Postcards From Camp, Day 4: Eyeing progress
FOXBORO -- With each passing day of training camp, the Patriots seem to have picked up the intensity level.
Sunday was the team's second day in pads and the first during which we saw one-on-one tackling drills. The end-of-practice, full-contact, full-speed goal-line sessions were also an indicator Bill Belichick's club is a long way from the light seven-on-seven padless sessions that are so prevalent in the spring.
Here's a more detailed breakdown of what we saw . . .
Malcolm Mitchell was not spotted Sunday after working out with the physically unable to perform group each of the last two days. Taking the lower field as rehabbing players were Matthew Slater, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Nate Ebner and Kenny Britt. After a day away from the field, Britt was back.
Also not spotted at the practice was running back Mike Gillislee, who seems to be vying at a crack at the "big-back" role with Jeremy Hill. Also missing from the practice was seventh-round rookie corner Keion Crossen (back). He left Saturday's practice early.
Receiver Jordan Matthews (pictured) left the practice early with an apparent lower-body injury. His availability bears watching as Tom Brady's receiving corps has been banged up early in camp.
Meanwhile, another player who departed Saturday, Trey Flowers, was back on the field after having a gash on his forehead -- suffered at the end of Saturday's session -- stitched up. Flowers was a full go.
Some of the most competitive periods in training camp -- particularly early, when the pads first come on -- are the goal line periods. Once Sunday's practice ended, the defense could definitively say they got the better of their offensive teammates in those moments.
Patrick Chung and Malcom Brown chipped in to stop Sony Michel on one rep, while Flowers was in on a stop of Rex Burkhead on the next. Burkhead's run didn't have much room in part because Jordan Richards popped fullback James Develin at the point of attack. (Richards had a fine day, breaking up a pass deep down the field earlier in the practice.)
On the next two goal line snaps, Patriots linebackers stole the spotlight. Rookie fifth-rounder Ja'Whaun Bentley (pictured) and defensive end Deatrich Wise teamed up to stop Brandon Bolden. Finally, Elandon Roberts kept up with Bolden and made the solo tackle when Bolden tried to bounce his short run outside.
Four reps. Four wins for the defense.
-- The first throw of the 11-on-11 period was a screen from Tom Brady to Michel (pictured) that looked very familiar to fans who haven't blocked Super Bowl 52 completely from their memory. It was a fake end-around run that ended up in Michel's hands on a short dump-off to the right. The Patriots ran the same play with Burkhead against the Eagles for an explosive gain (which we covered in our summer Signature Play series).
-- Brady also hit passes to Phillip Dorsett, Dwayne Allen and James White in the 11-on-11 periods. He missed on throws to Chris Hogan, Develin (had contact on the quarterback been allowed, Brady would've been sacked on the play by Adrian Clayborn), and Hogan again (pass was broken up by Eric Rowe). Brady finished 4-for-7 in the 11-on-11 reps.
11-ON-11 PERFORMANCES (con'd)
-- Brian Hoyer's best completion of the morning was on a pass to a lunging Jacob Hollister in the back corner of the end zone with safety Eddie Pleasant tight in coverage. He also hit Julian Edelman for a touchdown in the back of the end zone with J.C. Jackson in coverage again. Hoyer hit on short passes to Cordarrelle Patterson and Hill, but he couldn't connect on his attempt to Riley McCarron (broken up by Richards). Hoyer finished 4-for-5 in the 11-on-11 reps.
-- Danny Etling (pictured) has had his share of accuracy issues over the course of the last couple of days, not that growing pains for a rookie quarterback in the Patriots offense aren't to be expected. He was picked by Rowe on a pass that deflected off of the hands of Braxton Berrios. Etling was almost picked again by Kyle Van Noy soon thereafter.
-- Stephon Gilmore stood out as the stickiest defensive back on the field Sunday. He broke up a deep pass to Edelman and later gave Hogan no breathing room to break up a short comeback. He told me last week he's been studying his teammates, their releases, their footwork, to help him as they compete through camp. Seems like that's paying off. Corners Duke Dawson and Jason McCourty also had pass breakups during the one-on-one period.
-- Patterson (pictured) made what was in all likelihood the catch of the day during one-on-ones. He got a slow release off the line of scrimmage thanks to a good jam from Rowe. That alerted him to the fact that he and Brady would have to try to connect on a back-shoulder throw. Rowe stuck with Patterson, but Patterson used his size and good concentration to reel in a catch that Rowe initially deflected.
ONE-ON-ONE HIGHLIGHTS (con'd)
-- When it comes to the big-boy one-on-ones, there were a few standouts. Marcus Cannon (pictured) had strong two reps against Harvey Langi and seemed to push Dont'a Hightower past his target late in the period. Adam Butler looked quick as he won both of his reps off the snap and drew a hold on one. Brown seemed to get the better of Joe Thuney and David Andrews on separate reps. Clayborn also seemed to have a solid day, working his way around Isaiah Wynn at one point, and popping Matt Tobin to create one of the hardest collisions of the day. Late in the period, Shelton used a late swim move to get through Thuney, and Andrews held his ground against Lawrence Guy.
-- Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Jason King and Shelton were all forced to take laps at different points for committing penalties. Brown did have a good rep where he took advantage of Wise losing his balance to smother Wise into the turf.
-- The Patriots didn't run the kind of Oklahoma drills you might remember from high school, but they did have a one-on-one tackling period. Develin (pictured) had one of the standout moments, dishing out a big hit to Langi. Geneo Grissom answered for the defense by putting a good shot on Hollister. While the drill was run at full speed, it focused more on form and players were not encouraged to take their opponents to the ground.
-- During a special-teams period, running through some extra work with Brady (and Hoyer and Etling) off to the side were Hogan, White, Dorsett, Holliser and Rob Gronkowski.
NOTEWORTHY OBSERVATIONS (con'd)
-- Brady (pictured) showed some frustration midway through the practice after he sailed a throw high to Hogan (with no defense). When he took the next football for the next rep, Brady spiked it to the turf.
-- During a half-line running-game drill, Gronkowski and Trent Brown helped open a hole forill and fist-bumped as they got back to the huddle. Brown moves well for a man of his size, and he's taken the last two days -- on screen plays or outside runs -- as an opportunity to put his athleticism on display. He remains the top option at left tackle, ahead of Wynn.