- Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Offering some follow-up observations from Thursday's organized team activity:
Will Allen shifts to safety. Last week, veteran Will Allen saw action with the top sub package in defensive back drills, as a cornerback. This week, Ras-I Dowling took his spot on that unit, with Allen appearing to move to safety for the majority of drills. Allen spent time with safeties coach Brian Flores, who also had rookie Nate Ebner by his side, and wore a large white play-call wristband on his left arm. Ebner and Allen shadowed safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory before jumping into the action themselves.
Ninkovich practices with d-line. Last season, linebacker Rob Ninkovich was part of the linebackers' stretching group, playing strong-side linebacker in the team's 4-3 base defense. On Thursday, Ninkovich went through practice with the defensive linemen, although it remains to be seen whether this means Ninkovich will see more of a role as a 4-3 defensive end, with the Patriots yet to extensively use their base defense in OTAs. If Ninkovich sees less of a role at linebacker, it may create an opportunity for Dont'a Hightower to receive playing time at the position.
Emphasis on sub packages. The 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of practice continued to see a heavy emphasis on sub packages. Most lineups saw Jonathan Fanene and Brandon Deaderick as interior rushers. First-round pick Chandler Jones was also part of a unit where he lined up alongside Vince Wilfork. For the second straight week, third-year defensive end Jermaine Cunningham appeared to receive a heavy workload for 11-on-11 work, more than Trevor Scott, Ninkovich, or Jake Bequette.
Kickoff units get work. Special teams drills on Thursday consisted of the kickoff unit, with Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman, and Devin McCourty the top returners, the same as last season. Notables on the top return team included rookie Nate Ebner and fullback Spencer Larsen. First-year kicker Chris Koepplin handled kickoff duties.
Silvestro remains at tight end. Defensive end Alex Silvestro, who practiced at tight end last week, remained at the position on Thursday. The team was without Rob Gronkowski and Daniel Fells for a second straight practice open to the media, but signed rookie free agent tight end Nick Melillo this week. Between Melillo, Silvestro, rookie Brad Herman, and Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots had four tight ends in practice on Thursday.
Shuffling offensive line. The same four players who missed last week's session -- Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Brian Waters, and Marcus Zusevics -- remained out of action on Thursday. The interior of the top offensive line unit saw some shuffling in one running game drill, with Robert Gallery, Ryan Wendell, and Dan Connolly seeing time at guard, and Connolly and Dan Koppen splitting reps at center.