For the better part of the first week of camp the offense has enjoyed the better of the overall play in Foxborough. In fact, Bill Belichick expressed some displeasure with his defense on the field during Sunday's practice, and on Wednesday he made an unsolicited negative comment about that side of the ball.
When asked about the play of Trey Flowers and his ability to stop the run, the coach explained that the defensive ends all have done well in that department, but added a zinger.
"So, that end position in the running game, so far, I'd say that hasn't been the major problem for us. It's been everything else." And with that Belichick capsulized his feelings about the play of his defense through the early part of the summer.
But things may have begun to change on Thursday during a two-hour practice that was filled almost exclusively with 11-on-11 work on the running game. The defense appeared to much more physical and showed some nastiness at times
During one sweep, corner Darryl Roberts came up and delivered a shoulder to Tyler Gaffney that stopped the back in his tracks. Malcolm Butler took exception to a late block and responded with a swipe in the direction of LeGarrette Blount a bit later.
Then Duron Harmon came up with an interception of a deep ball in which Tom Brady and Chris Harper appeared to be out of sync. Harper broke off his route toward the inside and Harmon, serving as the centerfielder on the play, came over and made the pick.
But instead of just jogging back and ending the play, the safety took off down the sideline and suddenly his teammates were looking for white jerseys to hit. Rob Gronkowski tried in vain to get involved and Harmon eventually took it about 90 yards to the house, where he and a few defensive teammates celebrated. Perhaps the energetic return was in response to some of Gronkowski's post-TD celebrations in recent days.
For the most part it looked like the Patriots front seven did a much better job of controlling the line of scrimmage, something the offense has done more consistently in earlier days.
Beyond the defense's resurgence, here are one man's blogservations from the Patriots seventh practice of training camp and fourth in full pads.
View a collection of the best images from Patriots Training Camp in Foxborough on Thursday, August 4, 2016.
-The list of those missing practice is beginning to grow as three players were added to the list – rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell, running backs Brandon Bolden and D.J. Foster and rookie tight end Bryce Williams. It was unfortunate timing for Mitchell and Williams, both of whom appeared to be making strides with solid practice work in recent days. Mitchell also missed Saturday's practice while Williams has his knee looked at toward the end of Wednesday's workout.
-Joining that trio were Chris Hogan (shoulder), Donald Brown (hamstring), Jonathan Freeny, Jonathan Cooper (foot), Bryan Stork (reported concussion), Keshawn Martin and Nate Washington. For the first time since leaving practice after vomiting on opening day Washington donned a helmet for part of the workout and worked running routes, almost mirroring the plays as they were taking place on the opposite field.
-The list of players on PUP remained unchanged with Julian Edelman (foot) and Clay Harbor went to the Empower Retirement indoor facility for some conditioning work during practice while Sebastian Vollmer (ankle) stayed with the offensive linemen. Dion Lewis (knee), Tre' Jackson (knee) and Dany Amendola (knee, ankle) all remain on PUP but were not spotted. Hogan donned his helmet and pads for some rebab with Edelman and Harbor while Freeny was on the field with his defensive teammates.
-Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon remain in their red, non-contact jerseys.
-Stork spent some time running sprints in the back corner of the left practice field in the area where the offensive line normally works out (aka Dante's Inferno). The Boston Herald reported that Stork is dealing with a concussion, which would be particularly troubling for the center since he missed half the 2015 season dealing with the after effects of a head injury.
-Trainer Jim Whalen spent some time helping Gronkowski strap on his protective arm apparatus at the start of practice. Gronk normally has the wrap on before he gets on the field but today was a bit late getting out there and Whalen helped him get situated.
-Rookie Cyrus Jones came out of Alabama with the reputation as one of the nation's best punt returners. There's no doubt the corner has some quickness to his game, but thus far he's having a tough time fielding the kicks. He's mishandled at least one on most days and on Thursday he failed to secure three different attempts. Ryan Allen spent time early in practice kicking to Jones and V'Angelo Bentley and Jones bobbled one of his attempts. Later during punt team work, Jones lost another as the attempted to run under a short punt. When practice was wrapping up he fielded several from the JUGS machine and he couldn't hold onto another. At this point it appears as if the rookie corner is fighting some confidence issues and it will be interesting to see how he handles his opportunities during the preseason. If Jones is to replace Edelman and Amendola as the top option he's going to need to demonstrate more consistency holding onto the ball.
-The offense featured a great deal of two tight end looks with Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett as the Patriots featured the ground game as well as a variety of short passes, screens and an occasional shot play downfield. Ted Karras worked at right guard during portions of these periods while Josh Kline and Shaq Mason rotated in. Kline also took reps at center.
-One of the successful "shot plays" took place when Matthew Slater stepped in at receiver and split Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty before hauling in a perfect bomb from Tom Brady. Slater saw more action at wideout with the depth chart at receiver down to just four players – Aaron Dobson, Devin Lucien, Chris Harper, DeAndre Carter – due to injury.
-James White was impressive in the screen game as he appears to have a knack for the timing involved in setting up the blocks after making the catch. Last season Belichick called his 30-yard touchdown off a screen against Tennessee the team's best-executed play of the season, and on Thursday he looked comfortable in that role again. He also turned in a pair of impressive runs, taking advantage of some sizable holes in the middle of the defense with some decisive cuts to daylight.
-Fullback James Develin, who was a big part of the running work, was forced out of the action for a play or two while getting some adjustments done to his helmet. Elandon Roberts also had an equipment issue at one point before returning to action.
-After spending plenty of extra time working after practice on Wednesday, Brady and Garoppolo were back at it one Thursday. The quarterbacks broke out the barrel and engaged in a competition for about 15 minutes, most of which came under the watchful eyes of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Their throws came from 30 and 40 yards in length and neither had much luck hitting the target. Garoppolo was able to hit the barrel on a bounce and also had one rim out but Brady never really came close to connecting. McDaniels stood near the barrel and seemed to have some sort of scoring system in place but it was unclear. Rob Ninkovich tried his luck with one throw but was unable to show up the quarterbacks. After McDaniels left Brady and Garoppolo moved in to the 5-yard line and tossed fades to the corner of the end zone. Brady heated up at the new distance, hitting the bucket on four straight throws and again after a single miss.
-Rookie linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill stripped Develin in a drill where defenders had to fight off blocks before finding the ball carrier. Grugier-Hill is an athletic hybrid-type player with linebacker and safety qualities that figure to make him a candidate for a special teams role. During a team period he replaced Jamie Collins at linebacker for a couple of plays where he appeared to have a tough time dealing with the bog bodies inside. At 220 pounds, Grugier-Hill is certainly undersized for such a role but Belichick and the coaches likely are trying to figure where he best fits on defense down the road.
-With most of the team in a special teams period working on the punt team, Brady, Gronkowski and Bennett retreated to the opposite field for some extra work. Bear Pascoe joined them on Thursday. In past days Dobson and others have occasionally been with the group. At the same time Jacoby Brissett received some instruction fro, assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski.
-Chris Long and Ninkovich received some 1-on-1 coaching from Belichick following a drill. Long was actually a little late lining up for the next period because his chat with Belichick ran a bit long.
-A member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers coaching staff was on hand for the second straight day watching practice.
-Vincent Valentine had what would likely have been a sack of Jimmy Garoppolo during 11-on-11 work. The rookie got good penetration and when Garoppolo couldn't find an open target immediately he was there to make sure the quarterback couldn't get out of the pocket.
-Develin came up with a huge play on a wheel route down the right sideline when he beat Ninkovich. The fullback had a step on Ninkovich and Garoppolo's pass was dropped perfectly into his hands for what would have been a big gain.
-Harper also came up big when he torched Logan Ryan down the left side for a touchdown. Ryan was beaten badly on the play and appeared to pull up at about the 20 as Harper continued under the deep throw into the end zone.
-Ryan, Long, Karras, Brissett, Thuney, Jordan Richards and Nate Solder were among the Patriots who spoke to the media after practice.
-Stephen Gostkowski booted several field goals at the close of practice but missed a couple to the right, the second of which nailed the upright. He bounced back by connecting from about 50 yards out on his last attempt.
-The Patriots will be back on the practice fields on Friday with the workout scheduled to begin at 9:15 a.m. As always please check with Patriots.com for the latest schedule updates.