New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The heat & humidity returned with a vengeance on Tuesday in Foxborough, but that doesn’t mean the Patriots are going to let up at all. They have a preseason game to get ready for, with limited time to install the rest of what they’re preparing to throw at the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

Bill Belichick put it about as well as he could during his pre-camp press conference on Tuesday. It’s not like he or the team can control the weather, or how the elements will attack the team on game days at Gillette. So it doesn’t really matter how hot it is; they need to press forward.

“It might be hot when we play,” Belichick said. “Whatever it is out there, we’ll play through. So, if it’s hot, cold, windy, still, sunny, cloudy, rainy – we’re going to get all of them sooner or later. So, just work through it.”

Welp … let’s get to what went on as the Patriots worked through it in the 90-plus degree heat and relentless humidity.

Absent: OT Marcus Cannon, OT Jason King, LB Harvey Langi, RB Sony Michel (knee)

— S Nate Ebner, CB Cyrus Jones, and CB Jonathan Jones all returned in full pads for the first portions of practice, but eventually headed down to the conditioning field. Same goes for WR Kenny Britt, who participated in some early individual drills but worked on the lower field during team sessions. He continues to slowly work his way back from a hamstring injury suffered in minicamp. Ebner and Cyrus Jones took steps forward in their recoveries from torn ACLs suffered last November and last August, respectively. Jonathan Jones is improving as he returns from an ankle injury suffered in the playoffs.

— DE Trey Flowers warmed up with the team, but later moved to the lower field with other limited players. His only documented injury so far has been a cut on his head, which he said required three stitches. He’s suddenly a player to monitor health-wise.

Tom Brady got some reps early on in some light 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. He completed passes to Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan, but couldn’t complete one to Rob Gronkowski as safety Damarius Travis broke it up. Gronk was a bit slow to get up on the play, but it was a false alarm.

— Brady got more work later in the practice, completing passes to Gronkowski and Gillislee. He just missed Phillip Dorsett deep down the left sideline, a play that looked Brandin Cooks-esque in that Dorsett had a chance to make the play but couldn’t quite reach out and snag it. No. 13 has looked solid overall in camp, though, and figures to be a prominent target at receiver for Brady early in the season.

— WR Eric Decker got his first reps in team drills, including his first catch from Brady in those sessions.

— There’s a clear competition emerging for early-down back duties in the Patriots backfield. James White will be the receiving back, with Rex Burkhead acting as an all-purpose/change-of-pace kind of back for Brady. With Michel’s future status uncertain, early-down work is coming down to Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee.

— Without getting specific about game plans or strategies, it appears that the Patriots could lean heavily on their stable of running backs to power the offense. At least early in the season, with Edelman suspended for the first four games and the receiving corps fraught with uncertainty.

— Before he headed down to the lower field, Cyrus Jones got in plenty of reps with the punters to field some returns. As far as I saw, no drops. Ball security will continue to be a concern for him until he proves he can consistently field punts in game situations, but there’s no doubt that the 2016 second-round pick is still their most dynamic option at that spot.

— For now, the Pats continue to rotate receivers Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios, along with Burkhead, in team punt return drills. The receivers should get a good amount of snaps in the preseason opener.

— Speaking of snaps, quarterback Danny Etling and the backups got the vast majority of the reps in 11-on-11s. Clear preparation for Thursday, when you’ll see plenty of the rookie out of LSU and probably some Brian Hoyer as well. It’s unclear whether Tom Brady or any starters will get even a single snap; likely a series or two, if anything.

— Etling had one of his better days overall on a day where he had one of his heaviest workloads yet. He had a couple of bad moments on consecutive plays, though. First, he put an interception right in the bread basket of Dont’a Hightower, who looked like he barely had to move to make the pick. On the next snap, he forced a ball to Berrios as he was blanketed by Stephon Gilmore, who almost made an interception of his own.

— The entire offense had to run a lap after the Etling-led third team had a sloppy series. Near the front of the pack? Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who turned 70 years old in February.

— DE Deatrich Wise stood out in 2-on-2 drills between the offensive and defensive linemen. He sped around Shaq Mason on one rep, and put Ulrick John on roller skates on another one. There’s a chance he gets some run in the preseason opener, especially if Flowers is held out.

The Patriots will hold a later-than-usual practice session on Wednesday as they get ready for Thursday’s preseason premiere. Practice is expected to start atound 1 p.m.

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 matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.