Observations from Pats practice

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

Brief injury scare with CB Leigh Bodden. In 7-on-7 drills in the red zone, a tipped pass from quarterback Tom Brady resulted in a few flying bodies and cornerback Leigh Bodden was one of them. He hobbled off the field and trainer Jim Whalen was looking at his left leg. Bodden attempted to walk it off, and he returned to practice for a play or two, before calling it a day. Bodden did not take part in post-practice jogging with his teammates, instead staying on the sideline to stretch. It did not appear serious but it was a hold-your-breath type moment.

Who’s not here? Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez once again was among a group of players not practicing. Others included safety Brandon McGowan, offensive linemen Matt Light and Nick Kaczur, and defensive linemen Kade Weston and Ty Warren (he’s back in town). Meanwhile, offensive lineman Logan Mankins remained away from the team (contract dispute), while rookie receiver Taylor Price can not show up until Ohio graduates this weekend. Receiver Wes Welker once again went through similar drills as he has in recent practices.

Opportunity arises for Ron Brace. With starting left defensive end Ty Warren not practicing, 2009 second-round draft choice Ron Brace stepped in next to Vince Wilfork when the team was working in its base 3-4. This was a reminder that while Brace didn’t see much time during his rookie campaign (approximately 50 defensive snaps all season), he very much remains in the team’s plans.

Corwin Brown impact. At the end of practice, as the Patriots worked on field goals, safety Brandon Meriweather saddled up next to “safeties” coach Corwin Brown on the sideline. Meriweather previously talked about how he’s never had a “safeties” coach (Brown’s official title is defensive assistant coach), and this was one example of how Brown might be making an impact with Meriweather and the team’s other safeties. Meriweather has the potential to be a star (he made a terrific break on a ball thrown to the sideline in this practice, closing extremely quickly) and a coach like Brown – hired this offseason – will be counted on to bring out the best in him.

A closer look at kickoff returners. It seems that the Patriots pick one specific area of special teams to focus on each workout, and today it was the kickoff return game. Special teams coach Scott O’Brien spent time “broken down” with key wedge players, and then the entire unit came together. Matthew Slater, Brandon Tate, Kevin Faulk, Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty and Darius Butler were the six returners to work in the drill.

Tyrone McKenzie more than a run-stuffer. Patriots followers haven’t seen much of Tyrone McKenzie, the 2009 third-round draft choice who missed his rookie campaign with a torn ACL. His reputation is as a Ted Johnson-type run-stuffer who could be a first- and second-down type option, and then coming off the field in passing situations in favor of more speed. But that might be underselling McKenzie, who at one point in this practice was the lone inside linebacker on the field in a sub package. He should be one of the more interesting players to watch in training camp as we learn more about his skill set.

Good hands from Gary Guyton. Third-year veteran Gary Guyton, who continues to line up next to Jerod Mayo at inside linebacker, made one of the best plays of practice in 7 on 7 work inside the red zone. Quarterback Tom Brady threw a bullet across the middle, near the goal-line, and Guyton reached up over his head for the pick. Guyton is facing competition from Tyrone McKenzie, Thomas Williams and Brandon Spikes, and this was one play that was sure to get him noticed.

Receivers’ footwork challenged. The wet practice fields made things challenging for receivers when running routes that required them to plant and change direction. On one route, in which receivers cut into the middle of the end zone, planted, and then broke to the sideline, almost every receiver slipped as the timing between quarterbacks and pass-catchers was way off. Receivers had to work hard to maintain control.

Sebastian Vollmer works at left tackle. With tackles Matt Light and Nick Kaczur not present, second-year man Sebastian Vollmer worked on the left side, with Mark LeVoir stepping at right tackle. Vollmer had been at right tackle throughout organized team activities. He said on Wednesday that he is equally comfortable on both sides.