FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots held their fifth overall training camp practice this morning (9:30-11:15) and were once again in full pads. That's five straight full-padded practices.
Receiver Randy Moss has had a reduced on-field workload, as he was not present for this session. Over the last two days, Moss has not practiced in the morning, before returning in the afternoon.
A few observations from the session:
1) Ron Brace working at end. Second-round draft choice Ron Brace (40th overall) spent most of the practice at defensive end when the Patriots were working in their 3-4 alignment. While Brace projects as a possible nose tackle of the future, this is one example of how the Patriots build versatility by cross-training players. At 6-foot-3, 330 pounds, Brace is a hard player to move on the line. While he was subbed out of an inside running drill -- it looked like he might have faltered with his technique -- Brace has made an overall solid impression in hanging tough in the physical battles up front.
2) Kickoff return work on the agenda. The Patriots devoted plenty of practice time to the kickoff return game, which might have some added importance with the NFL's new rules which prohibit wedges of three players or more. Laurence Maroney, Matthew Slater, Terrence Wheatley, Darius Butler, Kevin Faulk, Terrence Nunn and Julian Edelman were among those returning kicks. Faulk dropped one and appeared to hurt his right arm in the process, but he continued to practice.
3) Bill Belichick is a coach. From one drill to another, Bill Belichick bounces around the practice field, devoting his attention to a wide variety of areas. At one point, it could be teaching techniques on the defensive line. The next it could be overseeing the ball-handling in the kick return game, as players must always be aware of his presence because he not only moves around the field, he gets involved in the fundamental aspects of coaching that are often left to position coaches. This is nothing new, but reinforce how Belichick is a coach at heart.
4) Defensive backs get their picks. In 11 on 11 work, safety James Sanders flashed some playmaking skills, breaking on a Matt Gutierrez pass and tipping it in the air for cornerback Leigh Bodden to gather for an interception. A bit later on, Tom Brady attempted a quick receiver screen to Joey Galloway, who had the ball bounce off his shoulder pads and into the waiting arms of Terrence Wheatley for the pick-six. The defensive backs didn't always have the offense's number, however, as Gutierrez connected with receiver Greg Lewis on a long pass down the left side, with Wheatley in coverage.
5) Eyes on the Mike Vrabel void. One of the top questions entering training camp was "Who will replace Mike Vrabel?" Based on my observations, it starts with Pierre Woods and, although it's early, no player has distinguished himself behind Woods. Second-year player Vince Redd and seven-year veteran Tully Banta-Cain are the next in line, and it looks like Banta-Cain has edged ahead. But overall, this looks like an area that could use a boost. Eric Alexander was playing outside linebacker at one point in practice.