FOXBOROUGH — Mike Gillislee was part of the first real padded pile-up of the summer when he crashed into the end zone for a pair of goal-line touchdowns just over halfway through practice on Saturday. It was Gillislee’s first real opportunity to show whether or not he can be a capable successor to LeGarrette Blount’s red-zone wrecking ball approach that fueled the Patriots’ ground game in 2016, and he appeared to pass with flying colors.
“It was an 'A gap' run, so I just got the ball and hit it,” Gillislee said of the first touchdown. “I know on the second one I was following my fullback — he did a great job opening it up. Great job by the offensive linemen.”
While his New England career is still in its relative infancy, it was an excellent first step for the former Bill, who raised some eyebrows when he told reporters after practice that this current group of backs are “the most talented” he’s ever been around. That’s high praise from a guy who was a teammate of LeSean McCoy in Buffalo.
“It’s not just one guy, it’s all of them,” Gillislee said of his fellow running backs. “Each of these guys has something special about them, and all these guys work hard. They don’t take [any] days off. That’s what separates these guys.”
—The Patriots’ Hall of Famers, who were gathered in Foxborough on Saturday for the Hall of Fame induction of cornerback Raymond Clayborn, were visible on the sidelines (and occasionally, on the field) during the workout, which ran for just over two hours. Clayborn and his family were joined by several ex-Patriots, including former teammates like John Hannah and Mike Haynes. In addition, Kevin Faulk spent plenty of time hanging out with the running backs during practice, and was part of a group who addressed the current member of the team afterward.
Clayborn also spent some Saturday ripping Buffalo for, among other things, letting Gillislee and cornerback Stephon Gilmore go this past offseason. “I told Gilmore, 'I see why Buffalo lost four straight Super Bowls.’ I see that they will not be very good this year. They give up a great running back and a great cornerback. That's ridiculous,” he said.
“The people running Buffalo, whoever the owner is over there, he needs to look at them letting these guys go. That's ridiculous.”
—The funniest moment of the first three days of camp came late in Saturday morning’s practice when special teams assistant Ray Ventrone led a drill involving linemen trying to field kickoffs. It was the sort of emergency contingency plan that seems odd on the surface, but remains one of the best ways to distinguish the Patriots and how they go about their business — after all, you never know when one of your big guys might be forced to become a return man. (Remember Dan Connolly?) Anyway, they were a bit of a mixed bag when it came to fielding kickoffs, with rookie Jason King out of Purdue appearing to have the most issues.
—One of the things that has been noticeable over the first three days of workouts have been the boxing/sparring gloves on the hands of many of the defensive backs. A technique that was introduced a few years ago, it’s designed to make sure cornerbacks don’t fall into bad habits when it comes to grabbing and clutching wide receivers. On Friday, while wearing the pads, cornerback Eric Rowe made a nice play knocking a ball away that was meant for Julian Edelman.
—Saturday was an odd day for punter Ryan Allen. The veteran saw one of his efforts go about five rows deep into the stands. And at the tail end of practice, it looked like he was off the mark with a variety of attempts as he tried to get return man Cyrus Jones as much work as possible. It could have been exceptionally breezy, or he could have just shanked a couple, but it was a strange workout for the usually reliable Allen.
—The most intense moment of the day? When Matt Patricia went off on the defense at one point. It was as foul-mouthed a rant as we’ve heard from the New England DC.
—Bill Belichick has cautioned against premature evaluations at this stage of the summer, but after three workouts, it’s been hard not to notice the work of undrafted free agent wide receiver Austin Carr. For the bulk of the first three days, Carr has been working with a reasonable facsimile of the second- and third-team offense, but he’s managed to catch just about everything that’s been thrown his way, and hasn’t looked overwhelmed by the moment. The Northwestern product has appeared to develop a nice chemistry with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett, and which could make them a combination worth watching in the second half of preseason games this summer. Ultimately, while Carr has a long way to go, if he’s able to demonstrate special teams value over the course of the summer, he could make it tough for the Patriots to try and let him go between now and the start of the regular season.