FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Competition is getting more heated at Patriots training camp, with a handful of closely contested position battles ongoing and tempers flaring.
No one was more competitive — or physical — Wednesday morning than Brandon Browner, the 6-foot, 4-inch, 221-pound cornerback who came to New England as a free agaent from the Super Bowl champion Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary.
Browner went head-to-head with Kenbrell Thompkins all morning and was all over the wide receiver, who had been one of the standout performers when camp opened last week. At one point, Browner threw Thompkins to the ground in the back of the end zone and punctuated the play with some animated trash-talking.
Browner later got into a heated yelling match with receivers coach Chad O’Shea after O’Shea called a penalty on Browner for being too physical.
“(O’Shea) and I hugged it out,” Browner said after practice. “As a coach, I’ve got to respect him.”
Browner did not, however, apologize for being physical.
“Those are my teammates out there; you don’t want anybody to get hurt,” Browner said, “but at the same time, you want to compete. It’s just my style of play to be as aggressive as possible.
“It gets frustrating going against the same guys every day. I’m ready to get down to Washington and see what I can do against those guys.”
Aside from getting in some physical battles with Browner, Thompkins had some unforced drops on Wednesday, continuing a downward turn in his performances since the opening day of training camp, when he made several spectacular catches.
Presumed No. 1 wide receiver Julian Edelman also had a couple drops after phenomenal practice on Tuesday.
Battles at tight end
Unlike Thompkins and Edelman, not all the tight ends on the training camp roster can be sure they will make the 53-man cut. Rob Gronkowski is a lock, of course, and Michael Hoomanawanui is expected to be the No. 2 tight end. But the question is whether the Patriots will keep just two tight ends or three ... or four. Things are even more interesting now that Hoomanawanui has been absent from the last two practices due to an apparent injury suffered during Sunday’s practice.
Hoomanawanui’s absence, coupled with Gronkowski’s limited participation in team drills while still recovering from offseason knee surgery, has meant plenty of reps for fourth-year pro D.J. Williams and rookie Justin Jones.
Williams was left off some early roster projections that had the Patriots keeping only two tight ends, but the former Packer and Jaguar out of Arkansas may now have an opportunity to make the final cut.
“Opportunities come every day for every single player on the team,” Williams said. “Not just for myself, but everyone out here battling for a job. We understand it is a very competitive job and a very competitive sport.
“Just because (Hoomanawanui’s) down, I didn’t get all happy or anything like that. I wish the best for Michael. Hopefully he has a speedy recovery.
“It’s just a part of the job when somebody goes down in front of you; it’s a next-man-up mentality. Not saying I didn’t mentally get those reps while he was practicing. It was a very good part of paying attention: knowing what I’m supposed to do when my number is called.”
Meanwhile, Gronkowski is still the star of camp as he eases his way back into football. For the second day in a row, he was seen doing a drill in an elite threesome with Tom Brady throwing and Darrelle Revis providing light coverage. He also got louder cheers than other players for making some routine catches.
“Gronk is a very enthusiastic individual,” Williams said. “Just his presence and his awareness on the field — whenever he’s around he just brings that juice.”
Front and center
At center, another injury has mixed things up. Rookie fourth-round pick Bryan Stork left practice on Tuesday with what appeared to be an injury to his lower body. Stork had been neck-and-neck with sixth-year Patriot Ryan Wendell for a starting job.
As a result of Stork’s absence, Wendell got some more snaps Wednesday, as did veteran Dan Connolly, the Patriots’ starting center in 2011. Connolly even acted as the first-team center snapping to Brady during 11-on-11s late in practice. Entering training camp, Connolly was planning to play guard.
Wendell went from one of the best centers in the NFL in 2012 to one of the worst in 2013, so his starting job may not be safe, whether it’s Stork or Connolly knocking on the door.
Hall opening for Law
Another big story line at camp this week has been the induction of Ty Law into the Patriots Hall of Fame, which is scheduled to take place on Friday.
Law had a Hall of Fame jacket fitting on Monday, and on Wednesday coach Bill Belichick spoke about his former cornerback, a five-time Pro Bowler and, coincidentally, a graduate of the same Aliquipa, Pa., high school that produced Revis.
“Ty’s the type of player that quarterbacks found out in playing against him one way or the other that you might get him once on something, but you better be careful that second time,” Belichick said. “That’s kind of the way Ty played. He was aggressive, but he was calculated, and he knew when to be aggressive, when to take chances and when maybe not to. But when he pulled the trigger, he could pull it and make a lot of big plays.
“Fun player to coach; he had a personality. He didn’t always do things exactly by the book or quite the way it was outlined. But he was a football player, and when the game started, he played football. And he was very good.”
Zack Ward is a freelance reporter.