FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots held their first of two joint practices with the Saints on Tuesday. Here are some observations from the two-hour-plus, full-pads session:
Tight ends uncoverable. Though the Patriots offense endured struggles on Tuesday, the Saints were unable to find an answer for tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. That being said, the Patriots defense was unable to stay with Saints standout tight end Jimmy Graham throughout much of the day. We’ll later pass along Saints safety Roman Harper’s interesting breakdown of the three, which includes his thoughts on how they differ.
Opportunity period. The teams concluded practice with an opportunity session, pitting many of the Patriots' younger players against the Saints' young guys. Quarterback Ryan Mallett took the offensive reins, and probably as a result of the team’s thin depth at offensive tackle, Nate Solder was spotted on the field for a couple of reps as well. On the defensive side, linebacker Dane Fletcher and safety Steve Gregory had interceptions.
Hightower the re-router. Continue to be impressed with the re-route ability of rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower. It doesn’t take a massive strike from the 22-year-old to move a receiver off of his spot, rather his strength looks so forceful that if he’s able to get his hands on a receiver, he usually disrupts his timing.
Brady picked twice. Tom Brady had an uncharacteristically up-and-down day, throwing a pair of interceptions. One was during a 7-on-7 session in the red zone, when he fired a throw right into the frame of Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton. Later, safety Malcolm Jenkins hauled in a Brady overthrow during 11-on-11 drills.
Arrington’s tough day. Cornerback Kyle Arrington has been building off of his 2011 campaign and looked sharp so far in training camp, but he was twice beaten during live drills, once on a deep throw to Saints wide receiver Joseph Morgan.
Play of the day. Brady’s day wasn’t all bad, as he mixed in a number of his typically laser-tight spirals, including an arcing bomb down the left sideline that Hernandez snared with one hand.
Situational play. Situational football has been a point of emphasis for the Patriots in recent days, and the two teams made sure to get in plenty of situational work on Tuesday. Of primary focus was first- and second-down offense (which often involves a good deal of running plays), as well as some red-zone work and punting from deep in their own territory.
Special teams focus. One nuance of the punt/punt return drill the teams conducted that we picked up on that stood out: As a method to put each team’s respective gunners to the test, the punt return team played with 12 players on the field, with two vices/hold-up players covering each gunner, as well as eight players rushing up the middle.
Jones raises up. Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones continues to show solid signs in both individual and team work. During an early 11-on-11 rep, he wasn’t able to generate enough of an upward push toward the quarterback, but raised his arms in the air so as to disrupt the throw of Drew Brees. Though he didn’t deflect the pass on the first go-round, a second rep employing the same maneuver paid off, as he swatted a Brees throw at the line of scrimmage.
Wilson blitzes. Second-round safety Tavon Wilson has shown a knack for a particular skill throughout camp: blitzing. He has impressive timing, a skill that usually derives from strong instincts. He’s also shown himself to be a forceful player, which could translate into sacks this season.
Moore’s ball skills stand out. Hard not to take notice of Sterling Moore’s consistent ball skills. He got his hands on a number of passes, including an end zone deflection that somehow ended up dropping into the hands of Saints receiver Joshua Morgan, who had actually dropped to the ground. Tough break for Moore, but he continues to dislodge balls and force incompletions. From this vantage point, he’s shown tremendous timing on his break-ups and finishes every play. Defensive backs know that no ball is secure until the play is over, and Moore is persistent in his defense.
Welker’s speed. Receiver Wes Welker has looked fast over the past few days. His route-running will remain his bread and butter as a receiver, but his speed is yet another factor defenses must account for.
Stallworth’s in-cutting success. Donte’ Stallworth continues to wreak havoc on defenses on in-cutting routes. Some of this can be attributed to the offensive scheme around him, but not to be lost is Stallworth’s technique. He does a great job of flattening out his route at the top of his break, not giving the defense a chance to close in on him across the middle.
Double moves for Pats receivers. We saw a steady dose of double moves from the Patriots receivers during one-on-ones, and it led to quite a bit of success. Not surprisingly, Brandon Lloyd’s technique stood out. His ability to deceive defenders with his footwork and body leveraging is unique.
Holley as a gunner. Receiver Jesse Holley is likely a long shot for the final roster, but he flashed as a gunner during special teams drills. That’s his best avenue onto the roster.
Attendance report. Safety James Ihedigbo returned to action after watching Monday's session from the sideline. ... Rookie receiver Jeremy Ebert, who was removed from the active/PUP list on Sunday, and defensive back Derrick Martin were able to practice in full pads for the first time. ... Players not spotted on the field: fullback Spencer Larsen (unknown); tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe (unknown) and Jake Ballard (ACL); offensive linemen Brian Waters (did not report), Kyle Hix (arm/shoulder), Darrion Weems (leg/knee), and Matt Kopa (unknown); defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene (unknown); and linebackers Tracy White (unknown) and Brandon Spikes (unknown) ... Players in T-shirts and shorts: defensive lineman Ron Brace (unknown); tight end Daniel Fells (leg); offensive linemen Logan Mankins (ACL), Sebastian Vollmer (back) and Markus Zusevics (pectoral); defensive lineman Myron Pryor (shoulder); and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring).