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Training camp blogservations 8/17: Burkhead, Harris lead running game

The pads came on Monday and the emphasis was on the running game with Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris leading the way.


The pads came on and with that came some contact, most notably in the form of some work on the running game. The Patriots worked out for roughly 90 minutes under unseasonably mild conditions, and the physicality that took place on the field was reserved mostly for the big guys up front.

First that involved the aforementioned emphasis on the ground attack with Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead and undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor taking the majority of the reps. While the 11-on-11 work did not feature any tackling, it did offer an opportunity to see the lines going against one another while trying to open/fill holes depending on what side of the ball they called home.

Burkhead continues to look quick with his cuts and showed a nice burst when breaking into the secondary once again. Harris also ran with conviction and looks comfortable as he starts his second season in New England. Obviously the work on Monday was far from fully live with no tackling involved, but both looked solid as ball carriers while Sony Michel (PUP, foot) and Lamar Miller (PUP) remained out of action.

In terms of contact, the lines also went at it in individual pass rushing/protection drills while the skilled positions were engaged in 7-on-7s. David Andrews turned in a dominant rep against Adam Butler early on while Jermaine Eluemunor did a nice job against Lawrence Guy. The defenders, Butler included, also turned the tables at times, particularly when using some two-man games to beat the protection.

Overall it was nice to see some contact after such a long period of time and Bill Belichick seemed content with easing his troops into things on the first day in pads.

With that said here are some observations from Monday's practice.

*There have been a lot of conversations wondering how coaches will be able to fully evaluate players without the benefit of preseason games this summer. Belichick was asked about it during his video call before practice and didn't seem overly concerned with the loss of the games but rather pointed toward the joint practices that have also been lost due to the pandemic.

"As we get to different points in camp depending on what we're ready for, what we have installed, what situations we're ready for, and then we'll have to create those situations, practice them against ourselves or practice them against a simulated opponent," Belichick said. "We work against ourselves, we do what we do, but that may not be what everybody else does, so we would have to create that. There are other ways we can work on those situations, but ultimately, we're going to have to go out there and do them against ourselves.

"That's one of the advantages of practicing with another team. When we didn't practice with another team, then it was the same situation. Even though there were preseason games, the fact of the matter is that with a minute to go in the game, the players who are going to be doing that in the regular season generally weren't on the field anyway for that situation. Without the joint practices – which again, sometimes we've had, sometimes we haven't – but then we'd have to create those situations ourselves and coach them and evaluate them and all of the things that go with them. So, that's where we are this year."

*The Patriots signed three new players and all were on the field for practice. Tight ends Paul Butler (No. 82) and Alex Ellis (88) joined offensive lineman Ben Braden (65) were all in the mix and will add depth at their respective positions.

Check out photos of the Patriots during training camp at Gillette Stadium on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

*Robert Kraft was on the field for the first hour of practice. It was the first time we've seen the owner at practice thus far this summer.

*The quarterbacks continued to work on rollouts and throwing on the run under the watch of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as well as new quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch.

*The players worked on a simulated tackling drill that incorporated portions of things we've seen in previous practices with an added twist. The quarterbacks threw short passes to receivers, who were almost immediately met with a tackler who tried to punch the ball loose from the backside before a second defender came in to make sure the tackle was secure. The players worked on catching the ball in traffic and ball security while the defenders practiced their strips for forced fumbles while also working on pursuit angles and tackling techniques – all without much contact.

*The special teams focus was on punt coverage Monday. Jake Bailey sent many kicks high and deep while Taylor, Gunner Olszewski and Isaiah Zuber took reps handling them. Taylor fumbled one during a return after getting stripped in traffic, causing the rookie to run a lap. Taylor's athleticism has also been on display, however, as he made a terrific diving over-the-shoulder catch early on and consistently darts in and out of cuts as well.

*Once the emphasis turned to the passing game the offense and defense once again substituted freely from opposite sidelines. As was the case on Sunday without pads, completions of much significance were hard to come by. The reps in 11-on-11 seemed to be divided rather evenly among Jarrett Stidham, Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer, but aside from short, quick throws the secondary kept things largely under wraps. Newton was able to hit Edelman on an intermediate throw down the seam, but even that looked like a play Devin McCourty would probably have been able to prevent under live game conditions. Stidham appears much more comfortable running the offense in Year 2, which is understandable with a year under his belt. He made solid throw to Damiere Byrd on a deep out that was impressive.

*The specialists – Bailey, Joe Cardona and Justin Rohrwasser – spent some time running behind the end zone on the field to the right while the offense and defense worked on the opposite side. Matthew Slater also did his share of running and individual work while the 11-on-11s were taking place.

*Rohrwasser again showed a strong leg at the end of practice when he closed things out with a handful of field goals. Unofficially he connected on 3 of 5 attempts, all between 45-50 yards, missing one to the right and the other to the left. He also worked on his kickoffs earlier in practice.

*In addition to Belichick, several players talked to the media via video call after practice. That group included Butler, Stephon Gimore, Justin Bethel, Chase Winovich, Cody Davis, Terrence Brooks and Joejuan Williams.

*The Patriots will practice once again on Tuesday with a scheduled 10 a.m. start.

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