By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots have finished their first three workouts as part of the 2013 training camp with all morning workouts due to concert performances in Foxboro.
Now the workouts will move to a night practice, an in-stadium for season tickets holders and Foxboro residents and then afternoon practice on Tuesday before a scheduled day off on Wednesday.
While it is much too early to draw any conclusions this early in camp, PatsFans.com writers Derek Havens, Russ Goldman and I spent the first three days watching the practices together and were able to watch the good and the not-so-good from the first weekend.
These are my overall observations, thus far:
Talib and Dennard are becoming a dynamic tandem- The decision to re-sign Aqib Talib has so far been a very smart one. He’s the team’s best cornerback and has been playing like it so far in camp. And the fact that he was named one of the team’s off-season workout award winners shows that he is all in for this season.
Alfonzo Dennard is still facing some legal woes in Nebraska but has been able to put them behind him in camp and has played extremely solid so far. He’s improving on a good rookie campaign by playing excellent man coverage.
He and Talib are forming an excellent tandem and are gelling together as their play on the field shows that the second half of the 2012 season was no fluke. Add the good play of Kyle Arrington and the Patriots cornerback position, (if Dennard is here on Week1) should be a positive, when was the last time we’ve heard that?
Dowling struggles- Third year cornerback Ras-I Dowling was being looked to as providing solid competition for Dennard for the LCB position after a strong spring showing. But Sunday he had a rough, rough morning.
He was consistently beat in the 7-on-7 as well as 11-on-11 drills in man coverage, his strength by mostly the rookie wide receivers. While it is much too early to hit the panic button on him, for the first padded practice, it wasn’t a good sign for a guy trying to break through and log some quality playing time.
Amendola and Rookie WRs Show Promise- Again with the caveat that it is only three days and they haven’t had a chance to play in even a pre-season game yet, it’s safe to say that additions at receiver look promising.
Danny Amendola comes to New England and will have the unenviable task of trying to replace the ridiculous numbers that Wes Welker put up with this offense. But he has already shown that he’s rapidly earning QB Tom Brady’s trust and the two are in the first stages of hammering out the chemistry that they will need to thrive offensively. Amendola has shown to be extremely hard to jam at the line and has made some nice catches in the passing game.
Rookies Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins have all started camp in a very impressive fashion. Dobson is also becoming a favorite target for Brady and he’s already shown a nice ability to catch the ball in tight spaces and consistently get open.
Boyce has turned heads with his speed and precise routes. Now completely healthy from a foot injury suffered prior to the NFL Combine, he has tremendous speed and is cutting very well in his breaks.
Thompkins had a stellar spring and is continuing it this summer; he had the play of the day on Sunday going all out for a perfectly thrown Tebow pass where he beat the jam of Dennard at the line of scrimmage.
Thus far the top three receivers have been Amendola, Dobson and Michael Jenkins for Brady. But Boyce, Thompkins and Kamar Aiken have all turned heads with some excellent play. Looking forward to see what this unit can do in the first pre-season game.
Defense Looking Solid- Having the continuity of the secondary playing together, coupled with an already strong front seven being improved has been a plus. Chandler Jones has added 10 lbs of muscle on his long frame and has looked very impressive in the early going. He and Rob Ninkovich are looking to step up in the pass rush department this year.
The interior of the line has been bolstered by the very large Tommy Kelly who next to Vince Wilfork should provide a tough matchup for defenses. Kelly is looking to provide that interior pass rush the team has lacked and so far he and Wilfork look very solid. The bad news is rookie Armond Armstead still hasn’t taken the field. He is being looked to provide the same push as well as fresh legs for Wilfork and Kelly.
Dont’a Hightower entering his second season is being looked to provide some more versatility in 2013. He blitzed off the edge quite a bit on Sunday and that could be a sign of more to come once the regular season starts. The team has moved he and rookie Jamie Collins around a lot, trying out a variety of different positional groupings.
The only possible issue could be the health of Brandon Spikes moving forward. At the end of Sunday’s practice he was looking a little hobbled and was moving slowly coming off the field. Could be nothing but will bear watching.
Safety Groupings a Surprise- This spring the expected starting duo was supposed to be Devin McCourty with either Adrian or Tavon Wilson. But in the early going Tavon Wilson has been repping with the backups for the most part. The majority of starting reps have gone to Steve Gregory and Adrian Wilson.
While still early, that has to be somewhat of a surprise, but again as with linebacker the Patriots have experimented with moving both Wilson’s around in a variety of positions. A. Wilson was beaten a few times on Sunday with a deep pass, and again this will bear watching as camp moves on.
Ball Security Issues- The fumble issue for Stevan Ridley reared its head twice on Sunday. Within a 15 minute window, Ridley put the ball on the turf twice drawing the ire of Bill Belichick and having to run a lap around the field.
This will definitely be something to monitor as camp goes on. Ridley had that problem in the past and was thought to have worked through it. Daniel Fells was stripped during tackling drills as well by Collins.
And Lastly Tim Tebow….- Tebow struggled mightily for the first two days as he struggled basically to learn a new position in the Patriots timing based offense. His decision making has been really slow and his throws were hesitant and accuracy suffered badly as a result.
But the good news is he’s been working with Coach Brian Daboll on the side every day and on Sunday he was much improved. Still far from ready, but his throws were much better, tossing a beauty to Thompkins at the end of the session.
So while the Patriots ultimate goal on how they plan on using Tebow is unknown, he’s at least making some progress at QB where he’s practiced exclusively.
We’ll be at camp so if any of our readers or listeners have any questions about what’s happening there, please email or Tweet us and we’ll be happy to answer them.