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OTA Blogservations: Stars align for Pats practice

Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis returned to the practice field, highlighting the Patriots final OTA workout open to the media.

The Patriots will continue their offseason workouts with two more practices on Tuesday and Thursday but the media access came to an end early Monday afternoon. Working under partly cloudy skies and dealing with significant winds at times, the Patriots went at it at a lesser pace than what we've seen thus far this spring.

The good news came in the form of some notable players returning to the practice fields. Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis topped that list, and both appeared to take part fully in the day's activities in their first appearances in front of the media. Both spoke at length to reporters after practice.

Shaq Mason also made his first appearance of the spring with media in attendance and took some reps at right guards sporadically throughout the day.

On the negative side, Stephen Gostkowski was not on the field, and rookie running back D.J. Foster, who appeared to injure his hamstring during the final day of mini-camp last week, also was not present. Gostkowski and his wife, Hallie, are expecting the birth of their third child so it's possible that was the reason for his absence.

In all the Patriots were without 14 players: Gostkowski, Julian Edelman (foot), Logan Ryan, LeGarrette Blount (hip), Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner (rugby), Tre' Jackson (knee), Josh Kline, Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Danny Amendola (ankle/knee) and Alan Branch. Branch also was missing on May 26 when the team held its first OTA session in front of the media but he was present during the three days of mini-camp last week.

Here are one man's blogservations on the media's final look at the Patriots before training camp.

Check out some of the best images from Patriots OTA practice at Gillette Stadium on Monday, June 13, 2016.

-It was hard not to notice Gronkowski and Lewis as both looked sharp and healthy while taking part fully in the day's action. Gronk caught a short pass from Tom Brady on the first play of practice and hauled in every ball thrown his direction thereafter. He was running and cutting with authority and he showcased his vise-like hands across the middle on a number of occasions.

Lewis wasn't quite as impressive but considering the severity of his injury it was a pleasant sight nonetheless. He ran smoothly and cut well in the open field. He had some occasional trouble corralling passes but more importantly he was not wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired knee and physically was able to do everything his teammates did throughout practice.

-One early observation had rookie Joe Thuney donning the tight short shorts that centers David Andrews and Bryan Stork typically wear. The cutoff practice pants presumably are worn to help the quarterback receive the snap easier without the baggy shorts getting in the way. It was interesting to see Thuney wearing them, which is perhaps an indication that he will be getting more time at center moving forward. Late in practice the third-round pick was summoned from his left guard spot on one field to move to center on the opposite side.

-The offensive line continues to be worth monitoring, particularly at center. Andrews once again was first up, working with a group that included LaAdrian Waddle at left tackle, Thuney at left guard, Jonathan Cooper at right guard and Marcus Cannon at right tackle. Stork rotated in with Andrews. The next group had, left to right, Keavon Milton, Chris Barker, Stork, Mason/Ted Karras and Cameron Fleming. Karras also took reps at center.

-Here's an early training camp tip: keep an eye on a pair of undrafted rookie free agent corners Jonathan Jones and Cre'Von LeBlanc (Andy says this must be said in a bad French accent). Both showed tight coverage on a number of occasions during the five practices the media observed. They appear to be comfortable running with receivers on deep patterns and have been around the ball often. Obviously the competition will ramp up considerably when the pads come on during camp but Jones (5-10, 181 out of Auburn) and LeBlanc (5-11, 195 out of Florida Atlantic) both showed competitiveness and are worth monitoring next month.

-Sammy Morris was spotted on the field working with the running backs but Troy Brown, who has occasionally been present, was not seen.

-The tight end competition was dealt a blow last week when Michael Williams went down during Wednesday's mini-camp practice with a reported torn ACL in his left knee. The team subsequently released Williams with an injury designation and he will eventually revert to injured reserve assuming he goes unclaimed. Williams' absence could open a spot for one of the young tight ends, a group that includes first-year player AJ Derby and rookie Steven Scheu and Bryce Williams. All three of those players have shown the ability to move well and catch the ball while Williams was more of a blocker. Free agent addition Clay Harbor is also in the pass-catching mold, and he had a nice day catching the ball on Monday. That group could also be battling the likes of James Develin, who spends most of his time with tight ends, and Joey Iosefa, who generally stays with the running backs, for roster spots depending on what Bill Belichick chooses to focus on.

-Martellus Bennett went with cutoff gray sweats over his spandex on Monday rather than the typical team-issued navy shorts. Not sure why I noted that but they stuck out to me.

-Speaking of Bennett, he and Gronkowski spent quite a bit of time together. The pair joined Brady talking for a bit before moving to the near field to work on some red zone patterns. Brady lined up on the left hash while Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett were on the right side throwing to Aaron Dobson, Nate Washington and Lewis. Brady tossed a few passes to his twin tower tight ends during some kickoff work before they all rejoined the entire offense for the next segment of practice.

-During a later special teams segment, Gronkowski and Bennett engaged in a plank off. The two remained on their forearms for quite some time, rocking side to side for a bit before it appeared they decided to mutually end it and dropped to their knees simultaneously. The two seem to have a lot of fun together, although it's hard not to have fun when Gronk is involved.

-Another observation during practice: Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins sat together on a blocking dummy during a special teams segment. The linebackers are both entering the final year of their contracts and chatted for several minutes before moving to the next period.

-The steady wind gave Belichick a great opportunity to give his returners extensive work under difficult conditions. V'Angelo Bentley, DeAndre Carter, Malcolm Mitchell, James White, Keshawn Martin, Cyrus Jones and Devin Lucien all served as kickoff returners during one drill. With Gostkowski not on the field, Ryan Allen ran up and simulated a kickoff while the JUGS machine shot the balls toward the end zone. It was interesting that Belichick did not have Allen try to kick off – not sure who would handle such duties in an emergency – and it was also funny to watch the left-footed Allen fake the kicks with his right leg.

-The punt returners also got a bunch of work late in practice on the near field with Allen booting the ball from right to left to one group while the JUGS machine shot them in the opposite direction to another. Those catching off the machine did so while holding another ball. LeBlanc and Martin handled most of their one-handed chances without incident but Jones and Mitchell weren't as fortunate. The wind certainly made things more difficult but the rookies dropped several of their chances. Jones appeared to hurt his left hand on one of his muffs and caught some of his subsequent kicks with his right hand.

-Brady and Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio played catch for a bit while throwing side arm to each other. Brady was talking to Caserio when they finished, perhaps correcting the former John Carroll quarterback's form.

-Belichick ended practice with some extended two-minute, situational work. The quarterbacks operated multiple drives at less than full speed and Belichick appeared to be creating various scenarios to end things. Some had the field goal unit rushing on the field with the clock running; others required the quarterbacks to spike the ball to stop the clock before a potential kick.

-Garoppolo spent some time with Lucien and Mitchell after practice concluded. Lucien was the final player on the field, walking off while Gronkowski and Lewis were still chatting with the media.

-The Patriots will hold two additional OTA workouts this week – both closed to the media and public – before getting some time off prior to the start of training camp in late July.

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