FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On a picture perfect Friday morning, the New England Patriots held their third organized team activity of the week on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium (11 a.m.-12:45 p.m.), and the first OTA open to media members.
The goal was to learn more about the team after the OTA, which lasted about 1 hour and 40 minutes, and that has been accomplished.
Here are some of the things that stood out, with more to come a bit later:
1. Wilfork running and Vollmer in drills: Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (ruptured Achilles, Sept. 29) and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (broken ankle, Oct. 27) are two starters attempting to return from serious injuries last season. Wilfork was present with his teammates for the warm-up part of practice, taking up residence on the far left side of the jogging line (next to veteran defensive end Will Smith). He didn’t participate in any drills, but seeing Wilfork on the field was one of the main things we were looking for today because it indicates progress. Meanwhile, we had little idea of what to expect from Vollmer, and were surprised to see him not only in the warm-up part of practice, but also in other drills. It looked like he stayed out of the last part of practice, 11-on-11 drills, but overall it seems like he's come along nicely this offseason.
2. Cannon getting some LT work: We know not to read too much into things in a spring voluntary practice, as players are moved around based on the absences or limitations of others. Still, it seemed somewhat notable that four-year veteran Marcus Cannon took his reps at left tackle, a result of starter Nate Solder being held out of drills. When we think of Cannon, it’s usually through the lens of right tackle/right guard. Perhaps he factors into the mix as a swing possibility this season, providing some insurance on the left side as well. He started 12 games at left tackle at Texas Christian, but was primarily a right tackle in college (24 starts). Cannon has become a valuable lineman for the Patriots in recent years, and that stood out on the practice field.
3. Brady the coach: Watching quarterback Tom Brady work at his craft, and also push others, is the norm in this setting. We saw it again when receivers were running "go" routes against air (no defenders) and Brady wasn't pleased when several of them slowed down. Brady's booming voice could be heard across the practice fields, imploring the receivers to do better. Brady is as hard-driving in his approach as ever.
4. Lombardi and Belichick link. When media members arrived for practice, and players were going through their warm-up, Bill Belichick stood on the side of the field chatting with Michael Lombardi, whose official title is assistant to the coaching staff. Lombardi, the former Cleveland Browns general manager, has always been a trusted sounding board for Belichick, and that was visible for everyone to see at the start of practice.
5. Following up on our five. Leading into practice, we highlighted five players we wanted to follow up on based on their limitations in some form last season. Here is the rundown:
WR Danny Amendola -- Practiced in full and looked quick and decisive.
DT Armond Armstead -- Was on the field with his teammates, a sign that he is at a point that should put him in position to compete for a role as an interior pocket-pusher. He is still limited in his work.
WR Mark Harrison -- The first-year receiver who missed all of last season with a foot injury was on the field and practiced in full. He had one noticeable drop, but we’re not going to hold it against him in this setting. He hasn’t played football for a year and is clearly still getting back into the groove.
WR Josh Boyce -- Second-year receiver practiced in full.
TE D.J. Williams -- Top “move” tight end on the depth chart watched most of the practice from the sideline, likely because of some minor ailment.
6. Attendance report. Those not spotted on the practice field included cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, receiver Aaron Dobson (foot), defensive tackle Dominique Easley (knee), receiver Brandon LaFell, left guard Logan Mankins and special teams captain Matthew Slater. There was a second group of players that was present but limited in their work, such as Wilfork and tight end Rob Gronkowski, as expected.