Chandler Jones showcased his explosion on multiple plays during this evening's in-stadium practice.
FOXBOROUGH, MA -- Practice notes from the Patriots season ticket holder exclusive practice, held inside Gillette Stadium:
- The Patriots look likely to return to a more frequent use of the screen pass in 2012. One player who catches my eye in that area of the game: Julian Edelman. He is arguably the most dangerous Patriots player with the ball in his hands in the open field, and the Patriots need to do a better job getting him the football.
- Dane Fletcher's role as a communicator should not be overlooked. He leads the second team defensive huddle. He also, after Jerod Mayo, looks more comfortable in space than any other Patriots linebacker.
- Defensive ends Chandler Jones and Jermaine Cunningham saw a lot of reps with the projected first defensive unit. That seems to be a position that has shuffled a lot over the first few days of camp, but I like that potential combination. Jones in particular, looked explosive in one on ones, really blowing through tackle Darrion Weems on a particular play, and setting the edge nicely in positional drills.
- Did not see Brandon Lloyd on the field tonight. He was the most notable absence... I was really looking forward to seeing him.
- One of the more entertaining drills was a one-on-one red zone drill, with a wide receiver matched up against a cornerback. Ras-I Dowling stood out on the drill and on the day. He had a nice break-up on a fade to Jabar Gaffney, and then stripped Gaffney in the back of the end zone a few days later. He was beat on one play on an impressive move from Matthew Slater, who beat Dowling's press/hold, and made an impressive cut over the middle to the left corner of the end zone and caught the ball for the score.
- Also notable in this drill was the play of Wes Welker, who beat Kyle Arrington on a quick out on back-to-back-to-back plays. Britt Davis also had a nice end zone catch over Devin McCourty. McCourty, otherwise, was impressive in the drill. Sterling Moore also got the better of Donte Stallworth on three out of four plays.
- In a tight end vs. linebacker coverage drill, Aaron Hernandez dominated. It's really unfair to even place him against a linebacker. However, linebacker Bobby Carpenter did have a nice pass break-up on a jump ball intended for Hernandez in the corner of the end zone. Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower also had nice pass break-ups on balls intended for Tyler Urban.
- On a line running drill, there were a few plays. Justin Francis, playing defensive tackle, got stonewalled by a double team on one play. Chandler Jones was the most impressive player, while fellow rookie Dont'a Hightower also had a nice hit on fullback and lead blocker Spencer Larsen. It was an intense drill that had a mini-scuffle. Offensive lineman Donald Thomas jumped early on one snap, which led to him taking a lap.
- During punt drills, the returners were Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez. Pat Chung and Steve Gregory rotated as the gunners. On kick-off drills, Danny Woodhead, Kyle Arrington, and Julian Edelman all saw reps as returners.
- During offensive-defensive line one-on-ones, Chandler Jones once again excelled, with the aforementioned rush against Darrion Weems. Brandon Deaderick had a nice inside rush on Donald Thomas, who subsequently held his own when the two collided again. Gerard Warren was impressive during the drill, making multiple strong rushes, and looking surprisingly nimble.
- Jake Bequette also looked faster than advertised, and had a nice spin (which was then blocked well by Marcus Cannon). Ryan Wendell is one of the Patriots' lightest lineman, but seemed to anchor well against defensive linemen such as Kyle Love and Marcus Harrison. As for Jermaine Cunningham, he doesn't rush with too much explosion, but showcased good leverage, drive, and strength on a pass rush against Nate Solder. Matt Kopa ran a penalty lap for jumping early.
- Undrafted free agent running back Brandon Bolden runs with good pad level and has a decent burst. Had a nice run on a big hole opened between center and left guard. Ridley, Vereen, and Bolden all seem to be in the mix for the starting running back competition. My belief is that Woodhead will see his fair share of snaps, but in a defined role. Most likely, he'll be the "passing back."
- On a full-team, goal-to-go drill, there was a big "scuffle" that broke out. It appeared to be started by Nate Solder, who then ran a penalty lap. The scuffle highlighted by what appeared to be a very intense practice, one that also saw several small scale scuffles. There was also a brief scare when linebacker Brandon Spikes went down following the mix-up, but he later returned to practice.
- There were also a few highlights from this drill. Brady found Welker for a nice quick-out touchdown, while Ridley also found room up the middle for a would be touchdown. Dowling came up again, as he had a nice pass break-up in the back of the end zone on a Mallett to Slater pass. Jake Bequette also had a nice speed rush on the play. Brian Hoyer, on one play, found Julian Edelman on a hook in the end zone. Britt Davis also came up with a nice end zone catch over Ross Ventrone on a pass from Ryan Mallett. On the next play, however, Chandler Jones came in for a would be sack.
- The offensive skill players seemed to get better of the defensive players in a one-on-one tackling/pursuit drill. However, defensive players that stood out were Dane Fletcher, Dont'a Hightower, and Dane Fletcher, who had an impressive push out on Rob Gronkowski.
- On another goal line drill, Brady had success with multiple consecutive touchdown throws to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Ryan Mallett looked a bit shaky in the drill, overthrowing Eric Kettani on one play, ten throwing an interception to Bobby Carpenter shortly after (he probably would have been sacked by Bequette on the play).
- In two-minute drills, Tom Brady stalled quickly. Afterwards, Brian Hoyer got the ball moving quickly on a nice completion to Aaron Hernandez. However, upon getting inside the opponent's 30, he ran out of time and spiked the ball after time had expired. The defense certainly got the better of the offense in these drills.
- Overall, if one thing stood out from this practice, it was intensity. While you never want to see a player get hurt from a practice scuffle, it's clear that this team is ready to bring it on the field. If I had to pick a player of the practice, it would probably be Ras-I Dowling. I really liked what I saw from him - he seemed to make some nice plays to separate the receiver from the football. It was only one practice, but today, he stood out more than any other Patriots defensive back.