Patriots Training Camp Report: Taking Stock On Off-day Monday

Steve Balestrieri
August 03, 2015 at 06:35am ET

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Rob Gronkowski's new contract gives him lots of incentive to play now
Tom Brady: On film, as good as he’s ever been
Bill Belichick defers questions about new Aaron Hernandez suit

Plenty to dissect after first four days of practice

The Patriots players have Monday off after conducting the first four practices of the 2015 season, with the last two in full pads. The team gets back to work with afternoon practices slated for 1:45 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday and a 7:00 p.m. practice scheduled for Wednesday night inside Gillette Stadium that is for season ticket holders and Foxboro residents only.

Now is a good time to break down the first four days of camp and list some of our top performers in the first week of training camp.

Training camp is a long grind and some guys can have an off-day mixed in there but the coaches are always looking for consistency. With so many slots up for grabs the intensity has been on display, especially in the last two sessions.

Top Performers – Offense:

Julian Edelman – Edelman has picked right up where he left off in the Super Bowl. He’s caught nearly everything thrown in his direction and he and Malcolm Butler have been contesting every drill against one another like it is a playoff atmosphere. That has been one of the highlights of the camp.

Edelman made a beauty of a high leaping catch on Sunday over Nate Ebner before tweaking an ankle later in practice…that will bear watching.

Rob Gronkowski – No issues for the big man entering camp this season. He’s coming in healthy, ready and has, like Edelman picked right up where he left off last year. In one-on-one drills Gronk shows why he’s nearly uncoverable as he can beat defenders using athleticism or his physicality. He has great hands and a huge catch radius.

Gronk and Scott Chandler should provide the Patriots offense two enormous targets that will open up a lot of terrain for the wide receivers. Gronk as always is fun to watch and not many players love to play with his passion.

Tom Brady – Distractions? Suspension looming? You’d never know it to watch Brady out there during practice. He always is intense and uber-competitive…even in practice and the recent Super Bowl victory hasn’t changed that bit. On Sunday he was engaged in a friendly trash-talking back-and-forth with the defense and the defensive coaches in the goal line portion of practice.

But Brady has been in mid-season form with his accuracy and touch, even this early in practice. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald noted Brady’s numbers through 3 practices in 7 on 7s and 11 on 11s he was 67 of 82 (81.7 percent). Sunday he was pretty much on the same pace.

Aaron Dobson – Dobson entered 2015 in a make-or-break type scenario where he was trying to erase an awful 2014 that was delayed and ultimately undone by injury. He committed himself to coming into camp in the best condition of his career and it has shown up in practice.

Dobson is trying to nail down that 4th WR slot and with Brandon LaFell out on PUP, he’s making the most of his opportunities. He had arguably the play of the day the past two days in camp. On Sunday he leapt high and was able to pull down a deep Brady pass over Malcolm Butler when it appeared Butler had an interception. He’s off to a good start for 2015.

Honorable Mentions – Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason, the rookie guards have taken nearly every first team rep and thus far have looked very solid in there.

Top Performers Defense:

Jamie Collins – Collins is the “Super Freak”, an unbelievable blend of size, athleticism and smarts that is fun to watch on a daily basis. He is following up a very impressive sophomore season with a fantastic start to 2015. He’s easily been the Patriots best player on defense thus far.

On Sunday in a goal line situation, Collins recognized Brady was throwing to Scott Chandler on a fade into the right corner of the end zone. Chandler was covered by Jonathan Freeny but had body position. Collins flew over and swatted the ball away, a great reaction which set off a huge celebration by the defense.

Jabaal Sheard – Sheard may be the most underrated signing this spring. After languishing in Cleveland where the team kept changing defensive philosophies each year, he’s seems to be a great fit with the Patriots defense.

Big, strong, physical and athletic, Sheard has been shining in one-on-one drills. During Sunday’s 11-on-11 team work, he would have had an easy sack on Brady as he blew right around the left side. I think he’s primed for a big season.

Malcolm Butler – Butler is intent on proving he’s more than a one play trick pony and he’s following it up with an impressive camp showing. If the season started today, he would be your starting left corner and he will have earned it.

Showing no effects of that dreaded Patriots “sophomore slump” for cornerbacks, Butler has taken a much more vocal, active role in the secondary. He’s played very well and contests everything. His matchups with Edelman are entertaining to watch.

Tavon Wilson – Say what? Yes that Tavon Wilson. Wilson is in a fight for Nate Ebner for that 5th safety slot and Wilson is going to make the coaches decision a very hard one. With Devin McCourty, Pat Chung locks and rookie Jordan Richards and Duron Harmon near locks…it is going to be tough.

But Wilson has been very good through the early going. He’s been tough, consistent and shows up in every drill. Many (this writer included), didn’t give him much of a chance to make the roster this summer. Well Wilson is intent of proving everyone wrong and has outperformed many of his peers. This battle will bear watching as camp rolls along into the second week and the first pre-season games.

Honorable Mention – Antonio Johnson, the 8th year defensive lineman is having a quietly solid camp. He shows up every day and contributes inside. Keep your eyes on him if you make it down for camp and the pre-season games.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com for the latest camp updates and check out our daily photo gallery on our Facebook page.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

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