Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has emphasized many times this spring that every day is a chance for every member of his team – and his coaching staff – to get better.
He reiterated that point with the media Wednesday morning when asked about Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski’s arrival at mini-camp.
“Look, every day is an opportunity for us to come out here and get in work and get better, get ready for training camp. So that's what we'll all continue to do,” Belichick said.
Many times, including on the second day of mini-camp, that work goes beyond the final whistle of practice. That was certainly the case on Wednesday, when the official close of practice and transition into media interview time left many players, returning stars and newcomers alike, on the field getting extra work in.
One field had Brady and backup Brian Hoyer doing some extra throwing with Julian Edelman and Jordan Matthews. Elsewhere rookie quarterback Danny Etling took extra snaps from returning practice squader Jason King before throwing to rookie receiver Braxton Berrios. Second-year defensive end Deatrich Wise spent time working on his hand-fighting with a dummy. Pro Bowl fullback James Develin and undrafted rookie running back Ralph Webb ran extra conditioning sprints on the hill on the far end of the field. Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Will Tye caught extra balls will each other, as did Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett.
Some guys also got work in early, prior to the start of practice. Matthews was one of the first on the field, while fellow newcomer Adrian Clayborn was also an early arrival for drill work on the side.
It’s extra work. Going the extra mile. Unseen by most. Not necessarily required. But, in places like New England, probably in many ways expected. After all, it’s the little things this time of year that can pay off big down the line.
“Just trying to keep stringing days together here in the spring,” Belichick described prior to the workout. “We add a little bit each day and just keep trying to move things along. I feel like we're getting things accomplished but you always want to probably move a little faster than you're moving but when you look back you can see a lot of progress and we've seen that. Just another day here.”
Beyond the notable extra work put in by many Patriots under sunny skies and comfortable temperatures, here are one man’s observations of New England’s mini-camp action:
--Those players not seen on the field for the second day of mini-camp action included Malcolm Mitchell, David Jones, Brandon Bolden, Joe Thuney and Kenny Britt. Britt was the only new addition to the absentee list after limping off with an apparent right leg injury late in Tuesday’s practice.
--The group of players spending time on the lower rehab field included Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Berrios, Keion Crossen, Marcus Cannon and Malcom Brown. There were actually two players on the rehab field wearing white No. 61 jerseys. One was Cannon, one was clearly not.
--The Iowa coaching staff was again on hand. Hawkeyes offensive coordinator and former Patriots assistant Brian Ferentz had an extended conversation early on with Berj Najarian, New England’s director of football/head coach administration.
--A crew of five officials was on the field for the workout session. It appeared to be a mix of NFL officials and a college official as well as one older gentlemen who did not wear an on-field uniform. The group worked in both positional drills and group action throughout the session, their most notable calls coming on sideline catches and whether guys completed the reception while getting two feet inbounds.
--The running backs worked on their footwork using an agility ladder early in the workout. James White seemed to have the best feet in the drill, while Rex Burkhead was tripped up by the ladder on one rep, drawing the ire of coach Ivan Fears.
--Though it’s probably obvious, Brady’s red non-contact jersey is significantly more faded than Hoyer’s No. 2 or Etling’s No. 58.
--As he’s done on occasion in recent years, Develin lined up at tight end in some pre-practice drill work. As the only fullback on the roster, Develin often works with the tight ends for positional drills.
--Thanks to the way the Patriots have given jerseys to their draft picks and rookies this spring – draft picks given numbers in the 50s assigned by the order in which they were selected – there are times when New England fields a linebacker group in practice that includes a pair of 53s (Kyle Van Noy and Ja’Whaun Bentley) or pair of 54s (Dont’a Hightower and Christian Sam). It probably makes it a bit of a challenge when the center/QB call out the number of the Mike to set their protection calls.
--Gronkowski had just as much energy while making plays during his second day of spring practice as he did during his practice debut on Tuesday. After making one diving catch for a first down in group work the All-Pro got to one knee and emphatically made the first-down signal. Gronkowski was a beast for the New England defense to deal with yet again.
--In general the Patriots defense had an up-and-down day. There were plenty of times the unit looked good, deflecting balls and breaking up passes. But there were a few occasions with clear communication breakdowns, even leaving some guys uncovered at the snap. One such rep led to an easy touchdown throw in the corner of the end zone from Hoyer to impressive rookie running back Sony Michel, with safety Devin McCourty jogging into the area way too late.
--Offensively, Brady and the passing game weren’t nearly as sharp as had been the case a day earlier. Brady had plenty of plays end with the ball hitting the ground and other slow-developing reads where he had to pull the ball down or would have been sacked in actual game action. There was a decent amount of work on the running game early in the session, but the passing game struggled a bit later.
--Though Tye has had a tough couple days of mini-camp, the practice squad tight end made a pretty, one-handed grab on a throw from Brady down the field in one 7-on-7 rep. A few snaps later Brady found Jacob Hollister, who returned to practice action, beating Duron Harmon down the field for a nice completion.
--In one early rep of 11-on-11 work in the running game against bags, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia became rather upset with left tackle Trent Brown and left guard Isaiah Wynn, pulling the newcomer duo from the group and chewing them out a bit on the back line of the end zone.
--Brown and Wynn continued to take reps for the second day on the left side of the line, though they went to the side of the field with strength coach Moses Cabrera late in the workout.
--Given his background it’s probably not surprising to see former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema working with the defensive front as he assists the staff in practice, but he also seems to spend a lot of time working alongside special teams coach Joe Judge in the kicking game as well.
--New England worked on the kick return game for the second straight day. The return unit is in the early stages of its scheme under the new rules that require eight men to be within 15 yards of the restraining line. The Patriots toyed with having one and two returners deep, with one or two guys between the returners and the front line blockers. Clearly the kickoff game – returns and kicks – will be a feeling out process this summer in preseason action. It’s interesting that under the new rules/scheme Pro Bowler Matthew Slater appears poised to get action working as blocker as one of the eight guys up front rather than back as an off returner as has been the case in the past.
--Eric Rowe got reps opposite Stephon Gilmore in some early drills, but then impressive undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson got back into the mix. Jackson actually took reps with both the first group and the following group in 11-on-11 work late in practice. At least one member of the media brigade has begun to call the Maryland rookie Just Cover Jackson based on the first two initials that he goes by on the roster.
--One of Brady’s best throws of the day came on a deep ball down the right sideline to White who got behind one-on-one coverage on the outside from Van Noy. Brady dropped the ball in perfectly in tune with White’s stride for the would-be big play.
--Each of the last two days the offense has done a drill against the front seven and safety Patrick Chung (no other defensive backs as they are actually on another part of the field at the time) in which each snap is a throw to the tight end, more often than not the ball going to Allen. Many times he’s uncovered. It’s a different drill than we’ve seen in the past and hard tell exactly what the emphasis is.
--There were a number of drops by offensive targets on the day, including by rookie tight end Ryan Izzo and veteran receiver Chris Hogan.
--Brady and Gronkowski connected on one particularly nice ball down the field, beating safety Jordan Richards. The safety returned to the huddle with his arms out and palms in the air, seemingly at a loss.
--Richards did have an interception of a very much underthrown Hoyer ball intended for Riley McCarron a short time later.
--Brady hit Gronkowski in the corner of the end zone for a fade touchdown, making it look very easy in 11-on-11 action.
--A play later Brady found Develin open for a touchdown in the middle of the field.
--Players worked on stiff-arms and ball security in a drill midway through the session. Most ball carriers took care of the rock, though Philip Dorsett did fumble after a punch from would-be defender Harmon.
--Patriots owner Robert Kraft was on the field for the second half of the workout. Later, Kraft walked off the field chatting with Gronkowski.
--During one portion of the kickoff return work – most of the kicks handled by the Jugs machine – Stephen Gostkowski tried a short kick to the open space behind the front-line blockers but it was caught and returned by the retreating Slater.
--Early reps on the defensive line in one team drill had Clayborn at right end with Wise on the left side, with Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton in between at defensive tackle. A couple reps into the work, Trey Flowers came on in the interior for Guy.
--Harmon swatted away a Brady throw intended for Allen down the seam at one point, the safety then celebrating with a Dikembe Mutombo finger wag in the direction of the quarterback.
--Ryan Allen and undrafted rookie Corey Bojorquez continued to alternate the punting duties. They worked on some plus-50 situational boots late in practice.
--The offensive line in front of Brady during many drills, from left to right, included Cole Croston, Ted Karras, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and LaAdrian Waddle. Veteran Matt Tobin also took reps at left tackle. We have seen a variety of different line combinations this spring, as is generally the case for Scarnecchia’s group. That’s even more true given the various members of the line dealing with injury issues at this point.
--One thing that is notable is that Hoyer has by far the weakest arm of the three quarterbacks. Some of his throws seem to take too long to get to targets down the field, including one example when Dorsett was open only to see the safety catch up and defend the play.
--Clayborn continues to flash off the right defensive edge in 11-on-11 work, though that can be tempered by the fact that it’s a non-contact, non-padded camp.
--Jackson was the focus of a Belichick teaching point late in practice after he batted down a pass in a drill that the coach apparently wanted the receivers to be allowed to catch the ball.
--Later Hogan was in a similar spot when Belichick made it clear to the receiver during a two-minute drill that he wanted the ball handed to the official for re-spotting as quickly as possible at the end of each rep.
--While the entirety of the team had broken up with various position coaches for the “cool down” segment to end the workout, Geneo Grissom had to run a penalty lap.
--Edelman got quite winded and had to take a few breathers bent over leaning on his knees while doing the extra post-practice work with Brady. He was clearly still breathing rather heavily and fatigued when he finally walked off the field past the media.
--The Patriots will return to the practice fields behind Gillette on Thursday morning for the final day of the three-day mandatory mini-camp.
Check out our favorite photos from Patriots Mini-Camp at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, June 6, 2018.