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Day 4 Blogservations: Gilmore continues to impress

The Patriots put the wraps on the opening weekend of training camp on a sunny Sunday morning in Foxborough with their fourth straight practice and second in full pads. Obviously there’s much work still to be done before the 2018 season officially kicks off in September, but thus far it would seem the defense has had the better of the play on a fairly consistent basis.

While that has been true across the board, the best player on either side of the ball has been Stephon Gilmore. The corner looks much more comfortable in his second season in New England and has done a great job in coverage over the first weekend of work.

On Sunday he turned in a couple of exceptional plays in coverage, preventing completions each time. The first saw him match Julian Edelman’s quickness across the field in a one-on-one drill. Gilmore stuck with the shifty wideout after a couple of moves and ran stride for stride with him on a deep ball before establishing leverage and knocking Tom Brady’s pass away.

The second came against Chris Hogan, and the corner dominated. Hogan tried to get loose in the end zone and Gilmore had him completely blanketed, forcing an incompletion once again.

Gilmore spoke after practice and admitted he was much more comfortable at this stage than he was a year ago, and given the way he finished the 2017 season that’s a huge positive as he begins the season as the lone constant at the cornerback position in the Patriots secondary.

Other than Gilmore’s stellar play early on, here are one man’s blogservations from the Patriots fourth practice of the summer and second straight in full pads.

-The PUP list made it through the weekend unchanged with Matthew Slater, Jonathan Jones (Achilles), Cyrus Jones (ACL), Nate Ebner (ACL) and Kenny Britt (hamstring) all remaining out of uniform. Unlike on Saturday when Britt wasn’t seen, all five were on hand for warmups before retreating to the lover rehab field for conditioning work. 

-There were a couple of additions to the absentee list, however. In addition to Malcolm Mitchell, who has yet to practice, running back Mike Gillislee and cornerback Keion Crossen were not spotted on Sunday. Crossen was attended to by trainers on Saturday as they worked on his legs in between the practice fields for a few moments. None of those three were seen on the fields at any point.

-The wide receiver position is one of the few spots that has been affected by health in the early going. Mitchell hasn’t practiced and the Patriots have added two players – Devin Lucien and Paul Turner – to the ranks since camp started. Bill Belichick may need another soon after Jordan Matthews appeared to suffer a hamstring injury midway through practice. Matthews ran a go route against Jason McCourty during the one-on-one drills and would up on the ground as the pass fell incomplete. When he returned to his feet he clutched his upper right leg and walked gingerly toward the middle of the field. He eventually went with trainers into the blue medical tent and did not return to practice. 

Later it looked like Hogan was shaken up when he and Eric Rowe went hard to the turf during some red zone work, but the wideout waved off head trainer Jim Whalen and remained on the field for the rest of practice. Hogan tried to run a slant inside Rowe but the corner was physical as the ball arrived and eventually the pass came loose as both hit the ground. It was a competitive play and fortunately Hogan appeared to come away unscathed.

-Undrafted rookie defensive end Trent Harris left the fields briefly during the pre-practice walkthrough but was back before the workout was underway.

-For the third straight day former Patriots wide receiver Tiquan Underwood was on hand for practice. He has been feverishly taking notes when chatting with receivers coach Chad O’Shea, and on Sunday he even joined O’Shea on the conditioning hill as the two spoke. Underwood is now the receivers coach at Lafayette of the Patriot League.

-Belichick sat down with Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller for an interview on SIRIUS radio’s “Moving the Chains” program prior to practice.

-Danny Etling was once again the first player on the field and he has generally been the last player to leave as well. On Sunday he carried Brian Hoyer’s pads after working through his “opportunity” reps with a bunch of the younger players.

-The Patriots worked on kickoffs on Sunday and did so with a little bit of a twist. After using traditional looks with 11 players during the pre-practice portion, the drills featured just six players with three on each side of the formation. It appeared as if the outside flyers joined two of the interior players as they ran through kicks but it was tough to tell exactly where they were all lined up considering the undermanned formations. Cordarrelle Patterson spent time as the outside player on the formation to the left of Stephen Gostkowski. 

-There was an interesting one-on-one tackling drill about midway through practice where the players lined up near the goal line. The ball carrier had a confined space to work beginning at the 1 and had to fight through a tackler to get into the end zone without making any moves. The tacklers had to keep the ball out of the end zone by wrapping up and not taking the player to the ground. It was similar to a physical one-on-one drill the Patriots did with Houston last summer in West Virginia so it’s possible that Belichick liked the drill and added a wrinkle to it in Foxborough.

-Duron Harmon spent some time on the stationary bike between the fields during some special teams work. He did not miss any reps, however, as he was part of the base defense. Interestingly, that was the case when the Patriots had both five- and traditional four-man secondaries. In the latter, typically Harmon is not on the field. Over the weekend he was with Patrick Chung at safety and Devin McCourty only entered when the defense went to five defensive backs. Gilmore and Rowe remained the top two corners with rookie Duke Dawson serving as the slot corner.

-The offense got some work in on screens and misdirection plays, the latter of which featured several trick plays and deep throws. Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White were all saw plenty of action as receivers.

-There were a couple of periods of physical play, most notably at the goal line late in practice after some down-and-distance work. These plays were dominated by the defense, which kept the ball out of the end zone on all four plays. The first group featured a heavy look with Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown together inside and Jordan Richards in the secondary. Dont’a Hightower did an excellent job of filling to keep rookie Sony Michel from finding paydirt on the first play, delivering a big hit after the guys up front made the initial play. The second attempt came from Burkhead off right tackle. Shelton and Trey Flowers completely collapsed the line, allowing Richards and the defense to easily keep him from the end zone.

-The second group was just as successful. Derek Rivers, Adam Butler, Frank Herron, John Atkins and Geneo Grissom comprised the front that stuffed Brandon Bolden’s inside attempt. Bolden spun off the initial hit, only to be leveled by Butler before the goal line. The final play was the most impressive as Bolden appeared to have a touchdown in his sights working off right tackle, but Elandon Roberts came flying over after Bolden bounced outside and delivered a crushing tackle just inches from the end zone. Some strong defense during the entire sequence.

-There were quite a few one-on-one reps from the linemen as well. Both sides had their moments at the far end of the field but Joe Thuney turned in a couple of impressive plays against Guy and Shelton. Earlier, Guy did a nice job working against David Andrews.

-The offense worked into the red zone off down-and-distance situations prior to the goal line work. Using a mix of the run and pass, the unit was a bit sluggish at the start. Dwayne Allen made a nice leaping catch on one play, continuing his solid start to camp. Richards made a nice deflection of a deep ball intended for Riley McCarron when he closed exceptionally well to knock away Hoyer’s pass. That coupled with his strong run support on the goal line made it solid day for the safety.

-Jacob Hollister made a nice hands catch away from his body in the end zone after he beat Eddie Pleasant. Hollister did a nice job of high-pointing Hoyer’s pass for the touchdown, continuing his strong play. With a few exceptions, he’s done a great job catching the ball when given the opportunity.

-Edelman shook free from JC Jackson for a touchdown late in practice. Jackson got lost trailing the shifty Edelman across the field and was helpless to prevent the score. The undrafted rookie continues to receive high reps with front line players.

-Ryan Allen handled the holding duties for Stephen Gostkowski’s field goals on Sunday. Gostkowski was perfect on his handful of kicks that came in between the down-and-distance and goal line work.

-When Etling ran the offense late in practice following the conditioning work, Michel was part of the attack. Normally Ralph Webb has served as the running back during those opportunity reps but Michel shared time with him in the backfield on Sunday. Michel has had some trouble holding onto the ball thus far in camp and was carrying it high and tight throughout practice and did not have any incidents with ball security. Perhaps the fumbles were a reason he was given the extra work.

-Patterson field some punts at the end of practice while barefoot. Not sure what to make of that other than to simply pass along the information.

-Brady and Hogan worked together at the end of practice while the younger players ran plays.

-There were quite a few Patriots who took some questions from the media on Sunday. That group included Hollister, Rob Gronkowski, White, Jeremy Hill, Michel, Gilmore, James Develin, Isaiah Wynn, Thuney, Trent Brown, Ted Karras, Shaq Mason, Guy, Roberts, Shelton, Burkhead, Deatrich Wise, Paul Turner and Hoyer.

-After a one-year hiatus, the Patriots will hold practice inside Gillette Stadium Monday night at 7 p.m. in a ticketed event for season-ticket members and Foxborough residents. The team is scheduled to have the day off on Tuesday before returning to their normal routine on Wednesday with a morning practice on the regular fields behind the stadium. Please check with Patriots.com for the latest updates on the schedule.

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