Postcards from Patriots Camp: Day 18

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Postcards from Patriots Camp: Day 18

FOXBORO -- Logan Mankins is back.

Amazing to consider what kind of guy can miss so much time and jump back in with the first team offensive line. Mankins did that on Sunday.

Not that the pace was impressive...

The first practice after New England's 7-6 win over New Orleans on Thursday night was breezy. Not unusual after the first preseason tilt. To paraphrase Bill Belichick, the team will go hard for the next eight days -- a brutal stretch between now and the next game (Philadelphia on August 20) -- because it won't have much time to get things right after that.

The calm before the storm, as they say.
WEATHER A gorgeous night: By 5 PM the temp just began to dip under 80 degrees and fall with the sun. Throw in a sweet little breeze and it was a perfect evening.
WHAT THEY WORE
Shorts and shells.

WHAT THEY DID
5:00-5:30: Typical walkthrough things. Brian Hoyer got significant time under center.

5:30-5:40: Running the width of the field. Same ol', same ol'. The biggest difference was probably seeing Gronkowski on an elliptical machine with all the other rehabbing players. More on that in a minute.

5:40-5:44: Positional warm-up drills and dynamic stretching.

5:44-5:48: The key special teams unit worked on kickoff blocking assignments. Elsewhere on the field, guys split off and did positional drills. Kind of funny -- while the offensive line was going through the motions with tackling dummies, Justin Francis stuck Tim Bulman with one of the big blue pads and pancaked his teammate. Oops. Bulman had a chance to retaliate when they swapped positions, but didn't.

Over in the secondary, cornerbacks practiced their backpedal and getting their hands on a pass. Will Allen missed badly on one chance and dropped down to do some push-ups. Not sure if that was a self-imposed punishment or not.

6:02: 7-on-7. Nothing major to report here as Brady looked decent, getting receptions from Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Lloyd, and Julian Edelman. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett also got reps.

6:08: Kickoff return

6:something (sorry): 11-on-11

6:26: Kickoff return

6:32: 11-on-11

6:50: Huddle up.

WHAT WE SAWBrandon Spikes re-returned to action. He wore a soft knee brace but mixed in to most all the drills.

DNP: Rob Gronkowski (in head-to-toe sweats and a backwards hat), James Ihedigbo, Britt Davis (injured his shoulder against the Saints), Spencer Larsen, Tracy White, Dane Fletcher (ACL injury; out for season), Matt Kopa, Visanthe Shiancoe, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard, Myron Pryor, Gerard Warren, Jonathan Fanene, Eric Kettani, Markus Zusevics, Kyle Hix, Sebastian Vollmer, Alfonzo Dennard, Ron Brace, and Malcolm Williams.

Worried about Gronkowski? Don't -- not yet, anyway. The tight end likely got an extra day off before Belichick takes New England to the wall. No need to push too hard too early.

No word on why Ihedigbo didn't participate. He did wear a red no-contact jersey for the first two weeks of camp.

WHO'S HOT
Dont'a Hightower. Though he didn't do anything remarkable during Thursday's game, the rookie linebacker had two picks -- one against Brady, the other against Mallett) during 11-on-11.

I'm putting Jerod Mayo in this category, but not because of his play. Sure, he was solid as usual. The thing that got my attention, though, was how vocal he was. You could hear Mayo guiding the defense on every snap he played.

WHO'S NOT
The offense. Really. To Hightower's interceptions, add two more for the defense. Devin McCourty snatched a Mallett ball intended for Matt Slater. Marquice Cole got his hands on a Hoyer pass that targeted Jeremy Ebert.

I lost track of how many passes went off fingertips (Julian Edelman, Donte' Stallworth), through hands (Brandon Bolden, Wes Welker), got thrown away, or missed the mark completely. Not pretty.

Sergio Brown. During positional drills he wasn't even in the neighborhood on one ball that was thrown his way. Just one example of how his coverage is generally awful.

Kyle Hill. The new tackle ran the only lap of the day after he got a penalty during 11-on-11. (Remember, the postcard judges on one day's effort. Harsh, but true.)

WHAT THEY SAID
"Put a brace on, tape an aspirin to it and go.'' -- Logan Mankins on how he played through the pain of a torn ACL.

Report: Belichick may be called to testify in Hernandez trial

Report: Belichick may be called to testify in Hernandez trial

Bill Belichick, identified as "William Belichick," has been added to the list of potential defense witnesses who could testify during the upcoming double-homicide trial of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, according to the Boston Herald.

Per the Herald, the new list of potential witnesses for the defense also includes Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who was Hernandez's teammate at the University of Florida. 

Belichick, McDaniels and Pouncey aren't guaranteed to testify, but their presence on the civilian witness list makes their presence in court a possibility. 

Hernandez's trial is scheduled to start next Wednesday. He's accused of killing Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Furtado back in July of 2012. Hernandez is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of the murder Odin Lloyd in 2013.

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Personally, I would buy a crapload of stock in Cyrus Jones. In part because – after his nightmarish rookie season – stock can be bought on the cheap. But also because he’s too talented, too committed and too smart to suck like he did in 2016 when he handled punts like they were coated in uranium and never made a big contribution in the secondary.

(Listen above to hear Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discuss Cyrus Jones on the Quick Slants podcast.)

Because of his disappointing year, Jones is an overlooked player on the Patriots roster, but he’s in a pivotal spot. With Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon approaching free agency, Malcolm Butler’s contract expiring after 2017, Pat Chung on the edge of 30 and a free agent after 2018 and the other corners being Justin Coleman, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones is going to get his shot.

The reason I included safeties Harmon and Chung in the discussion is that when the Patriots go to six DBs, roles are less stringently defined. And because of Jones’ size (5-10, 200), powerful build and short-area quickness, he can be the kind of versatile player who covers inside against quicker slot receivers as well as being on the outside if necessary. Kind of like Chung can cover on the back end or drop down to cover tight ends.

The Patriots are confident that Jones will get it right. His teammates in the secondary are unanimous in saying he’s got all the talent he needs.  

PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:

But as 2016 wore on, it was apparent that Jones was miserable and let his failures consume him. Jones muffed or fumbled five kicks in the 2016 season.
 
By the time the Patriots played the Ravens on a Monday night in December, he was so inside his own head that he stalked a bouncing punt he had no business being near (for the second time that game) and had it bounce off his foot setting up a Ravens touchdown. That night, Jones exited the Patriots locker room and made his way to the players parking lot before the field was even clear of equipment.

Jones either expected things to come as easily in the NFL as they did at Alabama and wasn’t prepared to deal with adversity. Or the mistakes he made caused him to wonder if he really was good enough to play in the league.

Either way, Cyrus Jones was all about Cyrus Jones in 2016. And his comments to the Baltimore Sun over the weekend were evidence that the world he’s concerned with ends at the end of his nose. 

"I honestly felt cursed," he said. "I reached a point where I didn't even want to play. I just didn't have it...What I did this year was not me," he said. "I don't care how anybody tries to sugarcoat it. Yes, I was a rookie. But I feel I should always be one of the best players on the field, no matter where I am.
 
"But honestly, it was hell for me," he said. "That's the only way I can describe it. I didn't feel I deserved to be part of anything that was happening with the team. I felt embarrassed that these people probably thought they wasted a pick on me."

The first thing Jones needs to do this offseason is get over himself. He can look one locker down and talk to Devin McCourty about getting crushed for shaky play in 2012, battling through it and then turning into a Pro Bowl-level safety. He can talk to fellow Alabama product Dont'a Hightower about Hightower’s being benched in the 2013 season against the Broncos and labeled a bust before flipping his season around and being the team’s best defender by the end of that year.

But he’s going to have to figure it out. Draft status means nothing to New England and, as it now stands, undrafted corner Jonathan Jones out of Auburn has more demonstrated value to the team that Cyrus Jones does. In two months, the Patriots are damn sure going to add more secondary players.

This offseason, Jones needs to check his ego, simplify his game and simply ban outside perceptions from fans, media or coaches from infect his on-field decision-making.

His conversation with the Sun didn’t really indicate he’s ready to do that. Asked about criticism, Jones said, “It pisses me off. You can say shut it out or don't listen, but I know people are talking, and it's negative. I'm not a dumb guy. It definitely affects me. What it should do is piss me off in a way that I want to shut them all up."

From the limited number of times I spoke with him and from his teammates regard for him, I can confirm Jones isn’t a dumb guy. That doesn’t necessarily make life easier though. In 2016, Cyrus Jones’ brain got in the way. The Patriots need him to shut that thing off in 2017.