Christmas morning came in July for Patriots fans, who got their first chance to see the 2019 version of their favorite team on a beautiful summer afternoon in Foxborough. While the team is still another workout away from getting started in earnest – that will happen on Saturday when the players are allowed to be in full pads for the first time – there was still an excitement in the air on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.
It was an opportunity to watch the rookies – most notably first-round pick N'Keal Harry – at work in Patriots gear while also checking out other newcomers and how they might fit into the equation.
Bill Belichick opened the day in typical fashion, explaining how much work needed to be done in order to get where the team would like to be at season's end. He also stressed the importance to turning the page from last year, a season that ended with the team's sixth Super Bowl title. That message wasn't lost on his players.
"Everything we do here has nothing to do with last year," safety Duron Harmon said. "We have to put in the work. There's a standard of excellence to uphold around here."
"It's cool getting back to football," added linebacker Dont'a Hightower. "Training camp is part of football. It's part of the job and we have to get back to work."
Clearly Belichick's focus was on making sure his troops avoided complacency, and considering how consistent New England has been over the past two decades it's obvious the coach has done a great job in that department.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a soon-to-be 42-year-old quarterback who treats the first day of camp very much like he did the last game he played. Tom Brady showed no signs of being content with six rings as he darted around the fields – much to the delight of the large crowd in attendance.
Day 1 is in the books, and here are some blogservations from Thursday activities.
-There were a couple of regulars missing from the first practice as center David Andrews and free agent newcomer Michael Bennett were not present. No word was given as to their whereabouts. In addition, Sony Michel (knee), Nate Ebner, Ken Webster, Cole Croston, Demaryius Thomas (Achilles) and Deatrich Wise did not practice as they opened camp on the physically unable to perform list. Julian Edelman (thumb) and rookie Yodny Cajuste (quad) also didn't practice as they begin on the non-football injury list. All are eligible to return any time during camp/preseason.
-Patrick Chung donned a red, non-contact jersey after undergoing shoulder and arm surgeries during the offseason. At one point there was a funny sequence as the defense was preparing for a team period with players offering looks on offense against the regular defense. With Chung limited, he lined up at running back instead of his normal spot at safety. The humorous part came when Chung took a short pitch and run the ball through the defense – therefore creating a situation where a player who couldn't be hit was actually carrying the ball. OK, so maybe I'm easily amused.
-Brady, Brian Hoyer and rookie Jarrett Stidham took snaps from James Ferentz, Ted Karras, rookie Hjalte Froholdt and Tyler Gauthier prior to practice. Danny Etling was not part of this group. In fact he wasn't wearing his normal red No. 5 jersey. Instead he wore a white one with the same number and worked with wide receivers and on special teams. The coaches evidently are giving him a chance to make his mark in another area with the quarterback depth chart seemingly set with Brady, Hoyer and Stidham.
-Brady was able to hook up with Harry for a touchdown during 11-on-11 work in the red zone, drawing a hearty cheer in the process. Harry used his body effectively in shielding off the defender and made a leaping catch just past the goal line for what fans certainly hope was the first of many touchdowns for the tandem.
-Isaiah Wynn took some reps at left tackle for the first time since rupturing his Achilles' tendon last preseason. Wynn lined up next to Joe Thuney as the offense ran plays early in practice. However, when things turned to the 11-on-11 portion of the workout, Wynn did not take any reps and Thuney slid outside to tackle, where he spent his time during the spring. With Andrews out, there was a rotation at center that including Ferentz and Karras.
-After spending the spring helping the wideouts, Troy Brown was back on the field doing the same on Thursday. Special teams coordinator Joe Judge has taken on the added responsibility of wide receivers coach this season, and Brown's presence certainly provides some assistance in that department.
-Ben Watson is back for his second tour of duty with the Patriots after spending the first six years of his career in New England. The tight end looked great streaking across the middle a step ahead of Devin McCourty during an early 7-on-7 drill, grabbing Brady's pass in stride for a nice gain.
-The entire defense ran a lap after the drill ended, although it did not appear the group did anything wrong to earn the extended run. In fact, the coverage for the most part was pretty solid, although it's certainly possible that missed assignments and/or personnel gaffes could have taken place without necessarily being noticed by the media.
-James White caught a short pass as he took a hit from a ball boy's blocking pad and turned upfield against Kyle Van Noy in a 1-on-1 drill designed to work on breaking down and tackling in space. White got the better of the linebacker on the play as he caused Van Noy to lose his feet after a quick move in tight quarters.
Check out the best photos from Patriots Training Camp at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, July 25, 2019.
-While most of the team worked on special teams – kick returns were in focus – Brady spent some time on the opposite field with Harry, Watson, Hoyer and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Brady tossed several fades toward the corner of the end zone to Harry, who worked on high-pointing the passes as McDaniels served as a combination defensive back/instructor. Harry showed his strong hands while aggressively snatching the ball out of the air.
-As was the case during the spring, Jerod Mayo was quite animated throughout practice and donned headsets as well. The linebackers coach drew plenty of praise from his players after practice and it is clear that the former standout isn't the typical first-year coach. Mayo was always considered a coach on the field and watching him in that capacity it's easy to see why.
-One of the best players on Thursday was Jonathan Jones, who was particularly outstanding during some individualized red zone work. The offense worked with two receivers against two defensive backs with the wideouts lined up on the same side with one in the slot and the other outside. Jones matched up against Braxton Berrios on a couple of occasions and blanketed him. The first resulted in a terrific interception as he was able to get position on Berrios and made the leaping catch.
-During the same drill, Dontrelle Inman struggled. On one rep he lost his footing while making a cut, showing his frustration as he went back to the huddle. On his next attempt he was covered tightly by rookie D'Angelo Ross. Inman did finish with a nice diving catch over the middle despite coverage by J.C. Jackson.
-Robert Kraft was in attendance with his Johnny Cash look – dressed in all black. He spent time on the field and in the stands, signing autographs and chatting with fans toward the end of practice.
-Berrios, Brandon Bolden, Phillip Dorsett and Gunner Olszewski took some reps returning kicks.
-Among those spending time with reporters after practice were Mike Pennel, Jamie Collins, John Simon, Watson, Elandon Roberts, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Hightower, James Develin, Jones, Van Noy, Maurice Harris, Jason McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, James White and Harmon.
-The Patriots will practice without pads once again on Friday with the festivities set to begin at 9:15 a.m. As always, please check Patriots.com for the latest updates on the practice schedule.