What stood out from Patriots' OTA

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots held their ninth organized team activity on Thursday, and it was the third overall OTA open to reporters. The practice was held on the two fields behind Gillette Stadium in dry, cooler conditions.

Here were some notable developments:

Big Vince steps it up into 11-on-11s. One of the final steps for players returning from serious injuries is to give them clearance to participate in 11-on-11 drills. Because of the volume of players on the field, and the increased chance there could be a falling player that lands on a leg, ankle or foot, recovering players are often held out of 11-on-11s. That’s why the presence of defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (ruptured Achilles, Sept. 29) in some 11-on-11 work today was our biggest takeaway. He looks to be moving well, as we noticed him pushing off hard and exploding forward to put pressure on the left side of the offensive line. Wilfork didn’t participate in the full practice, but it seemed like a significant step. “Just seeing him back out there is a very, very big asset; it’s great,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said afterwards. “Having him in front of you is like a big force field, especially being a linebacker, but for the team as well.”

With no Mallett, extended work for Garoppolo. With No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett not at practice, it allowed rookie Jimmy Garoppolo (second round, 62nd overall) extended repetitions and some one-on-one time with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (pre-snap reads and communication appeared to be a focus). In addition to his quick release, Garoppolo has a fluid throwing motion that looks effortless at times. He’s obviously learning on the job, and there was a noticeable difference in the smoothness in which the Tom Brady-led offense marched down the field in end-of-practice 11-on-11 drills compared to some of the stops and starts when it was Garoppolo’s turn. But Garoppolo also made a few excellent throws in 7-on-7 red zone work. He was the last player off the practice field, spending some extra time with newly signed receiver Jeremy Johnson.

Solder’s return helps solidify the O-line. The Patriots have been a bit thin at offensive tackle, but Nate Solder’s return to practice on the left side provided a boost. He worked throughout the practice and didn’t seem restricted in any form. The same was true for fellow starter Sebastian Vollmer, the right tackle who also took some repetitions at left tackle, a sign that his recovery from a broken ankle (Oct. 27) is going well. Vollmer was among a group of players speaking with reporters after practice and he confirmed as much. There were multiple combinations utilized on the offensive line in this practice, which is the norm as the coaching staff builds versatility. At times, what could have been viewed as the starting offensive line worked in front of Garoppolo, while what could have been viewed as more second-unit personnel protected Brady.

Revis tested a bit more. A few more footballs were thrown in the direction of cornerback Darrelle Revis, with receiver Julian Edelman catching one along the right sideline in 7-on-7 work. On one play in red zone passing drills, Revis and receiver Danny Amendola appeared to get caught up with each other, and Revis hit the ground before getting up a bit slowly. He didn’t seem pleased at the time but continued to practice with no restrictions.

Special-teams segment focuses on beating wedge. Every Patriots practice has a special-teams focus and today’s was beating the wedge. That gave us a chance to focus on some of the lesser-known players on the roster who could be counted on with special teams in mind. Those include defensive back Kanorris Davis, safety Nate Ebner, linebacker Chris White, defensive end Zach Moore, linebacker Cameron Gordon, safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Ja’Gared Davis, defensive end Michael Buchanan, safety Shamiel Gary, linebacker Josh Hull and linebacker Darius Fleming. Moore, the sixth-round draft choice from Concordia with top physical traits, probably didn’t cover many kicks in college but it could be something he’s asked to do in the NFL.

'Coach Brady' a treat to watch. While most of the team was on the second field working on kickoff coverage, quarterback Tom Brady spent time with receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on the other field as they focused on end zone routes. The precision in which Brady wants his receivers to run routes was apparent, as was Brady’s willingness and ability to communicate in a coach-like fashion. Those are the times when you sort of take a step back as an observer and say, “It’s fun to watch one of the best who ever played the game working at his craft in such a manner.” Brady looked on his game today, and second-year receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce also caught our eye with multiple catches.

Armstead mystery continues. Defensive tackle Armond Armstead, the highly-touted prospect from the Canadian Football League who was viewed as a top-three player on the depth chart by the coaching staff entering 2013 training camp, was once again absent from practice. He had been spotted during the first week of OTAs, but not last week and today. These practices are voluntary, so there is a danger of reading too much into an absence, but Armstead doesn’t seem to be building the same type of momentum as some other players who are coming from injuries/health ailments.

Keeping tabs on others not present or limited in participation. In addition to Armstead and Mallett, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, receiver Aaron Dobson, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and receiver Brandon LaFell were players not spotted. Those who were on the field but limited included cornerback Justin Green, tight end Rob Gronkowski, linebacker Deontae Skinner, receiver Matthew Slater and tight end D.J. Williams.