Check out our favorite photos from Patriots Training Camp at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, August 1, 2015.
Day 3 of training camp also means Day 1 with the pads, and no one appeared happier about that fact than LeGarrette Blount.
The big running back was on the sidelines for the first two days of camp while on the non-football injury list, reportedly due to the fact that he failed the conditioning test. If that was indeed the reason he was limited to running sprints with his teammates the first two days, he showed no signs of being out of shape.
Blount was the best running back on the field on Saturday, bursting through holes and cutting and shifting like a man half his size. The 6-0, 250-pound freight train moved around the practice fields more resembling Gale Sayers than Jerome Bettis.
"It felt good. You want to be out there for sure," Blount said. "It's just the process of getting better and you have to do everything you can to get out there with your teammates. I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can to get better.
"It feels good to come out here and get with my teammates. The brotherhood around here is amazing."
In terms of his delayed start to camp, Blount considered it a non-issue. He would not specifically say he failed the conditioning run, nor would he indicate what it entailed. In fact, when asked about not passing, Blount had a simple response.
"I was out here the first day of camp," he said flatly.
Blount will likely get every opportunity to become the lead back given the lack of established players at the position. Jonas Gray was the team's leading rusher a year ago but almost half of that production came in one game against Indy and once Blount returned from Pittsburgh, his contributions were limited.
Tyler Gaffney is coming off a rookie season spent on injured reserve. He's just trying to make it in the NFL as a former sixth-round pick, and he would appear to a longshot to vault Blount on the depth chart. Brandon Bolden is a well-rounded veteran but has never been asked to carry the load on a regular basis. He's more likely a short-term option in a pinch than an ideal every-down back.
That leaves Blount, who hasn't had 200 carries in a season since his rookie year in 2010. Despite his limited opportunities, however, Blount has always been productive when called upon, averaging 4.7 yards or more four times in his six NFL seasons – including last year.
"The job is open. There are a bunch of good running backs here," Blount said. "All of our running backs are pretty good. Everybody has to fight for that position. I'm going to try to get better and see if I can [carry the load]. However many touches they want me to have, I'm sure I'm going to get them and do what I can with them."
Blount wasn't the only member of the team returning to action on Saturday. Second-year defensive tackle Dominique Easley was in full uniform after opening camp on the physically unable to perform list. He was limited to conditioning work during the first two days but was in full pads – wearing his new No. 99 – and participated in some individual drills. Easley showed an impressive burst on one rep, quickly shooting past tackle Marcus Cannon.
After a strong day in the secondary on Friday, the defense continued its early momentum with some impressive play up front as well. Rookie Malcom Brown has been in the mix, at times lining up next to Antonio Johnson, an eighth-year veteran, at defensive tackle. Sealver Siliga has also been in the lineup with that group, and together they clogged some running lanes during 9-on-7 running drills.
In the secondary, Malcolm Butler continued his nice start to camp with some tight coverage – even on some plays when he failed to break up the pass. Butler locked up with Julian Edelman on a couple of occasions, and also showed his speed on deep coverage against Brian Tyms and Aaron Dobson.
Butler has played with an air of confidence from the day he stepped on the field last summer, but the second-year corner appears to be more vocal and comfortable in his second camp as he tries to solidify a spot on the left side.
The linebackers, which included Jerod Mayo in his normal blue jersey but Dont'a Hightower in a non-contact red one, were active and physical as well. Mayo made a terrific pass deflection while covering the shifty James White during a 1-on-1 drill.
Overall it was another positive step for the unit as a whole.
The Patriots announced their offseason award winners with Nate Ebner, Edelman, Jonathan Freeny, Michael Hoomanawanui, Antonio Johnson, Eric Martin, Devin McCourty, Nate Solder and Bryan Stork all being recognized.
Buy: LeGarrette Blount – The running back looked fresh and ready to go after being held out of the first two camp practices. He was light on his feet and sharp with his cuts throughout, even undressing linebacker Jamie Collins during a 1-on-1 pass-catching drill. He also received the first goal-line carry of camp in a later drill. Blount is the most qualified back on the roster and on Saturday he stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Sell: Logan Ryan – Ryan is getting a lot of run in the secondary along with Butler, McCourty and Chung but thus far seems to be struggling. He was beaten badly on a deep route by Josh Boyce but he was fortunate when he was able to knock away the badly underthrown pass. He surrendered a few other completions during 7-on-7 and full team work. He did come up with a nice deflection late in practice but overall he struggled.
Play of the Day – Depending on one's point of view, this play was met with different emotions. Aaron Dobson caught a nice deep out near the sideline, but as he turned upfield Jamie Collins buried him with a should and knocked the ball loose. The great defensive play was obviously viewed as a sloppy offensive one by Bill Belichick because he quickly gathered the entire unit, spoke to them for about a minute and then sent them all for a lap.
Robert Kraft made his daily appearance and drew cheers from the enthusiastic crowd as usual. One leather-lunged fan urged the owner to "keep up the fight" in an obvious reference to the team's ongoing involvement with Deflategate.
In addition to the return of Blount and Easley, there were some other changes to the attendance report. Cornerback Justin Green missed practice for the first time while cornerback Derek Cox and linebacker D.J. Lynch, both of whom left Friday's practice early, were not in uniform. Tight end AJ Derby also missed practiced for the second straight day.
As mentioned earlier, Hightower donned a red jersey, as did rookie linebacker Xzavier Dickson. The remainder of the lists – Matthew Slater, Brandon LaFell, Dane Fletcher, Chris White, Ryan Wendell, Vince Taylor and Chris Jones (PUP), Matt Flynn, Caylin Hauptmann and Alan Branch (NFI) – remained unchanged.
There were a lot of penalty laps taking place in addition to the entire offense. Rob Ninkovich, Siliga, Blount, Edelman and Shaq Mason all were seen running at various times. … All of the running backs received carries at different points of the practice but Bolden got the first one during a 9-on-7 drill. Bolden could be in line for an increased role in the backfield, particularly during Week 1 when Blount will serve a suspension. … Tom Brady worked with his receivers on combination routes near the goal line. Two receivers lined up in bunch formations ran different routes against the defensive backs, and Danny Amendola made a beautiful move on one rep to free himself in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown. … The kickoff team was the focus of the special teams periods. Stephen Gostkowski also got some onside kick work in both on the side with Ryan Allen and for one rep with the kick unit. … Bryan Stork was a standout during the 1-on-1 work against the pass rushers. Nate Solder also manhandled rookie Trey Flowers on one rep. Rufus Johnson got the better of Jordan Devey on another. … Sebastian Vollmer hasn't done much during camp thus far but he did line up at his right tackle spot during some pre-practice work with the offense. … Training camp will continue on Sunday in Foxborough with the Patriots once again scheduled to practice from 9:15 a.m.-11:45 a.m.