Patriots practice 5 observations

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observations from Saturday morning's practice, the Patriots' fifth of training camp and only practice of the day, which was the first full pads session of training camp. Players practiced in warm and sunny conditions.

Hernandez returns. Second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez (hip) returned to practice after spending the first two days of camp on the active/physically unable to perform list.

"They were taking it slow, making sure I was healthy because of the lockout. They were keeping an eye on me, because they didn't really know where I was at [physically]," Hernandez said after practice. "But I feel good and I'm ready to go."

However, three players remain on active/PUP, all defensive linemen: Brandon Deaderick, Ron Brace, and Myron Pryor. Only Deaderick was spotted on the field working with strength staff on Saturday. Meanwhile, offensive lineman Marcus Cannon and safety James Sanders remain on the active/NFI list and did conditioning work on the sidelines. Safety/linebacker Josh Barrett spent the practice on the sidelines with these players after fully participating in the first two days of camp. Running back Eric Kettani was not spotted on the practice field.

Long snapper in focus. Veteran long snapper Matt Katula, after being in uniform but not practicing the first two days of camp, spent the third day of camp out-of-uniform and appeared to be working on an upper body/shoulder injury with the training staff on the sideline. In his place, linebacker Rob Ninkovich continued to handle long-snapping duties for the special teams units.

Mankins makes an appearance. After officially signing his franchise tender on Saturday morning, offensive lineman Logan Mankins watched practice from the sidelines in a t-shirt and shorts. Due to CBA transition rules, he cannot practice until Aug. 4 or the start of the 2011 League Year. The same holds true for cornerback Kyle Arrington, who also officially re-signed on Saturday morning, but was not spotted on the field. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has yet to sign his restricted free agent tender. Three rookies also remain unsigned and out of practice: offensive lineman Nate Solder, cornerback Ras-I Dowling, and running back Shane Vereen.

Tone clearly set. On the first day that full pads practices were allowed, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had pads cracking at 8:30 a.m. One of the first drills of the practice was a half-line running drill featuring two defensive linemen and two linebackers against three offensive lineman, a tight end, and a running back. Late in practice, during an 'opportunity session' for inexperienced players, a small fight erupted between a group of reserve offensive and defensive linemen.

Passing game in focus. The passing game got considerable work during Saturday morning's practice, and the results were mixed for the Patriots offense. Quarterback Tom Brady was intercepted by cornerback Devin McCourty during 11-on-11 work, while McCourty picked off rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett in 11-on-11 action as well. During 7-on-7 work, linebacker Rob Ninkovich snared a pass from quarterback Jonathan Crompton, while cornerback Jonathan Wilhite dropped a would-be interception of his own during a 11-on-11 action. There were also a number of dropped passes throughout the practice, including two each from wide receivers Darnell Jenkins and Matthew Slater.

The 'bucket drill' also returned for a second straight day, and this time Crompton was able to drop his pass into the bucket, while Brady had his own well-place throw rim out.

Through the uprights. The field goal team got more work in on Saturday afternoon. The final kick of the session went not to veteran Stephen Gostkowski or undrafted rookie Chris Koepplin, but rather wide receiver Wes Welker. The lefty kicker, who has seen his share of game action at the position, drilled one through the uprights to wrap-up practice for the veterans.