NEPD Contributor: Dan Hope
Monday’s training camp practice for the New England Patriots was the final session open to the public this summer. It gave Patriots fans the opportunity to see something they’ve been waiting to see since December: Rob Gronkowski participating in full-team drills and taking contact.
Eight months removed from a torn ACL, Gronkowski has been working his way back gradually during training camp. He hasn’t played in either of the Patriots’ first two preseason games—and it’s doubtful he’ll play in either of the last two—but he looked ready for action, or at least close to it, on Monday.
Most of Gronkowski’s work came in 7-on-7 drills, where he strided cleanly through his routes, was a frequent target for Patriots quarterbacks and caught just about everything that came his way, with no apparent troubles. He also participated in the final 11-on-11 portion of the day, and spent some extra time catching passes from Tom Brady during breaks.
One cannot be fully assured of Gronkowski’s health until he takes the field for an actual game, but his strong performance Monday made it clear that once he gets back into action, he will be a go-to target once again as he uses his size to make plays over defenders who try to cover him.
Rob Gronkowski says his plan is still to play a full 16-game season.
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyedNESN) August 18, 2014
Offensive line shuffling continues
The New England Patriots continued to experiment with different offensive line combinations Monday as fourth-round pick Cameron Fleming took the majority of work with the first-team offense as the starting right guard.
Fleming continued to work as the right tackle with the second-team offense as he has all preseason, but the rookie from Stanford seems to at least be under consideration for the right guard job. He split reps with Jordan Devey, who started at right guard in the Patriots’ most recent preseason game Friday versus the Philadelphia Eagles, on Monday.
The right guard position is currently open because Dan Connolly continued to work as the first-team center Monday. Ryan Wendell received one series with the starters during walkthroughs, but was otherwise relegated to second-team work.
Marcus Cannon stood in at right tackle for Sebastian Vollmer, who did not practice Monday. Josh Kline occasionally relieved Logan Mankins at left guard, while Kline also saw some work as a tight end/sixth lineman during one portion of practice. Kline lined up at right guard with the second team.
Expect the experimentation to continue, and it’s unclear how rookie Bryan Stork will fit into the equation when he returns from injury, but Connolly seems to have a solid lead on Wendell at center while Fleming, Devey, Kline and Cannon could all be in the mix at right guard if Connolly moves to the middle.
- Ryan Mallett worked ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo as the second-team quarterback for most of Monday’s practice. Mallett was solid for the most part but was off on a few throws, including one well-underthrown pass, intended for wide receiver Derrick Johnson, that was easily undercut by cornerback Brandon Browner for an interception.
Brady was also picked off once during 11-on-11 drills Monday. The starting quarterback missed slightly behind wide receiver Danny Amendola on an intermediate crossing route, and linebacker James Anderson made a nice play on the ball to pick it off.
- Injured defensive tackles Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga were among the non-participants in Monday’s practice. Tommy Kelly was a late arrival to practice. First-round pick Dominique Easley, who has been limited thus far in training camp, was a participant in team drills Monday.
- Seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon practiced for the first time in training camp. He was one of the players fielding punts during the special teams portion of practice, along with Julian Edelman and Roy Finch.
- Unsurprisingly, two of the players who popped on the Patriots defense Monday were edge defender Chandler Jones and linebacker Jamie Collins. Jones blew by Nate Solder for a sack and by Chris Barker for a tackle for loss in the backfield. Collins made a few stops around the line of scrimmage and made a nice pass breakup over the middle on a dropback into coverage versus Derrick Johnson.
Dan Hope is the editor for Buffalo Bills Draft.