Drama is unwelcome at New England Patriots training camp, but with the seventh practice in eight days and fifth in full pads Wednesday came the simmering tempers common as the dog days of summer workouts arrive.
Players seemed to be starting to drag a little bit physically, even with the pretty mild temperatures that have been a blessing to players accustomed to 90-degree heat and humidity.
Browner -- who has brought a very physical style with him to drills and team action as he works to acclimate himself to the Patriots secondary -- got into back-and-forth with receiver Kenbrell Thompkins that continued over a handful of red zone reps.
Then he barked at rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to throw the ball when the young passer failed to challenge the cornerback's coverage.
Things really got interesting when Browner, who has made a career in the NFL and this summer in grabbing, clutching and abusing receivers at the line, had words with New England special teams coach Chad O'Shea. The assistant was not happy with the way he perceived Browner to be assaulting his receivers, especially in a year when the NFL is poised to crack down on illegal contact in the secondary.
After practice Browner made no bones about the fact that he was trying to play more physical as the first full week of training camp action came about.
"It was a physical one, man. We had to compete out there. I'm tired of giving up balls, so I just turned it up a little bit," he said of the practice. "Yesterday we gave up a few balls and let some of those guys off the line a little easy. So that was my mentality going into this practice, to win my one-on-one matchups.
"You give those guys too many balls, they're going to get confident. You want to take away a little of that confidence and give confidence to yourself."
He also downplayed the words he had with O'Shea.
"Me and him hugged it out," Browner said. "As a coach, I have to respect him, but that's nothing I want to talk about or put on TV like that because I respect him."
Looking ahead to a trip to Washington for joint practices with the Redskins leading up to the teams' Aug. 7 preseason opener, Bill Belichick almost predicted the potential for some frustrations building when he met with the media prior to the Wednesday morning workout.
"This is just our grinding through camp period now," Belichick said. "We need to keep stringing together good practices, good days, consistent improvement and there's really no shortcut to it. This is where we build our fundamentals, where our team comes together from a chemistry standpoint, also from a communications standpoint and there's just no shortcut to it. We just have to grind away here day after day. So, that's where we're at today. That's where we'll be tomorrow. That's where we'll be out here for a while."
The constant competition among familiar faces brings out frustration in most players. Browner and Thompkins were at the center of it for one day. Other little feuds will also likely pop up as they do every year in every camp.
As Belichick would say, it is what it is this time of year.
"I think everybody ... it's something that's necessary for all of us -- players, coaches. You just have to be able to grind through it because that's the way it's going to be during the season," Belichick concluded.
--Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly returned to the practice field from the physically unable to perform list last week, ramping up toward full contact practice as the week wore on. Kelly missed all but five games to a torn ACL last fall, his first season in New England.
"It felt wonderful, absolutely wonderful," Kelly said with his well-known smirk. "I've been itching to get back on the field so it felt real good baby, real good. I'm getting better. I wouldn't put a percentage on anything but I definitely feel comfortable, I don't feel like I have any restrictions on doing anything, I feel good."
Kelly isn't guaranteed a job coming off the injury and having agreed to a pay cut in the offseason, but he doesn't seemed fazed.
"Me personally, I ain't ever worried about any competition, I love competition," Kelly said. "You don't ever worry about what's behind you, you worry about what's in front of you. I've always been very confident in myself so I don't see anybody. I just go out there and play. I let my talent take over and I'll be OK.
"It's been positive. At the end of the day they're looking out for your best interest. I'm a vet, I want to get out on the field, I'm the type of guy that I can't roll out of bed and my game is going to be great. I have to go out there every day and work on my hands, work on my get-out, work on my explosion, read my keys. I'm the type of guy that loves practice."
--Bill Belichick has claimed players off waivers during training camp a number of times in the past, supposedly breaking an unwritten NFL rule as other teams try to sneak players onto injured reserve this time of year. His addition of Jake Ballard from the Giants two summers ago created a little scuttlebutt. He was at it again last week when he added rookie RB Tyler Gaffney from the Panthers after the sixth-round pick suffered a major knee injury.
"He had a real good year last year, went to Stanford, and then was in baseball for a year. I think he's a good all-around back that we want to work with. He was available and we'll see how it works out," Belichick said.
--Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was activated from the physically unable to perform list and began practicing Tuesday (July 29) as he works back from an offseason shoulder procedure. Though he's yet to take full-contact reps, the third-year corner appears in good condition in his drills and group work. Dennard started nine of the 13 games he played in a year ago and will be competing to retain his starting job given the offseason additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.
"It's been very tough, because I just want to go out there and compete with my teammates and learn from the older guys," Dennard said. "I'm here right now. That's all that matters. Just ... all about football right now."
--Tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to take a cautious road in his return from a torn ACL suffered last December. The Pro Bowler was cleared to practice to start camp but has yet to take part in any team action or contact drills.
"The side work is going good, I'm getting used to everything I can do," Gronkowski said after Tuesday's practice. "Doing conditioning, which is my number one factor right now, that's what I can work out to the max -- running around and getting my body used to everything. Working individually, listening to my coaches and getting my individual routes and blocking down to the best of my ability."
Gronkowski has also taken a lot of one-on-one reps against cornerback Darrelle Revis while taking throws from Tom Brady. The work as a talented practice field trio could benefit all three players.
"It's good, (Revis) is a good player and it was good having him out there," Gronkowski said of the drill that has been closely monitored by Bill Belichick. "Even though it wasn't full or anything, just having him out their shadowing, running some routes, it's good to get that work in and have a defender around you so you know what it's like when it's time for full speed. Any presence in front of my face trying to go against me brings out the competitiveness in me."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Kyle Arrington vs. Logan Ryan for Nickel CB job. Arrington has been a trusted veteran, part time starter and top slot corner for the last few seasons. He has the respect of the coaching staff, but is far from a lock to return in that role. Ryan is a second-year former third-round pick who tied for the AFC lead with five interceptions as a rookie last fall and has gotten off to a very impressive start this summer. The bulk of Ryan's reps have come in the slot, including team work with the first unit on Tuesday while Arrington was relegated to the same job with the younger players on a secondary field. The slot job's is probably Arrington's to lose, but so far Ryan has been given a chance to show his stuff and has performed pretty well.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--CB Alfonzo Dennard was on the field in full pads practicing July 29 after opening camp on PUP while returning from offseason knee surgery. Dennard will have to fight off Brandon Browner to retain his starting job, although the veteran newcomer will miss the first four weeks to a league suspension.
--DT Tommy Kelly was on the field in full pads for the first time July 29 as he works back from a torn ACL. The veteran should be in the mix on an uncertain but talented and somewhat deep interior defensive line.
--DB Daxton Swanson, a first-year player out of Sam Houston State, returned to practice July 29 after missing start of camp while away from the team dealing with the death of his father.
--G Dan Connolly missed practice July 29 for undisclosed reasons but returned a day later.
--TE Michael Hoomanawanui missed practice July 29 with a leg injury suffered late in practice two days earlier and has not practiced since.
--C Bryan Stork left practice early July 29, and left the field altogether, due to an undisclosed injury and was absent the following day as well.
--RB Tyler Gaffney was claimed off waivers July 28, after suffering a season-ending knee injury with the Panthers. The rookie was a sixth-round pick out of Stanford and could be interesting young competition in the New England backfield moving forward given that both Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen are set to be free agents next spring.
--WR Josh Boyce was absent from the practice field July 30 after limping off with a right knee injury one day earlier. The second-year former fourth-round pick started three of nine games played a year ago, playing catch-up after missing time last summer with a foot injury. It's certainly not ideal for him to mass time again as he tries to compete and stand out in a very unsettled young group of receivers.
--WR Aaron Dobson remains on PUP with a foot injury, although he's been on the practice field rehabbing for each day of camp practice. The second-year second-round pick has missed the entire offseason with the injury and concerns about how it will affect his year two development grow with each day.
--WR Jeremey Gallon, an undrafted rookie out of Michigan, remains on PUP.
--WR Matthew Slater remains on PUP due to an unknown injury but has been doing some intense rehab running on the field during training camp and seems to be working swiftly toward getting healthy.
--DT Dominique Easley remains on NFI as he works back from the ACL injury that cost the first-round pick the bulk of his final season at Florida. The Patriots are reportedly taking a very cautious approach with the young disruptive lineman.
--LB Deontae Skinner remains on NFI with an unknown injury.
--OL Chris Martin remains on NFI with an unknown injury. The undrafted rookie has yet to be seen on the field at training camp.
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