The final practice open to the public took place under the typically beautiful sunny skies that have dominated training camp this summer, and there were some welcome additions to the Patriots.
After missing the last two weeks, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was back in pads wearing a brace on his left knee doing mostly rehab work. Linebacker Jerod Mayo, who missed all of the work with Philadelphia last week, also returned.
But the biggest news of the day involved not players returning to the field but players returning to full-time duty. Rob Gronkowski took part in his first full squad work, catching a boat load of passes during a very busy day for the tight end. He did go back to the full brace on his left arm that he had discarded last week, but it was as active as we've seen the former All-Pro this summer.
Early in practice the tight end caught a pass and was stripped by Malcolm Butler as he tried to turn upfield. It was another solid play by Butler and perhaps was the lone sign of rust for Gronk, who had an otherwise terrific day.
!In addition to Gronkowski, rookie first-round pick Dominique Easley also took his first full-team reps, working inside and out up front for the Patriots defense. He showcased his speed and power, looking impressive on some pass rushes against Ryan Wendell and later Dan Connolly. Easley looks to have the explosiveness most draft experts said he possessed at Florida.
While the emergence of Gronkowski and Easley earned the headlines, here are some other blogservations from today's practice, the 17th and final one open to the fans this summer.
-The Patriots did have some bad news on the absentee front as Sebastian Vollmer was not present for the practice. Vollmer played right tackle against the Eagles and did not appear to suffer an injury but there was no word explaining his absence. The rest of the injury list was comprised of Tyler Gaffney (knee), D.J. Williams (leg), Cameron Gordon (unknown), Chris Jones (ankle) and Sealer Siliga (hand).
Rookie wide receiver Jeremy Gallon was in full pads and therefore was removed from the active/PUP list. He took part in drills with the wideouts but did not participate in any competitive work. Rookie offensive lineman Chris Martin was in pads after spending the entire camp on the non-football injury list. He spent the afternoon rehabbing on the lower field before joining the offense on the sideline for the rest of practice.
Rookie center Bryan Stork and linebacker James Anderson also were in full pads and ran with Hoomanawanui and Martin on the lower field. Tavon Wilson, Kanorris Davis and Ja'Gared Davis, each of whom has been limited recently, all were in full pads and took part in practice.
One final attendance note, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly was not on the field for the start of practice but walked out in full pads about an hour and 15 minutes into the workout. He took part in the rest of the workout.
-Two Patriots newcomers were also in full pads. Defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Ben Bass practiced fully for the first time. Bill Belichick was asked about Worthy, a former second-round pick, before practice.
Check out our favorite photos from the training camp at Gillette Stadium on Monday, August 18, 2014.
"He didn't play very much last year [but] played quite a bit his rookie year," he said. "He was a good player coming out of Michigan State, played well in a good conference against good people. He has some athleticism and he has some size. We'll see how it all fits together for us. I'm happy to be working with him and we'll see how it goes."
Later in practice both went to the back of the left field to get some work in with assistant strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera.
-The offensive line continues to feature a variety of looks. Early in practice during some 9-on-7 drills the group consisted of, from left to right, Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon. Fleming played right tackle at Stanford and has been at that spot exclusively during camp until today. Later during some down-and-distance work, Wendell replaced Connolly at center with the others remaining intact.
In an interesting development later in the practice the offense worked on the left field while the second special teams portion of the day was taking place on the right field. Instead of all of the offensive players working together, the group had an offensive line that looked quite familiar – Solder, Mankins, Wendell, Connolly with Cannon replacing Vollmer at right tackle, as he did during the second half of last season when Vollmer was on IR.
In addition, Tom Brady had five receivers – Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Brandon LaFell and Aaron Dobson – as well as Gronkowski. LaFell and Dobson served as backups and mirrored the receivers as Brady ran through several plays. I hadn't seen the entire offense work off to the side like that before during camp, and it's noteworthy that the returning starters up front were present. It's also noteworthy that Josh Boyce, who is fighting for his roster life, was not present during the work, although with punt work taking place on the other field it's possible the coaches wanted him to help in that regard.
-James Develin continues to showcase his versatility and he caught a lot of passes on Monday. He was used as a receiver split out wide and also as an H-back type coming out of the backfield. He has really soft hands for such a physical player. On one rep he was lined up wide opposite Darrelle Revis – not exactly the kind of matchup the offense is looking for.
-During some early 7-on-7 work, Kyle Arrington had great coverage on a deep ball intended for Danny Amendola. Arrington was stride-for-stride with the wideout and should have intercepted Ryan Mallett's pass but dropped it. Still nice to see Arrington in such solid position.
-Brady and Gronkowski continued their side sessions on Monday but Revis did not join them. Brady really worked the tight end hard, throwing dozens of passes to him in a short period, working on various angles in the red zone. Gronk looked gassed as he went to the next period.
-The punt team work seemed to be more animated than is normally the case. Perhaps this is due to the struggles the group had Friday night against the Eagles when Ryan Allen has a punt blocked. Special teams coach Scott O'Brien was quite vocal throughout both periods.
Logan Ryan and Kanorris Davis were the first set of gunners while Malcolm Butler and Boyce served as the second pair. Nate Ebner (first) and Duron Harmon were the personal protectors while Edelman, Amendola and Roy Finch were the punt returners.
-Shortly after the first special teams period, Bill Belichick called the entire team into a huddle and addressed the players briefly. It did not appear to be an overly animated discussion but the coach likely wasn't happy with some aspect of the practice to that point.
-Early defensive work featured Will Smith and Joe Vellano at the ends around Vince Wilfork in the middle. With Kelly late, it offered an opportunity for Smith to get some reps with the first group. The rest of the defense had Devin McCourty and Arrington at safety and Revis and Alfonzo Dennard at corner. Mayo was not with the linebackers at that point as Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones handled those duties.
-There was a brief scare about midway through practice when Mallett overthrew Edelman near the left sideline. The wideout went up to grab the errant throw and landed awkwardly before taking his time to get back to the huddle. He appeared to be shaken up, but he remained in the lineup for the next play and took part fully in the rest of the day's work.
-Dobson ran some sprints on his own shortly after the offense finished its side work during the second special teams segment.
-Belichick said before practice that there wouldn't be much in the way of game planning for the Carolina Panthers game on Friday night. The Patriots did do some Panthers stuff, however, as several players donned yellow jerseys with numbers on them. Brian Tyms, Justin Jones, Derrick Johnson and Wilson Van Hooser wore 13, 88, 82 and 81, numbers worn by Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olson, Jerricho Cotchery andJason Avant, respectively. Interestingly, Jones and Van Hooser wore the yellow jerseys despite wearing the same numbers of the players that were simulating. OK, maybe it wasn't that interesting.
-Anderson stepped in front of a late Brady pass and picked it off for a would-be pick-6 down the sideline. In one of the funnier moments, Wendell, who wasn't part of the offensive line on the play, chased Anderson down near the goal line.
-Several Patriots spent time with the media on Monday including Gronkowski, Worthy, Bass, Develin, McCourty, Easley, Stevan Ridley and the Hooman.
-The Patriots will begin their normal routine on Tuesday with the media attending only about a 20-minute window of practice and having access to the players during an open locker room period. This is the set up throughout the regular season.