FOXBOROUGH -- On Tuesday, the question was asked "What would you be watching for if you were at Patriots practice?"
I mentioned that I would peruse the comments section and then report back. My plan is to continue answering these in bunches of touchdowns (6 apiece) over the coming days, possibly stretching into the weekend (I edited some down that were similar to other entries):
The Patriots ask reporters the courtesy of following these guidelines:
My number 1 issue is does Vince Wilfork show up? My number two is who is the tight end? How are the tight ends lining up? My number three is how does Brady turn? Can he hand off both left and right? Does he favor one side over another?
As we now know, Wilfork did not show up, and based on his public comments from Wednesday, it is clear that this is a contract issue at this time. Since organized team activities are voluntary, Wilfork can not be fined. But next week's minicamp is mandatory, so that will shed further light on the situation and if it might extend into training camp. The tight ends look like a much deeper group to me than last year. I saw Chris Baker lining up mostly next to the tackles, with Alex Smith a bit more of a "move" guy. When I spotted Benjamin Watson, David Thomas and Tyson DeVree, they were mostly split out wide. As for Brady, I thought he looked like the standard No. 12. There was nothing detectable in his turns that looked out of the ordinary to me.
How much of an imapct do you think Wilfork's situation will have on Ron Brace. Are we going to start seeing him line up with the first team squad? If not, who will be taking reps with the first team?
I think Wilfork's situation will have a big impact on Brace. At one point, I saw Brace lining up with Richard Seymour and Mike Wright. Although, in this practice, there wasn't much work out of the base defense. It was a lot of sub packages. I think Brace and Wright would be the top options to take first-team reps in the event Wilfork does not show up.
I'm interested to hear how Jermail Porter's transition from wrestler to O-lineman is progressing. How is his stance and footwork?
At the start of practice, when I was watching the linemen go through their agility drills, Porter stuck out to me because he was the 16th of the 16 linemen. The Patriots had their first five linemen shuffle from one side to the other, then the second group of five shuffle from one side to the other. That left the final group with six, with Porter in the "tackle eligible" position. I think that reflects how far he has to go, but to the layman, it looks like he's hanging in there. I'm sure his head is spinning, but he doesn't look out of place to me. As for his stance and footwork, I'd need to take a closer look to provide a more detailed answer.
I would look for the following: Who looks to be the leading kickoff return candidate?; How fast does Galloway look?; Are any of the tight ends distinguishing themselves?; How do the rookies look?
They didn't work on kickoff returns in this practice, but we know from last week that Laurence Maroney/Matthew Slater, Darius Butler/Terrence Wheatley and Julian Edelman/Terrence Nunn were three combinations utilized on kickoff returns. I don't believe any of the tight ends have set themslves apart at this point, although Tyson DeVree made a nice play to get himself noticed, reaching up and tapping his toes down in the back of the end zone. As for the rookies, it's hard to judge any of the big linemen, which takes a lot of the youngsters out of the mix. I do think Patrick Chung and Darius Butler add some nice athleticism to the back end. They move with confidence.
Any formations and personnel on offense and defense. Will the Pats play more 2 TE sets? Does O'Connell run any spread offense/wildcat against the 1s on defense to get the team ready for Pat White/Brad Smith? Who plays lead blocker in short yardage sets? Who is the Pats' short yardage back? ... Overall conditioning -- are there any players grabbing their shorts by the end of practice?
I think it's very early to determine formations and if the Patriots will play more two tight end sets. At this point, they are installing specific parts of the playbook, so even if they were spending more time on that in one practice, I don't think we could definitively say they would be doing it more over the course of the season. I also think it's early to start running spread/Wildcat stuff with Pat White/Brad Smith in mind, as right now, the Patriots are focusing more on what they do as a team. In terms of lead blocking, we've seen a tight end back there from time to time. I couldn't determine who the short-yardage back is from this practice, although I thought the overall conditioning was good. There was no real laboring from what I saw.
How much emphasis is being put on special teams during these sessions? Are the Pats employing TEs in the wedge?
A heavy emphasis from what I've seen. I think they spend time on special teams before media members get there, too. The focus on special teams in this practice was the punt return unit, so there was a lot of attention paid to blocking gunners and some of the blocking schemes in the middle of the field. At one point in practice, when players were with their specific position coaches, I saw special teams coach Scott O'Brien working with Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Omar Cuff on blocking techniques for the punt return unit. That reflects to me the priority that the Patriots put on special teams -- it's almost like it's own position group for certain players. We didn't see any wedge work in this practice.