Postcard 20

Postcard 20

FOXBORO -- Another Gronk-less day - and Lloyd-less and Hernandez-less - as the Patriots took the field for the 20th day of training camp.

With Gronk, it's just been a matter of rep management. With Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez, I'm not sure that's the case but I'm leaning toward that being the case.

WEATHER
Warm, peekaboo sunshine. Let's go low-to mid-80s - Paoletti says cloud cover was "good."

WHAT THEY WOREFull pads for all the kids.

WHAT THEY DID
1:45-1:52: A review of some blocking assignments on kickoff returns.

1:52-2:12: Walkthrough reps with a lot of variety in the personnel groupings along the offensive line.

2:12-2:40: Running, position stretching, position drills.

2:40-2:46: 1-on-1 route running for receivers and DBs

2:47-3:08: 11-on-11

3:08-3:15 - Barrel toss for QBs, special teams works on situational kickoffs.

3:15-3:37 - Offensive and defensive lines worked on tandem blocks and rushes; 7-on-7 for the rest

3:37-3:39: 1-on-1 tackling

3:39-3:46: Special teams work, field goals

3:46-4:00:11-on-11

WHAT WE SAWJames Ihedigbo got back in action after a couple days off.

Others who did not practice: Spencer Larsen, Eric Kettani, Daniel Fells, Sebastian Vollmer, Kyle Hix, Alfonzo Dennard, Visanthe Shiancoe, Markus Zusevics, Tracy White, Gerard Warren, Jonathan Fanene, Malcolm Williams, Myron Pryor. Brian Waters still hasn't reported. Which reminds of an uncomfortable exchange between personnel man Nick Caserio and Mike Reiss. Reiss asked if the team knew whether Waters was playing in 2012 or not. Caserio said he had no updates. Reiss reminded Caserio that he wasn't asking for an update, just a yes or no response. Caserio double-talked in a small circle.

Logan Mankins wasn't in full pads. Julian Edelman wasn't wearing anything on his wrist after he appeared to ding it on Monday.

Zoltan Mesko appeared well-caffeinated. He was playing hacky-sack with the other kickers, sprinting past the rest of the team (and doing a pose-down) at the end of sprints, patting Ross Ventrone on the head after a good play, dunking over the goal post, running downfield to down punts at the goal line and feigning pain when hit with a blocking pad. Busy.

Matt Slater had the catch of the day in the right side of the end zone on a deep ball by Tom Brady. Slater went up and plucked the ball one-handed away from Devin McCourty.

Corner Marquice Cole dinged himself going to the ground while defending Jabar Gaffney downfield. It appeared trainers were looking at his shoulder.

Scott O'Brien, the special teams coach, was high energy all day.

Kyle Arrington showed some excellent change-of-direction coverage sticking with Julian Edelman during 1-on-1s.

Patrick Chung had a near pick of Tom Brady along the right sideline when Brady tried to jam a ball in to Edelman.

Derrick Martin, a safety, wiped out hard on some downfield coverage. A lot of guys were slipping during the early portion of practice.

Deion Branch had the second best catch, beating Kyle Arrington on a leaping crossing pattern.

The first offensive line for Brady in 11-on-11 was Nate Solder, Donald Thomas, Ryan Wendell, Nick McDonald and Marcus Cannon.

Ryan Mallett did not have a good day. He messed up a screen badly, having to throw it away. His accuracy has not been on a significant uptick. He seems very wristy on his throws, as if he curls his hand too much inward. He wasn't so sure I knew what the hell I was talking about when I mentioned it to him. Maybe I don't. But any port in a storm, Ryan.

Of course, Mallett was the only guy to get one in on the barrel toss. So skills competition? He's your guy.

Trevor Scott had another play where he showed up with a strip sack of Brady. The defensive line and secondary won by a ton in the passing game on Tuesday. Among the other turnovers, Steve Gregory picked off Brady on a pass headed for Welker. Chung eventually picked Brady one-handed in the end zone. A wobbly Hoyer pass was tipped and picked by Martin. And Nate Ebner picked Mallett in the two-minute drill.

A few direct snaps to various "quarterbacks" Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen.

Marcus Cannon and Marcus Fortson had to run penalty laps during the tandem blocking stuff. Chandler Jones decleated Derek Dennis.

The three quarterbacks worked on sprintout passes.

There was a lot of situational stuff again - very specific (ball on the 20, nine seconds left, one timeout) and a lot of two-minute.

Brandon Bolden made a terrific one-handed catch on the sidelines on a high throw by Mallett.

Stevan Ridley coughed it up after a reception. His second fumble in two days.

WHO'S HOTShane Vereen. Very smooth again. Just looked fast and comfortable on the reps he got, particularly in the passing game.

Steve Gregory-Patrick Chung. The pair is really locking down the middle of the secondary and it's more than evident they need to see some different competition because they are locked in right now.

WHO'S NOTStevan Ridley. Two fumbles in two days is not the way to quell angst over the post-Benny ball security in New England.

Ryan Mallett. He's gonna retire this category.

The passing offense. Tight coverage on receivers who weren't uncovering, forced throws, wobbly throws, bad timing. Yuck.

WHAT THEY SAID"Ow! Hey!" -- Not Sure. But someone yelled it on a middle run by Shane Vereen. It's just not an exclamation you hear very often on a football field.

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.