Check out our favorite photos from the Patriots organized team activity on Thursday, June 11, 2015 at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots hit the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium Thursday morning for their third organized team activities session of the week and ninth of the spring.
For the third time the media was given access to the workout, which once again took place with players in helmets and either gray or blue shirts, but no jerseys or numbers. (Except for wide receivers Brian Tyms and Aaron Dobson, who had shorts with their numbers on them, as well as the No. 12 on the back of Tom Brady's helmet.)
The biggest news of the day was the return to action in front of the media of Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler. The second-year cornerback actually returned to the practice field earlier this week after reportedly being held out of two weeks (six practices) of OTA work after arriving late to the session on May 26. Butler was late after his flight back to New England was cancelled because of weather.
After practice, in which Butler saw plenty of reps lined up at left cornerback opposite Logan Ryan in a secondary that also included Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, the young corner met with the media.
Butler wouldn't superficially discuss his situation or the reported sidelining.
"I really don't have a comment about that. I'm just glad to get back out here, back participating, getting better. Just trying to get better," Butler said. "I'm really not going to get into that."
He did admit it was difficult to not be on the field with his teammates the last couple weeks, but took it in true Belichickian stride.
"Take anything from somebody they love, it was tough," he said. "But it is what it is."
Butler didn't seem to think he'd missed much, though. "Don't feel like I missed a step. I feel pretty confident."
Bill Belichick, the man who apparently made the decision to sideline Butler, had no response to a question about the discipline and only tangentially addressed how Butler looked in his return to the practice field.
"Been out there. Everybody that's out there is working hard. Guys that aren't out there, we hope we get them back soon," Belichick said.
Here are the rest of one man's blogservations from a practice field away of players only partially discernable due to their lack of jersey numbers:
--A very unofficial count of the players in attendance resulted in 41 offensive players in gray and 34 defensive players in blue for a total of 75 participants. Guys not seen included Jerod Mayo, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer, Brandon LaFell, Dont'a Hightower and others.
--The Patriots reportedly released tight end Tim Wright prior to the practice.
--There was a second, unknown kicker on the field. He took part in kickoff work during the special teams segment, kicked field goals on the side field and then served up some low kicks for the PAT/field goal block team to hammer during a late team segment. He was not overly impressive. Stephen Gostkowski was on the field, but did not kick. He served his usual role as basically a ball boy in a various work with the other specialists.
--A couple weeks after using a drone for practice footage the Patriots had a pair of field level, stationary cameras in use throughout the practice session. The small cameras were on tripods and put at the back end behind either the offense, the defense or both during any given play. Coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia seemed to play an active role positioning and utilizing the cameras that were manned by unknown operators. The cameras could be similar to ones that the Cowboys have been using to create a 3D view of practice and virtual reality material for the players and coaches to make use of.
--While Belichick seemingly spent the bulk of practice observing from afar while chatting with Mike Lombardi, his assistants were rather active and vocal. McDaniels, line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and special teams coach Joe Judge were all heard vociferously expressing their displeasure with plays/players at various points.
--PFW pooh-bah Fred Kirsch thought Belichick had a new look with his socks, a slightly higher, partial crew showing above his sneakers.
--In an early practice two-minute segment Jonas Gray took the running back reps behind Tom Brady while LeGarrette Blount worked in the group with Jimmy Garoppolo.
--Former New England running back Sammy Morris was on the field in Patriots attire working with the running backs and seemingly shadowing Ivan Fears. Certainly looks like some sort of coaching intern role.
--Third QB Garrett Gilbert hasn't gotten a ton of time working with Brady and Garoppolo, as he's often giving a scout look or in a different area than the top two. But Gilbert did get plenty of reps leading an offense in 11-on-11 work that seemed to be of the "opportunity" variety late in the practice. Unfortunately for him, he was reportedly released shortly after practice. This came after earlier reports that New England had previously worked out veteran former Packers backup Matt Flynn.
--Assistant special teams coach Ray Ventrone brought out a new drill at one point working with long snapper Joe Cardona on the side. After Cardona snapped the ball to punter Ryan Allen and began his blocking footwork Ventrone would fake a rush and toss a tennis ball for Cardona to catch. The drill would seem to be for Cardona to work on getting his eyes and hands up after the snap, but he failed to catch the tennis ball on most of his tries.
--Random observation, Brandon Bolden has looked very good catching the ball this spring and seems to draw a lot of praise from his coaches in the passing game. Known more for his special teams work he could certainly be a dark horse candidate to replace Shane Vereen, especially if James White and Travaris Cadet struggle to prove themselves at all.
--The defensive back in a blue shirt seemed to be wearing some sort of pad under his shirt on his left shoulder. Probably has to do with some sort of left shoulder injury. (Hey, we write what we see!)
--The special teams segment focused on kickoff coverage. The drill had the two sides of the coverage team alternating reps as the unknown kicker put the ball deep to a scout returner.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="334481"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]--Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler continued to spend time working on the side with Brady and tight ends coach Brian Daboll at various times. Brady used some of this time to show Chandler exactly how he wanted some short routes run and even how to get his hands in the right position to catch the ball. Brady then had Gronkowski show Chandler exactly how it was done. This tall duo and the way they are deployed will remain worth watching all summer and into the season.
--This may be stating the obvious, but Gronkowski looks really good. He's caught most everything thrown his way with the impressive ease of a guy with elite hands. He's supposed to be one of the top players on the field and he looks like it. He makes it look easy. He has a graceful ability to catch the ball that runs counter to his huge frame. Gronkowski is running well and catching well. That's good, even if it's just in shorts. He appears well on his way toward another big season. (Fingers crossed!)
--Jabaal Sheard got plenty of reps in a 7-on-7-like drill working with the offense. He worked on the right defensive edge opposite Rob Ninkovich and did some dropping into coverage. He also got to one of the kicks during the PAT/field goal block drill.
--Late in practice the specialists ran conditioning sprints while the other aspects of the team finished up. Ventrone, fresh off his playing career, paced the drills and won just about every rep.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="334486"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]--All of New England's assistant coaches were available to the media after practice.
--Players talking with the media included Gronkowski, Chandler, Butler, McCourty, Jordan Richards and others.
--One of the things Chandler talked about was his missing teeth. He apparently had an issue earlier in life and recently had to have a number of teeth removed, which has currently left him with a big empty gap in his gums. He looks like a big goon hockey player more than a pass-catching tight end.
--The Patriots will have their final voluntary OTA session in Foxborough on Friday and then hold the mandatory three-day mini-camp next Tuesday-Thursday (June 16-18).
--Last year's Super Bowl team will be awarded their championship rings this Sunday night at a special ceremony at the home of Patriots owner Robert Kraft.