The humidity that was absent from camp at the outset returned in full force on Friday, no doubt to the dismay of the players as they took part in their third day of work in Foxborough. There was a slight change to the attire on Day 3 as the players added their soft shells under their uniforms while remaining in shorts and helmets otherwise.
While that added some minor level of physicality, by no means was there any significant shift in terms of competitiveness and overall contact. Receivers and defensive backs worked on their techniques at the line, offering a chance to see how the wideouts dealt with press coverage.
One who shined in these brief drills was Nelson Agholor, who easily shook free from his defender with lightning-quick feet. On the flip side, Tyquan Thornton seemed to struggle separating from Justin Bethel, who used the techniques he excels at as a special teams ace to contain the rookie.
Once the 7-on-7 and full 11-on-11 work got underway, the defense once again had the better of play. As was the case on Thursday, the secondary consistently put forth tight coverage and made life difficult for the passing game. The work continued to take place near the goal line but on Friday it moved to the high red zone with plays consistently starting just inside the 20.
The added room to work did little to aid the wideouts. Jalen Mills and Terrance Mitchell were solid, as was Shaun Wade. Wade has gotten a lot of reps inside the slot but had been relatively quiet the first two days. He came up with a couple of nice breakups, one during 7-on-7s when he dove in front of DeVante Parker near the goal line. Rookie Marcus Jones was also involved in the slot, and even worked in subpackages along the back end at times.
While the secondary enjoyed another strong day, one member of the group who did not was Kyle Dugger. The safety had trouble dealing with tight ends, particularly Jonnu Smith. Smith victimized him on a couple of occasions with terrific high-point catches in the end zone that seemed to leave the safety frustrated.
Dugger showed some progress as a cover safety last season, finishing with four interceptions. But he looked a step slow trailing the tight ends on Friday and was often out of position as the ball made its way toward the receivers. On the flip side, the athleticism Smith showed was what we watched consistently last summer when he excited the fanbase throughout training camp. He ran smoothly and showed great hands on a number of occasions and enjoyed a strong day.
"It's all about going out there and executing consistently every day," Smith said after practice. "It's not just about me. It's about all 11 of us executing consistently."
Smith was asked about the changes in the offense and how they might potentially help him better utilize his talents after a difficult first season in Foxborough.
"I don't care where they put me, I just have to go out there and play," he said.
On Friday he was one of the top performers on the field.
Beyond Smith's impressive work, here are one man's observations from Day 3 of training camp.
*One of the more entertaining periods of camp thus far came at the close of Friday's practice when Bill Belichick brought the team around him and set up a competition of sorts between the offense and the defense. The coach had Marcus Jones and Tre Nixon catching punts for the defense and offense, respectively. As each caught the punts, they were forced to corral the next one while keeping the previous ones in their possession. Jones and Nixon eventually caught one while already holding four balls in their arms, resulting in a tie. At that point Belichick called on some big guys – Cole Strange on offense and DeMarcus Mitchell on defense. The rookies caught their first attempts but Strange was able to hold on with a ball already in tow, giving the offense the "win." In celebration, the first-round pick jumped on Belichick as the sides enjoyed a big laugh.
*There was some good news on the injury front as David Andrews was activated off the physically unable to perform list and was back in uniform. He was limited to positional drills and didn't take part in any team activities, but the starting center took a step toward a full return on Friday. Also, Jake Bailey was activated after spending the past several days on the non-football illness list. Bailey was back booming punts all over the practice fields and was in midseason form. Otherwise, the lists remained unchanged with Jabrill Peppers (ACL), James White (hip) and Jonathan Jones (shoulder) on PUP and Myles Bryant, Chasen Hines and Andrew Stueber on NFI. In addition, Brian Hoyer was not spotted during practice after taking a limited number of reps on Thursday. Also, Deatrich Wise missed his second straight day of work.
*Devin McCourty was present at the start of practice but then was not spotted during much of the workout. He eventually returned but didn't take any reps in full team work.
*Belichick was joined by long-time friend and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz at practice. The two enjoyed a lengthy chat during warmups.
*Jakobi Meyers was quiet during the first two days of practice but was definitely more noticeable on Friday. He caught several passes with quick in-cuts across the middle and had a productive morning. He also was involved with an interception despite making a tremendous move to break free from Jalen Mills. Meyers easily beat Mills with an inside fake before cutting outside all by himself. The problem was he wasn't on the same page as Mac Jones, who threw the pass directly to a surprised Mills, who was able to make the pick despite wearing the sparring gloves for a second straight day. Based on Jones' reaction after the pass, it appeared as if the quarterback was guilty of misreading things as Meyers did a great job of beating the coverage. Unlike many members of the offense who have welcomed the changes to the system, Meyers said after practice that his three years of experience with the team has made the transition tougher for him as the terminology has been altered.
*Hunter Henry and Kristian Wilkerson collided while running routes cutting across the backline of the end zone from opposite sides. Henry caught the pass under the uprights but was immediately dropped when he ran directly into Wilkerson as both hit the turf. Henry was a bit slow to get up but didn't miss any time as the 7-on-7 drill ended.
*Adrian Phillips also managed to snag an interception wearing the gloves, getting underneath position against Smith to snag Bailey Zappe’s underthrown fade toward the back pylon.
*Speaking of Zappe, with Hoyer out of action the rookie continued to get plenty of reps. Like most rookie quarterbacks there are some rough periods but he shows a nice rhythm in delivering the ball on time and with plenty of zip. There aren't a lot of plays that seem to break down due to him being indecisive and holding the ball too long, which was a common trait for many of the young quarterbacks in past Patriots training camps. He did show some accuracy issues at times, throwing slightly behind Thornton on a slant to allow Bethel to make a nice interception near the goal line. That play showed a combination of issues related to inexperience as Thornton was knocked off his route by Bethel and Zappe's throw was on the back hip instead of the receiver's body. Overall, Zappe has to be benefitting greatly from the extra work and appears to be worth the time.
*The final team portion took place in the high red zone and featured some plays on both sides. Mills showed solid coverage against Parker to force the wideout out of bounds on one play before Henry got behind Dugger on a fade for a touchdown immediately following.
*Ty Montgomery seems to make at least one memorable play each day and on Friday it came on a great catch near the far corner pylon behind Wade. Montgomery did a great job hauling in a perfect pass from Zappe, tapping his toes just inside the end line. Montgomery also continues to see a lot of special teams work, serving as a wing blocker on the punt unit after filling a role on the kickoff team a day earlier. He seems earmarked to fill all of the roles Brandon Bolden once held.
*Nick Folk connected on a handful of field goals late in practice including a couple from 50-plus yards.
*Raekwon McMillian, Damien Harris, Josh Uche, Meyers, Smith, Marcus Jones, Thornton and Mitchell were among those who spent time chatting with the media after practice.
*Training camp continues on Saturday with practice once again open to the public and set to begin at 9:30 a.m. with gates opening at 8 a.m. The players are expected to be in full pads for the first time on Monday after their first day off on Sunday.