Day 4 of Patriots Training Camp saw the return of fully padded practices behind Gillette Stadium, and another strong showing by the defensive unit. The offense certainly had their highlight moments today as well, and we’ll touch on those, but for a defensive group that has been questions often in the early going, they are showing some serious fight and tenacity. We also saw interesting developments in key positional battles on the offensive side of the ball, and perhaps the best catch of camp so far. If you weren’t able to make it down to Foxboro today for practice, here’s a taste of what you missed…
1Holding The Line
The Patriots 1st team defense came to play today, and nowhere was that more apparent than on the goal line. About halfway through practice, the 1st team offense and defensive units squared off with the offense 2 yards out of the end zone. On three of the four plays, the defense stopped the running back in the backfield for a loss. And even though the offense scored on the fourth play, Brandon Bolden was barely able to reach the ball across the goal line on a pitch play before getting blasted backwards by a trio of Patriot linebackers. It was the kind of defense that would make Willie McGinest proud.
2Reverse Red Zone
In a situational drill earlier on in practice, the offense got reps operating from the shadow of their own goal post. Using mostly runs and quick passes over the middle, TB12 & Co. were able to get themselves a bit of breathing room more often than not. Just looking at the last two Super Bowls, its clear how important those back to the wall situations can be, and Bill Belichick wants his team ready.
3Carrying The Load
With Dion Lewis gone to Tennessee, there are carries and yards that need to be replaced entering 2018. Today saw the snaps with the first team offense distributed pretty evenly between Jeremy Hill, Sony Michel (despite his fumble yesterday), Rex Burkhead, and James White. The notable absence was Mike Gillislee who was not on the field Sunday. Gillislee was a full participant at practice on Saturday, and no reason was given for him not participating. While he is expected back soon, in such a close positional battle any lost snap hurts.
When the Patriots traded for WR/Kick Return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson back in March, many figured it was to replace Dion Lewis as the primary kick returner. However, early in camp, Patterson has proved to be much more than just a return ace. He has lined up as both a slot and outside receiver with the first team offense, and on Sunday made the play of camp so far, coming back for an under-thrown ball and making a spectacular tip-drill catch over Eric Rowe. After practice, Patterson stayed on the field to practice catching punts. While he has been known as a kick return specialist, Patterson has just one punt return to his credit in his NFL career (2016 with Minnesota). Perhaps that will change in New England.
With the obvious exception of Tom Brady, the crowd favorite at camp so far this year has been Julian Edelman. Any time he walks near the bleachers, the fans will shower him with applause, and any catch he makes will draw the loudest roars of the day. The show of support is similar to what Brady got before the 2016, when he was facing a 4 game suspension in the “Deflate-gate” saga. Perhaps this is another case of Patriots fans showing they still support their players, no matter what the league says.
After leaving practice early yesterday, Trey Flowers returned and was a full participant, although he did have a bandage over his left eye. As for new injuries, 7th round pick Keion Crossen missed practice with a back injury, while receiver Jordan Matthews left early with an apparent hamstring injury. After coming up short during 1-on-1s, he tried to stretch it out, jogged, and changed his cleats before ultimately heading back to the locker room.