FOXBOROUGH – Five observations from the Patriots’ second minicamp practice today on the upper practice fields behind Gillette Stadium (11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.):
1) Working with the new wedge rules. The Patriots devoted practice time to their kickoff return unit. Some have asked the question how the NFL’s new wedge rules might affect special teams coaches – teams can no longer run wedges of three players or more -- and I took a closer look at that area in today’s session. I think the rule change will possibly lead teams to using some different personnel on the wedge – less linemen and more linebackers/tight ends. In no particular grouping, the Patriots had tight ends Benjamin Watson, Chris Baker, David Thomas and Alex Smith; defensive linemen Mike Wright and Le Kevin Smith; offensive linemen Stephen Neal, Russ Hochstein and Rich Orhnberger; and outside linebacker Vince Redd working in the wedge.
2) Where is Bill Belichick? Bill Belichick is a hands-on head coach who gets involved in all drills, almost serving as a position coach at times. At one point in practice, he was spending one-on-one time with a group of defensive linemen/linebackers who were focusing on pass-rush moves, and could be seen teaching hand techniques in a drill that had two rushers playing off each other. Coaching assistant Patrick Graham was also part of the drill and I couldn’t help but think that Belichick’s teaching wasn’t just good for the players; it was a lesson for one of the younger members of his staff as well.
3) Julian Edelman has a full plate. Over the course of this practice, rookie Julian Edelman played some receiver, quarterback, and kickoff returner. In past practices, I’ve seen him “break down” with special teams coach Scott O’Brien and work on blocking techniques on the punt return. Making the jump from college to the NFL is a challenge in and of itself, but Edelman’s transition has seven more layers because of all the positions he could potentially play. I think fans are going to enjoy watching him in training camp.
4) Kevin O’Connell – ups and downs. Quarterback Kevin O’Connell had one sequence in practice that reflected how things can be going well at one moment, but can look differently on the next snap. In 11 on 11 work, O’Connell fired a beautiful long bomb over the middle to receiver Greg Lewis, hitting him in stride (cornerback Jonathan Wilhite was a step behind in coverage). I didn’t follow the pass rush to see if O’Connell would have been sacked, but I did notice O’Connell waiting for Lewis as he returned to the huddle to slap him five. On his next play, though, O’Connell bootlegged to his right and attempted to fire a pass in the direction of receiver Robert Ortiz on the sideline, which was intercepted by Shawn Springs. It looked like he was forcing the ball into a tight spot.
5) Facing Randy Moss and Co. in practice. Cornerback Shawn Springs made the point today that he’s glad he only has to practice against the Patriots’ receiving corps and doesn’t have to play games against them. This isn’t the first time that a defensive back has said as much, as going up against Randy Moss and Co., forces them to raise their level of play. In fairness to the defensive backs, while it doesn’t always look good to the casual observer, they often pull up at the end of plays to protect their teammates. Such was the case yesterday when Tom Brady hit Randy Moss across the middle on a 50-yard plus bomb between safeties James Sanders and Patrick Chung. I might have created that impression that Sanders and Chung were beaten on the play, which after speaking with players who were on the field, I learned wasn’t accurate.