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After 'excused' absence, Collins practices; July 29 camp notes

Breathe easy, Patriots fans. Jamie Collins was back on the practice field Friday.

The linebacker didn't take part in Thursday's opening training camp, but there was apparently nothing subversive about his absence.

"Yeah, he was excused," head coach Bill Belichick confirmed before Friday's session. "He's here. No issues."

Collins then took the field and participated in the entire two-plus-hour workout. Afterward, he spent a few minutes answering reporters' questions about his whereabouts the day before.

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"Yeah, I'm straight. It feels good to be back out here."

He added that it felt nice that so many fans and media were concerned about his status, but that it was his own, personal business.

One reporter asked point-blank if Collins had any update to provide about his contract situation. Collins is in the final year of his original deal with the Patriots.

"Nah, man. I'm just handling my business. That'll take care of itself," he maintained.

"I'm just coming out here to be the best that I can be for me."

Whatever kept Collins off the field, his teammates were happy to have him back.

"Jamie is a really great football player. He does a lot of great things, and that's one great thing about Jamie," co-captain Rob Ninkovich pointed out. "Every day you know you're going to get his best. It's nice lining up next to a guy that's going out there and every day, giving it his best to be a great football player."

Fun time with Bennett

In just a short time as a Patriot, Martellus Bennett has earned a reputation as a fun player to engage in discussion. He always seems genuinely interested in talking with the media, and whenever he does, he finds new and often humorous ways to make his points.

Case in point, when asked Friday about the challenges of developing an on-field chemistry with two new quarterbacks – Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo – the tight end quipped, "I've dated two girls at the same time before."

He was quick to add that he's a happily married family man now and that he imposes a considerable amount of pressure on himself to be at his best on the football field in order to support his wife and daughter. Thus far in camp, and going back to spring practices, he's demonstrated a consistent ability to make tough, dramatic catches look easy, which has been his reputation as a player thoughout his career.

"I always feel pressure to perform. If you don't perform, then [teams] move on from you," the nine-year veteran reasoned. "Every single day, you just try to show them what you can do, so you can get a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more. I've always had that pressure on myself.

"I don't play for myself. I play for my family — my wife and my daughter and my teammates. I have pressure on me every single day, because if I don't play well, it will affect my wife and my daughter. That's my mentality when I come out on the field."

View a collection of the best images from Patriots Training Camp in Foxborough on Friday, July 29, 2016.

Action heats up

Though the weather was markedly cooler and wetter than the day before, Friday saw a slight uptick in the intensity level of practice – particularly toward the end, when the offense and defense squared off in 7-on-7 and full team periods.

At one point, after his pass was batted down by an equipment staffer wielding a tennis-racket-like paddle, Brady removed his helmet, paused for a moment, then slammed it to the turf, sending ear pads flying.

"He's been competitive even when we've been working out," Bennett observed. "He plays at such a high level that you have to match that level. Oil and vinegar don't mix. You just have to make sure that you rise to the top when he rises to the top as well."

Shortly thereafter, Brady found tight end Rob Gronkowski on a crossing route at the goal line. Gronkowski hauled in the pass with a defender nearly on his back before spinning out of the would-be tackle and rolling into the end zone for the score. The tight end bounced right back up and playfully finger-rolled the ball in front of a line of defenders who were watching the play from the back of the end zone.

One of them, linebacker Dont'a Hightower, took issue and raced onto the field to retrieve the ball. As Gronk jogged back to the huddle, Hightower tossed the ball back in Gronkowski's direction.

The remainder of the practice was a bit more up-tempo as well, with music blaring to simulate crowd-noise conditions. For the most part, the offense got the better of the defense in these red zone opportunities.

However, this could just be setting the stage for the most intense practices of camp to come, starting on Saturday when players are allowed to don full pads.

"Yeah, I'm excited," added Ninkovich. "It's always good to start real football, and that's when the pads come on."

"Everybody out here is a professional. There are no easy days out here," Collins remarked. "Everybody is out here trying to get their business done." 

Stock Watch

Buy: Martellus Bennett – Expectations were high for the pass-catching tight end when he signed with New England during the offseason, and so far, he's lived up to the billing.

*Sell: *Shaq Mason/Tre Jackson – As rookies in 2015, this draft duo saw considerable action and started at the two guard positions for most of the season. Both players began this camp on the PUP list, and while Mason came off it on Thursday, he did virtually nothing in practice on Friday.

Play of the Day: During 7-on-7, quarterback Tom Brady fired a pass down the seam intended for wide receiver Keshawn Martin. It appeared Martin was open, but safety Duron Harmon came racing over from the left side of the field and beat Martin to the ball. The two players collided midair, but Harmon came down with the football and kept his feet, returning the interception several yards before the play was whistled dead. 

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