|Saturday Patriots practice: Aaron Hernandez and Nate Solder make some big catches||08.06.11 at 5:19 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Several noteable players were missing from Patriots practice in full pads on Saturday afternoon on the grass fields outside Gillette Stadium.
Albert Haynesworth was again a no-show, as were Kevin Faulk, Matt Light, James Sanders, Ryan Wendell and rookies Ras-I Dowling and Shane Vereen.
The team, as of late Saturday afternoon, had not yet confirmed an ESPN report that Faulk and Light had been placed on the active/physically unable to perform list.
The team focused on third-down conversions for the first time before moving on to another day of red zone and goal line execution.
Tom Brady led the first team unit with several sharp passes to Chad Ochocinco on sideline routes while also finding tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on several impressive pass and catch combintations.
Ochocinco, since dropping several balls on Thursday, had another impressive day of holding onto the ball, especially in heavy traffic. One of his best catches of the day came in route-running drills when he went up against Malcolm Williams and Sergio Brown and fought off both to come down with the ball on a 30-yard “Go” route.
That was followed up immediately by a nifty grab of a Brady bullet by Hernandez on a sideline out pattern. Hernandez showed outstanding hands all day.
He caught a pair of catches on fade routes in the back right corner of the end zone in red zone work before running a route on the other side, sticking out his right hand and making a one-hand grab for the TD. As they did on the Ochocinco leaping catch, the crowd approaching 10,000 exploded in cheers on the Hernandez catches.
Receiver Matthew Slater seemed to injure himself slightly on 1-on-1 tackling drills, limping off to the sideline but he stayed in practice.
Ryan Mallett continues to work on finding consistency in the short and intermediate passing game. He fired a strike hauled in by Carson Butler but overthrowing the target on the next pass.
There was a good amount of hitting in 1-on-1 tackling drills and goal line drills, including Bret Lockett making a statement by connecting cleanly with Wes Welker in 1-on-1 while Lockett clocked rookie Stevan Ridley at the two, denying him the end zone. Two plays later, Ridley rebounded nicely and spun into the end zone by going off right guard.
But the loudest cheer of the day was reserved for 6-foot-8 rookie left tackle Nate Solder, and it came from his teammates. A high, spiraling punt was sent in his direction as he stood all alone on the far 15-yard line. Clearly, this was one of those situations with a reward – catch the punt and there’s a reward for your teammates. Solder settled under it and caught it cleanly, ending the practice just shy of the typical 2 1/2 hour standard this week.
Additionally, the team was informed by Bill Belichick in their huddle that there would be no practice on Sunday. The Patriots will return to the practice field on Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. and practice until 4 p.m., with Patriots Experience open between 12-5 p.m. That will be the schedule again on Tuesday with the team likely to have a walk-through on Wednesday before their preseason opener next Thursday at Gillette against Jacksonville.
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