Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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Red Sox and Bruins beat reporter
Covered Boston teams since 1992
Joined ESPNBoston.com in 2010

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For the next three days, the men in stripes will be officiating practices for the New England Patriots as part of training camp.
It’s an opportunity for the players and the coaching staff to understand officials’ interpretation of the rules in a controlled practice environment. Coach Bill Belichick explained that if the players have any questions, or if the referees see the team doing something wrong, now is the time to try and fix it, so there’s a better understand once the regular season begins.
“We ask them to watch what we’re doing and tell us what we need to do to make it legal or make sure that we’re doing something properly, and at the same time we know what we have to defend,” Belichick said.
Numerous times during Thursday’s practice, Belichick would stop the drill and ask the refs questions.
“It’s better overall for each guy on the field — offensive and defense,” said Patriots’ Jonas Gray said. “Whenever you’ve got a referee out there he’s making calls that he sees. It doesn’t matter what we think, doesn’t matter the coaches think, he’s the one calling the shots, so it’s good to have the referees out here.”
Flags were flying time and again during the afternoon session and players were in constant communication with the officials.
“It lets us know what we need to work on when you’ve got little penalties here and there,” Gray said. “A lot of times we were trying to do too much, so when you have the referees out here it has a game feel to it.
“The offense, we were trying to do a whole lot and got a little sloppy there. Individually, myself doing little things that I can, asking the referee, ‘Am I good here, am I good there?’ That’s helping everything.”
Having the officials in attendance also makes practice feel more like a game situation for the players, especially with the first preseason game against the Green Bay Packers a week away. As cornerback Robert McClain described it, it helps the secondary with another set of eyes watching practice.
“When we are covering you have to play with good technique and fundamentals to not get penalties because it’s only going to hurt …Read More