Welker sitting out Thursday practice

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Welker sitting out Thursday practice

TAMPA - Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker did not take part in practice Thursday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Welker was on the sidelines in shorts and a t-shirt while the Pats and Bucs prepared for their second day of joint workouts.

There was nothing immediately evident to suggest why Welker was down. He did have a hair transplant performed by Dr. Robert Leonard in late June but there's little chance that getting his own hair back would do anything but make him stunningly handsome.

The Patriots make a habit of managing their key players' repetitions during camp and the chance exists Welker is merely having his work managed. But given the team was working in shells in advance of Friday's game and the workload wasn't heavy, we have to consider Welker's chances of playing as doubtful.

Also newly added to the spectator group was safety Ross Ventrone.

Bill Belichick said the Patriots planned to work on situational aspects with the Bucs on Friday. The coach remains his expansive away-from-Gillette self.

Speaking of the first day of work, Belichick said, "I thought it was a good day for us yesterday. I think we got a lot done and improved our team. Saw a lot of things out there that we haven't seen, and of course, competing against another team is good for us. So we spent a lot of time last night going over the film with the players as a staff, as part of critiquing ourselves -- as coaches and what we need to do better and also the players and how they competed against each other and the different matchups we saw in practice."

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

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Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.