Players get into the swing of camp
Scuffles highlight session at Gillette
FOXBOROUGH — Just before his team gathered on the Gillette Stadium field for its annual training camp practice for season ticket-holders and Foxborough residents, Bill Belichick called these the dog days of camp.
It’s the time when players start to feel the stress of long days, and facing off against one another for practice after practice.
“That’s something all of us need to go through — players, coaches — just grind it through mentally and just be ready to get up and go every day and start all over again,” Belichick said. “That’s part of team building and working through it when you’re tired and you don’t feel good. It’s a long season. This is one of the many challenges we’ll face.”
Not long after Belichick’s remarks, his team showed that he has the pulse of the squad — there were three dust-ups during the night’s practice, the worst of which was started by the normally mild-mannered Nate Solder.
During 11-on-11 red zone work, Solder gave Brandon Spikes a shove after the linebacker was on the ground, setting off a brief scuffle that involved a good portion of the team.
Solder, whose reputation coming out of Colorado was that he might be too nice to mix it up with NFL defensive linemen, was made to do a penalty lap, while Spikes briefly left the field, though he did return and jumped right back into the action.
Earlier, Dan Koppen mixed it up with Dane Fletcher and then James Ihedigbo.
“A little chippy, a little chippy,” corner Kyle Arrington said. “It’s all in fun though. When it happens, everybody’s such a competitor, you can’t help it. Sometimes emotions get involved. But at the end of the day, it’s all love.”
Rookie Chandler Jones didn’t get involved in the scuffle, joking, “You know what? I’m not Jon ‘Bones’ Jones [his brother the mixed martial arts champion]. My name is Chandler.”
There are still five days until the Saints come to town for a pair of joint practices before their preseason game against the Patriots, and players simply grow weary of battling the same teammates.
“You grow tired of people this time of year,’’ he said. “That’s just the nature of it.”
Wilfork lends a hand
As the most tenured member of the Patriots’ defensive line, Vince Wilfork has seen teammates come and go. But before this season, he had had just one position coach: Pepper Johnson.
Jones hasn’t left the team, but has taken over as linebackers coach, with assistant Patrick Graham now in charge of the defensive line. A former lineman at Yale, Graham has a profile similar to most of the Patriots’ assistants: young (he’s 33), bright, and ambitious.
But he’s still learning his new job, and isn’t afraid to go to its senior member for help when needed.
“Patrick’s pretty smart,” Wilfork said. “With ‘Pep’ [Johnson]and Matty P [defensive coordinator Matt Patricia] and Bill Belichick, when we’re in the meetings, if he needs an answer he can always ask . . . You have changes, you have to adapt to those changes and I think we’re doing a great job in the defensive line room because we all talk the same [language], same thing Pep taught us, he’s teaching us. And if he had questions, he’d ask.”
Graham came to New England in 2009 after two seasons as a graduate assistant under Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.
Zolak joins Santos
Scott Zolak will become the color analyst on Patriots game broadcasts on 98.5 The Sports Hub this season alongside play-by-play announcer Gil Santos, filling the role previously held by Gino Cappelletti, according to an industry source.
Cappelletti, 78, retired earlier this summer after a 32-year career in broadcasting. He was known as “Mr. Patriot” during his days as a Patriots kicker, receiver, and defensive back from 1960 to 1969, and had worked with Santos from 1972-78 and again from 1991 through last season.
Zolak, a former Patriots quarterback, was a sideline analyst on Patriots game broadcasts last season with Santos and Cappelletti. An official announcement from the station is expected soon.
New England announced the crowd for last night’s practice as 22,633 – though they weren’t calling it a record for the in-stadium practice, it was around 5,000 more folks than last year . . . Robert Kraft, who addressed the crowd about a third of the way through the session, also spent some time signing autographs afterward.
Chad Finn of the Globe staff contributed to this report.