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Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Camp Observations: Day 6

By Field Yates

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots returned to the practice fields on Tuesday, holding their third full pads session of training camp. Here are some observations:

Britt Davis
WR Britt Davis pulls in a pass over defensive back Ross Ventrone.
One-on-ones… finally. For the first time during training camp, the Patriots conducted a one-on-one period between their wide receivers and defensive backs. Here’s a handful of thoughts from the period, broken down by offense and defense:

Offensively, Brandon Lloyd showed up once again, today displaying his ability to make plays over the top of defenders. Julian Edelman’s strong camp continued, and he was razor sharp in his footwork to beat defenders both at the line of scrimmage and at the top of his routes. The offense repped a number of back-shoulder throws – something Jabar Gaffney and Tom Brady have unique chemistry on.

On the defensive end, the Patriots projected starting cornerback trio (based off of last year, the team looks to play enough sub package defense that we ought to designate three cornerbacks as starters) all stood out, for different reasons. Kyle Arrington worked exclusively from the slot, including a number of reps versus Wes Welker. He was physical on one rep, perhaps too much so, but showed good strength through his core to generate his initial punch. Devin McCourty made a nifty pass breakup on a ball thrown to the corner of the end zone, dislodging the football on an upward swat through the receiver’s arms. Textbook technique. And Ras-I Dowling, who worked on the right side of the field, held his own versus Brandon Lloyd. His ability to keep his receiver within reach, a testament to his big frame, stood out.

Hernandez continues to dazzle. The team also worked some one-ones between the tight ends and running backs against linebackers and safeties. Aaron Hernandez was a menace throughout the drill, flashing explosiveness in and out of his cuts. Great start for the third-year tight end this training camp.

The back end line means high throws. Colleague Mike Reiss did Yeoman’s work to transcribe Brady’s recent Sirius XM Radio interview in its entirety, during which the quarterback went into depth regarding the difference between throwing balls near the goal line versus the back of the end zone. Specifically, Brady summed it up by saying when a receiver is at the goal line, aim low; when he’s toeing the back of the end zone, aim high. We saw the quarterbacks aim high on such throws throughout the day, and the wide receivers spent time during the individual period focusing on back-of-the-end-zone throws. A team equipment manager was the designated quarterback, and launched throws up high.

Bolden/Edelman cough it up. We’ve been praising running back Brandon Bolden on the blog in recent days, and Bill Belichick highlighted some strengths of the undrafted player when asked during today’s press conference. During an 11-on-11 drill, however, Bolden put the ball on the ground. His day was average overall, at least from this vantage point. Meanwhile, Julian Edelman was stripped by Tavon Wilson during a form tackling drill.

A “three spot” drill debuts. The Patriots worked what is known as a “three spot” drill today, a chance for offensive and defensive lines to work isolated blocking schemes; the drill involves two or three players from each side of the ball squaring off, and it’s a great opportunity for offensive lines to work on combination blocks and double teams, and defensive linemen to practice techniques. The “three” in “three spot” refers to three separate groups within the drill alternating reps (usually: the left tackle/left guard pair up, the guards and center team up, and the right tackle/right guard pair up). This affords ample reps.

Defensive chatter picks up. Pads or no pads, one aspect that can always be worked on during practice is communication. During a team 11-on-11 drill near the red zone, we noticed the defense getting particularly chatty. That’s been a staple of successful defenses under Bill Belichick; the ability of players to communicate calls and adjustments on the field.

Bequette moves around. Defensive linemen Jake Bequette, a third-round pick in 2012, has been spotted as a defensive end, defensive tackle, and even as a tight end. No word on whether this is an experiment, something that might persist, or just a result of the Patriots being down a number of tight ends due to injury. Bequette showed up with a strong rush in 1-on-1 drills as well.

Cunningham/Hix
Linebacker Jermaine Cunningham (96) grapples with offensive tackle Kyle Hix (69) during a field drill at Pats camp.
Lines go at it. The highs and lows of the offensive/defensive line one-on-ones: better day for Marcus Cannon, who anchored well and showcased his strength. Another productive day for Dan Connolly, who has a very good combination of size, strength and athleticism. Good work from the pesky Ryan Wendell, too. Not so good from undrafted rookie Jeremiah Warren. An opinion on Warren: he plays far too wide in his base, subjecting him to being pushed backwards. Defensively, thumbs up for Jermaine Cunningham, who looked quick and decisive off the edge. Another day, another noticeable spin move for the Florida product. Chandler Jones and Nate Solder went toe-to-toe on two reps, chronicled below.

Solder and Jones face off. The Patriots top picks from the past two drafts met on two reps of one-one-one action, with Chandler Jones besting Nate Solder on an impressive push/pull maneuver in the opening act. Jones started his move by power rushing into Solder, before aggressively yanking the left tackle towards him, throwing the towering Solder off balance and freeing a lane for Jones to close on the area where the quarterback would be. The second go-around was closer to a stalemate, with Jones attempting a side scissors move, which involves him taking two arms to the side of Solder and attempting to knock him off his spot. Though Jones wasn’t able to fully execute (Solder rode him out of the pocket area), it’s an impressive move from a rookie. Strong work from both.

Attendance report. Fullback Tony Fiammetta, guard/center Jamey Richard, and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe all missed their first practice of training camp. Neither Fiammetta nor Richard were spotted on the field, while Shiancoe was in a T-shirt and shorts. Linebacker Tracy White remained out, as did tight end Jake Ballard (ACL) and guard Brian Waters (did not report). Players continuing rehab work in T-shirts were cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring); offensive linemen Logan Mankins (ACL), Sebastian Vollmer (back), Nick McDonald (undisclosed), and Markus Zusevics (pectoral); defensive lineman Myron Pryor (shoulder); tight end Daniel Fells (leg); wide receiver Jeremy Ebert (leg); and safety Nate Ebner (undisclosed). Safety James Ihedigbo and receiver Matthew Slater remained in red jerseys.