The Patriots offense has had a tough time getting untracked during the first week of camp. Tom Brady has been his typically sharp self for the most part, but the efficiency and execution have not always been at normal Patriots-like levels.
One reason for that may be the state of the wide receiver corps. Several pass catchers have been dealing with various ailments, and perhaps the lack of healthy bodies has been taking a toll on the overall performance.
Bill Belichick was asked how training camp practices might be affected when a rash of injuries strikes one particular position group prior to Thursday's workout, and the coach admitted it can be an issue.
"That's part of training camp and part of just practice in general is managing your team, trying to keep everybody moving along. But sometimes if a certain group is lower in numbers, that affects what either that side of the ball can do or maybe what the other side of the ball can do against it," Belichick explained. "Occasionally, we have to make some kind of modifications. Hopefully the train doesn't come to a complete halt and we're able to maybe do a little more of something else in order to manage the reps of a particular player or a particular group.
"It's not an uncommon thing. We talk about that every night when we go through our practice schedule. We go through overall where our team is, where our individual position groups are, where the individual players are and put it all together. Occasionally, we have to make a team adjustment, but usually it's more within the group of how we're going to rep the plays with the players that are there."
There was evidence that perhaps Belichick and his staff had to make some adjustments based on the health of his team during Thursday's practice. While it may have simply been the plan all along, the Patriots worked out in a different fashion during the morning, shortening the practice to about an hour and 45 minutes with what would be the first team offense moving to the lower field. They worked against the starting secondary in a low-key, walk-through-like setting for the last 45 minutes while the remainder of the team stayed on the normal fields and got most of their 11-on-11 work done.
Brady joined Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen and James White, plus four of his offensive linemen – Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon on the lower field. Nate Solder was not seen at practice and therefore just four linemen spent their time hitting a weighted blocking sled.
With receivers Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola spending time rehabbing while Matthew Slater and Cody Hollister were out altogether, the ranks at wideout are thin. It's possible that Belichick wanted to cut back on the workload for his healthy receivers and did so in this fashion.
"We just do whatever he allows us to do," Devin McCourty said when asked about the separation of the workout. "We just follow whatever coach tells us to do."
40 is the new 20
The big news of the day was Brady's 40th birthday and the team did plenty to commemorate the occasion. There was a pen set up outside with a huge GOAT sign and five actual goats walking around inside it. Fans as usual came with a variety of cards and broke out into song a number of times during the practice.
It didn't make it easy for the fans to interact with their favorite quarterback when he left for the lower field, but by the time practice ended the entire team was back and the group serenaded Brady with a hearty "Happy Birthday" rendition, much to the delight of the crowd.
"It's fun. It reminds you that Tom's old — very old," McCourty said. "But I think he has a lot of fun with it. A lot of guys tell him happy birthday in the locker room.
"But it's also a reminder of how good he's been. Forty years old, still our best player, most professional player, leader, a guy everyone follows in the locker room. Even though it's his birthday and everyone has birthdays, it's a reminder every year in training camp, probably one of the toughest times of the year for us, to see a guy like that still competing at a high level and really taking every day like a rookie is really a good example for guys to look at."
Brady culminated the morning by spending some time assigning autographs for fans, which elicited some of the louder cheers from the crowd thus far in camp.
Pass rush specialist
A picture of Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels swing pads at Brady and the rest of the quarterbacks as they attempted to throw drew some attention recently. Belichick's face was loaded with intensity as he seemed to really be getting into his work trying to disrupt the passers.
"Look, if they can't handle it from us, they're in a lot of trouble," Belichick said when asked about it. "They're going to get a lot bigger, stronger, faster, more explosive guys than what we have on the coaching staff. You know, we hit the receivers with bags and try to knock the ball away from them and make them catch through contact and make the quarterbacks avoid a rush and stuff like that. Look, if they can't handle us, it's going to be a long year."
Buy: Rex Burkhead –The free agent running back has enjoyed a strong start to camp in his first year in Foxborough. On Thursday he was cutting effectively and ran some crisp routes out of the backfield. On one play he shook Elandon Roberts with ease and caught a pass crossing the field. He appears quite comfortable as a receiver and looks to have some versatility to his game.
Sell: Matt Lengel –Lengel is fighting for a roster spot and his play thus far hasn't been overly impressive. He has had a tough time catching the ball at times during camp, and on Thursday he dropped a pair of routine passes. He could be in a battle with James O'Shaughnessy for the third tight end spot, and with the latter missing time due to injury Lengel had a chance to show his stuff with extra reps. He failed to take advantage on Thursday.
Play of the Day –Not much that stood out on Thursday but there was one terrific throw by Jacoby Brissett that caught the eye. It came in a one-on-one drill with Devin Lucien going against Dwayne Thomas. Lucien ran a go route and Thomas hung close, but Brissett dropped a perfect pass over his shoulder into the bucket for the touchdown.
Solder, Slater and Hollister were the only players not seen at practice. Dont'a Hightower and Alan Branch remain on PUP and Andrew Jelks is still on NFI. They worked on the lower field rehabbing with Mitchell, Hogan, Amendola, O'Shaughnessy, Mike Gillislee, Duron Harmon, David Jones and Brandon Bolden. Amendola went through drills with the wideouts before leaving while Hogan did mostly work on his core rather than running after suffering an apparent knee injury on Wednesday. … The special teams period featured work for the kickoff team. … Chad O'Shea called plays for the offense as McDaniels went to the lower field with the first unit. … Justin Coleman buried Austin Carr as the rookie caught a short pass near the goal line in 11-on-11 work. Carr caught the pass in the flat and was knocked off his feet before he could find the end zone. … The Patriots will practice once again on Friday at 9:30 a.m. The workout will be open to the public. Please check with Patriots.com for the latest updates to the schedule throughout training camp.