Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. One of the things that stood out in watching the Patriots' informal workouts, especially Friday, was how much the players seemed to be enjoying themselves. The light mood was reflected when a helicopter was seen above, and one jokester on the field attempted to get each player to show those in the helicopter a full moon.
2. It was easy to see how impressed quarterback Tom Brady was that first-round draft choice Nate Solder stuck around this week to attend his Best Buddies charity football game Friday night. Solder was the only rookie there. The scouting report on Solder is that he "gets it" off the field and he made a strong first impression on Brady.
3. I was surprised at how many reps rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett took in Friday's informal workout. After one of them, in which it looked like he tried to force the ball into a tight spot, he clapped his hands together in frustration and the offense hit the turf for push-ups. While that one play didn't go his way, he certainly looked comfortable in the professional football environment.
4. While acknowledging that there is still plenty of work to be done on both sides of the negotiating table, there's been a noticeable shift toward optimism with the league's labor forecast in recent days. I believe Patriots coaches are scheduled for vacation later this month and I wonder if those vacations could get cut short, because if a labor agreement is reached over the next 3-4 weeks, July could become a busier month than it normally is.
5. In speaking with some different scouts around the league, the feeling I get on the Patriots' draft picks is that cornerback Ras-I Dowling (second round) and running backs Shane Vereen (second round) and Stevan Ridley (third round) probably had higher grades on the Patriots' boards than other teams. That doesn't necessarily mean they aren't good picks, but that the team valued them higher than others based on its system. It reminded me a bit of 2002 when one local newspaper columnist wrote that the Patriots took Deion Branch in the second round even though another club had him rated as a fifth-rounder.
6. Saw a lot of Eric Moore at outside linebacker in 7 on 7 drills during informal workouts at Boston College. Moore was signed Dec. 3, 2010, flashed a bit with the pass rush, and ended up starting the team's playoff loss to the Jets. The team's need for an improved pass rush has been dissected this offseason and perhaps more of Moore is part of the plan.
7. When I watched receiver Julian Edelman, I sensed that his hard work this offseason, coupled with some time spent with Tom Brady, has given him even more confidence. I also noticed that offensive tackle Steve Maneri, who the Patriots claimed on waivers from the Texans last September and later placed on the practice squad, looked noticeably bigger in his upper body.
8. NFL Network's "Top 100 players" series continues tonight (8 p.m. ET), with players 41-50 revealed (as voted on by players). Jerod Mayo has been the lone Patriot to this point (No. 62, presented by Bill Belichick) and reports say that Wes Welker will be featured tonight. Bills coach Chan Gailey will be his presenter. NFL Network previously announced that five Patriots are part of the Top 100.
9. Happy 70th birthday, Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
10. Watching veteran running back Kevin Faulk go through informal workouts with the Patriots, it's hard to imagine he won't be re-signed when free agency ultimately begins. His knowledge of the system, coupled with his willingness to be a mentor to rookies like Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, adds to his value to the team. A spot on the final roster might not be a certainty, but at the start of training camp, it seems obvious that the Patriots are a better team with Faulk around.