NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas
The first open practice of New England Patriots training camp in Foxborough, Mass., is in the books. And with it came many noteworthy moments.
Despite heavy rain on Thursday and more of the same on Friday, the bleachers were stocked with onlookers by 9 a.m. Even Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic from ESPN radio’s “Mike and Mike” morning show were on hand. But aside from who was in attendance to watch, the real story was who was in attendance to work on the fields behind Gillette Stadium.
Throughout the two and a half hours of relentless rain, there were many aspects worth highlighting.
Those Not Participating
Receivers Kenbrell Thompkins, Mark Harrison and Julian Edelman, offensive lineman Nick McDonald, defensive tackles Cory Grissom and Armond Armstead, safety Kanorris Davis and tight end Rob Gronkowski did not participate in practice. Some were seen in shells or sweats. Some were not spotted at all. But it’s worth noting that some of whom are currently on the physically unable to perform list and non-football injury list
The Length of Michael Buchanan
Rookie seventh-round pick Michael Buchanan is a long defensive end at 6’6”, 255 pounds. And seeing No. 99 stand next to the defensive backs on the sideline proved it.
Buchanan figures to be in competition for one of the backup jobs at defensive end. That said, it is a crowded place on the roster.
The Many Faces of the Defensive Secondary
New England’s defensive backfield displayed a variety of faces. The first-team group included Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington on the outside, Alfonzo Dennard switching between the outside and nickelback, Devin McCourty – who was wearing a red non-contact practice jersey – at the free safety spot, with Adrian Wilson and Steve Gregory swapping snaps at the strong safety spot.
Ras-I Dowling and Tavon Wilson also got their share of reps. But worked more so with the second group. And in the third group, there was a mix between undrafted rookie Stephon Morris and rookie third-rounder Logan Ryan at cornerback. Then at safety, there was the off-the-radar Rutgers rookie Duron Harmon divvying reps the second-year Wilson and Nate Ebner.
Wide Receivers Fighting Through Slippery Hands
The wide receivers faced the tough task of catching passes in the drizzly weather. Danny Amendola and Kamar Aiken made a few nice grabs outside the numbers. Amendola reached out for a pass down the left sideline, getting his toes down in bounds, while Aiken dove for an over-the-shoulder pass down the right sideline.
There were some drops, however. Recently signed rookie Quentin Sims and special teams ace Slater both had passes squeak out of their grasp.
Early Look at the Kick Return Depth Chart
A variety of Patriots had a chance as kick returners. Throughout the practice, the likes of Leon Washington, Shane Vereen, Matthew Slater, Lavelle Hawkins and LeGarrette Blount either returned kicks or helped block.
Although given the fact that he’s a Pro Bowl return man, Washington appears to have the reins for now.
The Running Back Group
New England’s running back corps had its moments on Friday. Vereen and Stevan Ridley showed their prowess as quick-through-the-line runners. Although while Vereen managed to impress catching the ball on the run, Ridley is more of a catch-the-ball-then-run kind of back.
Among the rest of the unit, Washington looked impressive due to his low center of gravity and quick cuts. Former Ole Miss rusher Brandon Bolden also looked strong running downhill.
Undrafted Cincinnati product George Winn and Blount – an ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneer – are the types of runners who look better in full contact than just in shells.
In all, the position is a very deep one.
Tight End Position Draws Intrigue
With Gronkowski out, Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui, as well as undrafted rookies Zach Sudfeld and Brandon Ford saw plenty of reps. Right now, the rankings are far from clear-cut.
It was interesting to watch the tight ends operate in receiver run-throughs with the quarterbacks. Sudfeld, Hoomanawanui and Brandon Ford saw some steady looks in that respect. And there were occasions where Sudfeld – a “Y” tight end – and Ford – an “F” tight end – were used in two-tight end sets.
On the field goal unit, Ballard and Sudfeld were the two tight ends in the fold, which is something to keep an eye on also.
Jamie Collins Looks at Home in Linebacker Unit
It didn’t take long for top draft choice Jamie Collins to see the field in New England’s defense. Collins – who played a “Bandit” role at Southern Miss – played exclusively at linebacker, jumping in for both Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower. A gifted athlete, Collins looked very strong in coverage, even breaking up a pass between backup quarterback Ryan Mallett and utility tight end Hoomanawanui. It’s a good sign when a greenhorn is getting chances with the first-string defense in 11-versus-11.
A Glance at the Reserve Defensive Line
The defensive line is headlined by defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, as well as defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork, so it was good to see the reserves filter in. Jermaine Cunningham got additional chances opposite Jones and seemed to perform well.
Last year’s third-round draft choice Jake Bequette was seen playing left end across from Justin Francis, with undrafted Maryland Joe Vellano and Marcus Forston lining up in between. It will be an area to watch closely in the coming days.
The Quarterback Trio
Tom Brady seemed acclimated for the first day of camp. He made some nice throws to the outskirts and didn’t appear all that fazed by the conditions. Mallett and Tim Tebow didn’t have as great of a practice. Mallett got a little “tap-happy” with the football while going through his reads and underthrew some of his intended targets. Tebow had a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage, took a little too long to deliver the football and tossed a couple of interceptions.
While it wasn’t a perfect day for the QBs, it was the first day back in full swing. With repetition and more receiver familiarity, things should even out.
Tags: Patriots Training Camp