FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the first time since the New England Patriots selected him in the sixth round of the 2015 draft, tight end AJ Derby showed up with impact plays that made onlookers take note, and more importantly had quarterback Tom Brady racing up to him with a congratulatory pat on the helmet.
Derby caught two passes on a game-winning drive engineered by Brady in Sunday’s scrimmage, then was on the receiving end of a two-point conversion to help Brady’s “blue” team defeat Jimmy Garoppolo's “white” team, 11-10.
There was some question as to whether Derby had successfully converted the 2-point play, as he caught the ball in the end zone but was lunging forward close to the goal-line.
“I always think I’m in,” he said with a smile afterwards, adding that he was looking forward to seeing the film of practice.
Whether he was or not, the fact Brady was throwing to Derby at all is significant and in part a reflection of how this year is much different for him than 2015. After practicing on the opening day of training camp last year, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Derby sustained an undisclosed injury and landed on injured reserve, missing the entire year.
Meanwhile, he has participated in all nine practices this year, and Sunday was his most extended work with Brady. That was a result of head coach Bill Belichick stripping Brady of most of his top weapons from Friday’s scrimmage by having running back LeGarrette Blount, fullback James Develin, receivers Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell and tight end Martellus Bennett flip to Garoppolo’s squad.
Derby’s best catch came on the game-winning drive when he ran up the right seam, covered by linebacker Ramon Humber, and made an athletic grab of a tipped ball in traffic before landing on the ground with a thud.
Could Derby -- who converted from quarterback to tight end prior to his senior season at Arkansas -- be the team’s third tight end behind Rob Gronkowski and Bennett?
He faces competition from veterans Clay Harbor (activated from the PUP list Sunday) and Bear Pascoe, and undrafted rookies Bryce Williams and Steven Scheu. Fullback James Develin’s role with the team also has some cross-over to the tight end spot, while Michael Williams -- a top candidate for the job -- was lost to a torn ACL in June’s mandatory minicamp.
Bill Belichick previously said the tight end position, from top to bottom, might be the best he’s had in New England.
With Derby putting himself on the radar Sunday, let’s take a closer look at what we saw (and heard) from practice:
Play of the day: Defensive tackle Alan Branch, who has brought energy and fun to the practice field by dancing as music plays while the offense huddles, burst through the middle on one play. Running back James White ran into him and landed with a thud. Branch takes up plenty of space inside and plays with power, which showed on that play.
What's on the set list?: A deep line-up of music, tying the training camp record with a 13-song set-list, which started with stretching and then into the scrimmage:
“No Days Off,” Fetty Wap
“B.M.F.,” Rick Ross
“679,” Fetty Wap
"Hey Oh!” Young Fabulous
“Mo Money Mo Problems,” The Notorious B.I.G.
“California Love,” 2Pac and Dr. Dre
“Freaks Come Out at Night,” Whodini
“Mary’s Place,” Bruce Springsteen
“Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen
“Daughter,” Pearl Jam
“You Wreck Me,” Tom Petty
“Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd
“Who are You?” The Who
Extra points. Linebacker Jamie Collins displayed his nice range by dropping into coverage and batting away a Garoppolo pass intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski. ... Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill also had a pass breakup on a short Garoppolo throw intended for Bennett. ... Bennett appeared to tweak his right ankle/foot at one point but played through it, catching a touchdown pass from Garoppolo in the left-hand corner of the end zone for the white team’s lone TD. ... Rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett took one series in the scrimmage (in place of Brady) and was 1-of-2, connecting with running back Joey Iosefa on a short pass to the left sideline and then throwing into tight coverage down the right side to receiver Chris Harper, who had slipped as cornerback Jonathan Jones turned to bat the delivery away. ... Overall, the scrimmage paled in comparison to Friday's scrimmage from both an excitement and execution standpoint. There were also noticeably more running plays in this scrimmage, despite it not being a live tackling situation. ... Rookie Cyrus Jones, who has had some trouble catching punts in camp, muffed another and had to kick it out of bounds. ... Receiver Julian Edelman, who practiced for the first time, worked on a side field with Brady at two different points of the scrimmage. ... First-year safety Cedric Thompson intercepted Brady on what was either an overthrow or a miscommunication with Derby. ... First-year receiver DeAndre Carter had six receptions as the leading pass-catcher on Brady’s team. ... Team president Jonathan Kraft watched the entire practice from the sideline with his family.
Monday’s schedule: Practice (9:15 a.m. ET)