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Day 2 Blogservations: Cornerbacks making plays

Bill Belichick spent a small chunk of his morning press conference in the media workroom at Gillette Stadium in a mild rant regarding the media's evaluations – and requests for the coach's evaluations -- of players at this early point in camp.

"We've yet to put on pads, alright? I understand that this is a pretty talented group of evaluators in this room, but in all honesty our evaluations come more in training camp when we actually practice and we can fully execute the techniques and the plays that we're trying to do," Belichick said before heading out to the practice field for another shorts-and-helmets session. "So the main thing we try to get done in the spring and the main thing we're trying to get done in these two days is to teach the players what to do to give them the most fundamental instruction that we can, given the restraints that we have on practice. Then when padded practices and, I would say real training camp starts tomorrow, we'll continue for quite a while after that, including the preseason games, is when the real evaluations start.

"The competitive level out there is not what it's going to be starting tomorrow, so to evaluate players competitively when they're not on a competitive level, I have a hard time with. But I know a lot of the people are real good at that and they can make a lot more out of it than I can, but due to my personal limitations and my personal inability to make those evaluations, I don't make them," Belichick continued, oozing sarcasm.

That said, if there is one area that is more suitable to be evaluated in a contact-free environment of practice, it's the passing game. Pass catchers and defenders can go at it under much of the same circumstances of game action, where contact in the modern NFL passing game is very much limited.

That fact was on full display for Friday's practice as Belichick called for his cornerbacks to don boxing sparing gloves/pads on their hands as they battled the wide receivers in 11-on-11 action. Clearly the thought was to limit the grabbing from the defenders as they competed to cover their offensive counterparts.

Even with the limitation, the corners did a solid job as the group continues to show its potential to be the strength of the defense. Top corners Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore have certainly led the way, but Friday Eric Rowe really stood out for the defense. Just one example, the bigger corner had nice pass defense – with the pads on his hands – down the field, swatting away a Tom Brady throw intended for Julian Edelman on the sideline.

Rowe is clearly making a strong early bid to be the No. 3 cornerback, though Jonathan Jones also continues to get reps in that role in drills.

On the other side of the line, the passing game seemed to level out a bit for the second day of practice. Brady was clearly the best quarterback on the field throughout the two-hour workout. Jimmy Garoppolo had another up-and-down day with a couple interceptions balanced out with some really nice throws, including a pretty, back-shoulder touchdown to Chris Hogan on the goal line. And Jacoby Brissett continues to be the least consistent of the three, both in terms of going through his reads efficiently and make consistently accurate throws.

At the risk of annoying Belichick more than he already was Friday morning, early signs indicate that the Patriots passing game and pass defense will be the most competitive area of training camp practice action. Those areas could also be the team's strength heading into regular season work against actual competition. That's expected from Brady and Co., but now the Patriots my balance that out of with one of the potentially better groups of defensive backs in the NFL. At least that's how it's looked through a couple practices of non-contract action in shorts!

Beyond the impressive work by Rowe and the rest of the cornerbacks, here are one man's blogservations (not evaluations, Bill, don't worry!) from a sweaty media tent on the hill:

Check out our favorite photos from Patriots Training Camp at Gillette Stadium on Friday, July 28, 2017.

--DE Rob Ninkovich and LS Joe Cardona were absent from the practice field for the second straight day. Before practice Belichick said both are absent for personal reasons. Asked if he was aware of when the duo would "show up" for practice, Belichick said, "I'm aware of a lot of things."

--PUPers LB Dont'a Hightower and DT Alan Branch were on the field in shorts, took part in pre-practice warmups and then retreated to the lower field for rehab work. Branch appeared to be running rather well on the far field during some of his work.

--NFI rookie T Andrew Jelks was on the field once again, watching the work of the offensive linemen throughout various parts of practice. He also did some rehab work on the lower field, including running.

--DE Kony Ealy was in jersey, helmet and shorts to take part in Friday's practice. This came after he was on the field but did not take part on Thursday to open camp. After practice Ealy said his absence a day earlier was not health related. He said he got mental reps on Thursday and that he and Belichick "had something going on." He also declared he would never go against what Belichick says.

--Even with Ealy back, Geneo Grissom continued to take reps at LDE opposite RDE Trey Flowers throughout the workout. Ealy actually didn't do much during the practice.

--WRs Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell were both absent from the practice field. Each took part in Thursday's opening day of work.

--During pre-practice work those offensive linemen snapping the ball for quarterbacks included David Andrews, Joe Thuney, James Ferentz, Jason King and Jamil Douglas. Thuney is an interesting inclusion in the group, as the former college left tackle who started every game at left guard last year as a rookie. For what it's worth, Andrews snapped to Brady, Douglas to Garoppolo and Ferentz to Brissett.

--Injuries hit a couple players during the workout. Undrafted rookie wide receiver Cody Hollister landed on his left shoulder while making a great catch on a poor Brissett thrown on the goal line. He came up with his left arm hanging limply to his side and was looked at by the medical staff before retreating to what appears to be the new blue medical evaluation tent at the far end of the field. Hollister did not return to the field. Undrafted rookie defensive back David Jones appeared to suffer leg injury, pulling up a bit lame midway through practice. He was looked at by trainers on the sideline. He did not take any more practice reps the rest of the day, but watched the defensive back action from the field, including talking with safeties coach Steve Belichick. Jones had a noticeable limp as he walked off the field at the end of the day.

--Devin Lucien was down the field at the end of the opportunity segment to close out practice. It appeared the wide receiver may have been dealing with a leg cramp and was assisted by the training staff.

--The increased heat, with temps in the 80s, seemed to wear on some of the players. Matthew Slater was down at one knee at one point before a trainer came to his assistance, seemingly giving the Pro Bowler a drink mixture to get him back on the field.

Bill Belichick spent a small chunk of his morning press conference in the media workroom at Gillette Stadium in a mild rant regarding the media's evaluations – and requests for the coach's evaluations -- of players at this early point in camp.

"We've yet to put on pads, alright? I understand that this is a pretty talented group of evaluators in this room, but in all honesty our evaluations come more in training camp when we actually practice and we can fully execute the techniques and the plays that we're trying to do," Belichick said before heading out to the practice field for another shorts-and-helmets session. "So the main thing we try to get done in the spring and the main thing we're trying to get done in these two days is to teach the players what to do to give them the most fundamental instruction that we can, given the restraints that we have on practice. Then when padded practices and, I would say real training camp starts tomorrow, we'll continue for quite a while after that, including the preseason games, is when the real evaluations start.

"The competitive level out there is not what it's going to be starting tomorrow, so to evaluate players competitively when they're not on a competitive level, I have a hard time with. But I know a lot of the people are real good at that and they can make a lot more out of it than I can, but due to my personal limitations and my personal inability to make those evaluations, I don't make them," Belichick continued, oozing sarcasm.

That said, if there is one area that is more suitable to be evaluated in a contact-free environment of practice, it's the passing game. Pass catchers and defenders can go at it under much of the same circumstances of game action, where contact in the modern NFL passing game is very much limited.

That fact was on full display for Friday's practice as Belichick called for his cornerbacks to don boxing sparing gloves/pads on their hands as they battled the wide receivers in 11-on-11 action. Clearly the thought was to limit the grabbing from the defenders as they competed to cover their offensive counterparts.

Even with the limitation, the corners did a solid job as the group continues to show its potential to be the strength of the defense. Top corners Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore have certainly led the way, but Friday Eric Rowe really stood out for the defense. Just one example, the bigger corner had nice pass defense – with the pads on his hands – down the field, swatting away a Tom Brady throw intended for Julian Edelman on the sideline.

Rowe is clearly making a strong early bid to be the No. 3 cornerback, though Jonathan Jones also continues to get reps in that role in drills.

On the other side of the line, the passing game seemed to level out a bit for the second day of practice. Brady was clearly the best quarterback on the field throughout the two-hour workout. Jimmy Garoppolo had another up-and-down day with a couple interceptions balanced out with some really nice throws, including a pretty, back-shoulder touchdown to Chris Hogan on the goal line. And Jacoby Brissett continues to be the least consistent of the three, both in terms of going through his reads efficiently and make consistently accurate throws.

At the risk of annoying Belichick more than he already was Friday morning, early signs indicate that the Patriots passing game and pass defense will be the most competitive area of training camp practice action. Those areas could also be the team's strength heading into regular season work against actual competition. That's expected from Brady and Co., but now the Patriots my balance that out of with one of the potentially better groups of defensive backs in the NFL. At least that's how it's looked through a couple practices of non-contract action in shorts!

Beyond the impressive work by Rowe and the rest of the cornerbacks, here are one man's blogservations (not evaluations, Bill, don't worry!) from a sweaty media tent on the hill:

Check out our favorite photos from Patriots Training Camp at Gillette Stadium on Friday, July 28, 2017.

--DE Rob Ninkovich and LS Joe Cardona were absent from the practice field for the second straight day. Before practice Belichick said both are absent for personal reasons. Asked if he was aware of when the duo would "show up" for practice, Belichick said, "I'm aware of a lot of things."

--PUPers LB Dont'a Hightower and DT Alan Branch were on the field in shorts, took part in pre-practice warmups and then retreated to the lower field for rehab work. Branch appeared to be running rather well on the far field during some of his work.

--NFI rookie T Andrew Jelks was on the field once again, watching the work of the offensive linemen throughout various parts of practice. He also did some rehab work on the lower field, including running.

--DE Kony Ealy was in jersey, helmet and shorts to take part in Friday's practice. This came after he was on the field but did not take part on Thursday to open camp. After practice Ealy said his absence a day earlier was not health related. He said he got mental reps on Thursday and that he and Belichick "had something going on." He also declared he would never go against what Belichick says.

--Even with Ealy back, Geneo Grissom continued to take reps at LDE opposite RDE Trey Flowers throughout the workout. Ealy actually didn't do much during the practice.

--WRs Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell were both absent from the practice field. Each took part in Thursday's opening day of work.

--During pre-practice work those offensive linemen snapping the ball for quarterbacks included David Andrews, Joe Thuney, James Ferentz, Jason King and Jamil Douglas. Thuney is an interesting inclusion in the group, as the former college left tackle who started every game at left guard last year as a rookie. For what it's worth, Andrews snapped to Brady, Douglas to Garoppolo and Ferentz to Brissett.

--Injuries hit a couple players during the workout. Undrafted rookie wide receiver Cody Hollister landed on his left shoulder while making a great catch on a poor Brissett thrown on the goal line. He came up with his left arm hanging limply to his side and was looked at by the medical staff before retreating to what appears to be the new blue medical evaluation tent at the far end of the field. Hollister did not return to the field. Undrafted rookie defensive back David Jones appeared to suffer leg injury, pulling up a bit lame midway through practice. He was looked at by trainers on the sideline. He did not take any more practice reps the rest of the day, but watched the defensive back action from the field, including talking with safeties coach Steve Belichick. Jones had a noticeable limp as he walked off the field at the end of the day.

--Devin Lucien was down the field at the end of the opportunity segment to close out practice. It appeared the wide receiver may have been dealing with a leg cramp and was assisted by the training staff.

--The increased heat, with temps in the 80s, seemed to wear on some of the players. Matthew Slater was down at one knee at one point before a trainer came to his assistance, seemingly giving the Pro Bowler a drink mixture to get him back on the field.

072817tc-media_eja175a.jpg

--Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Brady chatted throughout much of the pre-practice form running.

--One of the funnier things to watch early in practice is the players working on their form tackling against a giant blue rolling circular pad. It's a focus on getting the head to the outside, in front of the rolling, runaway donut while wrapping up to secure the tackle.

--The wide receivers did some work on quick feet early in practice, dancing around a cone before moving up field to repeat the fast feet three or four times. Julian Edelman and Brandin Cooks are quite impressive to watch in the drill, while Hollister and Austin Carr have some catching up to do in terms of foot speed.

--Even when Rob Gronkowski catches the ball against air, he gets a large cheer from the crowd. Similar treatment goes to other stars like Brady, Edelman and Butler.

--Patriots owner Robert Kraft walked onto the practice field early in the session and watched the workout from between the two practice fields. One of his sons, Dan Kraft, also watched the latter portion of the workout.

--Without the team's top two long snappers in Cardona and Ninkovich, New England once again went without working on field goals/PATs.

--At one point in practice the team moved on from one segment to the next only to have Belichick blow his whistle a number of times to send everyone back to their previous drill. An extremely short time later the horn blew again to switch. Hard to tell if the first movement was premature or if Belichick didn't like how the players moved from one area of the field to another.

20170728-butler.jpg

--The wide receivers and defensive backs once again worked on combo routes, with three offensive players against four defenders. Early in the work in the end zone, Butler picked off a Brissett pass intended for Edelman, doing a nice job of going up to high point the ball.

--While Brissett worked in the 3-on-4 combo routes, Garoppolo did similar work on the opposite end of the field with a different group. Brady, however, was in the middle of the field working with the group of passing backs: D.J. Foster, James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead.

--Two defenders once again harassed a ball carrier in a ball-security drill. Justin Coleman and Lewis each at the ball ripped free by their corresponding defenders.

--There was a lot of work on the kickoff team during special teams segment. The first group to cover the kicks, from left to right, consisted of Rowe, Brandon Bolden, James O'Shaughnessy, Slater, Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards, Jonathan Jones, Grissom, Brandon King and Coleman. The next group included Gilmore, Burkhead, Harvey Langi, Jason Thompson, Kyle Van Noy, Jonathan Freeny, Foster, Derek Rivers, Mike Gillislee and Cyrus Jones.

--Langi has taken more reps early in camp on the edge of the defensive formation than inside linebacker reps. More often than not the inside jobs are held by David Harris, Elandon Roberts or Freeny.

072717tc-media_ds-1034.jpg

--Burkhead has had a real nice start to camp. He's caught the ball very well and gotten reps as a returner, including kickoff return work on Friday.

--DT Adam Butler batted down a Garoppolo pass in one drill.

--While Harris had nice coverage at times to open camp, he was beaten badly by Burkhead on an in-cut in Friday.

--Chris Hogan and Cyrus Jones got into it a little bit after the receiver beat the second-year corner for a reception in the red zone. Jones gave Hogan a shove after the catch. The receiver got up and went facemask to facemask with the former top pick. Jones tried twice to punch the ball away from Hogan while they were going at it without success. Then, as Hogan was giving up and walking away, Jones did punch the ball free. Belichick was watching close by and didn't seem thrilled by the post-play antics.

--The defensive front line in many drills taking early reps included LDE Grissom, LDT Lawrence Guy, RDT Malcom Brown and RDE Flowers.

--After Gilmore defended Hogan on a play in the end zone, with some contact along the way, Brady appeared to yell something at his new cornerback teammate. Brady competes each play like a game, and doesn't even let a little contact from a DB go without discussion, as he's always gunning for an advantage or flag.

--Shortly thereafter Brady hit a wide open Edelman for a touchdown, with Gilmore seemingly lost on the inside as to what the defensive backs were supposed to do against the red zone combo route.

--Garoppolo threw an ugly duck on a ball toward the goal line that was intercepted by Richards, picking off his backup quarterback for the second straight day.

--Garoppolo did hit Edelman for a nice touchdown, beating Coleman.

--The second defensive line group at times included LDE Deatrich Wise Jr., DT Butler, DT Woodrow Hamilton and RDE Caleb Kidder, who was added to the roster on Thursday.

--As many fans have probably noticed in live action or through photos/video, Gronkowski is wearing the large black brace on his left arm that has been a part of his protection since suffering multiple broken arm injuries earlier in his career.

--DT and kickoff return blocker Josh Augusta had his chance to show athleticism on a short kickoff. Unfortunately the big man muffed the ball as he tried to go up high and catch it above his head.

--While all the DBs used the boxing pads/gloves on their hands, Coleman was the only one who seemed to have kept getting his knocked off.

--Garoppolo's back-shoulder throw to Hogan on the goal line to beat Coleman was probably the play of the day. It was a great throw, great timing and elite body control by Hogan to spin back and make the pretty catch.

--Late special teams work again included punt block and field goal/PAT block. The punt work came against lobbed up soccer balls, while edge guys dove onto large gymnastic mats to block would-be kicks.

--Practice ended with conditioning running on the hill at the far side of the field.

--After practice Garoppolo did work off to the side with resistance bands with equipment manager Brendon Murphy. It's similar to what Murphy has done with Brady in recent years. Brady then came over late for work with Murphy that included the quarterback getting hit with small pads as he simulated drop backs. Murphy is in his first year as the head equipment manager.

--The defensive lineman signed autographs for fans lining the fields after practice.

--Those talking to the media after practice included Garoppolo, Burkhead, Ealy, Nate Solder, Gillislee and a number of others.

--The Patriots are scheduled to return to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for the first padded session of camp Saturday morning at 9:15 a.m. The practice is open to the public, but be sure to check Patriots.com for any possible schedule changes.

072817tc-media_eja175a.jpg

--Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Brady chatted throughout much of the pre-practice form running.

--One of the funnier things to watch early in practice is the players working on their form tackling against a giant blue rolling circular pad. It's a focus on getting the head to the outside, in front of the rolling, runaway donut while wrapping up to secure the tackle.

--The wide receivers did some work on quick feet early in practice, dancing around a cone before moving up field to repeat the fast feet three or four times. Julian Edelman and Brandin Cooks are quite impressive to watch in the drill, while Hollister and Austin Carr have some catching up to do in terms of foot speed.

--Even when Rob Gronkowski catches the ball against air, he gets a large cheer from the crowd. Similar treatment goes to other stars like Brady, Edelman and Butler.

--Patriots owner Robert Kraft walked onto the practice field early in the session and watched the workout from between the two practice fields. One of his sons, Dan Kraft, also watched the latter portion of the workout.

--Without the team's top two long snappers in Cardona and Ninkovich, New England once again went without working on field goals/PATs.

--At one point in practice the team moved on from one segment to the next only to have Belichick blow his whistle a number of times to send everyone back to their previous drill. An extremely short time later the horn blew again to switch. Hard to tell if the first movement was premature or if Belichick didn't like how the players moved from one area of the field to another.

20170728-butler.jpg

--The wide receivers and defensive backs once again worked on combo routes, with three offensive players against four defenders. Early in the work in the end zone, Butler picked off a Brissett pass intended for Edelman, doing a nice job of going up to high point the ball.

--While Brissett worked in the 3-on-4 combo routes, Garoppolo did similar work on the opposite end of the field with a different group. Brady, however, was in the middle of the field working with the group of passing backs: D.J. Foster, James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead.

--Two defenders once again harassed a ball carrier in a ball-security drill. Justin Coleman and Lewis each at the ball ripped free by their corresponding defenders.

--There was a lot of work on the kickoff team during special teams segment. The first group to cover the kicks, from left to right, consisted of Rowe, Brandon Bolden, James O'Shaughnessy, Slater, Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards, Jonathan Jones, Grissom, Brandon King and Coleman. The next group included Gilmore, Burkhead, Harvey Langi, Jason Thompson, Kyle Van Noy, Jonathan Freeny, Foster, Derek Rivers, Mike Gillislee and Cyrus Jones.

--Langi has taken more reps early in camp on the edge of the defensive formation than inside linebacker reps. More often than not the inside jobs are held by David Harris, Elandon Roberts or Freeny.

072717tc-media_ds-1034.jpg

--Burkhead has had a real nice start to camp. He's caught the ball very well and gotten reps as a returner, including kickoff return work on Friday.

--DT Adam Butler batted down a Garoppolo pass in one drill.

--While Harris had nice coverage at times to open camp, he was beaten badly by Burkhead on an in-cut in Friday.

--Chris Hogan and Cyrus Jones got into it a little bit after the receiver beat the second-year corner for a reception in the red zone. Jones gave Hogan a shove after the catch. The receiver got up and went facemask to facemask with the former top pick. Jones tried twice to punch the ball away from Hogan while they were going at it without success. Then, as Hogan was giving up and walking away, Jones did punch the ball free. Belichick was watching close by and didn't seem thrilled by the post-play antics.

--The defensive front line in many drills taking early reps included LDE Grissom, LDT Lawrence Guy, RDT Malcom Brown and RDE Flowers.

--After Gilmore defended Hogan on a play in the end zone, with some contact along the way, Brady appeared to yell something at his new cornerback teammate. Brady competes each play like a game, and doesn't even let a little contact from a DB go without discussion, as he's always gunning for an advantage or flag.

--Shortly thereafter Brady hit a wide open Edelman for a touchdown, with Gilmore seemingly lost on the inside as to what the defensive backs were supposed to do against the red zone combo route.

--Garoppolo threw an ugly duck on a ball toward the goal line that was intercepted by Richards, picking off his backup quarterback for the second straight day.

--Garoppolo did hit Edelman for a nice touchdown, beating Coleman.

--The second defensive line group at times included LDE Deatrich Wise Jr., DT Butler, DT Woodrow Hamilton and RDE Caleb Kidder, who was added to the roster on Thursday.

--As many fans have probably noticed in live action or through photos/video, Gronkowski is wearing the large black brace on his left arm that has been a part of his protection since suffering multiple broken arm injuries earlier in his career.

--DT and kickoff return blocker Josh Augusta had his chance to show athleticism on a short kickoff. Unfortunately the big man muffed the ball as he tried to go up high and catch it above his head.

--While all the DBs used the boxing pads/gloves on their hands, Coleman was the only one who seemed to have kept getting his knocked off.

--Garoppolo's back-shoulder throw to Hogan on the goal line to beat Coleman was probably the play of the day. It was a great throw, great timing and elite body control by Hogan to spin back and make the pretty catch.

--Late special teams work again included punt block and field goal/PAT block. The punt work came against lobbed up soccer balls, while edge guys dove onto large gymnastic mats to block would-be kicks.

--Practice ended with conditioning running on the hill at the far side of the field.

--After practice Garoppolo did work off to the side with resistance bands with equipment manager Brendon Murphy. It's similar to what Murphy has done with Brady in recent years. Brady then came over late for work with Murphy that included the quarterback getting hit with small pads as he simulated drop backs. Murphy is in his first year as the head equipment manager.

--The defensive lineman signed autographs for fans lining the fields after practice.

--Those talking to the media after practice included Garoppolo, Burkhead, Ealy, Nate Solder, Gillislee and a number of others.

--The Patriots are scheduled to return to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for the first padded session of camp Saturday morning at 9:15 a.m. The practice is open to the public, but be sure to check Patriots.com for any possible schedule changes.

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