen every defense. Yet this was totally different. I was a little lost and ended up giving up some big plays in minicamps. At the time, I'm pretty sure a lot of people thought that I wasn't going to make the team."

The 6-foot, 200-pound Warfield still might be in a battle for a roster spot, as the team has been using Eugene Wilson, Asante Samuel, and Ellis Hobbs as its top corners. Warfield also faces competition from third-year veteran Randall Gay, who is on the physically unable to perform list, and veterans Hank Poteat and Chad Scott.

``I didn't think coming in and learning a whole new system was going to be a problem," Warfield said. ``I felt that the only thing that was going to change was going to be the terminology of the defense, how you define certain things."

Warfield said he should have spent more time at Gillette Stadium this offseason with coaches. After receiving a playbook for the first time at the start of training camp, Warfield has been a diligent studier.

``When I get out of here, I go straight to my room and I'm in the playbook," he said. ``I want to learn the system, what I need to do. I want to learn how to make myself a starter with this defense."

Pressure was on
The team concluded practice yesterday with rookie Stephen Gostkowski and veteran Martin Gramatica taking four field goal attempts apiece. After each attempt, the kickers would move back 5 yards, ending with what Gostkowski said was about a 44-yard attempt. Gramatica went 4 for 4, while Gostkowski was 3 for 4, missing one attempt to the right.

Gostkowski said he doesn't feel overwhelming pressure from the competition with Gramatica, because ``when you're kicking, all eyes are on you anyway."

In June's minicamp, Gostkowski faced another pressure situation, attempting about a 43-yard field goal at the end of the final practice. If he made it, the team wouldn't have to run.

``It was nerve- racking, the kind of situation us kickers go through," said Gostkowski, who nailed the kick. ``We have to be able to handle that kind of situation. I didn't know what to expect, but I'm glad I concentrated and didn't let it bother me."

Gostkowski was hoping to use that kick to build momentum heading into training camp, but he acknowledged he experienced some early camp ``jitters."

``The ones I've missed, I know what I'm doing wrong and I'm going to fix them," he said. ``It's still early in camp. We have plenty of time to go."

Dillon going for it
Running back Corey Dillon said he's prepared to run with a vengeance in 2006 after gaining only 733 yards last season, the second-lowest output of his career.

``I'm pretty ticked off right now, so we'll see how it goes," said the 31-year-old Dillon. ``I'm going to lay it all out there and see what happens. This is my 10th year. I don't have anything to lose."

Dillon, who said he went through an offseason training regimen that included a lot of work on hills, believes he's in top shape.

``The old man looks good, for sure," he said, rating himself a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. ``I did a lot of conditioning. I got on a good diet and maintained it. I just busted my butt to get into the best shape possible."

Dillon relayed that he's shared stories with rookie Laurence Maroney about his first year in the NFL with the Bengals, when veterans lined him up for some hard hits. Maroney has had a similar experience through the early part of camp.

Said Dillon: ``I told him this is not for play, that every opportunity they get, they're going to try to tackle you. So get prepared for it and if you take one, get back up and go back after it. And he does that, so he's going to be OK."

Status quo on Branch
Deion Branch's agent, Jason Chayut, said there is nothing new concerning the receiver's holdout because of a contract dispute. Branch's holdout will reach Day 4 if he is not at Gillette today. If the team so chooses, it could levy a fine of $56,000 to this point ($14,000 a day), which is more than 12 percent of Branch's 2005 salary . . . The Patriots reward the top participants in their offseason program by giving them parking spaces closest to the stadium. The team since has added an extra benefit to the offseason iron men, allowing them to pick the music played while the team stretches during camp. The top offseason participants were quarterback Tom Brady, linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Don Davis, offensive lineman Russ Hochstein, punter Josh Miller, running back Kevin Faulk, tight end Benjamin Watson, safety James Sanders, and defensive lineman Mike Wright.

It takes two to tangle
Things got a little testy during a one-on-one blocking drill between running backs and linebackers, as Maroney and fellow rookie Corey Mays got tangled up and ended up wrestling each other to the ground, with Maroney's helmet coming off. The crowd gave a rousing ovation after the tussle. The players exchanged a hearty handshake after the play . . . Brady, Bruschi, and receiver Reche Caldwell were given yesterday's practice off . . . None of the 10 players on the team's physically unable to perform list returned to practice . . . Tight ends Daniel Graham and Garrett Mills remained sidelined . . . Defensive lineman Marquise Hill, who was injured in Saturday morning's workout, didn't practice . . . The team returns to doubles today, with workouts from 9-10:30 a.m. and 2:30-4:30 p.m.

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