View a collection of the best images from Patriots Training Camp in Foxborough on Thursday, August 4, 2016.
After a slow start to 2016 training camp, New England's defense has been making more plays the past few practices. Early on, it was the offense creating most of the highlights, but the D has stepped up, and the friendly competition has manifested itself in much celebrating on both sides after almost every big play.
"That's what good teams do, they go back and forth," cornerback Logan Ryan pointed out. "I don't think it's going to be a one-sided battle. We're going to try our best to beat them every day, [but] they're going to beat us some days. That's the nature of the beast. Both sides are competing… Just fun being out here with these guys."
Ryan was the victim of a big pass play today – a long TD pass to Chris Harper – and has had his share of struggles since camp started late last month. In fairness to Ryan, though, he has been operating the entire time with a red jersey. Normally, these are given to players (other than the QBs, who all always wear red) who are not to be touched or tackled on the practice field because they are working their way back from some injury (or in the QBs' case, because they're considered more vulnerable to injury).
Ask Ryan, however, and he won't use the red jersey as an excuse for his inconsistent play thus far.
"No. In the capacity I'm being used, I feel like I'm doing the best I can do. I don't think it's showing any type of limitation. I'm going to do whatever they ask me to do, for sure.
"Getting better every day," Ryan maintained. "Taking it one day at a time. This is the time you learn from your mistakes and polish some stuff up and get ready to compete against your own team the next day and other teams pretty soon."
Anyone seen Dion?
It seems this summer that more of the Patriots players on PUP (physically unable to perform list) are able to attend practice and do rehabilitation work on the field than in past training camps. In fact, of all the injured players, the only one who has yet to make an appearance in training camp is running back Dion Lewis.
It would normally not be unusual for a player like Lewis, who's coming off a left knee injury suffered last November, to be on PUP and absent for the start of training camp. What makes his situation a bit different is the fact that he managed to take part in the final spring practice at which media were allowed to attend (the Patriots held a handful more sessions after that before breaking for the summer).
Head coach Bill Belichick was asked about Lewis' status Thursday.
"Well, he's on PUP, so, there are certain things he's not allowed to do as far as team walkthroughs and things like that. But the meetings, all the teaching things that we do, he certainly participates in those," Belichick responded. "And then physically, he can do the things that he can do from a rehab standpoint. Whatever the players can do, they can do either by their physical situation or whatever the rules are. Whatever they can't do, then we try not to let that hold them back from what they can do."
The head coach dismissed a reporter's premise that perhaps the Patriots are able to hold Lewis back a bit because of the number of healthy ball carriers the team has on the roster who are able to practice.
"We don't really look at it that way. The players that can participate, participate. Hopefully they get a lot out of it. The players that can't participate, they get as much out of what they can do; walkthroughs, or film sessions, or whatever it happens to be. Until they can get out there then they have to do what they can do, but that doesn't change how we make [decisions]. We've got 89 other players to coach, or however many other guys are missing, but there's still a lot of players out there that we've got to coach, got to get better, and we can't wait and hold everybody else back because one person or a couple of people aren't out there."
Belichick didn't say how soon Lewis might be expected to suit up again.
Jordan's year-two jump?
It's no secret that Belichick believes an NFL player's biggest opportunity to develop is between his first and second season in the league – what Belichick refers to as the "year-two jump." Safety Jordan Richards is someone who appears to be falling into that category this summer.
"Yeah, Jordan got off to a late start last year with the whole Stanford trimester schedule they were on, or whatever it is. He kind of missed a lot of the spring. He's a smart kid, he works hard, he caught up, but it's not quite the same as being there from day one. He had a really good offseason and he's been on the field. He doesn't miss anything, he's a durable kid that's smart, really pays attention, just gets better every day. I think he's taken some good steps. Again, it's a very competitive position there, but he's definitely gotten better."
Richards has seemingly been getting more opportunities on defense this year compared to last and has made a few nice plays defending passes, including one early in camp against All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. After Thursday's session, Richards asserted that he's focused on becoming a better all-around player, not just at safety, and he's quick to credit another Belichick – the head coach's son Steve, who coaches the safeties – for his continued growth entering his second season.
"He's a real good coach," said Richards. "We're still getting used to him. I love having Steve in the room and trying to figure out what his style is. Steve's his own guy. That's all anyone wants, to be authentic and to be you. That's what he's doing."
Buy: Jabaal Sheard – The veteran defensive end has looked sharp throughout camp, both in position drills and in team periods.
Sell:Cyrus Jones – New England's top pick in this year's draft was expected to contribute at the very least on special teams as a returner. He's been getting plenty of opportunities in both punt and kick returns, but has struggled to hold onto the football consistently and has done little so far defensively at cornerback.
*Play of the Day: *During an early team period play, Tom Brady dropped back to pass and spotted wide receiver Chris Harper deep down the left numbers. He had separated a good five yards from cornerback Logan Ryan. Brady heaved a perfect pass and hit Harper in stride for a touchdown.