The Patriots were in full pads for the second straight day, and once again the physicality was at a solid level. But beyond the typical blocking and jamming we see each year during camp, the last two days have seen a rise in actual tackling.
Generally camp practices are full of coaches barking instructions like "stay up" to the players rather than asking them to take ball carriers to the ground. It started a little on Wednesday but continued in earnest Thursday morning as defenders were tackling to the ground on a consistent basis.
Some of the 11-on-11 periods featured full tackling and that was never more evident than on one snap that saw Christian Gonzalez fly up and dump Raleigh Webb in the backfield. Webb caught a short swing pass but before he had a chance to turn it upfield the rookie chopped him down for a loss of about 5 yards.
"Physicality is really the whole thig. It's what the game is all about," Gonzalez said. "[The tackle on Webb] was just about playing football – diagnosing the play, seeing the play, making the play."
The play elicited a huge reaction from his defensive teammates, who brought plenty of energy stemming off the tackle. Even some of the players not involved in that particular play ran out to celebrate with the rookie.
"It's always exciting feeling the energy from your teammates," Gonzalez said with a smile.
Another play that featured uncommon physicality came when Matt Sokol caught a short hook route from Mac Jones and Ja’Whaun Bentley immediately punched the ball out of the tight end's hands. The ensuing fight for the loose ball was intense as Sokol eventually was able to retain possession, although in a game situation it more than likely would have been ruled an incomplete pass.
Perhaps the most glaring example of the tackling came during a 1-on-1 pursuit drill that Bill Belichick uses every year. The difference on Thursday was the nature of the tackling. Players lined up in a confined area and the ball carrier tried to make the defender miss. Usually the defenders get in position to make a play but tap the runner on the hip and it's on to the next rep. Instead, linebackers and defensive backs were taking the running backs and receivers to the ground.
It was interesting to watch the increase in the physicality over the last two days. Perhaps Belichick hasn't been happy with the tackling his team has displayed in the early part of recent seasons and decided to make some changes to the routine. Regardless of the reason, it was a departure from what has typically been the norm.
In addition to the tackling, here are one man's observations from Day 8 of training camp.
*It was status quo in terms of attendance on Thursday as Ty Montgomery (sixth straight), Terez Hall (fourth) and Cole Strange (third) all missed practice. Montgomery and Strange did make an appearance late in practice wearing their jerseys and carrying their helmets. Both wore sleeves on their left legs and appeared to have done some conditioning work. Mike Onwenu (ankle, PUP), Cody Davis (knee, PUP) and Calvin Anderson (NFI) all remain out.
*Marte Mapu remains in the red, non-contact jersey and spoke after practice and said he felt close to 100 percent. He added that he defers to the coaching staff and explained how ultimately they will determine the course of action going forward. Until then he remains in red. Rookie tight end Johnny Lumpkin was also in red on Thursday.
*Wide receiver Ed Lee was released on Wednesday and newcomer Thyrick Pitts switched from the No. 13 he donned in his first practice to Lee's 67.
*Julian Edelman was at practice and spent some time addressing the team after practice. No word on whether he had any advice for rookie Demario Douglas, who looks to be making a push to become the team's next option in the slot.
*Kendrick Bourne has enjoyed a couple of strong days in pads, catching more passes in team action than had been the case. Bourne has been especially impressive in 1-on-1s but also came up with a big play in red zone work. Bourne got behind Gonzalez and slipped into a gap in coverage and caught a beautiful ball from Mac Jones at the sideline at about the 2 for a 15-yard pickup. Bourne looks shifty and more comfortable as of late.
*Jack Jones was involved in a play with Bourne and left the practice soon thereafter. Jones made a diving play to prevent a Bourne reception on an out-route, and then began a vocal celebration. I have no idea what may have transpired from that point, but Jones soon walked off the practice fields with Jabrill Peppers doing his best to offer some advice as they made their way toward the stairs leading back to the locker room. About 25 minutes later Jones returned in full uniform but took a knee well away from the rest of his teammates. Player personnel director Matt Groh spent time chatting with the corner, as did Jalen Mills, but Jones sat out the rest of practice.
*The punters worked on plus-50 kicking throughout the practice. Matthew Slater was in midseason form as he raced downfield and made a leaping play to prevent a touchback on one of Bryce Baringer's punts.
*The Patriots ran several periods of 11-on-11 and after each quarterback's sets of plays kicker Chad Ryland came out for some field goal work. The rookie made all eight of his attempts which ranged from about 32-48 yards in length. One kick late in practice came after a two-minute drive that saw Mac Jones hit JuJu Smith-Schuster over the middle and the offense rushing off the field as the field goal unit was forced to execute with a running clock. Ryland calmly made the kick to cap off a solid day.
*In addition to Gonzalez, Mac Jones, Chris Board, DeVante Parker, Isaiah Bolden, Malik Cunningham and Mapu all spent time chatting with the media.
*The Patriots will practice again on Friday but it will be inside Gillette Stadium in front of Foxborough residents and season-ticket members only. The practice is set to begin at 6:30 p.m.