What We Learned from New England Patriots Training Camp, 8/2
Wrapping up some observations from Thursday's Patriots practice, the team's seventh practice of training camp.
Not even Tom Brady.
It was a tough day overall for the passing offense. Brady started red-hot by completing his first six passes, but only completed four of his next 12 passes before he picked it back up and finished 6-for-7 to combine for 16-of-25 passing. Overall, not too shabby, but nothing like the lights-out practices we've seen from him over the past few days.
"It's good to see he's human sometimes," said wide receiver Wes Welker. "Everybody has bad plays out there. It's how you bounce back from them, how you go out there and compete and keep fighting and how you get after it out there. He's always understanding that and knowing if he makes a bad play he's going to come back ten times better the next time. It really rubs off on all the other guys out there."
There were overthrows, underthrows, drops, bad passes, a combination and everything in between. Brady threw two consecutive balls that went at least three or four yards farther than they should have, and another one like that several throws later.
He even threw one that went directly into the hands of safety Steve Gregory.
Brady has been on fire since the start of camp, and it was a windy day, so it's not terribly alarming that the passing game struggled today. They came back to earth a bit. It happens.
Continuity in the Secondary
Turnover: There's a good kind and a bad kind in the NFL.
The Patriots defense ranked third in the "good" kind of turnover last year, generating 34 turnovers and ranking second with 23 interceptions as a unit. This offseason, though, they may rank near the top of the league in the other type of turnover, with several new additions to the secondary including safeties Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson.
One of the few constants in the secondary has been safety Patrick Chung, who enters his fourth season with the team. Chung stressed the importance of football intelligence when it comes to maximizing talent.
"We have a lot of talent," Chung said, "but talent can only do so much. We're trying to get guys smart, get guys to know the defense and the playbook so that everybody knows what's going on, so they can utilize that talent to the best of their abilities."
That intelligence will breed consistency, which Chung says is "No. 1" for the defensive backs.
"You have to be able to make plays consistently...it can't be good play-bad play-good play-bad play," Chung said. "Being consistent is No. 1 on the back end, because if you mess up on the back end, it's a touchdown. So we have to be on the same page, and everybody has to know what they're doing so those plays never happen."
The Patriots have played mix-and-match in the secondary, moving players in and out to try different combinations. As of yet, it looks like the top duo at safety has been Chung and Gregory, with special teams ace James Ihedigbo and rookie safety Tavon Wilson rotating into the mix at times.
Jermaine Cunningham and Chandler Jones Stand Up
I've noticed both Jermaine Cunningham and Chandler Jones standing out at practice since camp opened, but on Thursday, what stood out was that both stood up, lining up at outside linebacker in 3-4 fronts.
The practice was a walkthrough in shells, not the full-paced padded practices that the Patriots had partaken in in four consecutive sessions. But both Jones and Cunningham were practicing rushing the quarterback and dropping into coverage from a two-point stance. Cunningham showed quickness when asked to cover running back Shane Vereen, but his fluidity in space could use some work.
The million-dollar question around the defense this offseason has been whether the team will run the 3-4 or the 4-3 in 2012. Early practices gave indications that the team would continue in the 4-3 front, as they had switched to that look in 2011.
Thursday's practice indicated that the Patriots are keeping their options open.
The injuries are piling up.
Not counting the absence of Brian Waters, 21 players missed today's practice. That's 23.3 percent of the team's 90-man roster.
And it only got worse on Thursday. Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney left practice with a trainer and did not return to the field.
"Probably everybody on the field is fighting through something right now," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "[We’ve] been out there practicing for a week in training camp. Everybody has a little something—even the coaches are slowing down a little bit."
Eight players are currently listed on the team's PUP (physically unable to perform) list: guard Logan Mankins (knee), offensive tackles Sebastian Vollmer (back) and Markus Zusevics (unknown), center Nick McDonald (unknown), tight ends Daniel Fells (shoulder) and Jake Ballard (knee), defensive tackle Myron Pryor (shoulder) and wide receiver Jeremy Ebert (hamstring).
That list, specifically, will need to be sorted out when the team announces their 53-man roster before the season; at that point, players on the PUP will miss the first six games of the season.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained first-hand.
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