The pads were back on and the intensity went up a notch on Wednesday. More importantly, it was the offense that responded with a noticeable uptick in energy.
The defense has enjoyed the better of play throughout the first week, and it wasn't like Wednesday was a complete reversal of those fortunes. But the vast majority of memorable moments during the morning practice came from the offense, and almost all of the enthusiasm came from that side as well.
Mac Jones had a strong day, but he wasn't alone. Bailey Zappe and Trace McSorley also engineered some positive momentum, and the receivers seemed to feed off of each other's energy as the day progressed.
"As far as us making positive plays, stringing positive plays together and having good energy I felt we were able to do that," JuJu Smith-Schuster said.
The free agent addition was on the receiving end of one of the best plays of camp thus far for Jones and the offense. Operating in the red zone from the 4-yard line, Smith-Schuster lined up in the slot. He began his route by selling and outside move but quickly cut back inside and slanted toward the backline of the end zone.
Prior to the snap Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones seemed to be having trouble getting on the same page. When Smith-Schuster broke to the inside he immediately had leverage on Jones. Mac Jones' pass was perfectly thrown, high and to the back of the end zone, allowing Smith-Schuster to go up and get it before tapping his feet down in bounds for the touchdown. The play caused quite a bit of celebration for an offense that has been on the wrong side of most of the memorable moments before Wednesday.
"There's a big difference between three points and putting up seven points down there," Smith-Schuster said. "The defense has been killing us all week and we have been working on that off to the side (during special teams periods) and we finally caught them on one of them."
While that play was the highlight, it wasn't the only one. The early team periods saw some success as well, notably when Zappe found Tre Nixon behind Jack Jones for a 30-plus yard gain on a deep fade. Nixon had a step on Jones and the pass hit him in stride for the first downfield connection of the summer. Prior to that Jones found Kendrick Bourne for a nice gain on an outbreaking route near the left sideline. Jones also hit rookie Kayshon Boutte on a drag route on the opposite sideline for another solid gain. Jones appeared quite pleased as he closed his second set of four-play 11-on-11 reps with that connection.
Even the screen game, which hasn't been in sync much, looked better. Both Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris were recipients of well-designed screens that would have picked up first downs under game conditions.
As the day wound down Bill Belichick finished with red zone reps. The first series featured plays starting from the 18, 13, 8 and 4, respectively. Jones began with a corner fade to DeVante Parker, who made a nice grab over Christian Gonzalez for a touchdown. Parker definitely created space for himself with some contact but it was unclear if the push would have resulted in a flag. That series ended with the Smith-Schuster TD.
From there the defense seemed to have enough of the offensive excitement, which was definitely building throughout the morning. Belichick called for four goal line snaps from the 1, and only the final one resulted in a touchdown. Jones tried a play-action fake on the first play but would have been sacked. Harris followed with a pair of inside runs that were stuffed. Finally, Strong took a Zappe handoff and squirted his way under the pile for the lone touchdown.
"There was definitely a little trash talking going on out there," linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley said. "That's kind of the beauty of the game though. It's mano-a-mano down there and then at the end of practice we all come together as a team. You just have to find a way to not let them score."
The combination of intensity, execution and physicality made the latter half of Wednesday's practice the most enjoyable of camp thus far.
Beyond that, here are one man's observations from Day 7 of training camp.
- Another day and another practice that saw little action for several key players. Trent Brown and Matthew Judon went to the lower field for conditioning work and did not take any reps. Tyquan Thornton also spent time on the lower field and was a spectator thereafter. The same could be said of Rhamondre Stevenson. Brad Hawkins and Scotty Washington continue to work their way back slowly after getting nicked up on Monday.
- The attrition is being felt along the offensive line, which in addition to Brown was also without Cole Strange for the second straight day. With Mike Onwenu (ankle) on PUP, that's three potential starters out of the lineup. Bill Murray has been a mainstay at right guard during camp but he was occasionally out as Kody Russey and Atonio Mafi saw snaps at both guard spots. That pair joined David Andrews, Riley Reiff, Conor McDermott and Andrew Stueber for the goal line plays with McDermott "reporting" as an eligible receiver.
- Ty Montgomery missed his fifth straight practice, Terez Hall was out for his third straight while Strange was out for his second. Onwenu, Cody Davis (PUP) and Calvin Anderson (NFI) have still yet to be activated this summer.
- Wide receiver Jalen Hurd decided to retire after getting nicked up on Monday and missing Tuesday's practice. The Patriots signed receiver Thyrick Pitts off waivers from Chicago and he suited up in Hurd's No. 13 jersey. Pitts took some reps and caught a nice crossing route from McSorley during the 11-on-11 work.
- Scott Pioli, the Patriots former director of player personnel, was on hand as part of the NFL Network's crew. Pioli spent quite a bit of time chatting with Belichick during warmups, and after practice he joined Tom Pelissero for interviews with Smith-Schuster and Mac Jones.
- PGA golfer and New England native Keegan Bradley was on hand for practice. Bradley, a huge Patriots fan, won the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut in June.
- Robert Kraft was out for practice early and watched most of the action. He spent some time chatting with player personnel director Matt Groh.
- The first portion of practice featured quite a bit of low-tempo walkthrough-type work, but that started to change when the team broke into 1-on-1 reps. Wide receivers took on cornerbacks, tight ends and running backs went against linebackers and safeties and the offensive and defensive lines got after it. As is typically the case in such drills, the receivers had the better of it and that's when the energy and enthusiasm started to rise. Bourne beat Jack Jones badly with on a deep post, Demario Douglas raced past Marcus Jones and Parker got the better of Gonzalez on the final play. The receivers really started to get loud at that point, and cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino didn't seem too pleased with that reaction. The intensity only grew from there.
- It was tough to evaluate the linemen because those not participating generally form a wall between the action and the media, but Keion White got the better of McDermott on one rep, and Christian Barmore took care of Murray on another for decisive wins.
- The linebackers and safeties had trouble with the backs and tight ends. Many reps featured what would have been sure penalties as the defenders were doing plenty of clutching and grabbing.
- A group of special teams players that included Chris Board, Brenden Schooler, Jordan Heilig, Ameer Speed, Joe Cardona, Raleigh Webb, Calvin Munson, Tucker Addington and DaMarcus Mitchell spent time with Joe Judge working on blocking techniques. The players would start about 5 yards apart with the inside guy forced to run a few steps before turning to maintain proper leverage against the oncoming player in pursuit of a tackling dummy set behind the blocker. Board got a little overzealous on one rep and caused Heilig to trip over the dummy as the rookie went to the turf.
- In addition to Smith-Schuster, Stevenson, Bentley, Kyle Dugger, Stueber, Boutte, Josh Uche and Bryce Baringer spent time chatting with the media. Mac Jones and Smith-Schuster also spoke with NFL Network.
- The Patriots will be at it for a fifth straight day on Thursday with gates open to the public at 8:30 a.m. and practice set to begin at 9:30 a.m. As always, please check with Patriots.com for the latest updates to the training camp schedule.