Patriots camp observations, Day 7: Defense continues to dominate

Andy Hart
August 01, 2019 - 2:18 pm
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FOXBORO – If Tom Brady described Wednesday’s offensive struggles as “frustrating,” one would have to imagine Bill Belichick might use an even harsher word to characterize what he saw on Thursday on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.

New England’s seventh practice of training camp, the fourth in full pads, was a physical, mildly competitive affair that was once again very much swayed in the favor of the Patriots impressive defense.

Whether it was the deep secondary, led by Stephon Gilmore’s seemingly effortless coverage, or a stout front stuffing one run after another at the goal line, the defense is obviously and understandably ahead of the new-look Brady-led offense at this point.

But it’s more than the lack of production on the ground or the inefficient passing game that may have gotten under Belichick’s skin under once again sunny, not-quite-so-hot conditions.

Thursday morning there was a series of 11-on-11 work that included consecutive false starts (Shaq Mason and then his fill-in, James Ferentz) followed by a penalty lap by the entire offense. At the conclusion of the lap Belichick called the entire unit together at the goal line for a few minutes. The very next snap was a fumbled handoff exchange between Brady and Sony Michel, immediately dictating another punishment lap.

It’s only a little more than a week into camp, but the offense has a lot of work to do.

While the defenders are dominating the undermanned unit on the ground and through the air, veteran linebacker Jamie Collins wasn’t looking to verbally kick his offensive counterparts when they are down.

“We all have our days, so you just have to keep pushing,” Collins said. “You do this today, they do this tomorrow. So it can go back and forth. It is what it is. It’s football. We all lose. Everybody loses.”

Absent: Yodny Cajuste (NFI), Demaryius Thomas (PUP), Lance Kendricks

Present but not participating: Julian Edelman (NFI), Nate Ebner (PUP), Ken Webster (PUP)

Red non-contact jersey: Patrick Chung

Returned: None

Here are some quick observations from the Patriots practice field:

--After walking off field and back into Gillette with a member of the training staff carrying his helmet on Wednesday, the veteran tight end Kendricks was not see at all on Thursday.

--Rex Burkhead continues to be limited, heading to the lower conditioning/rehab field early in practice and not taking part in any group or team activities.

--As has become custom, defensive back A.J. Howard and linebacker Shilique Calhoun were the first players on the field before practice.

--N’Keal Harry spent time with a member of the medical staff prior to practice, flexing his right shoulder in discomfort. The rookie receiver then did the same motion throughout the work out, seemingly after every catch or block, both in drills and group work. Harry did not appear to miss any reps, though, and actually had one very nice catch on a deep ball late in practice beating Joejuan Williams to a Brian Hoyer throw, but it’s an issue that is worth watching moving forward.

--Brady also seemed to spend a lot of time after throws trying to get his right shoulder loose by flexing it and rotating his arm.

--Tufts University was among the group of coaching staffs on hand for the morning workout.

--Edelman was one of the last players to arrive on the field and spent a few minutes chatting with Belichick upon his arrival.

--A couple interesting jerseys were spotted in the friends and family tent area. The first was a blue Tim Tebow No. 5 Patriots shirt. The other was a custom No. 4 white Patriots jersey that said “Sensi Hil” on the rear nameplate.

--Dan Skipper continues to work with the top offensive line in team drills at left tackle. Isaiah Wynn has yet to take any reps in 11-on-11 work or anything against a defender.

--Newcomer Martez Ivey, the recently-signed undrafted rookie, took reps at various spots on the reserve line units including left tackle and right guard. After struggling to even run a lap on his first day in town on Wednesday, Martez look much better on Thursday.

--When the wide receivers broke into two groups for drills in early practice there seemed to be one with inside receivers that included Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris, Gunner Olszewski and Ryan Davis and an outside group made up of Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Dontrelle Inman, Danny Etling and Jakobi Meyers.

--Neither Ryan Allen nor Stephen Gostkowski was on the field for the beginning of the workout, but both arrived later in time to handle field goal and PAT attempts to close out the practice.

--The 1-on-1 work between the cornerbacks and wide receivers early in practice looked like it would be a bloodbath in favor of the defense when Duke Dawson blanketed Berrios, Williams shadowed Harry and D’Angelo Ross hung with Harris on the first three reps. But thing got more competitive and balanced from there, with Meyers beating Jason McCourty for a completion. Inman, who had by far his best practice of the summer, beat Keion Crossen. Meyers, who continues to impress, got the better of J.C. Jackson.

--It can’t overstated how easy Gilmore has made his coverage look at times this summer, similar to the way previous No. 24, Darrelle Revis, did in his one training camp in New England. Gilmore sticks with receivers’ hips almost effortlessly and doesn’t appear to even stress in coverage, though he’s admittedly going against a rather unimpressive receiving corps at this point. Still, it’s impressive work for the All-Pro.

--It may have reached the dog days of training camp, literally, as a very cute puppy watched the workout from the hill in the end zone, taking note when the air horn blew between practice segments.

--Another example of the work in progress that is the passing game came late in one 7-on-7 drill when both Dorsett and Berrios ran essentially the same route on the left sideline and were open, though Brady’s throw split the two and fell incomplete.

--Robert Kraft was once again on the field for a portion of the workout, staying until the conclusion.

--David Andrews continues to be limited in his reps with the first unit offensive line in team drills. As such, Ted Karras takes reps at guard and center, working the middle when Andrews comes out.

--It’s been interesting to note that Joe Thuney has not been taking reps at left tackle in recent days, something he’d been doing early in camp and previously this offseason. Thuney played left tackle in college at an All-ACC level at N.C. State.

--There was a fun tackling drill that could be a modern spin on the old Oklahoma drill that’s no longer allowed. Quarterbacks ran a toss sweep to a running back who ran wide behind a blocker while the defender tried to defeat the block to make the tackle.

--Rookie punter Jake Bailey, who also kicked off at Stanford, handled the kicking duties for a scout kickoff team during a kick return segment. The kickoff returners for the drill include Brandon Bolden, Jonathan Jones and Dorsett.

--Working from a position of depth and strength the secondary has used a number of different personnel groups early in camp. Thursday the top corners were Gilmore and Jason McCourty with Duron Harmon and Terrence Brooks at safety. Impressive veterans like Devin McCourty and J.C. Jackson took reps with the next group.

--During another open-field tackling drill the quarterbacks threw wet balls directly out of the Gatorade cooler to a pass-catcher who then had to beat two tacklers. Tight end Ryan Izzo had a very soft fumble in the drill.

--Gostkowski handled the kickoffs when the drill focused on the top kick team and the scout return unit.

--Gilmore took a rep as a returner for the scout kickoff return group.

--Jarrett Stidham had a nice series of plays running a look unit for the top defense. He went deep down the right sideline on three straight plays. The first was a circus catch in which Meyers tipped the ball up to himself for the would-be touchdown, though Chung likely would have blown the play up in a live situation. On the next play the rookie quarterback made a perfect spot throw to the front right pylon for a touchdown to Harry, beating Crossen. Stidham threw to the same spot again on the next snap, connecting with Meyers again, though he appeared to land out of bounds.

--During a red zone running drill linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley blew up the block from Harry in the backfield and the pair went to the ground entangled about 7 yards behind the line. They got up still gripping each other with some angst in the air, but teammates from both sides quickly urged them to break things up in the no-fighting world of Belichick’s practices.

--Brady completed a goal-line touchdown to Ben Watson after a fake dive to fullback James Develin. The next three run plays were summarily stuffed by the goal line defense.

--Undrafted rookie tight end Andrew Beck took reps at fullback on the goal line after the Pro Bowler Develin.

--Meyers, the undrafted rookie out of N.C. State, worked in the top no-huddle unit with Brady and was the successful target of the first throw in the drill. Meyers has come on of late and very much looks like an option to make the roster at the unsettled receiver position.

--There was movement on the line during one no-huddle rep. Brady pointed to the defense for the flag. Chung pointed to the offense. The coaches seemed to side with Brady.

--With Dorsett and Meyers working with Brady and two tight ends in the no-huddle work, it left Harry, Berrios and Harris with the second group.

--Brian Hoyer averted disaster when a Ferentz snap squirted into the air, with the backup QB hauling it in and then completing a pass to Harry while rolling to his right.

--Derek Rivers continues to get a lot of reps as a stand-up rusher on the right side with the top defensive unit.

--Practice ended with the offense and defense switching sides/roles on the goal line. Gilmore was the quarterback for the blue defensive unit, scoring with a little jet-sweep flip to Duron Harmon, the safety showing his athleticism to score on a play Brady has used successfully many times in recent years. Gilmore’s first real throw fell incomplete when he looked for Jamie Collins on the right side, though consensus indicated that Harris interfered in coverage. Gilmore tried to throw a little bubble screen to the left for Harmon but the play was blown up by a swarm of offensive defenders.

--Those players meeting with the media after practice included Collins, Skipper, Develin, Chase Winovich and a number of others.

--The Patriots are schedule to return to the practice field again Friday morning at 9:15 for a workout that is open to the public.

Related: David Andrews addresses Patriots running laps during training camp