<
>

Rookies Malcolm Mitchell and Kamu Grugier-Hill shine at Patriots practice

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There is always a certain level of excitement and intrigue with spring camps when it comes to rookies.

How will they fit in? What type of impact might they make on the season? Are they keeping up mentally?

On the third and final day of the Patriots’ mandatory minicamp, two members of the team’s draft class -- fourth-round receiver Malcolm Mitchell (Georgia) and linebacker/safety hybrid Kamu Grugier-Hill (Eastern Illinois) -- flashed with notable plays.

Mitchell’s was a one-handed leaping grab in the left-hand corner of the end zone on a pass from fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in 11-on-11 drills. Defensive back Brock Vereen was in coverage, and the dazzling grab -- albeit without Mitchell facing a jam and no live pass rush on Brissett -- sparked a reaction from teammates.

“Very supportive teammates,” said Mitchell, who was doing his best to downplay the highlight-reel effort. “That definitely is encouraging.”

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Mitchell, who didn’t practice Wednesday for undisclosed reasons, was one of several players drawing a large media crowd after practice.

Meanwhile, Grugier-Hill’s ability to close ground quickly showed up when he trailed tight end Steven Scheu to the right sideline, and then as quarterback Jacoby Brissett fired a pass in that direction, he accelerated and deflected it away.

Near the end of practice, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Grugier-Hill picked off Brissett on a throw over the middle.

While Grugier-Hill showed up on defense Thursday, his ticket to a roster spot will start on special teams, where at some points in recent practices he has been working as a gunner opposite of captain Matthew Slater.

Some other practice observations:

Belichick and the finer points: No detail is too small for Bill Belichick, as I watched him at various points in the practice coach players on the fundamentals of the game. At one point, he was communicating with quarterbacks and running backs on the all-important exchange on the handoff. Later, I saw him speaking one-on-one with punt returner Keshawn Martin, his hands at one point reaching up to drive home his point on technique. Later, it was sixth-round linebacker Elandon Roberts getting some personal attention from Belichick on a defensive call. This is something that is seen regularly at training camp, but Thursday served as a reminder that Belichick still gets into things from the perspective of a position coach at times.

Ups and downs for top pick Jones. Top draft pick Cyrus Jones grabbed his second interception of the week, picking Jimmy Garoppolo in the back left-hand corner of the end zone during a 2-on-2-type drill in which defensive backs worked on communication on whether to stay with their receiver or pass him off. When the ball is thrown in Jones’ direction, he seems to have reliable hands. He did, however, have one muffed punt. It was a windy day and that led to some challenging conditions.

Extra points: Tight end Michael Williams (left knee injury) was one of 15 players not on the field, a group including Rob Gronkowski and receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. ... Undrafted rookie running back D.J. Foster appeared to injure his hamstring at one point. ... Linebacker Dont'a Hightower had an interception of Garoppolo. ... Bryan Stork was back at center, taking top reps, as it appears the Patriots are going back and forth each day between him and David Andrews. ... Rookie offensive lineman Ted Karras (sixth round, Illinois), who was mostly seen at right guard before Thursday, took some snaps at left guard. ... Possibly with a bit of media deception in mind, Malcolm Brown (93) and Jabaal Sheard (90) switched jersey numbers during the session. ... Roberts, the rookie linebacker, wore Hightower’s No. 54 as he walked off the field past the interview area. ... Former Patriots players Troy Brown and Sammy Morris continued to work with players at practice.

Guns N' Roses on set list twice: Music blared during team drills to stress communication on players and coaches. During warm-ups, “I got 5 on it” by Luniz played, then during team drills Belichick showed he wasn’t afraid to run the same play twice by going with back to back Guns N’ Roses tunes -- "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Welcome to the Jungle." Other songs included "Halftime (Stand up and get Crunk!) by Ying Yang Twins; "Whoomp!" by Tag Team; "Pipe it Up" by Migos; and "Sandstorm" by Darude.

Stepping up to the mic. In addition to Mitchell, receiver Aaron Dobson, who has made some solid catches along the sideline in camp and had Tom Brady coming up to acknowledge his work at one point Thursday, was one of several players to stop for media interviews after practice. Others included defensive end Chris Long; defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Joe Vellano; tight end Clay Harbor; receiver Keshawn Martin; safety Devin McCourty; cornerback Justin Coleman; center David Andrews; and long snapper Joe Cardona. Belichick’s third interview session in three days was his longest, as he engaged on a variety of questions.