Observations from Patriots OTA practice No. 2

Observations from Patriots OTA practice No. 2

FOXBORO -- The Patriots are officially one fifth of the way through their OTA practices for the spring of 2018, meaning it's early. Very early. So if there's plenty to clean up, and of course there is, that's to be expected. 

Here are some of the observations we came away with from Tuesday's session . . . 

* Maybe it was a subtle nod to the fact that two captains, Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady, were still missing from workouts. Maybe it wasn't. But the face that Bill Belichick went out of his way to laud the leadership the team's received during spring work -- from players both young and (relatively) old -- seemed notable. Belichick is famously meticulous in his preparation, even when it comes to public relations. To bring up leadership in an opening statement at a press conference, at a time when two of his leaders have dominated headlines for their absence, didn't seem like a coincidence. 

* The workout seemed to be lacking a certain level of crispness with Brady missing. Again, it's early. Whether Brady and Gronkowski were on the field or not, there was going to be plenty to iron out for the Patriots offense. But the number of footballs rolling around on the ground after passing plays seemed to be unusual -- even for a spring workout. Having a future Hall of Fame quarterback to run the show in OTAs demands a certain level of focus, and provides a measure of intensity, that might've been lacking Tuesday. 

* Julian Edelman was not a full participant in the practice -- he didn't take part in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 work and did rehab work on a lower field -- but he looked confident in the reps he received. His cuts seemed aggressive, and he showed real enthusiasm on what happened to be his 32nd birthday. Edelman was often one of the first in line, if not the first, for different periods . . . including special-teams periods when he fielded punts. If a patient's faith in his surgically-repaired knee is one of the last hurdles in the rehab process, it looked Edelman had already met and cleared the bar in that regard. He tore his ACL in a preseason game against the Lions last August and missed the 2017 season. 

* Speaking of punt returners: Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Chris Hogan and Patrick Chung all lined up for a shot at a return at some point during the afternoon. Hogan muffed one. 

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* Malcolm Mitchell (who practiced on Monday), Dont'a Hightower, Trey Flowers, Joe Thuney, Jonathan Jones, Brandon Bolden and Cody Hollister were not spotted Tuesday. Flowers' availability bears watching. Derek Rivers and Adrian Clayborn saw a good deal of edge work with Flowers out. Marcus Cannon, Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, Nate Ebner, Marcus Cannon and Lawrence Guy all did some rehab work on a lower field. With three tackles among those still not 100 percent, Cole Croston and LaAdrian Waddle got plenty of work there. 

* The Patriots had visitors from the football programs at Mississippi State, LSU, Miami and Iowa at Gillette Stadium. Belichick has welcomed college programs in for a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on during OTAs before -- last year it was the Vanderbilt staff that got a peek -- but to have so many schools represented at one session was not something we've seen from Belichick (at least during OTAs open to the media) in recent years. Josh McDaniels' brother Ben, an offensive analyst at Michigan, according to MLive.com, was also keeping an eye on the practice. The Patriots have two rookies from Miami in Berrios and undrafted defensive lineman Trent Harris. Miami coach Mark Richt, whose last job was as head coach at Georgia, also recruited all five Georgia products who now happen to be Patriots. Iowa is the only other school on the Patriots roster that features five players.

* Former Arkansas coach Brett Bielema, whose staff got an OTA behind-the-scenes look at the Patriots in 2014, was in full Patriots gear and doing some coaching Tuesday. One of the areas he was involved with was on punt and punt-return plays. The Patriots have not yet announced a role for Bielema this season. He coached Arkansas products Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and Cody Hollister. Bielema also coached James White during his time at Wisconsin.

* Keion Crossen made what might've been the play of the day when he attacked a Brian Hoyer pass in the end zone for an interception. The seventh-round pick out of Western Carolina was in coverage on White on the play. Crossen's speed is what helped him get noticed at the Wake Forest pro day before this year's draft. But on a short field, his ball skills stood out. 

* Brian Flores wore the head set for the defense during team periods, an expected development for the linebackers coach who is presumed to be taking on defensive coordinator duties this season. The entire defensive staff did not let up on their linemen Tuesday as laps were handed out as punishment for anyone committing penalties. Danny Shelton, Geneo Grissom, Marquis Flowers and Adam Butler were all sent running at one point. 

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* A couple of notes from the receiver position, which might be the deepest on the roster at the moment: Cordarrelle Patterson's size and athleticism stand out, which he put on display when he boxed out a defender and easily plucked a pass out of the air in the end zone; Patterson's understanding of where to be and when still needs some refining, from what we saw Tuesday; Jordan Matthews got work as a gunner opposite Matthew Slater.

* Jerry Schuplinski continues to be the young quarterback whisperer. First it was Jimmy Garoppolo, then Jacoby Brissett. Now it's Danny Etling. Schuplinski, assistant quarterbacks coach, works closely with young quarterbacks in order to bring them along. Sometimes, as was the case Tuesday, that work includes going through mental exercises without a football in between periods of actually having to throw. 

* The team finished up its work with runs up the hills -- or the new Mount Belichick? -- to get in some extra conditioning. The Patriots will practice again on Thursday. The next session open to reporters will be the team's fifth practice on May 31. 

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Belichick on Brady and Gronk: 'Not talking about players who aren't here'

Belichick on Brady and Gronk: 'Not talking about players who aren't here'

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick did what Bill Belichick typically does when asked about a topic he’d rather not touch upon. He went full Heisman. 

The topic, of course, was Tom Brady’s absence at the start of OTAs. 

“Yeah I’m not gonna talk about the people who aren’t here,” Belichick said Tuesday morning. “The guys who are here are improving and working hard.”

Tuesday marked the team’s second OTA practice of Phase Three. Brady did not participate in either of the first two phases of the offseason, which began in mid-April. 

Brady is not the only missing offensive captain. Rob Gronkowski has also not yet participated in any of the offseason workout program. 

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Still, Belichick went out of his way to praise the leadership that players -- both veterans and younger Patriots -- have provided during spring work. 

“We’ve had a lot of good leadership,” Belichick said. “Young guys taking more active roles. Also had some other guys like Julian [Edelman] and [Dont’a] Hightower, guys like that that didn’t play much last year, obviously (involved in) things now. New team. New year. We’ll take it one step at a time.”

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What Brady's missing in the newest phrase of Patriots OTAs

What Brady's missing in the newest phrase of Patriots OTAs

Tom Brady has opted to stick with the approach he's taken all offseason. He's unplugging. He's staying away from the workplace. For the first time in his professional career, he's not taking part in OTAs. For now, at least. 

Today the Patriots begin Phase Three of of OTAs and Brady, as was also true for Phases One and Two, isn't there. (Neither is Rob Gronkowski. who also has been absent since the beginning.) So what exactly is Brady -- and Gronk -- missing? 

PHASE THREE

Phase Three of the offseason program, which consists of 10 OTA practices, lasts four weeks. The time limit on these voluntary sessions, in terms of the number of hours teams can have players spend at the facility, gets a bump to six hours per day. (Before, in Phases One and Two, the limit was four hours.) 

OTA practices will be held over a span of three weeks: May 21-22, May 24; May 30-31, June 1; June 11-12, June 14-15. Patriots mandatory minicamp last three days, splitting up the OTA sessions: June 5-7. 

Helmets will be permitted during Phase Three, as will knee and elbow pads. Seven-on-seven, nine-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills . . . all good. Live contact, meanwhile . . . not allowed. 

This would be the portion of the offseason program when Brady would be best able to simulate a typical practice setting, with the offense running plays against a competitive defense. The Patriots will likely work on situational football -- red zone, two-minute, hurry-up -- during what is commonly described as "passing camp." 

Though the level of intensity and the timing of offensive plays will change when pads are introduced during training camp at the end of July, passing camp still has its benefits. 

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels recently described some of the communication elements of the game that can be refined this time of year, particularly during Phase Two and Three. It was part of a broader answer McDaniels supplied when I asked him if Brady's absence from the offseason program will make things any more challenging when he eventually returns. 

"You always evaluate," he said. "When somebody's coming back from an injury or there's something like this, when there's a time period where they're not there. You can never predict how that's gonna go. I think we saw a few years ago, [Brady] came back after four weeks gone" -- at the beginning of the 2016 season, when he served the four-game Deflategate suspension -- "and there wasn't a huge gap there in terms of what he was used to doing. 

"You evaluate where each guy's at, and try to make the best decisions going forward from there, whether it's an injury or something like this where they make a personal decision to do something a little different. Integrating them with their teammates, that kind of happens organically, understanding there's going to be some things you need to work on in terms of communication. But we work on those things from now until the last week that we're playing. Whatever week that is this year, that Friday we're going to be trying to teach and work on communication, trust, signals, body language, verbal communication, all of those things are a work in progress in our game. You never really get to the end. We'll see where everybody's at when they get back and we'll take it from there."

For the first time in Brady's career with the Patriots, coaches are going to have to see where he's at after he's made the choice to skip at least a portion of OTAs and all of Phases One and Two.

Here's what he's already missed:

PHASE ONE

The Patriots offseason program began on April 16. That marked the start of Phase One, which lasted two weeks. As was discussed on Quick Slants the Podcast, when it became clear Brady would not be participating in the early part of the team's offseason program, workouts during Phase One were limited to strength and conditioning activities. When players were on the field during Phase One, only strength and conditioning coaches were permitted on the field. The CBA allows for quarterbacks to throw to receivers with no coverage during Phase One.

PHASE TWO

Phase Two began on May 1 and lasted three weeks. During Phase Two, coaches were allowed on the field with players, and individual drills were allowed. Teams were allowed a max of 90 minutes on the field. Contact was not allowed. Offense-versus-defense and one-on-one drills were not permitted, either. Helmets were also banned during Phase Two. During Phase Two -- as is the case during Phase One -- teams can specify two hours for players to be at the facility. The maximum time for a player to attend offseason activities is four hours per day, leaving players two hours to spend however they see fit.

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