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Patriots mini-camp Blogservations: A fight and an injury

Bill Belichick’s team returned to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium Wednesday morning for the second day of the team’s mandatory mini-camp.

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">The middle day of the three-day camp took place under sunny skies and cooler temperatures, but that didn’t keep things from heating up on the field.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">Late in the two-hour session third-year center Bryan Stork and undrafted rookie defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton went to the ground in a team drill, with the veteran offensive lineman throwing a number of wild punches at the young defender on the ground before the scuffle was broken up by other players.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">Stork and Hamilton were both immediately sent from the field to return to the locker room.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">Belichick didn’t have a comment on the fight after practice, simply telling reporters to ask the involved players about it.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">The other obvious notable news of the day was an apparent left knee injury suffered by veteran tight end Michael Williams. The big-bodied pass catcher was away from the ball when he went to the turf grabbing the knee in a 7-on-7 segment. He was immediately attended to in the middle of the field by trainer Jim Whalen and other members of the New England medical staff.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">Williams eventually walked to the sideline under his own power. He spent some time standing between the two fields talking to medical personnel, coaches and players before he, too, walked to the locker room early.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">Beyond the Stork fight and the Williams injury, here are one man’s blogservations of the second day of Patriots mini-camp, made from the grassy hill often a full field away from the action at hand:</span>

Check out some of the best images from Patriots mini-camp practice at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, June 8, 2016.

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Seventeen players were absent from the workout. (That means 73 players were participating before Williams limped off.) Four of the missing bodies had been on the field on Tuesday, a list that included running back Brandon Bolden, rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, linebacker C.J. Johnson and newcomer tight end Clay Harbor. The 13 players who have now missed the first two days of mini-camp are Julian Edelman (foot), Logan Ryan, LeGarrette Blount, Duron Harmon, Dion Lewis (knee), Nate Ebner (rugby), Tre’ Jackson (knee), Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder (bicep), Danny Amendola (knee) and Rob Gronkowski.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Of the players on the field this June for mini-camp, Rob Ninkovich might be the most interesting story out of Foxborough. New England’s starting defensive end for every game over each of the last five seasons has been taking almost all his practice reps as an off-the-line linebacker. Most of that work has seen him lined up on the inside next to Jamie Collins. With Ninkovich at linebacker, Chris Long has taken the bulk of the reps opposite Jabaal Sheard at the veteran’s customary left defensive end spot. The different role has had Ninkovich doing a lot of dropping into coverage in 7-on-7 and team drills, displaying his unique athleticism and versatility. While Ninkovich was seen as the constant and known entity at defensive end following the trade of Pro Bowler Chandler Jones this offseason, at least early on Belichick working some wrinkles in with his playmaking veteran.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea has been using a lot of bags to hit receivers and pass-catching running backs after they catch the ball in mini-camp. The veteran coach also used paddles to partially screen the vision of receivers on sideline catches in early practice drills. O’Shea spent some early time coaching running backs through drills catching the ball, a group that included Donald Brown, Joey Iosefa, D.J. Foster and Tyler Gaffney.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--While those backs were with O’Shea, James Develin and James White were working with Tom Brady and the wide receivers in group work against air.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--During early practice special teams work gunners Matthew Slater, D.J. Foster and Jonathan Jones worked on downing punts before the goal line with assistant special teams coach Ray “Bubba” Ventrone. Ventrone had the players run halfway around a large, plastic, tubular ring on the ground before he would throw a soccer ball for them to keep out of the end zone in various angles/situations. It is interesting that the drill is done with a round soccer ball, which bounces in predictable ways, rather than a football which is very more difficult to judge.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Sammy Morris was back on the field working with the running backs and coach Ivan Fears. Troy Brown was once again in attendance for the workout, helping O’Shea and the wide receivers.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Early practice drills for the tight ends working with pads had Develin once again working as a blocker along with Martellus Bennett, Williams and AJ Derby.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Bennett had a minor injury scare at one point. The tight end was attended to by Whalen and the medical staff, the focus on his left knee. He even went to the ground and had the knee examined between the practice fields before seemingly being cleared. He later returned to drills and team work, catching a few balls and looking fast and without limitations in his running. So far Bennett looks like one of those players who goes to the ground often and gets up slowly. Maybe he goes with the Jim Brown theory of always getting up slowly so the defense never really knows when you are hurt?</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--The new triangle painted on the 10-yard line on one of the fields was put to use by the running backs and quarterbacks. With the spacer spanning the line of scrimmage at the base of the painted triangle the running backs seemed to line up on the point of it, at the 18-yard line heading in. The backs then worked on outside runs, reading a ball boy holding a large bag and either cutting to the inside or outside at the line of scrimmage.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Ninkovich was indeed with the group that included Dont’a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Ramon Humber and Kevin Snyder for early practice drills under the watch of first-year linebackers coach Brian Flores.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Rookie third-round quarterback Jacoby Brissett spends a lot of one-on-one time with Jerry Schuplinski, New England’s first-year assistant quarterbacks coach, at various points during practice while the rest of the team is involved in other drills. Sounds like a lot of teammates and coaches have taken to calling the rookie either “Coby” or “Cob” with the long “O.”</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Foster is already looking like a very versatile, athletic young player who is flashing in a variety of ways. He certainly appears to be an early candidate for the practice squad, assuming he doesn’t earn a surprise roster spot at a thin running back position. Foster has not only shown burst as a runner/pass catcher, but he’s getting reps on special teams. Wednesday he worked as a gunner and took a few reps as a punt returner. Foster had just one kickoff return and no punt returns in his career at Arizona State. He had his ups and downs hauling in his punt chances.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--A day after shining with a lot of booming punts, Ryan Allen wasn’t as impressive. He had a number of short kicks that he made it quite clear he wasn’t happy with.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--During one group segment, Tom Brady looked for White deep down the right side in the back corner of the end zone. The running back dove, but could not make the catch. It was a play that brought back memories of last January’s AFC title game in Denver.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Chris Hogan has made some really nice catches over the first two days of camp, including a pretty, one-handed grab with his left hand from a rolling right Brady on Wednesday. But he’s also had a few drops in various drills and double-catches. It will be interesting to chart the consistency of his hands this summer and into the early stages of his first season in New England as he tries to build a rapport/reputation in Foxborough.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Derby has looked very good this week. The second-year converted quarterback has shown nice hands and solid athleticism catching the football as a tight end. The Patriots have good depth at tight end when the entire group is healthy, but Derby is making a bid to hang around in some form or fashion after spending his entire rookie season on injured reserve.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Brown seems to be getting a lot of chances to catch the football and be used in a passing back role. The veteran free agent addition has looked solid so far in that area. It’s worth noting that his career high for receptions is 29, set in his first season in San Diego in 2014. He spends a lot of time alternating reps in various drills with White.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Stephen Gostkowski was one of the most active players on the practice field on Wednesday, mostly out of his own desire rather than the true chores of his job. Gostkowski fielded punts for Allen for a long time. He didn’t have a great day in that area, though, muffing a number of attempts. He did take one to the house down the left sideline and into the end zone, beginning the celebration for his faux score well before he reached the goal line. Allen was then immediately punting another ball out of the end zone that Gostkowski tried to run down. He did so unsuccessfully, seemingly leaving the All-Pro kicker quite winded. Later, a plastic bag was blowing down the field rather quickly, and Gostkowski decided to try to chase it down. While it looked like the bag was going to evade the three-point champion, rookie safety Kamu Grugier-Hill helped out by stopping the blowing bag as he jogged across the field. Still, Gostkowski’s full-sprint attempt to tackle litter was quite admirable. Later, when Gostkowski was going through his usual procession of kicks by himself, he attempted a 60-yarder toward the skinny uprights with Brady standing over the ball talking to him as he worked. The attempt just missed the mini goal, with Brady signaling the miss and pumping his fist as he jogged to another drill. It’s safe to say it’s the only time you’ll see Brady celebrate a Gostkowski miss.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--David Andrews was once again back at center in the middle of an offensive line group that included, from left tackle to right, LaAdrian Waddle, Joe Thuney, Andrews, Jonathan Cooper and Marcus Cannon. Andrews and Stork have seemingly been alternating days taking reps with that group this spring.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--One other Stork note, he continues to wear very tight, very short shorts to practice. The shorts look like cut-off pants and are certainly unique on a field filled with guys wearing more traditional mesh attire.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Top pick Cyrus Jones continues to take a lot of reps in the slot in a group of defensive backs that includes Malcolm Butler and Justin Coleman on the outside.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Veteran defensive back E.J. Biggers has taken a lot of reps at safety, but was also at cornerback in some team drills late in practice.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Second-year safety Jordan Richards has been getting plenty of reps in the back end working next to the likes of Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, taking advantage of Harmon’s absence. The former second-round pick had a nice pass defense of a Brady throw over the middle in 11-on-11 action.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia continue to use headsets to call plays in various group and team drills.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Brady had a side segment again working with Bennett, but this time veteran newcomer Nate Washington and Aaron Dobson also took part.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--At various points in practice those getting reps at punt returner included V’Angelo Bentley, Foster, Cyrus Jones, Keshawn Martin, DeAndre Carter and Chris Harper.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Snyder had to take a penalty lap at one point for an unknown infraction. The first-year player out of Rutgers put as much effort and energy into the punishment lap as this writer has ever seen, including sharp cuts as he worked past each pylon.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Hogan has been taking reps as the personal protector in front of Allen on the punt team.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Develin caught the ball well out of the backfield in half-field 7-on-7 work.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Dan Kraft, a member of the Patriots Board of Directors, watched a portion of the session from between the two practice fields a day after his father, Robert, did the same.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Free agent addition Markus Kuhn took plenty of reps at defensive tackle on three-man line between Long and Sheard during team drills.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Undrafted rookie cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc (read in a bad French accent!) stood out a number of times in coverage, including blanketing Hogan on a deep ball down the middle of the field.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--The loud speakers were back on the field for the second day of mini-camp and put to use late in practice. “Cult of Personality” led off the day’s playlist after things were noticeably silent a day earlier.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--It will be a long time before we get see exactly how Shea McClellin will be used in New England, but the former Bears first-round pick has been playing a lot on the edge while also dropping into coverage. He played both defensive end and off-the-line linebacker in Chicago.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Those working as gunners covering Allen’s many punts included Slater, Brandon King, Biggers, Darryl Roberts, Foster and Coleman.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Jimmy Garoppolo threw an interception to a stationary Jonathan Jones down the left sideline on a play where there seemed to be a communication breakdown between the quarterback and Dobson.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--The team often uses the tall, fat, blue dummies in a variety of drills. Just happened to notice that those dummies are No. 64.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Butler couldn’t have done a better job covering Martin late in practice on a would-be deep ball from Brady in team action.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Kuhn and Alan Branch worked at defensive tackle on a four-man line in team work late.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--In that team action the defense sent a bit of pressure at No. 12 and he was forced to move off his spot a number of times, some would have been likely sacks in contact, game action.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Rookie third-round pick Joe Thuney took reps at both guard and center during the workout. A left tackle at North Carolina State, Thuney is showing good early versatility that could help him win a job and might shake up some of the rest of the offensive line competition.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Prior to the conclusion of practice the team did some conditioning work on the man-made hill created for such purposes a couple years back at the far corner of the fields.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Develin and Tyler Gaffney did some extra conditioning work afterwards.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Carter, Harper and rookie Devin Lucien were the last players to leave the practice field, getting some extra time working out with each other.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--Those players meeting with the media included Washington, Gostkowski, Richards, Long, White, Brown, Terrance Knighton and a number of others. Belichick also held a short session with the media.</span>

<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">--The Patriots are scheduled to return to the practice fields for the final day of the mini-camp on Thursday. The session is once again open to the media but closed to the public.</span>

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