After two days in full pads the Patriots dialed things back a bit on Wednesday as Bill Belichick had his players in helmets and shells. The coach stressed the need to continue the instruction portion of camp and the tempo was decidedly slower than it was in the previous two sessions.
Belichick explained the need to get all the players up to speed in order to give everyone opportunities to be evaluated on the field.
"A little different pace to the practice and so forth, but still obviously a big day for us, big working day for us," Belichick said before the workout. "So, we'll again just try to keep stacking these days together. We've got a decent amount of time here to work with, but we're trying to stay in a productive schedule and give everybody an opportunity to know what to do so we can evaluate them going forward. We're still, I'd say, a little ways off from that, but getting closer, and that's just a step-by-step, day-by-day process."
Despite the lack of contact the defense continued its solid play thus far this summer. The secondary got a lot of work on Wednesday with multiple 7-on-7 and full team sessions that featured a lot of throwing. On most occasions, the coverage was very tight and quarterbacks had a hard time making connections for any significant gains. Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham were intercepted twice apiece, although the tempo of the day may have contributed to some of those miscues.
One offensive player who managed to consistently beat the coverage was Damiere Byrd. Byrd has done that throughout the week, but hasn't had many catches to show for his solid route-running. His deep speed is evident, but most of the time he gets a step on the coverage the passes thrown his way have been off target.
That happened a couple of times early on Wednesday as well, but then he managed to make a few catches for some big plays later on. Brian Hoyer hit him for a nice gain on a crosser, and then Stidham found him behind the coverage deep down the left side for a touchdown. Newton and Byrd connected on a deep comeback on the left sideline, finally giving the speedster some catches to show for his work.
Overall the practice wasn't as lively as the previous two in pads, but it was still a chance to see how some of the pieces are starting to fit together.
"I think the team has worked hard," Belichick added. "They're really trying to, I'd say, be attentive, correct things from one play to the next or from one day to the next. When we make emphasis points on things we need to try to do better, either individually or collectively as a group, they've really responded and tried to fix the things that needed fixing. Not that we've got them all fixed by any means but I could see progress. I've seen consistent progress over the last really four practices and then the two this week, so really the last six practices where we've started to, like I said, take things from the meetings and the corrections out onto the field and improve on them the next day and so forth.
"They're doing a good job. We've just got to get a lot of things done here. The wheels start spinning a lot faster in a few days, but for right now, we're just trying to stay at a good teaching pace and be able to get some time to work and improve on our fundamentals, some of the basic things that we need to do, on almost every play. Hopefully, we can build a good base as we move forward."
Here are some observations from Wednesday's two-hour practice.
*Damien Harris is one of the players who has received plenty of opportunities thus far. With Sony Michel (foot) and Lamar Miller both on PUP to start camp, Harris, Rex Burkhead and undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor are the three main ball carriers available. Harris has received a lot of carries and at times looks sharp, but he's also had some passes thrown his way and shown soft hands as a receiver. He made a nice one-handed catch near the goal line on Tuesday when he was able to tip Newton's pass to himself as he raced across the middle. He looks more comfortable in his second year, and he could be poised for a significant role after basically red-shirting as a rookie.
"He's a smart player and he has a lot of skills that I think we'll be able to utilize," Belichick said of the second-year back. "He's had an opportunity to get quite a few reps here in the work that we've done to this point, so I think that's helped him, but he seems like he's in good shape and ready to go. Looking forward to seeing him."
*Rashod Berry, an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State, was originally listed on the roster as a tight end. But for the first week of practices he's been seen wearing a blue No. 62 jersey, indicating that he's working on defense. According to the most recent roster, Berry is now listed as a TE/DE, working on both sides of the ball.
*As we alluded to earlier, the secondary came up with four interceptions on Wednesday with Kyle Dugger recording a pair of them. He seems to be around the ball constantly and his athleticism is evident in everything he does. He's operated in a variety of spots and looks comfortable every day. J.C. Jackson and Cassh Maluia had the other picks, the later coming in a 7-on-7 period when the linebacker dropped into his zone over the middle and leaped the snare Newton's throw. Maluia, a rookie seventh-round pick out of Wyoming, has also showcased his athleticism thus far this summer.
*After being absent from team drills on Tuesday, Julian Edelman was a full participant on Wednesday. He ran some great routes to get open several times, most notably on a deep cross during an early drill against the defensive backs, but was unable to hold onto a perfect throw. Edelman was not happy with himself after the drop, but more importantly whatever cost him some time a day earlier did not appear to be a problem during practice.
*Yesterday's practice saw quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch donning the headsets and calling plays. Today offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was back in his normal role directing things from the sideline.
*Practice once again did not feature any kicking for rookie Justin Rohrwasser. Aside from some kicks late in Monday's practice, Rohrwasser hasn't really attempted many field goals thus far – at least while the media has been in attendance.
*Rather than closing with the kicking game, practice concluded with some sprints on the hills as the players continue to work on their conditioning.
*James White, Deatrich Wise, Jermaine Eluemunor, Jackson, Devin Ross, Gunner Olszewski and Hjalte Froholdt chatted with the media via video conference call after practice.
*The Patriots are scheduled to practice again on Thursday, most likely in full pads after a day off from contact.