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Thursday, July 28, 2011
Patriots practice 2 observations

By Mike Rodak & Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Dual observations from Thursday afternoon's practice, the Patriots' second of training camp, which was held in shorts and shells and in warm conditions:

Mike Rodak

First full practice of camp. Thursday afternoon marked the first "full" practice of training camp. With teams not allowed to practice in full pads, players were in light shoulder pads ("shells") and shorts. The session lasted approximately two-and-a-half hours and featured many of the typical training camp practice drills.

Warren, Sanders, Hernandez among limited players. Six players were not in uniform for the practice but took part in strength and conditioning drills on the sidelines. These players were defensive linemen Ty Warren, Ron Brace, and Brandon Deaderick; safety James Sanders; tight end Aaron Hernandez; and rookie offensive lineman Mike Berry.

Kaczur, Crumpler, Pryor, Stroud not spotted. For the second straight practice, tight end Alge Crumpler, offensive lineman Nick Kaczur, and defensive linemen Myron Pryor and Marcus Stroud were not seen on the field. No transaction has been announced regarding Stroud despite a report that he has been released. In addition, guard Logan Mankins (franchise tag), cornerback Kyle Arrington (exclusive-rights free agent), and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (restricted free agent) remained out of practice, as they have yet to sign their respective tenders.

Two more rookies in fold. Draft selections cornerback Malcolm Williams (seventh round) and running back Stevan Ridley (third round) made their practice debuts after signing contracts on Thursday. Five draft picks remain unsigned and out of practice: offensive lineman Nate Solder, cornerback Ras-I Dowling, running back Shane Vereen, quarterback Ryan Mallett, and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon.

Spikes banged up. Linebacker Brandon Spikes appeared to suffer a leg injury during positional drills. He resumed practicing during full-team work but was often seen attempting to stretch himself out on the sidelines. In addition, safety Brandon Meriweather left a 7-on-7 drill to talk with team trainers before returning during 11-on-11 work later in practice. Wide receiver Brandon Tate was held out of team sprints at the end of practice to be stretched by a member of the training staff.

Ridley has two drops. Rookie running back Stevan Ridley dropped two passes thrown to him as a receiver coming out of the backfield. While Danny Woodhead is likely to shoulder most of the pass-catching duties at the position, Ridley will still need to prove to coaches he can be counted on as a receiving threat.

Shifting defensive fronts. The Patriots used a variety of defensive fronts throughout practice, including looks with both four- and three-man lines. At this point, it appears that outside linebacker/defensive end Eric Moore will be used mostly as a defensive lineman; the seventh-year veteran joined the defensive line group for positional drills and sprints. Meanwhile, second-year defensive lineman Kyle Love saw plenty of action with the first unit, in some cases playing alongside Vince Wilfork in a four-man front.

Josh Barrett's role in focus. Safety Josh Barrett, who the Patriots acquired last August off waviers from the Denver Broncos, and subsequently spent the season on injured reserve, saw action with linebackers in multiple drills on Thursday afternoon. This could be a case of the team looking to use the 6-foot-2, 225 pound Barrett in a role similar to that of Tank Williams three seasons ago.

Emerging role of technology. In past seasons, video recording of practice was limited to stationary cameras perched high above each practice field. On Thursday, smaller cameras were being used at practice for the first time in memory. Video director Jimmy Dee recorded quarterback drop-backs during positional drills from behind the play, while special teams coach Scott O'Brien recorded kicking drills with a camera later in practice.

Mike Reiss

1. For the opening of training camp, I don’t recall the crowds being as thin in recent memory. I’d call it the lockout effect.

2. At a practice like this, one of the things I look for is opportunity. Which players might have a chance for extended reps because of other circumstances (injuries to other players etc.). Rookie tight ends Lee Smith (5th round) and Will Yeatman (free agent) were two players who caught the eye in this regard, lining up alongside Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead in 7-on-7 work, with Tom Brady at quarterback. Both had drops. The extended opportunity came as a result of Alge Crumpler (shoulder) being held out of practice and Aaron Hernandez also watching from the side.

3. There has been a lot of discussion about the direction of cornerback Darius Butler’s career, especially after losing the starting right cornerback job to Kyle Arrington and then having the team draft Ras-I Dowling with the opening pick of the second round. Butler is still in the cornerback mix, but I took note of him as a kickoff returner as well. That could add to his value. Brandon Tate, Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman and Taylor Price were also back as returners.

4. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was driving his leg through the ball as we got our first look at him attempting field goals since he tore his quad muscle last November. Everything looks on schedule and he worked with Rob Ninkovich as the short snapper. Gostkowski was 5 of 6 at the end of practice, hitting from 29, 29, 34, 37 and 37. He was wide left on one attempt from the 34.

5. A lot of time to ponder a cornerback pairing of Devin McCourty and Leigh Bodden, as the two worked opposite of each other quite a bit. Bodden was around the ball as he returned to the field for the first time since tearing his rotator cuff. Bodden also worked a bit in the slot.

6. Along those lines, Mike Wright has also been cleared, as he was back on the field today for both practices after missing the last seven games of 2010 with a concussion.

7. Bill Belichick was really pushing the pace. Even though this training camp is different post-lockout, with no pads, he could be heard often urging players to pick up the pace. Just a reminder that Belichick is in his element and hasn’t lost his bite. At one point, he sent the entire defense on a lap.