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Camp Observations: Day 21

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots held their third straight full-pads practice on Wednesday. Passing along some observations from the session.

Gaffney leaves early. During a repetition of 1-on-1's against a defensive back, receiver Jabar Gaffney pulled up with what appeared to be a right quad injury. He immediately took to the sidelines, where he was treated by members of the Patriots' training staff. He shed his pads but did not leave the practice field, which perhaps could be a sign that the severity of his injury is minor.

Defense stacks another solid day. The Patriots kept the Saints out of the end zone during their preseason opener, and the defense has been sharp in practice since. Once again the defense looked to get the better of the offense on Wednesday, with evidence mostly stemming from the defensive front smothering the offensive line. The Patriots were quick off the edge in pass rush, and were like sledge hammers up the interior of the defensive line. The defense is also playing with what looks like a tremendous amount of confidence and swagger. Communication on all three levels is apparent, and the players can be heard from the sidelines supporting their teammates after positive plays. After a string of three particularly dominant plays from the defense, quarterback Tom Brady was riled up and sternly encouraged his offensive teammates -- perhaps trying to signal to his huddle that it was time to pick it up.

Drops from receivers. We've mentioned it before -- a handful of times -- but the Patriots' receivers continue to drop too many passes. Julian Edelman missed a ball that he should have had, and Wes Welker was unable to extend for a throw outside of his frame over the middle. Drops seem to be a staple of training camps around the league, so perhaps the concern isn't quite as great.

Slater improving as wideout. One of the bright spots among the Patriots' receiving core is the development of special-teams ace Matthew Slater. Slater figures to make the team based on his special-teams merits alone, but his route-running, ball skills and execution all seem to be improving from the receiver spot. His straight-line speed is unquestionable -- he can fly -- and he may find a niche within this offense, be it as a downfield threat, running reverses, or otherwise.

Situational focus: field goal returns/pooch punts. Another day, another period dedicated to situational football. The Patriots focused on what looked like long-range end-of-game/end-of-half field goals. The field goal block team sent cornerback Devin McCourty deep into the end zone during the attempts, and practiced returning missed field goals (if the ball falls short on a field goal attempt, the defense can return it, like a free kick). Kicker Stephen Gostkowski also took a number of pooch punts, a tactic teams sometimes employ when lined up to take a long field goal.

Offensive wrinkle of the day. We've passed along a couple of offensive wrinkles that we have noticed in recent days, and Wednesday's edition features the appearance of a new offensive personnel group: two tight ends, three wide receivers, and no running backs. With Aaron Hernandez in the mix, the Patriots have a hybrid player that can align all over the offensive formation, including in the backfield. He was spotted during individual drills working with the running-backs group taking handoffs.

Bequette powers through. Rookie defensive end Jake Bequette started camp a little slowly, but has really picked it up in recent practices. Today, he showed some bullish power during 1-on-1's, nearly barreling over an offensive tackle. We've seen him align both inside and on the edge, and he could be a factor in the pass rush this season.

Fire zone? It may have been designed to give the offense a look it will see at some point during the season, but it appeared the Patriots executed a zone blitz that included sending defensive end Chandler Jones backpedaling into coverage. It looks like he's picking up more and more responsibility by the day.

Speaking of Jones... One aspect to Jones' frame that is impossible to ignore is his set of extremely long arms. He continues to overwhelm blockers with those arms, using them to leverage, counter and fight through what comes his way. Jones has impressive wire-strength through his arms and base, and catches eyes almost daily.

Bolden fields punts. Add punt returner to the list of potential duties undrafted free- agent running back Brandon Bolden could absorb. He fielded punts during a punt return period, and looked comfortable doing so.

Attendance report. Offensive lineman Logan Mankins, who was removed from the Active/PUP list on Sunday, was in full pads again, and increased his workload to include reps in both 1-on-1, 2-on-2, and team drills. Guard/center Dan Connelly remained a non-participant in the 1-on-1, 2-on-2, and team drills, however. ... Cornerback Malcolm Williams and safety James Ihedigbo were non-participants during practice. Both were spotted on the field yesterday. ... Players spotted rehabbing or watching practice were fullback Spencer Larsen (unknown); tight end Daniel Fells (leg); offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer (back), Kyle Hix (arm/shoulder) and Markus Zusevics (pectoral); defensive lineman Myron Pryor (shoulder); cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring); safety James Ihedigbo (unknown); and linebacker Tracy White. ... Players not spotted: tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) and Jake Ballard (ACL); offensive linemen Brian Waters (did not report) and Matt Kopa (ankle); defensive linemen Jonathan Fanene (unknown) and Gerard Warren (unknown); fullback Eric Kettani (calf?); and Malcolm Williams (unknown).