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New England Patriots Training Camp - Day Four Observations

Kevin O'Connor observes the Patriots' fourth day of training camp practices.

Aaron Dobson will quickly become a fan favorite if he keeps this up.
Aaron Dobson will quickly become a fan favorite if he keeps this up.
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Foxborough, Mass -- 20,543 fans showed up to Gillette Stadium on Monday night to see the New England Patriots practice for the fourth time this summer. Fans that showed up early were able to see legendary linebacker Tedy Bruschi and radio announcer Gil Santos get inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. After the ceremony, the Patriots took the field for their second full-pads practice.



Dobson, Boyce impressive again

Considering it's only the fourth training camp practice, I think rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce are far ahead of the curve. Both players have great footwork and are able to run a myriad of different routes at a high level. After struggling at beating press coverage on Sunday, I thought Dobson was hard to stop tonight. He did a good job of using his arms to beat the press, showing more aggressiveness than he has previously.

Aaron Dobson, in my opinion, had the play of the day during 7 on 7 drills. Lined up on the left side of the field as the X-receiver, he was matched up with Alfonzo Dennard. Dobson ran a 15-yard flag route towards the sideline. On the cut towards the middle of the field (meant to disguise the route or fake out the defender), he made Dennard look bad and opened himself for a wide-open catch near the sideline. Dennard was terrific all night long, which made the route even more impressive. Dobson's footwork is top-notch and he seems to be expanding on his route tree that he had at Marshall.

I think you could make the argument that Josh Boyce is the best blocking wide receiver on the team. During receiver versus cornerback drills, Boyce manhandled both Alfonzo Dennard and Stephon Morris. Of course, Boyce is bigger and stronger than his opponents, but it's the fact he's able to do what he's supposed to do at such an early stage. Boyce's physicality perfectly compliments his agility on crossing routes over the middle of the field. Even though Kenbrell Thompkins is currently ahead of him on the depth chart, I fully expect Boyce to overtake him sooner rather than later.

Mallett struggles, open door for Tebow?

Ryan Mallett had his worst day of training camp so far this summer. Save for a terrific 35-yard pass to Michael Jenkins, Mallett was overthrowing passes during every single drill. During 11 on 11s, Mallett was all over the place. He didn't seem to deal well with pressure and tended to sail passes over the receiver's head or put it too far in front of them. Mallett has a rocket arm but hasn't improved his accuracy much the past two seasons and I fear for him that the door is open for Tim Tebow to steal the number two quarterback job.

Of course, that won't come easily for Tim Tebow because he wasn't much better today. He wasn't horrible like Mallett was but he is still pretty slow to make his reads and would've been sacked or forced to scramble on a few occasions. Even when he had a clean look he didn't always make a clean pass. During 7 on 7s, he forced both Matthew Slater and Lavelle Hawkins to lay out for balls and even though Slater was able to haul it in, the pass has got to be more accurate. On the positive end of things, I think Tebow has proven he can accurately throw the deep ball as he completed a couple of deep passes tonight to Lavelle Hawkins and Quentin Sims.

Tebow also practiced a few read-option handoffs during skeleton drills, continuing on with something we have seen at the latter end of practices this past weekend. Tebow received two passes during the gauntlet drill (when a defensive player tries to tackle a ball carrier in an open field situation). Tebow juked out of a tackle attempted by Steve Gregory. It's hard to imagine Tom Brady getting substituted out during an actual game but these little wrinkles continue to be incorporated here and there during practice.

Happy Birthday, Kenbrell!

Actually it wasn't such a happy birthday for wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. The rookie out of Cincinnati had an absolutely terrible day even though he was the starting receiver ahead of fellow rookie Josh Boyce. By my count he had three dropped passes and he seemed to have severe miscommunication on a few of his routes. During the two-minute drill, Thompkins was matched up with cornerback Aqib Talib. On a route headed towards the sidelines, Tom Brady threw the ball and Thompkins failed to turn his head, allowing Talib had to intercept the ball, which would've been an easy pick-six. As the Z-receiver, Thompkins ran an in when it was supposed to be an out earlier during the night. Brady was seen putting his hands up in the air in disgust.

WR screens a focus

On Saturday the Patriots offense practiced three wide-receiver screens in a row to Danny Amendola. Tonight, they ran four plays in a row, two of them to Kenbrell Thompkins, and one each to Michael Jenkins and Kamar Aiken. These came during skeleton drills, though one more screen was run for Thompkins during 7 on 7s.

I was disappointed no screens were called for Danny Amendola tonight. I would've liked to have seen these plays called during full speed action. Unfortunately he wasn't very impressive catching the ball tonight with two concentration drops. It's hard to tell if he wasn't focusing or if he lost the ball in the lights but either way he has to finish the play. Amendola starts out wonderfully with the ability to easily beat the press and then creates separation with outstanding footwork down the field, so it's a shame when he doesn't finish with a reception.

Svitek gets more reps

I'm sure this is just maintenance for Sebastian Vollmer and his potential back troubles, but backup right tackle Will Svitek rotated in for him during 11 on 11 drills about 50 percent of the time. I didn't notice this over the weekend (it's possible I missed it) but it's something to look at going forward. I can't imagine its injury related for Vollmer because if it were he'd be out. I'm guessing the Pats just want to give Svitek more reps due to his talent.

Zusevics, Green scolded

During 11 on 11 drills, offensive linemen Markus Zusevics and Tyronne Green were substituted out and they casually trotted to the sidelines. By the time the play was about to start Bill Belichick blew his whistle and he could be heard screaming at both Marcus and Tyronne. Both players didn't get to the sidelines before the play and its obvious Belichick didn't appreciate their lack of hustle. It's the little things like this that could make or break your chances.

The fullback role

During goal line formation drills, I thought it was interesting to see LeGarrette Blount spending time at the fullback position. He received two handoffs while Stevan Ridley was lined up behind him at running back. Usually tight end Michael Hoomanawanui would be lined up here but it's possible the team feels Blount is an adequate blocker as well.

Fullback James Develin had three rushes on third and short situations, converting all of them. Of course a quarterback sneak would be called in a lot of game situations, but it was interesting to see Develin receive so much time tonight. He looked strong hitting the hole and I wonder if there is a spot for him on this team considering the increasing importance of having a fullback.



Strong pass rush

I don't know where to start because every pass rusher was impressive tonight. Both Chandler Jones and Michael Buchanan had loads of success from the right defensive end position, as did Tommy Kelly and Marcus Forston from the interior. During 11 on 11 drills Buchanan constantly abused left tackle Kevin Haslam with rip moves. He also utilized his gigantic wingspan by deflecting a pass at the line of scrimmage.

Tommy Kelly might get knocked for being "lazy" but if I didn't know about his history I would think he was a high motor player. He's fast off the line of scrimmage and seems to really want a roster spot. For a guy that has been criticized so much, something is just working right with him in New England. If this continues him and Vince Wilfork will be a force to be reckoned with up the middle.

It's been stated plenty of times but its worth pointing out once again: Chandler Jones looks huge. From last year to today, Jones has put on at least 10-to-15 pounds of muscle, and if he hasn't gained weight, he has turned fat into muscle. Jones looks ripped and no matter the opponent, he has been a load to handle. I wish I was able to get a better look at offensive versus defensive line drills, but in the few looks I saw, Jones couldn't be stopped. He's just too long and too powerful.

Wilson key in sub-packages

When the defense was in the nickel or dime package, safety Adrian Wilson would shift down into the box and Steve Gregory would substitute in at strong safety. This is consistent with what we saw over the weekend, though I thought the defense practiced more aggressive blitzes tonight. If Wilson is in the box, he has fantastic ability as a run-defender, but he also has the speed to match up with most tight ends and running backs. The Patriots play over half of their defensive snaps in sub personnel, so it will be important that Adrian Wilson does well in this role.

Second unit communicating

This is a basic note but I thought it was encouraging seeing linebacker Jamie Collins and safety Tavon Wilson communicating on each and every play. This is akin to what Devin McCourty and Jerod Mayo do before the snap. Based on the performance of the defense, it's easy to think that they did a good job communicating assignments and alignment changes.

Talib snatches two interceptions

Cornerback Aqib Talib was unbelievable tonight, recording two interceptions. He played blanket coverage in virtually every drill and receivers had a hard time blocking him during one-on-one drills. He ended Tom Brady's night with an interception that would've been a pick-six had it been live-game action. Both him and Alfonzo Dennard could easily become the best cornerback-duo in the AFC East.

Creative blitzes

It's very early in camp but Justin Francis, Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Michael Buchanan, are all being incorporated in a number of creative blitz packages. During 11 on 11s, I took note of an instance where Adrian Wilson was sent on a blitz and Justin Francis dropped back into coverage. Though Francis won't be called upon to do this that often, it's an indicator of the amount of versatility this defense could potentially have. Hightower, Collins, Buchanan, as well as Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich can all stand up in a two-point stance and play pass-defense, or put their hand on the ground and rush the passer. This amount of flexibility opens up the door for Bill Belichick to an install a hybrid defense that can adapt to what the offense is doing on a play-by-play basis. Again, it's early, but keep an eye on where these guys line up once the games begin in August.


Special Teams

Allen, Mesko continue camp battle

Ryan Allen, a rookie punter and Ray Guy Award winner from Louisiana Tech, continues to have an outstanding camp. Though I didn't have a stopwatch tonight, he appears to have slightly more hang time on his punts than Zoltan Mesko. This isn't a knock on Zoltan -- he's terrific -- but it's pretty obvious why Allen won the Ray Guy Award twice, he has one hell of a leg.

Interestingly, Zoltan Mesko spent time on the sidelines while Ryan Allen was the holder on the first team field goal units. Stephen Gostkowski was perfect, going 6-of-6 on attempts from 29, 32, 35, 40, 42, and 46 yards.

It's hard to imagine that Zoltan Mesko loses his job to a rookie but I wouldn't rule it out. Bill Belichick means it when he says the best players will play. So far, in my opinion, Allen has outperformed Mesko. It remains to be seen if that continues.

Punt returners come into shape

Danny Amendola, Lavelle Hawkins, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Leon Washington spent time returning punts. Washington and Amendola continue to stand out, showing elite acceleration. I believe Julian Edelman will easily beat out Hawkins once he returns from injury. Thompkins got off to a bad start tonight by muffing a punt return. Punter Ryan Allen boomed the punt over his head and Kenbrell made a terrible read on it, muffing the punt and failing to gain any yardage.

Tebow the punt protector

Tim Tebow spent time as the punt protector on the punt-team's second unit. Steve Gregory was the punt protector on the starting unit. I wouldn't read too far into this since Tebow has experience as a punt protector with the New York Jets, but it's worth keeping an eye on if he gets this opportunity in pre-season games.


Other Notes

Bruschi speaks to team

Oh, how I wish we were able to hear the speech. As practice was beginning to flow, Tedy Bruschi came onto the field and Bill Belichick called all of his players over to huddle around Bruschi. Tedy gave a long, 5-to-10 minute speech and seemed to hold the attention of each player. Tom Brady was kneeling right in front of Bruschi as Bill Belichick hovered over Bruschi's shoulder. These are the type of moments that can help the Patriots build chemistry very early in the year.

Bolden is absent, Armstead had surgery

Julian Edelman, Cory Grissom, Rob Gronkowski, Mark Harrison, and Nick McDonald were all at practice tonight, though they were in sweats. Brandon Bolden was not spotted though he had practiced over the weekend. After practice the Patriots released a statement saying Armond Armstead is recovering from surgery to heal an infection. Further details are unknown.