From the moment he arrived in Foxborough as an undrafted rookie last spring, David Andrews has been a pleasant surprise. Not only did he make the 2015 53-man roster, he wound up starting 11 games at center.
This was due, at least initially, to the unavailability of incumbent starter Bryan Stork due to injury, but even when Stork was fit to return to action, he didn't get his job back right away. That led at least some observers (PFW included) to speculate that Andrews could provide a significant challenge to Stork this season in a head-to-head competition.
So far this spring, that seems to be the case. Throughout the practices that media have been allowed to watch in May and June, Andrews and Stork have been given equal opportunities to take snaps with Tom Brady.
"It's very competitive," Andrews admitted Thursday. "Everyone's out there working, trying to get better. I'm just here competing, doing what I can to help the team, whatever aspect that is. If my number's called, I'll be ready to go."
As a veteran entering his second season, Andrews is clearly in a more established position to retain a job on the Patriots, yet he refuses to use the word "comfortable" to describe how he feels this spring compared to last year at this time.
"I don't think you can ever feel comfortable. The day you start feeling comfortable is not a good day," he maintained, "but it's definitely not as crazy a whirlwind, being a better all-around player, and knowing what's expected. There's always room to get better. Definitely plays I need to work on, technique, step it up from last year."
One advantage Andrews has this year that he didn't a year ago is Dante Scarnecchia as his position coach. And though it's only been a few weeks of on-field work with the legendary coach, Andrews says he's already reaping the benefits of Scarnecchia's influence.
"It's awesome working with Scar. Pleasure working with him so far. Just trying to perfect my technique. He's helped me a lot with that."
Mitchell makes an impression
Players can't wear pads (other than their helmets) during spring practices, but that doesn't mean they can't make impressive plays.
Rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell had such a moment Thursday. During one of the many team periods of action, Mitchell ran a fade pattern from inside the defense's red zone. The pass from fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett was a bit behind Mitchell, forcing him to leap and spin 180 degrees. With his right arm, Mitchell reached up and snagged the ball out of the sky with one hand, while a defender was attached to his hip, and came down in the end zone with the ball in possession.
The play drew loud cheers and plaudits from Mitchell's offensive teammates. With the savvy of a veteran, however, Mitchell sought to downplay the play when asked after practice if it could serve as a confidence booster for him.
"I don't know, because I have to make sure I get back [to the huddle] and know the next play," he grinned. "Very supportive teammates, though, and that's definitely encouraging."
Mitchell's play was especially notable considering he was not on the field the day before. He politely declined to divulge what the reason was for his absence.
"The main thing today," he was willing to concede, "was to come out and give it my best effort every rep when I was in, and make sure I knew what was going on when I was out."
One more to go
Normally, the end of mini-camp signals the end of spring sessions, but the Patriots have scheduled one more organized team activity (OTA) that's open to the media next week. After that, the club will be officially off until training camp begins in late July.
One of the team's returning co-captains was asked Thursday if he feels the squad has looked good thus far.
"I don't even know what looking good in June means," safety Devin McCourty asserted. "This is not really football, in a sense. We have a ton of guys who are very physical, they're hitters… they don't get to do that out here [without wearing pads]. How good you can look has a ceiling, I think, but we have to do what we can with these practices. That's what we've been doing."
"It's important for us, too [as coaches]," observed head coach Bill Belichick. "I haven't coached since last January. I've been doing other things – evaluating players, working guys out, draft stuff, offseason projects and things like that. Now we're back on the field coaching so we need to sharpen up our skills too.
"It's just the day-by-day progression. It's just building blocks, just trying to get better each day."