WHITE SULPUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Through the first 14 practices of New England Patriots training camp, cornerback Malcolm Butler has been up to most every challenge. In Wednesday morning's joint practice with the New Orleans Saints, that changed.
Butler had his toughest day since training camp began July 30, with one sequence in 11-on-11 drills highlighting his struggles as he was beaten on one deep pass up the right sideline, penalized on another play by officials, and then was closest in coverage on a crossing route that was caught for a touchdown.
As he has throughout camp, Butler lined up at left cornerback and quarterback Drew Brees went right after him.
Still, Brees was complimentary of Butler after the practice.
"Obviously it's just one day's worth and basically what I saw on film last week when they played Green Bay, which was limited time [15 snaps]. But he's extremely talented and he plays with a lot of confidence," Brees said, when asked about Butler.
"Obviously he made that big play; there's no bigger play to make in the Super Bowl. So he seems like a guy who plays with a lot of confidence and has a lot of ability. He's one of those guys, that's a tough matchup for us, but I feel like we have guys that it's going to make them better going up against a guy like that."
A few other takeaways from practice:
Linebacker Dont'a Hightower continues to make progress in his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, as he no longer is wearing a red non-contact jersey and participated in full-team drills. That's a big step and a reflection of how he is on target for the regular-season opener. Hightower also forced a fumble on running back Khiry Robinson.
Devin McCourty is being used in multiple spots, as his versatility on defense is showing up on a daily basis. That's also allowing the coaches to take an extended look at safety personnel.
A brief scary moment for tight end Rob Gronkowski, as he was rolled up on as running back Jonas Gray was pushed into him. "It's football," he said. "You get rolled up on, in practice or a game. I'm glad everything is OK and there is nothing to worry about."
No fights, and really nothing close to it. A good example of how players approached practice was after 1-on-1 pass-rush drills, Patriots defenders shook hands with Saints offensive linemen. It was a good mix of respectful competitiveness.
Was struck by how Bill Belichick truly coaches every player on the 90-man roster. At one point, I watched him stress proper coverage technique with undrafted free-agent cornerback Jimmy Jean.
Both teams got good work in the two-minute offense and the defenses generally lagged. A 10-yard Tom Brady to Danny Amendola touchdown pass in a tight space in the back right-hand corner of the end zone was the highlight, with Brady going up to Amendola afterwards, putting both hands on his helmet, and congratulating him for a job well done.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo also ended practice on a high note, leading the offense to a touchdown in two-minute work.
Players not practicing: Receivers Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson and Brandon LaFell, cornerback Darryl Roberts, running back Travaris Cadet, linebackers Dane Fletcher and Eric Martin, offensive linemen Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork, Josh Kline (present, but no pads) and Caylin Hauptmann, defensive ends Rufus Johnson and Trey Flowers, defensive tackles Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, and tight ends Jake Bequette and Scott Chandler.
A lighter crowd than anticipated, as there were plenty of good seats available in the bleachers.
Overheard from Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan putting defenders through warmup drills: "Let's humiliate someone today!"
Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown was present and he did end-of-practice running with players.