Five notes from the fourth day of New England Patriots Training Camp:
1. Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower Shine
From all that has been said about the Patriots' two first round selections, Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower are living up to the hype. Both "shined" today according to those in attendance. Jones got some work on the first-team with Rob Ninkovich being held out. Hightower, meanwhile has continued to see work at linebacker, and delivered some big hits in practice today. Definitely great news to hear from two guys we anticipate having big rookie seasons.
2. Running Back Rotation Taking Shape
With the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Patriots will have to rely on a couple of second-year running backs to carry the load in the backfield. Stevan Ridley got the majority of the first-team reps, with Shane Vereen coming in from time to time. Ridley has improved his ball security--not fumbling once this training camp. Meanwhile, Vereen is said to be struggling in the early going. Looks like--if the season started today--we'd see more Ridley than Vereen in games.
3. Rob Gronkowski Struggles
During scrimmages at the end of practice, Gronkowski was not able to handle two precise Tom Brady passes. One of the missed passes bounced off his hands, and into the hands of safety Pat Chung--who returned the pass for a touchdown. While it's way to early to be worried about this, it's hopefully something he can build on.
4. Three Patriots Injured; Francis Returns
As mentioned above, defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich left practice early with an undisclosed injury. He reportedly looked woozy (possible concussion), but was able to return and watch the remainder of practice from the sideline. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe appeared to come up lame during a drill, as he too had to watch the rest of practice from the sideline. Veteran guard/center Jamey Richard, after having a strong showing, also left with an unknown injury. But there was good news, as defensive end Justin Francis returned to the field and practiced fully. He was carted off the field on Saturday with really bad cramps.
5. Forgotten Commodities Shine In One-On-Ones
Raise your hand if you thought defensive tackle Ron Brace or guard Donald Thomas would be the top performers in one-on-one drills.. Yeah, didn't think so. According to Greg Bedard's count, Brace topped defensive lineman with a 2-1 record; while Thomas went undefeated. Two guys that I virtually counted are standing out early. Might make for some interesting battles for some reserve spots at those two positions.