Support for the Bruins on full display in Patriots minicamp observations

Andy Hart
June 06, 2019 - 1:41 pm

FOXBORO – While the Patriots were concluding a three-day mandatory minicamp and preparing for Thursday night’s big Super Bowl LIII ring ceremony at the home of owner Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and his team also showed their support of the Bruins during the morning practice session.

Bill Belichick was among the many players and coaches that took the practice field behind Gillette Stadium wearing Bruins hats just hours before Boston prepared to take the ice at the TD Garden for the Game 5 Stanley Cup matchup with the St. Louis Blues.

Players like running back Brandon Bolden and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett even delayed donning their helmets during pre-practice drills so they could wear the Bruins hats a bit longer.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman was the most obvious Bruins supporter, wearing a black and gold Boston sweater with his teammate Dorsett’s name and No. 13 on the back during pre-practice work. When he removed the sweater for the full practice action Edelman actually placed it on a large blocking dummy, where it remained for the rest of the workout.

“It's going to be a win. Hope they win, need them to win — I just want them to know that we're behind them, just like they were behind us,” Dorsett said of the cross-team support that’s become common in the last two decades of Boston professional sports championship success.

Beyond the Bruins apparel, here are one man’s minicamp practice observations from a sunny, hot and somewhat abbreviated Thursday morning workout:

--The third and final session of minicamp, the ninth practice for the Patriots this spring, lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes, wrapping up just before noon.

--Those players not seen on the practice field included Sony Michel, J.C. Jackson, Nate Ebner, Yodny Cajuste, Nick Brossette, Demaryius Thomas and Deatrich Wise.

Jackson is a newcomer to the absentee list after taking seemingly full reps over the first two days of the minicamp work. The rest of the group missed all three days of practice.

--Though he seemingly was a full participant throughout, second-year wide receiver Braxton Berrios got extra stretching help from a medical staffer in between a number of drills. The extra work on his right leg is worth watching moving forward.

--A.J. Howard and Shilique Calhoun were the first two players on the field, walking up the stairs from Gillette together. Gunner Olszewski, who had been the first player on the field for the first two days of work, was third on Thursday. The undrafted Div. II rookie did run across the field as soon as he crossed the white lines.

--As always, veteran running backs boss Ivan Fears was the first coach on the field.

--Former Patriots receivers Troy Brown and Deion Branch were on hand once again to share their expertise at the position with the players in attendance. Former players have worked with the team during the offseason in the past, but it’s worth wondering if special teams coach Joe Judge’s transition to also serve as the wide receivers coach has anything to do with Brown and Branch helping out. Given the unique situation, Judge probably welcomes the extra help at this early point in the process. Thursday Branch, in particular, spent time showing first-round rookie N’Keal Harry the finer points of route running and getting out of his breaks more efficiently. Branch was arguably the most effective rookie receiver to come through New England during the Belichick/Tom Brady era and a big reason for his early success was his pro-ready route running coming out of college as a second-round pick.

--There was a passing shower to open practice, leaving linebackers coach Jerod Mayo throwing his hands in the air and asking to no one in particular about weather reports that had a low-percentage chance for precipitation. After the rain the rest of the practice took place under clear skies and warm temps.

--Backup quarterback Danny Etling, who has taken special teams reps as a personal protector on the punt team, walked onto the field with Judge, who’s still the special teams coach in addition to his wide receiver duties.

--Malik Gant ran off the field and back down the stairs to Gillette early in practice. He did not return.

--Harry didn’t have a great day and the problems started in early wide receiver drills when he had the first of a number of drops. Harry struggled to create separation in other drills and had to have his routes fine-tuned by Branch, Josh McDaniels and Brady at times. Harry’s three days of minicamp work definitely came with ups and downs. He continues to get a ton of reps, though, including work with Brady as well as the other groups and backups quarterbacks. A lot is obviously being invested in the top pick. Brady actually acknowledged after practice that the expectations that are put on young players like Harry are probably unfair.

--Harry wasn’t close to the only one with issues with drops. In one early group drill with the quarterbacks and receivers undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers had a drop at the goal line only to see Edelman follow it up with a drop of his own on the very next snap. Matt LaCosse, who’s gotten off to a very nice start in his competition for a tight end job/role, had a notable drop.

--Joe Thuney continued to take reps at left tackle on Brady’s blindside. With the three-year starting left guard bumped out a spot there continues to be a rotation of guys on the inside. Today James Ferentz took early reps next to Thuney at the left guard spot. Brian Schwenke and Ted Karras continue to rotate through as well.

--Danny Etling got a few more reps on Thursday, though the results weren’t ideal. During one stretch of work against the defense he had one throw over the middle batted by Dont’a Hightower before Jamie Collins made a pretty, one-handed interception on a soft throw to a crossing target.

--Rookie backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham didn’t have a great day. He had number of throws that fell incomplete far from any potential target, including one throw out of bounds on the sideline on which both the offense and the defense started striding back to the huddle early given how far afield the toss was.

--Despite the no-pads, non-contact nature of minicamp there was still an open-field tackling segment in the middle of the workout. The drill saw a single receiver take a swing pass while two defenders – lined up probably 12 yards apart or so on their stomachs – would get up and try to converge on the ball carrier.

--One interesting moment occurred between Brady, McDaniels and Harry when the rookie receiver had to lunge quite wide toward the sideline on a short out-cut against. McDaniels spoke with Harry and then looked back toward Brady while gesturing in a long reaching motion toward the sideline. Brady responded by throwing his hands up in the air slightly. It was a visual display of the long, detailed process of building a relationship between a veteran passer and a rookie receiver in the Patriots system where the difference in just a foot or even inches can be seen as key.

--With the tight end position wide open without Rob Gronkowski, it was interesting to see the Patriots open one down-and-distance drill of 11-on-11 with three receivers and two running backs working alongside Brady. Of course that was followed up with a two-tight end set.

--Second-year cornerback Duke Dawson had a nice pass defense in coverage of Dorsett on the sideline.

--Brady connected with Edelman on an out in the red zone, the receiver making a one-handed grab on the right sideline look easy.

--While 11-on-11 work took place on the far field, rookie punter Jake Bailey focused on his plus-50 punting with Matthew Slater trying to down the kicks inside the 10. It’s an area that many think Bailey will have to shine in if he’s going to unseat veteran Ryan Allen. Bailey certainly has a strong enough leg to be an NFL punter, but Belichick’s focus on situational work might be the difference.

--Stephon Gilmore might have been the most impressive player in the three-day minicamp. He makes his coverage look so smooth and easy. One example game in the end zone on Thursday, when he dropped back to knock down a Brady throw for Edelman, who was crossing the backline covered by another defender.

--Kicker Stephen Gostkowski served as a look returner for Bailey’s kicks while wearing a Bruins hat. After the drill, and with the music turned up on the field, Gostkowski took the opportunity to dab.

--Third-round pick Chase Winovich spent most of his time as a defensive end at Michigan. Early on in minicamp he’s been taking a lot of reps as a stand-up outside linebacker, as his Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown predicted for his star pupil.

--One of the plays of the day was a touchdown toss to the back corner of the end zone by Brian Hoyer, connecting with Dorsett as the receiver out jumped and beat Joejuan Williams for the score. Dorsett then celebrated by spinning the ball in the end zone. Williams has had his ups and downs in camp, but it’s not ideal for the 6-4 corner to be outfought for a ball by a much smaller receiver in the end zone. Hoyer then beat Williams again on a completion crossing the end zone to Berrios.

--Those talking to the media after practice included Belichick, Brady, Karras and Dorsett. Brady and Belichick spoke at the same time, causing the quarterback to watch the media scramble and remark, “Divide and conquer.”

--While Brady was speaking Jason McCourty walked by and yelled, “Tell them it’s ring night!”

--The Patriots are schedule to return to the practice field for two more OTA sessions early next week, including a Monday workout that’s set to be open to the media as the team wraps up its spring workouts.

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