Tom Brady stretches before Tuesday’s practice. (AP)
FOXBORO — The Patriots OTA session took place for roughly 90 minutes on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium Tuesday. The workout, which was held in jerseys, helmets and shorts under a beautiful blue sky, was the last one open to the media, and the last session held before reporters prior to mandatory minicamp starting next week in Foxboro. Here are 10 takeaways from Tuesday’s action:
1. The biggest takeaway from Tuesday was the fact that the Patriots appeared to get a little banged up. First, tight end Jake Ballard went down in the corner of the end zone after landing awkwardly on his left ankle or foot. He was on the ground for an extended stretch, and while he did get up, he spent the rest of the session on the sidelines watching the action. Then, running back Stevan Ridley caught a pass out of the backfield in 7-on-7 work, but after a few yards, pulled up and grabbed for his right hammy. It didn’t look serious, but he did spend a few minutes on the ground getting stretched out, and appeared to sit out the rest of the workout. Of the three injuries, the most severe appeared to take place when cornerback Alfonzo Dennard went down with a shoulder or collarbone injury. (You got a sense of just how severe it was when he had to be carted off the field.)
2. The following players were not present for the VOLUNTARY session: wide receiver Julian Edelman (foot), cornerback Stephon Morris, running back Brandon Bolden (ankle), linebacker Brandon Spikes (working out on his own), offensive lineman Nick McDonald and tight end Rob Gronkowski (arm, back). In addition, the following players appeared to go through work on a limited basis: safety Devin McCourty, safety Nate Ebner, safety Duron Harmon, wide receiver Mark Harrison, tight end Aaron Hernandez, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, right guard Dan Connolly and wide receiver Josh Boyce.
3. While he was limited, Hernandez was a pretty steady presence throughout the session. He stretched with his teammates at the start of practice, then went to work in the bubble with McCourty and Ebner, and when he returned to the field, jumped right into a drill with the quarterbacks and receiver Mike Jenkins. While the rest of the team was on the other practice field going through a special teams session (specifically, punt returns), Jenkins and Hernandez caught passes from all three quarterbacks. And at the end of practice, he could be seen on the field catching passes from backup quarterback Mike Kafka and getting some extra work in with Tom Brady.
4. In those punt return drills we referenced, Leon Washington and Danny Amendola appeared to get in most of the work as returners.
5. It’s only May, but it’s been hard not to be impressed by rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld. The 6-foot-7, 255-pounder flashed positively again on Tuesday morning, standing out as the best tight end in the group. He showed a good set of hands, he maneuvered nicely through traffic (catching a few balls with bodies flying around him, including a nice tip-toe catch in the corner of the end zone) and in general, didn’t look overwhelmed by the proceedings, which is all you can expect from a rookie at this time of year. (He saw an uptick in reps when Ballard went down.) Again, it’s very early, but he could force the Patriots to make some tough decisions at the back end of that tight end depth chart.
6. Overall, the offense appeared to struggle at times throughout the session. Backups Ryan Mallett and Kafka had problems in teamwide and 7-on-7 sessions toward the later part of the afternoon. Not sure how much was on the pass catchers and how much was on the receivers, but there were missed connections, incompletes and tipped balls for much of the session. Granted, it’s the first week of June, but it certainly wasn’t the most crisp and/or efficient session for the New England offense.
7. We’re not sure how much of it was team-imposed or simply anger at their own miscues, but it was interesting to see wide receiver Aaron Dobson drop a catch in traffic, and then come back to the offensive side of the ball when the play was done and drop to the ground and do a series of pushups. In that same vein, LeGarrette Blount took a lap around the practice field after dropping a pass in a similar situation.
8. There were two defensive plays involving defensive backs that really stood out. One came when cornerback Ras-I Dowling figure into a nice pass breakup on a pass play from Mallett to Kamar Aiken. (Dowling also forced a fumble.) The second came when safety Steve Gregory picked off a tipped ball on a pass from Brady to Mike Jenkins. (For what it’s worth, in the three OTA sessions, Jenkins has been hovering around Brady on a consistent basis. He’s often been seen chatting with him, but mostly, it’s just about being in the same neighborhood of the quarterback and listening.)
9. The Patriots have always been big believers in playing music for at least a portion if practice, and throughout a sizable portion of the second half of practice, there was music that sounded like it came straight off of Bill Belichick’s personal iPod — classic rock, including plenty of Tom Petty, ZZ Top and Bruce Springsteen. No Bon Jovi, but there’s always mandatory minicamp to look forward to next week.
10. Former Patriots defensive lineman Anthony Pleasant was in attendance, and while he isn’t listed on the franchise masthead in any official capacity, it still wasn’t a surprise to see him on the field in a hands-on capacity. (It was particularly illuminating to see him speaking with rookie defensive end/outside linebacker Michael Buchanan coming off the field at the end of practice. Buchanan had the good sense to be listening to Pleasant — for the duration of their walk, Buchanan’s eyes and ears were open and mouth was closed.) Belichick has always welcomed former players to camp sessions like this one — recently, former New York Giant Carl Banks was on the field with the Patriots for training camp, much to the consternation of some Giants fans,