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Patriots open OTA No. 2: Practice observations

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  May 31, 2012 03:08 PM

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FOXBOROUGH – Some observations from today’s second off-season practice open to the media:

  • Practice was again outside in beautiful weather. Players were in helmets and no pads, as per the rules in the CBA.
  • The session was at a brisk pace again with much less competitive situations than the first practice, which feature more 7-on-7 situations. This time, there was only one 11-on-11 period near the end of practice for about 10 minutes and QB Tom Brady only took one rep.
  • Not a whole lot of big changes as far as personnel except that Ryan Wendell and Robert Gallery flip-flopped to LG and RG, respectively.
  • In the team period, QB Brian Hoyer was 7-of-9 with most of his completions going to Brandon Lloyd (three), Wes Welker (two) and Jabar Gaffney (two). QB Ryan Mallett was 2-of-6 but Stevan Ridley did drop a pass. Brady was 0-for-1 with his pass to Julian Edelman underthrown and batted away by Nate Ebner.
  • There was nothing spectacular about any of the plays and the defense appeared to be working on blitz.
  • The running backs continued a rotation and Ridley still appears to be the most explosive of the backs in my opinion, although Shane Vereen is certainly quick. Ridley had the only carry during 11-on-11 and he got on the linebackers very quickly.
  • Lloyd again showed great route running in the drills, including a sluggo route (slant-and-go) that was to perfection. There is no wasted movement and he never takes a false step. Very precise.
  • Gaffney continues to work in the slot but behind Welker. Donte Stallworth is an outside threat but he hasn’t stood out. Deion Branch continues to be unimpressive. The guy catches everything but his burst is diminishing.
  • Aaron Hernandez appears to be playing heavier this season, which could help his durability if it’s good weight. He’s getting a lot of run with Gronkowski out and even DE Alex Silvestro is playing full-time at TE at this point.
  • For the second-straight week, Rob Ninkovich worked only as a DE and Dont’a Hightower was solely a MLB. Not sure what if anything to make of Hightower only being inside so far. You figured coming from Nick Saban’s scheme that Hightower would be able to handle a lot fairly quickly, but to this point he’s only being played inside and not being allowed in space. He’s also behind Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher at this point at that spot. Maybe they’re just starting the rookie off slowly and will expand his role from here. Certainly plausible. Hightower appears to be a little heavy. Just expected little bit further along at this point compared to the other rookies, but he’s about on their same level.
  • Nothing eye-opening about Chandler Jones to this point but he’s certainly where you figured him to be – working his way up at Elephant behind Trevor Scott. Chandler is long and athletic. It will be interesting to see how he grows from here and how fast.
  • Jake Bequette is in the mix on the other side, but the guy who really has a little pop to his game – and, again, it’s only May in “underwear” (shirts and shorts) – is Rutgers DE Justin Francis, who was an undrafted free agent. If any of the rookies have opened any eyes in the earlier going, it’s Francis. He’ll be an interesting guy to watch moving forward.
  • Got to watch rookie CB Alfonzo Dennard a little bit more today. What jumps out, in a negative way, is his body type. He is much shorter and squat than I figured. At the combine, he measured at 5-10 and 204 pounds, which seems heavy for an NFL CB (and prospects usually gain weight after the draft). Devin McCourty was 5-11 and 193, for example. Will be interesting to see if Dennard is viable at CB at the pros without changing his body a bit – if he can do that. Or maybe his body type could be OK in the slot or maybe he could convert to safety.
  • McCourty continues to be at CB and had a couple very nice pass breakups. Still think the Patriots would like to play him at safety but at this point the talent is limited at CB so McCourty almost has to play there. Don’t know if that’s going to change.
  • Ras-I Dowling was moving much better this week after being sluggish with his footwork last week. He could be working his way through something, possibly his hip surgery from last season.
  • Kyle Arrington continues to show well, and Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory are working well together at safety. Second-round pick Tavon Wilson seems to be one of those guys that could come on during training camp and win a job. He has a good presence on the field.
  • Nate Ebner was on the field for the first time today. Nothing stood out either way on him but it feels like, as we suspected, he’s going to have to make his mark on special teams.
  • Patriots continued to work a lot on subpackages, including more dime in this practice.
  • There was a lot of work on the running game offensively in this practice. A lot of pulling plays with the guards. Dan Connolly and Dan Koppen rotate more in this practice. OTs Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon both look they have added some much-needed strength in the offseason. Both look really well put together in their second seasons.
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