Observations from Patriots camp: Day 7

July, 30, 2014
7/30/14
2:30
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observations from the New England Patriots' sixth practice of training camp, held in full pads on another near-perfect morning:

Connolly steps in at center: With rookie Bryan Stork not participating in practice (he walked off with athletic trainers midway through Tuesday's session), it shined a brighter spotlight on the center position in practice. Veteran Dan Connolly, who had missed Tuesday's practice due to a personal matter, returned and took top repetitions at the position. That meant he was back in the spot where he started 14 games in 2011 (including playoffs) before being switched to right guard the following season. "My job my entire career has been kind of the utility guy -- go where the team needs me and I can just do whatever I can to make a job and help this team get better," Connolly said after practice.

Browner's physical play stands out: It was tough to take one's eyes off the 1-on-1 matchup between cornerback Brandon Browner and receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, mainly because Browner turned his physical play up a notch. It would have been interesting to see how many penalty flags would've been thrown had officials been present, as Browner toes the line. He said as much after practice, noting, "Let the chips fall where they may, you know that's my style of play, play aggressive. You don't want to cost your team any penalties but you let the officials do their job."

Who's winning 1-on-1s? There was one long pass-rush drill, with a total of 22 repetitions. After that, there was a 2-on-2 drill in which offensive linemen worked on passing off rushers. ... Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly had a decisive win over right guard Marcus Cannon, as Cannon failed to get his hands on him at the snap. Kelly later beat left guard Logan Mankins with some initial quickness as he appears to have come back nicely from a torn ACL that limited him to four games in 2013. ... Left tackle Nate Solder had two strong reps, holding his ground against Chandler Jones and Will Smith, but Jamie Collins powered into him with success on another rep. ... Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer stonewalled defensive end Rob Ninkovich but later had his hands full with Dont'a Hightower. ... Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga had two strong rushes to give center Dan Connolly and Cannon trouble. ... Rookie right guard Jon Halapio held his own against defensive tackle Joe Vellano, locking him out with his right arm, but defensive tackle Chris Jones beat him on his outside shoulder later in the drill. Halapio had a second rep against Jones and moved his feet to mirror him with success. ... Vellano had a decisive win over left guard Jordan Devey, beating him with quickness. ... Vince Wilfork continues to generate power in his rushes (against Logan Mankins and Connolly). ... Rookie right tackle Cameron Fleming was competitive against Ninkovich.

Kickoff coverage focus on special teams: A specific segment of special teams is worked on in each practice and today was kickoff coverage. With core special teamer Chris White not present, it opened the door for third-year linebacker Darius Fleming to take reps. It also caught the eye that second-year linebacker Steve Beauharnais seemed to factor a bit more into the special teams mix than we've seen in the past.

Cleaning out the notebook: Totaled up 10 dropped passes in the practice. ... For the second straight day, tight end Rob Gronkowski was covered by cornerback Darrelle Revis in a drill in which Tom Brady worked on end-zone routes with Gronkowski. Bill Belichick stayed to watch the three, while there was special teams work taking place on the opposite field. ... Interceptions for Brandon Browner and cornerback Justin Green. ... Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard spent most of the practice working off to the side and on conditioning. He looked a bit rusty, as one would expect. ... Linebacker Taylor McCuller worked as a fullback on the goal-line. ... A down marker and first-down stick were used on the sideline. ... Running back James White, who can be tough to locate behind big blockers, had a notable touchdown on the goal-line off the left side. ... Big hit delivered by linebacker Ja'Gared Davis on running back Stevan Ridley along the right sideline that planted Ridley on his backside. ... Vince Wilfork had a notable pressure in two-minute work. ... Receiver Brandon LaFell had a good set of reps in 1-on-1 drills, consistently beating his man. ... Rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler showed up with a few pass breakups. ... At the end of practice, Belichick had players go to the hill behind the fields for conditioning-based running. ... CBS News correspondent Armen Keteyian was a guest ... Music blared during practice, with Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" and "Mary's Place" among the highlights.

Who returned: Center Dan Connolly.

New absences: LB Chris White (unknown, participated in first five practices),WR Josh Boyce (leg/knee, participated in first five practices), C Bryan Stork (lower leg, left in middle of fifth 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), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (unknown, participated in first four practices).

Notable injuries/health-related incidents: None.

Who's talking with the media: Linebackers Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins and Darius Fleming; safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon; cornerbacks Brandon Browner, Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard; receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Danny Amendola; center/guard Dan Connolly, offensive tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer; fullback James Develin, defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones; and tight end D.J. Williams.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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