FOXBORO — Over the last year or so, both Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick waxed nostalgically about what Jabar Gaffney brought to the table when he was in New England between 2006 and 2008: solid, smart and utterly dependable, the Patriots have has enjoyed success in the passing game since he left, but never could replace Gaffney as a No. 3 receiver.
So when the opportunity to pick him up again came around this offseason, the idea of Gaffney back with the Patriots almost made too much sense, to both New England and Gaffney.
‘You go other places and you realize what you had, what you had here with coach Belichick,’ Gaffney said after Thursday’s OTA session in Foxboro. ‘He’s a one of a kind coach, and coming back here, he reminded me of that real quick.’
Gaffney was cut loose by the Redskins earlier this spring — he called it a ‘shocker,’ especially after he finished the 2011 season with career-highs in catches (68) and yards (947) with Washington — but said that when it came to finding a new place to play, there wasn’t much of a debate.
‘It’s one of the only places I’d like to be,’ Gaffney said. ‘I loved it here during my time and when I got cut and [the Patriots] called and Coach Belichick called and told me that we could work it out. This is where I wanted to be.’
Considering his experience in New England, it’s no surprise the 31-year-old was anxious to return. Gaffney caught 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons with the Patriots, and provided depth as the No. 3 receiver. While others struggled in that role (Joey Galloway, Chad Ochocinco), Gaffney was able to flourish, and became the best and most consistent pass-catcher the Patriots have had at that spot since Brady assumed the starting quarterback job in 2001.
Back in his familiar No. 10 with the Patriots, he said Thursday he’s a different guy than the one who left New England following the 2008 season — both on and off the field.
‘[I’ve] grown up a little bit more. Learned a lot more about football — the more you play, the more you learn,’ he said. ‘I’ve been able to put what I’ve learned in other places and bring it back here and hopefully, it can turn into a lot of success here as well.’
All you really needed to know about Chad Ochocinco’s time with the Patriots could be summed up in an OTA session late last month. New England’s first-team offense broke the huddle, and Ochocinco went to the line of scrimmage … only to be redirected to where he needed to be by teammate Deion Branch. Even after spending nearly a year in the system, the 34-year-old Ochocinco still had issues with the New England offense.
Despite a professed desire to play for Bill Belichick and alongside Tom Brady that went back several years, Chad Ochocinco never seemed to fit with the Patriots. There were some interesting moments, including a touchdown catch against the Broncos and a 53-yard surprise reception against the Jets in November, but those were few and far between. Instead, there was talk of his inability to learn the playbook, and speculation as to why New England had someone on the roster who was making a base salary of $6 million who had slipped so far down the depth chart that Tiquan Underwood was taking snaps from him.
In the end, the Ochocinco experiment — which resulted in 15 catches, 276 yards, one touchdown — just never seemed to coalesce with the Patriots. As a new receiver, it’s not so much about learning the playbook and assimilating to the “Patriots’ Way.” Instead, it’s about gaining the trust of the quarterback, and that never really happened. (Watching newcomer Brandon Lloyd work with Brady in the three OTA sessions the media has had access to, it’s clear Lloyd already has far more of a rapport with Brady than Ocho ever did.)
It’s not complicated: Listen to Jabar Gaffney, who spoke to the media Thursday, on the subject of working with Brady. “We have a great relationship, on and off the field,” Gaffney said. “On the field, we just have that rapport with each other and he knows where I’m going to be and I know he’s going to put it right there. I have all the confidence in him, he has all the confidence in me. That’s a great thing.” It was clear that as the 2011 season went on, there was none of that trust between Brady and Ochocinco. In truth, there were several moments late in the year where Ochocinco was open, but the quarterback went in another direction.
Ochocinco will get a job somewhere else for several reasons, not the least of which is that he remains a masterful self-promoter — even in the twilight of his career, few athletes can still move the needle like Ochocinco. But history will show that in the end, the receiver may have wasted his last best opportunity to win a championship.
How are things going with all the new guys? ‘Everyone is coming out here and working hard. That’s all you can ask for during this time of the season.’
There was a lot of barking on the sidelines about concentration. Is it different at this time of year compared to when you guys get going in the fall as far as that’s concerned? ‘We try to practice just as hard now without pads as we do with pads. Even though we’re not actually hitting each other, we’re out there going hard. We’re out there being safe but at the same time trying to get those looks and making sure everyone is on the same page, especially when people get tired.’
What is the attitude of the defense heading into the new season? You guys took a lot of heat in the media last year ‘ what’s the attitude now? ‘Just take it one day at a time; get better each and every day and that’s what we’re doing.’
Can you talk about some of the new guys coming in? They obviously have a learning curve with the system. Can you talk about how they’re doing? ‘Yeah, there’s a learning curve but those guys are coming in each and every day, working hard in the classroom and on the field. Hopefully when the season comes, they’ll be ready to go.’
What do you envision for this defense and how it will change for the upcoming year? ‘I’m not even trying to look that far out. I’m looking to now. I’m looking toward watching this film from today and going out tomorrow and improving on that.’
Is it exciting when you leave the draft and the team has six new guys ready to go? ‘It’s always exciting when we get guys on our side of the ball. I always love new faces, new talent. It’s like different tools you get to work with and those guys are good players.’
FOXBORO — The Patriots wrapped up a Thursday afternoon OTA session that ran for nearly two hours on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. The workout, which was conducted in sweats, shorts, T-shirts and helmets, was another relatively efficient outing underneath occasionally overcast skies. Here are a few quick notes.
The following players were not spotted for the duration of the session: offensive lineman Brian Waters, defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick, tight end Aaron Hernandez, wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, tight end Daniel Fells and defensive lineman Myron Pryor. (As he has done throughout the spring, injured rookie offensive lineman Markus Zusevics stood to the side as the offensive linemen went through their drills.)
According to a source, Ochocinco was at the Gillette Stadium facility on Thursday, but he left before the start of the session.
The following players were on the field but stretched and drilled off to the side, occasionally jumping in for sprints but mostly workout with trainers: defensive back/special teamer Matthew Slater, linebacker Brandon Spikes, linebacker Tracy White, offensive lineman Logan Mankins, offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
With no Hernandez, Gronkowski or Fells, newcomer Bo Scaife got a lot of time in with the offense. (Scaife appeared to be struggling with fatigue throughout practice — maybe this was because he and Alex Silvestro took almost every rep throughout the session.) Compounding matters was the fact that rookie tight end Brad Herman went down with what appeared to be a left foot or ankle injury at the start of practice and had to be carted off.
It was a rough session for the offense, which struggled for much of the practice, so much so that coach Bill Belichick forced them to run two sets of penalty laps during the 11-on-11 sessions — the entire offense ran one for the first infraction and then had to run two the second time around. (This is where Scaife appeared to struggle.) Quarterback Tom Brady also popped off, sounding disgusted about things.
In 7-on-7s, Belichick shook things up a bit for the quarterbacks when he was spotted tossing a blocking pad at them as they dropped back to pass. (He also occasionally stood where the defensive linemen would be and held the pad in the air to try to create another obstacle.) In those drills, Julian Edelman caught a nice deep ball from Brady, which was followed by a nice grab from Wes Welker.
More offensive notes: Keeping in mind that we’re still more than three months away from the regular-season opener, second-year running back Shane Vereen worked with the No, 1 offense in a hurry-up offensive set. … The offense appeared to get some red zone work in, and Brandon Lloyd made a nice pair of catches at the back of the end zone. Lloyd also had a nice catch on a Brady pass over Devin McCourty. With the understanding that it’s still insanely early, it’s hard not to be impressed with Lloyd, even at this stage of the spring. He looks polished and poised and not at all overwhelmed with the prospect of working in the New England offense with Brady. … Robert Gallery continued to get in a lot of work at left guard with what was a reasonable facsimile of New England’s starting offensive line. It will be interesting to see what happens to him when Mankins is back at full strength.
When he played for the Patriots from 2000 through 2004, offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi was accorded as the toughest guy in the locker room. The offensive lineman started at left guard for all three of New England’s Super Bowl teams, and left a legacy of consistency and durability that few have matched.
He’s kept that same sort of resolve in the next phase of his life as well. In addition to his work as a part-time strength and conditioning coach with the Patriots, Andruzzi — a cancer survivor himself — heads up the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which is geared toward providing financial assistance for patients and their families as well as funding pediatric brain cancer research
Andruzzi, who underwent his own battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma five years ago (he’s now in remission), said he can identify with the families who are going through the trauma that comes along with fighting cancer.
‘We know what they’re going through,’ Andruzzi said. ‘I was in the hospital, and I felt those walls closing in around me. It was tough. Thankfully, I got paid very well over the course of my career, so we could take care of the bills. But others aren’t as fortunate.
‘People have mortgages and rent and utility bills that sit at home when they are in the hospital. Those bills don’t have anything to do with medical bills, but they still need to get paid as much as the other bills.’
One of Andruzzi’s major fundraisers is right around the corner, as he will be hosting the fourth annual Joe Andruzzi and Friends golf tournament, set for June 18 at the Granite Links Golf Club in Quincy. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and linebacker Rob Ninkovich are listed as special guests hosts for the event, which will include a round of golf, a helicopter ball drop and a live auction with all sorts of memorabilia. (For more on the event, as well as a look at the work the Andruzzi foundation is doing, click here.)
For Andruzzi, seeing so many current and former Patriots come up to help raise money for such a worthy cause is gratifying.