Postcards from Camp: Day 7


Postcards from Camp: Day 7

Day 7 of Patriots training camp had the players in shorts and shells. Coach Bill Belichick said before practice that the team planned to "slow things down" a bit and he seemed to keep his word there as it was a pretty light session. There was no hitting, and things got done about 20 minutes earlier than scheduled. Even a chunk of the massive swarms of Patriots fans that had been attending camp seemed to take the day off as the crowd was somewhat sparser on what was a hot, muggy day in Foxboro.
THE WEATHERDid we mention it was hot? Like, really hot. Coach Bill Belichick said before Wednesday night's practice that the team had entered the "Dog Days" of training camp, and it certainly felt that way on Thursday. The temperature hovered around 90 degrees, and it was humid. There were a few clouds in the sky, but not enough to provide much in the way of shade.
WHAT THEY WOREJames Ihedigbo and Matthew Slater were still wearing those red "DON'T TOUCH ME!" shirts. Veteran corner Will Allen, who has been out for the last few practices, was spotted on the sidelines sporting a long-sleeved t-shirt, shorts and sneakers. He didn't participate today.
WHAT THEY DIDBelichick's press conference ran a little late so many media members missed the first few minutes of practice. But from what was shown on the big screen inside the stadium, it looked like it included some warm-up drills and stretching. We pick things up from there:
2:00-2:30The team was separated into groups to do position-specific work. The quarterbacks and receivers worked against no defense. Running backs worked on a drill to secure short passes and then protect against defenders trying to pry it loose. both offensive and defensive linemen did some work on the sled, while linebackers and corner backs worked on backpedaling into coverage.
2:30-2:45Quarterbacks, tight ends and running backs worked against linebackers and safeties on the goal line. Rob Gronkowski was a favorite target of Tom Brady's here, no surprise. Dont'a Hightower impressed with one pass breakup heading Gronk's way. Deion Branch served as defacto quarterback and threw passes to the other wideouts while they waited their turn to hop in. (He throws a a decent ball, in case you were wondering.) Then the receivers got their goal line work in. Britt Davis made a few nice catches, one in the back corner of the end zone over a cornerback whose number was obscured by other players as he ran back to the huddle. Eventually, everyone moved back to the 20 yard line to work on red zone situations. Shane Vereen showed some good quickness here.
2:45-2:50Special teams time. Kickoff and kick-return units both got some work in. On-side kicks were worked on with a couple of different groups of "hands team" guys, including Sergio Brown, Kyle Arrington, Brandon Bolden, Matthew Slater, Devin McCourty and Josh Barrett.
2:50-3:00Wideouts and quarterbacks worked on sideline routes against four or five defenders. Then they shifted to 7-on-7s. Aaron Hernandez has stood out all camp in all situations, and he did here once again. He got great separation out of his routes and seemed to be open on the majority of plays.
3:00-3:15Then it was on to 11-on-11s. This was when Brady started to show signs that today was not his day. He had one pass batted down by either Kyle Love or Vince Wilfork. Then he overthrew Davis near the sideline. Then he zipped a pass too hard and through Wes Welker's hands on a short bubble route. Then he had to throw a ball away with Rob Ninkovich in his face. Then he overthrew Gronkowski on a seam down the middle where Gronk had his man beat. (Take a deep breath.) He was 1-for-6 on the series.
3:15-3:25More kickoff work. Stallworth, Vereen and Ridley all worked in on returns. Brady and Hernandez threw to each other on the sideline as they waited to get back on the field.
3:25-3:40This was the hurry-up portion of the session. The offense wasn't at its sharpest, but it was an entertaining few minutes nonetheless. After one completion, Brady's bad day continued. He was picked clean by saftey Steve Gregory, ending No. 12's hurry-up run before it even really got started. Hoyer looked better as the pace picked up. He audibled at one point and found Jesse Holley on a long completion. The second offense got deep enough into the red zone where they worked on clock-management and setting up field goals without calling timeouts. This part of practice led to a pretty funny scene where Zoltan Mesko -- the holder -- would sprint toward the line of scrimmage screaming and waiving a white towel to let the offense know that it needed to hustle off as the field goal unit was coming on. Chris Koepplin looked OK kicking field goals. Hard to tell from the media's angle whether or not he missed any.
WHO'S HOTJulian Edelman is still catching everything no matter where it's placed: inside, outside, long, over his head. On one play, he made Sterling Moore look in desperate need of a GPS -- the corner wasn't even in the right neighborhood.
Aaron Hernandez continues to look as solid as any Patriots receiver -- tight end or wideout. He caught everything today and seems to get open at will. He also showed how versatile he may be when things get going for real as he and Brady worked together on their hand-off exchange.
Tavon Wilson had a good day after receiving praise from Belichick before practice. He had two picks. One came down near the goal line off of Brady. The other was off of Brian Hoyer. Intended receiver Matt Slater ran a lazy route, rounding it off at the end, and Wilson pounced. The back also broke up a pass between Hoyer and defensive-end-turned-tight-end Alex Silvestro.
WHO'S NOTHoyer looked a little Ryan Mallett-ish today in that he took forever to get rid of the ball. He also has a tendency not to get rid of the ball at all sometimes, instead tucking it down and running when he's run out of options. He has to lead Patriots quarterbacks in rushing yardage during 7-on-7s, but that's probably not what the coaches are looking for.
Brady misfired a bunch today. Look for a story coming on that later.
Poor Silvestro. He's having some issues with the switch to tight end. Belichick said the move from defensive end to tight end means Silvestro "doesn't have to report on every offensive play." The offensive plays on which he reported today largely went incomplete. The quarterbacks were looking for him often, seemingly trying to get him in some sort of rhythm, but most passes ended up rolling around on the turf.
The following guys 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 had still not reported.
Early exits: Deion Branch jogged off the field at 3:08; Jabar Gaffney left with a bit of a limp at 3:15.
WHAT WE SAWAfter Dan Connolly's absence gave him some reps with the 1s Wednesday night, Donald Thomas was back with the 2s today.
Robert Gallery worked with the first offensive line group along with Connolly, Nate Solder, Dan Koppen and Marcus Cannon.
Brandon Spikes wasn't wearing the brace that made an appearance during Wednesday night's session after the fracas that started when Solder knocked him to the ground.
Ryan Mallett -- who's known for having a big arm but hasn't shown it off a whole bunch this camp -- showed nice touch on a wheel route to Vereen.
Steve Gregory had almost as good a day as Wilson. Aside from picking off Brady, he broke up two consecutive long passes that might have gone for scores had he not been in position.
WHAT THEY SAID"He can raise his voice from time to time. But we really listen to him so he hasn't had to flip out that much yet." -- Donald Thomas on offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia's demeanor during camp.

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”