The New England Patriots have had their fourth day of practice and they conducted it through the pouring rain. Head coach Bill Belichick must’ve been thrilled that his players had to battle the elements and the offensive players really stepped up to the challenge.
It would appear that tight end Rob Gronkowski was the best player on the day and he seems primed to dominate the league in 2016- and his teammates are close behind.
OG Jonathan Cooper (foot), S Nate Ebner (Olympics), OG Tre Jackson (knee), RB Dion Lewis (knee), WR Keshawn Martin (???), and OC Bryan Stork (???) were not in attendance.
Rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell returned to the field, as did RB Brandon Bolden and rookie DT Vincent Valentine. RB D.J. Foster was back and participating.
WR Nate Washington observed practice without participating, alongside the other players on the PUP squad like WR Julian Edelman and WR Danny Amendola.
Wide receiver Chris Hogan was banged up, but remained on the field. Hopefully it is nothing serious:
WR Chris Hogan suffered an apparent right shoulder injury. Trainers examined him and he stayed on the field, but didn't return to practice.— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) July 31, 2016
Hogan was hurt during a 1-on-1 drill with CBs. Both players engaged each other, and Hogan's right arm dangled after the contact.— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) July 31, 2016
OG Josh Kline and OG Shaq Mason were active, but they are not full participants, which is why the starting OGs are rookies Joe Thuney and Ted Karras. This will likely change once the experienced players regain their health.
NESN’s Doug Kyed highlights OC David Andrews as a standout in the 1-on-1 drills. With Stork not in attendance, it’s possible that Andrews could jump out to a lead at the position and leave Stork in the rearview mirror. Kyed also lists rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell as a “big winner” in the 1-on-1s.
I hope this was caught on tape:
Tom Brady just made a behind-the-back catch in the stretching line. Can they suspend him if he plays WR?— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) July 31, 2016
WR Aaron Dobson continues to have a strong camp with multiple big grabs on the day. Check out our Sunday Thoughts to see what a former teammate highlights as Dobson’s biggest hurdle to converting these preseason flashes to actual games.
The tight ends apparently dominated the day:
Gronk back shoulder fade, ball underthrown, he still jumps and makes low fingertip catch for TD, whips ball into crowd, mobbed by teammates— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) July 31, 2016
Gronk spectacular TD catch #1...dives back to the ball in end zone and scoops it in off the shoetops. Chung in coverage.— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) July 31, 2016
Gronk just made another circus catch for a TD, catching a fade Willie Mays-style over Jamie Collins. Gronk is putting on a clinic today— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) July 31, 2016
Gronk greatness #2. Back right corner...over shoulder and over Chung. Chest bumps and high-5s everywhere, including to the fans— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) July 31, 2016
Now it’s Marty B’s turn, making a tough catch over Richards on a corner fade for a TD. #Patriots TE pair is going to be fun to watch— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) July 31, 2016
TEs Martellus Bennett and Bryce Williams came up with nice TD grabs, as well. Williams has been a standout UDFA in the last two days.— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) July 31, 2016
TE Bryce Williams then had his moment on the back corner of the EZ, reeling in an over the should throw from Garoppolo. More hijinks— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) July 31, 2016
Rob Ninkovich lined up as the #3 linebacker for the second straight day, alongside Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. I like Ninkovich in the lineup a lot more than I like Jonathan Freeny, so I’m really intrigued to see how this translates to actual games.
ProJo’s Mark Daniels notes that Justin Coleman is ahead of Cyrus Jones in the depth chart. There has been plenty of praise for Jones, with WEEI’s Chris Price saying he looks “very comfortable alongside vets.” I think the implication is that Coleman is having a strong camp, which serves to bolster the depth at the position. It’s a good sign and it gives the Patriots future flexibility since Coleman will be an exclusive rights free agent after this season.
DT Terrance Knighton finally lined up next to Malcom Brown as a starter. This is a good sign moving forward since Knighton is clearly a better talent than Markus Kuhn, who had been lining up with the first unit for the first few days. Hopefully Knighton can continue to adjust to the defense.
FS Devin McCourty and FS Brock Vereen both picked off Jimmy Garoppolo in different drills. CB Malcolm Butler, S Patrick Chung, CB Justin Coleman (twice), CB Logan Ryan, and FS Cedric Thompson all had pass breakups in practice, per Daniels.
The punt returners remain Cyrus Jones, V’Angelo Bentley, and DeAndre Carter.