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Blogservations: Secondary gets job done

Check out our favorite photos from the Patriots mini-camp on Thursday, June 8, 2017.

The third and final day of the Patriots mandatory mini-camp took place under spectacular conditions with bright sunshine and warm temperatures highlighting the day. The improvement in weather did not necessarily correlate to an improvement in the passing game, however, as the defense – the secondary in particular – appeared to get the better of things during the two-plus hours of work.

Bill Belichick always stresses the focus at such pad-less workouts is on teaching and not evaluations, but one area that can have some conclusions drawn is the overall athleticism of the players on the field. With that in mind it's been interesting to watch Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore lock up on a few occasions the past three days.

On Thursday, Gilmore came out on top on a pair of long balls, preventing completions each time with tight coverage. Otherwise Cooks has been almost impossible to keep in check, so Gilmore's work stuck out even if such evaluations are flawed given the conditions.

"You know, we see what we can see. It's not real football, but it's as close as we can get at this time of year," Belichick admitted before practice, in relation to the entire team and not anyone specifically. "It's all we can do. We'll try to get the most out of our opportunities here, and there will be other ones in training camp and there will be other ones in preseason games. It's just a little more real football than what this is, but it's a start and we'll get out of it what we can get."

The Gilmore-Cooks battles were just one of many that took place on Thursday. Here are one man's blogservations from the final mini-camp practice.

-Malcolm Butler joined Lawrence Guy and Andrew Jelks among those not present on the field. Butler took part in the first two days but was not seen at any point on Thursday. Guy was in uniform on Tuesday but missed the last two days while the rookie Jelks missed the entire three-day mini-camp. He also was not in uniform for the May 25 OTA session open to the media and watched the drills without a helmet.

-Jonathan Freeny remains in his red, non-contact jersey but took part fully in the day's activities. He was in the middle of the defense at linebacker and appeared to be calling the signals throughout full 11-on-11 periods.

-Dont'a Hightower, Alan Branch and Malcolm Mitchell continued their trend of suiting up but not participating in the on-field work. That group once again retreated to the lower field for some running, and Hightower spent some additional time on the stationary bike in between the practice fields. Duron Harmon and Brandon King also did some extra conditioning work, but both took reps with the defense throughout.

-Dante Scarnecchia doesn't appear to have lost any zest for his job even after coming out of retirement last year. The respect offensive line coach is typically the first member of the staff on the field and that was the case on Thursday. After walking up the stairs and onto the fields, Scarnecchia ran across the width of the two fields toward his back corner known affectionately as Dante's Inferno. There he worked on his offensive line "punch" techniques on a heavy bag before situating the equipment needed for his drills. The man is a tireless worker and it's easy to see why his players love him despite his demanding nature.

-Rookie cornerback D.J. Killings was the first player on the field.

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-On Tuesday the Patriots unveiled a pair of video boards using technology called Lyvve Coach, which provides instant replays in real time on the field. On Wednesday those boards were not seen but they were back on Thursday, only instead of being situated next to each other as they were, one was in the end zone while the other was moved to the sideline between the 30- and 35-yard lines. Various replays were shown throughout practice but it was hard to see how much attention the coaches paid to the screens if any.

-Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels spent some time working with the quarterbacks and receivers on a "stay alive" drill at the start of practice. The quarterbacks would make their drop before scramble left or right in an effort to simulate some sort of broken play. As they moved from side to side the receivers needed to adjust their routes to make themselves available for a pass. McDaniels was correcting the routes often, explaining how would-be safeties would be taking away certain areas and directed the receivers to open spots.

-Rookie defensive back Kenny Moore did not have an enjoyable day. Cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer corrected a mistake during some 2-on-2 work against receivers in the red zone before sending him on a lot. Later he appeared to be aligned incorrectly and once again heard from his position coach. Reps are valuable for young players and losing any due to blown assignments can't be good.

-With Butler out of the lineup the secondary featured yet another look on Day 3 of camp. On Tuesday it was Jonathan Jones with Butler and Gilmore at corner. Wednesday saw Eric Rowe with Butler and Justin Coleman. Gilmore was back with Rowe on Thursday but Cyrus Jones manned the slot corner spot. The second-year man did not fare too well in his role as he was beaten decisively by Julian Edelman for a touchdown on one rep when he appeared to be trailing by a wide distance.

-The receivers got through some pretty physical work with the coaches as part of their practice routine with jousting sticks with pads and regular pads greeting them as they try to catch the ball. Thursday saw some of the passes actually defending by the sticks, and on other occasions the coaches seemed to be a little extra aggressive in knocking the ball out of the wideouts' hands.

-Another offensive area that stood out was McDaniels working with the running backs in the passing game. The backs would line up out wide, motion toward the slot before running out routes toward the pylon. James White, Dion Lewis, D.J. Foster and Rex Burkhead ran the routes and Burkhead seemed to struggle to get the timing and footwork down. The practice paid off later as White beat Shea McClellin for a touchdown on the exact same route they worked on earlier.

-The early 7-on-7 work featured a secondary that included two separate groupings, one with two corners and three safeties and the other the opposite. The first had Gilmore and Rowe with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Jordan Richards while the latter had Gilmore, Rowe, and Cyrus Jones with Chung and McCourty. Richards saw a lot of reps with the de facto top groups over the three days.

-Nate Ebner came up with an interception of Jimmy Garoppolo when the second groups got their 7-on-7 reps.

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-Jacoby Brissett took the "backup" reps following Tom Brady in the final 11-on-11 work of the day. Brissett got two sets while Garoppolo watched. The second-year quarterback struggled with his timing and accuracy, often holding the ball when he couldn't find a receiver quickly enough, but he saw his most extensive action of the week.  

-At the end of practice the Patriots did some extended work on the conditioning hill that leads to the lower field. Belichick had the team run several reps up the hill, but a group of about a half dozen players instead did some plank exercises and did not run. Among those were Garoppolo, Chung and Harmon, which raised the possibility that perhaps Garoppolo was nursing some sort of minor injury and that was the reason for Brissett's extra reps. Of course it many have been the plan anyway, and the fact that Garoppolo did not run could have been for some other reason.

-Ryan Allen worked on his plus-50 punting with mixed results. Most of his kicks were in position to be effectively downed inside the 10, but he was clearly upset with himself on a couple of other occasions when he knocked his kicks into the end zone. Rookie Cody Hollister was able to down one of Allen's kicks at the 1. Cyrus Jones dropped his first attempt but was able to corral the rest while working with Will Likely, David Jones, Edelman, Danny Amendola and Cooks.

-Rowe was able to get the better of Brady during a 7-on-7 drill, stepping in front of Amendola for the pick down the right sideline.

-The heat was a factor during the practice as several players appeared to be affected by the warmer temperatures. Rookie Josh Augusta had trouble completing a lap when the entire defense was forced to run and assistant special teams coach Ray Ventrone came to his aid. Augusta was able to regroup and finished practice. There were other times when players spent some time on a knee after plays and others were seen with their hands on their helmets in an obvious effort to get their wind.

-It was unclear if it was related to the weather but Kony Ealy left the fields about midway through practice and didn't return. Ealy didn't seem distressed in any way, but it is unknown why he left.

-Chung has been very competitive this week working against Rob Gronkowski. Those two have obviously seen a lot of each other over the years and Chung made a great play to knock a pass away from the tight end in the end zone Thursday. He got his hand in as the ball came down into Gronk's hands and the safety was able to prevent the catch.

-Foster came up with a terrific catch on a deep ball down the right sideline behind McClellin. Foster is impressive as a receiver.

-Members of the Vanderbilt coaching staff were once again on hand.

-Some of the music selections included Guns N Roses, the Dropkick Murphys, Boston and Tupac.

-Devin Lucien was the last player off the field both Wednesday and Thursday and that extra work may be helping. The first-year wideout who spent 2016 on the practice squad caught a bunch of passes in drills after practice both days, working behind pads to shield his view and other while turning toward passes already headed in his direction. During the practice he came up with a terrific catch down the left sideline from Garoppolo for a long gain.

-There was one minor flare-up late in practice when DeAndrew White took a handoff on a jet sweep around the left side and was met by Elandon Roberts. The wideout didn't like the nature of the "hit" and expressed his displeasure by throwing the ball at the linebacker after he regained his balance. The two squared off briefly but nothing came of it.

-Rowe and Edelman had a nice tussle for a pass near the sideline late in practice but the wideout ultimately came away with the catch. Still, it was impressive to see Rowe, a bigger corner, sticking tight to the shift Edelman.

-The Patriots mini-camp wrapped up on Thursday and the team will meet on Friday at the home of owner Robert Kraft for their ring ceremony. The work is not entirely done, though, as they will return to Foxborough next week for three more OTA sessions. Only the Monday workout is open to the media, however, and all are closed to the public.

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