The New England Patriots opened up training camp to the public on Friday and many observers got their first look at the 2013 squad.
Despite being an unseasonably cold and rainy morning, Patriots fans were out in full force. No question a sight for sore eyes as football is back.
With off-field issues constantly grabbing headlines from the team the past few months, it was a good change of pace and there were a lot more positives than negatives.
Here are my observations from Friday:
-Â Missing from Friday’s practice was Julian Edelman, Mark Harrison, Kenbrell Thompkins, Armond Armstead, Nick McDonald, Cory Grissom and Rob Gronkowski.
- Tom Brady was sharp, but the rain made the passing game a bit sloppy. Ryan Mallett has an absolute cannon and had a few good throws, but his play is so inconsistent; hard to think any team would actually trade for someone who has proven so little.
- When Tim Tebow was asked about Aaron Hernandez, he said he was “sad” and “disappointed”, but added he was advised not to comment further.
As for his play on the field, he was terrible playing quarterback. Along with throwing a couple of interceptions, he also threw many into the ground — a rough day for no. 5. On the flip side, he did catch a pass and may continue to get some more reps as a H-back, similar to what Hernandez did in his time here, so that could be something to monitor.
- With very little contact in practice, running backs are hard to evaluate, but Stevan Ridley looked good through drills. Shane Vereen caught a ton of passes and made some nice cuts. LeGarrette Blount seemed to get more opportunities, but I thought Brandon Bolden had more flash when given a chance.
- I thought it was clear Brady’s top targets were Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins and rookie wide out Aaron Dobson. Amendola ran crisp routes and made some tremendous grabs. Jenkins didn’t make any flashy plays, but was consistently connecting with Brady. At one point,Â Brady hit Jenkins on a quick slant in passing drills and no. 12 yelled, “There ya go, Mike! Atta boy!” Seems the two are getting along quite well.
- I was disappointed not to see more of Josh Boyce during drills, although he was getting first team reps along with fellow rookie wide out Dobson. Both looked good when given their opportunities, but Dobson made some impressive grabs. I feel confident saying they will be in the mix offensively, but how much remains to be seen at this point.
- I had my eye on undrafted free agent rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins going into today as a dark horse to make the roster, but an undisclosed injury kept him off the field. Instead, Kamar Aiken stood out on several occasions and made the play of the day, making a spectacular diving catch over rookie defensive back Logan Ryan.
- I didn’t see much of any other tight ends other than Jake Ballard. Ballard, who still seemed hobbled by a lower leg injury, did make a few nice catches. His athleticism might be overrated by some, but still could be productive if healthy.
- It is hard to give much analysis when it comes to defensive players in a no pads, practice atmosphere. That being said, I looked at personnel groupings, how players moved and technique as often as I could. Patriots fans have heard this before, but I really think this is the year the defense takes a big step and becomes one of the league’s better units.
- Chandler Jones moved well even though adding 10 pounds over the off-season. He made a diving interception on errant Tebow pass, which was pretty incredible. The second year defensive end also looked strong off the edge.
- Brandon Spikes is so fun to watch. In pass coverage, yes, he can be a liability at times, but it is hard not to like what he brings to the defense. His swagger creates an energy that seems to be felt by the whole defense and his physicality sets the tone. Overall, it was good to see him back on the field after miss Organized Team Activities.
- Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins was impressive Friday. He moved well and seemed comfortable, almost like he had been there before. The team moved him all around, similar to what his expected role is for the upcoming year, but he got a lot of reps dropping into coverage at middle linebacker.
- Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington all did well defending the pass in practice. Talib’s presence is huge for this defense and will be a key this season. Dennard said he was “focused on football” when asked about his legal issues.
- Devin McCourty was at free safety throughout the day in a red, non-contact jersey as he is still not yet 100 percent from off-season shoulder surgery; although from what I saw, no need to worry. Adrian Wilson received plenty of reps alongside McCourty and moved really well. No. 24 looked like a linebacker on the field. Steve Gregory was also in the mix.
Leon Washington did not get a ton of reps at running back, but he was explosive in kickoff drills. His addition to the special teams unit could pay big dividends in an area the team has lacked the past few years.
Overall, a lot more positives than negatives as camp is underway. Be sure to check back throughout the weekend for more observations and analysis.