FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots concluded their morning practice in hot, humid conditions (9:30-11:30) as they transitioned into some game-planning for the preseason opener against the Eagles.
The session was highlighted by the return of more players who had been sidelined by injuries. It also seemed like the lightest crowd attendance since camp started, with plenty of seats in both the bleachers and on the hillside to be had.
Here were some observations from the session:
1) Stephen Neal and the guard spot. With rookie guard/center Rich Ohrnberger coming off the PUP list, I spent a good part of this practice watching the team’s interior linemen. I also went back to check my notes on starting right guard Stephen Neal and noticed that he’s on a limited practice schedule (by my count, he’s participated in 8 of 16 non-walkthrough practices). With Neal’s health being managed, it shines a spotlight on the competition for top backup with Ohrnberger, Russ Hochstein, Billy Yates, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell in the mix. Neal did not practice this morning, and it was Wendell -- a little-known first-year player from Fresno State -- who got the most work.
2) Shotgun snapping especially crucial. With more attention placed on the interior offensive linemen, this thought crossed the mind: If you play center for the Patriots, you better be able to shotgun snap. The Patriots live out of the shotgun and Dan Connolly, a fourth-year player who spent time last season on the practice squad before being activated to the roster in December as a backup, really struggled with this in one-on-one blocking drills by twice airmailing a shotgun snap.
3) Eyes on the pass rushers. There was some solid one-on-one pass-rushing work to digest in this session, with the five offensive linemen lined up and one pass rusher isolated against one of the blockers at the snap. Richard Seymour looked un-blockable at times; on one snap, he bulldozed rookie Rich Ohrnberger back into the orange cone that was the “quarterback.” Sixth-round draft choice Myron Pryor also showed some quickness when lined up over the guard, although he seemed easier contained when over the center.
4) Sporadic day for Kevin O’Connell and his receivers. Second-year quarterback Kevin O’Connell didn’t seem to be on the same page with his receivers for chunks of the practice. A few of his passes were well off the mark, one of which was intercepted easily by Brandon Meriweather, who continues to be around the ball on a regular basis.
5) Jonathan Wilhite is rising. Second-year cornerback Jonathan Wilhite has been on the rise since the end of the 2008 season. On Sunday, Bill Belichick had some very complimentary things to say about him. In this practice, Wilhite lined up at the left cornerback spot which had been projected to go to veteran Shawn Springs. With Springs not practicing, Wilhite has stepped in as his recent injury absence has not thwarted his progress.