Bill Belichick had the music blasting on Friday afternoon. He clearly was trying to simulate live-game situations for the team, as practice was fast-paced with a lot of situations like the two-minute drill, goal line, and situational work.
Top Three Topics
1. Boyce over Thompkins...both over the vets
I was happy to see Josh Boyce get reps with the starters this afternoon but I thought he had his worst day of practice throughout camp, though he wasn't terrible. I have him down for three drops but he might have had one or two more. This is not to say he had a bad day because he still runs some of the most precise routes on the team (behind Amendola and Edelman). Boyce stays low and doesn't lose speed on any of his cuts. Considering he ran one of the best three-cone drill times at the NFL draft combine this comes as no surprise.
Interestingly, Thompkins had a stellar three-cone drill time at the combine, but I don't see it as much on the practice field. I don't think he's nearly as talented as Boyce when it comes to route running. When the wide receivers were practicing "dig-post" routes (essentially a 10-yard "in" route intended to make the secondary bite, but then the receiver busts out for a post towards the middle of the field), I have positive marks for both Boyce and Amendola, but Thompkins lacked fluidity and appeared a bit stiff.
But that's not necessarily a huge negative for him, because Thompkins has made a lot of remarkable plays and at this point I think he makes the team over Michael Jenkins, who has not impressed me at all. For all the negative things I said about Thompkins, the same can be said for Jenkins, but Thompkins (and Boyce) both are faster and I believe have more versatility with the potential to line up in a number of different positions.
2. More Read-Option
It's obvious Josh McDaniels has installed a handful of read-option plays into the offense. After the first couple days of camp, I noticed Tebow practicing handoffs with backs, and then we saw the defense defend the plays at half-speed on Tuesday, but today we saw things in full-speed action. One play that stuck out to me was one in which the Pats were lined up in your basic shotgun formation four wide-outs split wide and Vereen next to Tebow. But Julian Edelman, lined up in the slot, went into motion and ended up behind Tebow, creating the pistol formation. It's interesting to see these wrinkles in the offense installed so early in the summer, but it's obvious more is going on behind closed doors than we realize. The Patriots are not afraid to install packages for Tebow. Whether or not Brady comes off the field (doubt it) remains to be seen, but the fact they are there says a lot.
But it's not all about the offense when it comes to the read-option, as I wrote the other day, it's very important for the defense to get used to seeing this at full-speed. More teams are integrating it into their offense and it's becoming more and more important to stop it. The read-option isn't a ‘fad' like the wildcat was. With that said, I thought the defense did a stellar job. There were a few plays that would've gotten blown up had it been a live game. I look forward to seeing the read-option run against them next week versus the Philadelphia Eagles. Don't let me down, Chip Kelly, because I believe the Pats are ready to defend it.
3. Mesko vs. Allen battle continues
If you ever get the chance to go to practice, please be sure to watch the battle between punters Zoltan Mesko and Ryan Allen. I think this is one of the more underrated battles in camp and I believe Allen has a chance to make this roster. Both are talented enough to punt in the NFL next year. If Allen isn't better than Mesko, he's at least as good as him.
Today I decided to pull out the stopwatch and record some times. With the help of a friend (Thanks, Bill!) we managed to record almost every punt. For 11 recorded times, Ryan Allen had an average hang time of 4.23 seconds; in 13 reps, Zoltan Mesko averaged 4.27 seconds. From that, well, obviously there isn't much of a difference at all. Allen has proven he can get more power on his punts but I think he might have more accuracy with them, too.
From my notes I have a few negative markets against Zoltan Mesko. On drills when they were both trying to pin the returner within the ten-yard line, I have Ryan Allen with three ‘plus-marks' but for Zoltan, he had the ball roll into the end zone twice, and one of them only reached the 20-yard-line. Of course, Zoltan has been a great player the past few years and has continued his success throughout camp, but the fact Allen is neck-and-neck with him, has a much cheaper contract, and isn't up for a contract next year, could mean that he gets the edge when it comes down to who makes the final roster. There's no doubt both of these guys will be starting punters in the NFL next season.
- Devin McCourty lined up at cornerback most of the time today and did a pretty nice job. Cornerback depth was thinned with Alfonzo Dennard hampered by something and Ras-I Dowling out. Even though I much prefer McCourty at safety, it's worth spending time in practice with him at corner so each situation can be covered. If a guy like Talib or Dennard goes down with injury, McCourty will be the guy to slide into that spot since the team has a plethora of safety depth.
- A couple thoughts from my incomplete notes on the open-field gauntlet drill: running back LeGarrette Blount destroyed linebacker Marcus Benard with a Madden-like spin move. And somehow tight end Zach Sudfeld managed to get past linebacker Jamie Collins; he got a hand on Sudfeld but didn't wrap up, showing some pretty bad technique on the play. It was just one bad spot during an otherwise great practice for Collins, who forced another fumble, but it's worth pointing out.
- Adrian Wilson is a strong man. During full-contact 11-on-11 drill, Adrian Wilson popped Jake Ballard in the chest with a forearm. Ballard, at 6'6" and 275-pounds, had full momentum heading towards Wilson, but Ballard stuttered back after the blow. I think it speaks volumes to Wilson's strength and work ethic at 33-years-old. He's in amazing shape and appears to be one of the most fit men on the team.
- Once again, Danny Amendola put on a show. The other day I said he's better than Wes Welker and I'm sticking by those words. He had one drop today but that's excusable considering a couple of other speculation catches he made, including one far above his head on a post route. Watching Amendola run routes is like watching Picasso paint a picture. During goal line drills, Danny Amendola ran one of the most outrageous routes I have seen throughout practice: lined up in the right spot he had this dance-like stutter step into a hard cut to his right, leaving Marquice Cole in the dust.
- Another spectacular practice for Aqib Talib, he had an interception after jumping a crossing route by Josh Boyce, and had a few other pass breakups. He has sealed each receiver he covers and he continuously impresses me. He isn't at the level of a lockdown corner, but he's definitely on the tier below and I can live with that.
- It was disappointing to see Shane Vereen get banged up over what appeared to be absolutely nothing. On goal line drills, Vereen ran a short little route to the pylon, caught the ball, and wasn't even hit by Dont'a Hightower. But after the play Vereen went straight to the sidelines and called for medical attention. He held his right side and I have no idea what was bothering him considering there was no contact on the play. Hopefully this is minor because Vereen has had a great camp so far and looks to be an integral part of the offense.
- Practice ran a little late today and I assume that was the case because there were points when the offense was a bit sloppy. Even though Tom Brady was on his game, there were a number of drops and the offense wasn't always able to convert when they had to. This isn't a bad thing because they a strong day overall and the defense was just better.
- After I criticized Ryan Mallett a couple of days ago, I thought he performed very well on Friday. His passes were on target and he didn't have his problematic overthrows like he did early in the week. In my notes I pointed out a flea flicker pass he made to Aaron Dobson. Even though he slightly under threw it, the ball was in range for Dobson to comeback and make a catch for a touchdown.