As Bill Belichick predicted in his morning press conference, (and since he makes the practice schedule he's always right) the Patriots returned to the practice field Thursday afternoon for a full pads session focusing on plenty of situational work on both sides of the football. It's still a week away, but the team is working to put together all the different areas of the game that will be on display for the preseason opener next Friday night in Atlanta.
"We're still a ways off, but we're definitely trying to pull it all together from a total team standpoint, and situations that we'll be looking at in a week in Atlanta," Belichick said.
Offensive and defensive group and positional work of the afternoon workout focused on pass rush/protection early in practice. The linebackers matched up with the running backs/tight ends on one end of the field and the offensive players seemed to get the better of their admittedly undermanned defensive counterparts. One highlight for the defense in the drill came when Mike Vrabel made Benjamin Watson whiff with a nice fake and quick move to the quarterback. Kevin Faulk looked solid for the offense, showing once again that pass protection is not necessarily about size but more about effort and technique.
When the units got together for more team-based action the focus turned to Red Zone and down-and-distance drills.
Tom Brady and the rest of his offensive crew struggled for much of the team segment, with the quarterback failing to find open receivers, getting "sacked" and watching a few of his throws end up dropped by the open targets. All said, the completion of the second practice of the fifth day of double sessions over the first week of camp was not the team's most stellar performance of the week. Matt Cassel didn't find things much easier in the drill and for seemingly the first time in camp backup quarterbacks Cory Bramlet and Todd Mortensen each got a rep leading a full offensive unit to close out the practice.
Who's Hot: Kevin Faulk – No surprise here, but Faulk has had a consistent camp. He's been his usual playmaking self coming out of the backfield, serving as one of Brady's few consistent receivers through the first week of camp. He just seems to keep his head down, does his job and works as hard as anybody.
Who's Not: The offense – The unit struggled Thursday afternoon, especially in the team segment that closed out practice when Brady had great difficulty finding open receivers. As good as it looked during the two-minute drill two night's ago in the Gillette Stadium night practice, it was equally ineffective this afternoon.
Play of the Practice: There wasn't much to choose from for the afternoon session. One of the few highlights came as Troy Brown made a nice diving grab on a Brady wobbler deep down the left side of the field in team action, splitting coverage from Eugene Wilson and Tebucky Jones.
Former Patriots offensive lineman Max Lane was at the afternoon session. He spent some pre-practice time chatting with Dante Scarnecchia and Bill Belichick. … Safety Tebucky Jones returned for the full pads session after being one of the few players on the team to not even make an appearance at the morning workout. … Asante Samuel was also back in action, recording a pick on a Brady pass deep down the middle during one segment. … A three-man crew of NFL officials, who addressed the team and the media earlier in the day, were in uniform and on the field for the afternoon work. … Besides the 7 PUPs and Deion Branch (holdout Day 7), the following players missed the afternoon action: Tedy Bruschi, Artrell Hawkins, Chad Jackson, Daniel Graham, Garrett Mills, Matt Shelton, Monty Beisel, Marquise Hill, Jarvis Green and Corey Dillon. … Chad Brown appeared to injure his left hand during one drill and left the field with a member of the team's training staff. … A group of kick returners took reps from the Jugs machine before practice with a member of the team's video staff filming intently from just in front of the players at field level. The group, including Faulk, Ellis Hobbs, Kelvin Kight, Bam Childress, Willie Andrews, Reche Caldwell and Laurence Maroney, then worked on catching a kickoffs from the machine with one hand while already holding another ball in their other hand. … Fred Baxter had some one-on-one time with rookie tight end David Thomas after the rookie struggled during one rep of a pass protection drill. … With both Bruschi and Beisel out of action, Don Davis and Barry Gardner took reps with the first unit at inside linebacker. … Walter Rasby, known mostly as a blocking tight end throughout his 12-year career, caught the defense and Mike Vrabel napping when he slipped out for a wide-open reception during the team segment. … Maroney put a nice move on safety Mel Mitchell during a run in the open field. … The team capped the slightly shorter practice session with a series of four sprints. … The team announced a schedule change for Friday. There will be just a single practice session at Gillette Stadium from 2:30-4:30 p.m.