Ten Things We Learned Sunday at Patriots Training Camp
|08.05.12 at 6:06 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Sunday’s training camp practice, which lasted just over two hours, was peppered with bright moments from young players along with frustrating mental lapses from reliable mainstays.
Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer were missing from the offensive line again. Meanwhile, defensive end Jonathan Fanene missed his fourth straight practice. Special teams maven Tracy White, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and fullback Spencer Larsen also were not seen on the practice field.
Tight end Daniel Fells, defensive linemen and Rob Brace and Myron Pyror, rookie cornerback Alfonzo Denard, and tackle Markus Zusevics joined their teammates, but were donning shorts.
Here are nine other things we learned from Day 9 of training camp:
HEAD AND SHOULDERS
Ras-I Dowling is making a case to start opposite Devin McCourty in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Saints. The second-year defensive back had a highlight-reel interception on a deep ball thrown by Brian Hoyer intended for the outreached arms of Aaron Hernandez toward the corner of the end zone.
Dowling was there stride for stride, and showed good balls skills on the play. His size (6-foot-1) may make it harder while dealing with shiftier wideouts (he had issues with Wes Welker during one-on-one drills), but it gives him leeway when defending taller wide outs and tight ends.
STRIKES AND GUTTERS, UPS AND DOWNS
The first-team offense had a scattered day. During 11-on-11 passing drills, Tom Brady overthrew Jabar Gaffney, who had beat Dowling on a go-route toward the back of the end zone. Brady also missed Brandon Lloyd, who had gained mild separation down the sideline on an deep out route. Later in the drill, Hernandez found a soft spot in the defense in between Mayo and Dowling, and Brady hit him for a touchdown.
Though, in the two-minute drill, the offense fell into a lull yet again. There appeared to be some miscommunication between Brady and Hernandez, and the quarterback spent a considerable amount of time going over the mishap with the tight end afterward.
With the uncertainty of Brian Waters‘ playing status heading into the upcoming season, Mankins and Vollmer both absent due to injury, and Robert Gallery announcing his retirement Saturday the offensive line saw various combinations throughout Sunday’s session. Dan Connolly and Donald Thomas were the biggest benefactors of the incessant shuffling. Connolly a great deal of time at right guard, and Thomas got plenty of reps at left guard.
WHAT’S THE CATCH?
As Chris Price noted last week: In Josh McDaniels‘ last season as the offensive coordinator in New England, the Patriots targeted running backs 105 times and came away with 78 catches. But since then, the running backs’ impact in the passing game has lessened considerably: In 2009, it dipped slightly to 74 catches on 105 targets. In 2010, it was 61 catches on 86 targets, and last season, it was 37 catches on 58 targets.
During Sunday’s session, running backs worked with quarterback’s on passing drills, specifically going over wheel routes. This onus of the passing game out of the backfield was amplified during 11-on-11 drills, as Brady frequently dumped the ball off to Stevan Ridley. McDaniels may bring some of his two-back formations back to New England’s offensive scheme as well. Eric Kettani earned a healthy amount of reps as the lead full back throughout the practice.
WELCOME TO THE NFL, KID
The one-on-ones between skill position players were highlighted by Hernandez leaving linebacker Dont’a Hightower in the dust after swiftly juking by the rookie. Rob Ninkovich also had issues keeping up with Danny Woodhead.
Deion Branch suited up for practice, but he might as well have been in shorts and a t-shirt. The veteran wide receiver didn’t participate in drills. This may be nothing more than a veteran’s day off, but it should be noted since the Patriots didn’t practice on Saturday. Donte’ Stallworth got most of Branch’s reps along to go along with his kick returning duties.
Both the offense and defense were flagged for 12-men on the field penalties by the coaching staff. Each unit was spared the penalty lap, but Lloyd and Thomas ran after each committed a false start penalty. Additionally, Brandon Deaderick ran a lap for a perceived offside penalty during one-on-one drills.
Alex Silvestro‘s conversion to a pass-catching tight end continuing to develop. At first it appeared he was just involved in jumbo formations, but the role in the offense seems to be expanding. Silvestro was prominently involved in the second-team offense’s sets.
In fact, the former defensive lineman turned tight end even came down with a nice jump ball in traffic during 11-on-11 drills. Later, he caught a pass in stride up the seam from Hoyer. Maybe the coaching staff is just testing out different possibilities, or simply experimenting. Whatever the case may be, it’s hard to say Silvestro isn’t passing with flying colors.
NOT A GOOD DAY FOR THE MEN IN 74
Both Kyle Love and Darrion Weems — who each wear No. 74 — left the practice field with injuries. Love went to the ground for a few minutes during one-on-one drills after walking to the sidelines under his own power, he was examined further by the Patriots medical staff. Weems left the field while walking gingerly.