Tom Brady zeroes in on Martellus Bennett at fast pace to close out practice

Martellus Bennett, shown making a one-handed grab last week, was targeted four straight times to close out practice Wednesday. Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett stepped in front of a swarm of reporters after Wednesday morning’s practice, he was sweating, out of breath and badly in need of some water.

“My bad,” he said, attempting to clear his throat multiple times. “I had a really hard practice today.”

There was a reason Bennett was so taxed. After a heavy dose of run-blocking work, he was then an integral part of a late-practice drill in which quarterback Tom Brady was directing the hurry-up offense and connected with Bennett four straight times to close it out.

Before the final completion -- a touchdown in the back left-hand corner of the end zone against a defense that was playing at three-quarters speed -- Bennett received a pre-snap visit from Brady as he aligned to the left of the offensive line to communicate something he wanted based on how they would both read the defense.

That captured the essence of the drill -- play fast, communicate, adjust and attack.

Bennett’s inclusion into the Patriots’ attack has the potential to have a big impact, as evidenced by the way the drill unfolded. Pair him with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski, and coach Bill Belichick sees the chance for more offensive variety and the opportunity to put stress on opposing defenses, which is what led the Patriots to acquire Bennett in an offseason trade with the Bears.

On working so closely with Gronkowski, Bennett said, “It’s been a pleasure. I think we’ve been raising each other’s game. The thing is, we’re built alike, but we’re two totally different players. The way we run routes, the way we go about our business, is totally different. It’s been fun playing with him because he’s very passionate. He brings it every day in meetings and on the field. He’s one of those guys that makes you up your game, and I try to do the same for him.”

Bennett, who said he’s studied every play that former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez ran in the offense, did that on Wednesday.

Bennett noted that it’s been different for him as a complement to another top tight end, as he’s usually been the No. 1 in recent years. So the end of Wednesday’s practice, when he was targeted four times in a row after an extended stretch in which he didn’t see a pass, was an adjustment of sorts.

“When you’re not the first guy, your mindset is different, so you have to be ready at all times. You never know when the ball is going to come your way, so it’s just developing the mindset and the ability to make plays,” he said. “Even if you don’t touch the ball for two or three periods, you should still be able to make a play.”

With his four consecutive completions from Brady at the end of practice as the springboard, let’s take a closer look at what we saw (and heard) from Wednesday’s practice:

Play of the day: In a play that highlighted how the run defense was more stout than the last time the Patriots practiced in full pads, running back Tyler Gaffney was stopped on a goal-line run by safety Jordan Richards and cornerback Darryl Roberts. Gaffney’s attempt was strung out wide to the right side and resulted in a loss of yardage. That had the defense celebrating. After D-lineman Jabaal Sheard remarked that the front seven got their "asses handed" to them on Sunday, the last time the team practiced in full pads, the unit seemed to respond in this practice.

What's on the set list? The last two practices haven’t featured much music. The set list from Monday, and then Wednesday:

  • “Ambition,” Wale (Monday)

  • “Bout That Life,” Rick Ross, French Montana, Meek Mill, Diddy (Monday)

  • “I’m on One,” DJ Khalid (Monday)

  • "N---as in Paris,” Jay Z (Wednesday)

  • “The Motto,” Drake (Wednesday)

  • “Forever,” Drake, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Eminem (Wednesday)

Health report: Defensive tackle Alan Branch, who opened training camp on the non-football injury list, practiced for the first time but is not yet taking part in full-team drills. ... Second-year guard Shaq Mason upped his level of participation by working in full-team drills for the first time. ... Receiver Chris Hogan (right shoulder) was among those remaining out of practice, along with right guard Jonathan Cooper (right foot) and center Bryan Stork. Cooper’s absence is creating more repetitions for fourth-year player Josh Kline, rookie Ted Karras and Mason. Stork’s absence is giving second-year center David Andrews extended work as the top center. ... Running back Donald Brown -- who appeared to tweak his hamstring Monday night -- was a new absence.

Develin recognized for unsung role: Fullback James Develin hasn’t been heard from much since training camp began as he returns from a broken leg that sidelined him for the 2015 season, but his work has caught the attention of Bennett, who said, “I love Develin. Develin is one of the best fullbacks I ever played with.”

Extra points. Brady’s 39th birthday was one big story of the day. ... Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Bennett drew the largest media crowds after practice, while first-year receiver DeAndre Carter, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and offensive linemen Chris Barker (celebrating his 26th birthday) and Joe Thuney were among those stopping for interviews.

Thursday’s schedule: Bill Belichick news conference (8:45 a.m.); practice (9:15 a.m.)