Bringing back an annual tradition after a one-year hiatus, Bill Belichick took his Patriots into Gillette Stadium for practice Monday night in Foxborough.
The event was a ticketed affair, open to season ticket members and town residents.
It offered the tens of thousands of fans in that group a game-like look at the early version of the 2018 Patriots.
It offered the team an early look at the game environment it will encounter a week from Thursday for the preseason opener against the Redskins.
Belichick noted it gave players a chance to experience the overall conditions inside the stadium, as well as the transition from daylight to darkness. It also gave all involved an opportunity to see the new LED lighting that sits atop Gillette’s 300 level. The new technology should offer improved performance and reliability for the many night events at the facility.
The fun night ended with rookie tackle Isaiah Wynn hauling in a second chance at a Ryan Allen punt, likely earning he and his teammates a reward that in the past has included a night without meetings or some other extra time off.
Check out our favorite photos of the Patriots in-stadium practice at Gillette Stadium on Monday, July 30, 2018.
Wynn dropped his first attempt, much to the displeasure of his many teammates throwing their disappointed bodies to the turf. The lineman and his teammates then gestured for one more chance, even getting the crowd chanting. When he caught the second punt cleanly Gillette erupted in cheers from players and fans alike.
Beyond the special feel of practice under the lights of Gillette, here are one man’s blogservations from the lower level of the press box:
--Those players on PUP and absent from practiced remained Matthew Slater, Jonathan Jones (Achilles), Cyrus Jones (ACL), Kenny Britt (hamstring) and Nate Ebner (ACL). Others not taking part included Malcolm Mitchell, Mike Gillislee, Keion Krossen, Shane Wimann and Jordan Matthews. Wimann is a new addition to the absentee list, while Matthews is dealing with a reportedly minor hamstring issue.
--After two straight days in full pads, the session took place in helmets, shorts and jerseys, with some players wearing their shells (lighter shoulder pads).
--During pre-practice work there was an extended segment of kickoff return work. Early on character development coach Jack Easterby actually executed some onside kicks for the front of the return unit. More guys got involved with the returns during the drill. Beyond the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson, Patrick Chung, Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron and James White we saw Jason McCourty take at least one return rep. There were some short kickoffs during the drill with the upbacks catching the ball, including Rex Burkhead and Julian Edelman. Others working the upback role – two of the three players allowed deep under new kickoff rules – included Dwayne Allen and James Develin.
--During pre-practice installation Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe were the outside corners on one end of the field defending Tom Brady’s offense while McCourty and undrafted rookie JC Jackson were on the opposite end defending Brian Hoyer’s attack.
--Patriots owner Robert Kraft was on the sideline watching the practice from nearly start to finish. Kraft had a pretty long conversation with Belichick on the field during the early minutes of practice. Team president Jonathan Kraft also watched the practice from the sideline.
--Defensive backs worked on jumping one-handed interceptions, outjumping a full-size bag to high point the pick. The defenders actually worked on a number of different drills focusing on one-handed interceptions.
--During pre-practice drills Joe Kim worked alongside defensive line coach Brendan Daly with a portion of the defensive linemen. Kim is a martial arts expert from the Cleveland area who originally worked with Belichick when he coached with the Browns. He’s reportedly working with Patriots players on their hand-fighting and technique, although he’s not officially listed as a member of the coaching staff or even a consultant on the staff directory.
--Dwayne Allen continues to serve as the primary No. 2 tight end in drills working alongside Rob Gronkowski. Allen has had a stellar summer so far, looking far more active, energetic and athletic than he did at any point a year ago. Allen has also caught the ball well and seemed more accurate in his route running. It will be interesting to see if he can expand on his role after what was a pretty trying first season as a trade addition in Foxborough despite a strong push from second-year tight end Jacob Hollister.
--Burkhead wore his white mesh shorts again, contrasting the blue shorts worn by most of his teammates. A few others did have the white shorts on, including Stephen Gostkowski and Kyle Van Noy.
--During group work the defensive backs worked defending halfback passes, with some defensive backs showing off their arms as scout ball carriers/passers. The throws weren’t overly impressive.
--The first 11-on-11 segment was a goal line look of the top units on both sides. It wasn’t nearly as competitive without pads on, though. The defensive front was especially heavy with Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton and Vincent Valentine across the line. During one formation Adrian Clayborn was actually playing on two feet as an end/OLB.
--Eric Rowe had a nice pass defense of a ball intended for Gronkowski in the back right corner of the end zone.
--Burkhead caught a pair of touchdowns on the drill on short receptions on the right side.
--Brady threw behind Gronkowski crossing the back of the end zone, with Chung in coverage.
--During a more full-speed kickoff return segment Patterson was the first deep guy with Burkhead and Michel in front of him. There were some short kickoffs once again, including one hauled in somewhat precariously by Hill.
--After the kickoffs, Ryan Allen served up some post-safety free kicks for the return team. Edelman handled the return duties on those reps.
--Though the field had bright white lines for football, including numbers and hashes, the Patriots logo at midfield was only barely visible.
--He probably faces an uphill battle to make the roster, but returning practice squad tight end Will Tye has caught the ball pretty well so far in camp. He did so again on Monday night, although he also had a false start on a goal line play.
--Patterson continues to take reps as a gunner, looking to show his value in all areas of special teams as well as his work as an option on offense.
--During punt work, Ryan Allen and Corey Bojorquez alternated reps. Those taking reps at personal protector for the punt team included Jordan Richards and Damarius Travis. An interesting twist, Travis called a timeout on one rep, apparently not liking what he saw from the defensive front. Burkhead has also taken personal protector reps early in camp, but Monday night he was back returning punts with a group that included Edelman, Chung, Berrios, McCarron and Chris Hogan. Burkhead has not previously returned a punt in a game in his NFL career.
--During a pass-heavy two-minute type drill late in practice Brady had two backs on the field in number of his sets.
--Danny Etling struggled with some of his throws late in 11-on-11 action. He followed up one overthrown with a pass right to safety Eddie Pleasant for an easy interception.
--Brady completed a play-action bomb to Philip Dorsett for a long touchdown to the wide open receiver. Dorsett caught a few other balls from Brady as he works to build a rapport with the veteran quarterback.
--The final segment was a two-minute drill with Brady leading his offense – interestingly with Gronkowski on the sideline – down the field for a run-on Gostkowski field goal attempt as time expired. The final series of plays began with 22 seconds left. Brady completed a short throw to Hollister to set the ball up on the left hash. The field goal unit ran on, but Gostkowski didn’t actually attempt the would-be 39-yard field goal.
--Berrios had an ugly drop in the second group of two-minute action, with Hoyer’s pass deflecting off the rookie slot receiver’s hands despite his being wide open in the middle of the field.
--Players signed autographs for lucky fans after the session.
--Shelton, David Andrews and Patterson were scheduled to speak with reporters on the field after the workout.
--Fans were also treated to a laser light and fireworks show at the conclusion of the autograph session.
--After five straight days of practice to open camp, New England will have its first day off on Tuesday. Prior to Monday night’s work, Belichick said the day off would offer his team a good chance to recover. The team is expected to return to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Wednesday morning for the sixth practice of the summer, but be sure to check Patriots.com for any possible schedule changes.