The Patriots took to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium Friday for the second day of the team's mandatory three day mini camp and while the action remained non-contact, limited by the players wardrobe of just helmets, jerseys and shorts, the competition level certainly wasn't lacking.
In the morning session specifically, a tackling drill that involved a ball carrier, a blocker holding a small pad and a defender became a vociferous battle between the blue-clad defenders and the white shirts of the offense. While the segment began with the players in their traditional roles, the sides switched midway through giving defenders like Mike Vrabel a chance to block offense teammates such as Troy Brown. Daniel Graham had the biggest "hit" of the drill, exploding through the blocking pad held by Tully Banta-Cain nearly knocking the second-year outside linebacker to the ground.
The high level of competition continued into some of the other drills of practice, including a passing segment that matched many of the projected first team skill players against the first group linebackers and defensive backs. The offensive unit celebrated early in the drill after Tom Brady hit on three consecutive completions to Corey Dillon, Troy Brown and Deion Branch respectively.
All in all Friday's practice action appeared to take a step forward in terms of tempo and competitive level from the previous day's action that Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick had termed, "OK."
With new punter Josh Miller, long snapper Lonie Paxton returning from a 2003 season-ending ACL injury and kicker Adam Vinatieri coming off his worst season in New England, there is a lot of special teams work taking place on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium this week.
Vinatieri, who dealt with a lingering back injury for the second half of last season, isn't worried about his health at this point as the trio of specialists works to lay the groundwork to spearhead New England's production in the crucial third phase of football.
"I feel great," Vinatieri said following the morning session. "I feel really good. I've been back just trying to strengthen everything and have had no issues at all. So we're ready to go."
Vinatieri spent a portion of the morning on a knee next to Miller as he took snaps from Paxton, fine-tuning the holder's placement on every rep.
"It's a learning time for us right now," Vinatieri said. "All kickers like it a little bit different and I like it held probably a little different than the guys that he's been working with in past years. We'll get it down by the time it's ready to go. It's one of those learning things. And Lonie will be back, hopefully, who knows what the situation is. So he's been getting work. We've been working with the other snappers and holders and I've been hitting some balls. It's coming along well though."
Tedy Bruschi, who is working on a contract extension with the Patriots and knows a little something about making the transition from defensive line to linebacker, thinks Dan Klecko has what it takes to play up on his feet. "He moves well. I think you have to have that and you have to have intelligence, which I think he has, so he can pick it up and basic football instincts, which I think he has also." … Defensive end Richard Seymour reacted with a laugh when a reporter told the 6-6, 310-pound Pro Bowler that he looked slim. "I call that in shape," he said with a smile as he looked down at his midsection. "That's the football terminology for it." … Former NFL Europe player Ryan Atoe, a defensive lineman out of Idaho, took part in practice for the second-straight day on a tryout with the team. … Michael Cloud, David Patten and Patrick Pass continued to practice in red, non-contact jerseys. … Rookie tight end Benjamin Watson did not take part in practice on Friday. Belichick said his leg had "tightened up." … Deion Branch did not take part in the afternoon session. … Cedric Cobbs, Ricky Bryant, Eugene Wilson, Eric Alexander and Paxton all spent a portion of the morning session working with the strength and conditioning staff in the field house. … Branch, Kevin Faulk, Tyrone Poole and Terrell Buckley returned punts during a special teams segment. The players tried fielding the kicks while holding another ball in their hands. … Ty Law and Otis Smith spent some down time during both sessions running extra sprints together. … Rosevelt Colvin took part in a pass-rush drill with his defensive teammates. … With Watson out, Andy Mignery took advantage of the extra reps making some nice catches. … Owner Robert Kraft took in portions of both practice sessions. … Rookie P.K. Sam showed impressive speed returning kicks in the afternoon. … Graham made a nice leaping catch in the back of the end zone during a red zone passing segment only to be outdone for play of the day honors moments later by David Givens. Givens made a diving catch across the middle on the back line of the end zone, knocking defensive backs coach Eric Mangini off his feet in the process