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Mini-camp blogservations: Defense rules the day

The Patriots wrapped up their three-day mandatory mini-camp in Foxborough with a less-than-stellar practice on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. For the second straight day the offense was not at its best, and that included the periods when Tom Brady was under center.

Speaking of the quarterback, he broke his silence on Thursday by addressing the media for about three and a half minutes after practice. He expressed his desire to continue playing quarterback for the Patriots (more elsewhere on Patriots.com) but today was not among his best work.

The secondary was spirited throughout, buoyed by some solid play against Brady and his receivers. Rookie JC Jackson once again was at right cornerback opposite Stephon Gilmore and came up with a few excellent plays in coverage. 

He blanketed Cordarrelle Patterson on two plays in close succession, the first on a deep ball when he ran stride for stride with the wideout down the sideline. The second was more impressive as he again mirrored the speedy Patterson before adjusting on a back shoulder throw and cut underneath to knock the pass away.

At other times the offense just appeared out of synch. There was a substitution issue that drew the ire of Bill Belichick and led to the entire group running a lap, followed by a lengthy talk from the coach. Brady also uncharacteristically misfired on some passes, including one to an open Rex Burkhead cutting across the middle on a red zone chance. Brady’s pass was well behind Burkhead and wound up getting deflected into the air.

Overall, not the best day for the offense, but some pretty solid work on the other side of the ball depending how one view’s things.

Elsewhere, here are some observations from the final day of mini-camp.

-Jordan Matthews continued his streak of being the first player on the field. He arrived first all three days of mini-camp and during the two OTA sessions the media watched as well. Adrian Clayborn was the second player to appear, carrying his jersey inside his helmet each day. Not sure if that means anything but it should also be noted that Matthews generally stays on the field late as well.

-Those not spotted at practice included Malcolm Mitchell, David Jones, Brandon Bolden, Joe Thuney and Kenny Britt. Mitchell was seen after practice began working down on the rehab field along with Nate Ebner, Keion Crossen, Cyrus Jones and Braxton Berrios. It was the first time Mitchell was seen working out on the fields during mini-camp.

-The last player to make his way onto the fields was Julian Edelman. Shortly after practice ended news of the receiver’s four-game suspension became public, although those two facts are not necessarily related. Edelman spent quite some time working with Brady after practice on Wednesday, to the point where the wideout appeared to be visibly fatigued when they finished. 

-Brady opted to go without gloves for the second straight day while Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling had them on both hands throughout the early part of practice. Both removed their gloves after the drills, however, and went without them during 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s.

-The Patriots spent quite some time working the running backs into the passing game on Thursday. James White, Sony Michel and Burkhead all ran deep comeback/back shoulder routes with Hoyer early on, and the screen game also got plenty of work. 

-The defensive backs were quite lively early in practice during some drills that featured three-man routes. Each defensive play drew a loud reaction, and when the period ended the entire group enthusiastically did push-ups in the back of the end zone.

-Elandon Roberts, Dont’a Hightower and Edelman all spent time riding the stationery bike during practice.

-There were some special guests on hand at practice as Belichick’s long-time friend Tony LaRussa was on hand. LaRussa, who is a special assistant to Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski, was joined by the Sox VP of professional scouting Gus Quattlebaum. The trio spent quite some time chatting, basically the first half of the practice before the team broke into 11-on-11 work and Belichick returned to the field.

-Iowa’s Brian Ferentz was present for the third straight day while members of the Syracuse and Duke coaching staffs were also in attendance.

-There were some changes to the offensive lines that opened up the 11-on-11 work on Thursday. From left to right, LaAdrian Waddle, Jason King, David Andrews, Ted Karras and Matt Tobin made up the group on the first play while Shaq Mason took Karras’ spot for the next snap and the two rotated throughout. The second line saw Cole Croston, Luke Bowanko, James Ferentz, Andrew Jelks and Ulrick John working together from left to right.

-Brady didn’t have as much success throwing the ball on Thursday as he did the first two days but he was not at fault on a deep ball intended for Matthews late in that 11-on-11 period. He dropped a perfect pass down the right side into Matthews’ hands, only to watch the newcomer drop the ball to negate a would-be touchdown. Matthews atoned for his earlier drop by making a terrific catch on a low out pass from Etling. He reached down and grabbed the throw and was able to keep his feet in bounds as well.

-Rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley made a nice pass deflection working in a zone against Chris Hogan. He timed his arrival perfectly and knocked Hoyer’s pass away to prevent the completion.

-Robert Kraft arrived for the third straight day, shortly after a helicopter landed on the helipad down on the rehab field – although it’s unclear whether or not Kraft was on board. The owner gave a wave to Rob Gronkowski before hugging Brady and making his way toward Andrews and Waddle. Kraft then chatted with LaRussa and also spent some time with Matthew Slater, Devin McCourty and Edelman.

-After practice, Kraft spoke to the media while wearing a hat to honor NESN photographer John Martin, who is battling ALS. “Our thoughts and prayers are with John Martin and his entire family,” Kraft said. “We appreciate everything he’s done reporting on our franchise, the Red Sox, the Bruins and the Celts. His lovely wife and two daughters are going through a rough time, and our thoughts and prayers are with them.” Kraft’s hat read Café Martin and is being sold as a fundraiser in support of Martin. Those looking to help the cause can purchase a hat of their own or donate to Martin’s GoFundMe page.

-The officials were once against part of practice and on Thursday there were more involved. The side judge tossed flags on consecutive plays – the first on cornerback Ryan Lewis for illegal contact and the second on Damarius Travis for pass interference working against rookie running back Ralph Webb. The latter play was an example of the deep passing work with the running backs as Webb took off down the right side and Travis got too physical in trying to stay in coverage.

-For the third straight day the special teams focus was on returns and Patterson, White, Berrios, Michel, Patrick Chung and Riley McCarron all took reps as returners.

-Rookie punter Corey Bojorquez has been impressive this spring but he got off a terrible shank on one of his kicks in the team period. He disgustedly dropped his head upon contact as the ball fluttered about 25 yards downfield.

-Hoyer had a bad fumble during a misdirection screen pass and drew Belichick’s wrath in the process. Hoyer dropped back and faked a pass to his left before spinning back to the right. As he went to deliver the pass, it slipped out of his hands for a fumble that would have been worthy of the blooper reel. The coach was not pleased.

-On the next play Brady took over and connected with Jacob Hollister, who had two strong days of work after missing Tuesday’s practice. Hollister caught the deep pass and Brady excitedly fish-bumped with Andrews after the play.

-Phillip Dorsett completely turned rookie Duke Dawson inside out with a quick move out of the slot before taking off on a wheel-type route down the left side. Dorsett easily lost Dawson with a quick fake at the line and caught Brady’s pass over the should for a big gain.

-The Patriots closed mini-camp with some field goal work before the entire team went to the hill for some conditioning runs. 

-McCarron, Chung, Mike Gillislee, Harvey Langi and Cody Hollister were among those who spent time talking with the media on Thursday.

-There will be another set of OTAs in Foxborough next week with the session on June 12 set to be open to the media but closed to the public.

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