FOXBORO — Day 4 of Patriots training camp practice featured players back in full pads and more work on the running game. One-on-ones between offensive linemen and defensive linemen were back in focus as a long-awaited edge rusher, Michael Bennett, practiced for the first time. Here’s what we saw . . .
WHAT THEY WORE
Back in full pads on Sunday. All three quarterbacks were in their red non-contact jerseys, as was Patrick Chung. Bennett wore his miniature shoulder pads, for which he’s become well-known over the years. They’re tiny.
Bennett, as we said, made his return. David Andrews was in the house for the second consecutive today but he wasn’t participating in team work. Sony Michel, Isaiah Wynn and Deatrich Wise were present but, like Andrews, not participating in team work.
Receiver Dontrelle Inman was a new absence so that bears watching as the receiver group isn’t the deepest. Players on the physically unable to perform list — Cole Croston, Demaryius Thomas, Nate Ebner, Ken Webster — were absent, as were the pair on the non-football injury list Yodny Cajuste and Julian Edelman. Byron Cowart was also missing from the session.
OBSERVATIONS OF NOTE
Dan Skipper — who was signed to the Patriots practice squad late last season after two seasons on practice squads with the Lions, Cowboys and Broncos — got a look as the first-team left tackle today. That moved Joe Thuney, who had been playing left tackle with the first group, back to his usual spot at guard. With Andrews unavailable, Ted Karras snapped to Tom Brady while Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon were at right guard and right tackle, respectively. Skipper is 6-foot-9, 325 pounds. He’s massive. But that size made it hard on him to keep up with smaller rushers. During the 1-on-1 period, both Derek Rivers and Shilique Calhoun used their speed to their advantage against him.
In early 11-on-11 work, the Patriots went with Mike Pennel, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler up front. They were flanked by outside linebackers Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy. Today Elandon Roberts was at the second level with Dont’a Hightower. On Saturday it was Ja’Whaun Bentley and Hightower. Early in camp, with a true front-seven on the field, these looks have been popular.
We saw a few more throws today than we did on Saturday, though all weekend has been very run-game focused.
Tom Brady went 10-for-13 in competitive 11-on-11 work, hitting a long completion to Braxton Berrios on a deep over route with Jonathan Jones in coverage. It was a good day of work for Berrios, who often found himself out there with Brady, N’Keal Harry and Maurice Harris. Brady had another nice throw to the sideline that was reeled in by Harry, who got his feet down before heading out. One of his final throws of the day — a touchdown to Ben Watson in a two-minute period — was one of his most accurate. One throw he’d like to have back? An incompletion well behind Watson that he threw with his feet not set underneath him.
Brian Hoyer went 9-for-13 in competitive 11-on-11 work. He would have been sacked by veteran pass-rusher Shilique Calhoun on one rep and he was picked on another by Obi Melifonwu when Hoyer tried to send one Watson’s way. Immediately after the pick, Hoyer fumbled a snap. Not a great stretch. His best work might’ve come in the two-minute drill, when he hit undrafted rookie receiver Gunner Olszewski on all three attempts sent Olszewski’s way. The former college defensive back (wearing No. 72) laid out for one grab over the middle with a safety bearing down on him. His final catch was a touchdown with Duke Dawson in tight coverage. Hoyer was jacked up, seeking out his target immediately for a high-five. There are a couple of undrafted rookie wideouts who’ve impressed at different points through four days: Olszewski, Jakobi Meyers and Ryan Davis.
Jarrett Stidham saw only few reps on the day, most of them hand-offs, and one of his only competitive throws of the day glanced off of Watson’s hands. He did make a very nice throw late in the practice to James White near the goal line. White had Bentley on his back in coverage, and Stidham threw it away from the defender while putting it right on White’s numbers. White was able to protect the reception and finish the play thanks in large part to the placement of the football. It was a quick, decisive strike from Stidham to a target who was covered. Not a huge gain, but an encouraging one for the young quarterback.
OBSERVATIONS OF NOTE
Despite getting to the area on a flight this morning — traveling from his home in Hawaii — Bennett looked pretty sharp. He re-iterated that his three-day absence to start camp was to take care of a family issue, and he expressed his appreciation that Bill Belichick allowed him to take the time he needed. The veteran pass-rusher was strong in 1-on-1s, testing Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason, and he helped the second defense make a run-stuff in 11-on-11 work by penetrating through the middle of the offensive line from the three-technique spot.
Harry made a nice downfield block on Stephon Gilmore during a long run from Brandon Bolden. Good effort there from the rookie wideout. He could be a force as a blocker given his size and strength (27 bench reps of 225 pounds at the combine).
Terrence Brooks saw first-team reps at safety once again Sunday. The same was true Saturday, and could be the result of Patrick Chung donning a red non-contact jersey. There were snaps, however, where Brooks, Chung and Devin McCourty were all on the field simultaneously in a “big nickel” sub package. Brooks may end up more than just a special-teamer here in New England after spending the early portion of his career primarily in that role with the Jets.
Newly-acquired defensive tackle David Parry saw some time with the first defensive group and he made a strong play at the point of attack late in the practice. Getting a good push on James Ferentz, he helped to stuff a run in 11-on-11 work. He could end up pushing for work on the defensive interior along with Pennel, Guy, Butler and Danny Shelton.
When the Patriots bumped the volume to go 11-on-11 and to work on their communication, they used Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris as their first two wideouts with Watson, James Develin and Brandon Bolden also in the huddle.
Four reps of goal-line work for the offense and defense. This is about as close as things get to full-speed since it’s hard to “thud” — simulate a tackle with some shoulder contact — in such close quarters.
The defense won three of four reps, with Pennel and Elandon Roberts helping to stop one play. Bentley appeared to stop Develin — the lead-blocker — in his tracks on another rep that was stopped short. Christian Sam, the second-year linebacker who has made a couple of nice plays in camp thus far, was leading the charge on the third stop.
The offense got into the end zone with a good push from the left side of the offensive line that Damien Harris plowed through.
Bennett put to use a strong bull-rush on Cannon and then ducked to the inside on Mason. He was quick off the ball, and how he was used in 1-on-1s should be an indication of how he’ll be used by the Patriots this year: both on the edge (against tackles) and the interior (against guards and perhaps centers). Part of his strength lies in his versatility.
Another versatile player, Kyle Van Noy, got by Cannon to the inside during their matchup. Ferentz stopped Pennel cold on one rep, earning a pat on the helmet from the big defensive tackle.
Mason had a strong rep to stop Guy in his tracks, and Thuney appeared to win his two reps. Karras and Shelton had a good battle that looked like a win for the offense. Pennel then took on Karras and found some space after an initial stalemate.
Calhoun seemed to draw a hold on Tyree St. Louis in addition to his win over Skipper. As we mentioned above, Skipper also dropped a rep to Rivers. St. Louis appeared to hold again when Chase Winovich got into his pads. Trent Harris used his flexibility and speed to bend around 6-foot-7 tackle Cedrick Lang. From our angle on the media hill, Keionta Davis won his rep against rookie Hjalte Froholdt.
New offensive lineman JJ Dielman got the better of Nick Thurman on one rep, but then when they matched up again, Thurman got by him and Dielman was forced to run a lap. Tyler Gauthier also had to run a lap for a false start. (Cannon ran a lap earlier in the practice for an apparent penalty.)
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