NEPD Staff Contributor
After a day away from on the field football activities, the Patriots were back on the field Tuesday and back to work. It marked the fifth time the Patriots practiced since the start of camp and the third of which was in full pads.
Here is what stood out to us on the practice field on Tuesday.
1. (Attendance Report) The same cast of characters that have been absence throughout the first four days were absent once again. Brian Waters still hasn’t reported and fellow offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer remained out. Jake Ballard, Jeremy Ebert, Nate Ebner, Daniel Fells, Nick McDonald, Myron Pryor and Markus Zusevics didn’t practice again today and haven’t yet this season. Alfonzo Dennard remained sidelined with a possible hamstring injury. Jamey Richard who left Sunday with a possible concussion didn’t practice today. Two players who were absent for the first time were Tony Fiammetta and Visanthe Shiancoe.
2. Bradon Spikes had been out of the field through the first four days, but had been held out of team and individual drills. On Tuesday, he made his return to full speed and contact drills. Spikes’ emotional presence on the field is tough to ignore. He plays with such passion and energy, it’s infectious. Spikes developed into the emotional leader late in the season and into the playoffs and it looks like he picked up where he left off.
3.Ras-I Dowling continued to stand out in man to man coverage. In 1 on 1 drills, he was matched up with the Patriots top outside WR Brandon Lloyd and twice denied him from making a reception. Like I have been saying, Dowling’s size and length are huge assets in man coverage. Once Dowling went down last year the Patriots really struggled to make up for his lost. Big things are expected out of Dowling this year.
4. Chandler Jones and Jermaine Cunningham really stand out in pass rush drills. Jones showcased some impressive power to speed rushing moves against Patriots LT Nate Solder while Cunningham looks like a completely differently player. All that work he put in during the off-season appears to be paying off because he looks quicker, more explosive and more confident. Entering camp no one was sure what to expect out of Cunningham, but to this point he has been one of the standouts.
5. The Patriots defensive line is starting to come into focus and the unit as a whole looks very good. The top 12 DT/DE/OLB look to be Trevor Scott, Kyle Love, Vince Wilfok, Chandler Jones, Gerard Warren, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Jonathan Fanene, Brandon Deaderick, Jake Bequette and Ron Brace. It’s a deep and talented group. These players seem to be rotating in with the top groups and rotations. With such depth at the positions, it really makes me wonder if Andre Carter will even be needed this year. I for one think it’s far from a sure thing that Carter is back with the Patriots this year.
6. I am glad more people are starting to warm up to Marcus Cannon. I have been pretty consistent saying I thought he has played well in camp, especially when showcasing his power and ability to anchor at the line of scrimmage. It seems like others in attendance are beginning to take notice as well. Cannon isn’t ready to be a starter, but if Vollmer were to miss time, I’d feel comfortable with Cannon filling in.
7. Jonathan Fanene’s strength in the middle of the defensive line is impressive. He consistently pushes which ever OL he is matched up against into the backfield and is tough to handle one on one. It’s easy to see what Bill Belichick noticed in Fanene that made him one of their top off-season priorities. When I have watch Fanene he is lined up primarily as a 3-Tech (outside shade of the OG), which signals to me, he is going to be their top interior pass rusher.
8. While Brandon Bolden has drawn a lot of positive reviews this training camp there are a couple of things that need improvement. He had his first fumble today, which is never a good thing. However, the thing he is going to have to work on the most is, resisting the temptation to bounce everything outside. It seems like 90% of his runs consists of him bouncing it off tackle even when the run isn’t designed to go there. He has shown good explosion and decisiveness while doing it, but he won’t be able to get away with it during actual games. I will be anxious to see how Bolden adjusts to running it up the middle and in tighter spaces.
9. Devin McCourty seems to be making some progress in man coverage drills. While he has been beat a couple times, he has the most pass break-ups out of all the defensive backs thus far in camp. There have been moments when McCourty has been beat, but he has been able to recover and get his hands on the ball. With McCourty the most important thing is going to be how he performs in games. Developing an early confidence will go along way with McCourty.
10. The most impressive thing about Dont’a Hightower is how poised and composed despite having so much thrown at him. At various points in each practice so far he has been the signal caller. He has played in sub package defenses, outside backer, inside, kick-off, kick return. It’s obvious that the coaching staff is really trying to challenge him and he has taken it in stride. He’s just an impressive football player. Look for an early impact from Hightower this year, great fit both character and football wise.
11. Others who stood out today: Stevan Ridley continued to look fluid, explosive and decisive when carrying the ball. Dont’a Hightower had a pass break up in 11 on 11 drills. Brandon Lloyd’s chemistry with Tom Brady continues to be impressive. Kyle Love has become a beast on the interior of the DL. The defensive front seven looks much much better than last year. Myron Pryor is going to be a long shot to make the roster even if healthy. The best thing for him might be to be put on PUP and see how the injury situation shakes out after six weeks.