It was a beautiful day in Foxborough today for training camp. There was a good enough breeze to keep the searing heat away and cool off the crowd. Today also happened to be Tom Brady’s 33rd birthday, and the crowd sang to him both in the morning and afternoon sessions. The morning session was a light walk through in shirts and shorts after last night’s late practice in Gillette Stadium, while the afternoon was a return to pads. The team worked on some situational football in the afternoon, running the two-minute offense. The starters on both sides of the ball squared off, the end result was a Tom Brady touchdown pass to rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez. All three tight ends- Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski, and Hernandez- look impressive and all will contribute this season. Crumpler and Gronkowski are beasts to see in person size-wise. Here are some quick notes from both sessions:
- Absentees. The list doesn’t look all too different, though Patrick Chung joined the players not practicing in the afternoon session, though he was present on the field. The players not practicing are Derrick Burgess, Logan Mankins, Ty Warren, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor, Ron Brace (defensive line depth is being tested), Terrence Johnson, Jonathon Wilhite, Nick Kaczur, Matthew Slater, Gary Guyton, and Bret Lockett.
- Bill Belichick’s involvement. In the morning session, Belichick worked almost exclusively with the defense, and then bounced around a little more in the afternoon. When the team moved to the offense vs. defense drills, linebackers coach and seeming de facto defensive coordinator Matt Patricia called the plays into the defense via a radio headset.
- Torry Holt continues to struggle. Veteran Torry Holt had a few drops today in practice and slipped on a route, causing the pass to fall incomplete. I can’t say that Holt is having a bad camp, but the competition just looks that much better. Brandon Tate in particular continues to look very impressive and could be starting opposite Randy Moss Week One.
- Terrence Wheatley impresses. The forgotten man of the corner back group really stood out today in the afternoon session. He had tight, aggressive coverage on receivers, earning praise from Belichick. “Nice job, Wheat!” he said after one break-up against Sam Aiken. Rookie Devin McCourty also looked impressive once again. If Wilhite is out for an extended period of time and Wheatley continues to improve, I may have to edit the corners in my 53-man roster projection.
- The starting defense. Here’s the first unit defense, but take this with a grain of salt because of injuries and the ever-changing depth due to competition: Gerard Warren and Damione Lewis lined up at DE, Vince Wilfork at NT, Jerod Mayo and rookie Brandon Spikes lined up at ILB, Tully Banta-Cain and rookie Jermain Cunningham lined up at OLB, Darius Butler, Devin McCourty, and Leigh Bodden moved around and subbed in and out for each other at corner, and Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders lined up at safety. Chung was the usual starter at safety but sat out the afternoon session.
Bold prediction: Brandon Spikes will start next to Jerod Mayo at inside linebacker.
Final notes. Zoltan Mesko looked much better punting the ball today than he did when I was at camp last Thursday. Bill Belichick, as he has been doing lately, ran sprints in the far field after the morning session. I’ll have pics up tomorrow from my trip today, including Belichick running sprints. Lastly, no matter what Wes Welker does, he gets a large ovation from the crowd, and he deserves it. His superhuman return so soon after tearing his ACL still boggles my mind, and you’d never know he had anything wrong with him seeing him make cuts and catch balls today.