Day 6 practice observations

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Passing along our observations from Thursday's practice, the fourth straight day the Patriots have worked in full pads. More notes spotlighting one-on-one pass-rushing drills are forthcoming from colleague Mike Reiss.

1. There was a heavy emphasis on situational work, which is something we'd expect with the first preseason game just eight days away. The Patriots not only focused on specific offensive down and distances (3rd-and-3, 2nd-and-7, etc.), but they also worked through a number of less common situations that could come up during the course of the season. For example, they worked on a punt following a safety, punts from the back of their own end zone, and a pooch punt. The team also worked at an up-tempo clip throughout many of the 11-on-11 periods, often playing music to simulate crowd noise.

2. Though Devin McCourty seems firmly entrenched as the starting free safety, we did see him do some work at cornerback during two-on-two coverage drills. Not sure we'd read anything into this other than seeing it as an opportunity to work on man coverage, something he'll continue to do as a free safety.

3. Cornerback Ras-I Dowling left practice early with an unspecified injury, spending the rest of the session on the sideline and near members of the team's training staff. Running back Brandon Bolden, who returned after a one-day absence, and offensive lineman Elvis Fisher spent part of practice working on the stationary bikes.

4. Top draft choice Jamie Collins continues to show off ball-disruption skills. He forced two fumbles during drills, including one in an open-field tackling drill. Collins has shown a knack for well-timed punches and rips at the ball when attempting to take a runner down. His unique length helps him in this regard. Collins also had a mini dust-up with tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, though it didn't materialize into much.

5. One more note on Julian Edelman: Early in practice, the quarterbacks and offensive skill players take part in a "pat-and-go" drill in which a quarterback pats the football, signaling for the skill player to run down the field before he arcs a throw to him. Tom Brady, perhaps as a preservation method, would throw to the first two receivers in line, then allow an assistant equipment manager to throw to the remaining receivers, except Edelman. Brady, who has always spoken highly of Edelman's work ethic, stepped up to throw to Edelman when he was up in the drill.

6. Rookie Duron Harmon earned some work with the top defensive group on Thursday, but his presence has been most notable on special teams. He was part of the kickoff team during special-teams drills today, and it's a reminder that a player like him -- who plays at a position that is crowded with depth -- may well make his biggest mark as a core special-teams player early in his career.

7. Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham did not finish practice, and observers say that he was getting his knee looked at by team medical personnel. We'll continue to monitor his status in the coming days.

8. First time we've seen -- at least that we can recall -- rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce working as a kickoff returner, which he did as a member of the scout team. Perhaps this is an area where he'll get more work down the line.

9. We've written previously about the value of having Brian Daboll on the offensive staff to serve as a tutor of sorts for quarterback Tim Tebow. Same goes for director of player personnel Nick Caserio, a former coach who continues to work on the field with players. He's been spotted assisting with some of the team's younger wideouts.

10. Ben Bartholomew, a college fullback at Tennessee, got some work as a tight end today. That's perhaps just as much a reflection of how the fullback position isn't a particularly prominent part of the offense as it his skill set. That was the case in 2012 as well, as the Patriots went without a fullback for much of the season.

11. Play of the day goes to rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who hauled in a long play-action pass from Brady. Thompkins effectively took the top off of the defense, something the team lacked in 2012. He plays faster than his timed speed (4.54 in the 40).

12. Rookie linebacker Steve Beauharnais has been solid in tackling drills in camp, and he showed up in red-zone defense today, picking off Brady on a throw intended for Danny Amendola.