Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Following up on areas of interest
By Mike Reiss
On Tuesday morning, five areas of interest for the Patriots' organized team activity were listed. Here is a follow-up based on what we saw on Tuesday's session:
1. Early signs of Brady-Amendola synergy. This came through as clearly as it could in an organized team activity setting. At one point, Tom Brady worked with Danny Amendola on the quick pass that was often a staple with the QB and Wes Welker, while most of the entire team was on the other field for special-teams work. That play requires a certain element of timing and being on the same page and it was something that Brady and Welker did particularly well, giving Welker the chance to create yardage after the catch in the form of a glorified running play. Brady and Amendola spent time Tuesday attempting to build a similar rapport. Overall, Amendola seemed to take a leading presence among the receiving corps, as he was often the first receiver in drills.
2. Progress report on Ballard. This was probably the most significant development of the OTA from this perspective, the fact that Ballard's rehabilitation from knee surgery has reached a point where he is on the field catching passes from Brady. With Rob Gronkowski (forearm/back) and Aaron Hernandez (shoulder) not in the mix, Ballard received some significant reps, at one point running a dig route from left to right and showing good hands in hauling in a throw from Brady about 15-20 yards down the field. That was a good chance to get a snapshot look at Ballard's ability to run, which some might have had a concern with after knee surgery -- the thinking being that Ballard wasn't considered fleet of foot before the injury, and any loss of speed might limit his ability to contribute. Ballard is 275 pounds, and it certainly doesn't look effortless, but the feeling here was that he was running better than anticipated. It looks like he's still being managed health-wise -- at one point in practice he worked off to the side with some resistance training -- but his on-field presence is a notable development for the Patriots as they navigate rehabs with top tight ends Gronkowski and Hernandez.
3. Eyes on Dobson and the outside receivers. A little bit of a surprise to see veteran Michael Jenkins stand out from the crowd among outside receivers, and also took note that it was Jenkins and Amendola working with Brady on two different occasions (while most of the team was on the other field for special-teams work). Was curious if second-round pick Aaron Dobson would have those types of opportunities, but they weren't as plentiful. Also took note of Lavelle Hawkins' quickness at one point. His style of player seemed to be closer to an early-career Deion Branch -- not a big target, but some shiftiness there.
4. Trickle-down effect of Spikes' absence. With starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes staying away from voluntary organized team activities, it opened the opportunity for others to take more reps. Dane Fletcher, who missed last season with a torn ACL, was one beneficiary. "I feel good or else I wouldn't be out here," Fletcher said. "I feel like everything is [progressing]. It's getting better."
5. Brady breaking in new receivers. Brady was vocal on the practice field, often times barking out encouragement when he liked what he saw from one of the team's pass-catchers. In a practice with a heavy emphasis on the passing game, Brady was naturally a central focus. The change at the receiver position puts him out of his comfort zone a bit, but as one would expect, he seems to be embracing the challenge.