FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A week after seeing the Patriots working on the field for the first time as a full squad this offseason, media was once again granted access to Thursday’s organized team activity, which had a similar structure to previous session.
Here are a handful of observations from the practice, keeping in mind that there is still plenty of work to be done this offseason, and that the session was held in helmets and sweats, limiting the number of drills the team can conduct:
The team appeared to focus more on two overall themes today than what we saw last week: the running game and up-tempo offense. The offensive line and running backs worked on inside runs during the individual drills portion of the practice, and the entire offense congregated shortly thereafter for about 10 minutes of running plays. At this point of the offseason, it’s difficult to simulate the running game without pads, but operating against a scout team defense (made up of reserve offensive players) using hand shields seemed to give the offense a solid look. Up-tempo offense has been a staple in New England for many seasons, and it should come as no surprise that the team worked on it today.
Watching offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia work in concert is a unique experience. Both hold their players to high standards, and each is attentive to details. During a period focused on the running game (which was led by the two), the offense was forced to re-run multiple plays from the top after the coaches called for better execution. It would appear that both will be heavily involved in the leading the running game this season, and the pair already seems to have its working chemistry back after McDaniels’ departure from New England early in 2009.
A couple of individual position drill notes: Eric Kettani, who is viewed by some as a fullback and a running back by others, took handoffs during an inside running game drill. That could be a suggestion that he’ll see some more reps at running back during the preseason. Also during individual drills, a pair of running backs -- Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen -- worked on routes with a quarterback. Woodhead is an established receiver out of the backfield, while Vereen may step into that role in his second season as a pro. He averaged nearly 25 catches per season in college.
Not to make too much out of a single play, but receiver Donte' Stallworth had a drop on a perfect pass to his chest during an offensive routes on air period. Again, no player’s fate will be decided by one play, but with such a competitive receiving group, easy drops and impressive catches are likely to be closely monitored.
Perhaps in an effort to get some younger and less experienced players involved, the Patriots offense led off a 7 on 7 and the team period with a number of players who project to be second stringers on the field -- including quarterback Brian Hoyer. Depth in the NFL is critically important, and the Patriots are likely counting on the development of many of their younger players this offseason.
Sixth-round selection safety Nate Ebner was on the field today, a week after working with the Patriots medical staff while nursing a hamstring injury. Ebner was essentially only a special teams player in college, leading some to wonder how much of a defensive role he will adopt in the NFL. During a team drill period, Ebner opened his hips to the right side of the field and made a nice break on a deep throw, deflecting the pass intended for a streaking receiver.