FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots welcomed Greg Schiano's Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium Tuesday morning. That led to an active and competitive two-plus hour session, even if it wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing workout we've seen from New England this summer.
Though previously scheduled to be an afternoon session, Bill Belichick and Schiano moved things up to the morning to avoid potential thunderstorms in the forecast. Players for both teams hit the field in full pads – the Patriots sporting blue jerseys with silver pants while the Bucs were dressed in white shirts with pewter pants.
Overall the workout saw some playmaking from both teams on both sides of the ball. It was interesting that Schiano's team clearly seems to be a more run-based squad, including plenty of carries in two-minute and hurry-up situations, while Tom Brady and the Patriots displayed their usual balanced offense with an emphasis on the air attack when called for.
While the session wasn't nearly as perfect as some of the action a week earlier in joint action against the Eagles in Philly – especially in terms of a passing game for the Patriots that was a bit inconsistent on Tuesday – the benefits of the increased competitive level and variety of looks provided by another team were once again obvious.
That in mind, here are one man's head-on-a-swivel observations from a crowded practice fields in Foxborough:
--Six players were not dressed for the practice for the Patriots including Mark Harrison (foot), Brandon Spikes, Jason Vega, Rob Gronkowski (arm/back), Jermaine Cunningham and Armond Armstead (infection).
Vega was released by the team after reportedly being injured early in Friday night's preseason opener. He was replaced on the roster by H-back Evan Landi, and the new No. 49 was working with the tight ends for the practice. Landi is an undrafted rookie out of South Florida who actually spent time with the Bucs this spring.
Spikes missed his first practice. He was a bit slow to get up after a play in the preseason opener, but had been on the practice field on Monday.
Gronkowski was on the field watching the workout in sweats.
Devin McCourty was wearing his usual red, non-contact jersey.
Ras-I Dowling, Alfonzo Dennard, Tyronne Green, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Kevin Haslam and Michael Jenkins were among those players dressed but not participating in the workout.
--The Bucs list former Patriots running back/kick return Jeff Demps on the reserve/did not report portion of the roster. Demps was traded to Tampa on draft weekend in part because he'd chosen to try to pursue a track career. Belichick referenced that fact in his morning press conference when he said of Demps and the trade for LeGarrette Blount, "The player that we had, we weren't really able to get on the field." Neither can the Bucs, apparently.
--Belichick had to scramble early in pre-practice work when a punt nearly hit him while he was talking with director of football/head coach administration Berj Najarian.
--Former Patriots linebacker Brian Cox is an assistant coach as a pass rush specialist for the Bucs.
--While the Patriots quarterbacks wear red jerseys, Tampa's wear green to stand out from the crowd. It was like Christmas on the field!
--A crew of four officials worked the practice, throwing flags when necessary in various drills and team action.
--Thanks to the nine players from each roster, there were 18 former Rutgers players on the field for the practice action. There are also multiple assistant coaches on both staffs from the school where Schiano formerly ran the show. There was also a fan wearing a Rutgers t-shirt in the crowd, while at least one media member alumni from the school was in attendance with his Rutgers umbrella.
--Darrelle Revis, who's returning from a torn ACL, was on the field for Tampa Bay but didn't participate in drills.
--The Bucs rotated through a variety of fundamental drills early in practice. One portion included players doing exaggerated two-handed fumble scoops. Another included tackling work that had the players hitting the ball carrier and finishing the tackle with the two players diving on a large padded mat that was on the practice field.
--The Bucs also use a football on a stick for defensive coaches to simulate the snap of the ball.
--Patriots owner Robert Kraft watched the first half of the workout. He spent a few minutes chatting with Schiano as well as a period of time talking to Bucs GM. Mark Dominik.
--Aaron Dobson had a lot of success early in practice working in one-on-one drills against Tampa rookie corner Johnthan Banks. Things came back around later in practice as Banks seemed to make more plays in coverage of Dobson. Dobson did seem to get away with a push-off on one reception over Banks in team action. But with the officials watching, no flag, no foul.
--Overall the offensive sides of the ball got the better of the one-on-one drills working on the passing game as receivers seemed to haul in most throws.
--Ryan Mallett had a throw in one-on-one work intended for Matthew Slater that was batted back toward the line of scrimmage where the quarterback caught it and began to run with the completion to himself.
--Shane Vereen and Leon Washington were the top returners during a kickoff segment. They were followed by the duo of Slater and LeGarrette Blount and then Josh Boyce and Stevan Ridley.
--New England worked on a lot of dime packages at various points in the group and team work. That look included Aqib Talib and Devin McCourty on the outside at cornerback, Duron Harmon and Steve Gregory back at safety, Kyle Arrington in the slot and Adrian Wilson in the box. McCourty once again got a lot of reps at cornerback throughout the practice in drills and seven-on-seven, but then returned to safety in base sets in team action late in the workout.
--Mallett had consecutive bad throws in seven-on-seven. The first he threw a fastball right into the ground and then he had a toss for Julian Edelman that was low and behind the target leading to the interception.
--Brady was not happy with Vereen after one short completion to the back in seven-on-seven action. After the catch Vereen turned to run up the right sideline but had the ball punched out by Bucs cornerback Leonard Johnson.
--Logan Ryan and Brandon Jones consistently get the reps with the second unit, while Justin Green seems to rotate into the mix.
--Kenbrell Thompkins had the play of the day with an impressive, one-handed touchdown. The rookie receiver was well covered by Tampa cornerback Rashaan Melvin at the goal line down the right sideline. But Thompkins actually reached around Melvin with his right hand to make the catch behind the corners back for the touchdown.
--It's interesting to see how the receivers are deployed for New England in various sets. It seems that often times when it's a three receiver set that includes Danny Amendola in the slot with Dobson and either Boyce or Thompkins on the outside. When all four are on the field, Boyce tends to be on the inside.
--Belichick seemed to spend a lot of time watching his defense work against the Bucs offense at the times when the teams split to work on two different fields at various points in the practice.
--Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels used headsets to call in the plays, simulating true game experiences in team action.
--Steve Gregory worked in front of Zoltan Mesko in punt action as the personal protector. Marquice Cole and Slater worked as gunners with the group. Harmon got work as the personal protector with the second group. Kanorris Davis and Justin Green also got reps at gunner.
--With Dennard and Dowling still not practicing, Cole continues to get a lot of work in the slot during traditional nickel looks.
--With Spikes not on the field, Dont'a Hightower bumped into the middle linebacker spot while rookie Jamie Collins took reps on the strongside at linebacker with the top unit.
--During punt return work Julian Edelman was the first back deep, followed by Washington and Thompkins. Edelman then was skipped for his rep on the second time through the rotation. Thompkins has not looked overly confident or smooth in his punt return chances.
--With the extra practice action and film crew from a second team, there were four different lifts with cameramen taping the action, including one between the two practice fields near midfield.
--Will Svitek continues to have to man the right guard spot with the first unit.
--Defensive tackle Lazarius Levingston batted down a Brady pass in team work despite the fact that he was being double teamed by Ryan Wendell and Logan Mankins at the time.
--Daniel Fells met with members of the medical staff on the far end of the field at one point. They appeared to be examining his left shoulder. Fells ran back to his teammates afterwards but did not seem to do much work after that point.
--The Patriots cornerbacks got a different look working against Tampa's bigger receivers like Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Jackson blew by McCourty in one rep of team action, but was overthrown by Josh Freeman.
--Freeman has an impressive arm and isn't afraid to try to fit the ball in tight windows. That can be good and bad. We saw some of both on Tuesday.
--Freeman had one very nice completion on a skinny post to former Patriot Tiquan Underwood (yes, he still has the very impressive fade!) beating Kyle Arrington easily off the line.
--Jerod Mayo had the hit of the day when he laid a big shoulder into Doug Martin on a run in team action that sent the second-year back to the turf.
--Freeman also hit Williams for a touchdown on a slant in the red zone, beating Talib who seemed to just give up or stop on the play for some reason.
--Loud music blasted throughout the practice fields when the team's worked on two-minute drills.
--New England struggled in the two-minute action. It began with a run for no gain. Then a Brady attempt for Amendola was defended. Later Dobson had a drop on a pass that hit him in the chest. At some points the ball was being advanced because that's what the practice script called for rather than the Patriots actually gaining yards. It wasn't pretty, or what we've come to expect from Brady and Co. in the drill.
--Schiano does a lot of yelling and hands on coaching during practice, especially with his defense.
--Marcus Forston got reps at defensive tackle next to Vince Wilfork in some late nickel situations. When the group rotated out into a base look, Cory Grissom was on the inside next to Tommy Kelly. Will be interesting to see if the Patriots try to split the reps at defensive tackle with the veterans and try to pair them with young players during the regular season.
--There was some end-of-game work late in the practice that included short throws and the receivers getting down so the offense could spike the ball to kill the clock. In one particular play with Belichick counting down to under five seconds at the snap Brady yelled angrily at Zach Sudfeld after the rookie made the catch. Not sure exactly what the youngsters mistake was to draw No. 12's ire.
--During a dime look late in practice, Wilfork was the only defensive tackle on the field, with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones at end as well as Mayo and Hightower at linebacker.
--Stephen Gostkowski hit all of his field goal attempts to end the various two-minute and hurry-up drives by the New England offense, including some from 50-ish yards.
--Undrafted rookie Johnathan Haggerty had his best practice of the summer, catching a lot of balls from the backup quarterbacks.
--McCourty celebrated his 26th birthday, a day after Arrington turned 27. Neither got the attention from the crowd nor the team that Brady got on his big day earlier in camp.
--Adrian Wilson had a blitz that led to a sack in team action.
--Both teams ran fake field goals/busted snap plays during a segment late in practice. Mesko looked pretty comfortable rolling left to hit Jake Ballard for the completion.
--Kelly blocked a Bucs field goal attempt, but also got shaken up on the play. It almost looked from afar that the ball may have hit him in the neck/jaw area, getting underneath his facemask. He actually had to leave the field before the next field goal attempt.
--Peyton Hillis put Jeff Tarpinian on his back, running over the linebacker during late "opportunity" reps.
--Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon threw an interception to Tavon Wilson in the "opportunity" session that would have been returned for a touchdown by the safety.
--Matt Patricia had a long chat with Schiano after the practice ended.
--Tebow did a lot of sprints in full pads on the field by himself after the practice. He also hopped back and forth on one foot for a while. He looked to be the last player on the field.
--A number of players from both teams met with the media after the session. Revis drew one of the largest crowds among Bucs players. Wilfork had a big gathering of media for the New England side.
--Brady's supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen watched the practice and visited her husband on the field afterwards.
--The teams will return to the practice field for another joint workout on Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 pm. Brady is expected to address the media after the workout.