Postcards from Pats Camp: Day 21

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Postcards from Pats Camp: Day 21

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Brandon Lloyd returned to practice Wednesday.
Breathing again? Good.
You'll probably also appreciate hearing Logan Mankins had his first day in full pads. But the good feelings on Day 21 were tempered -- Jabar Gaffney suffered an injury to his right quad just into the second hour and missed the rest of practice.
He giveth and He taketh away.
WEATHERThe sun was blazing. Weather.com tells me it was 83 degrees, but with almost 90 humidity, the heat index must have read higher. Mary Paoletti: Amateur meteorologist.
WHAT THEY WOREFull pads.
WHAT THEY DID1:30-2:00: Walkthrough.
2:01-2:12: Running, dynamic running and stretching.
2:13: Drills. Over on the left field it looked like deconstructed special teams work. In one group, Zoltan Mesko helped some guys with punt blocking; in another, the long snapper helped with punt coverage. Elsewhere, some receivers worked on routes, and quarterbacks practiced rollouts and drops. Members of the secondary practiced basic coverages.
2:35: 1-on-1s. This is when Gaffney got hurt. A ball was thrown long out toward the sideline and the receiver put on an extra burst to get there. The pass went incomplete and Gaffney walked gingerly up the sideline. After he met with a trainer, Gaffney took off his jersey and parked it on a big orange cooler for the rest of practice. It could be taken as a positive that he wasn't taken into the locker room.
2:39: 11-on-11. Tom Brady's offensive line looked a little like this: Nate Solder at LT, Nick McDonald at LG, Dan Koppen at C, Donald Thomas at RG, and Marcus Cannon at RT. There was one beautiful play worth noting in this set. Brady looked play-action and the defense bought it. Aaron Hernandz broke away and made it into the end zone with about 10-yards of separation.
2:57: Punt! The barrel also came out but went unused. What a tease.
3:04: 7-on-7. At the back of the field the offensive and defensive lines did tandem 1-on-1s. Over around on goal post Chris Koepplin was stuck shagging for Stephen Gostkowski. He actually tried to kick a ball back to Gostkowski at one point but drilled the top of the goal post instead. The task didn't appear entertaining. The next time Koepplin hit the post he actually looked excited about it. Ah, the life of a back-up kicker.
3:26: More special teams work.
3:35: More 11-on-11.
3:49: Field goals and beat-the-clock field goals. Mesko loves waving that towel around.
WHAT WE SAWWe already talked about the big three being back (Lloyd, Gronkowski, Hernandez). For absences we're left with: Eric Kettani, Alfonzo Dennard, James Ihedigbo (off again after coming back Tuesday), Spencer Larsen, Tracy White, Malcolm Williams, Markus Zusevics, Matt Kopa, Kyle Hix, Sebastian Vollmer, Visanthe Shiancoe, Daniel Fells, Myron Pryor, Jonathan Fanene. Larsen and White made their first appearances on the field, though in shorts and t-shirts.
Gronkowski missed a ball he's caught dozens of times before. During 11-on-11, Brady threw to the tight end right over the middle. The pass was a little high, but it hit off of both Gronkowski's hands. He should have had it.
Safe to say the defense had a better day overall and loved every second of it.
Jeremy Ebert got some work on punt today. He's returned plenty of kickoffs, but punt is a different animal. Ebert probably found that out when he muffed his first attempt.
A little shoving broke out during 7-on-7 and I do believe it was between Logan Mankins and Justin Francis. Tempers fizzled out as soon as they flared perhaps luckily for Francis.
Stevan Ridley continues to get rocked. Derek Martin lowered his shoulder on the running back and sent Ridley right to the ground. Kid always seems to take an extra hit.
During the second round of 11-on-11, Brady executed a pretty little trick play. Wish I could report it.
Shane Vereen caught a ball on the end of a crossing route, much to the frustration of Brandon Spikes. The linebacker went back to the line and immediately dropped down to do some pushups.
Hoyer made a beautiful lofted throw over a defender to Julian Edelman on the sidelines.
Mallett... Oh, Mallett. He was in on two bad plays in a row before getting yanked. The first was intended for Hernandez who was crossing the middle. Pass was thrown to 81's ankles -- incomplete. Next ball bounced off Edelman's hands.
Hoyer couldn't connect with Jeremy Ebert in the corner of the end zone. Probably because Francis would have sacked the stuff out of him before the throw if that was allowed.
WHO'S HOTI'm going to give a nod to Jeremy Ebert. Muffed punts and kicks aside, he's doing better than imagined at receiver. Ebert has good hands and it making a case for himself. It would help if he was consistent on special teams, but it's early yet.
WHO'S NOTThe offense struggled. Again. More dropped passes and poor throws.
WHAT THEY SAID"That's what practice is for: Push it. I think if you don't push it to that point, you don't know how far it can go.'' -- Bill Belichick

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)