FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots held their third practice of training camp on Saturday, and their first in full pads. The practice ended shortly before rain moved into the area.
Francis, White do not return. Rookie defensive end Justin Francis was carted off the field with what appeared to be a knee injury. Linebacker Tracy White, on the other hand, left the field at another point and did not return. A source told ESPNBoston's Mike Reiss that Francis had cramped up.
Gronkowski dinged, returns. Tight end Rob Gronkowski appeared to get cut on his chin during one drill, quickly heading back to the locker room with a trainer before returning with a bandage on his chin about 15 minutes later. Gronkowski stepped right back into action upon returning to the field.
Brady to Lloyd connection continues to take form. Don’t count on this storyline going away, especially if Lloyd continues to make plays all over the field like he has during the first few days of practice. Lloyd has stretched the seam, pushed the deep part of the field on the perimeter, and caught virtually everything thrown his way, including balls in traffic. Brady seems to have a developing rapport with Lloyd, often tossing to his newest wideout in between drills.
Contact drills debut. Today was the first day of padded practices for the Patriots, and that meant the debut of a number of drills that don’t equate in shells and helmets. Notably, the offensive and defensive linemen took part in two separate editions of one-on-one drills, the wide receivers squared off against the defensive backs in a blocking drill (the “force” drill), and the offense took on the defense in a half-line drill, focusing on inside runs. Players seemed amped up to finally hit.
One-on-one notes: defensive line. The offensive and defensive lines held two separate periods of one-on-one drills, focusing on the pass rush. Each player received a handful of reps, leaving us with plenty to digest. The good among the defense: Trevor Scott, who flashed quickness and an arsenal of pass-rush moves; Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace, who both showed some heavy hands on interior rushes; and Jonathan Fanene, whose ability to work effectively in tight spaces was evident. Those who left something to be desired on defense: rookie draft choice Jake Bequette, who appeared indecisive in his rush; and Marcus Forston, who looks like a linear rusher but was unable to generate much push up front. Of note: First-round pick Chandler Jones looked about as advertised – he boasted a unique array of moves and athleticism, but didn’t quite put it all together into a polished product.
One-on-one notes: offensive line. Thumbs up: Dan Connolly, who has worked as both as a center and guard this offseason, showed power, lateral agility and strong finishing ability. Dan Koppen was his usual steady self – not overpowering, but reliable. Donald Thomas, a reserve guard in 2011, looked tough at the point of attack and able to sink in his anchor and hold up. Nate Solder worked effectively, using his length to drive edge rushers deep, beyond the point where Brady would be setting his feet. Ryan Wendell was scrappy, and certainly won’t be beaten due to a lack of effort. Thumbs down: Robert Gallery showed good initial pop, but it looks like his athleticism has really dipped. He ended up on the ground too much. Marcus Cannon worked at right tackle, but was overpowered too often on bull rushes. Matt Kopa, who also worked at right tackle, had a so-so day at the office. He has good length, but his power was not evident today.
Dowling’s length showing up. We’ve kept a close eye on Ras-I Dowling early in camp, as he returns from an injury during his rookie season that limited him to roughly half a game. We’ll learn more about him when receivers take on defensive backs in one-on-ones, but his length – particularly his long arms – continues to show up. He used them to effectively engage would-be blockers, jam at the line of scrimmage, and leverage receivers.
Hightower in the passing game. Dont'a Hightower was pegged as a do-almost-anything linebacker when the Patriots drafted him in April, including performing as a blitzer and pass defender. He looked comfortable doing both, nearly de-cleating running back Brandon Bolden on a re-route, and timing up a blitz as if he knew the offense’s snap count.
Edelman jukes, tackles too. The Patriots once again practiced tackling technique, as offensive ball carriers worked in an alley of space while oncoming defenders attempted to tag up on them (they did not bring the runners down to the ground). Julian Edelman, who has shown up in a positive manner early on in camp, was nifty in avoiding a defender on his first rep. Perhaps as a sign that he may not be done playing defense (or, more likely, as practice for his special teams work), he flipped to the other side of the drill and repped as a defender. Edelman and Aaron Hernandez may be the Patriots' shiftiest offensive players.
Plays of note. Brady’s arcing spiral down the right sideline to Brandon Lloyd was the highlight of the day for many, as well as a number of other connections between the two. ... Before he left the field for a brief portion of practice, tight end Rob Gronkowski was on the receiving end of a rifle of a throw from Brady down the seam, right over the hands of linebacker Jerod Mayo. It brought back flashbacks of 2011. ... Cornerback Devin McCourty broke up a Brady pass intended for Lloyd down the right sideline, although McCourty never turned back to the ball but was still able to swat it away with his left hand as it came in. ... Linebacker Jeff Tarpinian broke up a Ryan Mallett pass intended for tight end Visanthe Shiancoe down the seam.
Shaky start for Vereen. Running back Shane Vereen finds himself in the middle of what looks like a four-way fight for the Patriots’ primary running back job. So far, he hasn’t done much to lead us to consider him a front-runner. Vereen had electric speed coming out of college, but hasn’t applied that on the field that we’ve seen so far in camp, and has yet to show a propensity to make defenders miss. During the final rep of a goal-line period, Vereen coughed the football up.
Dennard not in uniform. After suffering what appeared to be a right hamstring injury on Friday, rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was in a T-shirt and shorts on Saturday and spent part of the practice on a stationary bike. He was joined in rehab work by the same group as Friday: receiver Jeremy Ebert, safety Nate Ebner, tight end Daniel Fells, offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Mankins, Nick McDonald and Markus Zusevics, and defensive lineman Myron Pryor. Not spotted at all were guard Brian Waters (did not report) and tight end Jake Ballard. Meanwhile, tackle Darrion Weems, who was signed on Friday, was limited to light shoulder pads and shorts, as he was still within his two-day acclimation period before being able to practice in pads.
When the rest of the team was running sprints at the end of practice, two players joined a separate stretching/conditioning group at midfield: cornerback Kyle Arrington and receiver Deion Branch. Remaining in that group were offensive linemen Kyle Hix and Jeremiah Warren, defensive lineman Gerard Warren, and linebacker Brandon Spikes. For the third straight day, Spikes did not appear to participate in any 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 (team) drills, with Dane Fletcher holding down his spot there.
Shifts on defense. It's too early in camp to read too much into any of this, but linebacker Dont'a Hightower received more reps with the more experienced group on defense (in place of Bobby Carpenter, who took Tracy White's place alongside Hightower in a sub package look), while Ras-I Dowling also got some more looks where Kyle Arrington would normally line up in the base defense. The Patriots are still practicing in sub packages roughly half the time, and on Saturday, the sub package work was expanded to include some looks with six defensive backs. While Sterling Moore stepped in with that group in OTAs, second-round pick Tavon Wilson came on the field for Saturday. Also in that look, rookie Jake Bequette slid inside as an interior pass rusher. On one play, Bequette was pancaked by guard Donald Thomas.