OTA observations: Brady holds side sessions with new weapons

OTA observations: Brady holds side sessions with new weapons

FOXBORO -- The Patriots went through their third OTA of the week on Thursday. It was the first that was open to members of the media and lasted approximately two hours.

Here are a handful of observations from the afternoon of work the Patriots put in under the sun on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium . . . 

* The Patriots sported practice jerseys during the workout, which was noteworthy because in years past they have worn blank t-shirts during OTAs and minicamp. With the offense in white and the defense in blue -- and with every player assigned a number -- it made identifying players much easier. Why coach Bill Belichick opted to go this route is unclear, and it remains a possibility that the players will go without jersey numbers later in the spring. Still, it was a welcome sight for reporters trying to track the proceedings. Quarterbacks wore red non-contact jerseys and each player wore helmets and shorts. 

* Belichick appeared to make his players re-start the practice after they finished up their stretching period in a fashion that didn't satisfy the head coach. After breaking into position groups briefly, Belichick ordered players to get back into their warmup lines and finish more crisply. 

* With Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis all absent from the practice, new Patriots weapons were given a chance to take extra reps. Running back Donald Brown was lauded by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after completing one particularly well-run route -- a slant-and-go, Martellus Bennett was the beneficiary of several targets from Tom Brady in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work. 

* In 11-on-11 work, Brady went 6-for-9. Jimmy Garoppolo went 8-for-9. Jacoby Brissett went 7-for-12.

* In 7-on-7 work, Brady went 3-for-5. Garoppolo went 2-for-2. Brissett went 2-for-4, and he had one rep where he tucked it and ran. 

* During periods focused on special teams, Brady worked in a few side-sessions with different targets. In the past Brady has used these side sessions to get a little extra work in with a handful of players. Two years ago, he threw to Gronkowski with Darrelle Revis in coverage as Gronkowski worked his way back from a knee injury. Last year, Brady worked with Gronkowski and Scott Chandler together in order to develop some on-the-field chemistry there. On Thursday, Brady worked with two new tight ends -- Bennett and Clay Harbor -- as well as fullback James Develin. In another side session, he threw passes to Bennett, Aaron Dobson, Nate Washington, Malcolm Mitchell. Tight ends coach Brian Daboll ran the show during both periods.

* Rookie second-round pick Cyrus Jones, receiver Chris Harper, receiver DeAndre Carter and undrafted rookie corner V'Angelo Bentley all took turns returning punts. On Wednesday we took a look at how Edelman and Amendola might benefit from relinquishing those duties to another player. Jones would be an interesting choice given his production as a returner in college. 

* Bennett was asked to run a lap after dropping Brady's first offering of the 11-on-11 period. He recovered nicely as the day went on, however, making perhaps the most impressive grab of the day when he reached around Patrick Chung, plucked a Garoppolo pass out of the air and hung on as the two players tangled and fell to the turf. It was a good back-and-forth between the athletic tight end and perhaps the best defender of tight ends on the roster. Chung broke up one pass intended for Bennett, and Bennett later beat Chung to the corner of the end zone, reeling in a soft Brady lob. 

* Brissett appeared to rely on his ability to scramble, as he often did as the signal-caller at NC State. He hit throws on the run to Mitchell and rookie Devin Lucien. We'll see in practice sessions going forward if Brissett will be encouraged to stick in the pocket longer during these non-contact practices. 

* Brissett and Mitchell appear to have a good early connection. They hooked up for four of Brissett's nine completed passes. One was on an impressive pitch-and-catch that saw Mitchell lay out in the back of the end zone during 7-on7s. Later in 11-on-11s, Brissett sensed pressure coming from his blind side and lofted a deep pass to Mitchell that was completed along the sideline. 

* Brissett was picked off by Jones late in the practice but came back two plays later to complete a nice skinny post to Carter from about the 15-yard line.

* Brady's business partner and friend Alex Guerrero was spotted on the sidelines of the session. Former Patriots running back Sammy Morris was also present, shadowing running backs coach Ivan Fears. 

* Among the musical artists blared over the speakers during 11-on-11 work to mimic crowd noise were Guns N' Roses, James Brown, Bon Jovi, U2, Kenny Chesney and Desiigner. 

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

Rob Gronkowski, decked out in his finest St. Patrick's Day duds over the weekend in Nashville, reportedly tried to shed some light on his NFL future.

Of course, while Gronk was doing Gronk things, he told a Patriots fan one thing and a reporter another.

Breech is an NFL writer for His father is former Cincinnati Bengals kicker Jim Breech. And the "69ers" aren't a real team.


AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

The Patriots' "direction" never really changes. They're always "going for it" because they're always one of the best teams in the league. 

The rest of the AFC East is usually in flux. The other teams range from hoping for 8-8 to trying to bottom out in hopes of a high draft pick. Yet right now, it seems the stars are aligning and that the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have the mindset: Change things now and be ready to pounce once Brady is gone. 

The Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, assuring themselves a chance at one of this draft's top quarterbacks. The Bills, with picks Nos. 12 and 22, are expected by pundits to make a similar move up. The Dolphins, fresh off cutting bait with Ndamukong Suh in an attempt at a culture change, have the 11th pick and could use it on a quarterback to either push or replace Ryan Tannehill. 

None of the three teams are close to pushing the Patriots as long as Brady's around, even with the Bills coming off a season in which they reached the playoffs. Yet there's a two-or-three-year plan on which all three teams could have designs: Get the quarterback now, build around him and be in a good situation by the time Brady is done. 

We've seen these teams try to rebuild before during the Brady Era, with only limited success. Mark Sanchez worked out better in New York than anyone could have initially expected, but that success lasted way shorter than any believers could have hoped. Now, it seems they try again. 

Over in Buffalo, the end of the Tyrod Taylor era hardly means the beginning of the Nathan Peterman era. Those two first-rounders should easily be able to get the Bills into the top five, and they've also got two second-rounders and two third-rounders. Hell, they have the pieces to get to No. 1 if Cleveland is bold enough to pass on their choice of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Mayfield. 

The Dolphins are in the more interesting spot. Tannehill missed all of last season and he's 29. If you're six years into your career and your team still isn't totally sure if you can be one of the better QBs in the league, you probably aren't one of the better QBs in the league. At the very least, Lamar Jackson should be there at No. 11. They could also trade up. 

At the start of last season, the Patriots had far and away the two best QBs in the AFC East. Now, it stands to reason that at least two of their divisional opponents (the Jets and Bills) will come away with what they hope are franchise quarterbacks. And if any of these guys hit, the Pats will have gone from the best QB situation in the NFL to seeing some actual competition waiting for them by the time their own quarterback is done. 

Of course, all three of these teams usually suck at everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal.