FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots deep group of pass-catchers gets even deeper when you take into account the return to health of several key players.
Wide receiver Danny Amendola was brought in to replace Wes Welker in the slot. Surrounded by questions and concerns about a checkered past with injuries, Amendola promptly tore his groin in Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills and was never the same.
But before that point, Amendola looked like a lock for 100 receptions with one strong performance after another during training camp. In that sense, Amendola returned to form with a strong showing on Sunday. Tom Brady completed 11 of his 14 pass attempts during 11-on-11 drills, and six of those completions went to Amendola — including a touchdown grab on a stick route in the front of the end zone.
Once again, Amendola looks to have the potential to be a very important component in the Patriots' offense, but as we learned last year, it's not about what you do in training camp, but what happens when the regular season starts.
Only once in his career has Amendola been healthy for a full 16-game season, but Brady loves slot receivers, so the more healthy ones he has at his disposal, the better the Patriots offense will be.
Here are some more notes from Patriots practice:
— Attendance: QB Ryan Mallett (unknown), RB Tyler Gaffney (meniscus), TE DJ Williams (calf/leg), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (unknown), LB James Anderson (unknown), OL Chris Martin (unknown, NFI), DT Chris Jones (ankle), and DT Sealver Siliga (hand) were among the players not spotted at practice. S Kanorris Davis (unknown), LB Ja'Gared Davis, and C Bryan Stork (unknown) were dressed in uniforms but not in pads. WR Aaron Dobson (foot, PUP), LB Cameron Gordon (unknown), DT Dominique Easley (knee, NFI), and WR Jeremy Gallon (unknown, PUP) were in sweats.
— After the team finished stretching, the seven players who were either in sweats or in uniforms with no pads went down to the lower practice field to do conditioning work. During this time, Dobson was spotted running with a rope tied around his waist with a trainer holding on.
— OL vs. DL results: There was one session of 1-on-1 pass-rush drills with the offensive line against the defensive line today, with 22 repetitions total. The offensive line won these matchups by a final score of 13-9.
— OL results: LT Nate Solder (1-2), LG Logan Mankins (1-0), OL Dan Connolly (1-0), OG Josh Kline (1-2), RT Sebastian Vollmer (1-0), OL Marcus Cannon (0-2), OG Jon Halapio (0-2), C Ryan Wendell (1-0), OT Jordan Devey (2-0), OT Cameron Fleming (2-1), OL Chris Barker (2-0), OL Braxston Cave (1-0),
— DL results: DE Jake Bequette (3-1), NT Vince Wilfork (0-1), DT Joe Vellano (0-2), DT Tommy Kelly (1-0), DE Michael Buchanan (1-3), DL Zach Moore (2-1), DE Will Smith (1-1), DT L.T. Tuipulotu (0-2), DT Marcus Forston (1-1), DT Eathyn Manumaleuna (0-1).
— Drops: WR Brian Tyms, WR Josh Boyce, TE Steve Maneri, RB Brandon Bolden
— There were four sessions of 11-on-11 passing work, with Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo each getting two drives. Brady went 5-for-7 during his first drive, and 6-for-7 with a touchdown pass on the second drive. Garoppolo went 5-for-7 with a touchdown pass on his first drive, but struggled the second time around and went 1-for-6 with an interception by defensive tackle L.T. Tuipulotu on a tipped pass.
— Garoppolo had his moments during the practice, with a nice bullet pass to Josh Boyce and a deep pass to Brian Tyms during 11-on-11 work. He seemed to be getting the ball out quickly as well. But as usual, he had his rough spots; he also threw an ugly interception to safety Devin McCourty during a 7-on-7 drill, with McCourty lurking in center field while Garoppolo's errant pass flew over everyone else's head, and had the aforementioned tipped pass picked off by Tuipulotu.
— Dont'a Hightower had a very active role on defense in today's practice. He was getting guys lined up during 11-on-11 work, and would have logged a sack on Brady in an A-gap blitz during those drills if it were a live game situation.
— Thursday night's game brought an interesting development on the offensive line, with Dan Connolly starting at center while Ryan Wendell came in for the second half. On Sunday, Connolly and Wendell split the reps at center with each working different groupings. Both men had an opportunity to snap to Brady. The competition was originally thought to be between Wendell and rookie Bryan Stork for the center spot, but Wendell is still competing for snaps even with Stork out with an injury. Wendell got the repetitions with Brady and the top grouping during the team's 11-on-11 work at the end of practice.
— The new tight ends, Steve Maneri (wearing No. 86) and Ben Hartsock (No. 88) were both given an opportunity to flex their muscles, both as in-line blockers and as pass-catchers. Maneri was an offensive tackle in his last go-around with the Patriots, and showed that his transition to tight end remains a work in progress when a Garoppolo pass bounced off him before he was ready to catch it during 11-on-11 work. In a separate 11-on-11 session, a Garoppolo pass was aimed too high for Hartsock.
— The debut of the 3-4 defense brings about some questions as to the athletic ability of some of the Patriots' linebackers and defensive ends when it comes to dropping into coverage. It was interesting to see a large group of defenders practicing dropping into zone coverage and changing direction all at once, at the beginning of practice. Michael Buchanan, Chris White, Steve Beauharnais, Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Jake Bequette, Deontae Skinner, Darius Fleming, James Morris, Zach Moore, Jamie Collins, and Dont'a Hightower all took part in this drill.
— Wide receiver Brian Tyms was the Patriots' leading receiver on Thursday, with five catches for 119 yards and a touchdown. He picked up right where he left off, with the aforementioned deep grab from Garoppolo over second-year cornerback Logan Ryan. Tyms is intriguing for his size (6-foot-3, 204 pounds), and could fill in the X-receiver role when he returns from a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
— Roy Finch had a tough night against the Washington Redskins, with a fumble on a kickoff return (called back on a penalty) and a muffed punt, but he was right back in on special teams as the primary kickoff returner during Sunday's practice.
— As usual, the trio of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Darrelle Revis were on one field while the rest of the team was doing special teams work and other passing drills on the adjacent field.
— Also as usual, the team ran hill sprints at the conclusion of practice. However, during these sprints the group of Julian Edelman, Amendola, Patrick Chung, and Finch stayed behind to field punts.