FOXBOROUGH — For the second straight year, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is off to a hot start at training camp.
The second-year wide-out caught nearly everything thrown his way. During 7-on-7 work, he hauled in a pair of beautiful touchdown receptions where he had to climb the ladder to make an over-head catch in the back corner of the end zone on a fade route.
Thompkins was also among a group that worked separately from the team, along with quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on the left field. The five players were working on end zone fades without a defense.
With a battle brewing at the bottom of the Patriots' depth chart at wide receiver, Thompkins will have to fend off fellow second-year receiver Josh Boyce, rookie seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon, and several undrafted rookies. He got off to a good start on the opening day of camp.
Here are some more observations:
— Linebacker Deontae Skinner (unknown) and offensive lineman Chris Martin (unknown) were not spotted at practice. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot), wide receiver Matthew Slater (unknown), cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder), defensive tackle Dominique Easley (knee), wide receiver Jeremy Gallon (unknown), and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) were among the players who were present but did not participate in practice.
— Dobson, Dennard, Easley, Gallon, and Slater were all doing conditioning drills while the rest of the team was taking part in practice.
— One battle we'll be watching closely throughout camp is at kick returner. Today, the duties were shared between wide receiver Josh Boyce, and running backs James White and Roy Finch. With Slater out of practice, running back Shane Vereen was the one directing traffic on kick returns.
— Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga was the top defensive tackle taking snaps with the first team, resuming the spot he earned toward the end of the 2013 season. Whether that changes when Easley and Kelly return to the mix, we'll find out.
— For the first time since tearing his right ACL, tight end Rob Gronkowski was seen by media on the practice field running routes and catching passes. There did not appear to be much rust, as he was planting and cutting without trepidation. He was limited, however, and did not participate in the team's 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work.
— The Patriots spent a lot of time in offensive formations that included three wide receivers. In the past, the two-tight end offense has been the preference, but the precedent could be changing in New England with an abundance of wide receivers that have different skill sets.
— Thompkins' end-zone grabs were noteworthy, but defensive back Malcolm Butler had a nice grab of his own, intercepting a Jimmy Garoppolo pass to wide receiver Wilson Van Hooser. Butler tapped his toes inside the boundary to ensure the pick.
— Tight end Justin Jones showed some nice shimmy to break free from the coverage of linebacker James Anderson in the end zone, making a grab for a touchdown in 7-on-7 work. This was the first time Jones made a play that popped off the field.
— The Patriots finished practice by running a two-minute drill, hurrying to the line with Tom Brady directing traffic.