Observations from Camp: Edelman/Ninkovich injuries highlight rough day for Pats

I managed to make it out to Foxboro today for the first of two joint practice sessions with the New Orleans Saints. Here, in no particular order, are my observations from what shaped up as a tough day for the home team.

  • Ultimately, bad injury news wound up overshadowing the play on the field. The news started early, with starting left tackle Nate Solder unexpectedly absent from practice. Solder hadn't missed any practice time previously and didn't appear to get injured during the previous day's session, making his absence a bit of a mystery. With Solder missing and Sebastian Vollmer still on the PUP list, the starting offensive line consisted of (from left to right): LaAdrian Waddle, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon. Chris Barker, Ted Karras, Bryan Stork (who fully participated for the first time since suffering a concussion over a week ago), Shaq Mason and Cameron Fleming.
  • The injury news got worse as the practice got going. Julian Edelman appeared to be his normal, quick-footed self during the early part of practice, but he removed himself from a drill early on after suffering an apparent set-back with his surgically repaired left foot. I missed it myself, but Edelman reportedly showed visible frustration while on the cart with head trainer Jim Whalen, at one point slamming his helmet on the ground. The good news? He walked off the field, albeit slowly, under his own power, and preliminary reports suggest that his injury was just a scare.
  • Unfortunately, Rob Ninkovich might not be so lucky. Nink also left the field relatively early in practice, with trainers reportedly looking at his triceps area. The latest on him is a scheduled MRI to diagnose the severity of his injury.  Ninkovich has been an iron man with the Patriots, starting all 16 games each of the past five seasons, but that streak could be in jeopardy if his injury is serious enough. (UPDATE: Per Mike Reiss, Ninkovich tore his triceps. His season is certainly in jeopardy).
  • The individual battle between Malcolm Butler and Saints receiver Brandin Cooks was a highlight last summer when these teams met for joint practices down south. That battle picked up right where it left off, with Cooks winning the day overall. Cooks opened up one-on-ones by beating Butler deep for a touchdown. He went on to win his other two reps against Butler in the drill, albeit for shorter gains against tight coverage. Cooks also made his share of plays against Butler during team drills, including a touchdown on a quick out to cap off a masterful "one-minute drill" by Drew Brees. Butler did come up with one nice break-up of an attempted fade to Cooks on a third-and-goal situation.
  • It was an eventful day for another high profile Patriots cornerback: second round rookie Cyrus Jones. Jones had a few good moments throughout practice, including a team high two pass break-ups during team drills. Perhaps his most memorable moment was a decisive win during one-on-ones in which the receiver was barely able to get off the line due to a strong jam. There were rookie moments mixed as well, as Brees followed up Jones' impressive pass break-up during the two-minute drill with consecutive first down completions against his coverage to Willie Snead. Jones still appears to be behind Justin Coleman in the competition for the third corner job, but he clearly has the talent to play his way onto the field sooner rather than later. His most immediate impact could be as a return specialist, where he had a clean day fielding punts after struggling in that area over the past few practices. Edelman (when still healthy), V'Angelo Bently, Chris Hogan and DeAndre Carter were the other players to field punts during practice.
  • Drops were a theme of what turned into a sloppy practice for the Patriots, as some beat reporters counted as many as eight on the day during team drills. Rob Gronkowski, who had a relatively quiet day, had one bounce right off his hands after getting behind the defense up the seam during seven-on-sevens. Chris Hogan also dropped an easy one on a crossing route, while Brandon Bolden had one drop and had to double catch several others.
  • It was apparent fairly early that it was going to be a tough day for the Patriots offense when Brady, who has carved up the Saints defense like a thanksgiving turkey in previous joint sessions, opened his 11v11 reps with an interception on a botched screen play. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, the 12th overall pick from this spring's draft, corralled the poor throw and made plenty of noise as he ran it back towards the end zone.
  • Brady also struggled during a "one-minute drill" that failed to get going whatsover. One play during the sequence saw Brady, with the rush caving in on him and no one open, panic and turn to the sideline to chuck the ball away. He was called for intentional grounding on the play by the officiating crew that was in attendance. The drive's last gasp came on a deep ball to Nate Washington, who managed to get his hands on an accurate pass but was unable to bring it in against contested coverage. His struggles were contrasted sharply by Brees, who followed it up with a flawless drive during his own turn in the drill.
  • Garoppolo also had himself an interception after forcing a pass to a tightly covered Aaron Dobson. The throw was behind Dobson, allowing the defensive back to get his hands on it at roughly the same time as the receiver and both players went to the ground fighting for the ball. After a bit of a scrum for the ball, the Saints came up with the interception in a play reminiscent of Peanut Tillman's interception of Brady against Dobson last preseason.
  • Speaking of the quarterbacks, Garoppolo appeared to get the vast majority of the snaps with the   1's today. Nearly all of his reps in team drills had the starting offensive line in front of him, and he received far more snaps with the likes of Gronk, Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan than Brady. Brady spent nearly all his snaps with the 2's, throwing to a group that more often than not featured the likes of DeAndre Carter and Devin Lucien.
  • Neither quarterback was helped much by their offensive line play. While this Patriots roster is considered one of the deepest of the Belichick era, depth at offensive tackle is one of the few weak spots on the team. That was exposed with both starting tackles out, as both Garoppolo and Brady regularly had to move around and buy time in the pocket. At one point, Brady almost tripped over an unidentified rusher who had stopped his rep after breaking free on the interior. 
  • Neither team worked much on the run game, but I found it noteworthy that Tyler Gaffney got a few reps running behind the first string offensive line. Finally healthy after spending the entirety of his career on the IR, Gaffney appears to behind only LeGarrette Blount on the "big back" depth chart. He should get plenty of work in the preseason and could win himself a job if he impresses with those opportunities.
  • One strong spot for the Patriots today was their defensive line, which looked strong even after losing Ninkovich. Jabaal Sheard was his normal disruptive self, and a rotational trio of Chris Long, Shea McClellin and Trey Flowers all had their moments with the 1's. Long in particular looked strong today, using his hands well to create several quick pressures and a would-be run stuff in the backfield. While the loss of Ninkovich is a tough blow, they appear to have the depth to survive it.
  • It was hard to see because the drill happened on the field further from the stands, but rookie Malcolm Mitchell appeared to have some nice moments during the second round of 1v1s. I saw him beat an unidentified defensive back for a touchdown deep and later looked up just in time to see him make a twisting back shoulder catch, tapping his toes to get both feet in bounds on the sidelines. The kid is clearly an athlete.