The New England Patriots held a special Training Camp practice for season ticket members inside Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, August 5, 2015.
After three straight practices in full pads the Patriots dialed it down a notch for their annual in-stadium practice in front of season-ticket members and Foxborough residents on Wednesday night. The lively crowd may not have gotten as much physical action as has been taking place on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium during camp, but Bill Belichick was still pleased with work of his team
"Stadium day. Always good to be out here," he began. "We got some work in the red area, some two-point plays, third down, third-and-long, we did all the kicking situations – get in the stadium and deal with the daylight to night, which is what it's going to be in the preseason. Just keep grinding it out."
The grinding on this night was done mostly by the offense, which was led primarily by Jimmy Garoppolo, who received the lion's share of reps. Things weren't always smooth but the young backup still felt the process was beneficial.
"A little bit of everything really. Getting in and out of the huddle, reading coverages … it's a day-by-day thing. We have a long way to go and we're just trying to go in the right direction," Garoppolo said. "Being in the stadium is always nice. Different atmosphere in here."
Newcomer Jabaal Sheard felt the same way about being inside the stadium.
"It's a little louder and there's a lot more energy," he said. "Compared to normal practice there's just a lot more energy in here. Guys have fun out here."
Hitting the slots
It would be hard to imagine any veteran newcomer receiving less fanfare than Brandon Gibson has thus far as a Patriot. But if the receiver continues to progress as he has during training camp, there's a chance people will have plenty to say about him this season.
Gibson signed a one-year deal with the Patriots shortly after the Dolphins let him go in February. The 6-0, 210-pound wideout has been a productive slot receiver when healthy during his career, but lately those occasions have been few and far between.
His most significant injury came in a game against the Patriots two years ago when he tore his patellar tendon as a member of the Dolphins in October of 2013. His return was predictably slow as he caught just 29 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown last year in 14 games with Miami, but he now says he's feeling good and looking forward to contributing any way he can.
"Physically I'm where I want to be," Gibson said. "I'm just doing everything I can to stay positive and work hard. I'm just a football player, really. So, for me, it's just doing what I've got to do to make sure I get open."
Gibson has had some strong practices this summer, most notably on Tuesday when Julian Edelman's absence opened the door for more opportunities. He said his familiarity with the Patriots offense from his time in St. Louis with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in 2011 has been a plus.
"I'm somewhat familiar with [the system], so for me I kind of understand it and kind of what it takes and what Coach McDaniels expects," said Gibson, who added that McDaniels convinced him New England would be a good landing spot.
"He explained that he felt that I was a good player and can fit into the system," Gibson said. "So, that was a good thing for me."
While Gibson's production has been down as of late, he did catch 51 passes for 691 yards and five touchdowns with the Rams in 2012. He also feels he's capable of playing outside as well as the slot, and the Patriots could use some depth behind Brandon LaFell in the former role.
Given the presence of Edelman and Danny Amendola in the slot, perhaps Gibson's versatility could land him a spot on the roster. That would certainly get people talking.
Not standing PAT
Belichick has been a proponent of moving the extra point back to make it a more challenging play and the league agreed, moving the line of scrimmage for point after kicks to the 15-yard line. The line for two-point conversions will remain at the 2, and the subtle changes will lead to some changes in preparation for the Patriots.
"We'll practice it the way it is," Belichick said. "I mean, you could still end up kicking a shorter field goal, particularly from a hash mark and changing the angle for the kicker and all that. Yeah, absolutely, we'll practice the extra points from where they're going to spot them this year and probably spend a little bit more time in terms of our preparation – I don't think it'll be dramatic – but just a little bit more time on two-point plays in case teams decide to use that strategy."
In terms of how the team will approach things during the regular season, Belichick indicated he expects to see some differences.
"We've talked a little bit about that. Again, I think it's kind of a marginal thing," he said. "I don't think the pendulum swung one way or the other, but I think marginally it's a little bit more toward a two-point attempt than an extra point.
"But still, even extra point numbers from the 15-yard line are still in the high 90s, but it's not 99.6 or whatever it's been. We're talking marginally, but it's still a difference. I don't think it will have a dramatic shift in the strategy, but I think we'll have some in certain situations and we'll have to be conscious of that. Again, to me the extra point was automatic. When you're talking over 99 percent, it's an automatic play. Now, it's less than that. It's still high, but it's less than that."
In recent years the Patriots have conducted joint practices with two different teams during the preseason. Last year they traveled to Washington to work with the Redskins before hosting the Eagles for a week of practices with Philadelphia.
This year that will change as Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy has expressed his dislike for joint practices, so there will no workouts with the Packers, New England's first preseason opponent.
Belichick was asked what if anything his team will miss by conducting just one set of joint practices.
"I think you're probably really talking about two to three days is what it really amounts to and the tradeoff would be the competition of those practices, measuring your scheme, looking at players in different matchups and that type of thing versus your development and your installation as a team," Belichick began. "Whenever we've done that against another opponent or even this year doing it against New Orleans, I'd say the idea isn't to go in there and try to put in a bunch of new things. It would be to run what we have in to that point against that team. So, what you gain from that I think is kind of offset a little bit by the fact that you're not really putting in something, you're not advancing your scheme. You're kind of holding your scheme steady and trying to take the time to evaluate players.
"And there are certainly a lot of benefits to both. When you're practicing with yourself, then you kind of structure your practice where you can install something new. You work on it as an individual; you're working on it in group drills – 9-on-7, 7-on-7, half-line – whatever it is, and then you work on it as a team. And then you come off the field and you've put in something new, you've had a progression and hopefully you have a better understanding and you can do it.
"It's not really something I think you'd want to do – maybe a little bit of – but I'd say not very much of against another team. You want to run what you know, what you're confident in and see how it looks. Like I said, maybe what we're not getting on the competitive evaluation side, I think we have more time in terms of our installation than we had last year. So, there's a little bit of a tradeoff there. I don't know if it's good or bad, but whatever the time is we try to use it and get the most out of it, so that's what we're doing."
Buy: Josh Boyce – It's been a rather quiet camp thus far for the wideout but he flashed on a couple of occasions inside Gillette Stadium. He got deep down the seam early in practice and hauled in a would-be touchdown from Jimmy Garoppolo before getting deep again later, this time victimizing Jimmy Jean. Boyce showed his explosive speed on both and was able to complete the plays by making the catch. A nice night for Boyce.
Sell: Jimmy Garoppolo –The backup quarterback took the majority of reps under the lights and he did not make the most of his chances. His reads appeared slow and his passes were often off target. The offense was quite sluggish under his direction with false starts, batted passes and general lethargy prevailing. In Garoppolo's defense, he was working without Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, the team's two top targets.
Play of the Day –It wasn't all bad for Garoppolo as he delivered a beautiful deep ball to Boyce in 11-on-11 action. After a deliberate play-action fake and deep drop, Garoppolo watched Boyce race past Jimmy Jean deep across the middle and dropped a perfect bomb into his hands for a huge gain.
Rookie sixth-round pick AJ Derby, who made an appearance on opening day of camp but hasn't been seen since, was waived on Wednesday. The 6-5, 255-pound Derby was a college quarterback for most of his time at Arkansas but made the switch to tight end in 2014. If he clears waivers he would be placed on the Patriots injured reserve list.
There were also a few additions to absentee list as running back Dion Lewis, linebacker Darius Fleming and wide receiver Brian Tyms missed their first practices of the summer. Tyms was carted off after taking a bit hit from Robert McClain in Tuesday's practice and appeared to suffer an arm/shoulder injury.
Julian Edelman missed his second straight day of work while Tyler Gaffney, Marcus Cannon and Joe Vellano also were not seen on the field. Elsewhere the lists remained unchanged with Matthew Slater, Brandon LaFell, Dane Fletcher, Chris White, Ryan Wendell and Chris Jones on PUP and Matt Flynn, Caylin Hauptmann and Alan Branch on NFI. … Rob Gronkowski was on the field but didn't appear to take any reps during the practice. ... The Patriots will be at it again on Thursday back on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium with practice set to begin at 1:45 p.m.