Patriots

Postcards from Camp: Day 3

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Postcards from Camp: Day 3

Day 3 of Patriots Training Camp. First day in full pads and a banged-out crowd on a hot, sunny Saturday. The majority team was on the field between 1:35 and 1:45 and the party ended at close to 4 p.m. More than 10,000 were on hand according to Patriots media relations.

WEATHER
Pretty damn hot. Bright sunshine for the first part of practice with clouds rolling in. I had a big goofy hat on to protect my bald spot and pale Irish skin. Just in case you were wondering who the clown in the hat was.

WHAT THEY WORE
Full pads. And James Ihedigbo and Matt Slater were still cruising around in red "Leave Me ALONE!!" jerseys.

WHAT THEY DID
(Don't count on this every day...I'm easily distracted...)

1:35-1:55: Walk-thru of running plays 11-on-11. Team stretching and loosen-up jogging.

2:05: Position groups stretch as units.

2:10: Position drills. Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett threw to stationary targets. Receivers ran short routes around pylons. Defensive lineman and linebackers ran through the bags. Defensive backs caught short passes as they broke forward. Offensive linemen ran into things and each other. Kickers idled and cavorted.

2:15: DBs and WRs worked on setting the edge on running plays and funneling ball-carriers inside to the help. QBs worked on play-action with RBs. DBs then broke off and worked on trail coverage, following a receiver with their back turned to the backfield then accelerating to make up space when the receiver made his break. Also worked on dropping in zone and, on release of a ball, getting to the spot and high-pointing the pass. Aaron Hernandez spent his time working with tight ends during position drills as opposed to wideouts.

2:30: Running game work using half the field. Good indoctrination to contact for DL and OL and for linebackers, DBs and RBs. Stevan Ridley took most of the reps with the Brady group. Dane Fletcher drew praise for splitting a block and getting to the ball. Dont'a Hightower got Danny Woodhead under the pads and pitched him into assistant coach Pepper Johnson. DT Jonathan Fanene ripped past LG Robert Galley on one play and tossed Gallery down.

2:40: Kickoff coverage work. Shane Vereen and Patrick Chung were deep to start. Stevan Ridley and Donte Stallworth were the deep men mixing in. This was more coverage than return work, it seemed, so too much shouldn't be read into those guys being deep.

2:50: In 6-on-7 work (QB, RB and four receivers with a coach snapping), Brandon Lloyd made a brilliant catch down the right sideline plucking a ball off of Sterling Moore's helmet. Lloyd also slid to pull in a low throw in traffic by Ryan Mallett, volleying the ball up to himself while on his back and pulling it to his chest while defenders converged.

The offensive line on Saturday was (left to right) Nate Solder, Robert Gallery, Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon.

WHO'S HOT
Danny Woodhead had some brilliant cuts during the first contact sessions.

Jerod Mayo had a nice strip on Hernandez after it appeared Hernandez had him beat.

Julian Edelman had a terrific in-and-out move on James Ihedigbo during the 1-on-1 tackling drills (it wasn't actual tackling, just squaring up and making contact.

Lloyd and Brady are working closer to developing chemistry you could see on a few out routes.

WHO'S NOT
Mallett continues to be slow with his reads against coverage

The offensive line as a unit seemed to have problems with the speed and aggressiveness of the defensive line.

WHAT WE SAW
Jabar Gaffney and Deion Branch were never (as far as we could tell) on the field at the same time during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11. Leads you to believe they are competing against each other.

The difference in arm strength between Hoyer and the other two quarterbacks is noticeable in how hard Hoyer has to torque his body to make throws the others seem able to fling out with ease. Despite that, Hoyer's accuracy and anticipation are outstanding, especially compared to Mallett's.

On consecutive plays, Stevan Ridley got banged to the ground by defenders. Ras-I Dowling's hit at the end of a running play seemed incidental. Patrick Chung hog-tied Ridley and threw him down. Bill Belichick told Chung to go run around the opposite goal post after that hit.

When the defense went to man-to-man in the 6-on-7 drills, the receivers didn't get much separation and Brady had his first incompletions of the day on those plays. He missed three-of-five (his only three incompletions on an 11-for-14 day) and Devin McCourty had a nice downfield breakup on a pass intended for Lloyd.

Rob Gronkowski left the field for a spell to be attended to. He returned with a big bandage on his chin. I'm no doctor, but it appeared to be what the medical folk call a laceration.

Alfonzo Dennard had limited participation with a tweaked hamstring.

Kyle Arrington had his left foot checked by the medical staff near the end of practice.

The coaches are cognizant of Dont'a Hightower's power. It showed up - despite advance warning - when tight ends were doing a blocking drill and Gronk almost got flipped over backwords.

WHAT THEY SAID
"Gronk, can I have your toooowwwwwweelllll?" - a female fan as Gronk dabbed blood from his chin.

"It's hard to find places. It gets harder and harder." - Tom Brady on being spotted by paparazzi jumping into the water from a rock in Costa Rica.

"Every team has certain rules in place that are in compliance with whats been approved by the league so we follow the letter of the law in that regard and well handle everything internally." - Nick Caserio, director of player personnel, not being extremely direct when asked if Brian Waters can be fined for not being at training camp.

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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