FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tuesday marked the final media-accessible organized team activity for the Patriots, held in t-shirts and helmets on the practice fields outside of Gillette Stadium. Passing along some notes and observations from the roughly 90-minute session.
Run game/screen game focus. While it's difficult to simulate running plays without the use of pads, the Patriots seemed to pay more attention to the running game on Tuesday than they did during either of the prior media-accessible OTA's. The key during these non-contact sessions is for linemen to visualize their blocking schemes and line up which defenders they would be responsible for in live action, while backs zone-in on precise cuts and hitting the right hole. Defensively, the focus is on playing proper gap/lane techniques and multiple defenders running to the football. In addition, the Patriots repped the screen game extensively. With 10 OTA's on the spring schedule, that gives teams plenty of days to focus on a variety of offensive aspects.
Aiken, Haslam stick out. A pair of players stood out with their movement skills and size on Tuesday: wide receiver Kamar Aiken and offensive tackle Kevin Haslam. Aiken has been with the team since last year, and the 6-2, 213 pound wideout has a very good frame and build for the position. He looks fluid, too. Haslam, meanwhile, is a recent addition, and he looked quick and smooth in his footwork, particularly in his pass sets. His ability to anchor against pass rushes has been an area to improve upon in previous seasons.
Open field touch-up drill. Contact is prohibited during OTA's, so we don't see anything close to tackling during this portion of the offseason. The Patriots ran a drill on Tuesday that is comparable to an open field tackling drill that they often employ during training camp, however, only defenders were charged with coming within an arm's length of runners, not actually contacting them (as they would in camp). The offensive player caught a pass, spun 180 degrees and ran down an alley of cones, working to avoid defenders. Danny Amendola stood out with decisive cuts and speed, while Leon Washington showed his impressive short area quickness.
Red zone focus. More work in the red zone today for the Patriots, an area that they will hope to improve upon from the last time they took the field in a game setting. We'll be interested in seeing how the receivers contribute in the red zone this year; the Patriots top two red zone targets, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, are currently working through offseason surgery recovery periods.
Tempo in focus as well. We also saw the Patriots pick up the tempo a little bit in 11-on-11 drills. They "moved the field" during 11-on-11 drills, meaning that rather than starting each play from the same yard line (as is often the case during drills), they worked up and down the field, which simulates game situations (downs and distances, red zone, goal line, plus territory, etc.). As the OTA's have passed, it appears the tempo has picked up as more of the playbook has been installed.
3-step, quick passing game. Last week we saw the Patriots focus quite a bit on the drop back and vertical passing game. That wasn't quite the case today, as they appeared to be working more on the timing and 3-step passing game. While drop back passes call for prolonged protection from the offensive line, the timing passing game requires precise routes and a quick decision from the quarterback. That helped the Patriots cruise past the Texans during a regular season matchup last season.
Sudfeld solid. Nice day of work for undrafted tight end Zach Sudfeld, who continues to look like a smooth pass catcher. Colleague Mike Reiss recently identified Sudfeld as an undrafted rookie of note, and Tuesday was a sharp effort. Given the injuries at the tight end position, Sudfeld should have a chance to compete for reps through training camp.
Field goal block work. Don't recall seeing this too much, but we've witnessed it at both of the past two OTA's: field goal block work. The Patriots work extensively on the field goal team each day at practice, but we've seen them rep field goal blocks too. Attention to such details can pay off, as many will recall that a blocked field goal played a pivotal role in the Patriots' playoff run during the 2001 season.
Additional coaches on the field. The Patriots had a pair of coaching guests on the field today, as former defensive lineman Anthony Pleasant looked on and shadowed current defensive line coach Patrick Graham. Pleasant served as the defensive line coach for the Chiefs each of the past three seasons. D.J. Hernandez, the older brother of Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, was also on the field. He's currently a graduate assistant coach at the University of Iowa.
Odds and ends. Not sure if it was a self-imposed punishment, but running back LeGarrette Blount took a lap after dropping a pass ... Steve Gregory came up with an interception off of a pass that appeared to catch Michael Jenkins off guard, grazing off his hands ... Catch of the day goes to Lavelle Hawkins, who reached back behind his body to haul a throw in ... Cornerback Ras-I Dowling had another good day of work, forcing a fumble and showing strong ball skills.