Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Monday, July 29, 2013
Observations from 4th practice

By Field Yates

(Editor's note: With practice ending so late, this will also serve as the "bed check" for the night.)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots conducted their first practice of training camp on the game field at Gillette Stadium on Monday night in front of a crowd of 20,543.

Below are some observations from the full-pads practice that followed the inductions of Tedy Bruschi and longtime radio voice Gil Santos into the team's Hall of Fame.

Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady
Rob Gronkowski was spotted watching Monday night's practice session. He is currently on the PUP list to start camp.
1. Bolden absent. Running back Brandon Bolden was absent from practice for the first time in training camp, though the reason behind his absence is unknown. In addition, defensive lineman Armond Armstead was not spotted (the team later announced he recently had surgery to remove an infection; his timetable to return is unknown). Defensive tackle Cory Grissom was spotted on the field for the first time in training camp, though he was not dressed to participate. Same goes for tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receivers Julian Edelman and Mark Harrison, and offensive lineman Nick McDonald.

2. Vereen, Blount work special teams. Based off the early part of his career, we didn't suspect LeGarrette Blount would figure prominently -- if at all -- into the special teams mix here in New England. But he's been spotted on the kickoff return team, and he and Shane Vereen got some work in core special teams unit drills tonight as well. With five running backs in the mix to make the roster, special teams will be a major consideration for each player's candidacy.

3. Edge-setting blocking focus. Defensively, the Patriots rely on setting the edge on each and every down. By that measure, the team got in its work on edge-setting blocking and defending drills, with the wide receivers squaring off against the cornerbacks and the tight ends facing off against defensive ends, outside linebackers and in-the-box safeties. On every play, the Patriots will have a player responsible for setting the edge on either side of the defense, making it a priority to work on with every practice.

4. Bruschi addresses team. Following his induction into the team's Hall of Fame, Tedy Bruschi was brought on to the field by Bill Belichick to address the team. Several players shared extensive praise and admiration for Bruschi during pre- and post-practice remarks.

5. Newtown visitors. The Patriots also announced that a special group of visitors from Newton, Conn., was in attendance at tonight's practice. The team made a trip to Newtown earlier this year to conduct a football clinic for children.

6. Tebow works on special teams. Tim Tebow was used as a personal protector on the punt team, something he was asked to do in New York with the Jets. He also was used as a member of the scout team during other punt and punt return repetitions. It appears the Patriots are making use of his movement skills in any applicable drill.

7. Dowling's length pays off. Here's what is unique about cornerback Ras-I Dowling: He's such a long defensive back that even when he doesn't necessarily extend his arms or blanket an opposing receiver, he can still maintain tight coverage. Dowling's length influences the window a quarterback has to throw into, and even when he stays within a half-stride of a wideout, it's difficult for receivers to out-leverage him at the point of catch. He had, in our estimation, his best practice session of camp.

8. Talib shines too. Dowling was good, but Aqib Talib was probably the best defensive back on the field tonight, as he recorded two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown (thrown by Tom Brady, intended for Kenbrell Thompkins along the right sideline). Talib's ability to muscle up in competitive catch situations has led to a handful of breakups thus far in camp.

9. Hightower gets more edge work. We saw Dont'a Hightower take some reps in one-on-one pass rushing drills on Sunday, then we saw him take that edge work to another level, as he had some rushes and blitzes off the edge in team drills on Monday night. Will be interesting to see if that continues into the season.

10. Boyce's lateral movements. Wasn't a particularly good night for the offense on the whole, but the lateral movements and elusiveness of rookie wideout Josh Boyce caught my eye. It's hard to make a comparison to a recent Patriots receiver that he reminds of, but he appears to have polish to his game. If he can make defenders miss in the open field, the Patriots may turn to him on tear and bubble screens.

11. Odds and ends. Rookie safety Duron Harmon registered his first training camp interception ... Rookie CB Brandon Jones earned high marks in tackling drills with a clean form tackle ... Offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and defensive end Rob Ninkovich worked extensively after practice on one-on-one rushing drills ... Tough night for rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who had a pair of drops. He turned 25 today.