FOXBORO, Mass. — Maybe it was the bright lights. Maybe it was the raucous crowd of nearly 20,000 fans at Gillette Stadium on Monday night. Whatever the case, the Patriots’ wide receivers had a tough time on the whole for the first time in training camp.
While rookies Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kembrell Thompkins and even veteran Danny Amendola struggled to make plays, cornerback Aqib Talib put forth his best performance of camp so far.
Talib, who was done in a few times over the weekend by Dobson’s size and Boyce’s shiftiness, locked down his side of the field during 1-on-1 drills and in team scrimmages all night on Monday. He wouldn’t let Dobson create any cushion with his size during 11-on-11 drills and stuck on Boyce and Amendola like a Post-it in individual competitions. Brady was able to sneak one pass in to Amendola underneath the swiping hands of Talib, but the Patriots’ top cover corner got the last laugh on Monday.
After starting off 7-on-7 drills with a strike across the middle to Daniel Fells for a big gain, Brady tried to drop a pass over the top of the defense to Michael Jenkins for another big play. Talib, who was in solo coverage on Jenkins, undercut the big-bodied receiver. He fought him off and made a pretty over-the-shoulder snag for the interception, then turned up field for a lengthy return. The mistake left Brady shaking his head in frustration and brought a roar of cheers from the crowd.
Talib followed up the pick with a few pass breakups, both in team and individual drills, as the practice carried on before yet again getting the best of Brady. During the two-minute drill — a rapid-paced session simulating an end-of-game situation — at the end of practice, Talib got position on Thompkins on a quick post over the middle, breaking off midway through the route and coming down with the pass for his second interception off the starting quarterback, ending Brady’s night on a sour note.
The performance was the third straight standout performance for a Patriots cornerback, following Alfonzo Dennard‘s spectacular Saturday and an all-around gem from Kyle Arrington on Sunday. Third-year corner Ras-I Dowling, who was terrific during spring practices, has had a difficult time adjusting on routes and failed to establish a presence at the line of scrimmage in 1-on-1 drills since putting the pads on for the first time Sunday. But, aside from Dowling’s deficiencies, the cornerback group has made quite the impression in camp so far, and Talib’s success on Monday only continued that.
1. Michael Hoomanawanui — Hooman made a spectacular one-handed grab in front of Tavon Wilson in 1-on-1s and then snagged a tailing pass as he was falling out of bounds later in the drill. He was the best pass-catcher on the field Monday.
2. Rob Ninkovich — Nink did great in the 1-on-1s against the offensive line, getting the edge fairly consistently on the outside.
3. Joe Vellano — Believe the hype. But seriously, he’s played well even if mainly against backup offensive linemen.
1. Kembrell Thompkins — After a few strong days to start camp, Thompkins dropped a couple of passes and had at least one bad miscommunication with Brady on Talib’s second interception. The stadium jitters might have got the best of him.
2. Ryan Mallett — Like Brady, Mallett threw a pair of picks and overthrew receivers on a few routes. Inconsistency continues to kill his momentum.
3. Kamar Aiken — He wasn’t all bad, but he did have a notable drop and didn’t flash the brilliance we’ve seen from him so far in camp.