FOXBOROUGH — The intensity of practice definitely picked up a notch on Sunday as the Patriots went full pads and full contact for the first time since last January. Offensive and defensive linemen finally went through 1-on-1 drills, cornerbacks finally were able to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and running backs finally slammed into defenders as they attempted to stuff the ball over the goal line.
A couple of special visitors were present at camp – former Patriots WR Troy Brown and actor Robert Duvall, in the area to shoot a movie. After practice, Tim Tebow and Ryan Mallett signed autographs for about 25 minutes, long after the rest of the team headed to the locker room, which was pretty neat.
With that, let’s get to Sunday’s practice report:
Physically unable to perform: Gronkowski (back); WR Julian Edelman (foot); WR Mark Harrison (foot); OL Nick McDonald (undisclosed); DE Armond Armstead (non-football illness).
Red jersey: S Devin McCourty.
Missing: DL Cory Grissom.
G Dan Connolly, recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, sat out the second half of practice. He has been running behind Marcus Cannon at right guard.
Full pads (including knee and thigh pads).
■ CB Aqib Talib made a beautiful one-handed deflection of a deep fade pass intended for Matthew Slater.
■ QB Ryan Mallett threw a nice deep out pass to Kenbrell Thompson in 1-on-1 drills.
■ WR Aaron Dobson absolutely faked Ras-I Dowling out of his cleats in 1-on-1 drills.
■ WR Josh Boyce made a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch on a fade pass from Tom Brady with CB Logan Ryan in coverage.
■ Tim Tebow threw a perfect 50-yard bomb to Kenbrell Thompkins over CB Stephon Morris for a touchdown to end practice.
■ CB Kyle Arrington intercepted Tom Brady in the end zone on a badly underthrown deep pass. Brady was not happy with himself.
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: Undrafted rookie sat out the first day but has been impressive the last two practices, earning repetitions with the starting unit and catching everything that comes his way.
OT Will Svitek: Valuable swing tackle took a few reps at left tackle today, likely in case Nate Solder ever goes down.
CB Kyle Arrington: Intercepted Tom Brady on a deep pass and has looked strong playing both the outside and slot cornerback.
G Dan Connolly: Hard to make the team when you can’t practice, and Connolly appears to be clearly running behind Marcus Cannon now.
CB Ras-I Dowling: Never made a play on the ball in any of the 1-on-1 drills, and overall had a pretty brutal day in coverage working mostly with the second team.
WR Michael Jenkins: Had a bad drop in team drills, and appears to be running behind Thompkins, Kamar Aiken and rookies Dobson and Josh Boyce.
Another up-and-down day for Tebow throwing the ball. While the deep ball to Thompkins was nice, he again struggled to pull the trigger in the pocket, often waiting 5-7 seconds before finally dumping the ball off. He also threw a bad pass over the middle in 7-on-7 drills that should have been picked off by Steve Beauharnais, but was dropped.
Tebow once again participated briefly as a receiver in the catch-and-run drills, and fans got on him a little bit when he overthrew Boyce on a throw in the flat. It was interesting to see offensive assistant Brian Daboll, who had been working mostly with the offensive line, working personally with Tebow during some drills. Daboll got a lot out of Colt McCoy in Cleveland and Matt Moore in Miami.
At the end of practice, Tebow and Ryan Mallett stayed after to sign autographs for about 25 minutes. And every time Tebow tried to escape to the locker room, someone would ask him for a picture, and he would always oblige.
ODDS AND ENDS
We finally were able to watch the offensive and defensive linemen engage in 1-on-1 drills. Here are our observations:
■ Jermaine Cunningham made a nice speed rush move around Will Svitek and blew right past Marcus Zusevics, but got dominated by OT Elvis Fisher. Fisher also did a nice job slowing down Justin Francis.
■ Logan Mankins stoned Vince Wilfork on one attempt, but Wilfork got the better of Mankins throughout the rest of practice. One of the more fun 1-on-1 battles we’ve ever watched.
■ OT Kevin Haslam absolutely stoned Jake Bequette, hardly giving up an inch. Haslam also stonewalled Marcus Forston.
■ OT Nate Solder completely whiffed on Chandler Jones, who blew right past him.
■ LB Dont’a Hightower participated in the pass rush drills, and got completely stuffed by Sebastian Vollmer.
■ TE Zach Sudfeld did a nice job slowing down Rob Ninkovich.
■ Dobson is really great at getting off the line of scrimmage, and was wide open throughout the practice. He completely schooled DB Justin Green on one play, was able to shake free from Alfonzo Dennard and badly faked out Ras-I Dowling. Thompkins showed good shake while eluding Talib on a bubble screen. Arrington did a nice job jamming Danny Amendola at the line of scrimmage.
■ Based on three days of camp, the top four performers at wide receiver have been Amendola, Dobson, Thompkins and Kamar Aiken. Josh Boyce is starting to come on. Michael Jenkins falling behind. Rookie Quintin Sims also shows some flashes and could be a candidate for practice squad. Amendola, meanwhile, has shown impressive technique as a route-runner and is clearly the most polished receiver on the field.
■ RB Stevan Ridley fumbled four times last year, and had a bad case of the butterfingers on Sunday. He fumbled twice in practice, including once in a goal line drill in which he was stripped by Wilfork. Each time, he was forced to run the length of the field as punishment. LeGarrette Blount was the only other running back to participate in the goal line drill, and scored a touchdown with a nice second effort.
■ Pretty horrible day for Dowling, who is competing with Arrington and Dennard for a spot opposite Talib. Right now Dowling is clearly third in that group, and may also be behind Ryan as well, although the rookie third-rounder hasn’t looked great so far.
■ S Steve Gregory continues to take a few reps with the top unit, although Adrian Wilson is the favorite to start. DE Chandler Jones took some snaps as a stand-up rusher, which he didn’t do last year. Francis, Forston and Cunningham took some snaps with the first unit, although it may just be so the coaching staff can take a better look at them against the top competition.
Monday’s practice (in stadium, season ticket-holders only): 6:30-9 p.m.
Tuesday’s practice: 1:30-4 p.m.
Thursday: Practice TBD