NEPD Editor: James Christensen
The music was bumping early at Patriots Training Camp, but Patriots players will have to wait until Sunday before they put on pads and start hitting.
Tomorrow’s practice in full pads will certainly tell us more about this young team. As Josh Boyce stated after practice, “Anybody can play without pads.” That said, there was plenty to be learned from the nearly three hour practice session.
A day after working in the rain, the Patriots were treated to a day of nice weather for their second official practice of the year. Some of the receivers and quarterbacks took advantage of the sunshine and dry footballs, making big impressions for the large number of fans in attendance.
Aaron Dobson started the day well in receiving drills, exhibiting excellent body control along the sideline and strong hands. His route-running looks improved as well, sharp cuts and smooth hips while playing against air.
Dobson started slow in live action, not earning a target in the first set of 7v7 drills, but finished strong. He made five catches on six targets, the lone miss coming on a fantastic interception from Alfonzo Dennard. Dennard stayed in phase on Dobson’s “go” route and was able to high-point the ball and come down with the pick.
The increase in looks from Tom Brady was welcome to the former Marshall receiver.
“You’ve gotta come in, and you’ve gotta learn, and you’ve gotta make [Tom Brady] trust you. You’ve got to be accountable for what you do, so I mean, it’s a tough transition, but you’ve just got to improve every day.
“The receiver and quarterback always gotta be on the same page. We can’t be off page. That’s when overthrown passes, things like that, someone might run some wrong routes, so we always gotta be in communication.”
Although they are pretty ordinary for Dobson, two of his catches today would be considered “circus catches” by many receivers. A post-corner route that beat Aqib Talib was punctuated by a leaping grab that left the media tent with nothing but “oohs” and “aahs”.
Dobson exclusively lined up outside as both the “X” and “Z” receiver.
Josh Boyce, however, was all over the field. He lined up at “X”, “Z” and in the slot – along with spending time returning punts. He looked very fluid and smooth in his movements and his speed was evident throughout practice.
After looking phenomenal running the “gauntlet” drill – showcasing his strong hands – Boyce did have a couple of drops during 7v7 and 11v11 drills.
Kenbrell Thompkins suited up today after missing yesterday’s practice for an undisclosed reason. Along with Dobson, Boyce and Amendola, he took some reps with the first team – lining up outside. He is only listed at 6’1″ / 195, but he looked bigger in person.
He consistently used his hands to catch the ball, not letting it near his pads. He spent an extra session of practice working on screens with Tom Brady, dropping one, but overall looking very comfortable receiving the quick passes from #12.
Thompkins has received a lot of the “sleeper” attention lately, but Kamar Aiken has continued to shine. Despite one dropped pass, he looked good over the middle of the field and was able to bring in multiple deep passes in live action.
Not to be outdone by the rookies, Danny Amendola also put on a show. Amendola lined up mostly in the slot, but was at the “Z” at times in two-receiver sets.
Amendola often gets compared to Wes Welker – and rightly so – but the routes he ran today were much more vertical in nature. I counted three deep “seam” or “post” routes that Amendola was able to haul in.
In other receiving news, new tight end addition Zach Sudfeld caught every ball thrown his way, while Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden looked much more comfortable coming out of the backfield and catching the ball. As expected, Shane Vereen and Leon Washington also excelled in this area.
BRADY, MALLETT SHINE IN THE SUN
Two of the Patriots quarterbacks showcased pin-point accuracy and quick decision making. I’ll let you guess who didn’t.
Mallett looked very sharp early in practice, not making the ball boy even move on forty yard passes. He did throw the aforementioned pick to Dennard, but his throws were on time and on the money.
Brady was hyper-accurate down the field for a good stretch of the 7v7 and 11v11 drills, but he still had a few passes he’d like back. You could hear him emit a bit of frustration at times, but it was always at himself. He seemed much more calm and patient with his young group of pass-catchers than he has been in the past.
Tim Tebow, however, did not improve on his rough outing from yesterday. Although his noticeable lack of velocity compared to Brady and Mallett is concerning, and his propensity for bounce-passing footballs to awaiting receivers are concerning, they aren’t the biggest problem.
While the other quarterbacks were efficiently getting the ball out of their hand, Tebow looked painfully slow processing what was happening down the field. At one point, he stayed in the pocket for well over ten seconds before scrambling around for another ten and ultimately throwing the ball out of bounds. His eyes, not his arm, are what will prevent Tebow from becoming a weapon for the Patriots – at quarterback anyway.
I’m spending most of tomorrow looking at the defense, as we finally expect to see some contact. Here are a few things that stood out to me.
-Dont’a Hightower was all over on defense. He lined up inside and outside while the Patriots were in even and odd fronts.
-This defensive line group is thin, but there is a lot of versatile talent. I can’t wait to see 1v1 drills with a healthy Chandler Jones and new additions like Tommy Kelly.
-Jamie Collins continued to earn reps with the first team, mainly lining up on the outside today. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but for a rookie to not look out of place, that is saying something.
-The Rutgers teammates – Ryan, McCourty and Harmon – all looked comfortable playing together. McCourty had an impressive interception, catching a tipped pass that should have been caught by Jake Ballard.
-Tavon Wilson had a solid day, marred by one bad play. After cutting in front of a pass by Mallett, Wilson dropped a clear interception, which then fell into the awaiting hands of Josh Boyce.