On Thursday Bill Belichick basically pulled back on the throttle and gave many of his veterans a rest by allowing the first offense and starting secondary time to work on the lower field and a glorified walk-through setting. On Friday he had the entire team take part in an intra-squad scrimmage.
While neither took place under overly intense circumstances, the scrimmage offered some opportunities to evaluate some of the younger players under game-like conditions.
“We’re going to do some team situation work today and try to put a lot of the segmented portions of practice together, so down-and-distance, moving the field, kicking situations, communication, play-calling and so forth, clock,” Belichick said before practice. “As many things as we can kind of work into this practice and create similar to a game situation, that’s what we’re going to do today.
“We’ll see how it goes, but hopefully it will give us a little bit of a day of experience as a team of doing it and make the overall operation go a little bit smoother when we actually have to do it next week.”
The team was separated into two squads – Blue and White – with members of the offense and defense sprinkled on each side. Tom Brady and Jacoby Brissett split time operating the offense for the White team while Jimmy Garoppolo went wire to wire for the Blue.
The White came out on top, 20-12, which was largely irrelevant. What was of more interest was the game operation that Belichick spoke of, and there were issues on both sides in that regard. With scouts and coaches serving as officials (Belichick was in charge of the entire operation), several flags came out and there was some overall sloppiness throughout.
In the end Brady once again showed the wide gap between the starter and the other quarterbacks while leading three scoring drives (touchdown and two field goals) on his three possessions before giving way to Brissett.
The scrimmage was less enjoyable than it might have been if not for the amount of talent that didn’t take part. Many of the top skilled position players spent the morning rehabbing on the lower field, which made life difficult for the quarterbacks.
Here are one man’s observations from practice, which was the Patriots eighth of the summer and sixth in full pads.
-As mentioned earlier, several players were held out of the scrimmage. Wide receivers Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell were all dressed for practice but spent most of the time rehabbing. Running backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead also rehabbed during the scrimmage. In addition to that group, tight end James O’Shaughnessy, safeties Duron Harmon and David Jones as well as Don’t’a Hightower (PUP), Alan Branch (PUP) and rookie Andrew Jelks (NFI) spent the morning on the lower field.
-Nate Solder missed his second straight practice and was not spotted during practice. Matthew Slater and Cody Hollister also went unseen.
-With all of the above firepower missing, life was not easy for the quarterbacks. Brady had Brandin Cooks available but threw just one ball in his direction – a bomb which resulted in a terrific catch inside the 10. Rob Gronkowski caught one short pass but wasn’t targeted much either. Dwayne Allen caught an early pass, as did James Develin, but it was Devin Lucien who was the standout. Lucien caught a touchdown pass (from roughly 30 yards) when he barely secured Brady’s throw before Jonathan Jones’ interception attempt. Lucien also hauled in a long TD toss (approximately 50 yards) from Brissett in the second half.
-For the Blue squad, Garoppolo’s top target was Austin Carr, who had trouble getting open throughout. Without many options, Garoppolo leaned heavily on Dion Lewis, who received several carries and short passes. That combination was unable to sustain much, however, and the Blue team was forced to settle for field goals. The day ended with Garoppolo going four-and-out while trailing by 8 in the final two minutes.
-There was a large crane situated near the lower practice field. Not sure if there was any construction taking place but the apparatus was tough to miss.
-“The Boys of Fall” once again was the first music choice during the stretching period.
-With Solder out of the lineup, the White team’s offensive line consisted of LaAdrian Waddle, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon on the first drive. Cam Fleming rotated at both tackle spots and Ted Karras did so on the inside on ensuing drives. The first group for the Blue team included, from left to right, Tony Garcia, Jamil Douglas, James Ferentz, Cole Croston and Conor McDermott.
-As mentioned above, Lewis received a bunch of carries during the scrimmage and it was interesting to see many of them designed to get outside. It’s possible that some were off-tackle plays where Lewis bounced outside, but Brandon Bolden, LeShun Daniels and D.J. Foster all seemed to kick it around the end periodically as well. It looks like the Patriots may be trying to work the perimeter of the defense more in 2017, which would make sense with the likes of Gillislee, Burkhead and Lewis potentially replacing the slower LeGarrette Blount.
-Stephen Gostkowski went 6-for-7 kicking field goals for both teams. His one miss came from roughly 48 yards and went wide right.
-The defensive linemen did a good job of applying pressure throughout the morning. While it’s difficult to tell with certainty when a sack may or may not take place when there is no live tackling taking place, Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler all appeared to bring the heat. Wise had a strip sack on Brissett when he knocked the ball out of the quarterback’s hand as he was attempting to pass. Brady actually disputed an early sack when he moved forward in the pocket amidst some heavy pressure. Belichick whistled the play dead and Brady’s head snapped back in his coach’s direction. To no one’s surprise Belichick’s call stood.
-Ryan Allen was occasionally called upon to punt in between possessions. He wasn’t as consistent as we would like to be, particularly when kicking out of his end zone. Cyrus Jones and Will Likely handed the returns without incident. Both actually turned in solid efforts, again, with no tackling taking place. Josh McDaniels tried to lobby for a Jones touchdown on one return, to no avail. Incidentally, McDaniels seemed to be at the controls of the White team while Matt Patricia handled things for the Blue.
-Joe Cardona had a few low snaps, but Allen was able to handle everything without much trouble.
-In addition to the strip sack, Brissett also had a botched exchange with Andrews that resulted in a turnover. On each occasion, Brissett did not make an attempt to recover the ball. It was particularly glaring on the sack, and that made us think Belichick may have instructed the quarterbacks not to try to recover fumbles and risk injury.
-Brady’s work may have ended at “halftime” but the veteran wasn’t finished. He spent a lot of time working with resistance bands around his legs, improving his footwork and throwing with Gronkowski. When Brissett hit Lucien for the touchdown, Brady ran down the sideline to congratulate the young receiver. His work ethic and love of the game continue to be maniacal.
-Rookies D.J. Killings, Kenny Moore and Jason Thompson were around the ball quite a bit during the scrimmage. Killings did a great job breaking up a couple of potentially big plays thrown in Foster’s direction while Thompson showed good range at safety. Thompson probably should have had at least one interception but was unable to hang on.
-Both Brady and Garoppolo were among those chatting with the media after practice. Offensive linemen Croston and Waddle also spoke with reporters.
-The Patriots have one more practice tomorrow before Jacksonville arrives on Monday. They will be on the field at 9:15 a.m. on Saturday and then take Sunday off to prepare for the Jaguars work on Monday.