The Patriots took to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium Thursday afternoon for a yet another OTA session, this the third of the spring that offered access to the media.
The obvious story of the day came at the quarterback position where Tom Brady's No. 2 backup for the last season-plus, Ryan Mallett, was absent from the practice field. This allowed for rookie second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo to take extra reps in drills.
Garoppolo also got plenty of one-on-one tutoring time working with offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels. This included various times when the two were together off by themselves while Brady and other offensive players were doing other drills. McDaniels appeared to be verbally going over a lot of scenarios with his young quarterback, seemingly pointing and gesturing to formations and alignments he would have to deal with.
The rookie passer was also one of the last players to leave the practice field. He stayed out late working with young receivers on routes and throws long after veterans had retreated to the locker room.
The Boston Herald reported shortly after practice ended that Mallett's absence was "excused," although offered up no other information.
The workout lasted one hour and 45 minutes, once again with players dressed in sweats and helmets but without jerseys.
The session took place under cloudy skies and cool temperatures.
Beyond the buzz around the quarterback position, here are one man's blogservations from a field away of players working out in a non-contact environment without jersey numbers:
The New England England conducts an organized team activity on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Thursday, June 12, 2014.
--A very unofficial count came up with 82 players in helmets for pre-practice stretching and form running. A group of those players then retreated to the Dana Farber Field-House with the team's rehab and medical staff including Rob Gronkowski, D.J. Williams and others.
--Those players not spotted on the field included Mallett, Alfonzo Dennard, Aaron Dobson (foot), Dominique Easley (ACL), Brandon LaFell, Armond Armstead and Tommy Kelly (ACL).
Armstead had been seen during the first OTA open to the media two weeks ago, but not since. LaFell was at the session last week open to the media, but now has missed the first and third that reporters were able to observe.
--Vince Wilfork has been in attendance throughout OTAs this spring, but seemed to take a more active role in the middle of the defense on Thursday. Big No. 75 had been with the rehab group earlier in OTAs but today was not only on the field throughout practice but took part in some 11-on-11 action on the defensive line. It's another step forward for the defensive co-captain who seems at this early point to be well on his way to not only being ready for the regular season but to potentially be a full participant in training camp in late July.
--Will Smith was on the field working with the rest of the defense. The free agent addition, who is coming off an ACL injury, was working at left defensive end next to Wilfork in some team action. Smith could be a valuable addition to the mix on the end of the line of scrimmage.
--The linebackers were a very active group throughout the OTA workout. The first observation was that Jerod Mayo spent a good deal of time in the middle. There had been some assumption that Mayo might return to the outside linebacker spot he played the last couple seasons before he was lost to injury, with Dont'a Hightower replacing free agent departure Brandon Spikes in the middle. While all three linebackers, including Jamie Collins, saw reps in the middle of the defense on Thursday, it certainly looks like Hightower and Collins might be destined for the outside with Mayo returning to the middle.
The group was also active in terms of pass rush in the team segments against the offense. There were plenty of stunts and twists involving all three expected starters at linebacker.
--Josh Boyce continues to shine in spring action. The second-year receiver seems to be catching most everything thrown his way. He had at least one touchdown in a team action on Thursday, coming from Garoppolo. He's certainly a guy to watch who may be benefiting big time from a year in the system and a full, healthy offseason to improve.
--Kenbrell Thompkins, on the other hand, has been rather inconsistent in the last few weeks. He bobble and double-caught a number of passes on Thursday. He struggled on returns in earlier OTA work. If there is a numbers crunch in the end at wide receiver Thompkins could be fighting for a spot come late August, although the status of LaFell and Dobson moving forward will very much affect that.
--Stevan Ridley broke out yet another flashy pair of cleats, the third straight workout in front of the media that his footwear has drawn attention. Today it was a pair of cleats with a Captain America theme, including the shield with the star on it from the superhero.
--The tight end group actually had respectable numbers for the practice given the recent additions to the position. Joining Michael Hoomanawanui and undrafted rookie Justin Jones were recently-signed Kyle Auffray, fullback James Develin and Asa Watson, who missed the opening media OTA at the NFLPA Rookie Premier.
--The kickoff coverage unit was the focus during special teams work. That specifically included beating the second line of blockers to get to the returner while staying in coverage lanes. Stephen Gostkowski did the kicking during the team portion of the kickoff work.
--During group work the quarterbacks once again did some work on throws on the move. Brady made one particularly nice throw rolling right, although it was just to a waiting ball boy. Garoppolo seems to do a nice job throwing on the move. This could be an added aspect of the offense whenever he gets into the game in preseason action or as he develops. He's certainly more athletic than Brady, although even the veteran passer himself would probably admit that's not saying too much.
--For those of us who are drawn to what Charlie Weis used to refer to has "yolked up" players, Jonas Gray certainly stands out. The running back displayed his massive, ripped arms with a cutoff shirt. Might be in line for a flex-off with safety Kanorris Davis or strength coach Harold Nash as other potential contestants.
--The offensive line used a lot of combinations, which is not unexpected. That included plenty of reps at center for a variety of guys including Josh Kline, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell and Bryan Stork. Rookie Jon Halapio has been getting decent reps at right guard. Kline took reps at both center and guard. Nate Solder has been back in his normal left tackle spot after opening OTAs working with the rehab group. Sebastian Vollmer appeared to take all his reps at left tackle on Thursday, coming after Solder's work. Rookie Cameron Fleming took reps at right tackle after Marcus Cannon. This was the rookie's debut at OTA camp in front of the media.
--Stork had his issues, earning him a pair of penalty laps. The first game in group work early, while the second came after a failed snap to Brady in late team action that really got No. 12 fired up.
--Both McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia once again used wireless headsets to make play calls throughout the workout.
--Thompkins took plenty of reps in three-receiver sets alongside Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
--Those players meeting with the media after practice included Rob Ninkovich, Dont'a Hightower, Sebastian Vollmer and recent newcomer James Anderson.
--The Patriots will hold their 10th and final voluntary OTA workout on Friday in Foxborough, though it is not open to the media or the public.
--New England will hold its mandatory mini-camp next week, June 17-19. The Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday workouts will be open to the media but are closed to the public.