The Patriots continued their non-padded work for the fourth straight day and at times the tempo appeared to be a bit lower than it was in the first three practices. There were periods of success on both sides but overall the intensity was lacking and the execution, especially on offense, wasn't at its best.
With Brian Hoyer once again missing the practice, it gave Bailey Zappe another opportunity to get loads of reps working behind Mac Jones. The rookie continues to suffer through some highs and lows, but given his lack of experience the extended looks he's received have been a huge positive for the fourth-round pick.
"I'm really enjoying it," Zappe said after practice. "Some things were good but there's always stuff to work on. I'm trying to take advantage of the reps whenever I get them."
For much of Saturday's practice, which once again saw the players wearing shells, Zappe struggled to find much consistency. He delivered a few quality throws but often failed to deliver the ball in rhythm and was forced to improvise more than the coaches likely would like.
The timing of the offense seemed off throughout the morning, and Zappe showed that as well. One throw to the outside was late and almost picked off by rookie Jack Jones. On a couple of other occasions he scrambled around the pocket trying to find a suitable option, but more often than not simply pulled it down and ran or threw it away.
Zappe was able to connect on a deep ball to Kristian Wilkerson for a long touchdown, but even on that play Jones appeared to be in solid position before losing his footing as the pass arrived, perhaps thanks to a slight shove from the receiver.
The results of these early reps are far less important, however. For Zappe, the opportunity to get so much work in while Hoyer is out is well worth the struggles. He even saw plenty of one-on-one attention from Bill Belichick during the morning.
"It's great to get out here and continue to work toward improving every day," Zappe added. "We all have to continue to get better and get prepared for the season. The more time I get to get to go over everything the more I can continue to get better."
In fairness to the rookie, things weren't all that much better when Jones and the starters were on the field. For the first time this summer Jones was visibly frustrated – he left the field looking quite agitated – after suffering through a tough morning's work.
The secondary once again showed solid coverage and forced the quarterbacks to constantly pull the ball down and move off the spot. Even the completions seemed to feature some special work from the wideouts, like the ball Jakobi Meyers pulled down between Shaun Wade and Terrance Mitchell for a late touchdown in the red zone. Meyers was covered well on the play but timed his jump perfectly and grabbed the pass to beat the double team.
Jones had a couple of nice throws to Hunter Henry, the latter resulting in a touchdown, but overall his frustration was evident. That came to a boil on one of the last plays of the day when he scrambled to his right and tried to throws slightly back against the grain, only to watch Kyle Dugger easily step in for the pick.
That miscue led to the entire offense doing pushups. When play resumed, Jones tried to hit Meyers on a quick sprint out to the left similar to a Henry TD seen earlier in camp. This time rookie Marcus Jones showed great closing speed and was able to break up the pass, which made for a fitting end to the morning.
Beyond the play of the quarterbacks, here are one man's observations from Day 4 of training camp.
*No changes in terms of attendance as Jabrill Peppers, James White and Jonathan Jones remain on PUP while Myles Bryant, Chasen Hines and Andrew Stueber are on NFI. In addition, Deatrich Wise missed his third straight day of work while Hoyer was absent for the second straight time.
*On a positive note, David Andrews, who was activated off PUP on Friday, was more active during practice and was involved in some of the team drills. He handled the snaps while the offense prepared against a scout-look defense but James Ferentz took his spot for most of the 11-on-11 work.
*Newly signed wide receiver Josh Hammond was on the field for the second straight day wearing No. 80. The 6-0, 194-pounder out of Florida spent time in the Jaguars and Eagles organizations before signing with the Patriots, and he grabbed a nice touchdown during 7-on-7s despite tight coverage from Malcolm Butler.
*Speaking of Butler, Saturday was his most active day of camp thus far. He was part of a lineup that included Mitchell and Jalen Mills with the latter manning the slot. He showed consistently tight coverage and didn't allow many completions. He blanketed DeVante Parker near the back of the end zone and was able to knock the ball out of the wideout's hands when it appeared as if a touchdown was imminent. He showed the trademark physicality and scrappiness he displayed during his first tour of duty with the team.
*The Patriots worked on kickoff returns with Dugger, Ty Montgomery and Tre Nixon handling the kicks. Rookie Kevin Harris got some reps working as one of the three up backs in what used to be referred to as the wedge before such blocking techniques were outlawed. Fellow rookie Brandon Schooler continues to spend most of practice working with veteran special teamers Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel and Cody Davis on various techniques.
*Kendrick Bourne remains one of the most energetic players on the field. During an early drill working with the quarterbacks, Bourne caught his pass crossing under the goal posts and enthusiastically high-fived one of the security guards working in the area.
*We've grown accustomed to seeing the defensive backs wearing gloves to prevent them from grabbing receivers. On Saturday the offensive linemen donned red mitts that are designed to prevent holding as well.
*Tristan Vizcaino went 5-for-5 on field goals late in practice. He showed a strong leg as he easily connected from outside of 45 yards.
*The players went back to running the conditioning hills after practice after getting the day off from such duties on Friday.
*In addition to Zappe, Jack Jones, Josh Bledsoe, Bill Murray, Mack Wilson, Rhamondre Stevenson, Meyers and Bourne were among those who took time to chat with the media after practice.
*The Patriots will get their first day off from camp on Sunday before returning for work in full pads for the first time this summer on Monday. Practice is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. with gates opening at 8 a.m. As always, please check with Patriots.com for the latest updates to the team's practice schedule.