Watching Michael Bennett practice Sunday, unless you already knew otherwise, you wouldn't suspect that 1) this was his first appearance on the field since June, and 2) that he'd literally just arrived in Foxborough on an overnight flight from Hawai'i.
Making his Patriots training camp debut after three days of excused absence from the team, the veteran defensive lineman looked sharp in drills throughout practice, displaying a quickness off the ball that has become a hallmark of his pro career.
"It was exciting… Training camp is always fun," he remarked later to reporters. "All these guys, they're great players, and to finally get the chance to have some type of camaraderie with them is just a special opportunity."
Bennett became a Patriot after an offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, but didn't take part in the team's offseason workout program, save last month's three days of mandatory minicamp. A resident of the 50th U.S. state, the 33-year-old Bennett reported for training camp earlier this past week, but was then excused by head coach Bill Belichick for a few days to take care of a personal matter back home. Some media observers began to speculate that he might be contemplating retirement – a notion Bennett roundly rejected Sunday.
"I was laughing at home – laughing – like no, I didn't retire," he explained. "I was surprised that people thought I would quit. I haven't quit on anything in a long time. I don't even quit when I play my daughter in checkers.
"No, I just had a family issue that I had to go take care of. I was lucky Coach Belichick – it's nice when you have a coach that sees you as a human, sees you as a human being, not just a number and you're able to go talk to him, tell him what's going on, and you're able to go take care of it. That just makes you want to play harder for a coach. When he believes in you, and lets you take care of your family first.
"Everybody's always concerned about how their boss is going to take into consideration if something happens back home, but whatever he asks me to do, I'll do it simply because I know he respects me as a human being and I respect that."
Bennett emphasized that during his absence, he continued to stay in football shape, so, it's not entirely surprising that he was able to take part as much as he did in Sunday's practice. However, when you factor in that he was sleep-deprived from his long-haul flight, it's impressive. Bennett expounded on why he chose to suit up so soon after disembarking.
"It's important to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, so when it's time for us to be in big moments like [this team is] always in, we have the bank to go back into because we put so much into it," he observed. "You want to prove to your teammates that you love the game… I just want to show them that in every single moment, I'm going to try to go as hard as I can. When you're on a new team and you have to build new relationships, the only way is to show everyone the type of work ethic you've got, what you believe in, and how you carry yourself. Then, the relationship grows from there.
"I just work as hard as I can every day, honestly. I think it's easy. It's practice… you know how to condition yourself. I always want to improve. That's the whole point of practice, is getting better."
N'Keal Harry freely admits with a chuckle that at first, seeing Tom Brady on a daily basis was a bit disorienting, in a good way, but that he's over the novelty now.
"At this point," he told reporters after Sunday's practice, "he's my teammate. So, it's starting to get a little more normal now. It's a big help having him out there, kind of helping me make it through training camp, helping me clean up my details, and making sure we're on the same page… A lot of technique, timing stuff, things that are going to come the more we're on the field together."
New England's 2019 first-round draft choice has had a solid start to his first NFL training camp, which he credits to "super long" days that he's spending in the Patriots facility.
"There's a lot that goes into it, but this game of football is something I truly love and I wouldn't want to do anything else," Harry continued.
"I'm willing to work, do whatever it takes to help the team win. Whatever I did in college doesn't matter. I'm in the NFL now… trying to get the playbook down, trying to get better each and every day… and making sure, if I make a mistake, I don't make that mistake twice. The more I learn the playbook, the more I get comfortable out there, the less I'll have to think and the easier it'll become."
Meyers making a case
It's not unusual – in fact, it's almost tradition – for at least one undrafted player to make Bill Belichick's 53-man roster each season. Though it is very early in the process, one young man who's making a case for himself already is rookie receiver Jakobi Meyers. Listed on the training camp 90-man roster at 6-2, 200, the North Carolina State rookie has made some impressive catches in his first few days as a pro.
After Sunday's session, Meyers was asked by reporters to explain his decision to try to make an NFL roster with the defending Super Bowl Champs.
"It's definitely hard, but that's why I chose to sign here. I wanted the challenge, I wanted to embrace it," Meyers replied. "If you can make it here, I feel like you can make it anywhere. I'm just trying to soak it up every day."
Buy: Terrence Brooks – The veteran free agent safety has steadily gotten more involved defensively from the spring throughout the first four days of training camp. Sunday, he even saw action in a number of 11-on-11 plays beside regular starter Devin McCourty at safety.
Sell: Byron Cowart – When players, particularly rookies, are injured early in training camp, it can be difficult to make up lost time quickly enough upon their return. In the case of this 2019 draft choice, who suffered what looked like a lower body injury on Day 2, he's been out of commission ever since and is starting to fall behind in the defensive line competition.
Play of the Day: On the second day of full-pads practices, the running game was more of an emphasis, and late in the day, 11-on-11 red zone and goal line down-and-distance work took precedence. On one particular play, second-year linebacker Christian Sam met rookie Damien Harris around the goal line with a thunderous tackle that sent Harris to the turf, apparently short of the end zone. That hit got the entire defense, including players on the sideline, to swarm Sam and celebrate vociferously.