- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots held the first practice of their three-day mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. Temperatures were in the low 80s, it was sunny, and some players said it felt a bit like training camp.
Here were a few takeaways from the practice, which coach Bill Belichick previously described as a continuation of what the team had done in organized team activities:
More work for Garoppolo with Mallett limited. With No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett present but limited in drills, it provided rookie Jimmy Garoppolo with extended opportunity. As has been the case in each practice we’ve watched Garoppolo, there were some notable highs and lows. The high came in 11-on-11 drills when he threw a beautiful, arcing 40-yard bomb down the right sideline to hit receiver Jeremy Johnson in stride for a touchdown. Just a sweet deep ball on which Garoppolo later said he noticed the safeties had rotated, creating the window in which to throw. On the down side, Garoppolo lost the handle on one play, with the football falling to the the ground as he had dropped back from center and appeared to be ready to hand off. (For what it’s worth, Tom Brady had a football on the ground as well.)
Wilfork and Kelly in 11-on-11s. For the second straight week, veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork took part in 11-on-11 drills as he continues to make positive strides in his recovery from a ruptured Achilles. Meanwhile, veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly was also part of 11-on-11 work, which he said after practice was a step forward for him as he comes back from a torn ACL sustained last year. Similar to last Thursday, veteran defensive end Will Smith also graduated to more 11-on-11 work.
Music blares to create stress for the offense. A new wrinkle was hearing music at times during 11-on-11 drills to make it harder for players to communicate. Bon Jovi (“Have a Nice Day”), Neil Young (“Rockin' in the Free World”), U2 (“Desire”), Coldplay and The Who were on the setlist. No Bruce Springsteen? Someone must have dropped the ball.
Punt protection in focus. As is the case in every practice, there is one specific aspect of special teams that is the focus, and on Tuesday it was punt protection. This gave reporters a chance to focus on some lesser-known players who could factor into that mix, with safety Nate Ebner serving as the personal protector. Rookie linebacker Cameron Gordon, an undrafted free agent out of Michigan, got some quality reps in there. For a player like Gordon, shining in that area is his best chance for earning a roster spot.
Attendance report. Defensive tackle Armond Armstead, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, receiver Aaron Dobson and defensive lineman Dominique Easley were among a group of players not spotted. Receivers Jeremy Gallon and Brandon LaFell and tight end Rob Gronkowski were among those limited.
Extra points. One addition for the mandatory minicamp was having numbers painted on the practice fields. ... A down marker and chains were also part of the practice, as there was some situational work throughout. ... Coaches continued to use headsets as they have throughout OTAs. ... Members of the team’s scouting staff watched the practice. ... Owner Robert Kraft and his grandson Harry were also among those taking in the practice. ... Belichick walked off the field chatting with Michael Lombardi, the team's assistant to the coaching staff.