RICHMOND, Va. — In the past, joint practices have proved to be a pretty good source for evaluating players. You tend to see them dial it up a notch going against an actual opponent, as opposed to a teammate.
That being said, the Patriots arrived at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center on Monday having completed eight in-house practices. With that as a backdrop, here are some random observations and thoughts after the first week of training camp.
• Day in, day out, the best, most consistent offensive player not named Tom Brady has been Julian Edelman. He clearly has established himself as the leader of the wide receivers. He sets the tone, and others try to follow his example. His battles with Darrelle Revis have been extremely competitive and great to watch. And, yes, he’s won his fair share against the shutdown corner, which says a lot.
• Speaking of the island, through eight practices, I can’t recall Revis ever being in a bad position to defend a pass. His instincts are off the charts. On his pick-6 of Brady last week, he broke on the route before the receiver made his move. At 5-foot-11, he’s really not that big, but his ball skills, athleticism and footwork allow him to play huge.
• With each practice, you can feel the physical presence of the defense building and growing. It starts with Revis and fellow cornerback Brandon Browner. The latter’s hard-hitting, aggressive style, which sometimes exceeds the legal boundaries, seems to have everyone in the secondary playing with an edge. Aqib Talib provided this vibe last season, but it looks like the defense is taking it to another level. Now the Pats just have to hope the officials won’t flag them to death, with the planned re-emphasis on holding and illegal contact.
• Dont’a Hightower still has issues in pass coverage. At 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, keeping up with running backs and tight ends is a struggle. The light at the end of the tunnel? On occasion during camp, we’ve seen him used as a pass rusher. That’s what he did so well in college, where he was let loose on quarterbacks on third downs. In that role, his size and quickness were an advantage against offensive tackles. When the Pats drafted him, the thinking was he might be utilized at defensive end on occasion. Hightower has said he’d love the chance to rush the passer, whether it’s from the edge or blitzing from his linebacker spot. That’s something to keep an eye on.
• Rookie running back James White has been impressive, to say the least. Coming from Wisconsin’s “power-O” scheme, he has an advantage in being familiar with some concepts the Pats use. In college, White often ran with the aid of a fullback and behind a pulling guard. Of course, the Pats have used fullback James Develin in two-back sets, and on occasion love to pull their guards on designed running plays. Thus far, White has used his personnel well up front, no matter the blocking scheme.
• Justin Jones is an intriguing prospect just for the mere fact he’s 6-foot-8. His size alone makes him a threat in the red zone. He’s not fast, or particularly quick, but has displayed some athleticism. The tight end, an undrafted rookie out of East Carolina, has received more quality reps with tight end Michael Hoomanawanui injured, but still doesn’t see time with the first-team offense. His biggest problem? He can’t hold onto the football; too many drops. That’s a killer. But given his potential, and the fact the Pats’ depth is thin at tight end, he has a chance to hang around, develop, and find something like Stickum for those hands.
• The Pats continue to pack training camp with large crowds on weekdays. Just one pet peeve: I still can’t figure out why players who run laps for making mistakes get cheered. Rookie Jimmy Garoppolo already leads the league in applause for running after botched snaps.
• Speaking of Garoppolo: There’s no way the Pats can trade current backup quarterback Ryan Mallett before the start of the season and expect this kid to be a legitimate No. 2 behind Brady. At least not the way it looks now. Garoppolo is struggling with accuracy, as well as the speed of the game, just to name a few of his troubles. He’s also been indecisive in his reads. It’s still early in the developmental process, and these kind of hiccups often occur with rookie quarterbacks, but so far he’s making Mallett’s presence necessary.
• Don’t know if you’d see many team owners stand out in the heat every day to watch practice, but Robert Kraft has been on the sideline checking out the proceedings as he always does. It might not seem like a big deal, but the players take note. During his Patriots Hall of Fame induction speech, Ty Law made special mention of the lengths to which Kraft goes to support and stand behind his players and how much that means.