By Hector Longo
FOXBORO - The first day of the rest of the New England Patriots football lives looked pretty much like each of the previous eight training camp openers, here in the shadow of Gillette Stadium.
Just days after Bill Belichick stripped the walls of the first floor where the players work, eat, dress, lounge and mingle of all the reminders of championships past, his Patriots took the practice field for the first in what could be a grueling stretch of two-a-days.
From all observations, Belichick has done a bit more to clamp down on this team, maybe even to the point of taking a more firm grasp.
"Coach Belichick has gotten on the defense as a whole," said linebacker Jerod Mayo.
Clearly, the coach will try to fill the leadership void until his troops catch up.
Finding playmakers and leaders on defense will be the primary drive in this training camp.
"It's a fresh start," said second-year corner Darius Butler. "We don't have the Super Bowl rings or the championships. It's just a lot of young guys learning and trying to make our mark."
Butler, Patrick Chung, Mayo, rookies Devin McCourty, Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes ... All are assets and chips expended by Belichick with the sole purpose of locating impact football players.
Shocker of the day
Did you know that Laurence Maroney is an active member in the St. Louis Chess Club?
I kid you not.
Maroney talked of the similarities between running the football and chess, in which you are trying to think a step or two ahead of the opposition by setting him up for the next move.
Give the fifth-year man credit. He stands there and entertains any questions or criticisms and has done his homework.
When the subject of sharing time and carries with Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk, he gave the answer Belichick would be proud of.
"I just want to take advantage of every opportunity I get," he said.
Of course, a bit later when the subject of getting 20 carries a game in, he slyly noted: "If I'm correct, the last couple times I got the ball 20 carries, I ran for over 100 yards."
Unfortunately, he wasn't correct, having gone 20-82 vs. Miami, 22-77 vs. Jets, 22-94 vs. Carolina and 23-84 vs. Buffalo last fall.
The subject of a potential fumble problem was also defused by Maroney, pretty abruptly.
"Four fumbles in four years, I don't see an issues with fumbling," he said.
All four, two on the goal-line, came last year, though.
"They got away from me as I was going down, it's one of those things added Maroney. "That's me being lazy. I have to hold the ball higher and tighter. That can be easily fixed."
Glad they're gone?
One guy who's probably a bit relieved about the fresh start and new outlook is Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather, who has probably heard enough about a guy he respects a ton, Rodney Harrison, in these parts.
"I don't compare myself to anyone else," said Meriweather. "I am Brandon Meriweather, and I can only be Brandon Meriweather."
The Mankins shuffle
Almost without a flinch, Belichick let Logan Mankins, a contract-dispute holdout, know that life goes on.
Nick Kaczur slid over to the starting left guard spot, and the German Diesel, Sebastian Vollmer, assumed the right tackle spot.
Clearly, this puts Kaczur, a Mankins compadre, in a tough predicament, almost to the point of being a little traitorous.
How much experience does Kazcur have inside at guard?
"None," he admitted after practice yesterday.
Still, Kaczur will do what he is told, which is a good thing, even at Mankins' expense.
"Hey it's football, that's what I do," said Kaczur, who welcomed his first child in the offseason. "Get in there, and get after them. (The move) is a little different, it's just a challenge."
The real challenge will be finding a way for Belichick to get the two-time Pro-Bowler Mankins into training camp as quickly as possible.
All the coach would say on the subject was that, "All of the players that are here are under contract and Logan is not under contract."
Buddy's first day
The local guy, Andover's Buddy Farnham, towed the company line, joining the rest of the rookies in a code of silence with the media.
The aspiring receiver out of Brown caught every ball his way in the morning session, including one rolling, diving finger-tip grab that drew a loud roar from the crowd of about 5,000.
If I had to worry?
I would bring up the immortal Matt Slater running free from Pat Chung, who held the special-teamer and still couldn't stop a 15-yard completion.
Folks around this team are counting on Chung to step up in his second year at free safety. He's tough and smart, a testament to the fact that he is on the first-team goal-line unit.
But from Day 1, he hasn't been able to cover anyone.
When a guy like Slater runs free so easily? That's a problem.
What I liked
In a goal-line set, the offense tried to pound it in twice. Both times, it was Pierre Woods, lined up at inside backer, stepping in to make the play.
Definitely felt good about the defense simply saying, "No!"
A look ahead
The fiercest battles in this camp will be in the secondary, both with the receivers and the defensive backs.
If you had to gauge the winners and losers on day 1?
Winners: 1. Randy Moss, 2. Taylor Price, 3. Leigh Bodden.
Losers: 1. Pat Chung, 2. James Sanders, 3. Brandon Tate.