Observations from Patriots practice

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Observations from the Patriots’ organized team activity Monday at Gillette Stadium:

Aaron Hernandez among those not practicing. Now into their third week of organized team activities, the Patriots appear to have a few players with physical ailments keeping them off the field. Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez was not on the field today. Meanwhile, guard Logan Mankins continues to stay away from workouts because of displeasure with his contract. Others not spotted at practice: Cornerback Leigh Bodden, safety Brandon McGowan, offensive tackle/guard Nick Kaczur, rookie receiver Taylor Price, and defensive linemen Kade Weston, Kyle Love and Ty Warren. It is important to note that these workouts are voluntary and it’s possible some of the veterans are not present. Also, Price can not be in attendance because Ohio has yet to graduate, while Warren is working toward his degree.

Multiple receivers vs. sub packages. This practice had a heavy emphasis on multiple receiver packages against the team’s extra defensive back packages. With starting right corner Leigh Bodden not on the field for practice, first-round pick Devin McCourty lined up opposite Darius Butler at an outside position. McCourty brings good size to the position, while Butler looks quick. Butler intercepted a floating Tom Brady sideline pass intended for Julian Edelman in 11 on 11 work, undercutting Edelman with a strong burst to the ball.

Significant time spent on special teams. For all the talk about Bill Belichick working more with the defense, at one point in practice he spent an entire session with special teams players. This practice had a lot of special teams work, specifically for players in the vice (those who block the gunner on the punt-return unit). Players in the vice were instructed to keep their hands behind their back and slide their feet. Also, punt returners Julian Edelman, Buddy Farnham, Brandon Tate and Kevin Faulk had the tough task of catching punts with a football already in their grasp.

Tom Brady and being precise. One aspect that stood out from this practice was how precise Tom Brady wants his receivers to run routes. He talks to them throughout the practice. It’s a practice like this that crystallizes why Brady likes having David Patten on the field, as “Chief” always seems to be in the right place. Meanwhile, it’s a work in progress with second-year receiver Brandon Tate, who lined up opposite Randy Moss and Julian Edelman and is getting coached up quite a bit by Brady.

A chance to assess depth on the interior of the line. With left guard Logan Mankins not present, and Nick Kaczur – who lined up at left guard last week -- also not on the field, this was a good chance to see how the Patriots view some of their interior backups. Dan Connolly took the reps at left guard. George Bussey, a 2009 fifth-round draft choice, was the next man in. That might have been viewed as bad news for 2009 fourth-round draft choice Rich Ohrnberger, but it was later learned that Ohrnberger is limited as he recovers from an undisclosed ailment.

Thomas Williams shows up on film. It’s early, but those looking for a sleeper candidate to follow in training camp, Thomas Williams is one name to file away. The second-year linebacker once again worked a bit at fullback. Then, in late-practice work with the less-experienced players, he deflected a Zac Robinson pass intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski. Those are the type of plays that should show up when coaches re-watch the practice tape.