Ricardo Mathews earned big cheers from his teammates at the end of Tuesday morning's practice.
Head coach Bill O'Brien had selected the 6-3, 300-pound nose tackle to field a punt to get a much-needed afternoon off from practice. Although he couldn't recall ever catching a punt in practice, Mathews felt confident he "wasn't going to miss."
He borrowed DeAndre Hopkins' size 3XL gloves for the kick, and six-time All-Pro Shane Lechler did what he could to help ease the kick into Mathews' hands.
"They said if I punt it and he catches it, we're out of here early," Lechler said. "I wasn't going to hit him with anything difficult. I'd wanted him to not move at all but he did a pretty good job."
Following five-consecutive days of two-a-day practices, O'Brien felt the players earned a break with their effort through the first ten days of training camp. The players still attended their Tuesday afternoon meetings, but the afternoon walk-through practice was cancelled with Mathews' catch.
"I do believe that we have a long way to go in some areas," O'Brien said Tuesday. "We have a lot of things to clean up, but I also believe that these guys are working hard. It's hot out there for these guys and the guys that are out there are giving us everything they have. That is a good thing. Tomorrow is their day off. It is good every now and then to give them a little break. Then they come back, in my opinion, a little fresh."
O'Brien didn't make it easy on Mathews though.
"If he (Ricardo Mathews) dropped it, I said we'd be here until midnight," O'Brien said. "That's why I kept saying, 'There's a lot riding on this, Rico.'"
Players have Wednesday off and will resume practice on Thursday. The team departs for Arizona the following day for their first preseason game against the Cardinals on Saturday, August 9 at 7:30 pm.