Before the New England Patriots took the practice field for day 2 of training camp, Bill Belichick described the first two sessions as more of an evaluation period than a competition.
The latter is what fans and media are furiously anticipating, and the first taste will come on Saturday for the first fully padded practice of the season. But the Patriots head coach treated these first practices, which at times were even less intense than minicamp, as a time for younger players to learn as much as they can and fix the things they need to fix before ramping it up.
"We've done a lot of teaching and this is coming into the time period where I'd say there's a little less teaching, maybe a little more evaluation, a little more corrections," Belichick said. "In a lot of cases, I'd say there aren’t too many situations where players just don’t know what to do. They might need a little refinement or a fine coaching point or something, but at this point we've been through a lot. They know what to do. It's now going to be an evaluation process where they go out and do it against other good players and we evaluate the performances."
The real competition will "start soon", Belichick added. So it might not even be on Saturday. But the intensity and physicality will certainly go up at least a notch or two when the players are in full pads. With that said, here are some observations and takeaways from day 2 of training camp in Foxboro...
On the receivers...
-- Malcolm Mitchell's mere presence was an encouraging sign. He didn't practice in full - he warmed up, jersey and all, then headed down to the lower field to work with guys on the PUP list. But just a couple of days ago, it sounded like his future in New England and the NFL was in jeopardy. Bill Belichick's reaction to the "media speculation", and Mitchell's return after a day 1 absence, score in the opposite column.
-- The best play all day by a receiver came from ... Cordarrelle Patterson. He reeled in a one-handed catch, over Stephon Gilmore no less, on what looked like a back-shoulder throw from Tom Brady. The former Vikings and Raiders WR looks to be a near-lock for kick return duties, but the Patriots are also making a concerted effort to make him work on offense - something he has yet to achieve on a consistent basis in the NFL.
-- Jordan Matthews looked shaken up at one point late in practice, but did not have to leave. So if he did tweak something, it had to be very minor.
-- Tom Brady didn't have his best day in 11-on-11 drills, but he had a strong connection with Chris Hogan in the red zone. He connected with him for two quick TDs relatively early on. And it's definitely a good development that Brady and Hogan are getting in sync this quickly, because Hogan will have to be the team's top wideout for the first four weeks of the season.
-- Julian Edelman mostly looked sharp when getting opportunities in team drills. His best play of the day came not from a Brady throw, however, but a beauty of a throw by Brian Hoyer to the corner of the end zone. Edelman tracked the ball over his shoulder and pulled it in, drawing an eruption from the crowd.
On the offensive line...
-- Marcus Cannon had to leave the field early with a medical staffer. LaAdrian Waddle got first-team reps at right tackle in his stead. However, it appears to be a minor issue and there's no indication of an injury. According to ESPN's Mike Reiss, Cannon "should be good to go" as soon as Saturday.
-- The first team O-line rotated different guys in and out during team drills, mostly after Cannon's injury. This was one of the biggest indications of the "evaluation" that goes into the first couple of days of camp. Isaiah Wynn briefly subbed in for Trent Brown at left tackle, while Ted Karras played both center and right guard at times. Cole Croston also got some time with the starters.
-- Besides Cannon, the primary starters remained the same from Thursday: Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason.
-- Stephon Gilmore made arguably the most impressive play of the day, and it looked quite familiar. With Brady throwing deep toward Edelman in the corner of the end zone, Gilmore stuck with him then leaped and batted the pass away. It was strikingly reminiscent of his clutch pass breakup late in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a play that directly helped get the Patriots to Super Bowl LII.
-- There looks to be a competition brewing for the punt return role, at least for the first four games without Edelman. Riley McCarron has been getting a lot of the reps in that department, but on Friday they worked in rookie sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios more. Those two seem to be the depth/replacement-level players to cover for Edelman's absence.
-- Tight end Jacob Hollister turned heads with a nice leaping catch over the middle on a throw from Brady during an early team drill. All of the tight ends mostly looked sharp. Dwayne Allen caught a lot of balls from Brady, and Troy Niklas got involved with at least one catch. The competition behind Rob Gronkowski remains one of the top storylines to watch during camp.
-- Punter Corey Bojorquez took a step back. At one point he shanked it into a crowd of players watching on the sidelines. So consider incumbent Ryan Allen firmly in the lead to hold on to his job at that spot.
More: Day 1 Takeaways
I'll be on vacation this weekend, so unfortunately I'll have to miss practice on Saturday and Sunday. But I'll be back at it ASAP as training camp continues on.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].