FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observations from the Patriots' final practice of mandatory minicamp:
Feeling of finality; Randy Moss breaks it down. As the practice concluded and players gathered in one large huddle, receiver Randy Moss raised his arm in the air and players yelled out in unison, signifying the end of an important phase of the team's offseason program. Coach Bill Belichick, de facto offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, receivers coach Chad O'Shea and Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio were among those to answer questions from reporters after the practice. Belichick said the team has built a good foundation entering training camp.
New look for the left side of the O-line. Veteran left tackle Matt Light and disgruntled left guard Logan Mankins were the lone players not present for the practice. So the Patriots worked with a different combination up front, with Sebastian Vollmer at left tackle, Dan Connolly at left guard, with Dan Koppen (center), Stephen Neal (right guard) and Nick Kaczur (right tackle) filling things out.
Kickoff returners in focus. The kickoff return game, which is an area the Patriots struggled in 2009, was a primary special teams emphasis. Julian Edelman/Kevin Faulk, Brandon Tate/Matthew Slater and Darius Butler/Devin McCourty were the return combinations.
Aaron Hernandez making a fast impression. The rookie tight end made a very nice catch in 7 on 7 work, on the back end of a beautifully thrown ball from Tom Brady. Hernandez was deep down the left sideline when Brady dropped the ball in between cornerback Terrence Wheatley and safety James Sanders. Tough throw. Tough catch. Every practice, it seems, Hernandez is showing up as a pass-catcher. He had one noticeable drop today, but also was on the receiving end of a touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer (with safety Brandon McGowan the closest player in coverage).
Darius Butler making plays on the ball. Both projected starting cornerbacks -- Darius Butler and Leigh Bodden -- made nice plays to break up passes in 7 on 7 work. Butler's play, in particular, stood out because he displayed an impressive burst to close so quickly on a Brian Hoyer pass toward the sideline. Butler intercepted the pass and would have returned it for a touchdown had it been a game situation. Butler showed some impressive playmaking skills in these practices.
Checking in with Wes Welker. As he has throughout the last three weeks, receiver Wes Welker worked in individual drills before departing as the Patriots got into team drills. Upset with himself for dropping a pass across the middle, Welker wound up and attempted to kick the ball through the uprights.
Taylor Price & getting on the same page. This seemed to be a practice that highlighted some of the catch-up work that rookie receiver Taylor Price has to do from missing organized team activities. There was one play in which it appeared Tom Brady was thinking one thing, and Price did the other. Another time, Price was reminded on where to line up (he was initially too wide). Nothing that can't be overcome, but more of a reminder that Price -- who later caught a long bomb from Brian Hoyer for a touchdown -- has a steeper learning curve than most at this time.