Patriots training camp notes: Day 7

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Patriots training camp notes: Day 7

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick said he wanted to slow things down Thursday and that's exactly what the Patriots did. Perhaps because of the quick turnaround from the previous night's practice, combined with the sweltering heat, made it the smartest choice. Either way, it was a low-key day at Gillette.
Did not practice: Tony Fiammetta,Tracy White, Nick McDonald, Jake Bequette, Matt Kopa, Logan Mankins, Jamey Richard, Sebastian Vollmer, Brandon Lloyd, Jeremy Ebert, Visanthe Shiancoe, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard, Myron Pryor, Jonathan Fanene. Spencer Larsen also missed practice for the first time this camp. And no, Brian Waters has still not reported.
Brady worked 1-on-1 with Aaron Hernandez after the official end of practice for about 15 minutes. Among other things, the pair worked on handoffs out of the backfield.
Matt Slater racked up the receiver reps with Lloyd, Branch and Gaffney unavailable. He did a solid job with the opportunity, showing some good speed and soft hands.
Britt Davis had another strong showing. He made a tough catch in back corner of the end zone on a pass from Ryan Mallett that drew some cheers from the crowd.
James Ihedigbo still can't get a handle in coverage. Rob Gronkowski shook the safety off easily on one play. Yes, it was against tremendous tight end Gronkowski, but Ihedigbo should not be looking as bad as he did.
One step down further: Ross Ventrone. Nobody expects first-string safety stylings out of Ventrone, but he was in position when Brady threw a deep ball to Donte' Stallworth and still couldn't make a play.
Jermaine Cunningham had an OK day. He showed some speed and elusiveness getting off the line in 11-on-11s and did a decent job sticking with running backs in coverage.
One of those backs, Shane Vereen, stood out for showing good quickness in making moves immediately after catches.
Rob Gronkowski was targeted often in goal line and red zone drills and did a good job of securing the ball in heavy traffic. Two balls thrown his way weren't reeled in: One was an overthrow by Tom Brady, the other was knocked away on an impressive play by Dont'a Hightower who sprinted to the sideline and deflected the ball out of bounds just before it landed in Gronk's mitts.

CSNNE.com writers Mary Paoletti and Phil Perry both contributed to this report.

Curran: Even after all that's gone down, sun still shines for Brady

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Curran: Even after all that's gone down, sun still shines for Brady

I wasn’t looking to get nostalgic last Thursday. But I got that little twist in the tummy. It was a song that did it. It reminded me of how things were and how things are.

The song was “Beautiful Day” by U2. It was, for a few years, practically a Patriots anthem. It was the first song the legendary Irish band played during its halftime set at Super Bowl 36, a mini-concert that was sad, hopeful, jubilant and defiant all at once. 

It’s not hard to recall what things felt like in early February of 2002.

Five months earlier, the September 11 attacks stripped away the sense of security and insulation we'd come to enjoy as our birthright. Anger, indignation, unity, national pride and a sense of resolve emerged that probably hadn’t been felt in 60 years.

But our new reality also meant a palpable sense of unease, too. Vulnerability.

It was at sporting events in the wake of 9/11 that we got an introduction to how things had changed and how we’d been changed. Armed security, bomb-sniffing dogs, personal searches and patdowns fueled our new trepidation. But once inside, a strength-in-numbers feeling emerged. The vulnerability was replaced by a near-universal sense of community and patriotism. The focus was on what we had in common as Americans, our shared interest in being safe and maintaining who we were.

The feeling isn’t quite the same now, is it? A lot’s changed.

It was near the end of that Thursday practice that the song came on. Blaring. It was supposed to replicate crowd noise during an 11-on-11 drill but it had the additional impact of causing me to reflect on that time and Tom Brady.

Brady was standing behind the offense watching rookie Jacoby Brissett take the reps at quarterback. Next to Brady was Jimmy Garoppolo.

Brissett was 9 years old when U2 played at that Super Bowl while Brady sat in the visitor’s locker room at the Superdome, improbably in possession of a 14-3 lead and 30 minutes from taking the first step on the road from “cool story” to “legend.” Garoppolo was 11.

How many rookie quarterbacks has Brady seen come and go since he was a rookie himself in 2000? How many backups has he dispatched since Brady himself was a backup in 2001? A lot.

He’s so far removed from the 24-year-old kid who, upon winning the MVP in that Super Bowl, put his hands to his head in beaming disbelief.  Does he think about that game? That atmosphere? That song?

That was an amazing day. I remember the military presence all week in New Orleans and on Super Bowl Sunday especially. Soldiers with M-16s surveyed and patrolled all along inside the barriers set up outside the Superdome. Inside, the Patriots were the ultimate Cinderella team going against a dynasty-in-waiting. They were -- hard as it is to believe now almost 15 years later -- beloved nationally. And the country didn’t hate Boston fans then, either. They mostly felt bad for us because of the constant sports heartbreak.

There were emotional juxtapositions that day -- from U2's moving halftime tribute to those killed on 9/11 to the Patriots stunning win -- that by the end felt cathartic. It was like an Irish wake.   

Brady doesn’t beam too often anymore. At least not publically. He’s got 17 years in the league, 16 minicamps, four Super Bowl wins, two Super Bowl losses, three Super Bowl MVPs and two league MVPs under his belt. The novelty’s worn off some.

There’s also the matter of the NFL itself deciding it would bring the franchise that went from Cinderella to Godzilla to heel by over-prosecuting the team in 2007 and trumping up charges against Brady himself in 2014.

Can’t beat ‘em? Delegitimize ‘em.

For Brady to find himself a reviled athlete, a target of the league office, a media piñata must have been beyond comprehension.

But on Thursday, there was a sign that maybe he’s making some peace with that, too.

The person who was at a loss for words in an uncomfortable 30-minute press conference a year ago January, who set his jaw and refused comment last summer walking in and out of New York courthouses, who welled up in September talking about the impact the investigation had on Jim McNally and John Jastremski . . . that guy actually walked past the media on Thursday when practice was over.

He didn’t stop. He only smiled and waved a few hellos. But compared to last year, when he’d exit the practice fields 100 yards from the media and didn’t speak from the Super Bowl until September, this was a departure.

There is no bigger point I’m trying to make here about football, patriotism, party politics, the decline of civility or the Patriots being a national treasure or blight.

All this was just something that occurred to me last Thursday. Which just so happened to be the first legitimately beautiful day of the year. 

Big weekend: Timberlake likes Gronk's moves; Edelman cries 'Free Brady'

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Big weekend: Timberlake likes Gronk's moves; Edelman cries 'Free Brady'

Rob Gronkowski has never been one to keep his dance moves from the public eye. While he's received a wide range of critiques -- the body-slamming of one of his brothers in Las Vegas was not quite as well-received as his girating on a Duck Boat early last year -- the compliment he received this weekend will be hard to beat.

In Nantucket with teammate Julian Edelman, Gronkowski got on stage to dance to Justin Timberlake's new song "Can't Stop the Feeling." When the artist found the video on Twitter, he gave the Patriots tight end a social-media thumbs up in the form of the hashtag "#thosemovestho".

Gronkowski had an eventful day for himself -- with camera phones seemingly recording his every move -- as did Edelman, who began the weekend in Boston at the Boston Calling music festival to scream "Free Brady!"

Seahawks taking their cues from Patriots on how to use Browner

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Seahawks taking their cues from Patriots on how to use Browner

Brandon Browner helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl with his physical play in the secondary, highlighting his one-year stint with the team by making one of the most important jams at the line of scrimmage in the history of the NFL, clearing space at the goal line for Malcolm Butler's championship-saving interception.

One season later, as a member of the Saints, he had a tough time. He committed 24 penalties (most in the league), allowed 17.2 yards per catch (second-most in the league among players who played at least 75 percent of their teams' snaps), and quarterbacks had a rating of 122.5 when throwing in his direction (worst in the league, according to Pro Football Focus). 

Browner was released after one year in New Orleans -- though he was happy to point out to Saints fans on Instagram that he made good money for that one year -- and has been since been signed by Seattle, where he was a member of their vaunted Legion of Boom secondary from 2011-13. 

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told ESPN that Browner will be used this season similarly to the way he was used at times in New England. Rather than forcing him to play on the outside in man-to-man coverage, he'll be in the box as a safety, where his physicality will be best served. He'll still be asked to cover from time to time, but those assignments will pit him primarily against tight ends -- something Patriots coach Bill Belichick liked to do in 2014 -- instead of quicker, smaller wideouts. 

"He was wide open to it," Carroll said of the positional change. "I had the chance to see him play in positions like he's being asked to play now when he was in New England, and we saw some really good things we thought we could mix into our stuff, and he's very much looked the part. But I really think it's about him; we like the guy so much."

How the shift will work remains to be seen. Working inside the box is something he's done before with the Patriots, but now it's a full-time gig. 

"Being on the outside, it’s more of a man-to-man concept: You’re a corner on an island," Browner said. "Being in that box, you’re accounted for from the linemen in the run. You’ll get some run keys from the end man on the line of scrimmage. Things are just a little different. But you’re a football player in there. Playing corner, it’s more of a one-on-one thing. We’re playing basketball out there on that island. When you’re in that box, that’s football, I think."