FOXBOROUGH — Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler has found his way into these training camp notes on a consistent basis. It seems like he grabs an interception or logs an impressive pass break-up each day of practice. It was no surprise, then, that he popped off the field with a shutdown performance against the Washington Redskins in the preseason opener.
That performance carried over into the Patriots practice on Monday. Butler notched an interception off quarterback Tom Brady in 11-on-11 drills while covering Kenbrell Thompkins. With Thompkins approaching the sideline, Butler was able to get his hand on the ball, which knocked it up in the air and allowed him an opportunity to reach out and grab the ball before it went out of bounds. He tapped his toes on the sideline to be sure.
Butler and Thompkins were lining up across from each other quite a bit on Monday, and Butler even got some opportunities to run with the first-team defense, lined up opposite Darrelle Revis due to the absence of Brandon Browner.
"He's learning every day, he works hard, and he's gotten better on a daily basis," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "Still has a long way to go. We'll see how it goes this week against Philadelphia. It'll be another big week for all of our young players, and then Carolina, and then at some point we'll have to start making some type of evaluation of whether some of these younger players, whether their performances are escalating, leveling off, or declining."
Thus far, Butler's performance seems to be escalating each day, but there are still over two weeks remaining until teams must have their rosters trimmed to 75 players (Aug. 26). If Butler's play continues at this level, it will be hard to keep him off the final roster.
Here are some more observations from today's practice:
— QB Ryan Mallett (unknown), RB Tyler Gaffney (meniscus, CB Brandon Browner (unknown), TE DJ Williams (calf/leg), LB Cameron Gordon (unknown), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (unknown), C Bryan Stork (unknown), OL Chris Martin (unknown, NFI), DT Chris Jones (ankle), and DT Sealver Siliga (hand) were not spotted at practice. S Tavon Wilson (unknown), S Kanorris Davis (unknown), LB Ja'Gared Davis (unknown), LB James Anderson (unknown), and WR Jeremy Gallon (unknown, PUP) were spotted but not fully dressed for practice.
— Two notable names made their return to practice on Monday: WR Aaron Dobson (foot, PUP) and DT Dominique Easley (knee, NFI). Dobson ran some of his routes at full speed, but was taking his time and running less than full speed other times. He did not plant or burst off his injured right foot. Neithere Dobson nor Easley participated in anything but individual drills, although Dobson was taking part in a drill with other receivers and linemen working on screen passes.
— 11-on-11 passing stats: Tom Brady went 10-for-19 with an interception, while Jimmy Garoppolo was 16-for-24 and took a sack for holding onto the ball too long.
— Drops: FB James Develin (3), WR Kenbrell Thompkins, WR Josh Boyce, WR Brian Tyms
— Brady and Garoppolo each had a painful interception during their early 7-on-7 work. Brady's came as a result of a dropped pass by Boyce, which hit him on the hands and ricocheted directly into the magnetic chest of S Nate Ebner. Garoppolo threw his pass directly into the waiting hands of rookie DB Jemea Thomas, who made his debut at practice yesterday.
— Friend of Belichick and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano was on hand at practice. He was observing off to the side, and did not seem to be involved with the players in any coaching capacity.
— Partway through practice, Butler and TE Rob Gronkowski put on red non-contact jerseys. This is an interesting development because no player other than the quarterbacks has worn a red jersey at all in training camp. Gronkowski and Butler had previously worn white and blue jerseys, respectively, signifying their spots on offense and defense.
— Gronkowski was also seen participating in 7-on-7 passing work, and even caught a pass from Brady in this drill. It was his first team drill of training camp. Gronkowski said, "three reps!" as he was walking off the field, notifying media of his participation in the drills.
— There were no 1-on-1s between the offensive line and defensive line today, with the two sides instead spending their time together focusing on run fits and zone blocking. This has been a point of emphasis over the past two days in practice.
— Most of Garoppolo's completions were on short passes and checkdowns to running backs, but he led a nice long drive for a touchdown in his final session.
— LB Jamie Collins had a very active day in pass coverage, and notched two pass break-ups. One was on a rainbow pass down the left sideline from Brady to Develin, and the other was on a crossing pattern that hit Julian Edelman in the hands right when Collins swiped at it.
— Edelman had a nice grab on a deep pass from Brady, but it wasn't just the ball that he grabbed. Kyle Arrington was in coverage, and Edelman leaped over him for the pass, but was also grabbing a handful of Arrington's jersey in the process. Edelman was able to come down with the one-handed grab, but it would have surely drawn a flag for offensive pass interference in a real game situation. The experience of practicing with referees should help us get a better read on things like this when they happen.
— On the first punt drill of the day, RB Roy Finch was the first one back deep to return. WR Danny Amendola subbed in for him on the next play. Danny Aiken was the top choice at long-snapper during these drills.
— With the rest of the team doing punt drills, some of the wide receivers, linemen and running backs were working on screens on the adjacent field. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was coaching up the linemen and receivers on blocking in space and angles.
— As usual, practice ended with field goal work, followed by hill sprints.