15 Thoughts and Observations from Patriots Practice – Friday Edition

Chandler Jones is poised to have a huge season — if healthy.

NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko

The grind of training camp continued on Friday. The Patriots took the field to continue preparations for the new season and first preseason game. The team was in full pads on a beautiful Foxboro day.  As always there was a lot to be learned from practices, players stood out and with roster spots on the line — every play out here counts.

Players not spotted: Jermaine Cunningham, Ras-I Dowling, Marcus Cannon, Mark Harrison, Armond Armstead, Kevin Haslem, Rob Gronkowski (made an appearance)

– Brandon Bolden was dressed in full pads but, spent practice on the side field doing conditioning.

Injuries of Note:
– Michael Jenkins seemed to tweak his left hamstring early in practice. He went to the trainers table and didn’t return.
– Julian Edelman was having a great practice until he landed awkwardly and seemed to be favoring his foot. He walked very slowly around the field. His presence will be something to monitor tommorrow.

Roster Moves:

The Patriots annouced the release of LS Mike Zupancic and newly signed DE Travis Chappelear. In their places the team signed OG Luke Patterson out of Texas A&M and Brice Schwab an Offensive Tackle out of Arizona State.

Practice Notes and Observations

1. Whether they are ready or not, it’s clear the rookies are going to be thrown right into the mix. Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce continue to see the majority of time with the first team offense. Kenbrell Thompkins is right in the mix as well and all of them continue to impress. At one point the Patriots were aligned in a spread formation with three rookies and Danny Amendola. With few veteran receivers on the team the rookies are going to continue to build a rapport with both Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett. It’s definitely far from perfect, but it’s easy to see the talent all three of the rookies possess. It’s definitely the story line I am watching closest once preseason games kick off.

2. Aaron Dobson specifically continues to look impressive and increase the expectation thrust upon him. He gives the Patriots something they have lacked for a long time now and that’s a receiver that can catch the ball in tight coverage. A number of times he was seen going up to grab the ball over a defender and coming down with it. With his size and ability to get off the line he’s going to be a factor in the Red Zone. At 6’3″ his size speed combination is something Patriots fans have wanted since the departure of Randy Moss. We’ll see if he can put it all together.

3. Devin McCourty took the majority of his reps at cornerback today. I’m not sure if it was related to Ras-I Dowling being absent, Alfonzo Dennard being limited or just to build reps at the position. It should come as no surprise though, because if the Patriots suffer a big injury at CB it’s going to be McCourty that moves to the corner spot. It also makes clear why the team felt it necessary to not only add a veteran free agent at safety, but draft another one in the third round. With Dowling’s shaky-at-best injury history and Dennard’s yet to be determined criminal troubles, the corner depth could quickly become a problem. And it will be McCourty that has to pick up the slack.

4. I will be very surprised if Chandler Jones doesn’t improve on his sack totals (6.0) from last season. Jones is noticeably bigger than last season and is a vocal leader on almost every play. A couple plays stood out to me today. Both times he timed the snap and got off the ball extremely quick. He beat Nate Solder around the corner and it would have resulted in sacks if he was allowed to touch the QB. Jones’ new strength will allow him to move along the defensive line more and provide more variety in the types of fronts played.

5. Marcus Forston is an under the radar second year player I’m expecting to make a huge leap — relative to his rookie season. Forston is the top back-up behind Vince Wilfork and with limited DT gets plenty of reps. His ability to be a disrupted force upfront is evident in team drills and he was once again a standout performer in 1 on 1 rush drills. On one occasion he whooped Josh Kline, throwing him to the ground.

6. Speaking of 1 on 1 drills, here are the results I was able to come up with –

Chandler Jones beat Chris McDonald (big win)
RJ Mattes beat Joe Vellano
Marcus Forston beat Josh Kline (big win)
Chris McDonald beat Jake Bequette
Marcus Benard beat Will Svitek
Michael Buchanan beat Brice Schwab (inside post arm to outside speed move)
Josh Kline beat Jason Vega
Ryan Wendell beat Vince Wilfork
Luke Patterson tie Justin Francis
Nate Solder beat Chandler Jones
Sebastian Vollmer beat Rob Ninkovich

7. Tom Brady looked to be in mid-season form early in practice. His ball placement was spot on and hitting all receivers in stride. Once the team went to a slow paced 11 on 11 his timing with his receivers was off a little bit. However, towards the end or practice once the tempo picked up his placement was once again spot on. On three consecutive plays during two minute drills he hit Kenbrell Thompkins for a big gain, Josh Boyce in the back of the end zone for a TD, and a TD up the seem to Zach Sudfeld. In an offense that is built on speed and tempo, it’s a good sign that Brady and his receivers were clicking already in the 2-minute drill.

8. I’m not sure if it has happend before but for the first time I saw Tavon Wilson and Duron Harmon both in the defensive backfield together and both at safety. Harmon played a deeper safety role, while Wilson seemed to be closer to the line. It would be nice to see Wilson take a step forward from last year, but his results have been mixed so far. It’s clear he’s better when he is closer to the line than when asked to cover in the deeper third.

9. The battle between Zoltan Mesko and Ryan Allen continues. I am on record as saying that Ryan Allen has a legit shot at making the roster. After watching practice today, I still feel that way. It’s clear that Allen has the stronger leg, while Mesko can put more hangtime on the ball. Whether it’s in New England or somewhere else, Allen has all the qualities of an NFL punter.

10. Julian Edelman had himself a nice practice before he came up gimpy at the end of practice. He caught everything thrown to him, continually got open over the middle of the field and created yards after the catch. IF IF IF Edelman can stay healthy over the course of the season, he will put up big numbers. It will be interesting to see if his foot injury was just a scare today or a recurrance of the broken foot that ended his season and plagued him during the off-season. If he were to miss significant time, his spot on the roster would be considered tenuous at best.

11. I finally got to see Marcus Benard for myself today. While he didn’t do anything real flashy, I thought he was solid. He had a win in the 1 on 1 drills and is definitely one of the more athletic edge rushers on the roster. In drop drills he looks fluid and able to open his hips. In 11 on 11 he was asked to drop and buzz the flat to pick up TE Michael Hoomanawanui, while he moved fluidly to the flat his instincts and play recognition was a step behind. I concer with most observers that say his best role will be as a sub package rusher ala Mark Anderson.

12. Jamie Collins continues to be moved all over the field. His athleticism in relation to the other LB is evident even in drills. His speed and quick-twitch ability will give Matt Patricia the option to play his near the line or off the line of scrimmage. He worked mostly on the outside today, on one occasion he moved out to the slot to man up against Danny Amendola. It was an easy victory for Amendola, who beat him off the line with a clean release.

13. Speaking of Danny Amendola his chemistry with Tom Brady looks great. He did have one drop today, but as I’ve said before, it’s not hard to tell which receivers have learned the system and have their timing with Tom Brady down . It’s clear Amendola does. During 11 on 11 and 7 on 7, Amendola was utlized as the safety valve when the first option wasn’t open. Amendola’s ability to get open off the line, beat his defender and then get open again once the play breaks down is impressive. In fact it’s Wes Welker like. Amendola is poised to shatter his career best numbers if he is on the field all 16 games. While there is a long way to go, I’m not sure fans of New England will be missing Wes Welker too much if his performance on the practice field translates to the game field.

14. Aqib Talib came ready to play today. His natural coverage ability is head and shoulders better than anyone else on this team. He has the ability to use his length and speed to completely blanket the opposing receiver. Talib made one of the biggest plays of the day batting away a deep fly route to Josh Boyce down the right sideline. Talib found the ball and got his hand in there at the last second to tip it away. It drew a loud cheer from the crowd. Boyce has legit 4.40 speed and Talib ran with him step for step.

15. One area of concern for me after watching practice is the interior offensive line. While the entire starting OL is back from last season there isn’t much depth behind them. Marcus Cannon didn’t practice today and Dan Connolly is recovering from an ailment. That has thrust UDFA like Chris McDonald (yikes) and others into the mix. The Patriots continue to make moved to add depth to the OL and it’s one area they could be active when rosters get cut down. As always, health will play a huge factor in the direction the team goes with the line.

I almost got through this entire post without a Tim Tebow mention. Tebow looked OK today. He certainly had his ups and downs, throwing a few balls low and behind receivers as well as holding the ball too long. But, I think the Patriots approach with Tim Tebow will be to utilize his strengths, try to improve some of his weaknesses and most importantly not try to make him Tom Brady — because he certainly isn’t that. After watching him today, I stand by my prediction that he makes the final roster and makes it easily. It will be fun to watch the different ways Josh McDaniels uses him and the creativity he can bring to the offense.

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