FOXBORO (CBS) –  On the final day of their mandatory minicamp, Bill Belichick gave his Patriots the day off from practice.

It was a surprise move by the New England head coach, which caught most of his players off guard. Many of them were ready to take the field when he alerted them of the news around noon.

“It was a shocker. Coach keeps us on our toes,” said receiver Deion Branch.

“We were kind of shocked, everybody was ready to practice,” second-year corner Ras-I Dowling said, all taped up and ready to go. “Guys were in the training room getting taped, and then we got that news — ‘you can go home a day early.'”

The players still had meetings to attend, but did not have to take the field on the final day of the three-day mandatory minicamp.

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“It was pretty exciting,” linebacker Bobby Carpenter said. “I think a lot of guys were ready to get out of here; we’ve got some good work in this offseason. Frankly for one, I’m ready to get going, but now is when the preparation starts for training camp.”

Patriots training camp will begin in July. But the team did enough over the last couple days to warrant the day off. Still, they will have plenty of work to prepare for training camp, and when they get back, for the upcoming season.

“We’ve been out here for 12 practices, grinding and working hard. I think guys have shown that they’ve improved and have worked hard,” said corner Devin McCourty. “No matter what, we’ll leave today and still need to improve on things. Guys are going to have to work hard, come back and be ready.”

One aspect that has been stressed to the players during their five-week break until camp begins has been conditioning.

“I think overall these guys are in pretty good shape but I don’t think they’re in training camp shape, real football shape,” said Belichick. “That’ll come again over the next few weeks, getting back to their offseason training, lifting and conditioning and doing things to really get them prepared for the bulk of the football season from the conditioning standpoint.”

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“We’ve done a lot of technique things, working on their skills and doing a lot of teamwork so that they can either actually execute or visualize the plays that happen relative to having somebody on the other side of the ball,” Belichick said of the minicamp activities. “That’s something you can’t simulate in your own personal workouts, you need a team setting to do that. We’ve tried to emphasize that. I think there’s no question between now and the start of training camp, physical conditioning, cleaning up any little nagging injuries, making sure that they do a good job with all their aspects of the training: nutrition, hydration, rest, speed, strength, power, explosive movements, those kinds of things. That’s all part of it, no question.”


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