Observations from Patriots camp: Day 12

RICHMOND, Va. – Observations from the New England Patriots ninth practice of training camp, which was held in full pads with the Washington Redskins:

Throwback feel at joint practice: Safety Devin McCourty said getting off the bus and walking on to the practice field felt a little bit like he was back in high school. McCourty and several other teammates seemed pleased with the work against Washington, with defensive lineman Vince Wilfork saying, “We had no problems. We worked well together. It was a physical practice.” Cornerback Darrelle Revis said he had never practiced against another team but liked the atmosphere. “It’s almost like game speed,” he said. Getting accustomed to the wet practice fields, with grass that wasn’t as long as the Gillette Stadium fields back home, was an adjustments players said they had to make. The heat and humidity rose toward the end of practice.

Top offense slices through Washington defense: There was one point late in practice when the Patriots went to a version of their up-tempo offense, and quarterback Tom Brady was simply at a higher level. Receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola also seemed to have solid practices, often on the receiving end of Brady deliveries. I asked two veteran NFL reporters/analysts what they thought after practice and their feeling was that the Patriots showed they were in a different class than Washington throughout the practice. I didn’t necessarily come away with as strong of an opinion, in part because I thought the offensive line struggled in pass-rush drills.

Focusing on the offensive line in 1-on-1 drills: With two sets of pass-rush drills going on at the same time -- Patriots rushers vs. Washington offensive line and Patriots offensive line vs. Washington rushers -- a choice had to be made which area to watch. We picked the offensive line, because that’s one of our greatest areas of interest. The Redskins edge rushers had the overall edge, which isn’t a huge surprise considering Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are excellent players and there isn't a huge film-study element to these practices. Orakpo gained the edge on left tackle Nate Solder twice. I think Solder was a little surprised at Orakpo’s quickness. On the interior, rookie Bryan Stork remains sidelined and so Ryan Wendell, Braxston Cave and Jordan Devey took snaps at center. Wendell vs. Barry Cofield was a good matchup, with Cofield lining up shaded off Wendell’s right shoulder. Wendell hung tough in what I’d call two stalemates, while it looked like right guard Dan Connolly had arguably the most success of anyone on the interior, perhaps because he wasn’t facing big-time competition in thwarting Jarvis Jenkins and Clifton Geathers. Second-year player Chris Barker also hung tough. Rookies Jon Halapio and Cameron Fleming took some lumps, getting knocked out of their pass-blocking sets at times.

Extended reps for backup tight ends: Tight end Rob Gronkowski wasn’t present for the joint practices, which isn’t a huge surprise. He isn’t expected to play in Thursday’s preseason opener and has participated only in individual drills in training camp. In his joint-practice setting which has less individual work and more New England vs. Washington drills, Gronkowski wouldn’t be doing much other than standing on the sideline. With his absence, along with top backup Michael Hoomanawanui not practicing, it gave extended reps to five-year veteran D.J. Williams and undrafted rookies Justin Jones and Asa Watson. The 6-foot-8 Jones made a nice catch near the end of practice, reaching behind him to snare a Jimmy Garoppolo pass up the right seam.

Cleaning out the notebook: At one point in practice, Miami alums Wilfork and Brandon Meriweather caught up on the sideline for an extended period of time, while not far away, Tom Brady and DeAngelo Hall had a long conversation. … Saw a little more of linebacker Dont'a Hightower rushing the passer in this practice. … Marcus Cannon worked at both tackle spots after spending time at right guard in some previous practices. ... Coverage from slot cornerback Kyle Arrington was solid on Pierre Garcon on one long incomplete pass, and later in the 11-on-11 drill, Arrington and receiver Andre Roberts were chirping at each other quite a bit as the competitive level rose. … With a heavy focus on situations, observers could hear Bill Belichick’s voice calling out down and distance and players had to react. … Backup quarterback Ryan Mallett was unsuccessful on multiple long pass attempts and at one point was intercepted by safety Bacarri Rambo. … Plenty of special teams work in the practice, mostly focused on kickoffs. … Undrafted tight end Asa Watson and Edelman were among those players who had drops. … Good hit by rookie safety Travis Hawkins caught the eye, and ear, in 11-on-11 drills. … Undrafted rookie Taylor McCuller is switching between linebacker and fullback, at one point changing his blue defensive jersey for a white offensive jersey.

Who returned: Running back Roy Finch (knocked out of Friday night’s practice midway through); linebacker Deontae Skinner (activated off non-football injury list).

New absences: Gronkowski.

Who else didn’t practice: Running back Brandon Bolden (unknown, participated in first eight practices); receiver Aaron Dobson (foot/PUP), Stork (lower leg, left midway through fifth practice); offensive tackle Chris Martin (non-football-injury list), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (non-football-injury list), receiver Jeremy Gallon (unknown/PUP), defensive back Jemea Thomas (unknown, only practiced Day 1), linebacker Cameron Gordon (unknown, participated in first six practices), Hoomanawanui (unknown, participated in first four practices).

Notable injuries/health-related incidents: Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly took himself out of 11-on-11 drills at one point, but it didn’t appear to be too serious. He did end-of-practice jogging, but we’ll keep an eye on him Tuesday.

Who’s talking with the media: Linebackers Hightower and Jerod Mayo; McCourty; Revis; Wilfork; defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones.