FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Things that stood out to me at the New England Patriots' organized team activity on Thursday:
Not a sharp day for the offense: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's five interceptions highlighted how this wasn't the best day for the offense, but it didn't stop there, as plays had to be re-run at times, tight end Rob Gronkowski was among those uncharacteristically dropping a pass, and I noticed one sequence where a running back had to be called on to the field because a general lack of awareness of what was taking place. No reason for major concern, of course, but as Bill Belichick said, the Patriots wouldn't be going through these drills if they didn't have meaning. The offense will look to rebound next week, as the team has four practices scheduled.
Ryan's opportunity at corner: A lot of interest in the team's personnel at cornerback, and I spent quite a bit of time watching that group. Third-year corner Logan Ryan spent time on the left side and had an interception. At this time, a Ryan-Bradley Fletcher combination might be the Patriots' top tandem (Malcom Butler isn't practicing for unknown reasons). Fletcher later had his own interception and he was competitive in coverage. On one play, I watched receiver Aaron Dobson beat Fletcher across the middle on a bang-bang slant.
Nickel defense in focus; good work for Moore: The Patriots were in their sub defense almost 75 percent of the defensive snaps last season, and along those lines, there was plenty of nickel work in this practice. This was a chance to see some of the interchangeable parts within the front seven, as some players who would normally be considered rushers were dropping out, while those who might otherwise drop were rushing. It created stress for the offensive line and running backs to identify what was happening in front of them. One player who caught my eye from a body-type standpoint was second-year defensive lineman Zach Moore (6-foot-6, 275 pounds). When he aligns over a guard or center, it has the potential to create disruption because of his length.
Lewis a dark horse at pass-catching running back: In the competition at pass-catching running back, four-year veteran Dion Lewis (5-8, 195) seemed to do some things to the liking of the coaching staff. Lewis hasn't played in an NFL game for two seasons, but I thought he caught the ball fairly well and he might be a potential factor as a kickoff returner. Put him in the mix with James White, Travaris Cadet and Brandon Bolden, and it looks like a competitive training camp storyline to follow closely.
Extra points: Harry Kraft, the Dartmouth-bound grandson of owner Robert Kraft, was at practice throwing some darts as a quarterback in drills. … Kickoff returns were the primary focus of the special teams portion of practice, with coach Joe Judge working with the wedge players and having returners work off the outside shoulder. Rookie offensive lineman Shaq Mason (fourth round, Georgia Tech) got some hands-on coaching in the wedge, while running back Travaris Cadet was among the returners. … Receiver Aaron Dobson made a nice catch down the right sideline, beating tight coverage to come down with a Tom Brady throw. ... While most of the team worked on kickoff returns, tight ends Gronkowski (6-6, 265) and Scott Chandler (6-7, 260) worked with Brady on combination routes in the red zone. … Running back Tyler Gaffney, on the scout team, was first down the field on one kickoff return to blow things up.