There've been a couple of minor pushing and shoving matches between Patriots teammates in the first week of camp, but on Wednesday, tempers flared between players and coaches.
During a 1-on-1 period between receivers and defensive backs, Brandon Browner and Kenbrell Thompkins faced each other several times, with each rep producing increased tension between the two. At one point, with their helmets off, the defensive back and receiver continued yapping at one another from a distance. Thompkins then pointed to the ground in front of him, challenging Browner to take the next rep against him.
Browner accepted the duel and snapped on his helmet as he raced back onto the field. At the snap, the pair jockeyed for position before Browner blatantly shoved Thompkins to the ground in the end zone. More shouting ensued.
A few plays later, Browner got so irate after a rep that he turned and began yelling at receivers coach Chad O'Shea. Standing his ground, O'Shea fired back at Browner, who was complaining that O'Shea's receivers were playing too aggressively at the line of scrimmage. Cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, standing deep in the secondary, came to his player's defense, shouting in O'Shea's direction before and after the next rep.
Just when things seemed like they were going to escalate, the horn sounded for the end of that period and the start of the next one. The bad blood never resurfaced thereafter.
Following practice, Browner was contrite when addressing reporters, telling them that he and O'Shea had "hugged it out."
"As a coach, I've got to respect him," said Browner, whose inconsistent play thus far helped fuel today's tensions on the field.
"It was a physical one, man. We've got to compete out here. I'm tired of giving up balls, so, I just turned it up a little bit. Yesterday we gave up a few balls, let some of these guys off the line a little easy. That was my mentality going into this practice: To win my one-on-one matchups and things like that.
The battles between Thompkins and Browner reached their boiling point today, but both players were complimentary of one another afterward.
"He's a tremendous athlete. Brandon's got great length," said Thompkins. "We've got to make sure we work on our releases [at the line of scrimmage] and get open."
"KT's got routes at the line of scrimmage that are unmatchable," lauded Browner. "Some guys are not as quick as that dude. It's been competitive going against that guy... It gets us both better."
"Definitely. It's all part of the game," Thompkins agreed. "Sooner or later, we'll be going against a bunch of other guys [in Washington next week]. I'm pretty sure they'll be competitive as well. Things get heated in practice. Hopefully we can just get better from it. Leave it on the field."
Browner admitted that his style of play is "aggressive" and that there's a fine line between playing that way and committing penalties that might hurt his team. He also doesn't want what happens on the field to fracture his relationships with teammates.
"It's hard because…you don't want anyone to get hurt, but at the same time, you want to compete. I need to be liked by my teammates. Those are the guys I'm going to go to war with. But at the same time, I'm going to be aggressive with those guys. It's going to make those guys better. And I hope they bring the same fire back at me. It gets frustrating going against the same guys every day. I ready to get down to Washington and see what I can do against those guys."
When asked if he and Browner "hugged it out," too, after cooler heads prevailed, Thompkins grinned.
"We'll talk it out."
Dennard faces media
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard has been making steady progress in his rehab from upper and lower body injuries that plagued him late in 2013 and throughout the offseason. For the past few days, he's suited up in full pads with the rest of the team, but hasn't taken part fully in practice sessions yet.
However, he did make some time for reporters' questions on Wednesday – his first public comments since last season. In the early spring, Dennard served jail time stemming from a pre-draft altercation back in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2012. Asked if he's matured since enduring such a challenging life lesson, the soon-to-be-25-year-old was circumspect.
"It's been very tough, because I just want to go out there and compete with my teammates and learn from the older guys. I'm here right now. That's all that matters. Just… all about football right now."
During camp practices, when the rest of the corners are getting live reps against the offense, Dennard has mostly been running sprints and trying to stay in peak physical condition until he's able to take part in contact drills and full-speed action.
"Yeah, I'm doing pretty good. Every day getting better. Feels very good. Yeah. I'm taking it one day at a time. Feeling better and better every day."
Before practice begins in earnest each day, just prior to full-squad stretching, there's "installation." This is essentially a walkthrough period where new elements of the playbook are fed to the players and they act out their responsibilities at the slowest speed to ensure they are clear on what they have to do and where they have to be for those plays.
During Wednesday's installation, second-year cornerback Logan Ryan saw some action as a safety. Some observers speculated this offseason that Ryan might be a candidate to play there, given the acquisitions of Darrelle Revis and aforementioned Browner.
Ryan didn't seem to want to elaborate too much on his new responsibilities, focusing instead on how he's approaching camp this summer as opposed to last, his first in the NFL.
"Yeah, anything they throw at me, defensive back-wise, I'm good. There've been wrinkles here and there, but it's nothing too significant. We're having a lot of fun out there. I think every year, every rep, I'm gaining more confidence. Good rep or bad rep, you try to learn from it. I think I took some of my experiences from last year and yesterday and applied them to today.
"This year, I'm having fun in camp, not just trying to 'get through' camp. Having a lot of fun."
Buy: James White – The rookie ball carrier has had a nice start to camp and saw significant reps today with the regular top-tier offense.
Sell: Brandon LaFell – New England's big free agent acquisition hasn't shown much consistency during the first week of camp.
Play of the Day: In one of the last 11-on-11 reps of Wednesday's practice, Tom Brady tried to find receiver Kenbrell Thompkins on a crossing pattern, but cornerback Brandon Browner anticipated the throw perfectly, stepping in front of Thompkins to make the pick. Browner had a convoy of fellow defenders in front of him as he took the INT to the end zone for a would-be score.
Training camp practice resumes Thursday. Check patriots.com for the latest dates and times, as they are always subject to last-minute change.