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Day 4 Blogservations: Defense turns it up

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And on the second day, the Patriots got after it. Well, at least toward the end of practice.

After easing their way into the contact portion of training camp on Saturday, Bill Belichick’s troops ratcheted up the intensity level with some spirited goal line work toward the end of Sunday’s session.

The sequence provided the first real spark of camp thus far, and most of those flames were created by the defense.

Starting with some red zone work, the offense tried to manage its way into the end zone with some down-and-distance situational plays that were scripted to finish with the ball inside the 5. That’s when the tempo went up and the pads started clapping on another gorgeous morning in Foxborough.

Tom Brady broke the huddle for a pair of plays from the 1, and the quarterback was forced to turn away in disgust each time as the running plays both failed badly. Curiously, Brandon Bolden got the call each time, operating in a jumbo formation behind fullback James Develin. Despite the added bulk, the defense dominated both reps.

The first saw Bolden try to make his way off right guard only to be swarmed by a host of blue-shirted defenders. The second had Mike Pennel collapsing down from the middle to chop Bolden off his feet. Neither carry came close to achieving its goal and Brady showed some frustration after the second failure.

On the flip side, the emotion seen on defense was tough to miss. Pennel leaped to his feet and celebrated with his fellow defenders as the sideline – led my linebackers coach Jerod Mayo – erupted.

“That’s what football is all about,” rookie Damien Harris said of the goal line work. “We’re starting to play some real football now and that’s a big part of it. Anytime you can get those carries you want to make the most of them.”

Harris was more involved after those initial Bolden runs, and the rookie had some success at times. He shows quick feet and is big enough to move the pile and shed tacklers. He should be getting plenty of work down the road as the preseason gets underway. He also absorbed a big hit from linebacker Christian Sam on one attempt as the defense once again was celebrating.

Michael Bennett made his debut during camp on Sunday after missing the first three days while handling a personal issue. Even though he wasn’t involved in the goal line work, he was impressed with the work done by his teammates.

“It’s impressive to just go out there and watch everybody play,” Bennett said.

The practice length returned to the normal two hours seen on the first two days after a shorter session on Saturday. The team is set to head inside Gillette Stadium for the annual in-stadium practice Monday night, which is usually a lighter tempo walkthrough. So, Sunday’s increase in intensity made some sense given the schedule.

Beyond the goal line work, here are some blogservations from the fourth practice of training camp and the second on full pads.

-As mentioned above, Bennett took part in his first practice of camp. He’s interesting to watch if for no other reason than his attire. His blue No. 77 jersey was cut all the way down the side from his arm pit to his hip, exposing his red undershirt. Also, his shoulder pads have to be the smallest in the league as even quarterbacks feature bigger sets. He took part in some physical 11-on-11 work and showed exceptional quickness at times. One particular play he easily sidestepped rookie Hjalte Froholdt and was in position to make a stop in the run game. Bennett should be a huge addition to the defensive line.

-In other attendance news, Dontrelle Inman joined rookie Byron Cowart out of uniform. Inman has had a slow start to camp and now missed a practice. He appears to have some catching up to do. Otherwise there were no changes to the PUP/NFI lists.

-There were some NBA folks on the field for practice today a Celtics coach Brad Stevens and forward Jayson Tatum were one hand. Nick Nurse, head coach of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors, also was on hand. Stevens chatted with Josh McDaniels prior to practice and spent time with Belichick as well.

-Sirius Radio’s Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller made an appearance and conducted interviews with Bill Belichick and some players after practice.

-Deatrich Wise, David Andrews and Isaiah Wynn continue working on their rehab despite being in full pads on the field. Wise and Wynn spent time on the lower field and none of them has taken any full-team reps at this point.

-The alignments and combination on defense will interesting to watch all season, and on Sunday the was plenty of mixing and matching. The first unit saw Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy on the outside with Elandon Roberts and Dont’a Hightower inside behind a front of Lawrence Guy, Pennel and Adam Butler. A few plays later, John Simon and Derek Rivers replaced Collins and Van Noy while Ja’Whaun Bentley took Roberts’ spot. There will be talk of 3-4 looks and other terminology but I feel is more important to Belichick is having versatile, smart players who can fill different roles, which makes it tough for the offense to identify. Last season most would have felt Simon and Rivers were defensive ends but on Sunday they stood exactly where Collins and Van Noy (linebackers) were positioned. Belichick often cautions against making declarations about depth at this early stage but it appears there are a lot of options on defense, especially among the linebackers and secondary.

-Stephen Anderson made a terrific diving catch in an early red zone, 7-on-7 drill. Brian Hoyer’s pass was high and to the inside but the athletic tight end contorted his body in the air and made the grab, maintaining possession of the ball even after crashing to the turf. Hoyer was quick to offer Anderson a high-five for his efforts.

-The offensive line saw a slight change on Sunday with Dan Skipper taking some reps at left tackle and Joe Thuney staying put at his regular left guard spot. Ted Karras remained at center with Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon on the right side. Skipper is listed at 6-9 and it’s hard not to notice that immense size watching him. He spent time on the Patriots practice squad during the playoffs last year and the Arkansas grad is still searching to establish himself in the NFL after spending time with Detroit, Dallas and Denver during parts of two seasons. Skipper appears to be a bit upright in his technique, although at 6-9 it would be hard not to.

-Cannon was guilty of a false start and had to run a lap midway through practice. Later, newcomer J.J. Deilman was forced to do the same.

-Later it was Hoyer who was forced to hit the road. Working as part of the goal line segment, Hoyer appeared to pull away from the center a tad early and the exchange wasn’t made as the ball fell to the ground. Hoyer barely hesitated before making his way around for the lap.

-That misstep allowed Jarrett Stidham to jump in and a few plays later he delivered a strike to James White just inside the goal line for a touchdown. Stidham threw the pass with authority and right on the mark.

-The special teams work featured kickoffs on Sunday with the first group consisting of Rex Burkhead, Terrence Brooks, Patrick Chung, Bolden, Keion Crossen, Matthew Slater, Brandon King, Devin McCourty, Obi Melifonwu and Duke Dawson with Stephen Gostkowski handling the kicking. Interestingly, when the drill went in the opposite direction, Jake Bailey lined up as the kicker but the balls were sent flying by the JUGGS machine instead. The rookie handled kickoffs as well as punting duties at Stanford.

-Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson, Phillip Dorsett and Ryan Davis handled kick return duties.

-One example of the added physicality on Sunday came during a 1-on-1 tackling drill on the goal line. Defenders were tasked with keeping the ball carrier out while the offensive player was forced to limit himself to a confined space. There were some good hits and tackles as well as some physical running on display.

-Among those spending time chatting with the media after practice included Bennett, Butler, Froholdt, N’Keal Harry, Develin, Simon, Damien Harris, Dorsett, Burkhead, Joejuan Williams, Terez Hall, Davis, Jakobi Meyers, Cannon, Chase Winovich and Ryan Izzo.

-It will be a busy evening around Gillette Stadium on Monday as the Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Rodney Harrison and Leon Gray is set to begin at 4:30 p.m. The Patriots in-stadium practice will begin at 7 p.m. and is scheduled to last about 90 minutes. As always, please check with Patriots.com for the latest practice updates.

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