Patriots-Saints joint practice notes and observations

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Patriots-Saints joint practice notes and observations

FOXBORO -- The Patriots and Saints went at it during Monday's practice, the first of two joint sessions that will be held before their exhibition game Thursday. Here are all the little nuggets of information we gathered throughout the course of the day:

No Brandon Spikes or Kyle Hix for the second consecutive day of camp. In addition to PUP list absences (Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Markus Zusevics, Daniel Fells, Myron Pryor, Jake Ballard), Visanthe Shiancoe, Tracy White, Alfonzo Dennard, Spencer Larsen, Matt Kopa, Ron Brace, Jonathan Fanene, and Darrion Weems did not participate.
With No. 55 unavailable, Bobby Carpenter found himself back working with the 1s.

Kyle Love had a shield affixed to his helmet. Considering the way he left practice Sunday, leaving the field with a towel over his head after spending several minutes on the sideline covering his face with his hands, he might have suffered an eye injury.
Patriots receivers versus Saints defensive backs: Donte' Stallworth got one on CB Johnny Patrick; Wes Welker destroyed CB Marquis Johnson; Brandon Lloyd shook rookie CB Corey White with a nice cutback; Rob Gronkowski was just too big for S Roman Harper; Julian Edelman had no trouble with CB Kamaal McIlwain; Jabar Gaffney beat White; S Malcolm Jenkins was flagged for pass interference (the refs were back again today) on Aaron Hernandez; Johnson tipped a ball targeted for Jeremy Ebert, but Ebert got a handle on it after another bobble.
More: Gronkowski used a quick burst to get by S Isa Abdul-Quddus; Welker had a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch on S Jerico Nelson; Lloyd just plan outran White; Matt Slater caught an absolute bomb over Patrick.
Of Brady's three touchdown passes, Gaffney looked nice gaining five solid yards of separation before the catch -- he streaked in for the score with no problem.
The offensive line had several different looks today. First team with Brady: Nate Solder at LT, Donald Thomas at LG, Ryan Wendell at C, Dan Connolly at RG and Marcus Cannon at RT. Dan Koppen rotated in at C to get some reps with the 1s.
New England misses Vollmer, Waters and Mankins; some of Brady's struggle and frustration had to do with blown assignments. During 11-on-11 the QB had to spike a ball into the dirt because one of those screens the Patriots have been practicing so much got blown up. Badly.
Ryan Mallett didn't get as many reps as Brady and Brian Hoyer. His very first snap? Bungled; the drill was reset. He also threw one ball in the dirt before getting a reception from a laid-out Ebert. He connected with Ebert again and twice with Britt Davis (one ball in the end zone). The QB practiced a lot of handoffs to Brandon Bolden.
Hoyer had a very, very well placed ball to Edelman deep down the sideline over Saints CB Elbert Mack. Just perfectly thrown.
The Patriots ran a good third-down pick play during 11-on-11. Two receivers crossed, brushing off pursuit from the secondary with the collision, and Lloyd brought down a ball in the end zone. A lot of special teams work was spent on punt return. Edelman, Pat Chung, Hernandez, and Ebert all took turns deep to receive.
Tempers were largely kept in check. The only blip on the radar was when Sergio Brown and WR Courtney Roby got a little hot during punt return, hanging onto each other after the whistle.
Dont'a Hightower and Saints linebacker Will Herring got into a good little shoving match during a drill that pitted the Patriots punt team against the Saints return team. Herring almost dropped Hightower as Hightower got off the ground to pursue the returner. The Pats rookie quickly shot back with a shove that lifted Herring off his feet for a moment. Herring went to Auburn and Hightower went to 'Bama, so perhaps it was just a little SEC love rekindled.

No breaks for Kyle Arrington today. After facing Wes Welker all camp, he had his work cut out for him in the slot against New Orleans' Lance Moore. When healthy, Moore is one of the better slot receivers in the league, and he beat Arrington for catches on several opportunities throughout the day.

Yes, Jon Bon Jovi was there in all his feathered-hair glory. He signed a bunch of autographs as he made his way from talking to Robert Kraft, to watching practice on the sideline. Kraft and Bon Jovi made their way up next to the media tent area where Saints owner Tom Benson had his own private shady spot. All three shared a word before practice really got going.

After practice Tom Brady sat on the field with his dog, his pregnant wife and Drew Brees among others.

Purdue boys Drew Brees and Patriots linebacker Niko Koutovides chatted in between drills. Boston College products Tim Bulman and Saints offensive lineman Matt Tennant also sought each other out to talk.

Chandler Jones seemed a little jumpy during pass-rush drills against Saints offensive linemen.

Jimmy Graham is a very large, athletic man. He beat Nate Ebner down the seam for a touchdown during one drill and finger-rolled the ball over the uprights. Moments later, Brees put a pass just over Hightower's head and into Graham's hands for another score that Graham -- a former hoops player at Miami -- dunked through the uprights with authority.

Patriots linebackers and members of the secondary had a solid practice. Brees often seemed to go through two or three options before throwing short dump-offs. Not a ton of long-distance hookups for the Saints.

Steven Ridley got some work with the punt return unit -- but not as a returner. He was on the line, rushing in, trying to get his hands on the ball off of New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead's foot.

Trevor Scott got a "sack" in 11-on-11 work, getting his arms extended on his blocker and wrapping up Chase Daniel as he stepped up in the pocket.

Has to be noted that randomly, while other guys were engaged in drills, Saints punter Thomas Morstead (formerly of Southern Methodist) dropped a ball 50 yards dead on the 3-yard line. The thing just laid flat. Whatta boom.

Some interesting looks from the Patriots defense during 11-on-11 time, especially as the Saints ran their hurry-up offense. At one point they used just one linebacker. They had Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones and Jerod Mayo on the line. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Ras-I Dowling and Kyle Arrington were in the secondary, and safety Tavon Wilson was dropped down as a 'backer. In a two-minute situation against a pass-happy team like the Saints maybe the Patriots feel like that's one package they can use successfully.

Jones worked out of two-point and three-point stances. On one play it appeared as though he wanted to show that he would start the play standing up, then he put his hand on the turf at the last minute and rushed the quarterback.

Jones had an active day. He jumped to bat down one pass attempt by Brees. He also got called over to the field goal block unit by Patriots coaches and was placed just off of the center. He would seem to be a perfect candidate for that job with his athleticism and long arms.

Steve Gregory picked off Brees near the end of practice in 11-on-11. Dane Fletcher was given a pick when Chase Daniel put a pass in Fletcher's belly down in the red zone.

Matthew Slater and Saints kicker John Kasay seemed to give short speeches to both teams as they huddled around one another at the end of practice.

Military members got a lengthy standing ovation by the 14,830 at Gillette as they walked around the edge of the practice field. Patriots and Saints players shook hands with the uniformed servicemen and women at the end of practice.

Mary Paoletti and Phil Perry contributed to this report.

Injury report: Amendola out for Ravens game, Bennett questionable

Injury report: Amendola out for Ravens game, Bennett questionable

Wide receiver Danny Amendola was officially listed as out on the injury report for the Patriots' Monday night home game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Amendola injured his ankle on a punt return against the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday. It will be the first game he's missed this season. The Patriots signed veteran wide receiver and kick returner Griff Whalen during the week.

Tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle, shoulder) is among the Pats listed as questionable, along with special teams ace Matt Slater (foot), who missed the Rams game, safety Jordan Richards (knee), linebacker Elandon Roberts (hamstring) and cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring).

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

FOXBORO – Griff Whalen was at the epicenter of one of the stupidest, funniest, most “did that just happen?!” plays in NFL history.

So indescribable it never even really earned a name, it was the fourth-down gadget play the Colts tried to run against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football in the first meeting between the teams after Indy ran to the principal’s office to start Deflategate. 

Whalen was the center on that play (I tried to call it “Fourth-and-Wrong” but it didn’t take) and the millisecond between him snapping the ball and the three players processing that the ball had indeed been snapped is perhaps my favorite moment of the past several seasons. 

Whalen is a Patriot now, brought in this week in the wake of Danny Amendola’s knee injury presumably to fill Amendola’s role as a punt returner and wideout. The Colts released him last January, the Dolphins picked him up and cut him at the end of training camp and the Chargers had him on their roster from mid-September until releasing him last month after eight games, two catches and 22 yards. He returned kickoffs for San Diego but no punts since 2015.

The primary area of need for the Patriots is on punt returns. Rookie Cyrus Jones’ transition to appearing comfortable remains glacially slow. It was Jones’ muff last week that brought on Amendola in relief. When Amendola hurt his ankle on a late-game return, the Patriots were forced to decide between Jones, wideout Julian Edelman (who doesn’t need extra work) and making a move.

Whalen is a move they made.

The slight and baby-faced Whalen indicated he had fielded some punts in practice, saying it went, “Fine.” Punt returns are something he’s done “since I was a kid.”

His first impression of the team was, "A lot of what I expected to see. A lot of detail. A lot of effort in practice. Good coaching all-around. I am excited to be here. I was excited to come into a good team that I’d gone against a few times. Hopefully come in and help out the team with whatever I can.”

I asked Whalen if he saw much of the commentary or creativity last year’s failed play spawned.

“I wasn’t paying too much attention,” he said. “When it’s during the season guys are pretty locked in on what they’re doing inside the building. But I heard more about it later on afterwards.”

Asked if he’d heard anything about the play since being here, Whalen replied, “I haven’t. Kinda was [expecting it].”

The Patriots will be hoping Whalen remains as productive for them on fourth down this year as he was in 2015.