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Time to ‘amp’ it up: Veterans, rookies talk differences between preseason and regular season

09.01.13 at 7:00 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When it comes to life in the NFL, you don’€™t know what you don’€™t know.

Provided the roster stays the same over the next week (based on past seasons, it’€™s important to note that’€™s a bit of a longshot), the Patriots will head into Sunday’€™s regular-season opener against the Bills with all seven members of their draft class and a whopping eight undrafted free agents as part of their 53-man roster. While not all 15 will be part of the game day roster, that’€™s an extraordinary number of first-year players who will likely get their ‘€œWelcome to the NFL’€ moment Sunday in upstate New York.

So what should they expect? Veteran defensive lineman Tommy Kelly says that good rookies understand the increased sense of urgency that comes with the regular season on multiple levels — including the wallet.

‘€œUntil you get out there and experience it for yourself, you really won’€™t know,’€ Kelly said. ‘€œWords can’€™t describe it. It’€™s going to be a lot more intense than what you think. The speed you think it can reach, it’€™s probably going to go a little bit faster.

‘€œNow, everything counts. People are getting paid now, so when those game checks start coming in, they amp it up a little more,’€ he added with a smile. ‘€œI think we have a good group of rookies, especially up front. I think they’€™ll be all right, especially with Joe [Vellano] and Mike [Buchanan]. I think they don’€™t seem too wide-eyed. They’€™re real calm and cool out there. They’€™ll be all right.’€

Kelly recalled his first NFL game as a rookie with the 2004 Raiders.

‘€œReally, my first game rookie year — I remember just how intense and how fast it was. It was an eye opener,’€ he said. ‘€œBut I caught up quickly. It wasn’€™t that hard of an adjustment for me. But the speed of the game was a real adjustment for me.

‘€œBut I came in with a whole bunch of veterans and so they set the tone. When you come in the game with people like Warren Sapp and Ted Washington and Bobby Hamilton, no one will care what you think anyway. You just fall in line. I had good veterans who kind of baptized me into the NFL.’€

Veteran safety Steve Gregory recalls being thrown right into the deep end of the pool as a member of the 2006 Chargers.

‘€œThe speed, the intensity — everything gets a little more real,’€ said Gregory, who is set to open his eighth year in the league this weekend. ‘€œThe record at the end of that game counts toward your goals at the end of the season, and so that puts a lot more energy into it.

‘€œI can remember being in San Diego, my first game in the NFL, and playing in Baltimore. I was just a rookie, a couple of guys went down and I had to play corner and first play in there, they recognized I was a rookie and tried to go up top. I broke up the past. That was definitely an eye opener.’€

At the other end of the spectrum is wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and tight end Zach Sudfeld, two undrafted free agents who will be making their regular-season debut against the Bills. Both subscribe to the philosophy put forth by Kelly: Keep it simple.

‘€œAt the end of the day, I think football is football,’€ Thompkins said. ‘€œIt all comes down to preparation and as long as you prepare for what’€™s ahead, I’€™m pretty sure you’€™ll do well. Once you know you’€™re assignments and everything, it’€™ll help you play faster. When you think too much, it slows you down, and so I feel like it all starts with your preparation.

‘€œI try not to have any of those ‘€˜Wow’€™ moments,’€ he added. ‘€œI try to always make sure I’€™m living in this moment right now and taking everything one day at a time and taking care of the things I need to take care of, whether it’€™s a big hit someone is trying to put on me or whatever. It all comes with the territory of playing football.’€

‘€œI’€™m sure that it’€™ll be more intense,’€ said Sudfeld when asked about the difference between preseason and regular season. ‘€œThese games really matter now — not that they didn’€™t matter before, but it will definitely get amped up now. And so I’€™m excited to get out there and see what it’€™s like. We have a lot of veteran guys who, like I said, have been really helping us out. I’€™m just looking forward to working hard and preparing the best I can.’€

Read More: Kenbrell Thompkins, Steve Gregory, Tommy Kelly, Zach Sudfeld
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