A few leftover thoughts from the Patriots' practice on Wednesday:
1. Hybrid players on D open options. Because the Patriots have versatile linebackers who fit in multiple roles (in some cases they could be defensive ends), it creates a scenario where the unit can alter its looks. That's by design. "It's great that we have so many guys that can do different things in the front seven," said 6-foot-2, 260-pound Rob Ninkovich, one of those hybrids. "That obviously is going to help change things up. That's the one thing about the NFL -- you can't stay in the same thing for too long because everyone is studying and doing their homework on what you're doing. The best thing is to change up and be multiple."
2. Sorting through some Jenkins & Dobson thoughts. The veteran know-how of Michael Jenkins, and perhaps Tom Brady's confidence in his experience and consistency in route-running, had him most often lined up with Danny Amendola as the top pairing in drills. Second-round pick Aaron Dobson has more upside as an outside receiver, and one can already see his knack for snaring contested passes, but the question is going to be how quickly he might be able to close the gap on Jenkins and show the consistency needed to earn his spot on the field. That's going to be a storyline to follow in training camp; the train moves fast and it can be a challenge for rookies to keep up.
3. Top four cornerbacks making plays on the ball. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Ras-I Dowling all had at least one pass breakup. One thing that stood out was their decisive breaks on the ball, with Dowling doing it on back-to-back plays. He's been one of the surprising performers of the two practices open to media members.
4. Wilson & Gregory at safety. Devin McCourty (shoulder) is not yet cleared for action, which had veterans Adrian Wilson and Steve Gregory as the top pairing at safety. Wilson's size (6-3, 230) provides a dimension that the Patriots didn't have last year. His presence looks like it could most affect safety Tavon Wilson, as one question entering his second season is if he might be ready to take on a larger role. The signing of Adrian Wilson could block his path, but at the same time give him a veteran presence to study closely and learn from.
5. Fletcher & Rivera benefit from Spikes' absence. With starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes the lone player not attending voluntary workouts, four-year veteran Dane Fletcher and second-year man Mike Rivera have seen an uptick in reps. At one point, when the tempo was picking up and there was an urgency to get the call from the sideline, Rivera seemed to be the player in control of things.
6. Lesser-known players who had us taking note. A few lesser-known players who showed up at various points included receivers Kamar Aiken (nice catch on a Ryan Mallett laser) and Kenbrell Thompkins (reps in running game drill opposite veteran Lavelle Hawkins), punter Ryan Allen (strong leg) and tight end Zach Sudfeld (lot of passes thrown his way).