FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots held a full-pads practice Sunday, and here are some observations from the session that was held in hot, humid and windy conditions:
Situational football practice. Bill Belichick noted in his pre-practice press conference that the team would focus on situational football, and it was apparent throughout the session. The team worked extensively on down-and-distance situations during 11-on-11 drills, as well as a heavy emphasis on the offense working from deep in its own territory. With the first preseason game just four days out, these situations could come to life in game action very soon.
Defending the run. Should the Patriots roll out Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes as their trio of starting linebackers, it looks like the unit will be ready to play stout run defense. All three show a very good willingness to take on contact, good fundamentals in fitting blocks, power to shed them, and toughness at the point of contact.
Lloyd fundamental in his routes. We’ve written at length on Brandon Lloyd’s hot start at training camp, which has included a number of long-range receptions from Tom Brady. One thought on why Lloyd continues to find himself open and in the right spot down the field: He does an excellent job of keeping his head and torso down the field until he absolutely needs to turn to look for the ball. That allows him to keep his speed down the field and on the path of the ball. As a receiver, it’s natural and instinctual to want to look back for the ball, but often throws a route out just enough to put the ball out of reach. Lloyd’s fundamentals continue to impress.
Direct snap. Speaking of fundamentals, one underrated area that the Patriots seem to excel at is shotgun snapping. The effort is led by veteran Dan Koppen, who earned praise about his snapping ability from Brady in a recent interview, and the remainder of the Patriots centers do well for themselves too. This observation comes on the heels of recent remarks from new Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, who stated he was “very concerned” about his team’s center/quarterback exchanges, with specific mention of poor shotgun snaps.
Francis continues to show-up. Undrafted rookie free agent Justin Francis, a defensive lineman from Rutgers, continues to show up all over the field. He’s been an active rusher during 1-on-1 drills, showing power to drive through his opponents' anchor, quickness from the edge and closing in on the quarterback, and unique ability to bend in his movements. He may be a little bit of a tweener between end and tackle based on his frame (6-foot-2, 278 pounds), but he continues to makes plays, both on defense and special teams.
Trevor Scott’s decisiveness. Veteran Trevor Scott has slowed after an impressive start to training camp, and here’s a thought as to what may have changed: his decisiveness. More accurately, what looks like a lack of it. During 1-on-1 drills and live pass rushing situations, Scott appears to get stuck in the mud mid-move, not being able to decide whether to use his quickness, speed, power, or technique to find the quarterback.
Move of the day. Third-round draft pick Jake Bequette was surgical in bursting past Nate Solder in a rep of 1-one-1 pass rushing drills, using a nifty move in which he chopped with both of his hands onto the punch of Solder, who was backing into his anchor. The chop threw Solder’s set off-balance, and Bequette sped around the edge.
Waldron shows up. Dustin Waldron was claimed off the waiver wire recently, and perhaps thought to be more of a camp body than a candidate to stick around for a while. It’s too soon to tell what his fate will be, but he’s shown some ability through his first few practices. What’s stuck out? His size and strength.
Covering up backs. Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones has done a little bit of everything so far in his first training camp, including finding himself in man coverage of a running back on a wheel route from the backfield on Sunday. It’s not uncommon for defenses to put their ends in a position to cover running backs man-to-man, especially during designed blitzes that incorporate linebackers. Perhaps no running back is more difficult to keep up with than the Saints’ Darren Sproles, who we’ll see in practice starting on Tuesday. It’s possible we’ll see Jones, as well as the other Patriots defensive ends and linebackers, in coverage of Sproles at some point during practice or the preseason game on Thursday night.
Vereen building. Another strong day for running back Shane Vereen. He may not overtake Stevan Ridley as the Patriots’ top running back, but it looks like he’s not going away in the three-man running back competition.
Young assistants. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio will once again address the media on Monday. It wasn’t long ago that he was a young member of the team’s personnel department, and he has since risen through the ranks of the organization. Watching practice, it’s hard not to take notice of new members of the Patriots organization who are all in the beginning stages of their careers. This list includes Belichick’s son Steve (and also his youngest son Brian, who is spending training camp with team before the school year begins), Mick Lombardi (son of former NFL executive Mike Lombardi), and Chris Simms, the former NFL quarterback. Belichick's track record of drafting and developing young talent is well documented, and he also has had success with young coaches/executives as well.
Attendance report. Rookie receiver Jeremy Ebert participated in individual drills, a sign that he is off the physically unable to perform list. He is not yet allowed to work in full pads. ... Players not spotted on the field: fullback Spencer Larsen (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 lineman Jonathan Fanene (unknown); and linebacker Tracy White (unknown). ... Players in T-shirts and shorts: defensive lineman Ron Brace (unknown), offensive linemen Logan Mankins (ACL), Sebastian Vollmer (back), and Markus Zusevics (pectoral); defensive lineman Myron Pryor (shoulder); and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring). ... Receiver Matthew Slater and safety James Ihedigbo shed their red non-contact jerseys for the first time. ... Offensive tackles Darrion Weems (leg/knee) and Kyle Hix (arm) did not finish practice because of injuries. ... Defensive lineman Kyle Love didn't finish practice after apparently getting poked in the eye.