By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots held a full pads practice on Friday afternoon in Foxboro and tempers again got short with not only one but two melees when players from the defense and offense got into pushing and shoving matches. At that point Bill Belichick had enough and sent the entire team for three laps around the field.
The message- competition is good, passion is great, losing your perspective and composure is not. With that in mind, here are my observations from practice:
Veteran Leadership Steps Up-
After Belichick sent the troops packing around the field three times, Tom Brady called a players only huddle at the far end of the practice field. After a few moments, the players came back out and finished the two minute drill they were conducting when the fights started, with the coaches watching from the sidelines.
Jerod Mayo was blowing a whistle to signify the end of the plays. It was extraordinary in the fact that the players, at the end of a hot, physical day of practice didn’t want to finish the session on a bad note. By taking it over and doing it right, it showed the veterans on this team have a firm handle on things. That is what’s called setting the example.
Brady Still Playing at an Elite Level-
Much has been made at Tom Brady’s age and on his birthday Friday (35th) he was serenaded by the fans a few times but he remains razor sharp. He stays focused, treats practice like game situations and can still play with at the level Patriots fans are accustomed. Perfect point, in a two-minute drill, on the goal line, Brady saw the defense, called an audible, changed the protection and drilled a pass to Jabar Gaffney in the back of the end zone.
Lloyd, Gaffney Return-
Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney returned to practice from injuries and were extremely effective, giving credence to reports that they were minor. Lloyd is quickly becoming a crowd favorite as he makes difficult catches and is able to stretch the field. Gaffney had one of the plays of the day, on a fake reverse QB Brian Hoyer threw a deep post to Gaffney who had to adjust on the ball, making a terrific catch to huge cheers from the crowd. Donte Stallworth also had another effective day in the afternoon session. Reports were that he has lost a step, but it appears that is untrue, his speed has been in evidence all throughout camp.
Wind Plays a Factor on Special Teams-
With a stiff breeze blowing across the playing fields at Foxboro, it affected some of the punts of Zoltan Mesko but even more so with the returns. Julian Edelman, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez muffed punts that the wind may have played a factor in. Welker had one bounce of his thigh out of bounds and Hernandez had to race backwards to recover his. Stephen Gostkowski, normally sharp, seemed to overcompensate for the wind and missed a few FGs that are usually automatic. Regardless, this will bear watching.
Linebacking Corps Shaping Up-
With Brandon Spikes a full participant in practice now, the starting linebacker in the Patriots defense is shaping up nicely. Spikes in the middle with Mayo and Dont’a Hightower on the outside, with Bobby Carpenter coming in for nickel subpackages. This is going to be a physical group and perhaps the best linebacker group the team has had in quite some time.
One thing that continues to stand out, Hightower who is very big can really move well. On a third and short in drills he covered Aaron Hernandez like a blanket forcing an incompletion. He and fellow first round pick Chandler Jones continue to impress. They are getting a lot of first team reps on defense. After one series, Belichick pulled Hightower aside and was pointing out some things in the middle of the field behind the play as the rookie was asking questions.
To see more photos from yesterday, feel free to check out my timeline on Twitter, @SteveB7SFG