Postcard from Patriots camp: Day 6

Postcard from Patriots camp: Day 6
August 1, 2013, 8:15 pm
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FOXBORO -- The Patriots held their sixth training camp session out behind Gillette Stadium in front of what appeared to be another near-capacity crowd. Players took the field at 2:20 p.m. and went to work until about 4:30 p.m.

It started out as a perfect afternoon for football. It was about 80 degrees and partly cloudy for most of the practice. Then, with about 20 minutes left in the session, clouds rolled in and a very light rain came down while the team finished up.

Most were in full pads today. Quarterbacks and Devin McCourty were sporting red non-contact jerseys. Wideout Mark Harrison sat out of practice but worked with a trainer in a t-shirt and shorts. About 90 minutes into practice, Rob Gronkowski hit the field as a spectator wearing a t-shirt and shorts.

Marcus Cannon, who has been taking plenty of first-team reps at right guard, was not present at practice. Dan Connolly, a starter at right guard last season, spent much of the session on another field, working with a trainer.

Same went for running back Brandon Bolden.

Jermaine Cunningham appeared to injure his left leg fairly early on and did not return.

Cornerback Ras-I Dowling seemed to injure himself about midway through the session. He spent the rest of the day on the sideline or on one of the nearby stationary bikes.

After being removed from the physically unable to perform list, Julian Edelman made his return to practice on Thursday but was limited.

Armond Armstead, who recently had surgery to take care of an infection, was also missing. No timetable on his return just yet.

Harrison, as I mentioned, didn't practice with the team.

Practice began, as it has all of camp, with half-speed 11-on-11 work. As that was happening on one field, rookie punter Ryan Allen blasted kicks into the crowd on another. Not a whole lot to be gained from the slow 11-on-11 work, but we got another glimpse of Tim Tebow running the option here.

Then came stretching, calisthenics, and positional stretching.

After that, the team broke into run drills with their position groups. Receivers caught passes from Tom Brady and Tebow while running streaks, and later making double-moves, down the sideline. Defensive players rotated to different stations: single sled, agility work, and strip-sack practice.

Safeties then moved to working on their drops and picking off passes at the their highest points.

Those on kickoff teams worked on their technique, ripping through blockers at three-quarters speed.

Receivers worked on their hands -- and their focus -- as the reeled in passes whipped at them from close range while rackets were waived in their faces.

Corners worked a drill to simulate defending quick comeback routes. Running full speed, stopping, turning and starting again, they had to locate the pass in a blink and make the catch. An impressive drill to watch, even if there was no live receiver there to make life difficult.

Quarterbacks worked on their drops and then practiced exchanges with running backs.

Then, while the defense worked on their pass-play reads and assigning coverages, the offense worked on their quick-hitting pass plays with multiple receivers on one side of the field. Essentially, the two practice fields were mirror images of each other at this point.

Defensive ends and outside linebackers worked with Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on staying with tight ends in pass coverage.

Then came one of the more entertaining periods for the swarth of fans in attendance: wide receivers and defensive backs going one-on-one. More on that below.

Similarly entertaining -- for those who enjoy watching massive lineman trying to beat up on each other -- were the offensive and defensive line one-on-one drills. We'll have more on the winners and losers there below.

Kickoff work came next. Special teams coach Scott O'Brien even mixed in a free kick -- when the punter punts out of hand following a safety.

Then came the first 7-on-7 work of the day, which was followed by 11-on-11 hurry-up situational work. During the 11-on-11 period, "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns 'N' Roses blared over the PA system to simulate crowd noise.

After a brief appearance by the punt teams, there was more 11-on-11 work and some catch-and-run drills between receivers and corners, running backs and linebackers.

Offensive and defensive lines went two-on-two while the rackets came out again for 7-on-7 work.

Bill Belichick then ran the situational sessions, when the chain gang was activated and the coach screamed out down and distance as the offense ran its hurry-up sets.

After red-zone and goal-line work, Stephen Gostkowski kicked about a dozen field goals before the team wrapped things up with more 11-on-11 plays.

Daniel Fells: The senior member of a very young tight end group appears to be the most reliable target in the passing game for Brady so far in camp.

Kenbrell Thompkins: He had a bit of a down night earlier this week but has since bounced back. He ran crisp routes and showed strong hands catching lasers from Brady on shallow crossing routes. He also caught a bomb from Brady that went for about 70 yards and drew one of the bigger reactions from the crowd on hand.

Tommy Kelly: The big defensive tackle showed great strength and pretty good agility to win each of his one-on-one battles Thursday save for the one when he jumped offsides. He also stood out as the team's best run-stuffer in 11-on-11 work.

Aaron Dobson: The rookie second-round pick continues to make some of the most electric plays of any receiver in camp. He snatched a ball one-handed downfield from Brady with defensive back Justin Green draped all over him.

Chris McDonald: A day after his brother, Nick, was released, it was a difficult day in one-on-ones for the rookie offensive lineman.

Michael Buchanan: The rookie defensive lineman had a welcome-to-the-NFL type of moment when he went up against Logan Mankins in one-on-ones, got rag-dolled, and ended up face-down on the turf.

Jake Ballard: The tight end still doesn't quite look 100 percent. On a catch-and-run drill, the 6-foot-6 tight end was laid out by 6-2 defensive lineman Marcus Benard.

Logan Ryan: The third round selection out of Rutgers had a forgettable day, giving up plays to guys like Kamar Aiken, Quentin Sims and new signee Lavasier Tuinei.

-- Edelman looked quick in his first day back. He didn't get many reps in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 work, but he appeared to show no lingering signs of the foot injury that landed him on PUP to start camp. He returned one punt, showing good burst and a willingness to cut hard.

-- Rob Ninkovich had another very solid day. His "wow" moments -- like when he ran over 6-foot-7 tight end Zach Sudfeld to get into the backfield 11-on-11 work -- are few and far between. But after seeing Ryan Mallett gain the edge for a first down in situational work against the second-team defense, it emphasizes the point that those kinds of breakdowns don't happen much when the first team is out there. That's in part because Ninkovich is usually where he should be.

-- Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia spent a good chunk of his afternoon working with the linebackers to help them get their assignments straight on pass plays involving ends and backs out of the backfield.

-- Aqib Talib appears to be enjoying himself in camp. More than once, in down moments, he'd shimmy by himself. Early in the practice, for about a minute in between drills, he threw a ball to himself and worked on catching it behind his back.

-- Brady hit Josh Boyce for about a 30-yard gain using great touch. His pass hit Boyce in stride as he flared out to the sideline, splitting corner Alfonzo Dennard and safety Adrian Wilson.

-- Brandon Spikes trucked Stevan Ridley to provide pressure on Brady in 11-on-11s. Ridley offered Spikes a low-five after as if to say, "You got me."

-- Jamie Collins ripped a ball clean out of the hands of tight end Brandon Ford during catch-and-run drills.

-- Collins also continues to get reps with what looks like the first kickoff team. His size and above-average athleticism stand out when surrounded by a bunch of smaller burners.

-- Tyronne Green filled in at right guard with the first team with Cannon and Connolly out.

-- Here's today's Tim Tebow report . . . It started with more of the same. He was slow to release and inaccurate throwing to receivers in tight coverage in red zone work. Still, his day progressively got better. His timing was there on crossing routes to Thompkins, Aiken and Sims. He showed good touch on a touchdown throw to Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone. He ran a few read-option plays and made clean exchanges despite not getting tons of reps on those types of plays. His solid day unraveled a bit in 11-on-11 work at the very end of the session. He got picked off by Kanorris Davis on one pass. (In fairness, that could have been his intended receiver's fault for not being in the right spot -- it's hard to say.) Then, on one of the final snaps, he ran around a wall of players who weren't even involved in the play -- they were standing far behind the line of scrimmage and waiting to be tapped in -- to elude defenders in his face after he couldn't find a receiver. Once again, he worked with the tight ends on ball-protection and catch-and-run drills.

-- Here are the results of the one-on-one receiver-versus-defensive-back battles as we saw them:

Thompkins beat Kyle Arrington underneath
Davis broke up a pass to Boyce
Dobson beat Justin Green
Tuinei beat Ryan to make a diving grab
McCourty got his hands on a pass intended for Matthew Slater
Danny Amendola out-ran Talib but was overthrown by Brady

-- Here's how the one-on-one action between offensive and defensive linemen broke down:

Kelly easily got around Tyronne Green
Vince Wilfork beat Logan Mankins
Wilfork and Mankins battled to a draw
Chandler Jones burst passed Nate Solder
Benard beat Kevin Haslam
Kelly took a lap for going offsides
Joe Vellano beat Markus Zusevics
Marcus Fortson got around Chris McDonald
Bernard got the best of McDonald
Will Svitek held his ground against Justin Francis
Kelly overpowered Zusevics
Green beat new guy Travis Chappelear
Ryan Wendell dominated Vellano
Josh Kline also beat Vellano
Fortson took a lap for offsides
Jake Bequette got by Solder
Ninkovich beat Vollmer in a heavyweight bout

-- Anything-but-soft-spoken special teams coach Scott O'Brien was audibly pleased with his coverage units on a day when they saw plenty of work.

-- When given the opportunity to pin a punt deep in the shadow of the opposing end zone on Thursday, Zoltan Mesko hit a beauty that went out of bounds at the 6-yard line.

-- Dobson had to be corrected after lining up on the wrong side of the field during the hurry-up portion of practice that included crowd noise -- an understandable mistake for a guy in his sixth pro practice.

-- The Patriots offense looked relatively smooth during the hurry-up considering all its new pieces. With Brady barking signals, players appeared to make substitutions cleanly. Catches by Amendola, Michael Jenkins and Zach Sudfeld kept the offense moving forward.

"I think I'm better than I was on Day 1." -- Rookie defensive back Logan Ryan with a big-picture perspective as the grind of camp continues.