It remains to be seen whether or not Troy Brown and Daniel Graham will play much in Saturday's preseason matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, but it was encouraging to see both guys on the practice field Thursday morning in full pads after both missed time with knee injuries.
Neither Brown nor Graham played in the opener against the Giants and both should be integral parts of the offense during the regular season. The passing game was effective against New York without either of the receiving threats, which bodes well for an offense that lacked depth at the skill positions last year.
Their appearance on the practice field, however, didn't necessarily help the offense during the morning practice, as the defense carried play for most of the session.
Early in the full team portion of practice, the offense worked to move out from deep in its own end. The defense blitzed early and often forcing the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly. On one play, safety Chris Hayes made a terrific break on a Rohan Davey pass and deflected it in the air where linebacker Mike Vrabel grabbed it and walked 5 yards into the end zone.
Damon Huard had his troubles as well, twice dropping the ball while pump faking - ball handling mistakes to be sure, but incomplete passes in the rule book. Cornerback Tony Scott made a nifty leaping interception of a Huard pass as well, prompting quarterback Tom Brady to yell to his offensive teammates to improve its execution.
The passing game was obviously the focus of 7-on-7 work, and the defense continued to rule the day. Tedy Bruschi made two leaping pass deflections and Otis Smith had a nice pass deflection on a deep ball during the segment that featured Huard and Davey talking most of the snaps. Brady took very few repetitions during the workout.
After struggling in the red zone against the Giants, that phase of the game is receiving plenty of practice attention. The offense continued to stumble inside the 20 until Brady hit David Patten with a touchdown pass from around the 15-yard line, and then tight end Cameron Cleeland made a beautiful diving catch at the goal line for a touchdown from Davey on what was easily the play of the day.
Situational down-and-distance work was also a point of emphasis with the first offensive and defensive units working head to head. The defense ran multiple fronts, using both a 4-3 and the 3-4 the Patriots will see in the season opener against Pittsburgh.
In short-yardage situations, the offense used two tight ends with Cleeland and Christian Fauria shouldering that load. Working in the red area at the opposite end of the field, Huard caught fire and hit Patten for two touchdowns against the second defense. Not to be outdone by his position competition, Fauria also made a diving touchdown grab.
In goal line work, the running game was the focus although it was difficult to accurately gauge one unit's success or failure since that portion was run at about three-quarter speed.
In one other note, Patriots Video News Dave Querzoli was back on the field after missing yesterday's workout because he was "a bit under the weather." It is notable because Querzoli had never missed an in-season Patriots Video News show since taking over the website's video production in 1999. Patriots Football Weekly's Paul Perillo capably filled the big shoes.