Old school football coaches like Bill Belichick like to conduct training camp under steamy hot conditions, but today's opener may have been a little extreme even for him. The Patriots opened things up under blue skies and a scorching hot sun that sent temperatures well into the 90s, but that did little to dampen the spirits of the more than 12,000 fans in attendance.
As usual, they cheered most every move of their heroes, waiting less than 10 minutes to cascade a "Bra-dy, Bra-dy, Bra-dy" chant down in honor of their favorite quarterback. It was just the first of three such shows of support for the quarterback during practice, and it was an early highlight of the day's activities.
Brady is always the center of attention but he was the focus even more so due to his four-game suspension. All eyes were on both he and Jimmy Garoppolo, and how the reps between the two were divided. Belichick made it clear a day earlier that the priority was to get Garoppolo to start the season, and for at least the first day that featured roughly a split of the workload.
Brady was the first quarterback during 7-on-7 drills but Garoppolo was first during a team period later on. Late two-minute drills took place simultaneously on both fields and had Garoppolo with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett as well as the offensive line that opened all the drills. Brady had Chris Hogan, who would likely be the top wideout on the depth chart with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on PUP, and James White (the top passing back with Dion Lewis on PUP).
"We don't really have 1s and 2s and 3s, we all rotate in and out -- first group, second group," Garoppolo told large throng of reporters after practice. "It's really good because throughout the season, there are going to be injuries and things are going to happen, so you have to be able to play with whoever is in there with you."
As for performance, both had their moments during the morning but were each victimized by some drops (more on that later). Even Gronkowski failed to hold onto an easy touchdown on a short flip from Brady during a red zone drill. Overall it looked to be a pretty even split in terms of actual reps, and we'll likely continue to monitor the situation throughout the summer.
"I've been preparing to be the starter since the first day I walked in here, every competitor has that mindset," Garoppolo added. "I'm excited, man. I'm excited for Week 1. That's why we play the game. We play to get out there and get your opportunity, and when it comes, you've got to be ready for it."
Without further ado, here are some blogservations from Day 1 of camp:
View a collection of the best images from Patriots Training Camp in Foxborough on Thursday, July 28, 2016.
-There was one surprise in terms of attendance on opening day as linebacker Jamie Collins was not on the field for practice. CSNNE.com reported that Collins' absence was expected and not contract related, however, so at this point there doesn't seem to be anything to be concerned about regarding the Pro Bowl linebacker.
Collins was the only Patriot missing who was not on a list. Edelman, Amendola, Lewis, Clay Harbor, Tre' Jackson and Sebastian Vollmer all opened camp on PUP and did not practice. All but Lewis were spotted on the field. Shaq Mason was listed on PUP earlier in the week but donned his helmet and took part in some limited reps with the reserves at right guard so it appears as if he's off the list.
Alan Branch was placed on the non-football injury list (NFI) and also did not practice. The Boston Herald reported he's dealing with a hip injury that prevented him from taking part in Wednesday's conditioning run.
Also, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan, both of whom missed the spring camps, were on the field wearing red, non-contact jerseys due to undisclosed injuries.
-The only other player not in attendance was Nate Ebner, who is with the U.S. rugby team preparing for next month's Olympics in Rio. Ebner does not count on the roster while he resides on the reserve/did not report list, but he was in Foxborough in spirit thanks to Matthew Slater.
Slater donned a white No. 43 jersey in honor of Ebner and talked about his decision to do so after practice.
"I have a lot of respect for that guy. I wanted to show him a little love today," Slater said. "This is supporting him as he chases his dream."
-Edelman and Amendola may still be on PUP but judging from their actions they don't figure to stay there much longer. Both ran routes at high speeds down in the offensive line area known as "Dante's Inferno," named of course after the legendary Dante Scarnecchia. The routes were run with great intensity, featuring high-speed cutting and changes of direction. Considering the amount of physical activity the wideouts have been involved in recently, it would not be surprising to see them back in full uniform soon.
-There was a sign in the front row of the bleachers that read "Canada Loves the Patriots."
-The offensive line will be an area of focus even with some of the potential candidates for jobs (Mason, Jackson, Vollmer) coming off injuries. The first group on Thursday had Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, Bryan Stork, Jonathan Cooper and Marcus Cannon from left to right. Stork then went to right guard as part of the second group with LaAdrian Waddle, Josh Kline, David Andrews and Cameron Fleming. The third unit featured Chris Barker, Kyler Kerbyson, Ted Karras, Mason and Keavon Milton. Scarnecchia explained on Wednesday that his desire would be to cut back on the constant rotation that dominated the line a year ago, so it will be interesting to see how/if the injured players impact the lineup upon their return.
-Early in practice, Jabaal Sheard received attention from a trainer, who appeared to re-tape his left ankle. Sheard didn't miss any time and it did not appear to anything significant.
-Newcomer Vinnie Sunseri and Kevin Snyder were the first two Patriots to appear on the practice fields.
-The defensive backs worked on their tackling techniques early in practice with the help of some interesting equipment. Two large tires were sent rolling across the field as the players were asked to put their shoulders into one side while their inside arms hooked through the middle. The tires simulated a moving target and were large enough to withstand the light contact from the players. Some teams like Pittsburgh have begun using robot dummies in practice to help with tackling and this appeared to be a different variation.
-The special teams focus was on kick returns with Geneo Grissom and Andrews working as the wedge with the first group and Markus Kuhn and Shea McClellin with the second. Cyrus Jones and Keshawn Martin served as the returners.
-Belichick spent quite a bit of time early on watching Jacoby Brissett and several other young players run some plays from the red zone. Belichick seemed to mostly observe but did offer some instruction at times as well. Incidentally, the coach donned a shirt with cut-off sleeves, displaying a pretty good-looking farmer's tan.
-At one point there were four rows of six footballs lined up perfectly in between the two fields. Not sure why this was the case but it stuck out nonetheless.
-As was the case last summer, Brady spent time working with his tight ends during the special teams period of practice. The difference this year is Bennett replaced Scott Chandler alongside Gronkowski. That group reconvened at the end of practice for some additional reps.
-Robert Kraft made an appearance about midway through practice. He spoke with Brady at one point and later spent some time signing autographs for fans.
-As mentioned earlier, several players struggled to catch the ball throughout practice, and that wasn't limited to the offense. The linebackers did some drills dropping into coverage and many of them failed to secure would-be interceptions. As for the guys who are paid to catch the ball, things weren't much better. In addition to Gronk's uncharacteristic gaffe, Donald Brown, Bennett, Chris Hogan and rookies Devin Lucien and Malcolm Mitchell all suffered drops during practice. Not sure if the intense heat caused problems with too much moisture being generated but the drops were noticeable. Brown's drop came on a play where E.J. Biggers was able to swat the ball out of his hands after he appeared to make the catch.
-The Patriots had ball boys with paddles standing at the line during 7-on-7 drills, which isn't all that uncommon. But there was a difference in terms of the intensity with which the paddles were used. It appeared as if the ball boys were instructed to do the best they could to alter or knock down passes, and they succeeded three times – once against each of the three quarterbacks.
-During the kick return work, Stephen Gostkowski tried an onside kick and almost succeeded when his attempt bounced off Hogan's hands. Hogan was helped immediately by Tyler Gaffney, however, and the running back fell on the loose ball to prevent the recovery.
-There was an interesting drill that featured the quarterbacks dumping short passes over the middle to receivers who had to withstand shots from a blocking pad before they turned upfield to elude a one-on-one tackle attempt. Rookie D.J. Foster was impressive on one rep, juking McClellin with a quick jab step to the right before bursting untouched to the left into the clear.
-The tight ends worked on variations of catches in traffic with coach Brian Daboll. As Daboll threw passes, Gronkowski, Bennett and newcomer Bear Pascoe had to stretch to make the catch while a staffer held onto one of their legs. The trio performed the task in each direction. The tight ends also dropped to a knee and had to catch passes that were intentionally thrown low and behind them. Later, Brown caught some passes while Hogan held a towel restricting one of his arms, simulating the need to fight through contact to make the grab.
-Some of the highlights during 7-on-7 work included nice connections between AJ Derby and Garoppolo for a touchdown, and a terrific pass breakup by Justin Coleman working against Keshawn Martin. Jordan Richards did the seemingly impossible when he prevented Gronkowski from snaring a seam route in the end, leaping to knock the pass away just in the nick of time.
-The first defensive group during the 7-on-7s featured Dont'a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Harmon, Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung and Jonathan Freeny. Coleman and Jones worked with the second group.
-Rob Ninkovich spent time at linebacker, as he did extensively during the spring, and his normal left defensive end spot. McClellin remained exclusively at defensive end.
-Aaron Dobson continues to build on a strong offseason and turned in another solid day. He made some nice catches in traffic during team drills in the red zone.
-Veteran wideout Nate Washington, who made a couple of nice catches earlier in practice, appeared to have some trouble with the heat later and trainer Jim Whalen spent some time with him. Washington vomited on the field but remained with his teammates through the end of the session and said later that he was dealing with "something he ate."
-As was the case during the spring, Sammy Morris spent time working with the coaching staff.
-File this under things only Team PFW would care about: On one of the pylons at the goal line was removed while Ryan Allen did some punting near the sideline. When the pylon was returned, it was mistakenly placed at the 5-yard line. New scouting assistant Brian Belichick noticed the error and had one of the staffers return it to the goal line.
-After Gostkowski closed practice with some field goals, there were several groups that remained on the field for some extra work. Chris Harper, Martin and Jones took reps as punt returners while Chung took some off the Jugs machine. James Develin did some extra sprints across the field while offensive linemen Karras, Thuney and Kerbyson worked against defensive linemen Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton. Garoppolo also got some one-on-one time with Josh McDaniels.
-The Patriots will be back at it on Friday, kicking it off with Belichick's press conference at 8:45 a.m. followed by practice at 9:15 a.m. Be sure to check Patriots.com for the latest updates on the schedule.