NFL Team Report - New England Patriots - INSIDE SLANT
Quarterback Tom Brady celebrated his 37th birthday Sunday as the New England Patriots traveled south for joint practices with the Washington Redskins.
A day later, Brady was on the field showing that while he me be getting older, age is doing little to slow the future Hall of Famer.
Sharing the practice field at the Redskins' Bon Secours Training Center with Washington's young star passer, Robert Griffin III, Brady put on an impressive showing that left every other quarterback on the field paling in comparison.
Age be damned, TB12 showed that RG3 has a long way to go to be among the elite passers in the league, a position Brady has held for more than a decade.
Over two days of practice with the Redskins, including plenty of work in no-huddle and red zone situations, Brady carved up the Washington defense. He delivered quick, accurate strikes to receivers Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell and Kenbrell Thompkins. The success came even with the perceived centerpiece of the Patriots' passing attack -- injured Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski -- back in New England.
It is not exactly the same as carving up a team in the playoffs, but Brady's early summer work against the Redskins would seem to be an early indication that reports of his declining skills may be a bit premature.
"It's been two fun days to go against another team and have a different kind of energy out here than a normal training camp practice. It's been a lot of fun," Brady said.
Part of that fun was an increased comfort with his targets, a group of pass-catchers that went through a total overhaul a year ago.
"The experience is very helpful, and I think having the opportunity to play with Danny and KT (Kenbrell Thompkins) and Aaron (Dobson) and Josh (Boyce), and Brandon LaFell comes in this year and he's done a great job since he's come in and done things, " Brady said. "(Running back) James White has done a great job. The more guys that we have on the same page, doing the right thing, that do their job really well dependably and consistently, the better we're going to be.
"We've got to have an offense where you can dish the ball to really anybody, and that person is going to make the play."
The chances of all that coming together will only increase when Gronkowski takes the field. For now, though, Brady is enjoying another somewhat big target with the addition of LaFell, who left the Carolina Panthers as a free agent.
"He keeps making more plays," Brady said of LaFell. "He's done a great job. ... He made a lot of plays out there. He's understanding better and better. He's a veteran. He's savvy, knows how to run the routes, big body, big frame, makes a lot of tough catches."
After praising LaFell, Brady took a little poke at his little corps of receivers.
"I've got some of the little pygmies out there like Julian and Danny, and it's nice to have a little bigger guy out there from time to time who has a bigger catch radius," the quarterback said. "Hopefully, Danny and Julian don't get mad at me for saying that. They won't. They know I'm joking."
Brady was all business on the field, though. And that is good news for the Patriots, as they likely still will go only as far as the gracefully aging No. 12 can take them.
NFL Team Report - New England Patriots - NOTES, QUOTES
--Nose tackle Vince Wilfork was an impressive force on the New England Patriots defensive line in joint practices with the Washington Redskins. The Patriots captain missed all but four games last season with a torn Achilles tendon, but has been at full health throughout training camp and seems to have no limitations coming back from the injury.
"I feel fine. To me, that's in the past. I don't even think about it," Wilfork said.
"From the first day, I stepped on the field with full pads back at Gillette, I knew I could move around and play on it. I really didn't think much of it after that. It's an afterthought to me right now."
Wilfork also added an interesting nugget, saying that he shed some pounds off his massive 325-pound frame with the idea of helping his rehab.
So far, so good.
"My training camp began a long time ago -- in March," Wilfork said. "I've been working for a long, long time and there's a reason I feel good and a reason I have the confidence to play. It won't stop. Every year I always try to work on something and one of the things (this year) was, with an Achilles the more weight you can try to take off the better your body feels. I tried that and it went well. That might be something in the long run where if I feel that helped me, it might be something I have to stick with.
"For the most part, everything is good right now. It's just maintaining. That's the main goal, to be able to continue to work at things, where I know I can get better, whether it's on the field or off the field with my body. I think that's what is going to keep me around as long as I want to be around and not getting pushed out the door. As long as I want to be around, I'll be around."
--Patriots coach Bill Belichick learned much from joint practices in recent years. The Redskins became the fifth team to hold the combined summer workouts with the Patriots since 2010. While many previous workouts came against teams and coaches that had longstanding ties or relationships with Belichick, that's not quite the situation with Washington and first-year head coach Jay Gruden.
"Once the preseason schedule came out and we saw that we opened in Washington, Jay -- well (Redskins President/General Manager) Bruce (Allen) and then Jay and I all made contact," Belichick said. "We talked about the opportunity of working against each other. We talked about it. We felt like we could make it work based on what our goals were and talking about our philosophy and how we work and so forth. As we got into more specifics, the actual drills and how they would be done and who would work against whom it seemed very workable.
"I know the members of our coaching staff have also worked closely with their guys. (Patriots defensive coordinator) Matt (Patricia) on our end and (Redskins offensive coordinator) Sean (McVay) or (Patriots offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) and (Redskins defensive coordinator) Jim Haslett and so forth, just coordinate some things there. I feel like things are in place from the logistical standpoint. We just need to go out there and have a good practice."
--Defensive end Chandler Jones led the Patriots with 11.5 sacks in his second season last fall. This summer the 2012 first-round pick has seen action at both end and outside linebacker on the practice field as the Patriots have worked on 3-4 fronts over the last week-plus.
"It helps me out," Jones said of the linebacker action, which has included the pass rusher working on his coverage abilities in 7-on-7. "You never know what situation I might be in where I might have to play that position. So it's fun to get a look at outside linebacker or defensive end.
"Playing for the Patriots, if Bill Belichick asks you to do something then nine times out of 10, no 10 times out of ten, you're going to do it. So wherever Bill tells us to be, or tells me where to be, that's what I do."
--WR Julian Edelman is looking to follow up his breakout 2013 100-catch campaign with another healthy, productive year at the center of the Patriots passing attack. Stringing together 100-catch seasons was something his predecessor, Wes Welker, was able to do with regularity in the New England offense. But while Edelman looks to walk down Welker's path of production, Tom Brady is hesitant to juxtapose his two favorite slot targets.
"It's hard to compare," Brady said this week. "I think Wes was such a special player for our team and I was fortunate enough to play with him for that period. But Julian in his own right has worked his tail off. I think he really had a great mentor in Wes, someone he could really look up to. They play a little bit similar; different players, but they both work extremely hard. Football is so important to the both of them and I think that really wore off on Julian. Julian has worked his tail off to get where he's at. I think he's really taken advantage of every opportunity that he's gotten, Julian has. I'm really proud of him. He keeps coming out and making plays and he's done such a great job being so dependable and reliable for our team, it's great to have him."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Duron Harmon vs. Patrick Chung vs. Tavon Wilson vs. Nate Ebner for the starting strong safety job. Heading into camp the perception was that the starting safety job next to captain Devin McCourty was Harmon's to lose in his second season. But through two weeks of camp action there has been an almost limitless daily rotation of players next to McCourty, and Harmon doesn't seem to have separation between himself and the rest of the pack. Wilson is a third-year former second-round pick who's played primarily special teams. Ebner is a former rugby player at Ohio State who played special teams for the Buckeye and to open his career in New England. Chung returns to New England after leaving via free agency to start for a year in Philadelphia. Harmon may still end up the best option for Bill Belichick in the back end, but right now the competition is wide open and a seemingly heated battle.
NFL Team Report - New England Patriots - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--TE Rob Gronkowski did not make the trip to Richmond with the Patriots for the joint practices with the Redskins. The Pro Bowler has practiced on a limited basis early in camp and has yet to take part in team drills or any contact action. Since those two areas are the backbone of joint practices, it's not surprising that Gronkowski remained in Foxborough to continue to work back from the torn ACL suffered last December.
--RB Brandon Bolden was absent from the practice fields in Richmond, continuing to miss time with an unknown injury.
--TE Michael Hoomanawanui was not a part of the Patriots work against the Redskins as the veteran tight end continues to miss time with a leg injury. With Gronkowski and Hoomanawanui out of action the tight end depth chart remains extremely thin with the likes of journeyman D.J. Williams and undrafted rookie Justin Jones taking the bulk of the reps.
--CB Alfonzo Dennard was removed from PUP after a week of camp, but has yet to take part in full contact or team practice action. The returning third-year cornerback continues to work some drills but also spend a lot of time working with the New England rehab staff as he comes back from offseason shoulder surgery.
--WR Matthew Slater also remains a limited participant in practice for the Patriots despite having been removed from the PUP list. The veteran special teams captain spends most of his practice time running on his own and not taking part in team dills in the kicking game.
--LB James Morris, an undrafted rookie out of Iowa, re-signed with the Patriots Aug. 3. Morris had been with the team for a short stint in May, and spent the first day of practice in Richmond working with the rehab staff to prepare for padded practice action.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun