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Wednesday Patriots mini-camp observations
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The second day of New England’s three-day mini-camp was far less buzz-filled as Bill Belichick’s team continued to work to improve in helmets and shorts/sweats.
Today’s session took place under varying bouts of clouds and sun, with a decent breeze and relatively cool temperatures. Though it didn’t seem to be quite as crisp as the previous day’s practice, the offense continued to make strides in the passing game while the defense once again showed plenty of enthusiasm and spirit in its work.
As always, here are one man’s observations of mini-camp practice from a field away of players not wearing jersey numbers:
Hernandez’ absence is notable in that while he’s been rehabbing this spring after shoulder surgery, he’s been on the field for every session and seemingly had been taking on more active participation in drills.
Other players on the field but in various states of participation/rehab work included Mark Harrison (foot), Aaron Dobson, Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty (shoulder), Josh Boyce (shoulder), Stevan Ridley, Dan Connolly (shoulder), Sebastian Vollmer (knee), Brandon Bolden, Alfonzo Dennard, A.J. Edds, Brandon Ford and Nate Ebner.
Brandon Spikes was on the field for the second straight day. He was riding the stationary bike early in the workout, but then took part in many drills and some team action later in the session.
There were once again five tryout players on the field for the practice – No. 35 white, No. 41 blue, No. 68 white, No. 71 blue and No. 84 white. Reports indicated that No. 71 was John Drew, and defensive lineman out of North Carolina Central, and that No. 84 was Chaz Schilens, the former Raiders receiver who spent last season with the Jets. For the second straight day Schilens really struggled to catch the football.
--Jake Ballard also continued to struggle catching the ball. Not sure if the return from the knee injury, and obvious athletic/fluidity limitations, might be affecting his hands/concentration. Whatever the reason, he’s dropped a ton of balls this spring.
--Some early special teams work focused on the wedge blockers in front of the kickoff returners. Marcus Cannon, Zach Sudfeld and Armond Armstead took reps in the spot.
--Ridley did seemingly less on Wednesday than he had a day earlier. He spent the bulk of the day with the rehab group and then watching from the side. Ridley had left the final OTA practice in front of the media with an apparent leg injury/tightness.
--Speaking of deep balls, Tom Brady has been throwing quite a few the last couple days. He’s looked solid putting air under the ball and still has the arm strength to get it down the field. At times his target has been new slot receiver Danny Amendola, who seems to have caught at least one big play in each practice. Wednesday No. 80 caught one down the field and another that he turned up field for a potential big play.
--New England mascot Pat Patriot was on the practice field during the session a group of VIP fans watching the workout from the stands.
--There was once again a lot of seven-on-seven work during the session. While it’s dangerous to generalize, a lot of balls seemed to hit the ground when Ryan Mallett was at the helm in those reps.
--Punt block fundamentals were the focus during another segment of special teams drills.
--During special teams work the quarterbacks were on the sidelines watching. This gave Bill Belichick a chance to have an extended chat with Tebow.
--Belichick’s daughter, Amanda, watched her father’s morning press conference and then the day’s practice action. Amanda Belichick is a women’s lacrosse coach at Ohio State.
--Tebow once again did not take part in team work until the opportunity portion of the practice near the end. At that point he led the young group of offensive players against young defenders under the guidance of Brian Daboll. Tebow struggled in the drill. He seemed to have to pull the ball down and scramble on every snap, failing to find an option in what would be a normal amount of time for a play. Not surprising given his limited time in the playbook, but also a problem he’s dealt with in the past and must show improvement on moving forward in New England. One of Tebow’s throws during the drill was so off-target from his receiver that it hit a safety behind the play in the foot. It’s early, but it wasn’t pretty.
--On the main field practice ended with a Brady throw being deflected and intercepted by Jerod Mayo, with the linebacker returning it for a touchdown. He gave it an emphatic spike to end practice before hip bumping his defensive teammates.
--It has been interesting to see Brady seem to take the inconsistency of the passing game and some of these spring struggles in stride. Generally known for his fiery personality, even on the practice field, he seems to understand the situation and the process that he’s working through. He said during a radio interview that it might be mid-August before he is comfortable with some of his targets. I don’t think it’s easy for him to see so many balls hit the ground as has been the case this spring, but he appears to be dealing with it as well as could be expected.
--Mallett, Vince Wilfork, Amendola, Michael Jenkins and Rob Ninkovich were among the players speaking with the media after practice.
--The Patriots return to the mini-camp practice fields Thursday for the final session of the camp. It is worth remembering that Belichick actually called the players off the field and cancelled the final practice of mini-camp last spring. Not sure that’s likely to happen given the current state of the team, but you can never discount what Belichick might do in the best interests of his football team.