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Saturday, August 3, 2013
Observations from eighth practice

By Field Yates

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The tempo was dialed back as the Patriots took the practice field on Saturday morning, breaking their streak of five days of wearing full pads by taking a scrimmage-like approach in shells and shorts.

Below are some observations from the practice, keeping in mind that the lack of full pads minimizes our exposure to linemen, while also emphasizing the passing game more:

1. The overall theme of the day was that while the team dialed back the tempo, they kept busy with situational work. With a preseason game just six days away, the Patriots have worked hard to make sure they've paid attention to not just the major phases of the game (first- and second-down work, third-down passing game, red zone, goal-line, etc.), but also more specific situations that, although uncommon, could come up in game action (as an example, having to take one last offensive snap and hurrying the field-goal team onto the field for a last-second attempt). There's plenty more work to do, but they've had the chance to walk and talk through several important situations.

2. From the under-the-radar department: Undrafted rookie punter Ryan Allen took several reps as a holder for Stephen Gostkowski on Saturday. That's something we think could be significant in the punting competition. Allen has been solid in his punting reps, as has incumbent starter Zoltan Mesko. Mesko has also served as the team's holder during his career, something that Allen previously said he did not do in college while at Louisiana Tech. Should Allen win the punting job, it would be a bonus for the team if he can handle holding duties as well.

3. Looks like Tyronne Green, who has worked at right guard with the starters in the absence of both Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon, is banged up as well, as he sat out the scrimmage. That thrust Markus Zusevics, a college tackle, into the right guard job. While Connolly should be back soon and Cannon's injury may not be serious, the team's interior offensive line depth has suddenly been thinned. More info to come on Green if we get it. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was also among those limited today.

4. Offensive standouts of the day go to rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld and wide receiver Danny Amendola. Amendola has routinely been among the top offensive performers throughout camp, while Sudfeld has drawn notice dating back to offseason workouts. Much like Rob Gronkowski, one area that Sudfeld has been effective is taking advantage of is his length (6-foot-7) up the seam. Tom Brady and the other quarterbacks have looked confident in throwing to a spot -- rather than to a player directly -- and allowing Sudfeld to leverage defenders and make a play up the seam.

5. Defensive standouts go to the two rookies who were responsible for a forced turnover. Safety Duron Harmon, a third-round pick, undercut an outbreaking route on a pass that was thrown by Tim Tebow. Top draft choice Jamie Collins also managed an interception of Tebow, wrestling a ball thrown into a tight window intended for Michael Hoomanawanui. Forced turnovers have become a regular occurrence by Collins.

6. Linebackers coach Pepper Johnson provided onlookers with a laugh on Saturday, as he took the field in a white T-shirt that read "Happy 40th birthday Tom," a reference to Brady, who actually turns 36 today. Any time an Ohio State alum (like Johnson) can take a jab at a Michigan man (Brady), he apparently does.

7. An up-and-down day for Tebow, who had a pair of interceptions and some other errant throws during the scrimmage (he also took some work as a personal protector on the punt team during special teams walkthroughs), but he continues to throw an effective deep ball. Wide receiver Quentin Hines did well to pluck a Tebow throw down the field for a score. The scrimmage was not conducive to quarterbacks breaking the pocket and using their legs, so Tebow worked hard on his dropback passing game.

8. Devin McCourty, working almost exclusively at safety after some time at cornerback in recent days, looked like the best defensive player in the scrimmage. He's such a smooth reactive athlete with the ability to get down the field in coverage while also keeping vision of the play in front of him. That's part of what has made him such a productive free safety during his brief tenure there.