After going at it with some pretty physical practices the last two days, the Patriots pulled back on the throttle a bit on Wednesday with a slower-paced workout in helmets, shorts and shells. The high-level intensity may have been missing but the competition was still well above that of a walkthrough despite the absence of pads.
Once again the defense dictated the day, making life difficult on Cam Newton and the offense, particularly during two-minute drills that more often than not have trouble getting started. Newton just can't seem to consistently connect with receivers down the field, whether due to the wideouts having trouble getting open or the quarterback misfiring when they do.
Some of the frustration of those struggles was visible on the field. Mohamed Sanu looked to have a step on the coverage on a deep in the first 11-on-11 action but Newton's throw was slightly long and glanced of his hands. Sanu clapped his hands in disgust as the ball eluded him, and Newton immediately looked to the sky lamenting this missed opportunity.
Bill Belichick talked about the importance of working through such struggles during his video conference prior to practice.
"We're in I'd say the dog days of training camp here. Just grinding through it day by day," he said. "This is really what our team needs to build its consistency and mental and physical toughness. Just a lot of practice repetitions and starting to put things together situationally, but I think we're at that stage where we spent a lot of time on a lot of the basic things, the majority of our schemes are in, and now it's really about developing the consistency that we need. That can only be done through a lot of practice repetitions and just seeing different things and executing plays at a high speed or close to high-speed tempo so we can carry that over into the game ultimately. So, we're just going to have to string a lot of these days together here in the next week-and-a-half, just one day at a time.
"That's where we're at, and we'll get a good chance going forward here to evaluate where everybody's at and how they're doing relative to the competition at their position or the competition on the other side of the ball and the players that they're competing against. So, as always, it will be interesting to see how all that turns out and what type of roles players will establish for themselves based on their performance."
In the last full team work, Newton tried to connect with rookie tight end Dalton Keene on a couple of occasions but again was unable to do so. On the first he tried to rifle a back shoulder throw down the seam into a tight window but rookie linebacker Josh Uche had excellent coverage and prevented the completion.
On the second, Keene again made his way down the seam only this time the communication seemed to be off and Newton's throw was well behind the tight end and went straight to Terrence Brooks, who made the easy interception.
On a positive note, Newton came back on the next snap and tossed a perfectly fade to Rex Burkhead in the corner of the end zone. The ball floated over the outside shoulder of Burkhead, who made a terrific diving catch in the back right hand corner of the end zone. The veteran running back leapt to his feet and emphatically spiked the ball after the touchdown.
So, it wasn't all bad for the offense, but at some point in the coming days it would be nice to see the execution rise on a more consistent level before the start of the regular season.
Here are some other observations from the 13th practice of the summer.
*Sony Michel was another positive development for the offense. He was on the field in uniform for the first time this summer. Michel took part in the individual drills with the running backs and then saw action in some passing work and again in 11-on-11s. He took a few carries and appeared to be running without any sign of a limp after returning from offseason foot surgery. Michel showed good quickness and speed after spending the first two weeks of camp on the physically unable to perform list.
*For the second straight day the team worked with some crowd noise being pumped in through the speakers. As the offense moved up and down the field both in 7-on-7s and full team action, the first down markers moved with them and the noise remained a constant.
*I mentioned Derek Rivers on Tuesday and explained his solid work thus far in camp. Belichick was asked about the edge player before practice and had some praise for the fourth-year player.
"He's had a very good camp and really is playing with a lot of confidence," Belichick said. "He's gained a lot of strength and explosiveness. His overall body composition, strength, power is good. It's a very competitive position. Derek has done a good job, and he's well ahead of where he's been in the past. Each day, it seems like he gets a little more consistent, a little more confident, and I think he should be able to help us."
*There were a couple of different drills visible on Wednesday. One involved the linebackers working against running backs with the defender running behind a horizontal line of three tackling dummies, starting behind the middle one. As the running back took the handoff and broke left or right, the linebacker had to find the ball carrier and go around the edge of the line before making the simulated tackle.
*At the same time, the receivers and defensive backs worked on a similar drill on the opposite field. The receivers caught passes before turning upfield and splitting between a pair of blocking pads where a defensive back waited to break down in space to make the tackle. Newton took a rep as a receiver, breaking through the pads with the ball in his hands before meeting the defense.
*Both the punt and punt return teams got some action on Wednesday. Free agent newcomer Cody Davis continues to serve as the personal protector on the punt team, a role previously occupied by Nate Ebner and Patrick Chung in the past. Davis appears quite comfortable in all of his special teams roles.
*Both Nick Folk and Justin Rohrwasser spent some time working on their onside kicks. They seemed to be experimenting with different techniques with Folk even trying some with the ball on its side on the tee. Rohrwasser tried a lot of different variations and had trouble at times kicking it the requisite 10 yards. Both had some attempts that appeared would have been quite effective in game conditions.
*Robert Kraft made an appearance on the practice fields and watched the last half of the workout.
*There were some problems for the punt return team during their reps. It looked like the group had trouble aligning before the snap and Belichick sent the entire group for a lap. A few plays later the confusion seemed to persist and Belichick sent them running again. Special teams coordinator Cam Achord joined them.
*Practice closed with a drill designed to help defenders with their pursuit angles for tackling. A variety of players took part, including the specialists, which makes sense given the ability to tackle is space is a necessity of the kicking game. One player carried the ball down the sideline toward the pylon while the defender pursued from behind and tried to close the gap. Runners varied their routes, sometimes sprinting for the end zone and others cutting back inside the tackler. Stephon Gilmore provided the highlight of the drill when his moved caused Brooks to fall to the ground. Gilmore's run elicited a huge reaction from his teammates.
*Newton, Gilmore, Rivers, Sanu, Damiere Byrd, John Simon and Shaq Mason were among those chatting with the media after practice.
*Practice is once again scheduled for 10 a.m. on Thursday.