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Camp Observations: Day 9

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots' practice in Friday's heat was highlighted by two more full-team fights, but it was also the team's final practice of the week before a day off on Saturday. Here are some observations from the full pads session:

Mayo receives the whistle. After a second scuffle between players, head coach Bill Belichick called the team together for a huddle. Upon the conclusion of his remarks, the players remained united for a continued huddle before getting back on the field for a final few minutes of work. The offense and defense worked against each other in a full-field two-minute drill, and for at least part of it, linebacker Jerod Mayo was using a whistle to signal the end of the plays. The 26-year old adopted a coach-on-the-field role of sorts, as it appeared the drill was run entirely by the players. The coaches largely stood pat on the sidelines. This could be a case where the players, not satisfied by what had just happened, took it upon themselves to finish practice on the right foot. If such was the case, that’s terrific leadership from Mayo, amongst others.

Williams practicing hard. Count defensive back Malcom Williams, a 2011 seventh-round draft choice, amongst the hardest-practicing Patriots. From a skill set standpoint, he appears to have good short area quickness, power for his size, and toughness. His shot to make this roster will come through special teams contributions.

Setting the edge. The tight ends worked against a group of defensive ends in a drill that mirrored an edge-setting situation. The takeaways: Rob Gronkowski remains overpowering, and looked confident on his surgically repaired ankle; Aaron Hernandez isn’t the biggest or strongest guy, but he put in a competitive effort; defensive end Aaron Lavarias showed solid strength to lock out.

Muffed punts. On back-to-back plays, Julian Edelman and Wes Welker muffed punts off the foot of Zoltan Mesko. In the case of Edelman, credit Sterling Moore – who had aligned as a gunner on the opposing punt team – for the distraction. Moore flew down the field, and Edelman’s attention was briefly diverted to measure up how close Moore had closed in on him. Welker, meanwhile, was late arriving to a ball kicked near the sidelines, and it redirected off his lower body out of bounds.

Handling punts and kicks. A nuance to returning kicks that isn’t often talked about is how a player fields the football with his hands. Most rely on a cradle technique, allowing the ball to drop into a basket-like set-up of their arms. Although uncommon, a handful of players have the ability to field the football over their head, almost like a baseball player fielding a fly ball. In a perfect world, many special teams coaches would prefer the overhead technique – something we saw Aaron Hernandez try at least once during the walk-thru portion of practice – and here’s why: catching the ball over the head allows the player to align in a staggered stance. This prevents them from having to take a step backwards when they field the kick. Those who cradle the football require one step backwards to re-set their center of gravity. Perhaps Hernandez will attempt to continue to field kicks overhead, something former Patriot Kevin Faulk did at points of his career.

Bequette dons the visor. Rookie defensive lineman Jake Bequette, who missed practice on Thursday, returned to the field wearing a tinted visor shield on his facemask. No word on whether this is related to his absence.

Gallery struggles. Veteran offensive lineman Robert Gallery has had no shortage of reps throughout training camp, but he’s struggled. From this vantage point, his athleticism seems to have diminished sharply, and he’s getting caught high in his stance from the snap. That’s preventing him to play from a stance in which he can be mobile enough to mirror his opponent. Competitiveness and toughness have never been an issue with Gallery, but his ability to get his hands on his defender and keep up with his rush has been below average so far.

Wilfork and Francis go bowling. During one-on-ones between the offensive and defensive lines, both Vince Wilfork and Justin Francis managed to bowl over their opponents during one rep of the drill. Francis, working from the edge, shoved towering left tackle Nate Solder flat on his behind, while Wilfork dismantled Gallery from the play’s outset. We noted Francis’ pop in a previous observations post. Today reaffirmed that.

Play of the day. Reserve quarterback Brian Hoyer and veteran receiver Jabar Gaffney hooked up for the play of the day on Friday, connecting on a deep pass down the middle of the field. Hoyer faked a handoff first, then a reverse, before dropping back for an arcing throw to Gaffney, who had worked a skinny post from the offense’s left side. Gaffney gets an additional tip of the cap, as he adjusted twice on the throw, first adjusting his view to look over his left shoulder before readjusting to look over his right shoulder and cradle the ball in.

Stallworth and physical play. Receiver Donte’ Stallowrth’s speed continues to show up, and he’s been sharp throughout much of camp. One thought on defending him, however: defenders who have been able to get their hands on Stallworth and be physical at the line of scrimmage have enjoyed some success. Stallworth’s forte isn’t his ability to break press coverage.

Vereen improves. Thought Shane Vereen had his best day of camp. Decisive in his runs, and nifty in route running from the backfield.

Attendance report. Players not spotted on the field: fullbacks Spencer Larsen (unknown) and Tony Fiametta (unknown); tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe (unknown), Daniel Fells (leg) and Jake Ballard (ACL); offensive linemen Brian Waters (did not report) and Matt Kopa (unknown); defensive linemen Jonathan Fanene (unknown); and linebacker Tracy White (unknown). ... Players in T-shirts and shorts: receiver Jeremy Ebert (leg); offensive linemen Logan Mankins (ACL), Sebastian Vollmer (back), and Markus Zusevics (pectoral); defensive lineman Myron Pryor (shoulder); and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring). ... Players remaining in red jerseys: receiver Matthew Slater and safety James Ihedigbo.