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

Thursday, July 31, 2014
Observations from Patriots camp: Day 8

By Mike Reiss and Lee Schechter

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observations from the New England Patriots' seventh practice of training camp, which was held in full pads on another beautiful morning:

Defense at goal-line stands out: In a practice that seemed to be a bit dialed back compared to the previous day, both sides turned it on during goal-line drills. When the top unit was on the field, safety Devin McCourty burst through the line to stop running back Stevan Ridley for a loss, and he shouted in excitement afterward as his teammates joined him in a chant that reflected a unit that is having a lot of fun and playing together. The first-unit defense also had a stop on an incomplete pass that looked like an offensive breakdown. Meanwhile, the second-unit offense went 2-for-2, with running back James White squirting up the middle for a score, while quarterback Ryan Mallett found tight end Justin Jones in the back of the end zone off play-action.

Keeping tabs on center competition: With rookie Bryan Stork remaining out of practice, the Patriots had incumbent Ryan Wendell back in the pivot in this practice, with Braxston Cave working behind him. Veteran Dan Connolly, who had taken those reps Wednesday, had more of a limited workload. Marcus Cannon remained at right guard for the second day in a row.

Who’s winning one-on-ones? Offensive and defensive linemen didn't do one-on-one drills in this practice, as coaches focused more on two-on-two blocking situations. Second-year defensive tackle Chris Jones caught the eye with two strong rushes, the second of which he won in hand combat with guard Josh Kline and showed burst to get to the quarterback.

Cleaning out the notebook: Seemed like Bill Belichick was taking a closer look at tight end Rob Gronkowski and his progress. Once again, Gronkowski, cornerback Darrelle Revis and quarterback Tom Brady worked together while the majority of the club was working on a special teams drill. ... Darrelle Revis' pick-six of Tom Brady drew a reaction from the crowd. ... One offensive play of the day came when No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett connected with running back Shane Vereen on a long pass down the left sideline with first-year cornerback Justin Green in coverage. ... Vereen was a tough matchup for linebacker Dont'a Hightower in one-on-one passing drills, with Vereen making a leaping catch over Hightower, who didn’t turn his head. … Running back Brandon Bolden beat linebacker James Anderson in one-on-one drills, making the catch while falling after a sharply run route. He later struggled to keep his feet after shaking linebacker Chris White. … Hard to miss rookie running back James White getting some reps on the goal line. … Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard took some one-on-one reps against receivers, which wasn’t something we spotted in his return to practice Wednesday. … Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo worked on holding field goals before practice, and later took some snaps running the read-option. … Strong rush by second-year defensive end Michael Buchanan on rookie right tackle Cameron Fleming to record a would-be sack of Garoppolo. … Undrafted cornerback Malcolm Butler recorded an interception of Garoppolo. … Two low snaps from undrafted Tyler Ott in end-of-practice field-goal work. … Former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk was present, as was Boston Red Sox third-base coach Brian Butterfield. … First-year offensive lineman Jordan Devey was the lone lap-taker (for a false start).

Punt coverage the focus on special teams: A specific segment of special teams is worked on in each practice and today was punt coverage. Linebacker Jamie Collins got a bit more work in that area than he had earlier in camp.

Who returned: Special-teams captain Matthew Slater, linebacker Chris White, receiver Josh Boyce

New absences: Linebacker Cameron Gordon

Who else didn’t practice: Receiver Aaron Dobson (foot/PUP), center Bryan Stork (lower leg, left midway through fifth practice), linebacker Deontae Skinner (non-football-injury list), offensive tackle Chris Martin (non-football-injury list), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (non-football-injury list), receiver Jeremy Gallon (unknown/PUP), defensive back Jemea Thomas (unknown, only practiced Day 1), tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (unknown, participated in first four practices).

Notable injuries/health-related incidents: None.

Who’s talking with the media: Quarterback Tom Brady, receiver Danny Amendola, special-teams captain Matthew Slater, linebacker Jerod Mayo, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, defensive ends Chandler Jones and Will Smith, cornerback Logan Ryan, long-snapper Tyler Ott, safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, tight end Justin Jones.