PHILADELPHIA -- The Patriots and Eagles were back at it on Wednesday, working together for just over two hours across the four practice fields outside of the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia.
Below are some of our observations from the session, the final major work day before the teams square off in preseason action this Friday.
1. The offense wasn't quite as sharp as it was on Tuesday, but there were stretches during which it stood out. The biggest takeaway from this vantage point was the effectiveness of the vertical passing game. The Patriots have a pair of long field-stretchers in Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, something they were less reliant on last season. Julian Edelman was also targeted on a deep throw from Tom Brady on Wednesday, and though he has the straight line speed to test a defense vertically, Dobson and Thompkins' size and catch radius make them more adept to contest 50-50 balls down the field than Edelman. On successive plays during an 11-on-11 period, Thompkins and Dobson had catches over the top of the Eagles secondary.
2. More emphasis on red zone work today than we saw on Tuesday, starting in the 1-on-1 drills. We saw the teams focus on competitive catch situations specifically, with quarterbacks repping fade and corner routes. During the early goings of 1-on-1s, Dobson had some struggles getting off of press coverage, though his length allowed him to track the ball well. One player that has done well in competitive catch situations throughout camp is undrafted rookie wide receiver Quentin Sims. He's a big target at 6-foot-3, 202 pounds.
3. All three returned to practice and appeared fine, but Kyle Arrington, Dobson and fellow rookie receiver Josh Boyce all left the field momentarily for attention from the team's trainers. It looked like a calf issue for Dobson, while Arrington may have taken a cleat to his right ankle. It was unclear what Boyce was dealing with.
4. One of the things that the Eagles' unique offense could force front-seven players to do is play more in space and in coverage, as Rob Ninkovich did on Wednesday. The ability to perform a variety of roles from one play to the next makes him among the most invaluable Patriots defenders.
5. Without tackling, it's difficult to effectively evaluate offensive and defensive linemen, but defensive tackle Marcus Forston continues to look quick, nimble and in good shape. He flashed during team drills and looks to be right in the mix among the defensive tackles to start next to Vince Wilfork.
6. Brandon Spikes became a difference-maker for the Patriots in 2012 due in large part to his ability to force turnovers. On Wednesday he managed a strip of Eagles running back Chris Polk, dislodging the ball as Polk was working laterally toward the sideline.
7. Heady play by Logan Mankins during a team drill, making contact with an Eagles defensive lineman who had jumped into the neutral zone before the snap and was trying to retreat back to his side of the line of scrimmage before the snap. With game officials once again at practice, the play was blown dead as the guilty Eagles defender was flagged for a neutral zone infraction.
8. The "rub" route concept is a staple of most NFL playbooks, particularly near the goal line. The gist of the route combination is having two receivers aligned to one side of the formation, with the outside receiver running a slant and the inside (slot) receiver running an out-breaking route toward the sideline. The idea is for the two to rub off of each other and have the players defending them cross paths. The hope is that one of the two receivers will break free from man coverage, often times with the first read toward the out-breaking wideout. Near the end of practice, the Patriots were hoping to connect with Danny Amendola on an out from the rub concept, but it looked like Dobson got caught up by his defender, causing a traffic jam at the mesh point of the routes.
9. The Eagles have shown some read-option looks throughout training camp, and the thought crossed our mind that these practices now will serve as good preparation for the regular season, as the Patriots may play six games against divisional opponents that can run the read option. From the sound of things in New York and Buffalo, the Jets and Bills will have some read option elements to their offenses (particularly if their respective rookies win the starting job), while Ryan Tannehill is an exceptional athlete capable of doing the same for Miami.
10. Safety thoughts: We wondered during the offseason whether the Patriots would find a way to use Adrian Wilson as a coverage linebacker in their dime defensive package. We saw some three-safety looks on Wednesday, something that could open up that possibility. ... Tavon Wilson has had some struggles in camp, while rookie Duron Harmon has appeared to get more reps of late. Perhaps he can leapfrog up to the fourth safety spot on the depth chart.
11. 1-on-1 notes: Tight end Zach Sudfeld made one of the more acrobatic catches of the day, deflecting a pass in the corner of the end zone to himself and hauling it in. He was solid for a second straight day, but did have a couple of drops to go along with the standout catch. ... Amendola started off the 1-on-1s in style, reaching up and over Patrick Chung for a slick catch on a throw from Brady. He continues to impress.