The offense finally grabbed some of the practice spotlight on Sunday afternoon, but the Patriots defense was hardly shut out of the fun.
Most of the highlights came during the team portion of practice when the offense and defense squared off head-to-head in situational work.
Despite being in shoulder pads and shorts, the practice tempo had to please Head Coach Bill Belichick. The session was relatively physical especially when the offense worked on the running game. But the hit of the day – and perhaps of camp – came during the 2:00 drill when wide receiver Jimmy Farris caught a short pass over the middle only to be creamed immediately by strong safety Lawyer Milloy.
Farris fumbled the ball and the defense recovered and returned it upfield. The young wideout was slow to get up as Milloy just stood over his fallen prey.
The offense made its share of plays; however, with rookie wide receiver Deion Branch making a pair of superb catches. The first came when he jetted past cornerback Brock Williams and caught a beautifully thrown bomb from Tom Brady, who sharpened up in the afternoon. Williams was filling in during nickel package work as Otis Smith sat out the practice along with several other veterans.
Branch made another fine catch down the sideline when Brady delivered a pass to his sideline shoulder away from Williams, who had solid coverage. Branch turned his body back toward the sideline in a terrific adjustment and hauled in the pass while keeping his feet in bounds and the falling down.
Branch was outdone a short while later when Scott McCready laid out fully extended to catch a Damon Huard fade pass down the right sideline. One play later, J.R. Redmond made an impressive touchdown catch on a corner route to successfully complete the hurry-up drive.
Practice began and ended with some kickoff work. At the start of practice, the ball machine fired end-over-end kickoffs down the field to an array of returners who had to toss a second ball in the air a moment before the kickoff reached them. They then had to catch the kickoff and the ball they tossed in the air in what was designed to work on concentration. The end of practice featured the full kickoff return team.
The running back and tight ends got the better of the linebackers in some one-on-one coverage work with Walter Williams making a nice adjustment on a ball thrown to the wrong shoulder. Williams turned back and made a one-handed grab. Patriots Football Weekly declared Williams a camp sleeper and he is certainly a surprise player to watch as the preseason unfolds.
Linebacker Ratcliff Thomas intercepted a Huard pass during that session and Tedy Bruschi made a couple of fine defensive plays as well.
Bill Belichick gave several veteran players the afternoon practice off to rest their legs, although all worked out on either the exercise bikes or the stair machines that sit adjacent to the practice fields. Each player excused was in his eighth year or later. The group included wide receiver Troy Brown (10th), guard Mike Compton (10th), tight end Christian Fauria (8th), defensive end Bobby Hamilton (8th), linebacker Roman Phifer (12th), defensive end Anthony Pleasant (13th) and cornerback Otis Smith (13th).
Injuries continued to keep tight end Cam Cleeland, cornerbacks Tommy Knight, Ben Kelly and Leonard Myers, guard Joe Andruzzi, defensive end Setema Gali and wide receiver Donald Hayes on the sideline.
Antowain Smith, Greg Robinson-Randall and Patrick Pass still aren't permitted to practice (failed conditioning run) and Willie McGinest remains out of camp for personal reasons.
Milloy made a friendly gesture when, after breaking up a pass, he picked up the ball and flipped it to fan, providing the fan with both a souvenir and a memory.
Rookies are forced to carry veteran position-mates' pads back to the locker room after practice, but since Rohan Davey is the only rookie quarterback, he carries Brady's and Huard's pads back in a double whammy.