Takeaways from OTAs and minicamp: Cooks, Gilmore already impressing

Takeaways from OTAs and minicamp: Cooks, Gilmore already impressing

FOXBORO -- OK. Now it's the offseason. Really. This time we mean it. 

The Patriots had their last spring practice on Thursday, meaning that until the end of July, when training camp begins, everyone is on vacation. Players, coaches, executives. All off. 

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With no on-the-field access for more than a month, here's one last run-through of the things we learned in Patriots OTAs and minicamp.

* Tom Brady is still decidedly out of his mind when it comes to his energy and level of competitiveness. During one of the first OTA practices open to reporters, he hit DJ Foster with a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone toward the end of the session and celebrated the thing as though they had just clinched the AFC East. Physically, Brady looks the same as he has in recent "passing camps." He was generally very accurate with the football. 

* For as good as Brady looked, Jimmy Garoppolo still probably throws the tightest deep ball of any Patriots quarterback. He had several opportunities to put that on display before suffering a leg injury that kept him on the sidelines for the final few snaps of minicamp and all of Tuesday's workout. 

* Jacoby Brissett is moving in the right direction. He impressed with his ability to make checks at the line and complete long throws with touch. At this time last year, the strong-armed passer could be found chucking throws into the stands when he wasn't sure about where to go with the football. During spring work, he seemed to make progressions quickly and take the short-to-intermediate throws when they were there. He knows he's not a "young pup" anymore, and he's hoping to move up the depth chart. 

* Brandin Cooks is able to reach a different gear than most of his teammates. At one practice, he caught a crossing route from Garoppolo and was able to out-run three defensive backs on his way to the end zone. He's also shown good early chemistry with Brady, catching a high-degree-of-difficulty back-shoulder throw deep down the sideline with Malcolm Butler in tight coverage. He went out of his way to spend a little extra time with Brady following one spring session that was open to media, and it appears as though those mini-summits have already started to pay dividends. 

* Rob Gronkowski declared himself "100 percent" early this spring, and he looked it. He did not hesitate to leave his feet for contested catches, and there were plenty -- particularly with Patrick Chung or Jordan Richards in coverage. We'll get a better sense of what Gronkowski can do in training camp when the pads come on, but the early returns have been positive for the tight end who recently was given an incentive-laden restructured deal for 2017. 

* While Cooks may have another gear in terms of his speed, there's another newcomer to the Patriots whose athleticism stood out at OTAs. Stephon Gilmore is smooth. He transitioned quickly from his backpedal into a sprint, and when he showed good body control when contesting passes at their highest point. Gilmore often seemed to be in tight man coverage, and he didn't let up when passes were completed in his direction. Though there was no contact during these practices, he was consistently reaching in and trying to pry footballs loose at the last minute. 

* Let's continue to roll through the veterans in their first year with the Patriots. Dwayne Allen admitted that he wished his first on-the-field work with his new club had been a little more hiccup-free. He dropped a handful of passes during practices open to the media, and he looked a little tight as he attacked throws that forced him to try to extend his catch radius. Following Tuesday's practice, he spent extra time with Brady and fellow tight end James O'Shaughnessy to get a few more reps in before heading inside for the day. 

* Rex Burkhead had his share of up and down moments in spring work as well. Though he showed good hands in his opportunities catching passes out of the backfield with Brady and Garoppolo, he needed a little additional coaching from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels at times to decipher the nuances of certain routes based on the coverages in front of him. How Burkhead is able to pick up the Patriots offense, particularly his responsibilities as a route-runner and pass-protector, will be fascinating to track in training camp. If those things come to him quickly, he could be an interesting dual-threat option out of the backfield. Burkhead also saw kick-coverage responsibilities during OTAs.

* Here are a few names you may not know yet, but who could garner more attention as real football gets closer: 1) O'Shaughnessy, acquired in a draft-weekend trade with the Chiefs, appeared to be the smoothest-receiving tight end of the group after Gronkowski. 2) Undrafted rookie safety David Jones out of Richmond is an intriguing athlete at 6-foot-3 and a shade over 200 pounds. He was used as a returner in the kicking game, and there was a point during Tuesday's practice where he got a little work with what would be considered primarily the first group of Patriots defensive backs. He missed half of last season for the Spiders due to a fractured forearm, but if he can stay healthy he's an NFL athlete. He ran a 4.43-second 40 at his pro day and jumped 34 inches in the vertical. 3) Harvey Langi is a name you may have heard because he was the highest-paid undrafted rookie in this year's class. He saw time as an off-the-ball linebacker this spring and made an interception of Brissett off of a tipped pass during the last sequence of 11-on-11 work Thursday. Langi could have an opportunity to earn a roster spot based on the fact that he plays a position that could potentially use some depth behind Dont'a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy. But he was also working extensively with special teams coach Joe Judge this spring. Another off-the-ball linebacker who saw plenty of work on "teams" was Arkansas product Brooks Ellis. 

* Injuries are always part of the story for any team during the spring and summer, and the Patriots are no exception. Malcolm Mitchell, Hightower, Duron Harmon, Lawrence Guy and Kony Ealy all missed practice time at various points. Alan Branch was a limited participant during mandatory minicamp practices and was not present for OTAs, as is typically the case for him as he chooses to stay with family in Arizona during optional offseason workouts. Because all of those players figure to play important roles on this year's club, their status bears watching when training camp begins. Undrafted rookie offensive lineman Andrew Jelks also missed time. He missed Vanderbilt's last two seasons with knee injuries. Back in March, Vandy coach Derek Mason -- who was invited to watch Patriots spring practices by Bill Belichick -- said Jelks "was the best player coming into this program when I got here."

Perry: Garoppolo's accountability a winning sign in losing effort

Perry: Garoppolo's accountability a winning sign in losing effort

HOUSTON -- If Jimmy Garoppolo is destined to be a starting quarterback down the line, he showed one quality after the game that would seem to indicate he's just about ready.

He was accountable.

The strip-sack that nearly decapitated him and gave the Texans possession? On him.

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"The o-line did a great job tonight," Garoppolo said. "The sack-fumble was my fault. Can't let that happen . . . I'm the quarterback. It's just -- it's my fault."

His pick in the fourth quarter, a strange throw on the run that was out of reach for tight end Jacob Hollister? Well, yeah, no one else to blame there.

"You just gotta throw it away," he said. "Put more on it. Don't even give the guy a chance to do that."

It wasn't all ugliness in preseason game No. 2 for Tom Brady's backup. He hit DJ Foster on a quick toss over the middle that turned into a 25-yard touchdown. He climbed the pocket and drilled Austin Carr for a first down in the third quarter that started a streak of six straight completions, ending with Foster's score. He established chemistry with tight end James O'Shaughnessy, who had to sit during last week's game with the Jags. And he did it all behind the likes of Cam Fleming, Cole Croston, Jamil Douglas and James Ferentz.

One of Garoppolo's best plays of the night actually came on a sack. But instead of taking a vicious blow -- like the one he absorbed on the strip-sack -- he got on the ground just as the Texans were bearing down on him. He lived to see the next down, using an on-the-field awareness that may be tough to sharpen during practices when quarterbacks wear red jerseys and aren't allowed to be touched.

No, the final line wasn't sparkling, as it was a week ago. Garoppolo was 15-for-23 for 145 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He missed throws to O'Shaughnessy, Carr and Dion Lewis. He was nearly picked on a Brandon Bolden wheel route.

But the accountability Garoppolo showed after the fact is the kind of thing that doesn't go unnoticed by teammates, and it's one of the reasons he'll already have them won over if he ever gets another chance to start.

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Brady: 'Gotta be careful about who you double' in Patriots offense

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Brady: 'Gotta be careful about who you double' in Patriots offense

HOUSTON -- Though Tom Brady played just 17 snaps on Saturday against the Texans, and though he got his offense into the end zone just once in an abbreviated night of work, his team's second preseason game served as a reminder that the Patriots have a surplus of weaponry. 

Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis looked dynamic. Rob Gronkowski impacted coverage even when he wasn't targeted. Brandin Cooks was in uniform for the first time and caught a pass from Brady. Malcolm Mitchell saw plenty of work with Jimmy Garoppolo. James O'Shaughnessy looked like a viable third option at tight end. 

That's not even mentioning players like James White, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Dwayne Allen (all of whom are healthy) or Mike Gillislee (who is still working his way back from injury). 

The variety of options Brady can lean on in a given week, the matchups he and Josh McDaniels will try to dictate by using certain personnel groupings and formations, will be an every-evolving storyline over the course of the 2017 season. And Brady knows it.

"I think that’s what makes a great offense, having a lot of versatility," Brady said after the game. "I’ve said for a long time, I throw where the guys are open. If they double someone, everyone else is singled across the board, so you’ve just got to be careful about who you double. If we’ve got the right play call against a certain defense, it’s tough to stop us.

"We were decent out there, obviously had quite a few mistakes we’ve got to clean up, but it’s a good defense. We’re going to see them quickly. We had a good week of practice against them. It was a lot of fun . . . It will be a little bit different next time we play them."

Next time Brady and the Patriots see the Texans will be in Week 3, which will pit one of the league's most amorphous offenses against one of its best defenses.