New England Patriots: First Impressions from Training Camp
The New England Patriots have already held four training camp practices. While Zach Sudfeld proved last season that first impressions in camp don't always hold up, it is always interesting to see how veterans are progressing and rookies are fitting in.
Is everyone in shape and healthy? Anybody pick up any bad habits? Where is competition brewing? As much as things change in the ever-evolving NFL, sometimes things stay the same.
As the players enjoy their first day—Monday—off, here are my first impressions from Patriots training camp.
Tom Brady Has Nothing to Worry About...for Now
Despite 15 years in the NFL and the admiration of an entire region, Tom Brady takes nothing for granted, as told to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald:
...You never know when the last one is going to be, so you just appreciate the moments that you have. Every year, it’s something different. This could be your last training camp; you never know. So you’ve got to make it count, and you can’t take anything for granted in the NFL. I try to do the best I can for this team and hope it leads to a great year.
While Ryan Mallett has had a solid camp so far, the newly minted heir to Brady—Jimmy Garoppolo—has struggled. He's taken multiple penalty laps after fumbling snaps and hasn't been up to par in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, according to Oliver Thomas from NEPatriotsDraft.com:
Second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo continued to learn on the go with his reps. There were times where he waited too long before taking a shot downfield, and there were times where his pass-catchers did not do him many favors.
He completed both of his passes in 7-on-7, but he completed just one of four passes in 11-on-11, including two bobbles by undrafted tight end Justin Jones and an interception by safety Tavon Wilson.
If there was any question at all whether Brady would be leading the Patriots for the foreseeable future, that doubt has been put to rest.
Offensive Line Work in Progress
After a sketchy performance in 2013—especially on the interior—the New England Patriots buttressed their offensive line with three draft picks and the return of veteran Sebastian Vollmer. The offensive line should become a strength rather than a liability.
That same offensive line still has some work to do, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:
Rookie right guard Jon Halapio had a tough time overall, with Marcus Forston (twice) and Joe Vellano beating him rather handily, and he was coached up by Dave DeGuglielmo after each unsuccessful rep. ...
In perhaps a reflection that players are still adjusting to the transition from retired coach Dante Scarnecchia to DeGuglielmo, there appeared to be some confusion on the second rep of the drill with left guard Logan Mankins unaware of the snap count from DeGuglielmo, which led defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to race by him untouched.
The transition from Dante Scarnecchia to Dave DeGuglielmo is really just beginning, so you can't expect perfection this early. Perhaps more disconcerting is Jon Halapio losing to Marcus Forston and Joe Vellano—two players who truly belong on an NFL practice squad.
Fans and pundits were quick to thrust the likes of Bryan Stork and Halapio into the starting lineup—in place of Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly—but that may have been a bit premature.
Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson Ready to Shuffle Again?
Kenbrell Thompkins has already had a roller-coaster type of career, despite entering his sophomore season with the New England Patriots. He started off consistently making plays over the first half of the season—including the memorable game-winner against the New Orleans Saints.
However, his consistency and production faded as the season wore on and Aaron Dobson progressed. Dobson and Thompkins have seemed to flip their positions again as Dobson is sidelined with a recovering foot.
Mike Reiss of ESPN.com has more on Thompkins' development:
A big part of football is seizing opportunity and second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is doing just that. He's taking repetitions that likely would have been Aaron Dobson's and making plays that catch the eye.
For the second day in a row, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Thompkins made a diving touchdown catch and he appears to be practicing with a lot of confidence. He runs precise routes, and most importantly, Brady has developed trust in him. That's not easy to do.
They don't give out gold stars after two days of training camp, but Thompkins would be close to the front of the line if they did.
That's the positive from Day 2 of camp. However, Day 3 saw Thompkins continue his elevator-esque play, dropping an easy catch thrown his way.
Thompkins looks like a good choice to start at the "X"receiver position but don't discount Dobson from having his say before Week 1 starts.
Darrelle Revis and Rob Gronkowski Ready to Roll
Darrelle Revis and Rob Gronkowski—two of the best at their positions in the NFL—are both recovering from ACL tears, just at different spots in the process. Each has received huge ovations at training camp and haven't disappointed on the field.
Lee Schechter of ESPN.com had Gronkowski's reaction to the start of camp:
"For the last six months, I worked my butt off to be here," Gronkowski said. "Cutting on it, making it stronger, I'm here and I'm ready.
"Running routes, being in the huddle, catching balls from Tom Brady, it's a dream come true again. Feels like it got taken away, and I feel like I got it back."
And now that he's back, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski has no plans to change the way he plays.
"I'm going to go full speed, and I'm going to keep smashing and dashing everything I do," he said.
A "smashing and dashing" Gronkowski is just what Brady ordered.
Revis has been smashing and dashing already during practice, picking Brady off multiple times. He is in a different spot physically than where he was in Tampa Bay last year. Mike Reiss from ESPN.com had comments from Revis on his health:
I finished all 16 games last year but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be physically as a player. This is my first offseason where I could really focus on working out. They say it takes a year and a half, or two [to get back to full strength]. I think I’m at a point now, I’m there.
I’m back to where I can move around a little better. Last year was really tough coming off the injury, I wasn’t where I needed to be. Now I’m a little bit more excited, I feel the butterflies a little bit more, and I’m just ready to play and get ready for the season.
Over a month remains before Gronkowski or Revis will see any meaningful snaps for New England, but they've left every Patriots coach with a smile on their face so far with their progress and play.
Brandon Bolden Should Be Worrying
Tom Brady may have his spot on the 53-man roster locked up, but one contributor from the last two seasons is in a struggle to keep his job. Brandon Bolden faces some stiff competition from Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James Develin and rookie James White.
Bolden has struggled in practice says Oliver Thomas of NEPatriotsDraft.com:
Halfback Brandon Bolden and second-round quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had to do the same for a fumbled handoff.
It was a difficult day for both Bolden and Garoppolo.
The third-year ball-carrier had ball security issues for the second practice in a row and also dropped a catchable pass.
White, however, hasn't missed a beat in his first practices as a professional. Thomas writes:
White’s ability to take the ball, make his cut and go were illustrated on several plays during the July 24 practice. There were moments where he found a gap and lowered his shoulder level as [sic] slipped through it, and there were moments where he likely would have disappeared under a pile had it been a full-contact session.
But White sees the field. He saw it for 5,450 all-purpose yards and 48 total touchdowns over his four seasons in the Big Ten. And he sees that the way onto it once again isn’t far from the way he began.
The Patriots can shave $570,000 off their salary cap by releasing Bolden, per Spotrac, with only some spare change in dead money. If White and Bolden keep performing as is, it will be tough for Bill Belichick not to pull that trigger.