Patriots training camp notes: Day 2

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Patriots training camp notes: Day 2

By Tom E. Curran, Mary Paoletti and Danny Picard
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Notes from Day 2 of camp:

Alfonzo Dennard appeared to suffer a hamstring injury. He left practice early and didn't return.

Matthew Slater had some kind of black brace, strapped over his shoulder and around his chest, hidden under his jersey. That's as specific a cause as I can find for that red 'No contact' jersey.

James Ihedigbo still had that 'Don't touch me' jersey on, too.

The offensive line did some mixing and matching today. Robert Gallery came in at RG and Dan Connolly went to LG. Same as Thursday, Koppen lined up at C, Solder at LT, and Cannon at RT.

Brady got picked off today. Wes Welker had space in the slot, but the pass was flat and Bobby Carpenter got his hands on it. The quarterback went 25-for-28 overall with one exceptionally pretty pass to Brandon Lloyd.

Probably not a coincidence: Carpenter continues to get reps as the starting Sam linebacker.

Receivers and cornerbacks went one-on-one at the start of camp. Good news for the defense: Malcolm Williams got good jam on Welker on one play. Good news for the offense: Julian Edelman burned Ras-I Dowling badly with a little jab in, and another out.

Rookie safety Tavon Wilson mixed in with the 1's during some of the 7-on-7 drills against the Nickel (5-defensive back) defense. Wilson was stepping in for Steve Gregory. Bobby Carpenter and Dane Fletcher both worked next to Mayo at inside linebacker in the Nickel.

The corners on the outside for the Nickel were Ras-I Dowling and Devin McCourty. Kyle Arrington kicked inside to play the "Star" position in the slot.

The week of the Super Bowl, the team's offensive staff emphasized the need to throw high over the outstretched arms of the Giants defensive line. On Friday, coaches stood with practice dummies raised above their heads -- probably reaching up to about 9 feet -- as the quarterbacks threw in 7-on-7 and 5-on-5.

With Daniel Fells still not practicing, second-year defensive end Alex Silvestro continues to take tight end reps. He isn't going to be Gronk 2.0 but he will at least give the Patriots depth at the spot given how many reps he's taken.

It was a good day for Julian Edelman. He got receiver work both inside and out, as well as plenty of return duty. Edelman looked sharp all around.

Not a good day for Marquice Cole, who struggled in coverage.

Brandon Bolden looks really, really fast. He threaded almost the entire length of the field on one return -- unscathed.

A fleet of receivers took reps fielding punts. Among them, two surprise entrants: Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez. It's unlikely that either one is a plausible option on the depth chart at that spot. The concentration during the drill was on coverage more than returns and it seemed a mish-mash of guys were being run through the spot.

Marcus Cannon looks like he's lost a good amount of weight. Ryan Mallett looks like he's firmed up. And Gerard Warren shaved his head because Big Money said he was getting too gray.

Ryan Mallett finished Friday's session 13 for 17 in combined 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

In 7-on-7, Mallett went 8 for 10. The two incompletions came in a Will Allen break-up over the middle, and a Mike Rivera drop on a ball that was thrown behind him. Out of the eight completions, three of those went to newly-signed tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. But the biggest play Mallett made all day came on a deep completion down the left sideline, right into the hands of Donte' Stallworth.

The Patriots will practice in pads tomorrow.

Scarnecchia hoping for continuity up front during training camp

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Scarnecchia hoping for continuity up front during training camp

FOXBORO -- It seems like every summer the Patriots try to mix and match on their offensive line as much as possible. As players work in at different positions and work alongside different teammates, they're preparing for the inevitable injury that forces the inevitable lineup change. It's a brutal game of musical chairs for which they have to be ready.

Whether it's with first-time starter Jimmy Garoppolo's comfort level in mind or some other reason, it sounds as though the Patriots may be changing their ways during this year's training camp.

Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, back after a two-year retirement, said on Wednesday that a lack of continuity last season hurt the team's play up front in 2015. When the Patriots find their best five linemen, Scarnecchia plans on playing them alongside one another as often as possible.

"I think that we're gonna try to keep the guys, whoever's the first five, we're gonna try to keep those guys together as much as we can," Scarnecchia said. "It's not always practical to do that, and there's competition at multiple positions so there may be some in and out that way.

"But the thing is, if we can keep the left tackle playing the left tackle, the right tackle [playing right tackle], and try to keep the guards playing on the same side as much as we can, that'll really help everybody. There's gotta be some guys that swing around in there, because we only end up with eight or nine linemen, [but] I think it'll be fine. I really do."

The Patriots used 41 different offensive line combinations last season, according to Pro Football Focus, which was 13 more than any other NFL team. 

Much of that shakeup was due in part to injuries as starters Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Bryan Stork all missed time. The hope this year, Scarnecchia explained, is that the Patriots will be able to avoid that kind of shuffling and find some consistency in their personnel that'll lead to better results. 

"I think that's huge," he said. "I really do. We had so many guys playing multiple positions. We believe in continuity and trying to keep the same guys next to each other as much as we can. You can't always do that, but I think that was a huge deal last year. Hopefully we won't get into that sit this year, keep working with the same guys day in and day out, and hopefully they'll improve."

One obstacle that Scarnecchia may have in finding the right five players is that he has so many to pick from. 

Of his seven tackles, there are two clear front-runners for the starting jobs on the right and left sides in Vollmer and Solder, respectively. But on the interior, the picture is more hazy. Rookies Joe Thuney and Ted Karras, and second-year players Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason will compete for guard spots, as will former Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper and Josh Kline, who started 13 games for New England last season. At center, Stork and David Andrews both have an opportunity to prove that they deserve to be the No. 1 man in the middle. 

When camp starts, Vollmer, Jackson and Mason will all be on the physically unable to perform list, leaving reps available for their healthier teammates. 

Still, it's a large group, and one that Scarnecchia likes. He said he felt each player that was able to participate in spring workouts got better over the course of the OTA period. Now is the time to build on that momentum and hope that five players will eventually separate themselves as the best. 

"I mean, look, we're not building rockets," he said. "No, really. It's the truth. 'Step with this foot. Get this shoulder in there.' It's really that. That's the approach we're gonna take. 

"We're going to really try to be very precise in what we do and the way we do it. And we're going to try to play as hard as we can. If we can get them to do that, we have a chance. No guarantees, but we have a chance. That's what we're after."

Patriots get roster exemption for Ebner, add TE Pascoe and OL Halapio

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Patriots get roster exemption for Ebner, add TE Pascoe and OL Halapio

FOXBORO -- The Patriots, as expected, have been given a roster exemption for safety Nate Ebner. Therefore, while Ebner is playing for the USA Rugby Men's Sevens team in the Rio Olympics, his spot will not count against New England's 90-man roster. 

"I’ve talked to Nate several times," coach Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. "Wish him well in his endeavor. It’s a great opportunity for him to follow his passion, participate in the Olympic Games. We’re pulling for him to bring back something around his neck."

With the roster exemption, the Patriots found themselves at 88 players on their roster. In order to fill their last two openings, they signed offensive lineman Jon Halapio and tight end Bear Pascoe, Belichick announced. 

Halapio, a product of the University of Florida, was a sixth-round selection by the Patriots in 2014. He was released at the end of training camp that year, and he later landed on the Broncos practice squad in December of 2014. Before the start of last season, Halapio signed with the Cardinals. He was released on Sept. 5. 

In between NFL gigs, Halapio has spent time with the Boston Brawlers and the Brooklyn Bolts, both of the Fall Experimental Football League. 

Pascoe, 30, is in his eighth NFL season. He has spent time with the Giants, Falcons and Lions, primarily as a blocking tight end. In his career, the 6-foot-5, 257-pounder has caught 40 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns in 85 career games. 

Ebner will participate in the Olympic rugby competition with Team USA beginning on Aug. 6, and fellow Patriots special teams ace Mathew Slater will be paying attention.

"I’m just so happy for him," Slater said. "And I know why rugby means so much to him, and many of us are familiar with the situation with his father, and his father obviously introduced him to the game of [rugby]. So, that connection with father and son is bigger than sport itself.

"I know this means a great deal to him and we’re all excited for him. I’m just trying to figure out where I can get my Ebner rugby jersey. I’ll be supporting him and watching him along the way."