Spikes returns, Gronk sits out

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The return of linebacker Brandon Spikes, who missed the last week of practice and Thursday’s preseason opener against the Saints, was one of the most notable developments at the Patriots’ early-evening Sunday practice at training camp.

Meanwhile, the absence of tight end Rob Gronkowski also was of note. Gronkowski, who played in the preseason opener, came on to the field in sweatpants and a T-shirt and spent the session working with other rehabbing players.

Guard Logan Mankins, who was in uniform for the first time (an indication he is off the physically unable to perform list), participated in the individual portions of practice but not team drills.

In addition, defensive lineman Ron Brace returned to practice after missing the last week, as did reserve offensive lineman Dustin Waldron, while safety James Ihedigbo, fullback Eric Kettani, receiver Britt Davis and defensive back Malcolm Williams were held out.

The workout was held in shorts and shells (light shoulder pads). It was a slower pace.

A few quick observations:

Branch ups his workload. Veteran receiver Deion Branch, who was limited over the last week-plus, participated in team drills. Quarterback Tom Brady looked to him often, with mixed results (one nice catch; one drop).

Vereen’s pass-catching skills show up. Second-year running back Shane Vereen made one of the best plays of the practice, an over-the-shoulder catch in the back corner of the end zone in seven-on-seven drills. Quarterback Ryan Mallett delivered the nice throw.

Hightower with two picks. Rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower intercepted two passes.

Lot of drops today. Sloppy practice for the offense, with too many dropped passes.

More observations to come.