WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The Patriots and the Saints competed in the first of two joint practices on Wednesday morning at the Greenbrier resort.
Here are a few notes from the fully-padded session, for which Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was present:
* Scary moment early in team drills. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was lined up outside the numbers and blocking a defensive back when running back Jonas Gray tumbled into the back of Gronk’s legs. The Patriots most dangerous offensive weapon popped up fairly quickly and ambled back to the huddle. After the session, he said it was no big deal and that there was no need for him to check inventory.
* Know what else was scary? The day Patriots corner Malcolm Butler had. Arguably the team's best player in camp to this point was scorched too many times to count, be it in one-on-one situations, seven-on-seven and 11-on-11. Saints receiver Josh Morgan got him for a pair of scores by my count, and there was one drive that saw Butler targeted repeatedly by quarterback Drew Brees, surrendering a catch to receiver Brandon Coleman. There was then a blatant jersey grab that led to a pass interference call, followed by two more catches, a bomb to receiver Joseph Morgan down the sideline and a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to Morgan. Safety Jordan Richards was also a little late getting over to help Butler along the back line on the Morgan score, but the Patriots appeared to be in man coverage.
* Defensively, coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia continue to play games with their secondary. Lining up in a 3-3-5 set, they had Butler and Devin McCourty playing outside the numbers with a rotation of safeties that including Pat Chung, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon and Richards. Chung had one of those hit-or-miss days. He nicely disguised a safety blitz and would have buried Brees during 11-on-11, but he also couldn’t stay with either of the Saints two tight ends, Ben Watson or Josh Hill. Watson, a former member of the Patriots, just returned from the birth of his fifth child (holy mackeral) and was incredibly productive, prompting Brees to call him one of the Saints unsung heroes. Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo can attest. He had nice coverage on Watson down the seam but was beaten by a back shoulder throw that Watson contorted his body to corral.
* Second-year defensive lineman Dominique Easley flashed as a pass rusher on a couple of snaps, and on one of those occasions, he put interior lineman Senio Kalemete on his hindquarters. But, by and large, the Patriots didn’t seem to get any consistent push when given the opportunity, which was a carryover from how one-on-one rushes went, with the Saints winning six of the nine battles. Only Chandler Jones really dominated his matchup, slapping aside the impressive Terron Amstead.
* Meanwhile, the Saints were able to get to the feet of both Brady and second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, exploiting the interior offensive line that once again featured three rookies, left guard Shaq Mason, undrafted center David Andrews and right guard Tre’ Jackson. I counted three sacks, two coming in red-zone work. Brady also threw a ball across his body while rolling to his right. That too was in the face of pressure and I’m guessing he would have taken the sack as opposed to making such a high risk throw around the 50-yard line. There was also a touchdown pass to receiver Danny Amendola in the red zone wiped out by a pick and an offensive pass interference call. Couldn’t tell whether it was receiver Josh Boyce or Brandon Gibson but suffice to say, the coaching staff wasn’t pleased. Both Brady and Garoppolo did throw red-zone touchdowns to . . . guess who? Yep. Gronkowski.
* Brady also capped off a semi-impressive 11-on-11 drive by floating a pretty touch pass over two defenders into Amendola’s arms in the corner of the end zone. The only issue with that was Boyce was also in that exact corner, running what appeared to be the same route. Brady smiled and gently head-butted Amendola after the play but clearly someone screwed up the route.
* Garoppolo’s work early was marked by the same hesitation that has highlighted much of his camp. He went 2-for-6 in the red area and sort of meandered in the pocket on one of those attempts. The product of Eastern Illinois -- Saints coach Sean Payton's alma mater -- did close the practice with a couple of nice two-minute drives, on one of which he went 4-for-5, hitting running back Dion Lewis in the flat twice, then undrafted rookie tight end Jimmay Mundine on an out-cut a nd then a post that resulted in a score.