Cleaning out the Patriots notebook with some random thoughts/observations that may have slipped through the cracks through the first six days of training camp:
1. Reserve quarterbacks improving. There's a temptation to evaluate the progress (or regression) of a quarterback during training camp by the number of throws he completes during team drills. But, from a coach's standpoint, so much more goes into the process than those figures, and the feeling here is that both of the reserve quarterbacks, Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow, have made improvement in camp. Keeping in mind where Mallett was last year in training camp, the 2012 regular season and this past offseason seem to have really paid off in his development. As for Tebow, it's always important to remember what he is (a movement quarterback with uncommon ability to make something happen on the fly), rather than what he isn't (a traditional drop-back passer). He's steadily shown improvement in his decisiveness, appearing more comfortable by the day.
2. Mild temps thus far in camp. While it appears that rain will be gone from the Foxborough area by the time practice kicks off Friday (2:20 p.m.), it looks like another day of reasonable temperatures is ahead. It's not something anyone can control, but mild weather -- which has been a theme in camp thus far -- is something players savor, particularly with days of full pads strung together. Coaches, meanwhile, don't mind the heat, particularly as it serves as a vehicle for conditioning.
3. Bolden's limited workload. Five running backs could be kept on the final roster coming out of training camp, with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Leon Washington as locks in our estimation. Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount are the others, with Bolden, again in our estimation, as a virtual lock. What's been surprising has been the lack of carries Bolden has seemed to get in team drills with the top offensive players. He impressed early in his rookie season, and he looks to be fully recovered after missing extended offseason work with a sprained ankle. Perhaps no position sorts itself out more in the preseason during game action than running back, so we'll see if Bolden can make his carries count starting next Friday in Philadelphia.
4. More on Collins' disruption skills. We mentioned this in our observations from yesterday's practice, but it bears further notice: linebacker Jamie Collins is already drawing our attention due to his ball-disruption skills, forcing a pair of fumbles on Thursday. The Patriots led the NFL with 21 forced fumbles and recoveries during the 2012 season, something the coaching staff values and aims for each year. Collins has been used in a variety of ways on defense early, and though the Patriots have a trio of linebackers penciled in as starters already, causing turnovers is a quick way to find work.
5. Dowling, Cunningham thoughts. As Mike Reiss pointed out in this morning's "wake-up call," both cornerback Ras-I Dowling and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham left Thursday's practice early. Hard to think of too many players who need to stay on the field to earn their spot on the roster more than those two, especially given the depth at their respective positions.