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Thursday practice observations
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"We add more every day and of course they’re responsible for all the stuff that we had in plus all the new stuff, all the multiples that can happen," Belichick said. "It gets a little bit harder each day and of course physically there’s the wearing down effect, physically and mentally too. It’s what the team needs to develop mental toughness and staying power and to get into a regular season football kind of mode. Yup, we see all those things."
On Thursday some of those things manifested themselves on the field. At one point Belichick had "Welcome to the Jungle" blasting from the speakers as the coordinators donned headsets and relayed the plays onto the field during a team period. Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia didn’t appear to have any miscommunication mishaps with the troops, and it was an interesting first step in game preparation.
Other than that there weren’t a lot of memorable moments to document other than the return of Julian Edelman, who was activated off PUP, and some transactions and possible injury concerns. The former included four additions with defensive linemen Travis Chappelear and Scott Vallone and wide receivers Johnathan Haggerty and Lavasier Tuinei being added to the roster.
Chappelear is a 6-5, 263-pound rookie free agent who spent some time with the Bengals in the spring. Vallone is another Rutgers product and undrafted free agent and checks in at 6-3, 275 pounds. Neither was in pads as they make their way through their CBA-mandated two-day waiting period but based on size it would appear that Chappelear is another hybrid edge guy while Vallone projects as an undersized interior player.
Rookie defensive back Stephon Morris was let go along with wide receivers Perez Ashford, Lavelle Hawkins and offensive lineman Nick McDonald. Morris appeared to pull his hamstring on Tuesday but remained on the field for the remainder of the workout. Perhaps that played a role in his release.
On the injury front, defensive end Jermaine Cunningham appeared to injure his left knee and was treated by the training staff in between the fields. He did not return to action. Also, cornerback Ras-I Dowling spent time riding a stationary bike during practice and didn’t appear to take any reps thereafter. It would be particularly disappointing if Dowling suffered any injury that would cause him to miss any significant time.
With the bookkeeping out of the way, here are one man’s observations from Day 6 of Patriots training camp:
Five players missed Thursday’s practice including Mark Harrison (NFL/foot), Marcus Cannon, Elvis Fisher, Rob Gronkowski and Armond Armstead (NFI/illness). Cannon left Tuesday practice early with an apparent injury after working at tackle for the first time in camp. He was not present at Thursday’s workout in any capacity.
For the first time in camp Grissom was in pads and took part in the workout. He did some conditioning work on the lower field with the strength and conditioning staff before joining his teammates. Fisher worked out on the bike at the far end of the practice fields while Harrison and Gronkowski were on the fields in shorts.
Devin McCourty remains in his red, non-contact jersey while Dan Connolly continues to sit out contact reps while Tyronne Green fills in a right guard.
-In addition to Edelman, rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson and running back Brandon Bolden returned to practice after missing the previous workout. The Boston Globe reported Dobson sat out due to taking a cleat to the leg and expected him back on Thursday. He was indeed back in uniform and did not look compromised in any way. He even turned in a terrific one-handed catch during drills early in practice.
-Bolden was in uniform but spent a good deal of time working on the lower fields. Perhaps the ankle injury that reportedly kept him off the field in the spring is a lingering problem as he’s missed some practice time recently. Connolly also spent time working on the lower field during the afternoon.
-Edelman was active throughout the day. He was back deep receiving punts and took regular reps in drills and with the second group out of the slot. He’s often one of the quicker players on the practice field and he looked so on Thursday despite what Belichick said was basically a spring of inactivity. "It felt good," Edelman said. "It’s always exciting to get back out there with the teammates and start a new year and get on the field."
-Defensive end/linebacker Marcus Benard took some reps as an interior rusher in a "NASCAR-type" front similar to ones the Giants have used in the past with smaller, quicker players inside. Benard at times has shown the ability to get after the passer and could be a candidate in a crowded group of players looking for roles as backup rushers.
-Aqib Talib continues to impress with his ability to lock up different kinds of receivers. We knew he could be competitive against bigger, outside wideouts like Andre Johnson but watching him stick with the likes of Danny Amendola has been surprising. On two occasions during one-on-one drills on Thursday Talib blanketed the shifty slot man and got the better of things, forcing incompletions each time. Following the second rep Amendola expressed some frustration – loudly.
-Rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce is certainly fast, and at times he’s shown some shake and ability to get himself open. What he hasn’t done consistently is catch the football. He often seems to fight the ball even when he makes the catch, and too often he hasn’t been able to hold onto it at all. Drops happen to everyone but so far in camp they’ve happened to Boyce too often, and on Thursday he had another during an early drill.
-Linebackers coach Pepper Johnson spent some time with defensive backs early in practice, working on pass rushing. During a team period with the defense operating out of a dime package, Marquice Cole took off on a blitz out of the slot. The offense did a nice job picking it up and the pass was off before Cole could get close.
-Zoltan Mesko and Ryan Allen each tried a free kick during the first special teams period that featured kickoff work. Incidentally, Leon Washington, LeGarrette Blount, Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins and Stevan Ridley all served as returners.
-The second special teams period focused on the punt team. The group consisted of Alfonzo Dennard, Niko Koutouvides, Dane Fletcher, Danny Aiken, Brandon Spikes, Blount and Kamar Aiken with Matthew Slater and Cole as the gunners and Nate Ebner as the personal protector for Mesko and Allen. Mesko’s kick was a plus-50 attempt that was downed nicely by Slater while Allen’s was a terrific directional kick out of his own end zone that was fair caught by Washington. Later the specialists worked on their own with Mesko working on keeping his punts out of the end zone and Stephen Gostkowski practicing on-side kicks.
-On consecutive plays the offense featured a four-wide look with Dobson, Thompkins, Amendola and Boyce, then three wides with Tim Tebow running a zone-read option with Blount, followed by a two-back set with James Develin and Blount. Tebow seemed to run more zone-reads in the practice than he has thus far.
-Tebow again was a bit erratic throwing the football but he did have more positive moments on Thursday that he’s had in most of the practices. Once again under the watchful eye of Brian Daboll, Tebow delivered some strong throws in traffic, hitting Brandon Ford down the seam for a big play and later finding Quentin Sims in the corner of the end zone on a deep ball. He also had his share of misfires and continues to scramble recklessly before throwing at times, especially at the end of practice during the "opportunity reps."
-Ford drew the ire of Belichick during a ball security drill when he was not only tackle by rookie Jamie Collins but he lost the ball as well.
-The offensive and defensive lines participated in more one-on-one work on the far end of the field. Later they added some two-man stunts to the equation that the offensive line seemed to handle well.
-Thompkins seems to make at least one play every day and on Thursday he managed to shake free from Steve Gregory, Kyle Arrington and Talib to haul in a deep ball from Tom Brady. It was one of the rare big plays the offense was able to make on the day.
-Gostkowski ended practice by nailing a bunch of field goals with the rookie Allen serving as the holder.
-The Patriots will continue their work tomorrow with another afternoon practice in Foxborough. The session gets underway at 2:20 p.m. and is open to the public. Saturday’s practice is set for 9 a.m. and also will be open to the public.