Belichick surprises by calling off practice

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cornerback Ras-I Dowling got his ankles taped and headed to the practice field, preparing for the final day of mandatory minicamp Thursday. Once Dowling and his teammates arrived, Bill Belichick sprung some surprising news on them.

Practice was cancelled.

"We were kind of shocked, everybody was ready to practice," Dowling said. "Guys were in the training room getting taped, and then we got that news -- 'you can go home a day early.'"

Veteran receiver Deion Branch, who initially joined the team as a rookie in 2002, wasn't expecting it.

"It was a shocker. Coach keeps us on our toes," he said, adding that Belichick did the same thing "way back in the old days."

Branch was asked if it was a sign that the coaching staff is pleased with what players have accomplished in minicamp.

"Yeah, I think pretty much the [whole] offseason," he answered.

Players still had meetings on Thursday afternoon before officially closing the book on mandatory minicamp.

"It was pretty exciting," linebacker Bobby Carpenter said of his reaction when Belichick delivered the news of the cancelled practice. "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."