FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Wrapping up the 21st day of training camp and the key storylines:
Gronk, Hernandez, Lloyd return. The trio of potent Patriots weapons returned to the field Wednesday after each missed time in recent days. Gronkowski's and Hernandez's return meant the presence of veteran tight ends back on the field, as the team was down to just rookie Tyler Urban and converted tight end Alex Silvestro at the position. Neither tight end showed any signs of rust or wear, and it's possible the team was simply easing the workload for each. Receiver Brandon Lloyd looked fine as well, and the team might be opting for a conservative approach with respect to the veteran target and any potential issues he might be dealing with.
No roster moves. We thought the Patriots might make a move to fill the open roster spots available after Monday's transactions, but the team remains at 88 players. The Patriots are juggling some depth issues along the offensive line and could be interested in adding a body there, as well as at fullback, where both Eric Kettani and Spencer Larsen remain sidelined.
Defense rises up again. If we were to declare a winner of each practice, Wednesday's would be the defense. Once again the unit looked strong, and communication appeared to be on point throughout the group. After holding the Saints to just six points in the preseason opener and stringing together productive stretches, the defense looks to be building confidence.
Pads remain on. For the third straight day, the Patriots practiced in full pads. That typically lends itself to more productive practices, and the team seems to be taking advantage of the extended workweek between preseason games. Don't be surprised to see a practice in shells tomorrow.
Belichick, Brady talk about taking risks. Bill Belichick doesn't always deliver lengthy answers during news conferences, but he did so on Wednesday for a question relating to taking risks in practice (specifically intended about Ryan Mallett but opened up to a more general observation about quarterbacks). His answer is worth a read. Quarterback Tom Brady piggybacked the thought and also offered some neat insight.
Quote of the day. "There's nothing better than playing football. To think we get paid to do this is a pretty good gig." -- quarterback Tom Brady. The 35-year-old's passion, as well as his appreciation for his job, is clear.
Star performer. Running back Shane Vereen. The second-year man continues to see more reps and looks to be building confidence as well. He is a threat as a receiver. Honorable mention goes to Logan Mankins.
Tough day at the office. Offensive tackle Darrion Weems. We saw too much of Weems running around goal posts as penalties for mistakes he made on the field.
Storyline to monitor. Receiver Jabar Gaffney left practice with a right quad injury. His timetable to return is unclear at this point, and his absence could open up opportunities for others within the Patriots' receiver competition. Let's see if one is able to step up.
Rookie watch. Chandler Jones was spotted dropping deep into coverage on what looked like a zone blitz. Impressive stuff to see him turn his hips and run. ... Dont'a Hightower looks like a quick learner, and rarely seems to be out of position. ... Defensive lineman Justin Francis roared around the edge during a pass-rush drill. ... Defensive end Jake Bequette also impressed during one-on-one pass rushing, showing solid power. ... Jeremy Ebert dropped a punt. It's a new skill for him to learn and looks like a work in progress. ... Nate Ebner looked comfortable again on defense.