While Bill Belichick has spent the last two days downplaying his team's expectations – not sure you heard, but 19-0 talk is in full swing! – there is no debating the talent that New England has on its roster to open training camp.
An aggressive offseason added the likes of Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore to a star-studded roster buoyed by Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Butler, Dont'a Hightower and others.
So there are certainly plenty of candidates to stand out on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, but it was the oft-injured tight end Gronkowski who was the star of the first training camp practice on Thursday morning in Foxborough.
Mere minutes after Belichick declared that the former All-Pro has no limitations – "Not that I'm aware of" -- as he returns from last winter's back surgery (third of his football career), Gronkowski was the best player and most energetic force on the practice field for a two-hour session that took place in shorts and helmets.
Gronkowski caught seemingly every ball thrown his way, including multiple touchdowns crossing the back of the end zone beating veteran safety Patrick Chung. He celebrated each big play, including high-stepping, running to high-five Brady and even dancing around Belichick, who wasn't overly interested in his playmaker's post-play moves.
But, Belichick must have been happy to see his tight end – who thanks to a restructured contract could double his paycheck this season to more than $10 million if he can stay healthy and make plays – getting off to such an impressive, spirited start to the summer, even if just in shorts on the first day of camp work.
"I've been looking forward to it for a while now, getting back to football," Gronkowski said after his productive morning session.
Aside from Gronkowski's impressive day, here are one man's blogservations of the Patriots opening camp practice of 2017:
Check out our favorite photos from Patriots Training Camp at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
--Hightower and Alan Branch, each placed on active/PUP earlier this week, were on the practice field in sweats. They watched portions of the workout and also spent time on the lower field doing rehab work.
--Rookie tackle Andrew Jelks did not take place in the workout, opening camp on NFI.
--DE Rob Ninkovich and LS Joe Cardona were not seen on the practice field at any point. Reports indicated that Cardona's absence could be related to his Navy commitments. CSNNE.com has speculated that the 33-year-old Ninkovich could "possibly" be retiring, although there has been no indication of that by the player or the team.
--DE Kony Ealy was on the field in sweats but did not take part in the workout. The trade addition from the Panthers was last seen prior to training camp walking off the field by himself in the middle of a mini-camp practice. He's certainly not off to a good start in his new home in what is a contract year for the disappointing former Carolina second-round pick.
--The Patriots added a pair of players to fill out the 90-man roster for the opening of camp. New England signed wide receiver Tony Washington and defensive end Caleb Kidder. The former practiced wearing No. 17, the latter No. 64.
--Depth at the center position will be an area to watch this summer. In pre-practice work those snapping the ball to the quarterbacks included starter David Andrews as well as Cole Croston, Jason King and Jamil Douglas.
--The kickoff and kickoff return teams got some work in pre-practice action. The Jugs machine was used for the actual kickoffs, with Cyrus Jones having a bit of a hiccup on one return. The second-year player otherwise had a solid day on his limited kick and punt chances.
--By CBA rule, Thursday was the first to two days that teams are required to practice without shoulder pads before going to more full-contact, padded action.
--The large crowd of more than 15,000 fans in attendance was loud at various points throughout the day and started plenty of play chants. That included an early "Brady" chant for the G.O.A.T.
--There was a new blue tent present at the far end of the practice fields, between the two fields. Though this is speculation, this could be an area for players to be evaluated in case of injury, a procedure that's been used by some colleges for years.
--While the practice fields ran from east to west for spring workouts, they've been flipped for camp with the action going more north/south as is in the case inside of Gillette Stadium (and really any properly designed football field).
--The wide receivers and running backs did various early group drills with coaches and ball boys hitting/distracting them with the large, joist-like pads that are new to the practice fields this year.
--Probably nothing of note, but Brady wore sweatpants for the relatively cool workout that took place with temperatures in the 70s under mostly cloudy skies. Backups Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett worked out in shorts.
--New tight ends coach Nick Caley seems to like to use a football on a stick to simulate snaps during his tight end drills.
--Julian Edelman wore his traditional yellow Kent State shirt under his white No. 11 jersey.
--The DBs and receivers got together for group work on combo routes in the red zone early in practice. The first pairing included Edelman and Chris Hogan lining up opposite Gilmore and Jonathan Jones. As the drill continued Austin Carr made nice touchdown catch in the corner beating Will Likely in what's a bad matchup for the tiny cornerback coming off an ACL injury.
--After giving up the score to end the combo route work the defensive backs all did pushups as a group. It's a self-punishment that began with the group in the spring.
--Washington is obviously playing catchup learning the offense with his late signing. He spent time listening to Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio during drills, the former receivers coach gesturing and explaining different routes to the new arrival.
--Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield, a well-known rabid Patriots fan, was in attendance with a group of Boston's clubhouse staff and watched the workout from between the two practice fields.
--UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch also watched the practice from the sidelines. Fisch has a long coaching history in both college and the NFL, including college stops at Michigan, Miami and Minnesota as well as pro work in Jacksonville (offensive coordinator), Seattle, Denver, Baltimore and Houston. Fisch spent some time before practice chatting with Belichick and then left the field after practice with Director of Football/Head Coach Administration Berj Najarian.
--At one point in group work, Garoppolo and Ted Karras had to run a penalty lap, likely for a problem with the center-quarterback exchange. As happens in camp, the duo actually got cheered by fans as they ran their lap, even though it's actually a punishment for a mistake.
--Garoppolo had a great start to practice in group work, showing top accuracy and reads. That fell apart, though, with a pair of interceptions in the end zone on consecutive throws. In the end, it was an up-and-down day for the fourth-year backup.
--Brady, on the other hand, got off to a slow start before hitting his stride later in the workout. He missed on three throws toward Cooks as the pair works on its timing. But then he closed out the workout in almost flawless fashion, including a nice deep ball to Cooks for a touchdown in which he essentially dropped the throw in the bucket to his new weapon.
--The workout included both ball security and open-field "tackling" drills in between various team work.
--Punter Ryan Allen actually got a chant of his name from the crowd at one point when he was simply catching kicks from fellow specialist Stephen Gostkowski.
--During kickoff return work the first group included Dion Lewis and Matthew Slater as the off returner. That was followed by Danny Amendola and James White. The three top blockers in front of the turners were James Develin, Brandon King and Geneo Grissom.
--Late in the kickoff return work the scout kick team did an onside kick that deflected off of Jordan Richards. As the ball rolled away, scout coverman Brandon Bolden actually guided it back into the diving safety's hands to help out his teammate.
--Part of the work by Hightower on the rehab field included the Pro Bowl linebacker throwing a medicine ball into the air. While it's unknown what the weight was, Boomtower was getting the ball extremely high in the air in impressive fashion for a guy coming back from injury.
--Edelman and Butler also earned loud chants from the crowd. It sounded like Hogan actually joined the fans in the chant for his wide receiver teammate.
--Undrafted rookie corner Kenny Moore II had a very impressive, active day. The young defensive back had tight coverage all over the field, got his hands on a number of passes (including a possible interception on the back line of the end zone) and showed great energy throughout his work.
--Hogan beat Coleman for a touchdown from Garoppolo.
--Edelman actually had a handful of ugly drops in the workout as he knocks off the rust.
--Not surprising but the first group of linemen in most drills included, from left to right, Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon.
--Mike Gillislee showed nice burst and solid hands in his first New England practice, though his real value won't show until the pads go on and the work on the running game turns it up a notch in the coming days and weeks.
--David Harris took plenty of high-end reps at inside linebacker. The veteran actually had really tight coverage of Gillislee on one play.
--Brissett had his ups and downs. He had some nice, accurate throws on the day. He also had at least four passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, far too high a percentage.
--After struggling mightily with his conditioning in the spring, undrafted rookie Josh Augusta got off to a nice start in camp. He batted down two of Brissett's passes and showed far better energy and quickness.
--With Ninkovich and Ealy absent, Grissom took reps at left defensive end opposite Trey Flowers. The third-year former third-round pick has seen limited playing time on defense to date in his career.
--With Branch out of action, Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy took early reps at defensive tackle.
--The second group of offensive linemen included, from left to right, Cameron Fleming, Douglas, Karras, Croston and LaAdrian Waddle.
--Rookie tackle Tony Garcia was the first player on the field before practice.
--Second-year receiver Devin Lucien had a nice day catching the ball. He also spent time being looked at by trainer Jim Whalen. Though he returned to action after the checkup, the 2016 practice squader finished the day with a clear limp.
--After dealing with a health issue during the spring, Duron Harmon took reps in group/team action throughout the morning. He did spend some time riding the bike in the middle of the fields during a couple breaks in his work.
--Malcolm Mitchell was on the field and a full participant after missing spring workouts. The second-year receiver had a small bit of a tape job showing from beneath his shorts on his left leg/knee.
--Dwayne Allen struggled at times catching the ball in the spring, including during one very rainy practice. But the veteran trade addition caught the ball well on the first day of camp and looked like a more potent option in the passing game.
--One of Garoppolo's picks went to Jordan Richards on a throw that the backup forced toward fullback James Develin in the back of the end zone. The quarterback and fullback did not appear to be on the same page, and discussed the play afterwards.
--Cyrus Jones had a tough day in coverage. The sophomore gave up scores to top receivers Cooks (the deep ball) and Edelman.
--The defense had a number of clearly blown coverages in team action latter in practice, leading to easy receptions for Rex Burkhead and D.J. Foster.
--The special teams groups worked on blocking field goals/PATs and punts late in practice. For the punts, Allen actually lobbed a soccer ball in the air to simulate his kick that was then blocked by the oncoming rusher. Large gymnastics-style mats were brought out for the guys to dive on rushing the kicks, which were a football toss up by a ball boy.
--Guys working off the edge to block the kicks included Jonathan Jones, Coleman, Moore II, D.J. Killings and Dwayne Thomas.
--As practice wound down, and Brissett led 11-on-11 opportunity reps, the tight ends did suicide sprints off to the side. The running included Develin and coach Caley.
--Fans chanted "We want Gronk" late in practice and got their wish as the tight ends signed autographs as a group after the workout.
--Gilmore, Cooks, Cody Hollister, Washington and others caught extra balls from the Jugs machine after practice.
--One of the great visuals of camp is when the families of players and coaches come on the field after practice. Belichick spent time with his granddaughter after the workout, sporting a huge smile as he held the young child. Harmon's young son showed impressive skills making a diving catch on a pass from his dad. There were a huge number of babies and kids on the field after the first day of action.
--Develin, Matt Lengel and James O'Shaughnessy did extra conditioning running together after practice.
--Those talking to the media after practice included Gilmore, Butler, Gronkowski, Solder, Harris and many others.
--New England is set to return to the practice field for another workout at Gillette Stadium on Friday morning at 9:15 a.m., but always check Patriots.com for any possible schedule changes.