• One thing that stuck out to me this morning was the amount of time spent – in 7-on-7s and team work – where it was 1s-vs.-1s. Seems like it could be a shot at ratcheting up the competition a level in preparation for next week’s mandatory minicamp. I know the Patriots coaches have always made a point of leaving for “summer vacation” on a high note, and the minicamp is usually a high-strung affair. Matching starters against one another more frequently could be a way of putting players on notice that it’s time to turn it up a notch.
• Since we’re trying to master the riddle of New England coordinators, or lack of them, we bring you today’s look at playsheets and drills and cryptic signals. First of all, Bill O’Brien, again, was clearly in command of the offense, though as we mentioned last week, Tom Brady is active in helping direct his teammates around. On defense? During a team drill, linebackers coach Matt Patricia stood on the sideline and signaled calls in to the players, and he was running the defense for much of 7-on-7s. Bill Belichick was more active with the defense today than he was last week, but it’s clear that when the head coach is away or steps back to get a broader view, Patricia’s running the show. Either he’s being groomed to be DC or he’ll be one prepared position coach.
• While we’re here, it’s worth mentioning that Nick Caserio has seemed
less involved in the actually coaching this year than he was from what
I saw last year. For large parts of today’s workout, he stood farther
away, maybe to get a better vantage point of the bigger picture and
to look at more players at once. In my experience, this is the way you
usually see general managers or scouting directors or personnel chiefs
watching practice. So maybe that means he’s moving more into that Scott
Pioli-type of role. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.
• With Leigh Bodden out today, rookie Devin McCourty spent some time with the starters. And lined up at left corner, where teams generally put their best corner. That meant Darius Butler was over at right corner, with Jonthan Wilhite in the slot. It could be that the Patriots want to get Butler reps on the right – He’s the leader to be the left corner opposite Bodden – since the dynamics of playing on that side are different, with the receivers you face and the fact that teams run that way more often generally. Or it could be that McCourty’s moving up the depth chart, earned those reaps and he’s got a shot to compete with Butler for that position.
• Continuing to see the Patriots heaping mental challenges on Brandon Spikes, part of what looks like a crash course in calling the defense and making pre-snap adjustments. His head’s gotta be swimming right now, but he looks like a fair bet to get early playing time, even if it’s Gary Guyton you see paired with Jerod Mayo more often than not.
• With Aaron Hernandez out of action, Rob Gronkowski ran some with the first team and Alge Crumpler played as the “move” tight end. Crumpler has more often been the in-line guy when paired with Hernandez, who’s the “Big Wideout” type for the position. And after Nick Kaczur filled in at left guard (Logan Mankins’ spot) last week, he was out, so Dan Connolly played there today.
• Finally, hard not to notice that Patrick Chung’s seeing some reps with the starters, next to Brandon Meriweather. Could be that Brandon McGowan was out today, but my guess is that the coaches are going to want to get a good read on Chung, the 34th pick in the 2009 draft, and his progress over the next two weeks. Putting him with the starters does that. We’ll have more on No. 25 – who wore a red non-contact jersey again, but didn’t have the wrap around his arm like last week – tomorrow in this space.