Postcard from Camp: Special teams the focus during in-stadium practice
FOXBORO -- Each day from training camp, we provide you with news and observations in what we call our Postcard from Camp. Here's what we saw from Monday night's practice, the team's last before a day off on Tuesday.
* Before the practice began, coach Bill Belichick noted that practicing inside Gillette Stadium would give players an opportunity to get accustomed to working in a stadium atmosphere, with different backdrops, lighting and noise than they typically experience on the practice fields behind the stadium.
The change could be particularly beneficial in the kicking game, Belichick noted, and special teams was the focus of the night as all core four units got some work in during the shells-and-shorts session. The Patriots had practiced in full pads for the previous two days.
* A pair of players -- receiver Chris Hogan and linebacker Jonathan Freeny -- missed their first practice of the summer. Hogan appeared to suffer a shoulder injury on Sunday.
* Others who were absent from the session included receivers Keshawn Martin, Julian Edelman (on the physically unable to perform list), Danny Amendola (also on PUP), tight end Clay Harbor (PUP), running back Dion Lewis (PUP), right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (PUP), guard Jonathan Cooper and center Bryan Stork.
* Receiver Nate Washington, who became ill after the team's first training camp practice and has not practiced since, was present but not participating. Same went for defensive tackle Alan Branch, who is on the non-football injury list.
* After the offense made headlines with its celebrations on Sunday, it was the defense that may have turned in the play of the night on Monday. Corner Logan Ryan deflected a Jimmy Garoppolo pass during the 11-on-11 period that bounced into the air and fell into the arms of safety Devin McCourty. Weaving through some traffic, McCourty ended up in the end zone for a pick-six and then imitated Gronkowski's throw-the-ball-high-into-the-air celebration that he pulled out the day before. Then all three former Rutgers players on the field -- McCourty, Ryan and Duron Harmon -- celebrated.
* Tom Brady, who was watching the play from behind the end zone, tried to catch the ball as it fell to the turf. He dropped it, earning a groan from the crowd. To make up for it, he threw the ball to himself, and caught it, eliciting a cheer. Kind of a funny moment. Maybe you had to be there.
* Though Gronkowski said on Sunday that the defense hadn't complained to him at all about his over-the-top celebrations, McCourty's football toss showed that the defense kept the tight end's antics in the backs of their minds. As Gronkowski said Sunday, if you don't want to see a celebration, you have to stop it from happening. The offense got what it deserved in this instance.
* Brady spent a good portion of the practice chatting with his friend and former teammate Tedy Bruschi, who was in town for Kevin Faulk's Patriots Hall of Fame induction. The amount of down time that players had, in part because there was only one field on which to practice, made for somewhat of a laid-back atmosphere after two relatively intense days of work over the weekend.
* Light as the workload may have been, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was in Jimmy Garoppolo's ear and standing by his side for much of the session. There are no down days for the third-year quarterback who is set to be the Week 1 starter. He and his coaches know he needs to make the most of every rep in order to be ready.
* Guard Josh Kline got his first taste of team work on Monday, working in at right guard. He had not practiced in any 11-on-11 periods or one-on-ones in previous practices. We'll have to keep an eye on his participation level the next time the pads come on.
* Rookie sixth-round pick Ted Karras worked in at right guard as well. He has seen significant reps on the inside as Cooper deals with a foot injury that NFL Media has reported as plantar fasciitis. Karras has also seen some time at center during camp and has held his own in one-on-one periods. With Joe Thuney continuing to see first-team snaps at left guard, it appears as though the Patriots are giving their rookies good opportunities to prove their worth early in their professional careers.
* Rookie second-round pick Cyrus Jones continues to work in as a returner in both punt and kickoff situations. On kickoffs, he was often paired with Matthew Slater, who at one point realigned Jones to ensure he was standing on the goal line as he waited for the football.
* Defensive back V'Angelo Bentley and receivers DeAndre Carter and Chris Harper all worked in as punt returners as well. Running backs coach Ivan Fears coached up the return men in between reps.
* During kickoff periods, Stephen Gostkowski had a pair of attempts that stood out. One was a pooch kick that he lofted high into the air and short. It was caught on the fly by Geneo Grissom, a blocker on the kick return team in that situation. With the new rules on touchbacks -- kicks into the end zone will now result in drives beginning at the 25-yard line -- it will be interesting to see if the Patriots will attempt shorter kicks in order to create situations where footballs are mishandled. Gostkowski also blasted an onside kick attempt off of a kick-return player just a few yards away from him. Perhaps that will be another variation of the many different types of onside kicks we've seen from Gostkowski over his 11 seasons with the team.
* During the field goal period at the end of practice, Martellus Bennett and David Andrews served as the edge protectors. That was a role once occupied by Gronkowski until he broke his arm in 2012. Then it was defensive end Chandler Jones who took over. Now that Jones has been traded, that's a job that needs to be filled.
* Rufus Johnson batted a Jacoby Brissett pass at the line of scrimmage that was nearly intercepted by Brandon King but dropped. Brissett narrowly missed being intercepted again on his final throw of the night. Grissom dropped into coverage, right into Brissett's throwing lane, and the pass hit him in the hands.
* Brissett continues to be willing to throw the ball away when he doesn't have an open receiver. While that kind of play-it-safe decision-making may be what the coaching staff is looking for, at least one of Brissett's throws out of bounds came after a lengthy drop-back that likely would have resulted in a sack long before he actually let it go.
* Second-year corner Darryl Roberts had a good breakup of a Brissett pass deep down the right sideline that was intended for running back DJ Foster.
* Defensive end Chris Long continues to rush from the interior, something the Patriots asked Jabaal Sheard to do quite a bit in 2015. Long has worked from the inside fairly regularly during camp practices.
* Faulk was present for the later portion of practice, sporting his red Patriots Hall of Fame jacket. Other former Patriots in attendance were Bruschi, Willie McGinest and Randall Gay.
* Garoppolo hit Gronkowski with a touchdown in the back corner of the end zone late in the practice, which resulted in a brief dance from the tight end. Safety Jordan Richards was in coverage. When LeGarrette Blount tried to celebrate with Gronkowski, Jamie Collins tugged on Blount's jersey, not allowing him to get airborne. Blount and Collins hugged it out before heading back to their respective huddles.
* Gronkowski had another flamboyant celebration after catching a touchdown from Brady in the opposite corner of the end zone. Brady appeared to be running a "scramble drill" as the play broke down a bit. Brady tried for another score on the next snap, but his back-shoulder throw to Bennett fell incomplete.
* Garoppolo had one particularly impressive repetition that didn't go for a long gain or a touchdown, but he saw a blitz before it was on top of him, and he got the ball out quickly to Gronkowski for a good gain.
* Chris Harper made a nice leaping grab in the back corner on a throw from Garoppolo. Malcolm Butler, who praised the depth of the receiver group after practice, was in coverage on the play.