Postcards from Camp: Day 3

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Postcards from Camp: Day 3

Day 3 of Patriots Training Camp. First day in full pads and a banged-out crowd on a hot, sunny Saturday. The majority team was on the field between 1:35 and 1:45 and the party ended at close to 4 p.m. More than 10,000 were on hand according to Patriots media relations.

WEATHER
Pretty damn hot. Bright sunshine for the first part of practice with clouds rolling in. I had a big goofy hat on to protect my bald spot and pale Irish skin. Just in case you were wondering who the clown in the hat was.

WHAT THEY WORE
Full pads. And James Ihedigbo and Matt Slater were still cruising around in red "Leave Me ALONE!!" jerseys.

WHAT THEY DID
(Don't count on this every day...I'm easily distracted...)

1:35-1:55: Walk-thru of running plays 11-on-11. Team stretching and loosen-up jogging.

2:05: Position groups stretch as units.

2:10: Position drills. Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett threw to stationary targets. Receivers ran short routes around pylons. Defensive lineman and linebackers ran through the bags. Defensive backs caught short passes as they broke forward. Offensive linemen ran into things and each other. Kickers idled and cavorted.

2:15: DBs and WRs worked on setting the edge on running plays and funneling ball-carriers inside to the help. QBs worked on play-action with RBs. DBs then broke off and worked on trail coverage, following a receiver with their back turned to the backfield then accelerating to make up space when the receiver made his break. Also worked on dropping in zone and, on release of a ball, getting to the spot and high-pointing the pass. Aaron Hernandez spent his time working with tight ends during position drills as opposed to wideouts.

2:30: Running game work using half the field. Good indoctrination to contact for DL and OL and for linebackers, DBs and RBs. Stevan Ridley took most of the reps with the Brady group. Dane Fletcher drew praise for splitting a block and getting to the ball. Dont'a Hightower got Danny Woodhead under the pads and pitched him into assistant coach Pepper Johnson. DT Jonathan Fanene ripped past LG Robert Galley on one play and tossed Gallery down.

2:40: Kickoff coverage work. Shane Vereen and Patrick Chung were deep to start. Stevan Ridley and Donte Stallworth were the deep men mixing in. This was more coverage than return work, it seemed, so too much shouldn't be read into those guys being deep.

2:50: In 6-on-7 work (QB, RB and four receivers with a coach snapping), Brandon Lloyd made a brilliant catch down the right sideline plucking a ball off of Sterling Moore's helmet. Lloyd also slid to pull in a low throw in traffic by Ryan Mallett, volleying the ball up to himself while on his back and pulling it to his chest while defenders converged.

The offensive line on Saturday was (left to right) Nate Solder, Robert Gallery, Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon.

WHO'S HOT
Danny Woodhead had some brilliant cuts during the first contact sessions.

Jerod Mayo had a nice strip on Hernandez after it appeared Hernandez had him beat.

Julian Edelman had a terrific in-and-out move on James Ihedigbo during the 1-on-1 tackling drills (it wasn't actual tackling, just squaring up and making contact.

Lloyd and Brady are working closer to developing chemistry you could see on a few out routes.

WHO'S NOT
Mallett continues to be slow with his reads against coverage

The offensive line as a unit seemed to have problems with the speed and aggressiveness of the defensive line.

WHAT WE SAW
Jabar Gaffney and Deion Branch were never (as far as we could tell) on the field at the same time during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11. Leads you to believe they are competing against each other.

The difference in arm strength between Hoyer and the other two quarterbacks is noticeable in how hard Hoyer has to torque his body to make throws the others seem able to fling out with ease. Despite that, Hoyer's accuracy and anticipation are outstanding, especially compared to Mallett's.

On consecutive plays, Stevan Ridley got banged to the ground by defenders. Ras-I Dowling's hit at the end of a running play seemed incidental. Patrick Chung hog-tied Ridley and threw him down. Bill Belichick told Chung to go run around the opposite goal post after that hit.

When the defense went to man-to-man in the 6-on-7 drills, the receivers didn't get much separation and Brady had his first incompletions of the day on those plays. He missed three-of-five (his only three incompletions on an 11-for-14 day) and Devin McCourty had a nice downfield breakup on a pass intended for Lloyd.

Rob Gronkowski left the field for a spell to be attended to. He returned with a big bandage on his chin. I'm no doctor, but it appeared to be what the medical folk call a laceration.

Alfonzo Dennard had limited participation with a tweaked hamstring.

Kyle Arrington had his left foot checked by the medical staff near the end of practice.

The coaches are cognizant of Dont'a Hightower's power. It showed up - despite advance warning - when tight ends were doing a blocking drill and Gronk almost got flipped over backwords.

WHAT THEY SAID
"Gronk, can I have your toooowwwwwweelllll?" - a female fan as Gronk dabbed blood from his chin.

"It's hard to find places. It gets harder and harder." - Tom Brady on being spotted by paparazzi jumping into the water from a rock in Costa Rica.

"Every team has certain rules in place that are in compliance with whats been approved by the league so we follow the letter of the law in that regard and well handle everything internally." - Nick Caserio, director of player personnel, not being extremely direct when asked if Brian Waters can be fined for not being at training camp.

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions (Curran is sitting this one out) on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag.

MG: Q leading off my portion of the always popular, always exciting, always (occasionally?) informative #FridayBag. I think it would be easy to think that way from the outside looking in, or knowing how callous some organizations can be, but I just don’t believe that to be the case here. Players talk. Agents talk. Hell, coaches talk. If the Pats were to operate that way, it would get around the league in a heartbeat. Then why would someone want to play here knowing they’ll be treated even more like a disposable commodity then normal? The flip side to this is actually protecting the player from himself. Guys in the last year of a deal sometimes feel compelled to play through every damn thing so they can at least say “look at me, I’m a warrior!” And on that note, I’d sit Marty Bennett next week in Denver and probably the following week against the Jets if that will help the ankle and whatever else is ailing him heal to the point where he’s a hell of a lot more effective than what we just saw versus the Rams (He was awful). Bennett’s too valuable going forward. 

MG: Lisa, my understanding is teams nominate their player and then it goes to a panel (one that includes the NFL Commish) to decide who wins for the league (It was Anquan Boldin in 2015). Can’t quibble with Rob Gronkowski being the team’s nominee this year. People have no idea how much he does for the community. Heck, we don’t even know the extent of it, but the great Don Rodman of Rodman Car Dealer fame and one of the most incredibly charitable individuals to ever grace this area said that there are few if any athletes who devote more time and effort to charitable works/foundations. I hope he wins. It would mean a lot to Gronk.

MG: You never figured you’d have to worry about the offense, did you Steve? But the season-ending injury to Gronk and now the injury to Danny Amendola does concern me. Both of those guys are incredibly reliable 3rd down targets, and in Gronk’s case, he’s usually the first or second option on 3rd down. Bennett hasn’t been able to pick up the slack because he’s clearly not healthy either. That means the Pats and Josh McDaniels will be going through a trial and error period here to best determine how to improve that number and become more efficient. I suspect more will fall on Julian Edelman, but also look for the continued evolution of the two back set with James White and Dion Lewis.

MG: Ambrose, the Pats have remained incredibly committed to the run because they don’t want to find themselves in the same spot they were a year ago, when the run game was so pathetic that neither Miami in the regular season finale nor Denver in the AFC title game paid it one mind. That means rushers pinning their ears back and smashing into Tom Brady at rates no one is comfortable with. So while I won’t be surprise if Brady throws it 45 times, I don’t think they shelve the ground game, at least in the first half. 

MG: Ok Bunk, I stole a comment of yours for the mailbag. Trying to make you famous…yes, I stand by my tweet in which I stated the Ravens and Broncos are bigger threats than the Chiefs or Raiders. Oakland’s defense would give up 40 to Brady. 45 if the Pats needed it. Or 50. I’m dead serious. As for the Chiefs, Alex Smith is not coming into Foxboro and beating this team, even with some of it’s defensive issues. And Belichick will make damn sure that rookie Hill doesn’t get many cracks at touching the football in the return game. Oh, and now the Chiefs best linebacker, Johnson, is out for the year with an Achilles. Should I continue???

MG: History tells us no, David. Brady would throw a fit and argue that he needs to play to remain sharp or iron out this problem or that problem. There’s also the possibility of a bye week looming, meaning he’d go 3 weeks without actually playing in a game. Seems like a good idea in the sense that you don’t risk a 39-year old to a blindside shot, but neither he nor Belichick would ever go for it.

PP: The running back position might be the toughest to project moving forward because there are so many injuries there and there are so many backs who come from nowhere to earn significant roles. I'll say this though: The backs they have on the roster -- not including Brandon Bolden, who has turned into strictly a special teamer after having a difficult time holding onto the football this year -- don't seem to be slowing down. LeGarrette Blount just turned 30 but is in the middle of his best season. Dion Lewis looks strong after two surgeries. James White has taken his game to a new level in his third season. I could see the same group coming back next season, but given the volatility of the position, you know the Patriots will always be scouring for talent there. 

PP: Tom E. touched on this yesterday, Big Wally. Brandon Pettigrew, who was released by the Lions on Friday, might make sense. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot out there. Zach Sudfeld? He's available. Would be an unlikely reunion, but desperate times . . . I think the Patriots will continue to roll out Martellus Bennett at less than 100 percent. I think Matt Lengel could see more work as a blocking tight end as he becomes more familiar with the system. I think we'll see more Cameron Fleming, and we could see more two-back sets with no tight ends. In my opinion, Bennett could use a rest, but I don't think it's coming any time soon. As far as Sarge's question about the hurry-up, I'm not sure we'll start to see more that. It's possible, but one of the benefits with the hurry-up is to keep a defense from substituting to shift matchups in its favor. With Gronkowski or Bennett on the field in a hurry-up situation would have even further highlighted the matchup issues they present. If either one found himself with a slow linebacker on him, the Patriots could have rushed to the line and continued...to exploit...that matchup. Without Gronkowski and without Bennett at full strength, the advantage of the no-huddle is somewhat sapped.  

PP: It's so late into the season, I'm not sure there's much in the way of opportunity for a breakout game this week, Paul. I guess the obvious choice would be Griff Whalen. If he can give the Patriots a pair of sure hands as a punt-returner, that would be a significant enough add that I might qualify it as a "breakout." Bill Belichick made it clear this morning that the team views him as more than just a returner, though, so he could see some offensive snaps in four-receiver sets and provide the Patriots with a presence in the slot. I'd deem a four-catch, 50-yard performance as a "breakout" as well. To me, that's the range of his ceiling for this week. One other name as a potential "breakout" candidate? Justin Coleman. He could be used defensively after being inactive for the last three weeks due to Eric Rowe's hamstring injury. If he's able to help slow down the combination of Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Steve Smith, that'd be a breakout in my book. 

PP: The combined record of opponents they've beaten is actually 26-57-1, including the Browns 0-12 mark twice, but now it's out there. 'Preciate you, Dave!

PP:  There's still so much up for grabs in the AFC West that it's hard to determine the likelihood of Patriots playoff matchups and where those games will be. However, without getting into the nitty gritty details, I'll just point out that it's still possible that the Patriots end up on the road in either of these cities in the postseason. On the road, Denver is the tougher matchup. Always has been a brutal place for the Patriots to play, and Denver's defense is still good enough to cause them problems. At home? I'd say, of these two teams, Kansas City would be the one that would provide the Patriots with a slightly tougher test. In my mind, they're a little more balanced and I have more faith in Alex Smith to make plays than I do Trevor Siemien.

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's practice participation/injury report for Monday night's Patriots-Ravens game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder)
DB Jordan Richards (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring)
DB Eric Rowe (hamstring)
WR/SpT Matthew Slater (foot)

BALTIMORE RAVENS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
TE Crockett Gilmore (thigh)
LB Terrell Suggs (not injury related)
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
C Jeremy Zuttah (not injury related)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
G Alex Lewis (ankle)

FULL PARTICIPATION
G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)