The midway point of the preseason is typically the deadline for injured players to get on the field if they're reasonably to be expected to contribute at the start of the season. With that in mind it was great to see a pair of potential contributors back in uniform for the first time this summer on Monday.
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson and rookie first-round pick Dominique Easley were in the fold with their teammates, donning shells and helmets after missing the first 12 practices of camp. While neither did more than participate in positional drills at the start of practice, it was at least a positive step in their recoveries.
Check out a selection of our favorite photos from Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium on Monday, August 11, 2014.
Dobson, who underwent surgery on his foot to repair a stress fracture, entered camp on the physically unable to perform list. Easley opened on the non-football injury list while recovering from a torn ACL suffered last September while at Florida.
Bill Belichick was asked about each player prior to the start of practice and said they were "making progress." Moments later the pair was seen on the practice field in uniform.
Continuing with the positive injury theme, Rob Gronkowski and Alfonzo Dennard made strides in their rehab as well. Gronkowski has been in uniform throughout camp but had been limited to positional drills until Monday when he added some 7-on-7 work against the defense. He donned a red, non-contact jersey for the drills but made several catches working against the secondary.
Dennard also had been relegated to the positional drills while he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. He, too, took part in the 7-on-7 work for the first time, indicating the pair is closer to returning to full contact work.
On the negative side, cornerback Brandon Browner was not in uniform for Monday's practice and was nowhere to be seen. Browner appeared to come up gimpy at one point during Sunday's workout and did not take part in team portions late in the practice. Afterward he appeared to be limping slightly as he walked toward the locker room.
Butler sees red
Browner's absence opened the door for rookie Malcolm Butler to continue in his quest to earn an unlikely roster spot. Butler had a solid showing in the preseason loss at Washington and followed that up with a couple of solid practices Sunday and Monday.
With Browner out he took several reps opposite Darrelle Revis with the first group and he acquitted himself quite well. He was particularly tough on Kenbrell Thompkins, getting the better of the second-year wideout on a couple of occasions.
None was more glaring than during an 11-on-11 period midway through practice when Tom Brady tried to hit Thompkins on a 15-yard out, only to watch Butler undercut the receiver and pick the pass off near the sideline. Butler made a terrific read on the play and broke on the ball perfectly.
Belichick spoke about Butler before practice and seems to be impressed with the West Alabama product.
"I think he's done a good job every day, coming out there being ready to compete," Belichick said. "He's a got a long way to go. He's got a lot to learn. There are a lot of things different here than where he played and who he played against. He's learning every day, he works hard, and he's gotten better on a daily basis.
"We'll see how it goes this week against Philadelphia. It'll be another big week for all of our young players, and then Carolina, and then at some point we'll have to start making some type of evaluation of whether some of these younger players, whether their performances are escalating, leveling off or declining. As all the multiples and the practices and the games and all start to pile up, that will take a toll on some and some it won't and we'll just have to let that play itself out. There's really no way to predict how that's going to go until we see it. So, we'll see."
It's no secret that Brady has loads of respect for former Baltimore defensive stalwarts Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. Both Brady and Belichick have frequently loaded the former All-Pros, and the quarterback used the pair of Ravens as a comparison to one of his current teammates – Darrelle Revis.
Speaking on SportsRadio WEEI in Boston Monday morning, Brady explained the similarities between Revis and his former rivals.
"It's been so fun to go against [Revis] because he challenges every throw, he challenges every play, he's really just so smart and so instinctive," Brady said.
"I played against Ed Reed for a long time and just a little bit of an example, Ed Reed he'd play the deep middle of the field but sometimes he'd make tackles 3 yards from the line of scrimmage when his responsibility was 40 yards down the field. You'd say, 'God, how did he know that the team was running a shallow cross?' He just knew. He saw something and that freedom of his deep-field responsibility allowed him to play with confidence that the ball was going to be [in] a certain spot.
"That's a lot how 'Reeve' is. You don't know what he sees, or what he knows, but he always is in the right place and has incredible instincts for a corner when sometimes he runs the routes [before] the receivers. He has great intuition and he obviously sees everything on the field. He sees the quarterback, he sees the split of the receiver, he sees the eyes of the receiver, he sees the technique of the receiver coming off the line of scrimmage, and it's probably hard for him to explain at times what he sees. He just sees everything and he makes great breaks on the ball. That's what makes a great defensive player -- the anticipation.
"Ray Lewis was another one, where when you would play-action, he wouldn't even step toward the line of scrimmage. He would just drop back into a zone, and when you'd run the ball, he'd be downhill faster than anybody. He just recognized plays and combinations; it's a great skill and the instincts for a particular player.
"Reeve has definitely got all those traits, and I knew that when I played against him with the Jets. He was so good for them. He eliminates a big part of the field for a particular offense, so you always have to know what you're doing when you throw the ball in his area, because you know he's going to be right there closing on the ball."
Moore to learn
Rookie sixth-round pick Zach Moore has been rather quiet thus far in camp, which is understandable for a player making the sizable leap from Division II Concordia-St. Paul to the NFL. While he hasn't received too many reps with the front-line players, Moore does show some power and pass rushing ability occasionally in one-on-one drills.
During the Redskins game he showed both promise and the lack of experience that comes with his limited background. Moore showcased a quality bull rush early but also was caught out of position trying to defend the run on other occasions.
Considering the jump Moore is trying to make, some inconsistencies are to be expected.
"He would have one of the biggest, no question, one of the biggest," Belichick said of Moore's ascension from Division II. "He's been out here every day, works hard. We've got a long way to go, but [he's] getting better. He works on a lot of little things, he's in good condition, he's taken a lot of reps and he'll need to take a lot more, but he's making progress. Works hard. No issues, just a long way to go."
Buy: Jordan Devey – The first-year offensive lineman continues to get reps with the first group. On Monday he manned the right guard spot while Dan Connolly moved inside to center. Devey started and played throughout the opener in Washington and could be making a push for a roster spot.
Sell: Josh Boyce – Boyce has some electricity to his game but thus far has been far too inconsistent for much of that to show. Boyce generally gets three or four chances to make big plays every practice and half of them usually fall incomplete for one reason or another. He needs to fine tune his game a bit.
Play of the Day – There's little chance even the worst official would have allowed it but Julian Edelman's one-handed catch was a thing of beauty. Edelman was running a deep route against Kyle Arrington, and as Tom Brady's pass was in the air, the wideout grabbed a hold of Arrington's shoulder and pulled him off stride. At the same time he reached with his other hand and snagged the bomb in stride.
Chung tunes up
Chung Changing Lives, an organization founded by safety Patrick Chung and his wife Cecilia, in partnership with the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center Inc., is hosting its second Jam Session at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m. The session showcases the musical talents of its Summer Music Academy for Real Teens, which is a free, six-week intensive music program for teens that enables them to develop their music skills. Chung has a passion for music – his dad was a music producer and his mom a popular reggae singer in the 1980s. For tickets to the reception and jam session, visit chungchanginglives.org.
The Patriots will host the Eagles tomorrow for the first of two joint sessions with Philadelphia. Practice will get underway at 2 p.m. with Belichick's press conference scheduled for 1:45. Tuesday and Wednesday's practices will be the final ones open to the public during training camp.