More quick hits from Thursday practice

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cleaning out another notebook from Thursday's practice:

Sub work on defense. The 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods saw a heavy dose of sub packages on defense. It's always dangerous to read too much into these groupings at this point in the offseason, but 33-year old cornerback Will Allen lined up with the 'top' group of cornerbacks in the sub packages, not 2011 second-round pick Ras-I Dowling.

At linebacker, Dane Fletcher appeared to step in for Brandon Spikes, with Bobby Carpenter also seeing a number of reps throughout the practice. First-round pick Dont'a Hightower saw extensive action, mostly playing off the line of scrimmage, although at one point in 11-on-11 work he came in on an edge blitz.

Eye on punt unit. The special teams periods of Thursday's session focused on the punt unit. Julian Edelman and Wes Welker, who have been the team's top returners in recent seasons, were back to return punts on Thursday. They were joined by Deion Branch, who last returned a punt for the Patriots in 2004.

Safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory switched off as personal protectors for punter Zoltan Mesko, while newcomer Marquice Cole saw time at gunner in a unit that included returnees Malcolm Williams, Ross Ventrone, Josh Barrett, Sterling Moore, and Sergio Brown.

Looking at coaching assistants. Steve Belichick, who was hired as a coaching assistant this offseason, was on the field for the practice. Also spotted was Chris Simms, who reports have linked to the Patriots in a scouting or coaching assistant role. No title for the former NFL quarterback has been announced. Scouting assistant Steve Cargile, who also appeared to assist the coaching staff last season, was also present and assisted in drills.