Camp Observations: Day 1

July, 26, 2012
7/26/12
5:39
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Offering observations from the Patriots' first practice of training camp on Thursday, held from 1:30-4 p.m. on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium:

[+] EnlargeDeion Branch and Allonzo Dennard
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaRookie Alfonzo Dennard (37) worked against Deion Branch during practice on Thursday.
Full-speed practice. While teams aren't allowed contact practices for the first two days of training camp, Thursday's session was far from a walk-through. Most players were in shells (light shoulder pads), while a few appeared to have on their full shoulder pads. The team ran through all of its normal camp drills during the workout at full speed, including 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 periods.

Spikes limited. After passing his physical on Wednesday, linebacker Brandon Spikes was in uniform on the practice field on Thursday, but watched most drills from the sideline. As had been the case when Spikes was out in minicamp, Dane Fletcher took the majority of the reps with the top unit in the team's base defensive looks. Jerod Mayo and Bobby Carpenter also saw the most time with the first unit at the position. When the team shifted to its sub package, Carpenter was replaced by cornerback Ras-I Dowling.

Highlights from passing drills: Linebacker Dane Fletcher intercepted quarterback Brian Hoyer on a pass intended for Aaron Hernandez. ... Quarterback Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass deep down the right sideline to Jabar Gaffney, with cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and safety Josh Barrett in coverage. ... Cornerback Ross Ventrone broke up a Ryan Mallett pass intended for tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, while cornerback Sterling Moore broke up another Mallett pass intended for receiver Britt Davis. ... Receiver Jesse Holley dropped a deep pass thrown by Mallett. ... Safety James Ihedigbo made a diving pass break-up of tight end Tyler Urban, thrown by Brian Hoyer. ... Mallett hit receiver Julian Edelman on a deep post pattern, with Sterling Moore trailing in coverage.

Eyes on top draft picks. The team's top two safeties throughout the practice were Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory, but second-round pick Tavon Wilson rotated in for each player at various points. At defensive end, Rob Ninkovich and Trevor Scott were the top two options, with first-round pick Chandler Jones rotating in for a couple of drills. At linebacker, Dont'a Hightower, whose bulk and size stuck out on Thursday, played mostly on second units, both at inside and outside linebacker in the base defense and at linebacker in a sub package. Hightower was most commonly lined up alongside Tracy White in both the base and sub packages.

Other defensive odds and ends: Will Allen lined up exclusively at safety and was also a part of the safety stretching group. James Ihedigbo also received playing time with the second unit. Seeing less reps at the position were Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown, who were the pairing with the "scout" defense in the opening drill of practice (with Alfonzo Dennard, Malcolm Williams, and Ross Ventrone the top cornerbacks during that drill). Newcomer Tim Bulman, who is listed at 281 pounds, played exclusively at defensive end on Thursday.

Gallery's role in focus. In organized team activities, Robert Gallery was often spotted at left guard in the first-team offensive line. On Thursday, Gallery practiced at right guard on the second team, with the first-team line consisting of Ryan Wendell at left guard, Dan Koppen at center, and Dan Connolly at right guard.

Fanene's and Deaderick's role. While Brandon Deaderick started several games for the Patriots last season at defensive end in their 4-3 defense, he played exclusively at defensive tackle in Thursday's practice. Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork remain the top two options inside, while Jonathan Fanene subbed in for Wilfork in a sub package. Fanene also did not see any time at defensive end.

Silvestro remains at tight end. Second-year player Alex Silvestro donned a white jersey for Thursday's practice, sharing the No. 69 "white" (offense) number with tackle Kyle Hix. Listed as a defensive lineman, Silvestro had practiced exclusively at tight end throughout the offseason, and that continued on Thursday. In one goal line drill, third-round pick defensive end Jake Bequette donned a number-less white jersey and lined up at tight end for a few plays.

Kickoff return unit gets work. The special teams unit of the day was the kickoff return group, with Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman as the top two returners. Shane Vereen was the top "up man." The other kickoff return combinations were Julian Edelman/Matthew Slater and Kyle Arrington/Stevan Ridley. ... The top kickoff return team included cornerback Malcolm Williams; linebackers Niko Koutouvides, Tracy White and Dane Fletcher; safeties James Ihedigbo and Josh Barrett; defensive end Rob Ninkovich, guard Ryan Wendell and tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Francis leaves field. Undrafted rookie defensive end Justin Francis, who had a one-day stint on the active/non-football injury list upon reporting to the team last week, left the field with assistant trainer Dave Granito shortly before the conclusion of practice. Francis saw limited action in Thursday's practice, lined up exclusively at defensive end. Also, defensive lineman Gerard Warren, linebacker Brandon Spikes and tackle Kyle Hix joined a group of rehabbing players stretching on the ground at the end of practice, while the rest of the team was running sprints.

Attendance report. Players not spotted at all were guard Brian Waters (reserve/did not report), and tight ends Daniel Fells and Jake Ballard (both active/PUP). Players spotted rehabbing on the sidelines included Nate Ebner, who had nursed an injury during rookie minicamp but had returned by organized team activities. Ebner was in a T-shirt and shorts, but as of Wednesday had not been placed on the active/PUP or active/NFI list. Other players rehabbing or watching practice were wide receiver Jeremy Ebert (leg), offensive linemen Logan Mankins (knee), Markus Zusevics (pectoral) and Sebastian Vollmer (back/ankle), and defensive lineman Myron Pryor (undisclosed), who are all on active/PUP, except for Zusevics, who is on active/NFI. Also on active/NFI is rookie guard Jeremiah Warren, who was initially on the practice field in a T-shirt, but later returned in a jersey and pads. He did not appear to participate in team drills, however.

Still recovering. Wide receiver Matthew Slater (undisclosed) and safety James Ihedigbo (shoulder) both practiced in red, non-contact jerseys.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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