- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Wrapping up the eighth day of training camp and the key storylines:
Time to scale things back. After four straight full-pads practices, which included a spirited Wednesday night in-stadium session complete with a notable scuffle, Bill Belichick lightened the load on players by taking them out of pads. Practice also was about 20-25 minutes shorter than the norm.
21 players held out of practice. Including those on the physically unable to perform list, the Patriots had a whopping total of 21 players not participate in the session. That also might have contributed to the shorter practice and lighter load. Belichick and the medical/training staff is managing the health of players with the big picture in mind.
Offensive line help picked up. Depth along the offensive line has been thin, but the Patriots will soon have three more bodies to the mix after signing rookies Derek Dennis (Temple) and claiming rookie guard Dustin Waldron (Portland) on waivers. Both had been in the offseason program and training camp with the Dolphins. Also, center/guard Nick McDonald passed his physical. A big part of the Dennis and Waldron signings is adding bodies who can absorb some snaps later in preseason games. As they were presently constituted, the Patriots were in danger of having to reinsert a starter into a preseason game in the event of injury.
Handoffs for Hernandez. After practice, quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Aaron Hernandez stayed after for some extra work, with Brady handing the ball off to Hernandez. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels coached them both up.
Good couple of days for the defense. After the offense had the upper hand for the first stretch of camp, the defense has rebounded nicely the last two practices.
Belichick reacts to Wednesday's scrap. Belichick wasn't concerned about Wednesday night's scrap between players. "Football is competitive, and we're in a competitive camp, so I think some of those things are just part of football," he said. "I don't think it's a big deal."
Schedule set through next Wednesday. The Patriots set their training camp schedule through next Wednesday, including dates and times for next week's joint practices with the Saints (Tuesday, Aug. 7 at 1:30 p.m. and Wednesday, Aug. 8 at 10 a.m.).
Star performer of the day. Donte Stallworth/Steve Gregory. We'll pick one from each side of the ball. On offense, Stallworth had the play of the day, leaping high to snare a deep Brady pass between defensive backs Ross Ventrone and Josh Barrett. On defense, Gregory was around the ball at safety, intercepting Brady and getting his hands on the football multiple other times.
Tough day at the office. Tom Brady. The trademark decision-making and accuracy weren't there, which had teammates saying afterward that even Brady is human.
Storyline to monitor. Brady's 35th birthday is Friday. That usually means a few extra signs at practice and the crowd singing him "Happy Birthday."
Rookie watch. Safety Tavon Wilson put together his second strong practice in a row. He was also interviewed after the session, drawing a large media crowd. Expect to see Wilson featured in various outlets. ... Defensive end Jake Bequette watched practice in a T-shirt, his work limited for the first time. ... Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, the seventh-round pick out of Nebraska, has been out since injuring his hamstring in the second practice of camp.