The Patriots kicked off the first of their three-day mandatory minicamp in rainy Foxborough Monday morning, and despite the term mandatory there were a few members of the team missing.
The most prominent name among the handful not seen was Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore is recovering from surgery to repair his torn quad suffered last December, so it's possible his absence had something to do with his health. Bill Belichick addressed the media prior to the workout and explained that travel issues and other uncertainties played a role in some of the absences.
"We're working through some travel arrangements so we'll see what the full level of participation is for today and this week," he said. "I'm sure we'll have a pretty full roster. It's good to see a couple new faces here."
Belichick was asked specifically about Gilmore and explained that the coaches were still "scrambling to get things going" and he was unsure of the exact nature of his team's attendance at that point.
"Just the travel arrangements over the weekend," Belichick reiterated. "I'm not sure how all of it worked out. We'll catch up on that after we get done here.
"Today's the first day. They just got in here a little while ago. I'm not sure if everybody is here. We didn't take attendance at the meeting. That includes the players that were here last week and the players that weren't here and everything else."
Once the practice began there was no sign of Gilmore, as well as Chase Winovich and Byron Cowart among others. With minicamp falling under the mandatory category and players potentially subjected to fines for missing the work, Belichick was asked if any of the absences were excused but the coach chose to keep those details private.
"All the communication between me and the players I'll keep between me and the players," Belichick said.
It will be interesting to see if any of the missing parties make an appearance as the week unfolds.
While there were some notable players missing, there also was a group making their first appearances in front of the media this spring. Jonnu Smith, James White, Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, Brandon Bolden and Nick Folk all were in uniform for the first time, and while Belichick was happy to have the full complement of players back he also stressed the missed time can't be replaced.
"Fundamentally when we get to training camp or to the minicamp practices, we're not going to go back over everything that we've covered," Belichick said. "The players that have been here are going to continue to move ahead and the guys that haven't been here will be in a little bit of a catch-up mode. Most of them have quite a bit of experience, so I don't think that's a river that can't be crossed. I think that it just will take a little more time and there'll be a level of catching up to do but that's what it is."
Smith may have even more catching up to do than most. He struggled early on with drops in the rainy conditions, then he missed the final portion of practice after appearing to injure his left leg. He spent some time with head trainer Jim Whalen and did not take part in much over the last hour or so.
Here are one man's observations from Day 1 of minicamp.
*Despite not being present for the OTA session open to the media, Cam Newton did practice last week according to Belichick. Newton was a full go Monday as well and took part in all portions of the practice. He led off all drills including both the 7-on7s and full team action. Mac Jones, Jarrett Stidham and occasionally Brian Hoyer followed, in that order. The top three received a similar amount of reps while Hoyer mixed in at times. Newton did not appear to be hindered by any lingering soreness in the hand and threw the ball without any limitations.
*The Patriots had a pair of players in for tryouts, both on offense. One was a receiver wearing No. 87 and the other was an offensive lineman wearing 63. Belichick said before practice that there would be some new players with the team and that would be part of the process.
*The practice took place under a steady rain in much cooler conditions than what the team has been working in recently. Some of the receivers must not have had their preferred "bad weather" gloves because Nelson Agholor, N’Keal Harry and the newcomer wearing No. 87 chose to go the bare-hand route. The other receivers appeared to be wearing gloves despite the rain.
*Drops were an issue at times, most notably during a 7on-7 period when Stidham made arguably the most impressive throw of the day. Agholor took off on a deep flag toward the pylon and had a step on the coverage. Stidham's throw was perfectly dropped into the bucket and hit him in stride, but the receiver couldn't hold on. He then picked the ball up and punted it toward the other field. Gunner Olszewski, Kristian Wilkerson and Smith all had balls bounce off their hands on a day that was challenging for the skilled players.
*The secondary spent some time early in practice working on defending bunch sets under the watchful eyes of Belichick. Communication is stressed in those situations and the DBs seemed to do a nice job working through the crowded areas and making sure no receivers slipped free.
*During this time the offense worked on the running game a bit with some short passes coming from these formations sprinkled in. The tight ends were a part of those looks, often working underneath the coverage on some potential short-yardage situations.
*Jones appeared to spend a lot of time adjusting plays at the line and checking in and out of certain formations. It's all part of the growth process for a young quarterback, and Jones worked through some of these calls deliberately and seemed to make to proper adjustments – at least by appearances. Josh McDaniels offered instructions along the way but never had to stop the proceedings to correct anything that I could tell.
*The offense worked on some third-down situations later in practice with Newton, Jones and Stidham all taking reps. Jones hooked up with Jakobi Meyers on a back shoulder look down the right sideline, although it appeared that Meyers pushed off on corner Jalen Mills on the play. Penalty or not Jones' throw was accurate and on time.
*The punt team got some work on both fields with J.J. Taylor and Olszewski handling the kicks on the near side and Meyers and Marvin Hall took care of the returns on the far field.
*During the special teams work, the four quarterbacks and Agholor tossed passes back and forth while situated in a pentagon shape.
*Belichick said before practice that several players were working at different positions and we've seen Mills play both safety and corner during his career. Mills got some time at corner on Monday and was competitive in his coverage.
*Jones made some excellent throws in the second 7-on-7 period, one on a cross to Wilkerson and on the next play he hit Olszewski on a deep post. Most of Jones' works thus far this spring has consisted of checkdowns and underneath throws so it was nice to see a few downfield shots on target on Monday.
*During a late period of 11-on-11, Newton tried to hit Agholor on a deep ball but the wideout had trouble evading Michael Jackson on the play. Jackson blanketed Agholor and prevented Newton from completing the pass – all while The Jackson's "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" was blaring over the speakers.
*Trent Brown and Wynn were both guilty of committing false start penalties and had to run laps as a result. Brown may have broken the all-time Gillette Stadium record for the slowest lap in Patriots history.
*The offense closed the workout with some two-minute work with all three quarterbacks struggling to make any plays down the field. Other than short completions on dumpoffs or shallow crosses, not much production from any of the three groups. All three field goal kickers got to cap the drives with Folk hitting first from 48 yards while Roberto Aguayo and Quinn Nordin tried from 53. Aguayo's came after a false start pushed him back 5 yards and he appeared to hook his to the left, but it was hard to tell from our vantage point. Nordin connected on his attempt.
*The three kickers continued their work with several kicks ranging from 43-53 yards from each hash. Despite the constant rain, Belichick still took the time to squirt water on the ball as well as holder Jake Bailey's hands before a couple of the kicks. All three were solid to close things out.
*Minicamp continues in Foxborough on Tuesday with the second day of the three-day session set to get underway at 10:45 a.m. The practices are open to the media but closed to the public.