FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observations from the New England Patriots' fifth practice of training camp, which was held in full pads on a beautiful morning:
Potential shift in center competition: This could turn out to be a crucial turning point in the team’s competition at center, as rookie Bryan Stork (fourth round, Florida State) walked off with a member of the athletic training staff midway through the practice after the team had been working on a run-game drill. Stork did not participate in the rest of practice, leaving the majority of reps to incumbent Ryan Wendell. His status now becomes an important storyline to monitor as it relates to one of the top competitions on the roster.
Physicality is taken to a new level: This is the time of camp when Bill Belichick had traditionally attempted to create stress for players, as the physicality and intensity was ratcheted up and there was live tackling in a variation of the Oklahoma drill (ball carrier vs. defender in a confined space). Second-year linebacker Steve Beauharnais caught our eye in the drill with a good pop on tight end D.J. Williams, and he followed it up later in practice with a strong run fit on the goal line. Belichick has noted that a big part of training camp is working on fundamentals and this was a fundamental tackling drill type of day.
Cannon gets his work at right guard: With incumbent right guard Dan Connolly among those not spotted at practice, we had expected second-year player Josh Kline to slide into his spot based on the first four days of practice. But it was four-year veteran Marcus Cannon instead, which marked his first work at the position after spending the first 17 practices of the year (OTAs plus training camp) at both tackle spots.
Who’s winning one-on-ones? There were two sets of one-on-one pass-rush drills, with a total of 28 repetitions. Wendell, the starting center, had three very good reps, with his best coming against Vince Wilfork as he got under Wilfork and held his ground on a bull rush. A real good example of how an undersized player like Wendell can still win against bigger players with good technique. Wendell later held his ground against L.T. Tuipulotu and Eathyn Manumaleuna, but had a little struggle with Sealver Siliga, who slipped off his block to penetrate off Wendell’s right shoulder. Wendell’s extensive work tied to the theme of the day – a bit of a spotlight shined on the center position. … Siliga also gave backup Braxston Cave some fits. … Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer pancaked defensive end Rob Ninkovich when Ninkovich tried to come inside on him and might have lost his footing a bit. … Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly showed he still has life in his 33-year-old legs, aligning over guard Jon Halapio’s outside shoulder, delivering a strong initial thrust, and beating him to the outside. … Big collision with left guard Logan Mankins and defensive end Will Smith, with Mankins seemingly doing a nice job to push Smith out wide. Mankins later showed a nice combination of power and light feet to stymie rookie Zach Moore, rocking him back and then shuffling his feet as Moore attempted to disengage and rush inside. … Two solid reps for left tackle Nate Solder against defensive end Chandler Jones, the second of which he got his hands into Jones’ chest and locked him up. … Also two strong reps for third-year defensive end Jake Bequette, the second of which he beat Solder on an inside move. … When Cave and Kline seemed to get too high in their stance, Chris Jones (on Cave) and Smith (on Kline) made them pay. The 6-foot-3, 282-pound Smith is a power rusher and you can hear the pads pop when it’s his turn in the drill.
Kickoff returns the focus on special teams: A specific segment of special teams is worked on in each practice and today was kickoff return. Receiver Josh Boyce, running back Roy Finch and defensive back Travis Hawkins were the primary returners, working alongside Shane Vereen, Brandon LaFell and Derrick Johnson.
Cleaning out the notebook: Former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, now head coach at Kansas, was present at practice, and after the session, he spent time with current offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and quarterback Tom Brady, among others. … Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle and former Red Sox bench coach Demarlo Hale were guests at practice. … Belichick was feisty throughout the practice, at one point lambasting Smith for jumping offside before sending him on a penalty lap. … Defensive lineman Marcus Forston took some quality reps in the practice with some of the club’s returning starters. … Second-year cornerback Logan Ryan got the most extensive work in the slot, where we’d normally see Kyle Arrington. … Offensive highlights came with receiver Julian Edelman making a diving one-handed catch (Arrington pushing him in the process of making the catch) and LaFell hauling in a long bomb from Brady in double coverage (Nate Ebner, Malcolm Butler). … The deep ball was a focus in practice for the first time in camp. … Some trickery on offense, as the Patriots emptied out parts of their playbook. … Cornerback Darrelle Revis, switching from his neon cleats, had another notable pass breakup. … Revis shadowed tight end Rob Gronkowski in more of a one-on-one type setting while special teams work was the focus on the other field. Brady was at quarterback for the drill. … Hawkins and second-year cornerback Logan Ryan had interceptions. … No-huddle work was featured, with Vereen having quite a few footballs thrown in his direction.
Who returned: Cornerback Daxton Swanson -- he had missed the last two practices due to the death of his father. Also, as previously noted, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard came off the PUP list and he did individual drills and mostly one-on-one work with coaches.
New absences: G Dan Connolly (unknown), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (walked off with trainers at end of Sunday’s practice).
Who else didn’t practice: Receiver Aaron Dobson (foot/PUP), special-teams captain Matthew Slater (unknown/PUP), linebacker Deontae Skinner (non-football-injury list offensive tackle Chris Martin (non-football-injury list), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (non-football-injury list), receiver Jeremy Gallon (unknown/PUP), defensive back Jemea Thomas (unknown, only practiced Day 1), Connolly, Hoomanawanui.
Notable injuries/health-related incidents: Stork, who left midway through the practice.
Who’s talking with the media: Defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Sealver Siliga, tight end Rob Gronkowski, center Ryan Wendell, receivers Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman, safety Duron Harmon, running backs Shane Vereen and Jonas Gray.