Patriots Camp Report: Day 4

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New England Patriots training camp:
  • When cornerback Brandon Browner talked about practicing in full pads for the first time in training camp, he said, "It always feels good to get them pads on and smack a little bit." Browner then backed up his words by flattening rookie running back James White in 11-on-11 drills on Sunday. Overall, the play of Browner and Darrelle Revis has been one of the top early storylines of camp. On Saturday, Revis intercepted two Tom Brady passes and broke up two others. On Sunday, it was Browner establishing a physical edge that reminded us of when safety Rodney Harrison was creating physical havoc in his first year with the team. The Patriots' defense has been practicing with a bit of an edge, and Revis and Browner are a big part of it.
  • The Patriots practiced in full pads for the second straight day, which created some physical and mental stress for players. In 1-on-1 pass-rush drills, veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork drove left guard Logan Mankins back into the pocket by keeping his legs churning, which was a good test for Wilfork's previously injured Achilles injury. Wilfork generated sufficient power through his lower body, as we continue to monitor his return to full-contact work. He seems to be passing every test.
  • One popular storyline for reporters covering a team is the "player-entering-the-final-year-of-his-contract" story, and it came up Sunday when running back Stevan Ridley met with reporters after practice. Ridley, who led the team with 773 yards on 178 carries in 2013, enters the final year of his deal and was asked how much that weighs on his mind. "I have to be honest about it -- it's there but it's not my first concern," he answered. "My first concern is going out there and being the best player for this team. I think if I go out there and have a productive year and do what I need to do, the contract will take care of itself. I'm not going to put too much thought into it, because if I start thinking about that, it could easily be a distraction. I'm just going to keep working, keep my head in the dirt and keep grinding it out."
  • With the Patriots practicing in full pads the last two days, fullback James Develin's hard-charging, lead-blocking presence has been hard to miss. Develin, who graduated from the practice squad to the active roster in 2013, brings an attitude to the running game and was praised by personnel director Nick Caserio for having a "great offseason." Ridley also pointed to Develin when asked about the overall running back group. "Not to single out one guy, but James has come in and done an awesome job," he said.
  • The crowds at training camp continue to amaze. On a day in which there were ominous clouds above and practice was cut short by about 15-20 minutes because of a heavy downpour and the threat of lightning, the team announced an official attendance of 13,186. That ups the four-day total to 45,839. "These fans are always there and are always welcoming," receiver Julian Edelman said. "It's just great to have that support and makes coming out here fun when there is a crowd and hollers and all that stuff. It's fun to play in front of people. When you're feeling a little down, you come out and see a big old crowd, it gets you a little amped."

Snapshots: Patriots training camp Day 4

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
Some of the scenes from Day 4 of New England Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium:

Rob GronkowskiAP Photo/Steven SenneRob Gronkowski (87) and Patriots teammates warm up during Sunday's practice session.
Jake Bequette and Bill BelichickAP Photo/Steven SenneDefensive end Jake Bequette listens as head coach Bill Belichick explains what he wants to see.
Tom BradyAP Photo/Steven SenneQuarterback Tom Brady smiles during a break in action at Sunday's training camp session.
Stevan RidleyAP Photo/Steven SenneRunning back Stevan Ridley carries the ball during practice.
Chandler JonesAP Photo/Steven SenneDefensive end Chandler Jones puts on his helmet in preparation for a drill.

Julian Edelman: 'I love returning punts'

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With youth in the Patriots' receiving corps and some other injuries in 2013, wide receiver Julian Edelman emerged as quarterback Tom Brady's go-to guy. While Edelman will continue to have a major role in the passing game, he also wants to keep contributing in another part of the game -- return punts.

The Patriots' special teams drills focused on the punt-return during Sunday's practice in full pads and Edelman broke free down the right sideline on one return.

"That's a part of the game [punt return] that gave me an opportunity to make this team," Edelman said. "I love returning punts. I want to do that and if they ask me to do that, I'm going to do it."

Wide receiver Danny Amendola and undrafted rookie running back Roy Finch of Oklahoma also took reps in the return game. Finch had one bobble but still managed to haul in the Ryan Allen punt.

Finch's process of learning punt returns reminded Edelman of his early days with Patriots.

"You guys remember when I was a rookie bobbling the ball around everywhere and getting booed by the crowd," Edelman said of one training camp practice. "But he's just got to get some experience, repetition."

This recollection of how much work it takes to be an effective punt returner fuels Edelman's desire to hone his craft.

"You got to work on catching punts, finding the tip of the ball -- if it turns over, if it doesn't -- what foot punter it is, the trajectory of the punt, what return you have -- if it's a return, if it's not a return -- the situation in the game," Edelman said. "All that stuff. It comes with experience. I still have to try in practice every day to improve what I have to do because it's a craft. If you don't do it every day, it will slip away."

In the past, Edelman has been an elite punt returner -- cutting and juking his way through punt coverage units. Though last season, when he averaged 10.7 yards per return, Edelman was forced to call more fair catches (23) than in other seasons.

"When you get 10 yards that's your goal and when guys are working together you get a little more which is great," Edelman said about the importance of punt returns. "But our number one job on that unit is to get the ball in the offense's hand and make the right decision."

Observations from Patriots camp: Day 4

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observations from the New England Patriots' fourth practice of training camp, which was held in full pads and was cut about 10-15 minutes short because of heavy rains and the threat of lightning:

Legion of Boom moment with Browner: The play that had many buzzing came when cornerback Brandon Browner de-cleated rookie running back James White in an 11-on-11 running drill, with the crunching pads and thud of White hitting the deck audible to the 10,000-plus in attendance. Browner, who at 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds took pride in being part of the Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary, then looked to the sky and roared. On the play, White had attempted to bounce outside to the left side, where Browner was awaiting him with the strong run force. In a credit to White, he held on to the football.

Backup quarterbacks deliver a few gems: Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Garoppolo had two of the offensive highlights, both coming in 11-on-11 drills as they took the reps with Tom Brady getting a bit of a rest. Mallett delivered a beautiful deep ball down the left sideline to streaking receiver Josh Boyce, who had raced past Browner. It can be a challenge to get the ball over the rangy Browner, but Mallett dropped it in the bucket and Boyce caught it in stride for what would have been a touchdown. Prior to that play, Garoppolo had a sweet 15-yard pass to tight end D.J. Williams along the right sideline, arcing it over 6-foot-6 defensive end Michael Buchanan, who was in coverage. Great touch by Garoppolo.

Rookie TE Jones makes his presence felt: Undrafted tight end Justin Jones is an intriguing prospect at 6-foot-8 and 275 pounds, and undrafted linebacker Cameron Gordon (6-3, 240) had the difficult matchup of going up against him in 1-on-1 tackling drills. Jones, who later caught a touchdown from Garoppolo in goal-line drills, ran right over Gordon in an impressive effort.

Who’s winning 1-on-1s? There was one set of pass-rush drills in the practice, with a total of 15 repetitions. Defensive end Chandler Jones stayed on a hot streak and appeared to get the best of left tackle Nate Solder on the opening rep, with Vince Wilfork digging in and powering into left guard Logan Mankins and pushing him back on the next rep. That’s the type of rush we’ve been looking forward to seeing from Wilfork as he continues to gain comfort in coming back from a ruptured Achilles, as he showed some notable explosion from the lower-leg area. ... Center Ryan Wendell, scrappy as always, angled off defensive tackle Marcus Forston. ... There was a heavy collision between right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and veteran defensive end Will Smith that looked like a stalemate. ... Guard Josh Kline stayed hot by standing his ground against defensive tackle Joe Vellano, while rookie center Bryan Stork stood up Forston. We look forward to seeing how Stork (three strong reps in the drill over two days) fares against some higher-level competition. ... Some improvement from rookie right guard Jon Halapio, who had his best rep of camp (on L.T. Tuipulotu) before he was pushed back into the pocket by Sealver Siliga. ... One thing that caught the eye was third-year defensive end Jake Bequette using a nice spin move to record a victory over right tackle Cameron Fleming. Bequette, from our view, most often tries to win with a speed rush to the outside, so the spin was an effective change-up. ... Fleming later had what looked like a nice rep on defensive end Michael Buchanan, using a strong punch to push him out wide, likely behind where the quarterback would have dropped. ... Guard Dan Connolly (against Chris Jones) and reserve offensive linemen Jordan Devey (over Eathyn Manumaleuna), Braxston Cave (over Tuipulotu) and Chris Barker (over Zach Moore) all held their ground on a day in which the offensive line was better than it was Saturday.

Punt returns the focus on special teams: A specific segment of special teams is worked on in each practice, and today was punt return. Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Roy Finch were the returners. It seemed like a good day for second-year punter Ryan Allen, who was crushing the ball (the wind might have helped a bit).

Offense does well on the goal line: While the defense has had the upper hand at practice, which is often the case for most NFL teams at this time, the Patriots’ offense fared well in end-of-practice goal-line drills. We counted three touchdowns (two passing, one running) in four attempts, the lone stop coming when undrafted running back Stephen Houston (Indiana) was stopped short of the goal line on a run to the left side.

Cleaning out the notebook: Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and rookie linebacker Taylor McCuller got into a minor shoving match at the end of a tackling drill, with Hoomanawanui taking exception to McCuller’s overly aggressive approach after the play was over. ... Penalty laps were taken by linebackers Steve Beauharnais and Cameron Gordon (for offsides), as well as Garoppolo and Stork (fumbled snap). ... Reserve offensive lineman Chris Barker, who was on the 53-man roster throughout last season and is competing for a roster spot this year, got some repetitions at left tackle. ... Receiver Brandon LaFell, whose inconsistent hands have drawn notice, had a one-handed catch while working on pass routes (no defense). Undrafted Wilson Van Hooser also had a nice one-handed catch (followed up by a drop). ... Kenbrell Thompkins had another dropped pass after dropping two on Saturday. ... Bill Belichick spent a portion of the practice speaking with assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi, who has been a consistent presence at practice. ... Running back Brandon Bolden and Garoppolo had a miscommunication on a handoff in half-line running drills, and Bolden also had the ball ripped away from him at one point in ball-stripping drills. ... In a light moment during warm-up stretching and running, Wilfork tugged on the back of Tom Brady's jersey to give Mallett a head start as Brady and Mallett continued a playful competition on who is the fastest quarterback. ... There was a play clock on the field for the first time. ... Cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted Mallett, who was looking for Van Hooser. ... With heavy rain ending practice early, many of the receivers stayed behind to work on catching wet footballs. ... The Patriots had cranked up some music during parts of the practice, which raised the energy level and stressed the communication on offense.

Who returned: The only new players at practice were receivers Cole Stanford (No. 14) and Brian Tyms (No. 84), who were signed Sunday. To make room on the roster, the Patriots waived injured receiver Greg Orton.

New absences: None.

Who else didn’t practice: Receiver Aaron Dobson (foot/PUP), special teams captain Matthew Slater (unknown/PUP), linebacker Deontae Skinner (non-football injury list), cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder/PUP), offensive tackle Chris Martin (non-football injury list), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (non-football injury list), receiver Jeremy Gallon (unknown/PUP), defensive back Jemea Thomas (unknown, only practiced Day 1) and cornerback Daxton Swanson (practiced the first two days).

Notable injuries/health-related incidents: Thompkins, who required some attention late in Saturday’s practice, participated in full and didn’t appear to have any issues. ... Hoomanawanui walked off with members of the athletic training staff after the practice, but it didn’t seem to be anything too serious.

Who’s talking with the media: Edelman, running back Stevan Ridley and fullback James Develin were players drawing the largest media crowds, with Ridley conducting his interview while seated. Safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung and rookies Jon Halapio and Justin Jones also drew some attention. The interviews took place in a tunnel underneath Gillette Stadium because of the rain.

Patriots sign 2 WRs; FB Develin praised

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots made a few back-end roster moves on Sunday, signing receivers Cole Stanford (Cal Poly) and Brian Tyms (Florida A&M).

To make room for Stanford and Tyms, the Patriots will waive receiver Greg Orton, who will revert to injured reserve after being carted off on Friday.

Both Stanford and Tyms are long shots to earn a roster spot, but they add important depth to fill out the roster during training camp and preseason games. Stanford is an undrafted free agent, while Tyms, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2012, played in seven games last season with the Cleveland Browns.

That puts the Patriots roster at the full 90-player limit.

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio announced the moves at a Sunday morning news conference. Caserio called fan support “incredible” at training camp (32,653 total attendance through three days), and here were a few other takeaways from his news conference:

Setting the schedule: Caserio pointed out that players will be off Monday. Practices are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, starting at 9:15 a.m. ET each day.

‘Great offseason’ for Develin: Caserio lauded the work of second-year fullback James Develin. “The unique thing about James, he’s a very versatile player, and we saw that even going back to last season -- he’s able to line up in the backfield, at tight end, detached from the formation,” Caserio said. “James is very smart, works very, very hard. He had a great offseason. As a player, from Day 1 that he entered the program to where he is now, he’s really improved. He’s put in a lot of time. It’s a credit to him. He’s smart and versatile, so he gives you a little bit of flexibility because he can do a number of different things -- he can block with force in the running game, he can put his hand down on the line of scrimmage and block with force on the line of scrimmage. He’s earned all his opportunities with his performance and his work ethc.”

What drew team to Stork: Caserio touched on what the Patriots liked in Florida State center Bryan Stork, their fourth-round draft pick who is expected to challenge for the starting job. Durability, performance level against top competition, smarts and toughness were mentioned. “He has good playing strength, a good playing style, a good demeanor,” Caserio said, later adding that Stork fits the profile of what the Patriots look for in a lineman, mentioning past blockers like Joe Andruzzi and Russ Hochstein.

MNF moments, No. 43: Brady notches 500

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
Tom BradyMarc Serota/Getty Images
To celebrate the 45th season of "Monday Night Football," a panel of contributors has selected the 45 most memorable moments in MNF history. Follow along as we reveal one per day and count down the number of days to this season's MNF debut.

No. 43: Patriots 38, Dolphins 24 | Sept. 12, 2011

The Miami Dolphins hosted the New England Patriots in the 2011 "Monday Night Football" opener.

Despite the hot Miami temperatures and extreme humidity, the teams combined for an NFL-record 906 net passing yards. Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne threw for a career-high 416 yards and added a rushing touchdown, but quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense dominated the night.

Brady passed for a team-record 517 yards and four touchdowns, including a memorable 99-yard connection to Wes Welker. His only mistake was a deflected pass that resulted in an interception. That mishap snapped Brady's NFL-record 358 straight passes without an interception, which dated back to the previous season.

The Patriots finished with 622 yards of offense, the most in franchise history, and won their opener for the eighth consecutive season.

Quick-hit thoughts around NFL, Patriots

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. Linebacker Jamie Collins looks primed to make the jump to the rare three-down front-seven defender in the Patriots’ system, and one confirmation of this came in the last two days of practice: When the Patriots worked on punt and kickoff coverage, Collins wasn’t part of the drills. Collins was a core special-teams contributor last year, but with the club planning on a major uptick in his 2014 defensive snaps (25.8 percent last season), initial plans seem to be in place to lighten his special-teams load.

2. Those who hope to see more of 275-pound Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower rushing the quarterback off the edge rather than chasing running backs in coverage, as he did often in 2013, would have liked what unfolded in one part of Saturday’s practice. Hightower was part of one-on-one rush drills and he proved to be a handful for left tackle Nate Solder on one repetition. If everyone is healthy come the regular season and Hightower teams with Jerod Mayo and Collins at linebacker, I could envision an on-the-line role for Hightower, playing to the strengths of a hybrid talent who could be a nice chess piece for a defense that likes to alter its fronts regularly.

[+] Enlarge Danny Woodhead #39 of the San Diego Chargers
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesThe Patriots let Danny Woodhead leave in free agency, a decision that likely contained some regret.
3. One of the things Bill Belichick has said in the past is that the worst thing a personnel staff can do is make a mistake on one of its own players. The thinking is that with extensive time with the player, both on and off the field, no one should know player better than a team's staff. The Patriots have been generally excellent in that area, as there are few players who leave town, perform better, and ultimately earn a second greater payday with their new team. Running back Danny Woodhead, who after a stellar 2013 season signed an extension last week with the Chargers that included a $3 million signing bonus, is one of the exceptions. The Patriots made an offer to Woodhead last year, never really budged and were ultimately content to let him depart for peanuts compared to what they've paid others, such as receiver Brandon LaFell this offseason. Have to think Belichick revisited that decision-making process at some point this past offseason to determine how things broke down internally. Selecting Wisconsin running back James White in the fourth round this year to pair with Shane Vereen might turn out to be a nice recovery.

4. I thought former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien passed one of his more challenging first-year tests as Texans coach – the holdout of veteran receiver Andre Johnson – with flying colors. In doing so, he showed the appropriate respect for Johnson, which was important for other players to see, but also set a tone and clear standard for the program he’s implementing. Johnson reported last week and now a story that lingered all offseason – which had some Patriots followers wondering if the club could somehow trade for Johnson – can be put to rest. It probably helped that O’Brien watched Belichick handle his fair share of those tricky situations over the years.

5. The NFL is apparently going to stress a point of emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact in 2014, and it will be interesting to see how that potentially affects the Patriots and their revamped secondary. Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner doesn’t think it will, as he noted Saturday that he expects officials to also make a point of emphasis on offensive pass interference. “I think it goes both ways, and I don’t think the game will change too much,” he said. “I’m still going to be aggressive. I’m going to force them to make the call. I’m not going to change my game.” The 6-foot-4, 221-pound Browner , who prides himself as a press corner and is tough to throw over because of his size, is off to a strong start in training camp.

[+] EnlargeChris Snee
Jason O. Watson/Getty ImagesFormer Boston College lineman Chris Snee had a noteworthy NFL career, playing all of it for his father-in-law, Tom Coughlin.
6. Offensive guards are mostly anonymous by nature of the position they play, so it was nice to hear so many platitudes for former Boston College standout Chris Snee last week as he retired after 10 years with the Giants. An elbow injury ultimately led Snee to the decision after he started every game he appeared in with the Giants (141 in the regular season), and owner John Mara said he’ll definitely be added to the team’s Ring of Honor in the future. One the unique parts of Snee’s career is that he played for his father-in-law, Tom Coughlin. That dynamic was nicely captured by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.

7. Receiver is one of the toughest positions to project to the NFL, in part because of the complexity in coverages in the pro game and also because there isn’t as much press coverage in college. We’ve seen the Patriots have some notable struggles in this area, and with that in mind, anyone else curious how the Packers have had such success? Since 2006, they’ve drafted Greg Jennings (2006, second round), James Jones (2007, third round), Jordy Nelson (2008, second round), Randall Cobb (2011, second round) and now Davante Adams (2014, second round). The jury is obviously still out on Adams, but the strong track record probably gives us a good indication of where things are headed.

8. While some might have been surprised that the Dolphins opened training camp with fifth-year veteran Shelley Smith at center in place of the injured Mike Pouncey, I don’t think the Patriots were part of the group. When the Patriots had the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Smith in for a free-agent visit this offseason, they also talked to him about the possibility of playing center even though he has exclusively been a guard in the NFL. Smith ultimately believed he had a better opportunity to play in Miami, so he signed there, and it looks like he chose correctly along those lines. Meanwhile, the Patriots’ competition at center (incumbent Ryan Wendell vs. fourth-round pick Bryan Stork) and right guard (incumbent Dan Connolly vs. second-year player Josh Kline) remains one of the more compelling battles in training camp.

9. A few picked-up pieces on the training camp trail: Tough start to training camp for the Vikings, as players had the fire alarm in their dorm go off at about 1:30 a.m. before the day of their first practice. … Also a tough start to training camp for the Jaguars, who arrived at their facility on Friday to learn they had no running water because of a water main break. … Any guesses as to which Texans coach ran sprints with players at the end of practice Saturday? Yup, it was Mike Vrabel. … Nice touch by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who wore No. 99 for the first of training camp in honor of his friend and former teammate Brett Keisel. … Patriots rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is roommates with rookie center Stork during training camp, and running backs White and Stephen Houston are paired together. … After back-to-back full-pads practices Saturday and Sunday, the Patriots won’t practice Monday.

10. Seemingly everywhere you looked Friday at Patriots training camp, there was a former player working in the media. There was Tedy Bruschi on the ESPN set, Scott Zolak (98.5 The Sports Hub) and Christian Fauria (WEEI) on the field conducting player interviews, and Matt Chatham in the tent analyzing what was unfolding for his TV work on NESN. On Sunday, Willie McGinest is due in town to report for NFL Network, where fullback Heath Evans also works. While we’re at it, we’ve also started to see center Dan Koppen pop up on Comcast SportsNet, where Ty Law and Troy Brown also provide analysis. From a pure media perspective, we could field a pretty good Patriots alumni team.

Wake-up call: Patriots camp Day 4

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
Every day of the New England Patriots training camp, we'll have a wake-up call that previews the day ahead.

9 a.m. ET -- Nick Caserio news conference
9:15 a.m. -- Practice (open to the public)
Approx. 11:30 p.m. ET -- Player interviews

The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and the potential for scattered thunderstorms, with temperatures in the low-to-mid 70s.

Sunday marks the team's second full-pads practice in two days and is expected to feature more work in the running game. There should also be more 1-on-1 pass-rush drills, as coach Bill Belichick attempts to create some of the desired stress that he believes is important for a team to experience in camp.

Among the areas we'll be following closely in practice:
  1. What does cornerback Darrelle Revis (Two interceptions on Saturday, in addition to two pass breakups) do for an encore?
  2. Monitoring the competition along the interior offensive line, specifically with veterans Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell and second-year player Josh Kline and rookies Bryan Stork and Jon Halapio.
  3. How do the team's pass-catchers respond after a practice filled with drops (eight unofficially)?
  4. Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins' level of participation after he was stretched out at the end of Saturday's practice and didn't finish.

Patriots Camp Report: Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New England Patriots training camp:

  • Cornerback Darrelle Revis was the story of the day with two interceptions (both on Tom Brady passes intended for Julian Edelman) and two other pass breakups. Revis' potential impact on the Patriots could be huge and this practice was a reminder of that. Revis said Friday that he's in the best shape of his career and it shows.
  • This was the team's first full-pads practice, which gave us a chance to lock in on the offensive and defensive lines in one-on-one rush drills, as well as the tight ends in the running game. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, in his first contact since rupturing his Achilles last September, gave a "yes sir" as he exited the field when asked if the Achilles responded well. There seemed to be an easing-in process for Wilfork in run-game drills, as he is adjusting to having some bodies falling in front of him. He was a full participant in the practice, taking another important step in his recovery.
  • The interior of the defensive line was bolstered with veteran Tommy Kelly's return to practice, as he was limited in his participation. Kelly had opened training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list after missing the final 12 games last season with a torn ACL. With 32-year-old Wilfork coming back from the Achilles, and the 33-year-old Kelly hoping to come back from the ACL, the health and management of the Patriots' most experienced tackles is something to monitor as camp progresses.
  • Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and several other members of the team's rookie class answered questions from reporters after practice. Garoppolo is extremely polished in the interview setting, at one point referencing the name of a reporter who had asked a question earlier in the interview. For someone who has done three in-person interviews with the press since he was drafted, that caught our attention. Garoppolo, who has thrown a few interceptions in practice, said some of the main advice he's received from Brady is to take a "next play" mentality when things don't go as planned.
  • Haven't seen too many training camp crowds like this one: 13,819. With 7,822 on Day 1 and 11,012 on Day 2, the Patriots have had 32,653 spectators at their first three days of practice. Think Patriots fans are excited to have football back? The crowd roared when Brady was among those signing autographs after practice, and as it turned out, backup quarterback Ryan Mallett expressed excitement about getting Brady's autograph himself.

Snapshots: Patriots training camp Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
Some of the scenes from Day 3 of New England Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium:

Patriots QuarterbacksAP PhotoQuarterbacks Tom Brady (12), Ryan Mallett (15) and Jimmy Garoppolo (10) loosen up.
Tom BradyAP PhotoJames White takes a handoff from Brady -- with full pads on, it was a run-heavy day.
BelichickAP PhotoBill Belichick keeps a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Rob GronkowskiAP PhotoRob Gronkowski runs through a drill with running back James Develin.
Brandon BoldenAP PhotoBrandon Bolden plays with his 3-year-old son, Brycen.

Observations from Patriots camp: Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observations from the New England Patriots third practice of training camp, which was held in full pads and in front of a crowd of 13,819:

Revis Island on full display: The excellence of cornerback Darrelle Revis was the story of practice. Revis had two interceptions and two pass breakups. Both interceptions came when he was covering Julian Edelman, on throws from quarterback Tom Brady. The first pick came in 1-on-1 drills, and the second in 11-on-11 drills.

Counting up the drops: A lot of dropped passes in this practice. An unofficial tally was eight drops -- from receivers Kenbrell Thompkins (2), Danny Amendola (1), Josh Boyce (1) and Brandon LaFell (1), running backs Brandon Bolden (1) and Jonas Gray (1), fullback James Develin (1). Thompkins, in particular, sputtered a bit after a strong first two days.

Heavy focus on the run game: With this being the first practice in full pads, the running game was naturally a big focus. Specifically, we got a close look at the tight ends executing blocks on the edge, as that was a big teaching point. We were impressed by the effort of five-year veteran D.J. Williams, who at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds isn’t built in the mold of a traditional in-line blocker, but who was a willing scrapper. Undrafted rookie Justin Jones, who has some compelling physical traits (6-8, 275) to harness, showed some of what makes him a raw prospect as he was on the ground a few times.

Who’s winning 1-on-1s? Offensive linemen and defensive linemen went 1-on-1 in pass-rush drills and standouts included defensive end Chandler Jones and right guard Dan Connolly. Jones successfully used a strong inside move to beat left tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon. If Jones rushes like that during the regular season, he'll be primed to build off last year's 11.5-sack campaign. The win over Cannon was particularly decisive. ... Connolly held his ground well against defensive tackle Sealver Siliga twice, anchoring well against the big-bodied 325-pounder. ... Defensive end Michael Buchanan caught the eye with a few strong rushes on rookie right tackle Cameron Fleming, one of which he used his long-arm technique to rock him back and penetrate. ... Rookie center Bryan Stork did a nice job holding his ground against rookie L.T. Tuipulotu and second-year tackle Joe Vellano, and now we look forward to seeing more against some more experienced players. ... Solid work by guard Josh Kline against defensive tackle Chris Jones and defensive end Zach Moore. ... Rookie right guard Jon Halapio had a tough time overall, with Marcus Forston (twice) and Joe Vellano beating him rather handily, and he was coached up by Dave DeGuglielmo after each unsuccessful rep. ... In perhaps a reflection that players are still adjusting to the transition from retired coach Dante Scarnecchia to DeGuglielmo, there appeared to be some confusion on the second rep of the drill with left guard Logan Mankins unaware of the snap count from DeGuglielmo, which led defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to race by him untouched.

Cleaning out the notebook: Receiver Danny Amendola had the offensive play of the day, a diving one-handed catch on the left side. … First-year safety Kanorris Davis spent quite a bit of time working with assistant special teams coach Joe Judge on gunner-type responsibilities. … Kickoff coverage was the special teams area that was worked on throughout the practice. … As part of handling situations in kickoff coverage work, Revis served as the holder at one point in the event it was a windy day. ... Rookie running back James White squirted through the line on one running play (he can be tough to locate behind big blockers at 5-foot-10) and made a few catches when the offense was working on some up-tempo drills. … Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took a lap for the second practice in a row after a fumbled snap. … A diving catch by receiver Julian Edelman fired up the crowd. … Cornerback Logan Ryan, playing more in the slot, showed up multiple times with strong coverage. … Safeties Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung and cornerbacks Ryan, Malcolm Butler and Kyle Arrington notched interceptions. Chung’s interception came after rookie tight end Justin Jones couldn’t corral a pass. ... Tight end Rob Gronkowski, in his first full-pads practice, remained limited. He participated in individual drills but not team drills.

Happy birthday to Danny Nickerson: In a nice moment after practice, the entire team sang “happy birthday” to Danny Nickerson, the 6-year-old from Foxborough who has an inoperable brain tumor and whose story has touched the hearts of many.

Who returned: Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who opened camp on the active/physically unable to perform list, took part in some of the walkthrough parts of practice. He was not in full pads, but his participation confirms that he is no longer on the PUP list.

New absences: First-year cornerback Daxton Swanson of Sam Houston State, who has shown up at times over 16 practices (spring camps plus training camp), didn’t participate after taking part in the first two practices.

Who else didn’t practice: Receiver Aaron Dobson (foot/PUP), special teams captain Matthew Slater (unknown/PUP), cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder/PUP), linebacker Deontae Skinner (non-football-injury list), offensive tackle Chris Martin (non-football-injury list), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (non-football-injury list), receiver Jeremy Gallon (unknown/PUP), defensive back Jemea Thomas (unknown, only practiced Day 1), receiver Greg Orton (was carted off Day 2).

Notable injuries/health-related incidents: Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins slid on the ground at one point late in the practice, and stood up slowly while attempting to walk it off. He was later stretched out by the athletic training staff. He didn't participate in practice after that but it didn’t seem anything too serious.

Who’s talking with the media: This was a day in which rookies were made available, with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo drawing the biggest crowd. Running back Shane Vereen and cornerback Brandon Browner were others drawing significant attention. Defensive end Will Smith and receivers Brandon LaFell and Josh Boyce also stopped by the interview area.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo draws a crowd

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo walked up the steps and arrived on the field for the first practice of New England Patriots training camp earlier this week, it caught him a bit off guard.

[+] EnlargeGaroppolo
Mike Reiss/ESPNJimmy Garoppolo and the Patriots have drawn plenty of attention in the early days of camp.
The Patriots had 7,822 fans in attendance for the opening practice. The next day, the number spiked to 11,012. And on Saturday, it was 13,819.

At Eastern Illinois last season, Garoppolo played seven games in which there weren’t crowds that large. And yet now he’s practicing in front of them, another reminder of his transition to the NFL.

“I didn’t expect that. That was unbelievable, the first day, coming out and seeing that,” Garoppolo said Saturday. “It’s awesome to see how the fans interact with the team so much and how they’re really connected with their sports teams.”

Garoppolo did play in front of some big crowds last year, such as the 42,978 in a season-opening win at San Diego State. The smallest crowd was 3,119 in a win at Murray State.

Eastern Illinois’ seven home games drew an average of 8,012 fans.

“Coming from Eastern, we didn’t have the biggest crowd by any means, and at practice, we didn’t have crowds,” Garoppolo relayed. “It’s awesome to come out here, and the fans are unbelievable – they know when to cheer, when not to cheer. It’s exciting.”

At the same time, Garoppolo touched on the importance of blocking out any potential distraction.

“You approach it the same way, whether they’re there or not,” he said. “It’s one of those things [on] game-day there are going to be a lot more people than that. [Organized team activities] there was no one here. So you just have to come out here every day and do your best [regardless].”

Garoppolo, who is roommates with rookie center Bryan Stork during training camp, has thrown a few interceptions the last two practices. With that, he’s received some helpful advice from fellow quarterback Tom Brady.

“Kind of the next-play mentality -- you can’t worry about the past, you have to move on,” he said. “Every play is just as important as the last play.”

Spotlighting potential niche Pats players

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In many ways for a reporter covering a football team, the initial days of training camp represent a re-familiarization process of players at all levels of the roster.

With this in mind, here is a snapshot of a few Patriots who we're interested to learn more about because they could fill niche-type roles:

LB Steve Beauharnais -- The 2013 seventh-round draft choice out of Rutgers had what was essentially a redshirt season in 2013, appearing in two games for the Patriots. Beauharnais (6-foot-2, 230) has been praised by teammates as a hard worker and film junkie, and he has shown some command in leading the huddle, but remains a wild card in terms of potentially being a viable reserve on defense. That will be key for him to prove to the coaching staff because he doesn't appear to be a top consideration as a core special-teams player.

LB Darius Fleming -- It caught our eye when coach Bill Belichick spent some one-on-one time with the third-year linebacker from Notre Dame in Friday's practice. The 6-2, 255-pound Fleming, who entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft choice of the 49ers in 2012, missed his first two seasons with knee injuries. If he regains the form that made him a draftable prospect in 2012, he could provide depth behind a solid starting linebacker trio.

RBs Jonas Gray/Stephen Houston -- Two bigger backs whose time to prove themselves will come when full-pads practice begin Saturday. Both players have practice-squad eligibility. For a team that lost bruiser LeGarrette Blount in free agency, we're interested to see if power running from Gray (5-10, 230) and Houston (6-0, 225) creates an impression on the coaching staff to have them stick around similar to how things unfolded with BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2008 (started on the practice squad).

LB Josh Hull -- The five-year veteran from Penn State has the look of a core special- teams player in the mold of departed linebacker Dane Fletcher. He was signed in April after the Redskins, under a new coaching regime, released him. The 6-3, 245-pound Hull runs well and has been competitive in coverage drills from what we've seen through 15 practices (spring plus training camp).

TE D.J. Williams -- Healthy again after missing spring camps with a strained calf, the 6-2, 245-pound Williams has a good chance to stick as a third option behind Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui. An Arkansas alum and the 2010 Mackey Award winner as the top tight end in college football, he hasn't yet emerged in the NFL after stints with Green Bay (2011-12) and Jacksonville (part of 2013), but he has a great opportunity with the Patriots and has flashed at times.

Wake-up call: Patriots camp Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
Every day of the New England Patriots training camp, we'll have a wake-up call that previews the day ahead.

9:15 a.m. ET -- Practice (open to the public)
Approx. 11:30 p.m. ET -- Player interviews

The forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures eventually reaching into the low 80s.

Saturday marks the team's first full-pads practice and is expected to feature extensive red zone work, which has been a theme from the first two days of non-pads practices.

Among the areas we'll be following closely in practice:
  1. Offensive linemen as they practice with contact for the first time as that important competition at center and right guard rises to another level.
  2. Defensive linemen in 1-on-1 pass-rush drills.
  3. Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork's level of participation as he practices in full pads for the first time since his ruptured Achilles injury Sept. 29.
  4. Running game with backs Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, James White, Jonas Gray and Stephen Houston looking to distinguish themselves in pads.

Shapshots: Patriots training camp Day 2

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The scene on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on the second day of New England Patriots training camp:

Tom BradyAP PhotoTom Brady lets one fly in front of his adoring fans.

Darrelle RevisAP PhotoDarrelle Revis took time to sign autographs.

Jerod MayoAP PhotoJerod Mayo lifts off his helmet Friday morning.

PatriotsAP PhotoThe Patriots run across the practice field behind Gillette Stadium.

Vince Wilfork, Chandler JonesAP PhotoVince Wilfork and Chandler Jones prepare to run.

Rob GronkowskiAP PhotoRob Gronkowski says he isn't yet 100 percent -- but he's getting there.

Robert KraftMike Reiss/ESPNBoston.comRobert Kraft was a guest on the SportsCenter set Friday and Foxborough, flanked by Tedy Bruschi and Hannah Storm.