On the third day of camp, and for the first time this summer, the Patriots practiced in full pads (the collective bargaining agreement prohibits teams from donning the full pads for the first two days of camp).
That gave the Sunday morning session a little more of an intense feel, with more drills and scrimmage action involving full contact.
"We've certainly done a lot of work without pads, going all the way back to the spring relative to the passing game and doing some non-contact things," head coach Bill Belichick said in his pre-practice remarks to the media. "Today is the start of where we're able to see the contact. Certainly will help us in our evaluations of some of the bigger linemen and people like that, feel the play and working those positions."
"It's always nice to start playing real football," left guard/co-captain Logan Mankins commented afterward, "to see where you are and where you need to go. It's pretty hard to stop guys rushing in just t-shirts and helmets. The pads make it a little more equal."
"I definitely had to brush off some rust," second-year linebacker Dont'a Hightower confessed. "First day back in… it feels like forever. I'm glad to be back [in full pads]. It just feels good to be back in my pads. Might take me a couple of days to get where I want to be."
The Patriots were able to focus a bit more on the running game now that they're in full pads and can simulate game conditions. Goal-line situations were worked on for the first time in this camp, at the tail end of Sunday's practice.
"I love those inside runs," added Hightower. "The guards, the tackles, the fullbacks… all that stuff. Hopefully, I'll get a little more action in there tomorrow."
Missing from action
For the first three days of camp, New England has been without the services of six players. It's been the same six each day: tight end Rob Gronkowski, Nick McDonald, wide receivers Julian Edelman and rookie Mark Harrison, first-year defensive lineman Armond Armstead and rookie d-lineman Cory Grissom.
Gronk, for the second straight day, made an appearance on the field as a spectator in shorts and a t-shirt as he continues to recover from back surgery and multiple surgeries to his left forearm. Edelman and McDonald also were on the field for periods of time doing rehab work of their own.
Armstead, who was placed on the non-football illness list prior to camp, has not yet been spotted out on the field. Before practice today, Belichick revealed that Armstead's current illness is unrelated to the heart troubles that cost him his final season at the University of Southern California.
"It's a different situation. If we have anything [new to report], we'll talk about it, but not at this time."
Meanwhile, right guard Dan Connolly continues to be limited in his participation in full contact drills and 11-on-11 team work as he works his way back from a shoulder injury that he'd been rehabbing throughout the offseason. Veteran Marcus Cannon has been taking most of the first-unit reps at Connolly's spot.
A view from the pocket
In these early days of camp, the Patriots have been experimenting with some new technology: cameras on the helmets of the quarterbacks.
The tiny devices are placed on the side of the helmet opposite the QBs' throwing arm, giving the coaching staff a unique and different ground-level look at a play's development from the signal caller's perspective.
"It's something we haven't done before, so, we'll take a look at it and see how effective it is or what we can get out of it. I'm not sure exactly how effective that will or won't be," Belichick acknowledged, "but it's something we're trying that's a little bit new. We'll see how it goes… Anything we can do to help instruct and coach the players better."
Spikes on Hernandez
Linebacker Brandon Spikes, a former University of Florida Gator player and teammate of Aaron Hernandez, wouldn't comment directly on the legal trouble in which Hernandez finds himself today, but did speak about it in general terms.
"Honestly, I never really pay attention to outside [influences]. All we really have is us here, the guys in this locker room, guys we go to war with. I think the team is always going to face a little adversity, and that's what brings the team closer. We've all got to get through it and push forward, can't really look back. It won't change anything."
Buy*: Aqib Talib – The veteran cornerback had his strongest showing of camp thus far. For most of the morning, he was matched up against Danny Amendola and did a great job not only of sticking with the quick slot receiver, but also making it extremely difficult for Amendola to catch the football.
Sell: Stevan Ridley – Holding onto the football has been an issue for the lead running back in the past, and the problem cropped up again on Sunday. Ridley fumbled twice during team periods and was forced to take penalty laps around the practice field as a result.
Play of the Day: Wilfork forced fumble/fumble – Ridley was victimized the second time by Vince Wilfork when the offense and defense squared off in goal-line action late in practice. Wilfork shot through a gap on the left side of the Patriots offensive line and met Ridley a yard or two short of the end zone. A huge pileup formed just as Wilfork ripped the ball out of Ridley's hands, recovered the loose football, and got up to advance it several yards.
...New England will be back at practice Monday evening, but it will be on the Gillette Stadium game field and is open only to season ticket holders. The Patriots are then scheduled to have a practice back on the grass fields on Tuesday afternoon (open to the general public) before taking a day of rest on Wednesday.
...Legendary actor Robert Duvall was a guest of owner Robert Kraft Sunday. The two appeared together on the field during practice and posed for pictures with several players during breaks in the action.