Saturday, July 27, 2013
Bed check: Draft picks check in
By Mike Reiss
(Every day at training camp, we'll recap the day with a final blog post.)
Top storyline: The team held its second practice of training camp in light shoulder pads, as it gears up for Sunday's first full-pads practice. After the session, most of the team's top draft picks answered questions from reporters, and the brighest spotlight was on receiver Aaron Dobson, the second-round draft choice from Marshall. Dobson has taken a good amount of first-unit repetitions over the first two days, getting important early work with quarterback Tom Brady.
Tight end personnel draws notice: In his early morning news conference, Bill Belichick answered questions about each of the team's top four tight ends on the practice field -- Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard and rookie free agent Zach Sudfeld. With Rob Gronkowski recovering from surgeries and Aaron Hernandez released, those four players have received more repetitions than they otherwise would have. "I don't want to say this is Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig, but that's the classic story ... it's there if they can do it," Belichick said, cracking a smile. (Who said Bill Belichick's news conferences are dry? That's a solid quote right there.)
Let's talk about the Dennard factor: From a pure ball-skills standpoint, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard had an excellent practice, with at least three pass breakups. Tight coverage down the field, and to the layman, very sound technique defending the deep ball. Watching Dennard excel sparked thoughts of his value to the defense, and how the Patriots would have to adjust if Dennard faces a suspension from the NFL for his latest arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence. Through two practices, Kyle Arrington has been the No. 2 corner in Dennard's place when Dennard is not on the field. Can third-year man Ras-I Dowling or 2013 third-round pick Logan Ryan close the gap? A storyline to monitor throughout camp given the uncertainty of Dennard's availability.
Rookie report: Free-agent receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is an under-the-radar target to watch. It's unusual to see an undrafted player taking top repetitions this early in camp. Thompkins is an older rookie, as he turns 25 on Monday. ... Seventh-round defensive end Michael Buchanan caught the eye of colleague Field Yates. ... Punter Ryan Allen held his own during drills. ... Tight end Zach Sudfeld was among those rookies speaking with reporters after practice.
Tebow finding his way: Quarterback Tim Tebow once again worked in run-after-the-catch drills, the only player at his position to do so. He put a nice move on defensive end Rob Ninkovich, which had Ninkovich clapping his hands together in semi-frustration. When Tebow has the ball in his hands in that type of drill, he is tough. When he plays more of the traditional quarterback position in 7 on 7 and 11 on 11, the results have been mixed. At one point, he held on to the ball for a long time before ultimately throwing it away, which sparked a reaction from the crowd (a small section started chanting "Brady! Brady! Brady!" at that point). He had two passes batted down by ballboys holding racquets to simulate the reach of a long-armed defensive lineman (so did Tom Brady), while his highlight was a deep pass down the left sideline to Lavelle Hawkins.
Behind-the-scenes nugget: Rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce are roommates during training camp.
Quote of note: "He's one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game, so he's definitely demanding. [He's] definitely tough to play for." -- Aaron Dobson, on Tom Brady.
Gronkowski takes a peek at practice: Tight end Rob Gronkowski sparked a reaction from the crowd (official attendance not announced but it seemed significantly more than the 6,900-plus on Friday) when he arrived on the practice field to watch his teammates.
Summing it up: The passing offense looked sharper than it did in the team's rainy opening practice. While there are questions as to which receivers will ultimately emerge, it's notable that many of the younger pass-catchers are getting early work with Brady. Dobson and lesser-known third-year man Kamar Aiken appear to have started training camp strong. Players said they were looking forward to Sunday's first full-pads practice.