After two days in pads the Patriots dialed things back a bit on Wednesday and returned to shorts, helmets and shells for Day 7 of training camp. In turn the tempo was noticeably slower than in recent days, and the focus seemed to be more on instruction than competition.
Whether that was due to the recent sluggish play of the offense or simply part of Bill Belichick's planned schedule is unclear, but the coach did acknowledge some of the struggles prior to practice.
"A couple day in pads here, so today we won't be in pads. We'll be in shells and try to clean up a few things from the last couple of days that need to be worked out and get back at it," he said. "Last couple days of the week here and finish up in the stadium. This week's rolling along, a lot of work to do, making progress but a long way to go. So just keep stringing these days together."
When asked specifically what needed to be cleaned up, the coach summarized things succinctly.
"Everything," he replied before adding "just a lot of communication, techniques, adjustments."
Belichick said the team was allowed to be in full pads for a third straight practice but opted to go with shells anyway. It's possible that he didn't want to face a situation where the team wasn't in pads on Thursday ahead of Friday night's in-stadium practice that typically features a lot of situational work in a walkthrough setting. That would mean two straight days without contact before Saturday's off day.
Either way, the lower intensity practice offered a chance for some fine-tuning, particularly on offense. There seemed to be an emphasis on the zone running game, both inside and out, which has been a problem in the early going as the players get adjusted to some new schemes. There looked to be some progress made in that regard as Damien Harris, Ty Montgomery and rookie Kevin Harris saw a little more daylight than they have in recent days. Of course, without pads on evaluating the running game can be next to impossible.
One item to note with regard to the ground game is the limited nature of Rhamondre Stevenson. He appears to be dealing with some physical limitations and hasn't gotten much work lately, and on Wednesday he wasn't part of any of the full 11-on-11 work. He's been spotted in uniform so whatever it is doesn't seem to be too serious.
Beyond the low-key nature of the workout, here are one man's observations of Day 7 of training camp.
*I have to call myself out for omitting an absence during Tuesday's practice as Dalton Keene was not in uniform. Unfortunately for the third-year tight end he was not spotted on Wednesday either. For a young player who has dealt with injuries throughout the start of his career, missing two straight days is not ideal. In addition, Jabrill Peppers and Malcolm Butler missed practice while Brian Hoyer remained out for the fifth straight day. Butler and Hoyer were seen getting some rehab work in on the lower field and Belichick said the veteran quarterback would be back soon so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him in uniform Thursday. Peppers told reporters on Tuesday that he wasn't completely at 100 percent so his absence was likely just a chance to get some added rest. James White (PUP), Chasen Hines (NFI) and Andrew Stueber (NFI) all remain out as well.
*Like Stevenson, Devin McCourty was in uniform but didn't do much beyond stretching during practice. McCourty wasn't involved on defense during 7-on-7s or 11-on-11s. That allowed young players such as Josh Bledsoe and Myles Bryant to get some added reps.
*Another safety who got some work was undrafted rookie Brenden Schooler. Schooler has spent most of his time working on special teams techniques with veterans Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel, but on Wednesday he was in the lineup for the first rep of 11-on-11 work. His presence with the regulars likely was an indication that the team likes his chances of developing as a special teamer and if that's the case and he gets a game day roster spot then he would need to be prepared to work as a backup in the secondary. It's similar to how Belichick has used players like Nate Ebner during camp in the past.
*Former Patriots general manager Scott Pioli was on hand for practice. He spent much of his time chatting with director of football/head coaching administration Berj Najarian.
*Robert Kraft continued his streak of attendance as he took in the action as well.
*The Cathedral High School football watched practice from the VIP area behind the fields as guests of the team.
*DaMarcus Mitchell, another undrafted rookie, spent the entire practice working on special teams with Slater and Cody Davis.
*The punt team once again got plenty of work and Jake Bailey was booming some of his early attempts. Jake Julien also unleashed some bombs during the early portion, and later in practice there was plenty of work done on plus-50 punting. Marcus Jones, Tre Nixon and Bryant handled most of the kicks.
*At one point about midway through practice many of the specialists left the practice fields, presumably to head inside Gillette Stadium to get some extra work in. On Tuesday Belichick was asked about the ongoing construction project around the stadium and how it might affect wind patterns, and the coach said he intended to get some extra work in for the kickers at some point to help them acclimate.
*Nick Folk remained on the practice fields, and he spent time kicking shorter field goals from a holder as his four children, all wearing No. 6 Patriots jerseys, corralled the kicks and sprinted them back to him. All four displayed great wheels.
*The 7-on-7 work was at a slower pace but there were some bright spots for the offense. Mac Jones found Jakobi Meyers and Jonnu Smith, but there were also some struggles as Jones was seen throwing his hands up in the air in frustration after one play.
*Arlington Hambright continues to get some reps at right guard with Mike Onwenu, but he also saw some snaps at left guard in place of Cole Strange. Based on the last couple of days it appears as if he's taken the lead for a potential backup spot on the interior.
*Hambright and Justin Herron were guilty of false starts and had to run laps.
*Jones and the offense still appear to be disjointed at times, and that was evident when he tried to work with DeVante Parker on a quick fade down the left sideline. Jones appeared to signal Parker prior to the snap, but whatever the intention was the pair was not on the same page and Jones' throw was intercepted by Terrance Mitchell as Parker trailed the play.
*Rookie Kevin Harris continues to show soft hands coming out of the backfield and with Stevenson out of the mix he got some extras chances on Wednesday. He told reporters he feels quite comfortable in the passing game after practice, and that has showed throughout camp.
*Once again the latter portion of practice took place down in the red area, and after a solid connection between Jones and Kendrick Bourne on a comeback route, things did not end well. The final two plays saw Matthew Judon apply quick pressure off the edge to force a Jones throwaway, followed by a would-be sack for Mack Wilson.
*Bailey Zappe did manage to hit Kristian Wilkerson on a nice timing route in the back left corner of the end zone to close the practice. Wilkerson enjoyed a solid day with a handful of catches.
*Folk was money on his five field goals at the end of practice.
*Meyers, Christian Barmore, Mitchell, Davon Godchaux, Kevin Harris, Anfernee Jennings, Nelson Agholor, Tre Nixon, Kyle Dugger and Jalen Mills all spent time chatting with the media after practice.
*The Patriots will be back on the practice fields for what will be a steamy Thursday morning as temperatures are expected to threaten triple digits. 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 training camp schedule.