Day 15 of Patriots training camp was the final day before their first preseason game against the Saints. It was a brief session -- about an hour and 40 minutes total -- but both teams did some interesting situational work in front of another sizable crowd at Gillette Stadium.
Another hot humid day in the mid-80s, but it could have been worse -- practice started at 10:00 a.m. so the sun wasn't at its strongest.
WHAT THEY WORE
Shells and shorts for everyone. Red jerseys for all the quarterbacks. And Robert Kraft was in his game-day attire: Blue button-down with a white collar and white cuffs.
WHAT THEY DID
10:00-10:20: Teams did some half-speed walkthroughs of passing plays, some calisthenics and some stretching to loosen up.
10:20-10:30: Receivers and quarterbacks took to agility drills on the ladder. Defenders worked on sliding laterally across the field to defend against pass plays (linebackers coach Pepper Johnson showed an impressive arm here). Receivers worked on getting off of jams at the line while running backs worked on chipping defenders and catching passes out of the backfield. Defensive backs worked on their ball skills, breaking up passes and trying to pick others. All the while Kenny Chesney's "Boys of Fall" blared over the speakers, setting the tone for a fairly mellow practice.
10:30-10:45: Quarterbacks worked on lofting throws to the corner of the end zone. Brandon Lloyd, even at half-speed, showed some pretty ridiculous coordination and athleticism as he grabbed passes at their highest points. Quarterbacks, receivers, backs and tight ends eventually moved out to the middle of the field to work on their routes against air. (One funny moment: Tom Brady threw one ball a little bit behind Aaron Hernandez that ricocheted off the chest of unsuspecting offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.) Saints coach Steve Spagnulo worked with linebackers for most of this session, and when we say "worked with" we mean "taught." He gave them a solid 15 minute lecture on what gaps they should be covering in particular situations. Not much moving around by the players. Just a lot of listening.
10:45-10:50: A little bit of a twist during the quick special teams session today. The Patriots started by doing onsides kicks off the foot of Chris Koepplin. The first group of guys they had out there trying to recover the ball included, among others, James Ihedigbo, Nate Ebner, Sergio Brown, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman. Then Koepplin kicked a couple of squibs. Then Zoltan Mesko came on to punt a free kick to practice what would happen if the Patriots were to allow a safety. Finally the Patriots kicked off deep and the Saints practiced their "Music City Miracle" type of desperation laterals.
10:50-11:00: This was when teams broke off into red zone 7-on-7 work. Brady started things off well with a touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd in the back of the end zone. Drew Brees matched Brady to start. His first pass was a beauty over Kyle Arrington into the arms of Lance Moore. Patriots linebackers and corners actually did a nice job the rest of the way, forcing two consecutive Brees incompletions -- a rare feat over the last two days.
11:00-11:10: Back to special teams work at this point. Patriots on the receiving end this time, though. As the Saints practiced their onsides boots, the first New England "hands team" appeared to be Rob Gronkowski, Josh Barrett, Dane Fletcher, Julian Edelman, Jerod Mayo, Patrick Chung, Derrick Martin, Deion Branch, Niko Koutouvides and Rob ninkovich with Wes Welker back as the safety. Branch fielded one clean. Gronk muffed one but it bounced around for a second and he recovered. Jabar Gaffney scooped up another for the second team. On the Saints squibs, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead were back there. One almost skipped over Woodhead's noggin, but he showed impressive hops to snag it. The Patriots tried some desperation laterals, but at half speed they appeared to be more "leisurely tosses in the park" rather than anything that could be described as desperate.
11:10-11:40: A nice long 11-on-11 session during today's practice. Patriots started out on defense. Dane Fletcher was running with the 1s today instead of Bobby Carpenter (Carpenter replaced the missing Brandon Spikes on the first team in Tuesday's session). Arrington and McCourty started at corner in the Pats' base package for the second straight day. Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork were the big bodies. Steve Gregory and Chung were the safeties and both highly-touted rookies -- Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower -- also ran with the first group. Hightower continues to show some pretty good athleticism as he stuck with Jimmy Graham running laterally across the field to the sideline. He also stuck with Graham on a deep route down the seam, but Graham out-jumped Hightower and made a tremendous catch. Graham appeared to injure his lower back on the play, but both Joe Vitt and Brees both said he was fine. Jeff Tarpinian had a tough stretch here, getting beat twice on consecutive throws by Brees, one to receiver Andy Tanner and one to Darren Sproles.
Brady and the Patriots offense then took over. After an incompletion to Woodhead and a defensive penalty, Brady found Hernandez on four straight plays, the last of which was a touchdown. Nick McDonald was whistled for a false start and had to run a lap.
When the Saints took over again Patriots corner Malcolm Williams made a couple nice plays to break up passes.
Brian Hoyer looked solid, completing about a 50-yard bomb to Jesse Holley that got a rise out of the crowd. Ryan Mallett then took over and looked to have some pretty good rhythm with Jeremy Ebert. Despite a drop by Tyler Urban, Mallett looked solid.
Brady was back to looking like his old self after a tough day on Tuesday. He went 9-for-9 in the early 7-on-7 red zone period and 10-for-12 in 11-on-11 work.
Brees was sharp once again. He was 8-for-9 in the 11 on session at the end of practice, including the long completion to Graham. Brees lauded Graham after practice for selling out on an overthrown ball when most players weren't going full speed.
Aaron Hernandez put together another strong day. An indication of his versatility: When receivers began working on their jump-ball plays in the corner of the end zone, Hernandez left the tight ends to participate with Donte' Stallworth, Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney.
Brandon Bolden has looked like a sure-handed back out of the backfield, and he's being used with some of the top groups on special teams. Another good day for him.
Holley dropped a pass right before catching a bomb from Hoyer, so maybe a wash, but if he wants to have a shot at cracking this talented receiver group, he'll have to catch everything.
Shane Vereen has been fairly quiet the last couple of days, as has Danny Woodhead.
Kyle Arrington seemed to be in the right place at the right time on a couple of different occasions, but he couldn't get his hands on balls to force incompletions. Same thing happened once to Ross Ventrone near the sideline.
Nick McDonald has done well to be trusted to play just about every position on the line, but he had to run a lap for a false start penalty during 11-on-11s.
Steve Gregory lost rookie receiver Derek Moye during 7-on-7s for an easy touchdown.
WHAT THEY SAID
"Tired of practicing against the same players everyday and they start learning your moves so it's good to get some work against somebody who doesn't know much." -- Aaron Hernandez on how it's been to play the Saints in practice for two days.