The Patriots took to the game field Friday night inside of Gillette Stadium for a season ticket member practice in front of nearly 23,000 fans following Ty Law's induction into the Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon. Under the lights of a beautiful warm night in Foxborough the bulk of the 90-minute practice action went to younger and unproven players, many of the types that will see the bulk of preseason action in the coming weeks.
Check out our favorite photos from the in-stadium training camp practice for season ticket members held on Friday, August 1, 2014.
Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Garoppolo each ran long series on offense in team action, while Tom Brady spent the bulk of the session on the sidelines chatting with Patriots Hall of Famers and other alumni. Even Bill Belichick spent time on the sideline talking with newest team Hall inductee Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Troy Brown, Rodney Harrison and others.
The action on the field wasn't as crisp as Belichick would probably have liked, as both Mallett and Garoppolo struggled including interceptions, incompletions and even disrupted handoffs with running backs. There were also segments focused on all four phases of the kicking game as the night certainly had the feel of a dress rehearsal for preseason action.
Here are one man's blogservations from the red-level press box high above the game surface at Gillette Stadium:
--There were 10 players absent from the workout. That included Aaron Dobson (PUP/foot), Jeremy Gallon (PUP/unknown), Dominique Easley (NFI/ACL), Deontae Skinner (NFI/unknown), Chris Martin (NFI/unknown), Jemea Thomas, Bryan Stork, Michael Hoomanawanui, Tyler Gaffney (knee) and Cameron Gordon.
--Rookie quarterback Garoppolo was the first player on the field to begin warmups before practice. He's also been one of the last players on the field throughout camp.
--Rookie running back Roy Finch joined the pre-practice warmups shortly thereafter, taking punt return reps from the Jugs machine under the early watchful eye of special teams coach Scott O'Brien.
--Rob Ninkovich was on the field early working on some long snapping. The veteran linebacker was a long snapper early in his career and remains a backup/emergency option at that spot in New England.
--Braxston Cave, an offensive lineman, stood next to Mallett to catch the ball being returned to the quarterback when he was warming up prior to practice. That's a role generally filled by a receiver, not a big lineman. Must be camp.
--Taylor McCuller wore a white jersey for the practice, indicative of an offensive player, though he still had the gray pants worn by defenders. The rookie is listed as a linebacker but has dabbled at tight end/fullback this spring/summer, and at least for this night seemed to make the transition to the white squad. He worked with the running backs during early practice drills and then moved over to work with the tight ends. For the record, long snapper Danny Aiken also wears No. 48 in white.
--The group of players working on punt returns pre-practice included Finch, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Patrick Chung, James White, Brandon LaFell and Wilson Van Hooser.
--Rob Gronkowski took part in the pre-practice installation period with the offense, including a Hail Mary attempt which he caught short of the goal line and then tossed up for a waiting Kenbrell Thompkins in the end zone. Of course, that would be an illegal forward pass.
--Dan Connolly returned to his usual right guard spot in pre-practice work. Marcus Cannon had taken the bulk of the top-level right guard reps the last three workouts. Cannon took some right tackle reps early on.
--Tom Brady and Mallett continue to race during pre-practice running. Mallett got the better of Brady by a toe on the seemingly most intense of the runs.
--With the game-field setting the team did a game-like warmup that included pass catchers in two lines with quarterbacks at opposite ends of the half-field throwing to them.
--Dave DeGuglielmo's offensive line group did a drill that looked almost like a low lunge walk early in the session. The strange walk reminded me of Tedy Bruschi's interception touchdown celebration back in the day.
--James Develin looked pretty good catching passes running the square drill with the tight ends. He's definitely more athletic than you might think of a converted defensive lineman and fullback type and has pretty soft hands.
--The defense has worked on a number of different odd-man fronts with Vince Wilfork over the center over the last couple practices. The ends in that 34 look during pre-practice action Friday night included Tommy Kelly on the left side with Chris Jones/Will Smith on the other. The linebackers on the outside were Rob Ninkovich and Dont'a Hightower with Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo inside. Another group at linebacker included Darius Fleming and Michael Buchanan at outside 'backer. Interesting to see Collins on the inside and not Hightower.
--A ball boy had taped tennis racquets to force quarterbacks to throw over him in seven-on-seven.
--Law, freshly inducted in the Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon, was on the sideline wearing his red Patriots Hall of Fame jacket during the practice. Troy Brown, also wearing his red Hall jacket, was on the sideline as well. Rodney Harrison and a few other former Patriots also joined the fun. Brady came over to say hello to the alums.
--Travis Hawkins and James White were back deep for the first kickoff return rep in team special teams action. After that duo took a few reps, Chung came on with White to take a free kick from Ryan Allen.
--Logan Ryan picked off Ryan Mallett's first pass down the left sideline in the first rep of 11-on-11 team action.
--Finch took a pass in the right flat on the right side in the second rep. He burst up the sideline and was tackled by Steve Beauharnais out of bounds, up ending a group of defensive players along the home sideline. Finch and Kanorris Davis both stayed on the turf for a while and were looked at by trainers. Davis eventually got up with a smile on his face and walked it off. Finch stayed down the longest, before eventually getting up and seemingly limping a bit with a lower body ailment.
--Van Hooser was the only offensive player on the first unit of kickoff coverage in full team special teams work. I could see the undrafted receiver being a preseason cult sensation. I also think he needs a nickname.
--Stephen Houston had a nice long run off the left side in team action. The big rookie has been quiet for most of camp but has the look of a guy who could compete for a backup spot.
--Garoppolo struggled leading his offense in team action. He spun out of a possible sack and then threw the ball high on one rep and was sacked on the next. Then he badly overthrew Houston down the right sideline when the back had a step on Chris White in coverage. Mixed in with all his incompletions, Garoppolo also ran into Jonas Gray on a handoff. The young player continues to struggle to get any rhythm when on the field.
--Mallett wasn't much better. He had the interception, badly missed a deep ball to Derrick Johnson, turned the wrong way on a handoff and was sacked. Not a great showing for the fourth-year veteran.
--Nate Ebner continues to work as the personal protector on punt reps. As he battles for a job as a safety and with his other special teams duties, Ebner's versatility in the kicking game could help his cause.
--Punting from the 46-yard line, Allen put a punt inside the 5 on a pretty plus-50 effort. Scout returner Brandon LaFell let it go over his head and bounce, only to see it fall dead.
--Chung took the first punt return rep in a team special teams segment against a scout punt team.
--The game field gave us a look at the new extended goal post uprights for the first time. Not surprisingly, the extra 5 feet makes them looks noticeably taller.
--Bill Belichick, Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty spoke to the media after the workout.
--The players all signed autographs for quite some time for the fans in attendance. Brady got a massive applause from the crowd.
--The Patriots players will be off from practice on Saturday, their first day off since Monday.
--New England will then travel to Washington, actually to Richmond, Va., on Sunday in advance of joint practices with the Redskins on Monday (8:35 am), Tuesday (1:35 pm) and Wednesday (8:35 am). The teams will then open the preseason on Thursday night in Washington.