It wasn't exactly the anticipated high-intensity start to training camp. In fact, it didn't even have the appearance of a well-oiled mini-camp workout. But don't fret; it was all by design, and the more than 5,000 fans on hand at Gillette Stadium to take it all in seemed to enjoy just getting a glimpse of the defending champs, greeting them with a cheer during a pre-stretch jog and with every decent play.
The Patriots kickoff of 2004 training camp was actually more of a light walkthrough practice with Head Coach Bill Belichick rewarding most of the team for its exceptional effort in the offseason program.
"It's a beginning and an end," he said. "It's the end of the offseason and all the work the players put in but it's the beginning of getting the team back on the field and preparing for the season and preparing to execute plays."
It was impossible to decipher which players were injured and which had their loads lightened thanks to their offseason work. Belichick simply said that players "were in a lot of different stages of dress and undress, as it may be."
"A couple guys aren't ready physically and some were not dressed as a reward for their offseason work," Belichick confirmed.
Quarterback Tom Brady, known for his offseason efforts, did very little throwing and didn't have his helmet on for much of the afternoon practice. That will change tomorrow.
"It will be more conventional," Belichick said. "And the guys who can physically perform will be out there."
Belichick's pre-camp conditioning test has drawn attention in recent years thanks in large part to Antowain Smith's 0-for-3 performance on the test, but Belichick said Thursday that every player who ran, passed the test, although some players were not ready to run. That list presumably includes the players assigned to the active-PUP or NFI list – DeVonte Peterson, Eric Alexander, Matt Chatham, Christian Fauria, Rosevelt Colvin, Lonie Paxton, Jim Miller and Matt Light. Safety Eugene Wilson was removed from the PUP list and was a full participant in the opening workout. Belichick classified the team's overall conditioning as "acceptable."
While Smith wasn't around to fail the conditioning test on his first try, another seemingly annual camp tradition lived on. None of the offensive linemen retired, but a veteran player did re-think his commitment to the club.
Defensive back Jeff Burris, according to Belichick, did not show up for camp and was released. "He made a personal decision," Belichick said as if he'd rehearsed that phrase.
Burris wasn't the only no-show, however, as rookies Benjamin Watson, Guss Scott and Cedric Cobbs all missed the opening day in contract disputes. Watson is an IMG client represented by Tom Condon while Scott and Cobbs are represented by Drew Rosenhaus.
"They're still not signed," Belichick said. "It can be close and take a month or it could be miles apart and get done in an hour. When both sides agree, there will be a contract. I don't think there is any set formula [on how not being here affects the player]. But I don't think it helps anybody."
Rookie Vince Wilfork, who signed July 19, did work out with the club and is looking forward to strapping on the pads Friday.
"I'm happy it's finally here," he said. "Now it's time to line up and butt heads and get ready for the season. Anyone starting off is going to be jacked up. Trust me on that. I can't wait."
Wilfork, though, is setting no expectations, but rather just trying to soak everything in and learn. "All I can do is come out and practice hard and do everything the coaches ask me to do. I don't control who plays nose tackle and I don't care because we all can play and I just want to win. I'm not selfish.
"It's a lot thrown at us with plays and knowing the offensive formation and why we're running certain defenses. It's a huge difference between college and the pros."
Not much came out of practice since it was more of a walkthrough. Wide receiver Bethel Johnson made a couple of nice catches and showed no signs of being slowed by his late-spring abdominal surgery. He looked to have the quickness and speed that made him an effective kickoff returner as a rookie last year … Terrell Buckley intercepted an underthrown pass from Kliff Kingsbury intended for Chas Gessner down the middle of the field. … Wideout Michael Jennings also made a fine jumping grab over the middle that drew some applause. … Belichick acknowledged the fans' presence in his post-practice press conference by saying, "There was some energy out there with the fans. It's a good facility for camp. The fans get a close and comfortable look at what's going on." … Belichick also said that running back Corey Dillon reported in "pretty good" condition. … He pointed out that the team worked out tight end Zeron Flemister back in April before signing him this week when Watson's status remained clouded and Fauria was placed on active-PUP. … Belichick expects linebacker Rosevelt Colvin and all of the other injured players listed on active-PUP to return to practice during training camp. … Quarterback Jim Miller is one of those injured players and his absence for what is expected to be all of August will give the coaches a chance to evaluate Kingsbury, Rohan Davey and Kurt Kittner.