Notes from Patriots mini-camp

Notes from Patriots mini-camp
June 12, 2012, 7:34 pm
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Day 1 of Patriots mini-camp is in the books. Here's a bit on what went down on this windy, overcast Tuesday.
Bill Belichick began the day by excusing Brian Waters' absence ("personal reasons"), so that's one body accounted for. But still no Daniel Fells. The tight end re-aggravated an existing injury and it's hoped he'll be ready at the end of next month for the start of training camp. Myron Pryor was also missing in action.
Off that, we've finally seen the return of Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer. The pair strolled onto the practice field at around 12:37, worked in the bubble until 1 PM, and finally reemerged to run (both in and out of harnesses) on a side field.
Vollmer ran quite stiffly as though aware every second of his back. Mankins was running on his surgically repaired left knee but it is noticeably skinnier than his right and he favored it a bit.
Matthew Slater (unknown injury) and Tracy White (groin) didn't make their way out of the bubble until 1:38 PM, when practice was almost over. Rob Gronkowski (ankle) came out a few minutes later. He didn't stay long -- Gronk retreated into the stadium with assistant strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera.
Brandon Spikes also worked inside and did rehab running for a while.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez, absent last time media had access to an OTA, was on the field and running without event. He looked very quick in and out of cuts during 11-on-11 drills. Brandon Deaderick also returned.
Mini-camp and OTAs resemble each other well because of last August's CBA changes (no pads, so no "live" blocking, tackling, pass rushing, bump-and-run, etc.).
So what did we see? A lot of work from the secondary on pattern recognition. It's slow work -- fundamentals. You want your defensive backs to be able to read routes and react immediately with the appropriate coverages, eventually making it like muscle memory.
We saw a lot of special teams work during OTAs, but the Patriots broke things down a little more this Tuesday with punt-blocking.
Tom Brady threw routes on air to the receiving corps. It's not just the rookies like Matt Roark and Jeremy Ebert who need to see practical applications of the playbook. Considering the number of new Patriots -- Donte' Stallworth, Brandon Lloyd, Jesse Holley, Jabar Gaffney -- there's a lot of work to be done with making the footwork and timing of these routes second nature.
7-on-7 got a little interesting when the down and distance markers were added. This is when we saw some situational football, like third-down plays.
7-on-7 got REALLY interesting when a small kerfuffle broke out on field. I didn't see how it got started -- and it was broken up quickly -- but Rob Ninkovich and Ryan Wendell ended up running laps as a result.
Gerard Warren and Kyle Love also ended up "running" the sidelines. Likely for offsides or other penalties. Oops.
There looked to be a tough development on the defensive line as newly-acquired free agent Jonathan Fanene spent a long time with the training staff having his left knee checked. Fanene was on his back on the sidelines for several minutes while having his knee observed by trainer Jim Whelan. Fanene stayed on the field for the remained of practice but appeared to labor some as he came down a long flight of stairs and walked toward the Patriots locker room.
Rookie Chandler Jones also spent time with the training staff gesturing toward his ankle but it didn't appear serious.
Bill Belichick was exceptionally vocal during the 11-on-11 drills.
Patrick Chung fielded some punts in plus-50 situations. He caught one punt at about the 2-yard line then, realizing the gaffe (anything inside the 10, the returner usually should let bounce) he slammed the ball to the turf.
Julian Edelman also worked punt returns, but didn't have any temper tantrums.