Monday at Gillette Stadium, Bill Belichick's Patriots resurrected what had become a training camp until last season: the lone nighttime practice on the game field.
This annual event is open only to season ticket members and Foxborough residents, and it's more than just an exclusive exhibition, as Bill Belichick explained shortly before his team took the field.
Belichick hadn't addressed media questions since last Friday, the second day of camp. Here are a few other notable subjects the head coach touched on during his 10-minute Q&A session with reporters.
Importance of In-Stadium Practice
"Tonight's an opportunity for us to get out into the stadium and just kind of take advantage of that setting. This will be the only time we'll do that before the Washington game [next Thursday night to open the preseason]," he explained.
During the offseason, Gillette Stadium installed new lighting for the game field, which Belichick also pointed out is an adjustment for the players, among other factors.
"This will be similar to our preseason games where we go from day to night, starting today, and end up under the lights. I don't know if we'll get full darkness tonight, but certainly a good opportunity for our returners to handle the ball and also get used to seeing the ball against a different backdrop than what we've seen out there on the practice field. It'll be a good opportunity for them. Same thing for the kickers, just to re-familiarize themselves with… some of the wind patterns and just overall – get familiar with the stadium; [the location of the] 40-second clock, game clock, just a chance for us to do that."
Monday night's practice, the fifth straight to start this year's camp, was a bit lighter in terms of contact for the players. After two consecutive sessions in full pads over the weekend, most players participated Monday in just helmets and jerseys, making this more of an elaborate walk-through.
"This will be kind of an opportunity for us to clean up a few things here from the last couple of days that we feel like we need to get to" added Belichick. "The players will be off tomorrow, so it'll be a good chance for us to recover and get ready to finish off and have a good week here the rest of this week."
Belichick is often asked about specific players' development and performances, and it's noteworthy how he chooses to say about those players. For example, second-year tight end Jacob Hollister has appeared to have a strong start to his 2018 training camp. Belichick sounded eager to discuss Hollister's progression from last season, when he appeared in 15 games as a rookie.
"Jacob improved a lot last year and he's gotten off to a good start this year," Belichick agreed, "from the offseason program to our spring workouts to the start of training camp. He's still got a long way to go. He has a lot of football in front of him. He didn't have a lot of experience – had some – but has gained a lot and will gain a lot more. I think he's got a great future. He works hard, he's a tough kid, he plays hard, practices hard and has become much better at his fundamentals and techniques at his position."
Shaq Mason is another player on whom Belichick has consistently heaped praise over the years. That continued Monday night when the coach was asked about New England's incumbent starting right guard, who's in his fourth season in that role.
"Well, Shaq made a big jump in Year One, coming from the [college] system he was in, learning pass protection," remarked Belichick. "He's played well for us... He's very athletic, tough, smart, physical, good playing strength, a good football player."
Newcomer Trent Brown, for whom the Patriots traded with San Francisco during the offseason, is another player who seems to have made a positive first impression with the head coach.
"He was a little bit limited in the spring, but he still got a lot of work done. He's gotten off to a good start here in camp," declared Belichick. "He's got a long way to go. Our system is different than what he's been in… I'm glad we have him and we'll see how it goes."
Contrast those relatively lengthy answers with the brief response he gave to a question about third-year receiver Malcolm Mitchell.
Read into that what you will. Mitchell hasn't yet suited up for a practice this summer after missing considerable time during spring practices. The star-crossed Mitchell has been plagued by injuries since arriving in Foxborough in 2016.
Yay for O'Shea
We don't often hear about New England's assistant coaches, aside from the team's coordinators. While they aren't all household names, they are certainly well known to and appreciated by Belichick.
Take Chad O'Shea. The Patriots receivers coach since 2009 has quietly gone about his business, and that hasn't escaped the attention of Belichick.
"Yeah, [receiver]'s a tough positon to play here," Belichick began. "Chad does a very good job with all of those guys. He coaches multiple positions, outside to inside. Our guys are very involved in blocking and we do a lot of game planning and formationing and so forth.
"Chad's an excellent teacher, a very good fundamental coach. Has a good relationship with his players, has a good relationship with all of the staff members, easy to work with. He comes from a football background. Of course, his dad, Mike O'Shea, is one of the great trainers in his profession of all time. He has a great history with the game and with the sport. Chad's done a really good job for us."