FOXBORO, Mass. — The first Patriots training camp practice of 2013 has concluded and one thing sticks out: At this point, the defense is clearly a step ahead of the offense.
That’s not only when Tim Tebow is on the field, either (though it’s especially true in that situation). The fact that the defense is returning most of its starters certainly helps, but it was actually a rookie that shined brighter than most on the Patriots practice fields.
Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins was the star at practice. He only played linebacker (he also played defensive end at Southern Miss) and he looked better in coverage than any Patriots linebacker last season. His best play of the day was on a Ryan Mallett pass to Michael Hoomanawanui. The 2013 second-round pick broke on the play and swatted the ball away.
Collins was getting significant snaps with the first-team defense, subbing in for Brandon Spikes mostly, but also Dont’a Hightower at times. Collins also spent some time in the nickel defense.
When Spikes would come out, Collins would line up at strong-side linebacker, Hightower would play in the middle and Jerod Mayo would take up his usual spot at weak-side backer.
Among the non-participants at practice were Kenbrell Thompkins, (Thompkins started out in a jersey, took it off to rock a sleeveless T-shirt, then put the jersey back on. The rest of players were in shells and shorts, but Thompkins watched practice from the sideline without pads on), Julian Edelman (in sweats), Nick McDonald (in sweats), Cory Grissom, Mark Harrison, Rob Gronkowski and Armond Armstead (all of whom were not spotted at all). Kanorris Davis was spotted at the start of practice, but left for the bubble.
–Kyle Arrington, Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty and a combination of Steve Gregory and Adrian Wilson accounted for the starting secondary. Alfonzo Dennard was the nickelback and spent time outside and in the slot, which was a new wrinkle.
–Steve Beauharnais and Talib made some nice pass breakups.
-Undrafted rookie cornerback Justin Green showed off his impressive speed, sticking with Josh Boyce down the field. Green is one of the newest Patriots, signed this week.
–Nate Ebner and Chandler Jones both picked off Tebow. The ball was thrown directly at Ebner and Jones merely had to stretch out for an errant Tebow screen.
-McCourty and Arrington bobbled a pass from Tom Brady to Aaron Dobson.
–Jermaine Cunningham was getting some reps on the first team across from Chandler Jones at left defensive end.
On offense, Boyce and Dobson were both impressive in their first training camp practice. Dobson dropped one pass, but looked improved from OTAs. Boyce was already showing his deep speed and cutting ability. Dobson was lining up in the first team offense with Danny Amendola, Jake Ballard, Hoomanawanui and Stevan Ridley.
–Michael Jenkins spent some time in the slot, which was new.
-Ballard looked healthier, but still had a “hitch in his giddy-up.”
-Tebow looked bad in seven-on-sevens, but apparently caught a ball or two from Mallett during drills. I wouldn’t look too much into that. Mallett catches passes from time to time, too. Tebow had to scramble once during seven-on-sevens and took too much time to get rid of the ball. His throws were errant.
–Kamar Aiken has carved out a decent chunk of snaps early on. It could just be that he knows the offense better than his teammates, but he’s making the most of his opportunities.
–Marcus Cannon was in starting at right guard during 11-on-11s.
–Quinton Sims and Perez Ashford made some nice plays in their first appearances.
-Amendola continues to look solid, but didn’t stand out quite as much as he did in OTAs and minicamp. He made a nice diving catch over Dennard.