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Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Observations from Tuesday OTA

By Field Yates

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the second consecutive day, the Patriots took the practice fields outside of Gillette Stadium for an organized team activity, and Tuesday marked the first time that the media was allowed to attend the on-field work.

Tom Brady
Tom Brady is heading into his 14th season.
Passing along a handful of observations from the roughly 90 minute session, keeping in mind that without full pads the evaluation process is incomplete. In watching practice, our goal is not to draw too much from a single play, but rather examine traits that are evident throughout practice.

1. Attendance: Four players were missing from today's OTA: linebacker Brandon Spikes, tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Brandon Bolden and wide receiver Julian Edelman. Among that group, Bolden is the lone surprise, as Gronkowski and Edelman's absences are injury-related, while Spikes was not present on Monday. A host of other players, including defensive back Devin McCourty, tight end Aaron Hernandez and receiver Josh Boyce were on the field but non-participants in drills.

2. A lineup note: After working extensively as the top right tackle last offseason (while Sebastian Vollmer was nursing injuries), third-year player Marcus Cannon was aligned as a right guard on Tuesday. That could be due to a number of factors, including the absence of Dan Connolly (who was off to the side of the field; he had shoulder surgery earlier this offseason) and presence of veteran swing tackle Will Svitek, who worked on the right side of the line (Vollmer spent part of the practice off to the side as well). Cannon seems like a candidate to work as a top interior reserve this offseason after the team lost Donald Thomas via free agency.

3. Ballard returns: Tuesday was our first opportunity to see Jake Ballard on the field as a Patriot, and the well-built tight end didn't appear to be showing the effects of his major knee injury suffered in Super Bowl XLVI. Ballard did spend part of the on-field session working on resistance running with a team strength coach, but was able to participate in the majority of practice reps. Ballard was functional athletically before the injury, carving his niche as a tough run blocker with dependable hands in the passing game. He still isn't a speed tight end, but he looked reliable again as a pass catcher.

4. The ups and downs of Dobson: Second-round wide receiver Aaron Dobson could be in line to compete for a starting job this season, and he projects to work as a outside target given his big frame. He showed a long reach and the ability to make catches away from his body. He has also flashed the ability to outstretch defenders when the ball is thrown into a tight window. The downside to his day was a couple of catches he should have made. As is the case with any rookie, there's plenty of room to grow.

5. Productive day for Jenkins: The player that Dobson may be competing with for a starting job, Michael Jenkins, separated down the field on a couple of occasions. Jenkins' speed has noticeably diminished during his career, but he's a long target with strong hands and can be a mentor for the Patriots' young wideouts. The Patriots covet reliability in their receivers, and while limited athletically, that's part of what Jenkins brings to the table.

6. Washington, Slater returning kicks: The Patriots worked on the kickoff return team today, allowing both Leon Washington and Matthew Slater the opportunity to field a number of returns. Washington projects as a possible starter in that role this season, as he finished second in the NFL in kickoff return average in 2012. As is customary, the Patriots worked on field goal/field goal block at the conclusion of practice.

7. Passing game focus: As we expected to be the case, the Patriots were focused heavily on the passing game. Without pads, it's difficult to do much with the running game other than work on fits and backs seeing the hole. With that in mind, it's more difficult to evaluate the performances of running backs and linemen.

8. Brady works with veteran wideouts: During special teams drills, Tom Brady worked hard with a pair of veteran free agent additions, as both Danny Amendola and Jenkins joined him during those periods. Jenkins isn't a special teams factor at this point of his career, while Amendola will likely only see work as a punt returner if he does play in the kicking game at all. With their limited special teams responsbilities, they'll likely continue to use those periods as an opportunity to build chemistry with Brady.

9. Amendola looks sharp: The Patriots biggest free agent addition was Amendola, and while there's never been a question about his talent, it was enjoyable to see him on the field for the first time. What stands out? His change of direction skills, body control and ability to work down the field as a receiver. The Patriots need him to be a big factor in 2013, and he looked sharp in our first viewing experience.

10. Daboll stands close to Scarnecchia: The precise role of Brian Daboll remains unclear, but he spent much of practice nearby offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. A pair of offensive line coaches is not uncommon in the NFL, and Daboll could be utilized to assist Scarnecchia in addition to other responsibilities this season. He's a versatile coach. Jerry Schuplinski, added as a part of the Patriots coaching/scouting staff from John Carroll University this offseason, shadowed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for much of practice.

11. Odds and ends: It's tough to evaluate much on linemen during OTA's, but it's hard to miss new defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. Like Vince Wilfork, he's a mountain of a man, standing at 6-6... Ryan Mallett was picked off by Dont'a Higthower during a passing drill... Armond Armstead showed some ability to bend and torque his frame off the edge... Dane Fletcher was back on the field and didn't seem to be showing any signs of limitations from his 2012 knee injury.