The rising temperatures in Foxborough seemed to raise the level of play on Wednesday – at least for those on one side of the ball.
The scorching heat did little to slow down what is fast becoming a dominant defense, and as the Patriots got back to work after their first off day of camp, it was apparent that the offense still has a long way to go. Even Tom Brady admitted as much when he spoke after practice for the first time this summer.
“We've got a very good defense this year,” he said. “Those guys are challenging us every day. It's hard to complete passes on our secondary. That's just the reality. So, it's actually great work for our offense to see how we measure up against a very good defense. Days like today are frustrating for us and we've got to learn from the corrections and try to come out and have a better day tomorrow.”
Indeed Brady and his offensive teammates won’t enjoy watching the film of Wednesday’s work, especially toward the end when Bill Belichick worked on some late-game situations. The offense ran a two-minute drill and later was instructed that they trailed by two in the waning seconds and had to move the ball into field goal range. That proved to be quite challenging for both Brady and his backup, Brian Hoyer.
Each series featured stifling defense with several members of the secondary providing sticky coverage leaving the quarterbacks with very few good looks. Jonathan Jones and Jason McCourty were standouts, each coming up with impressive pass breakups. On the rare occasions when receivers shook free, they were unable to make the catch.
That was the case twice for N’Keal Harry. The rookie opened the first series by dropping Brady’s shallow cross, and a few plays later he could hold one near the sideline.
The latter play was particularly frustrating because Harry ran a crisp out route and broke free from Stephon Gilmore, only to drop the pass along the sideline. The rookie did make an impressive adjustment in the air when he hauled in a long pass from Brady, landing hard on his side in the process. But that play wasn’t exactly executed properly as Brady held the ball for an extended period and Belichick kept the line of scrimmage where it began rather than advancing the ball to where Harry made the catch. Plus, Harry seemed to be favoring his hip a bit in the aftermath.
In the meantime, the defense just kept dominating, which has been one of the early themes during camp.
“We know what we have as far as players and schemes go, but that doesn’t matter unless we execute properly,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “We have to have accountability every day and keep working to get better every day and that’s where we want to be.”
Defense ruled the day on a steamy Foxborough morning, but here are some further observations from the sixth practice of camp.
*The Patriots made a roster move Tuesday, signing offensive lineman Martez Ivey and waiving Cole Croston. Croston opened camp on PUP and had yet to make it back before being let go. ESPN reported the backup tackle was waived with a non-football injury designation. Ivey, 24, is an undrafted free agent out of Florida. The 6-5, 306-pounder played in 49 games with 44 starts at both guard and tackle for the Gators. With three sudden retirements among potential backup offensive linemen, Ivey could add some depth up front.
*Nate Ebner, Ken Webster and Demaryius Thomas remain on PUP while Julian Edelman and Yodny Cajuste are still on NFI. The good news is Byron Cowart and Dontrelle Inman, each of whom missed the previous two workouts, returned. Cowart spent a lot of time working with the member of the training staff but Inman seemed to resume normal duties. Patrick Chung was once again in his red jersey after wearing blue Monday night.
*Tight end Lance Kendricks left the field about midway through practice with a member of the training staff carrying his helmet. Kendricks was involved in some 11-on-11 work before leaving.
*David Andrews was more involved in practice than he has been since returning on Sunday. He took part in some 1-on-1s against the defensive line as well as some reps in 11 on 11. He still isn’t taking a full workload but he appears much closer. The same cannot be said of Isaiah Wynn, who has suited up for every practice but has yet to do anything against an opponent of any kind. He did some more rehab work on Wednesday.
*Members of coaching staffs from Harvard and Holy Cross were on hand for practice.
*Phillip Dorsett ran a couple of effective routes during 1-on-1 drills against the defensive backs. He beat Gilmore with a sharp in-cut, and then got a step on the All-Pro corner again on a deep double move but unfortunately couldn’t hold onto to the pass as Gilmore was able to rip it free as the two went to the ground.
*Harry’s struggles catching the ball continued but he definitely has shown the ability to use his large frame well to protect the ball. Anytime he gets inside position the corner seems powerless to prevent him from making the catch. He and J.C. Jackson had some physical battles during the 1 on 1s early on.
*Damoun Patterson got behind Jackson for a beautiful long touchdown down the left sideline in the same 1-on-1 work. Patterson caught the pass about a yard behind Jackson in stride and tapped his feet in bounds for the touchdown.
*Robert Kraft was on the field for practice.
*Rookie Jake Bailey once again had his powerful leg on display. Unlike earlier in camp when he seemed to offer up a shank or two, Bailey was on point on Wednesday and delivered several impressive missiles toward returner Braxton Berrios, Gunner Olszewski, Dorsett and Maurice Harris. Bailey also handled holding duties for Stephen Gostkowski later in practice.
*Dan Skipper again got some work at left tackle and again seemed to struggle. He was beaten badly by Shilique Calhoun off the edge in a 1-on-1 rep, and then he wound up on the ground a couple of times in 11-on-11 work.
*The heat tested the focus of the players throughout the day and may have contributed to an unusual amount of laps being run for mental mistakes. Cedrick Lang, Keionta Davis and Tyree St. Louis all were guilty of false starts and ran. Earlier an entire unit of offensive scout team players was sent running, and Ivey really labored his way around the goal posts. About midway through his “jog” turned into little more than a walk and he finished well behind the rest of his teammates.
*Terrence Brooks has enjoyed an active camp and he teamed up with Duron Harmon to come up with a turnover during the late situational work. He was tight in coverage on a deep seam route and deflected Hoyer’s pass in the air, where Harmon was waiting to make the pick. Brooks is considered a strong special teams player but he’s also received a number of reps at safety alongside Devin McCourty, which may be an indication that he could be in the mix for playing time on the back end.
*Things were so bad for the offense that it appeared that the defense played half speed to allow a completion that set up the potential winning field goal. Then Gostkowski appeared to hook the kick to the left.
*Brady, James White, Sony Michel, Mike Pennel, Skipper, Ted Karras, Dorsett, Harris, Ryan Allen, Stephen Anderson, Ben Watson, Nick Thurman, Hjalte Froholdt, Jason McCourty and Hightower were among those who chatted with the media after practice.
*The Patriots are scheduled to be back at it once again Thursday morning in Foxborough with practice set to kick off at 9:15 a.m. As always please check Patriots.com for all the latest updates on practice.