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Drops, slips dominate practice; 8/13 camp notes

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On a foggy day that felt more like early autumn than late summer, the heavy rains of the previous day came to a halt. Yet, it seemed like the Patriots had more trouble with footing and ball security than they did when the rain was falling.

Monday's practice session featured numerous slips, falls, and, in particular, dropped passes by receivers, tight ends, and backs.

"Hopefully you're not on film slipping and falling when it's slippery out, but it's good to practice in these type of conditions," remarked WR Chris Hogan.

"This is the 13th day of training camp. These are the type of days that you really have to dig deep, grind through it, focus in on whatever your job is for that day, and try to string together good days of practice even when you're tired or it's slipper and wet outside."

"There's no excuses for it," proclaimed WR Eric Decker. "It's something, obviously, we've got to address. In my mind, that's why God created practice, just to be able to get better and flush that out."

This is only Decker's second full week with the Patriots, and while he was guilty of dropping a few balls today, he also responded with a number of impressive routes and catches.

"It's part of the game. We're all human, going to make mistakes," he continued, "but [they key is] don't let it become a habit. This game is about mental toughness. You have to bounce back. It's not what you do in that moment, it's how you react to it. I've played a lot of football and had a few drops in my day, and many catches as well, so, I know how to bounce back."   

"You've got to move on," Hogan agreed. "This is not something you can dwell on, one drop or mistake. This is a fast-paced game."

Hightower happy to help rookies

In last week's preseason opener versus Washington, two linebackers led the Patriots in tackles with six apiece: Elandon Roberts and rookie Ja'Whaun Bentley.

That Bentley played so well in his first NFL game action came as no surprise to his teammate and elder statesman of the Patriots linebackers, Dont'a Hightower.

"[Bentley]'s a smart kid, eager to learn, fast learner. He's a big kid, quick on his feet. He's going to be a good ballplayer. The way he plays is the way he practices, so, he's definitely one of the guys who literally takes the practice-execution-becomes-game-reality [maxim seriously].

"He's a young guy, always asking questions. I mean, he can cover, he can do a little bit of everything," added Hightower. "He's still obviously got a ways to go being a rookie, but every day he wants to get better, and that's a great way to start."

As a rookie in 2012, Dont'a Hightower had a number of veteran linebackers on whom he could lean as he got adjusted to life in the NFL. Players like Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Niko Koutouvides were pivotal, he recalled Monday, in helping Hightower grow as a rookie.

Today, as a returning Patriots co-captain, Hightower finds himself in the role of a mentor to other young players at his position, like draft picks Ja'Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam.

"That's one thing that we're good at – not just this defense but this team – is wanting to help one another, whether it's young or old," Hightower observed. "We're all able to learn from each other, from different techniques to different experiences and examples."

Coming off the field from a recent practice, Hightower and Sam were engaged in a deep conversation as they passed by reporters.  

"I just kind of gave him my experience and how it was when I came in," Hightower revealed, "how that transition from OTAs to training camp to preseason… kind of affects you. Sam's a good kid, he's obviously good at learning and willing to ask those extra questions. You know, anything I can do for those young boys. I guess I'm the old head.

"They're trying to get me a rocking chair in there, man," the 28-year-old Hightower joked. "I'm not that old."

Kicking some ideas around

The NFL instituted new rules this season regarding kickoffs and kickoff returns. Mainly, kickoff team players (aside from the kicker) can't take long running starts anymore, and at least eight players on the receiving team must be around midfield before the ball is kicked.

These changes were implemented with player safety in mind, as kickoffs have traditionally caused more serious head injuries, according to a recent NFL study, than any other play in football.

When asked about how these new guidelines are impacting the way his team is strategizing about kickoffs, Bill Belichick downplayed their significance.

"The new rules aren't really new rules," the head coach maintained. "They've taken out a couple things. They haven't really changed anything. I mean, you still can block who you can block. They took out the wedge and they changed a couple of alignments, but that's not really – I mean, there's a lot of teams that lined up five [players on either side of the kicker] to kick the ball off. I mean, in the history of football, there's like probably at least a billion examples of that.

"So, they shortened the take off a little bit, alright, and they have changed the alignment a little bit. I would say for a lot of teams, the alignments on the kickoff return, really teams had those alignments anyway. I'm not saying it's the same, but there are a lot of teams that did align like that.

"There's only so much you can do," he concluded, "and everybody's pretty much seen everything one way or another over a period of time anyway, whether it's this year, last year, however far back you want to go. So, there's not a whole lot that's like, I would say, brand new. So, in the end, it's your personnel or their personnel and seeing how it's utilized."

Stock Watch

Buy: Ryan Allen – The veteran punter seems to have put considerable distance between himself and rookie challenger Corey Bojorquez.  

Sell: Pass Catchers – It was a tough day all around for the Patriots passing game, which saw dropped balls in the double digits during drills and team periods.

Play of the Day: During a 1-on-1 period between receivers and defensive backs, QB Tom Brady dropped a precision pass downfield to WR Chris Hogan. He hauled in the pass one-handed over his left shoulder, which drew loud cheers from the fans seated nearby. It looked like he was on his way to an easy score, but rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson caught up to Hogan and used great technique to punch the ball out before Hogan could reach the goal line.

Quote of the Day: "You all know I'm not talking about anybody's injuries, so, there's no point in even bringing that up." ~ Bill Belichick

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