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Shaq Mason's return to practice adds layer to interior O-line battle

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The biggest takeaway from the New England Patriots' voluntary organized team activity Monday was movement/context on the health front.

In addition to the returns of tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Dion Lewis, second-year guard Shaq Mason was also on the practice field this spring for the first time when reporters were also present. Mason, the 2015 fourth-round pick from Georgia Tech who started 10 games last season, got work in at right guard behind Jonathan Cooper late in the practice.

That adds a layer to the highly anticipated competition along the interior of the offensive line that will unfold in training camp.

Some offensive line notes:

  • Third-round pick Joe Thuney of NC State and four-year veteran Josh Kline (who remains out of practice as he recovers from shoulder surgery) currently project as two of the top players competing at left guard, although Mason could always factor into that mix. Second-year player Chris Barker has been getting good practice reps of late at left guard with Kline still working his way back.

  • Cooper, Mason, 2016 sixth-round pick Ted Karras and second-year man Tre' Jackson (who remains out of practice as he recovers from knee surgery) currently look like the top considerations at right guard.

  • At center, the club has been rotating incumbent Bryan Stork and second-year man David Andrews on a daily basis, with Thuney and Karras also taking snaps in the pivot at times.

A few other observations from practice:

Jones' reactive athleticism catches eye: Undrafted cornerback Jonathan Jones of Auburn showed up with two pass breakups, as his tight coverage at one point reflected his reactive athleticism to mirror opposing receivers. This is the type of setting in which the 5-foot-10, 181-pound Jones should shine (no pads, no physical jam at the line of scrimmage), so the following note was written down: Can he sustain this type of momentum when the pads come on?

Extra points: Active hands from linebacker Kevin Snyder led to a tipped pass over the middle that safety Brock Vereen intercepted. ... Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett had fun with each other in the middle of practice by holding dueling planks, almost as if to see who would crash to the ground first. They ultimately came out of the planks at the same time. Nice synergy. ... Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was absent, which as Patriots.com noted, could be related to the expected birth of the couple's third child. ... Rookie running back D.J. Foster wasn't at practice after tweaking his hamstring last week. ... Defensive tackle Alan Branch wasn't present, as he regularly hasn't attended voluntary work over his career. He was on hand for last week's mandatory minicamp. ... Both kickoff and punt returners received plenty of work, as another windy day provided a nice challenge. Rookies Cyrus Jones and Malcolm Mitchell were among those who were part of both return groups. ... The session ended with situational work that included hurrying the field-goal unit onto the field.

No music at practice: Unlike a few of the practices from the past two weeks, the Patriots didn't play music at Monday's session.

Stepping up to the mic: Tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Dion Lewis drew the largest media crowds after practice. In addition, receiver Aaron Dobson, cornerback Cyrus Jones and special teams captain Matthew Slater were among those who stopped for interviews. Head coach Bill Belichick also conducted a short Q&A session.

What's next? The Patriots are scheduled have another voluntary OTA on Tuesday, and then their final session of the spring Thursday.