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Practice report: Day 1 of Tampa week

The Patriots returned to the practice fields Monday after two days off. Joint practices with the Buccaneers begin Tuesday afternoon. Colm O'Molloy/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots returned to work on Monday afternoon on the practice field outside of Gillette Stadium for a workout in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts. Today is the only day that the team will practice alone, as joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers commence on Tuesday afternoon.

Several players who did not travel to Philadelphia for joint practices with the Eagles before the preseason opener were back on the field today, including offensive linemen Dan Connolly, Kevin Haslan and Tyronne Green, cornerback Ras-I Dowling, wide receiver Michael Jenkins and safety Nate Ebner. In addition, quarterback Ryan Mallett, who was shaken up during Friday's win over Philadelphia, was back on the practice field.

Jason Vega was the only new absence from practice, joining defensive linemen Armond Armstead and Jermaine Cunningham, wide receiver Mark Harrison, tight end Rob Gronkowski and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon among those not participating.

Alfonzo Dennard, Dowling and Jenkins were minimal participants in practice, spending much of the session working with the team's strength and conditioning staff. Green and Haslam got plenty of work on the stationary bike as well.

It was a shorter practice than the team has conducted throughout much of training camp, with extensive work on situational football.

Here are some more observations:

1. With both Dowling and Dennard limited in practice (they spent much of the session working with members of the team's strength and conditioning staff on a separate field), the Patriots were thin at the cornerback position. That opened the door for safety Devin McCourty to take some cornerback reps (he was still in the red noncontact jersey), something we've also seen in recent practices. Our read on it: With so many players nursing injuries at the position, it's just one way to get McCourty some reps on a just-in-case basis. His versatility is a critical component to the secondary. We still expect him to stay hunkered down at safety.

2. We often hear the phrase "stringing them together" when Patriots players talk about their positive performances; they don't want to be up one day and down the next; it's about consistency. Quarterback Tom Brady is in a groove right now, as he was, once again, a top performer, particularly during early seven-on-seven drills in the middle of the field. He's strung together a handful of strong days of work.

3. The Patriots had an opportunity to run their two-minute offense at the conclusion of the first half on Friday night, and they worked extensively again on end-of-half/game situations on Monday. Following the game on Friday night, Bill Belichick expounded upon how much opportunity work the team ran into during the game, an invaluable learning tool for the regular season.

4. Another good day catching the football for tight end Daniel Fells, who continues to look comfortable patrolling the slot in the red zone. Fells doesn't have the elite athleticism to generate extensive separation, but he's a capable catcher with good feel for tight-window throws. Brady found him on at least a couple of occasions for scores.

5. LeGarrette Blount looked like much more than a bruiser on Friday night, dashing for a 51-yard score and adding another touchdown later. Though we've seen him work on the kickoff-return team as an up man (the player adjacent to the returner), we even saw him take a rep as a returner on Monday (on a miss-hit kick). There aren't too many 250-pound players who can return kicks.