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Rookie Specialists Kicking Things off Daily at Patriots Training Camp

The Patriots spent two draft picks on a kicker and a punter this year and so far they're off to good starts.

Patriots kicker Chad Ryland (62) and punter Bryce Baringer (59).
Patriots kicker Chad Ryland (62) and punter Bryce Baringer (59).

A recurring theme has developed through the first week of Patriots training camp and it's the first two faces to take the field before each session, rookies Chad Ryland and Bryce Baringer.

New England was just the second team in 30 years to select a kicker and a punter in the same draft, with Ryland taken in the fourth round, 112th overall, and Baringer taken in the sixth round, 192nd overall, and so far both have shown promise during the team's kicking portions of practice.

"We've been friends for a while," said Baringer following Wednesday's practice of their daily early arrivals. "We just kind of have a routine and we try to stick to that. We like getting out here early, just getting to feel the environment, the wind. Just the weather in general, but also just get out loosen up a little bit and not be too stiff and try to relax."

"Bryce is a super awesome guy, we're both hard workers," said Ryland. "Our personalities fit together well so it's fun to work with all the guys in the specialist room. We've got a room full of good dudes on the team, good dudes all around. It's an awesome place to go to work every day."

"We're roommates in the hotel together as well. We're always talking, just bouncing ideas off one another. We have a very similar routine. He has some things that he does. I have some things that I do, but at the end of the day when you have someone who you've known for a while, going through the same kind of process, it's nice to have a shoulder to lean on."

Both rookies are locked in position battles against veterans Nick Folk and Corliss Waitman. While Ryland and Folk have alternated end-of-practice kicks, Baringer and Waitman have both consistently had their numbers called throughout the first week. Despite the competition, the vets have been helpful as the rookies assimilate into the realities of playing in the NFL.

"All the vets have been awesome to be around," said Ryland. "You've got a guy like Matt Slater, Folk. Those guys' careers have been phenomenal, so any nuggets of wisdom or anything I kept from them I'm always willing to take it."

Ryland missed one kick during Monday's practice, acknowledging he had left his toe too wide open on that rep and adding, "I kick it, I own it" while admitting the miss. Despite the miss Ryland's leg strength has stood out during his opportunities. Finding the consistency that Folk has mastered here in New England will be the key for the young kicker, who surely has plenty of big, pressure-filled kicks to come this summer.

"We just go out there and compete and give our best each day," said Ryland of the veteran Folk. "They have it scheduled for who kicks when and we go out there and make the most of our reps and we're both trying to help the team win the most that we can."

Baringer's role might be even more extensive, as he'll be tasked with holding snaps for the kicker, while also unpacking the complexity of punting in the NFL, which is heavily dependent on situational football.

"I take a lot of pride in [holding]," said Baringer. "Like a golfer I try to be the caddy for the kicker. We kind of bounce ideas off one another whether it's a type of hold with the wind or their sight lines. Anything like that. I try to do my third of the operation to really make sure we score."

Baringer's power jumps off the field, as he's consistently delivered impressive hang times and turned heads with field-position-changing boomers. It's still early, but the the returns have been positive as the team closes in on one week to go until they open the preseason against the Texans.

"[The coaches] pour so much into us, helping us out with trying to really understand situations," said Baringer. "We kind of had a couple of them in practice today. It's just really important to understand how the game flows and being ready whenever you have to get called on."

Deuce's Dime Package

  1. Wednesday was the offense's best practice of the summer and one of the best in recent memory. Mac Jones looks like he has a firm grasp of what Bill O'Brien is trying to accomplish and even with just scheme, they're able to put the defense in some tough spots. Things were a little clunky and inconsistent through the first six practices, but this was a "signs of life and potential" practice. Mac's end zone throw the Juju Smith-Schuster was arguably the best-run play of camp and it resulted in a late 11-on-11 red zone touchdown.
  2. That said, the offensive line remains a significant concern as injuries have mounted. With Trent Brown relegated to conditioning, Riley Reiff and Conor McDermott have held down the tackle spots, while the absence of Cole Strange necessitated some interior rotation, with Bill Murray and Atonio Mafi getting the bulk of the reps. With three of the five expected starters out it shouldn't have been surprising that the offense couldn't run the ball into the end zone during goal-line until their fourth attempt. Calvin Anderson's return from NFI would provide some much-needed depth, but so far no one knows quite what his prognosis is.
  3. With thin running back depth and Rhamondre Stevenson getting protected from any full-contact drills so far, it's been all about Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong. Harris has shown up a little more in early down work, looking spry on one screen play during the second 11-on-11 portion of Wednesday's practice. I like giving the second-year backs a ton of reps to find out what they've got, but I still think they need to add depth to the position sooner than later.
  4. Isaiah Bolden came up with his first interception of team periods, picking off a Trace McSorley pass near the end of practice. While the top cornerback groupings seem clear, Bolden is one who has seen rising reps and opportunities. His latest pick should only boost those efforts. He still hasn't cracked a shot with the top defense yet.
  5. The kickoff team has thrown two onsides kicks at the return team through the first week of practice and Brenden Schooler was Johnny on the spot, snagging both of them. Schooler is having a strong camp. During drills, he's consistently able to slip blockers and has developed even more savvy to his game. Not many analysts put the spotlight on special teams but Schooler is a good player who will make plays this year.
  6. The defense has been experimenting a bit with their corners, mainly with Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones and Jack Jones, as Christian Gonzalez has been a fixture on the outside. On Wednesday it was Marcus on the outside with Jonathan in the slot. Previously the team had taken looks at Marcus and Myles Bryant inside as well. This will likely be a gameplan feature, with a variety of who lines up where, but I still wonder what the most effective combination will be and where they'll land for the season opener.
  7. Keion White was a problem in 1-on-1s. The rookie said he was looking forward to getting the pads on to see what the physicality of the NFL is like and he seemed to relish the opportunity to push some o-linemen around. White appears destined for a rotational role along the defensive line, at least initially as a designated pass rusher, but he's a big powerful man who could see his usage consistently rise throughout the season. Right now he seems one injury away from being an immediate starter.
  8. After a quiet start to training camp, Marte Mapu keeps flashing around the ball more and more. Mapu's reps with the starters have been limited but otherwise, he's continued what we saw in the spring, playing all over the place from linebacker to the slot to safety. Still not sure if he can surpass the "starters" ahead of him in each of those positions, but if he continues this trajectory it won't be long before he's finding his way into more high-profile reps, especially when he finally gets the red jersey off.
  9. Pop Douglas continues to make eye-popping plays day in and day out. On Wednesday it was a one-on-one rep against Marcus Jones where he managed to contort his body deep down the field and came down with an impressive catch. His suddenness really stands out and should help him carve out at least a specialty role. However, it's his consistency over the last few days that is the most promising.
  10. Finally, as the official Bill Belichick Hoodie tracker, Wednesday's practice marks the sixth time in seven training camp practices that the coach has worn the new cutoff red hoodie. For those who don't know, he hasn't worn red in a game since Super Bowl 42. For those who remember that game this could be a troubling trend. Now, 15 years later it looks like Belichick is ready to break the curse and roll in red for his 24th season with the Pats.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

Patriots punter Bryce Baringer (59).
Patriots punter Bryce Baringer (59).

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