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New Patriots have to think fast in drills

Defensive lineman Le Kevin Smith (left) and offensive lineman Gene Mruczkowski come to grips with the situation. Defensive lineman Le Kevin Smith (left) and offensive lineman Gene Mruczkowski come to grips with the situation. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

FOXBOROUGH -- Different. Much different.

That is the assessment of some first-year Patriots players when it comes to situational football, Bill Belichick style.

With little notice during a training camp practice, a situation is presented to the players. How will they react?

Surely the Patriots aren't the only NFL squad going through such work, but the intensity and time spent in that area have made an impression on some of the newest members of the team.

"I know it's the first time for me doing situational football, basically having a whole practice dedicated to it, or like we did at the end of practice [yesterday morning]," receiver Kelley Washington said.

"It's new to me, and I think it's new to a lot of players. I know Randy Moss was talking about it, the idea of just focusing in on situational football, locking in on that."

Whether it's Washington, Moss, or 12-year veteran Tory James, they've quickly come to learn that situations are emphasized by the Patriots coaching staff. It's one of Belichick's trademarks, and it came to life once again on the practice field yesterday morning. The focus was on what happens in the final minute of a game while trying to set up a winning or tying field goal.

In a regular training camp practice, Belichick himself often yells out the situation, noting the down and distance, how much time is remaining, and how many timeouts the team has available. But with yesterday's practice held inside Gillette Stadium, all that information was on the scoreboard, and the players -- who lined up on both sidelines as if it were a regular-season game -- responded as if it were a game situation. So did the coaches, who called out for sub defenses and used hand signals to communicate.

Some of the situations:

There are 38 seconds remaining, the ball is on the 30, no timeouts left.

There are 10 seconds remaining, the ball is on the 50, one timeout left.

There are nine seconds remaining, the ball is on the 30, one timeout left.

In the first scenario, the field goal unit came sprinting onto the field after quarterback Tom Brady completed a 10-yard pass, with kicker Stephen Gostkowski hurrying to get off a 37-yard attempt before time expired (the ball clanged off the left upright).

"A lot of times, the whole game comes down to a couple plays and how they are executed," Belichick explained. "We just pick them to try to cover the smorgasbord of things that could come up. The ones we covered [yesterday], we'll cover different ones [today], and then watch them on film and correct them and talk about them."

The team also reviews plays from previous seasons or things that happened to other clubs that it hopes to avoid. Belichick added that while the situations are generally set up for the offense, it's beneficial for the defense as well.

James, who has played for the Broncos, Raiders, and Bengals, has noticed that everyone is held accountable during situational work. So even though he plays cornerback, he might be tested on how a player at another position should execute.

"We did it in other places, but one part of it that seems like more of a focus here is that everyone knows, not just one guy," he said. "I think it's good for us to go through that."

Washington agreed, noting, "Everyone from the first man to the last man is geared in, even those on the sidelines, because the subs might be called in. This team really focuses on it. I've been surprised by it."

For veterans like Tom Brady, it's the only way he knows.

"It's good for us to be aware of the situations -- I know it's something Coach Belichick stresses for us," he said. "We got some good work in it and I'm sure some will come up on Friday [in the preseason opener]."

Actually, Belichick isn't just focusing on the preseason opener. He's thinking long-range, figuring that situations covered in training camp could come up in the season, or even next season.

That's another aspect that stands out to Washington, a five-year veteran who played for the Bengals from 2003-06.

"All these plays, they might not happen this year, they might not happen 2-3 years from now, but it's eventually going to happen and we'll be prepared for them," he said. "It's the first time I've done it, and I can see where it's going to help us when we have to react and think on the run.

"The biggest thing in anything is preparing yourself, and that's all we're doing -- preparing ourselves for all these situations."

Mike Reiss can be reached at