By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots held an intense, spirited practice on Monday afternoon in muggy, hot conditions at Foxboro. A little over an hour into the session the skies opened up and a soaking rain pounded down on the players and fans alike, but the team did not move into the Dana Farber Fieldhouse, remaining through the deluge until the skies cleared and it became even more muggy.
The following players were not seen at practice, this list is not complete : Brandon Spikes, Albert Haynesworth, Ryan Wendell, and Mike Wright. Many players were in shorts and sweats working out with the training staff including Brandon Tate, Ras-I Dowling, Shane Vereen, Kevin Faulk, Marcus Cannon, James Sanders, Brandon Deaderick, Matt Light and Ron Brace. Newly acquired Shaun Ellis was in attendance and in shorts as well.
Some observations from this session: A large bulk of the work seemed to be on red-zone focus. And once again the defense stood out, Still playing a 4-3 front by the way. Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis was stuffed by Vince Wilfork and then Steven Ridley was banged on a big hit from Jerod Mayo in goal line plays. Later, WR Chad Ochocinco made a really nice catch along the sideline in the endzone, but couldn’t keep both feet inbounds. In earlier work, Kyle Love popped Green-Ellis with a big hit at the line and got up yelling, pounding his chest. The coaches ran a steady stream of replacements in at the defensive line with Wilfork being the only true constant.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher continues to impress as he popped Ridley hard on a drill, the sound being audible all over the field.
One player who can’t be happy with the signings of Ellis and Carter has to be Jermaine Cunningham, who it seems will lose his starting job. He struggled today and was pushed around a bit by Sebastian Vollmer during drills. Carter practiced and is wearing #68. Didn’t see too much from him one way or the other as he is being eased into the lineup.
The offense struggled again, part of it has to be the heat but for the most part Tom Brady struggled. He was missing his receivers with both high and low throws. On a short pass intended for Darnell Jenkins, Sergio Brown stayed at home and had an easy interception. Brady had another pass knocked down, on a nice play from Mayo.
Right after the rains ended, Brady and C Dan Koppen botched a snap and were forced to run a penalty lap. Others joined them including rookie Nate Solder and Mark Levoir.
Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski left practice early, with what I believe was a heat related injury. Logan Mankins also looked to be down somewhat from the heat, but that will need to be checked later. Dan Connolly was seen having his elbow looked at and left practice as well.
One player who had a good session from the offense was rookie QB Ryan Mallett. He showed some nice touch on a pretty one-handed catch by Aaron Hernandez, he also made a nice pass to Julian Edelman down the middle. Long way to go, but the rookie is making some nice strides.
Gerard Warren who was signed earlier in the day appeared on the practice field a little more than half way through the session. Suddenly the defensive line is really deep, where it seemed just days ago to be a big question mark.
For you conspiracy fans out there, Stephen Neal, yes the Stephen Neal who recently retired because of shoulder woes took in the entire practice on the sideline wearing a baseball hat ( not a Red Sox hat, but at least it wasn’t a Yankees hat), so could they be thinking about bringing him back? Time will tell…
And finally, just after the start of practice, I made my way over to the media tent for a short 5-10 minute conversation with two of my favorite Patriots beat writers Shalise Manza-Young of the Boston Globe and Christopher Price of WEEI. They are super writers and great people as well. Each of them has answered literally hundreds of tweets from me and are always willing to talk football. They are even better to talk to in person. The three of us had a nice chat about the state of the Patriots, especially the new parts of the defense. Thanks to you both, you are the best!
Be sure to stay tuned to Patsfans.com as we’ll bring you, up to the minute coverage of training camp as well any breaking news out of Foxboro.
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG
One final note, our country and the Special Operations community lost a lot of great people on Saturday when a helicopter carrying US Navy SEALs, Air Force Special Op’s and the Army’s 160th Aviation Regiment (Night Stalkers) was shot down on a rescue mission in Afghanistan. Say a prayer for these brave men and their families as they struggle to deal with the loss of a loved one.
I know full well the sacrifice that being in that community entails, having spent over a decade in the US Army Special Forces both at Ft. Bragg, NC and overseas. We all feel the loss of our brothers in arms who keep us safe and free.