Camp Observations: Day 4

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Offering some observations from the Patriots' fourth practice of training camp, held in full pads for the second straight day.

Ridley keeps it high and tight. Stevan Ridley impressed during stretches of his rookie season in 2011, but ultimately played a mitigated role down the stretch. The main reason? Fumbling issues. For the first time during training camp, the Patriots worked a drill in which a ball carrier and a defender jogged across the field with the defender attempting to dislodge the football. Ridley was a natural player to keep an eye on, and he kept the football high (almost to his shoulder), tight and covered. He’s yet to fumble in camp.

Allen’s athleticism not fading. At 33, Will Allen may be the elder statesman of the Patriots secondary, but that doesn’t mean he can’t keep up with the younger crowd. Allen’s athleticism continues to catch my attention as he shows good quickness, the ability to plant and drive from his backpedal, and speed. A cover-corner throughout his career, Allen has worked primarily as a safety thus far in camp.

Belichick huddles up. At the conclusion of the team’s stretching period, coach Bill Belichick brought his team together for a huddle. It’s the first time he’s done such a thing during a training camp practice (excluding the huddles he conducts to conclude practice) and could have come for a number of reasons. The Patriots players will have a day off tomorrow, and it’s possible the coach reminded his team the importance of making today count prior to the brief hiatus.

Blitz pick-up drill heats up the intensity. For the first time during camp, the Patriots conducted a blitz pick-up drill, which featured the backs and linebackers squaring off. Keeping in mind that it’s easier for the linebackers to stand out (it’s not often they get a free run at a running back during game action), here are a couple of players who looked sharp: Jerod Mayo overpowered Danny Woodhead on two occasions, while Dane Fletcher flashed good avoid ability. Dont’a Hightower collided with Eric Kettani (and subsequently running backs coach Ivan Fears), which drew applause from the crowd. Offensively, fullback Tony Fiammetta showed off his strength, but none of the running backs particularly stood out. This drill led to a couple of near scraps.

Cannon up and down. Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon had an up-and-down day, but showed off his strength in the running game. From this view, he flexes very good power when he can get his hands on a player moving forward, but is still piecing it together from his pass sets. In one-on-one pass-rush drills, Cannon was beaten around the edge by Justin Francis, and later on an inside spin move by Jermaine Cunningham.

One-on-one pass rush drills. The one-on-one pass rushing drills on the far edge of the field are always a favorite, and for the second straight day, defensive tackle Ron Brace had a strong showing, beating centers Dan Koppen and Jamey Richard on separate reps. Brandon Deaderick also continued to look strong in this drill, beating Ryan Wendell and Donald Thomas, although Thomas got the better of Deaderick on his second try.

Drops for Gronk. Tight end Rob Gronkowski dropped a pair of passes on the afternoon, an unusual occurrence from the 23-year old. One of them led to an interception by safety Patrick Chung, the other was a would-be touchdown on the goal line.

Francis shows pop. Undrafted free agent defensive lineman Justin Francis, who left yesterday’s practice early, flashed some pop. He dipped his shoulder into a ball carrier on one occasion, knocking the offensive player off of his center of gravity.

Ventrone position switch? We’ve seen him there throughout training camp, and it looks as though defensive back Ross Ventrone, listed as a safety, has settled into a cornerback position. Ventrone’s greatest value remains as a special teams coverage player.

Ridley catching on. We’ve talked about Stevan Ridley as an option to become the Patriots lead ball carrier in 2012. We also saw Tom Brady target him on back-to-back plays as a receiver. Ridley wasn’t a featured receiver in college at LSU (just 19 career catches), and although he isn’t the most natural catcher we’ve seen from the Patriots backfield in recent years, Ridley is an effective open-field runner.

Plays of note. Top draft choice Chandler Jones disrupted a screen pass from Brady during the team portion of practice, nearly snaring an interception. … During a 7-on-7 period, Deion Branch was on the receiving end of an arching spiral from Brian Hoyer. This one may have gone to the replay booth to see if Branch was able to touch down his second foot, but if it were ruled in bounds, that catch would have made the highlight reel. … Receiver Britt Davis made effective use of his big frame during a receiver vs. defensive back blocking drill, knocking his defender on his back. … Ryan Mallett and center Jamey Richard were each sent on penalty laps for a fumbled center-quarterback exchange.

Lloyd continues to shine. Receiver Brandon Lloyd has been arguably the top performer for the Patriots in training camp thus far, continuing to stretch the field and catch everything thrown his way. Here’s an opinion on what makes Lloyd unique, beyond his obviously strong hands. Lloyd is an extremely efficient strider -- there’s no lost steps in his routes. He sinks his hips in and out of breaks, and has exceptional ability to keep his weight underneath him -- he rarely finds himself off balance. As a route runner, Lloyd seems to keep the details on his mind at all times. We don’t know the exact assignment he’s drawn on every play, but it sure looks like he makes it to the right spot on every drill -- a 10-yard out means a 10-yard out, not 9.5. The results have been evident: Lloyd toasted the secondary for deep receptions on at least two occasions on Sunday.

Team moves the field. The Patriots worked a couple of “move the field” 7-on-7 periods. This involves the “chain gang” (a group of ball boys) progressing up the field on each play. This typically picks up the tempo and competition amongst the offense and defense. During said period, reserve quarterback Brian Hoyer was locked in.

Dennard remains out. Rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard remained out of action for the second straight day, nursing a hamstring injury suffered in Friday's practice. He was in a T-shirt and shorts on Sunday, rehabbing with the following group of players: wide receiver Jeremy Ebert; tight end Daniel Fells; offensive linemen Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Nick McDonald and Markus Zusevics; defensive lineman Myron Pryor; and safety Nate Ebner.

Linebacker Tracy White was not spotted at practice Sunday after reportedly not finishing Saturday's session because of an injury. Also not spotted were guard Brian Waters (did not report) and tight end Jake Ballard (ACL). Practicing for the fourth straight day in red jerseys were receiver Matthew Slater and safety James Ihedigbo, but both players were in pads and involved in contact Sunday.