I was able to attend the afternoon practice of Day 6 at the Patriots Training Camp and came away with plenty of observations.
This practice was unusual in that it had Mike Shanahan in attendance (see photo at right, blue shirt).
On this particular afternoon, Belichick was especially hard on his players- focusing on attention to detail and execution, and when units failed in situational football scenarios, they were sent on penalty laps, including the punt team, the field goal unit, and later the entire offense, when Belichick suddenly called in the field goal unit, in the middle of a 2nd and 10 scenario on the offensive 40. This was so unexpected and sudden that kicker Gostkowski still had a towel on one shoulder which he threw off right before he attempted the kick. The kick was nullified because of a determined illegal formation (less than 7 players lined up at the line of scrimmage).
This, according to Mike Reiss, of the Boston Globe, has more or less described the mentality of the New England Patriots for this year's training camp. The coach, and the entire team is on a mission. They seem determined to avoid last year's 0-4 preseason performances.
Practice was divided up into many components which was efficiently run- not a second was wasted. Players effortlessly segued from one component to another.
A few things stood out:
In the three-wide and four-wide sets being executed in practice, Brady was frequently in communication with Galloway, before and after execution, working on signals- this establishes that Galloway is projected to be an integral part of the offense, since a lot of time was spent on fine-tuning post-snap communications, particularly on the four wide sets.
The majority of the quarterback reps were divided between Hoyer and newcomer Andrew Walter, with reps for Kevin O'Connell substantially reduced, which clearly indicates that despite widespread rumors, there is no battle for #2 quarterback. The battle is for #3. While Hoyer's throwing mechanism is more sound and fundamentally solid, Andrew clearly had the superior arm strength and field vision. It will be interesting to see how the battle for #3 quarterback position turns out. It is my prediction that one of them will be cut, with the #4 position going to Julian Edelman, a quarterback turned wide receiver and possibly punt returner- in other words, a jack of all trades, a trait Belichick loves in his players.
An encouraging sign was that upon preliminary examination, the Patriots appeared to have struck gold with all of their second round draft picks. This may well turn out to be one of the better drafts done by the Patriots. Of course, it is hard to make accurate forecasts without knowing how they perform in real games, but judging by what I have seen, I feel confident enough to make this prognostication. Butler, Chung, Brace, and Vollmer all were heavily involved in scenarios and took frequent reps. Chung and Vollmer stood out to me, particularly. Vollmer, despite his size (6'8 315) is exceedingly mobile and has been employed as a swing tackle which is exceedingly difficult to do, doing reps between left and right tackle. This leads me to project him as being no. 3 tackle, if not a starter at some point this season. This is a huge credit to the sophisticated scouting system the Patriots have in place, because Vollmer was not even invited to the scouting combine.
Chung, to me, stood out the most out, from amongst the rookies. He looks most at home on the field, shouting commands, and being in continual communication with the slot and the backfield, which indicates to me that he is carrying his role as roving safety from college into the pros. I would not be surprised to find a nickel or dime package with a three-safety feature pop up quite a few times this coming season. He plays with an assertiveness that one does not often find in rookies, which is a testimony to his level of confidence. Patriots fans everywhere will delight in seeing shades of Rodney Harrison in Chung's aggressiveness. He delivered a nasty chop to Julian Edelman in a wide out cutback on a play.
However, the most encouraging sign I have seen to this point is Brady's performance. Again as I point out, this is still practice and not real game, but what I have seen so far is very encouraging in terms of what to expect from him at this stage. The answer is yes, he still has his accuracy, and yes, he still has mobility, especially lateral mobility. In one of the situational football scenario, the play broke down and he was forced to scramble, and he did with unexpected agility, executing a slant to Welker. This is good news for New England and bad news for everyone else.