FOXBORO - Through 14 games, BenJarvus Green-Ellis has 635 yards on 171 carries. That 3.7 average and the fact two games remain pretty much rule out the possibility of the hard-running BJGE reaching 1,000 yards for the second consecutive year. He's run for 50 yards. In his past three games. Only once did he top 100 yards (136 against the Jets) and he's only carried more than 20 times once (also against the Jets). Last season, the Patriots running game and BJGE were more impactful. Beginning November 14 in Pittsburgh, he ran for 87, 96, 59, 82, 87, 38, 104 and 80. He didn't have a YPC average under 4 yards in any of those games. What's changed? Well, one element is the number of balls directed to a full strength Wes Welker and a blossoming Rob Gronkowski. They have been the surest thing in the Patriots offense. Additionally, there hasn't been much bang from the running game in general this season. Danny Woodhead ran for 547 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. This year, he's got 326 and is averaging 4.5. Sunday in Denver was a departure from that. Green-Ellis, Woodhead and rookie Stevan Ridley combined for 132 yards. The running back by committee approach the Patriots have used all year finally showed real dividends. When this three-headed monster was mentioned to Green-Ellis, he interrupted. "Four. Kevin (Faulk) played too. Ok, four-headed monster. "Five, actually.When Shane's back there," Green-Ellis added, referring to another rookie, Shane Vereen. Okay, five. However you slice it, thecarries are being shared. Wouldn't it beuseful sometimes for one back to get his mojoworking instead of guys being shuffled in and out?"Whatever it is, we're just gonna go out there and try to win the game," he shrugged. "That's the ultimate goal. From the backfield standpoint, all five of us are ready to go out there and contribute to get a W."It doesn't so much help the numbers though, does it?"This is not an individual sport," Green-Ellis smiled. "This is not golf or tennis or anything like that. When it's a team sport, you have to do what's best for the team but as an individual, what's best for the team, you do. End of story."
FOXBORO -- With the introduction of fully-padded practices typically comes the opportunity for linemen on both sides of the football to shine. Unfortunately for the Patriots offensive line, Saturday was sort of a rough day.
Guard Jonathan Cooper, who has been playing as the right guard on the first offensive line unit through the early portion of camp, had to be carted off the field with a foot injury. Center Bryan Stork left practice in the middle of the workout for an undisclosed reason. Guard Shaq Mason took off for some conditioning on a lower field soon after practice began. And, while healthy enough to be on the field, Marcus Cannon had difficulty trying to keep defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard in check.
One of the bright spots for offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia's group was rookie third-round pick Joe Thuney. The North Carolina State product has served as the left guard for the first-team offensive line thus far, and he more than held his own when the hitting commenced.
He never appeared out of sorts next to left tackle Nate Solder, he blocked up to and through the echo of the whistle on a play-to-play basis, and he was one of the most impressive Patriots -- rookie or otherwise -- during the first one-on-one period for linemen during this year's camp.
On his first snap, he was matched up across from last year's first-round pick Malcom Brown and held his ground against the team's top defensive tackle. Later, Thuney handled veteran free-agent pickup Frank Kearse. And on his final rep, he walled off second-year player Trey Flowers.
For Thuney's part, those few minutes, encouraging as they might have been, had to be flushed from his memory quickly.
"You can't think too much into one specific drill," he said. "You just gotta try and take it one play at a time and not put too much stock in one drill or one rep. If you have a bad one, just move past it. If you have a good one, move past that too and just go to the next play."
Thuney's aggressiveness and his understanding of the playbook to this point have to be as encouraging to the Patriots coaching staff as -- what appears to be, at least -- his sound technique.
Mild-mannered in his interactions with reporters, Thuney was touted as a versatile and intelligent player coming out of college. He gushed about his college teammate Jacoby Brissett's leadership qualities soon after Brissett was drafted by the Patriots in May, and he's gone viral for his ability to slay the Rubik's Cube in a blink.
He has some nasty to him, though.
"I think inside every offensive lineman there's an inherent desire to play through the whistle," he said. "Obviously we don't want to play dirty or anything, but we try and play as hard as we can from whistle-to-whistle. And yeah...I do take pride in that."
Thuney wasn't the only rookie lineman to play well on Saturday. When Cooper went down, it was sixth-rounder Ted Karras who began to see more work.
Together, they caught the eye of at least one veteran defensive lineman.
"They're physical," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "That's a good start. Obviously they'll have to work on different techniques. Coming from college you have different terminology, a different playbook, a different style of game probably.
"I try to help them out as much as I can even though we go at it. After the play if I feel something, I'll definitely share with them, whether [to] help them going up against myself or help them in the long run because we're all on the same team at the end of the day."
Whatever lessons Thuney's received thus far -- whether they're from coaches or from teammates on the other side of the line of scrimmage -- it looks like he's taken them to heart.
FOXBORO -- For years now, Patriots training camp practices have become an event. The opportunity to get an autograph, the sunny weather and the non-existent entry fee all make the two-hours-or-more practices a significant draw.
But rarely do the crowds get as big as they were on Saturday. Fans filled the bleachers and lined the ramps that scale the outside of Gillette Stadium just to get a glimpse of what Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots were up to.
The team's official Twitter account announced after practice that a whopping 21,781 fans had been in attendance.
"It's awesome," said defensive end Chris Long, who spent the first eight years of his career in St. Louis without ever having made the playoffs.
"As if being in pads the first day isn't exciting enough, you come out and these fans give you a real boost. It just speaks to the passion that these fans have. We're warming up in the hot tub, and we can see the fans filing in on ESPN or NFL Network. They beat us out on the field. It's pretty cool what they've got going here."
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, a Connecticut native who grew up following the Patriots, has spent time with the Redskins, Broncos and Jaguars, but Saturday's crowd caught his attention.
"If I wasn't playing, I'd be up there too," he said. "This is a winning franchise and . . . the fans are loyal. This is a place that I've played at in the past, and the games are always sold out and the fans will give you a hard time when you're on the opposing team. I just happen to be on the good side now."
The Patriots are in the middle of their first stretch of five consecutive days of practice. Two of their first three practices have been held with temperatures reaching around 90 degrees, and Saturday's practice was the first padded session of the week. They'll go through their in-stadium practice on Monday night before they're given a full day to rest.
Players indicated that having the kind of fan support that they had Saturday seemed to give them a jolt. Especially for the players who are new to the organization.
"There's excitement in the air with these fans," Long said. "They're awesome sports fans. Boston sports have always been known to be passionate, but until you're here, you don't really get a feel for it. They are a lot of fun to play in front of out on the practice field."
FOXBORO -- If you're on Twitter and you follow Terrance Knighton, you know where he stands on all sorts of topics.
He thought the Sen. Elizabeth Warren speech at the Democratic National Convention would be "epic." He watches the WNBA. He loves the Celtics. He hates it when his dog looks at him naked. He wants an uncensored sports talk show on the radio when he's done with his playing career.
And those are things you could gather from his timeline in the last week alone.
Three days ago, the avid Twitter user called it quits. For the time being.
"I'm just gonna try something different," he said when asked about his self-imposed Twitter ban. "The environment that I'm around, everyone's just focused on football. I'll be off it for three weeks, and as soon as I break it in three weeks, I'll have a lot to say I'm pretty sure."
Knighton said he's not concerned about getting himself into any trouble with what he may say on the social-media site, but given the amount of focus he wants to put into his job, it makes sense for him to back away now that training camp has begun.
"I would never say anything to get in trouble," he said. "But I speak on everything so right now, all the Democratic and Republican conventions, I just keep them quiet right now."
He added: "In the locker room, you don't see guys on their phones all the time. You don't see guys joking around. They're always doing something productive to win. I decided to give [Twitter] up for three weeks, but like I said, I can't wait to get back to Twitter because I always have a lot to say."