FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The rain held off until the conclusion of the Patriots' fifth organized team activity, which was held Wednesday on the practice fields outside of Gillette Stadium.
Passing along some observations and notes from the roughly 90-minute session, conducted in helmets and number-less jerseys. As is always the case with OTAs, it's difficult to draw too much on a particular player, as they are not practicing in pads and aren't able to work at full speed; these observations were made with that in mind:
1. Tempo picked up. With each passing OTA, the expectation is for the tempo to pick up at practice. Today's effort was held at a faster tempo than last week's, with players getting in and out of drills quickly. In addition, the team worked to get in and out of the huddle quickly with simulated stadium noise (in the form of a soundtrack featuring U2) blaring from speakers.
2. Drop-back passing game focus. It may not have been on every snap, but certainly the majority of plays in both the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 period was focused on the drop-back passing game. That correlated with a focus on downfield throws as well. Whether this was specific to today's OTA or an attempt to establish more of a vertical passing game within the offense is unclear, but the team has a pair of big targets in Michael Jenkins and Aaron Dobson to play on the perimeter, as well as Danny Amendola, who has good speed for the position.
3. Ups-and-downs of Dobson. We wrote about it last week, and we saw it again today: Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson presented an intriguing mix of "flash" plays (in which he catches your attention for something good) and rookie mistakes. Dobson elevated over Alfonzo Dennard and Steve Gregory down the sideline for a terrific catch in a 7-on-7 drill, followed up by a concentration drop just a few plays later. He again made a catch down the sideline later in practice that impressed, but like any rookie, he's a work in progress. The size, speed and ability to make catches outside of his frame are evident.
4. Jenkins' reliable mitts. Michael Jenkins and Aaron Dobson are linked as outside receivers and because of their similar builds, and Dobson would do well to study Jenkins as he gets his NFL career started. Jenkins isn't the same athlete that Dobson is, but he consistently catches the ball with his hands and away from his body. It's not often he sees a throw reach his chest before catching it. That's a sign of reliable catching skills.
5. Zusevics runs with the "1's." With Sebastian Vollmer limited and Will Svitek absent for the day's work, second-year player Markus Zusevics was the top option at right tackle. We don't know much about his game, as he missed last training camp due to a pectoral injury suffered at the combine. Meanwhile, Marcus Cannon worked exclusively at right guard next to Zusevics; the team may view him more as an interior player after spending much of his first two seasons at tackle.
6. Individual drill notes. After working last week with the outside linebackers/defensive ends during the individual drill period, top draft choice Jamie Collins was working alongside Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower to start the period today. During team drills, Collins was back on the edge working as an outside linebacker. It's too soon to tell, but Collins could be a case where the Patriots are experimenting with him to tap into his raw natural skill set to find out where he fits best. With their trio of starting linebackers and pair of defensive ends intact from last season, there's not a glaring spot that they need Collins to fill immediately. The offseason will likely be used to find out where he fits. Meanwhile, James Develin, listed as a running back on the roster but who has the build of a fullback, worked with the tight ends during the individual drill periods.
7. Punt/punt return work today. After focusing on kickoff/kickoff return last week, the Patriots repped their punt and punt return units today. As it relates to returners, Leon Washington and Danny Amendola saw extensive action. With a pair of left-footed punters, the Patriots focused on directional punting to the left sideline. Both Washington and Amendola are talented returners, while incumbent Julian Edelman should also compete for the starting job.
8. Swing/flare passes. Seemed like there was plenty of work on swing/flare passes out of the backfield today, with each of the running backs getting plenty of reps. Shane Vereen and Leon Washington are both the kind of running backs that the Patriots would want to isolate against a linebacker in space, and the swing pass is one way to do it. Each has soft hands and good open-field vision.
9. Mallett throwing fastballs. Third-year quarterback Ryan Mallett continues to develop and seems to be growing more comfortable by the season. He's the kind of quarterback who makes at least one throw per practice that catches your eye, as he can sling it into a tight window. What stuck out most today? The velocity of his throws. There were a few fastballs over the middle that practically stuck to wide receivers' hands. Consistency with accuracy is the key for Mallett.
10. Speaking of quarterbacks ... It's hard not to think of former Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer when newcomer Mike Kafka gets into his dropback, and it's not because the two share the same jersey number. Kafka's throwing motion resembles that of Hoyer's with a very technical, over-the-top-of-his-shoulder delivery. Kafka is a slick athlete who was an intriguing prospect coming out of Northwestern in 2010 (fourth round pick, Eagles).
11. Daboll with the OL again. One of our areas of focus leading into the day was what group offensive assistant coach Brian Daboll would be working with. He was again working with the offensive line, concentrating specific attention to the tackles. It's not uncommon for teams to have two coaches work with the offensive line, and Daboll could become the assistant to Dante Scarnecchia.
12. Odds and ends. Plenty of PBUs for the defensive backs today, including Ras-I Dowling (who once again looked sharp), Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and an interception for Aqib Talib off of a deflected pass. Plenty of impressive catches today too, with Donald Jones and Kamar Aiken fighting for balls in traffic. ... Former Patriot guard Joe Andruzzi donned coaching gear and worked with Sebastian Vollmer and Dan Connolly on the sideline for rehab purposes. Andruzzi has done work with the team's strength and conditioning staff in previous offseasons.