Notes from Patriots minicamp

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots began Day 2 of mandatory minicamp. The AFC East blog was there to take in all the action.

Here are some notes and observations:

  • It was a good day for the offense, which was what I expected. Quarterback Tom Brady and the first team looked sharp and made a lot of players, although Brady wouldn't admit it. Receiver Wes Welker made several nice plays in team drills, including two deep touchdown passes from Brady. I also saw the two connect on a similar pattern that Welker dropped in the Super Bowl in seven-on-seven work. On Wednesday it went for a big gain.

  • There was some talk about the signing of tight end Jake Ballard off waivers from the defending champion New York Giants. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said any of the 31 teams had a right to claim Ballard when he became available. But New York was trying to get the injured tight end through waivers after he tore his ACL and had microfracture surgery. The Patriots do not need depth at tight end this year, but Ballard is a good player who might be able to help in the future. Belichick said he’s unsure of a timetable for when Ballard can return but he faces a long recovery.

  • Speaking of injured tight ends, New England Pro Bowler Rob Gronkowski was at practice but didn't participate. He walked around fine, from what I could see. It appears "Gronk" is definitely making progress.

  • One of the more underrated competitions in New England is at kick returner. Running back Danny Woodhead, corner Devin McCourty and receivers Julian Edelman and Donte' Stallworth were among the players getting a look in practice. New England's kick return game wasn't great last year and needs a boost from some combination of these players.

  • The defensive play of the day came from Patriots rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower. In team drills, Hightower picked off Patriots backup quarterback Brian Hoyer in stride and returned the interception about 20 yards before the play was stopped. Hightower showed a good ability to read, react and make a play.

  • There was plenty of star power at New England's practice. Retired MLB coach Tony La Russa, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and DeMaurice Smith of the NFLPA were present.