For the first time since early June, Kony Ealy took part in a Patriots practice. The veteran defense end suited up Friday after taking "visual reps" from the sideline in shorts and a t-shirt on Thursday. This marked his first on-field activity since leaving practice midway through June's mini-camp.
After Friday's session, Ealy told reporters his situation yesterday was not injury-related.
"Just something that me and coach – you'd have to ask Coach Bill [Belichick], me and him had something going or whatever," he tried to explain. Belichick would only divulge "He's here," when asked directly by a reporter about Ealy Friday.
The player maintained that he is okay with whatever the issue was between them.
"Am I going to go against what Coach Belichick says? No," Ealy chuckled. He also claimed that he couldn't recall the reason for his abrupt, premature departure from mini-camp.
"At the end of the day, my job is to come here and do everything I need to do for the team and do the right things on and off the field… other than that, just excited to be back here and ready to go. Feels great to be back out here with the brothers, man. We're out here grinding and trying to better ourselves. I'm feeling great."
The 25-year-old added that he "can't wait" to don full pads this weekend and "get a little physical."
"Every day is the first day of practice in my mind, just starting over and not taking anything for granted… You never stop working."
Amendola, Mitchell join absentee list
While Ealy's return was a positive development, the Patriots were without the services of wide receivers Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell. The reasons for their absences remain unclear.
For the second consecutive day, New England also missed defensive end Rob Ninkovich and long snapper Joe Cardona. According to Belichick, both of those players are away from the field for "personal reasons." Cardona's Naval reserve commitments are reportedly the cause of his absence, but Ninkovich's situation is unclear.
"Well, when they are [ready to return], I'll be sure to notify you," Belichick added.
Action heats up
Second-year cornerback Cyrus Jones and veteran wide receiver Chris Hogan had some words after a play early in practice. Hogan beat Jones on a pass route and caught the ball along the sideline. As he was going out of bounds, Jones shoved him from behind.
Hogan took exception to the late hit and got in Jones' face. The cornerback then shoved Hogan, who decided that cooler heads should prevail and started walking back to the huddle.
Jones, however, didn't want to let it go and punched the ball out of Hogan's hands. The receiver, to his credit, kept his cool and continued back to the huddle.
"It's football. It's an emotional game," Jones explained after practice. "Nothing important. It's over and done with. Can't dwell on stuff like that. It's part of the game."
Fast start for Cooks
Each summer, there are always new faces and jersey numbers that join the Patriots roster. One who's quickly made a positive first impression is wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who arrived via a trade with New Orleans during the offseason.
There seems to be a consensus about what sets him apart on a field full of talented athletes.
"His speed," CB Eric Rowe chuckled. "Everyone sees it, obviously."
"He's fast, man," echoed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. "He's probably one of the fastest people I've ever seen in person."
Cooks' speed was on display on the opening day of camp, when he beat two defenders on a go-route down the left sideline and hauled in a long Tom Brady touchdown pass. To him, though, such eye-opening plays are routine.
"I feel like that's what I'm supposed to do," he said Friday. "I've always been taught to act like you've been there. It's nothing new… I think this game is about the little details. If you strong those together, you get something special."
Belichick remarked that Cooks' focus on "the little details" has impressed the head coach, yet attention to detail is the attribute Cooks says he's most trying to improve since arriving in Foxborough several months ago. He's looking to his QB for guidance there.
"[Brady]'s a professional. His approach to the game, on and off the field, is spectacular, and that's something you look to and model yourself after, especially in the classroom and away from the game as well. As much attention to detail that he pays, I look at that and say, 'OK, I've got a lot of improving to do.' He focuses on everything the same. That's the hardest thing you can do, but it seems like he does it very well."
Much is expected of Cooks, who began his NFL career in New Orleans before being dealt to New England, and he while he embraces the challenge, he also says he feels no pressure to live up to the considerable hype surrounding him.
"I don't think about it. I just think about coming out here, playing my game, doing what I have to do. As long as I get better every day, that's all I'm worried about.
"[I'm] ecstatic to play for this organization… grateful for the opportunity. I expect to give them my all in return."
Buy: Eric Rowe – The third-year cornerback has had a strong start in his first training camp as a Patriot.
Sell: Cyrus Jones – Although he appears to be making progress as a return specialist, the second-year man continues to struggle as a defender.
Play of the Day:In an 11-on-11 action in the red zone, QB Jimmy Garoppolo delivered a back-shoulder throw to WR Devin Lucien, who made a great adjustment in the air to make what looked like a touchdown catch. However, Rowe somehow managed to stick close to Lucien and actually ripped the ball from his grasp. When the two players hit the deck, it was Rowe who still had sole possession of the football for the dramatic interception.