The Patriots were a busy club Monday, tinkering with the roster, getting several injured players back in uniform, and returning to their practice fields behind Gillette Stadium after taking the previous day off.
At Saturday's practice, New England had a summer high of 23 players not suiting up and contributing, but that number dropped considerably on Monday. WR Julian Edelman, DT Alan Branch, and rookie DT Malcom Brown were back in full pads, as were WRs Brian Tyms and Matthew Slater, both of whom were given red (no-contact) jerseys.
On the far end of the practice fields, where there's a slope designed specifically for running uphill, RB LeGarrette Blount (right knee) was seen during practice doing several sprints under the guidance of the medical staff. That was another positive sign after Blount sustained what originally looked like a serious knee injury last Friday.
Check out our favorite photos from Patriots Training Camp on Monday, August 10 2015 at Gillette Stadium.
Afterward, several of the returning players spoke about getting more involved with their teammates.
"Yeah, that was a good day of work, just getting back with the fellas and trying to get this thing better," said Branch, who started camp on the non-football injury list (NFI). He was circumspect, however, about the reasons why his camp debut was delayed.
"It's whatever-related you want to make it, man," Branch laughed. "It was none of my business."
He conceded that it was difficult to sit out for so many days while the rest of the team was getting prepared for the upcoming season.
"It's pretty rough, you know. You want to go through the calls with your teammates, show them that they have trust in you, that you know your playbook and what you're supposed to do out there."
"Yeah, I was very upset," echoed Tyms, who missed several practices after taking a big hit, "but you control what you can control."
He, too, was mum about exactly what he suffered.
"I don't know…. It hurt," Tyms smiled.
Wearing a red jersey means a player is allowed to take part in every aspect of practice, but he is forbidden from being hit or initiating contact with teammates. This is usually the protocol when a player is not fully recovered from an injury, but is sufficiently healed to begin working his way back.
"Every day coming out here, we all go at each other pretty hard," added Tyms. "But I'm just trying to get better and use every opportunity. Enjoying this great day out here."
Having to dial back their intensity is something injured players on the mend must consciously adhere to, even though they might want to go full-speed. There is progress to be made even when they can't have complete medical clearance.
"Oh, certainly," Slater declared. "There are a lot of things I need to work on, and I consider myself behind right now because I haven't been out here in a while. There are a lot of technique things I can work on without contact. Some of those things can be simulated, and hopefully, eventually we'll get to the contact part.
"It's my job to be obedient, listen to the staff. They have a plan, they've done this before. I just have to listen to the doctor's orders and take it one day at a time.
"Guys have been teasing me," he admitted, "that I've been on vacation, but there's something about playing the game of football, being in your helmet and shoulder pads, being out there with your teammates, nothing can simulate that. Working out on the side or whatever it is they have me doing day to day just isn't the same."
Of note on the opposite end of the spectrum, left tackle Nate Solder walked off the field very early in Monday's session, directly in front of the media tent, and proceeded to the locker room, helmet in hand. He was not accompanied by a medical staffer, which is usually the case with injured players, so, it remains unclear why he exited the practice field.
Comings and Goings
New England's front office made several changes to the roster Monday. It started early, with the release of QB Matt Flynn, who's been on NFI since camp opened. In desperate need of a third quarterback for Thursday's preseason opener against Green Bay, the Patriots brought in veteran Ryan Lindley, late of the Arizona Cardinals.
"There is definitely something to that," head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged. "Matt never passed physical… We don't have forever here. The train is moving.
"[Lindley] has some experience. He's been with a couple different organizations, played some. And he's healthy, that's the most important trait."
Belichick did not rule out re-signing Flynn once he returns to full strength.
"We've brought back plenty of players who were here, then weren't here, then came back here. I know he worked hard. It was frustrating he couldn't get out there, we couldn't see him out there, so it's the way it was."
Media reports circulated before Monday's practice that the Patriots had traded rookie linebacker Matthew Wells, a member of the 2015 draft class, to Chicago for offensive lineman Ryan Groy, but Belichick would neither confirm nor deny those reports.
The team did, however, announce the release of veteran linebacker Chris White and tight end Mason Brodine, and filled their roster spots with a pair of rookies. Tight end Logan Stokes was in camp with the Patriots during the spring for a few days, while running back Tony Creecy, a North Carolina State product, is getting his first NFL opportunity here in New England.
McCourty: 'It's a process'
New England's new-look secondary has been under the microscope since camp began, and thus far, the group of cornerbacks and safeties has been more competitive than many observers expected.
Co-captain Devin McCourty, who signed a $47.5 million contract this past offseason to remain with the Patriots, is clearly the elder statesman of the defensive backfield. He's been happy with what he's seen from the mostly young, unproven secondary which cut ties with Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, and Alfonzo Dennard shortly after the Super Bowl win in February.
"I think we're competing. It's a little early to try and evaluate and do all that. I try to leave that to the coaches," said McCourty, "but I think guys are coming out each day competing and not taking anything for granted. I think that's what you like. I think we're working towards being a better unit."
Super Bowl XLIX star Malcolm Butler has been one of the pleasant surprises with the way he's consistently performed at a high level.
"Malcolm's a guy now," added McCourty, "he's been here for a year. He played some snaps last year, but he's just taking the next step, I feel like. He's trying to learn as much as possible. He comes in here every day and I think we know one thing we'll get out of him is competing against receivers. That's what he does exceptionally well, and everything else you just keep talking to him. Whether it be the first time he saw routes or different combinations in zone coverages, we just continue to talk to him like we do all the young guys. He's just moving forward and trying to step up and be more durable and do different things on the field.
"Obviously, to be a good unit, we need guys to make individual plays. We're starting to see we're getting on the same page. There's progress, but we have to keep moving along. It's a process."
Buy: Malcolm Butler – In perhaps his best day of camp thus far, the second-year corner intercepted a pass in team period and broke up a couple of others. He's consistently provided tight coverage on receivers throughout the summer sessions.
Sell: Dominique Easley – Since returning to full-pads action after missing the first couple of camp practices, the 2014 first-round draft choice has been unspectacular. He hasn't made any significant plays, good or bad.
Play of the Day: Near the end of practice, during 11-on-11 action, Tom Brady dropped back to pass from around midfield. WR Josh Boyce found a step of separation between himself and rookie corner Darryl Roberts and Brady fired a deep ball. Boyce caught it in stride just as he crossed the goal line for the score.