Tom Brady celebrated his 41st birthday Friday morning with a relatively light day of work in front of thousands of his adoring fans on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.
The G.O.A.T. got his usual rousing ovation when he peaked the steps to the practice fields and was serenaded with various “Happy Birthday” renditions from the fans, but otherwise Brady seemed to take it pretty easy during the two-plus-hour morning workout that took place in full pads.
Brady didn’t take any reps in group or team action, watching the bulk of the workout from behind the offense or on the sideline after taking part in a few early positional drills. He did close the morning by taking part in the conditioning work on the hill with the rest of his teammates.
After practice Brady was met on the practice field by his supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, and their children. While fans didn’t get to see a lot of Brady plays, he did sign autographs for some of those in attendance around the field after the workout.
With Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski both seemingly getting a bit of a breather day, others got the opportunity to get some extra reps, most notably backup quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and rookie Danny Etling.
Though there were ups and downs – and both guys had some nice individual throws – the overall execution and production from the passing game was noticeably down without Brady making plays. Both backups had botched exchanges with the center. Both had throws fall harmlessly to the turf, not really in near proximity to any receiver.
The veteran Hoyer actually had consecutive throws picked off Jason McCourty and Jordan Richards during one stretch.
Hoyer did end the lackluster day for the passing attack with one of the best plays of the morning, a throw to the back left side of the end zone in 11-on-11 action that resulted in a pretty one-handed touchdown grab for Cordarrelle Patterson.
Beyond Brady’s birth-day off and the passing game’s inefficiencies, here are one sweaty man’s blogservations from an the hot media tent atop the hill at the far end of the field:
--Part of the celebration for Brady’s big day included a massive 12-foot by 12-foot No. 12 cake at Patriot Place that weighed 900 pounds. A number of media members were able to confirm that the cake was indeed quite good.
--Friday’s eighth practice of camp, the fifth in full pads, took place in extremely hot, humid conditions. There were a few clouds and a light passing shower at one point, but it remained hot.
--Wide receiver Kenny Britt was on the field in full uniform, including his white No. 88 jersey, for the start of the practice. He took part in some early positional work but did not do any competitive drills or 1-on-1s with the defensive backs. He then left the practice field and returned to Gillette Stadium. A short while later he walked back onto the field with his practice paints on but no pads/helmet/jersey while carrying a drink (smoothie/shake?) with a straw. About as soon as he got to the area between the two fields he turned around and walked back to the stairs down to the stadium. Along the way he slapped five with kicker Stephen Gostkowski and a few security people/ball boys. Probably coincidentally, the Queen song “Another one bites the dust” blared as Britt left the field for the second time.
--As he predicted on Thursday, Mike Gillislee returned to his normal white No. 35 jersey for Friday after just one day in the red, non-contact shirt.
--While it is unclear whether Britt’s actions meant he was off PUP, the rest of the list remained unchanged as Jonathan Jones (Achilles), Cyrus Jones (ACL) and Nate Ebner (ACL) continue to be out of action and working on the lower rehab field.
--Other players not taking part in the practice included Malcolm Mitchell, Sony Michel, Marcus Cannon and Jason King. King was a new absentee after having his left knee checked out later in Thursday’s practice after he was unable to finish that session.
--Former Patriots Pro Bowl center Dan Koppen was at practice. He spent some time with Brady and Bundchen after the workout.
--One of the newer pieces of equipment on the field this summer are footballs with straps/elastic bands on them. The skill players – running backs, wide receivers and tight ends – used the balls to work on their ball security and power running early in practice. One player would run with the ball while another would pull at it from behind.
--Linebacker Marquis Flowers did at least three penalty laps in a very short span during positional and group drills early in practice.
--The wide receivers and defensive backs did one-on-ones early on. Chris Hogan beat Eric Rowe for a long touchdown. Duke Dawson did a nice job sticking with Riley McCarron, although the rookie may have gotten away with a quick hold at the break. Interestingly, on his next rep Dawson was wearing the boxing gloves the team uses to keep defensive backs from being able to grab.
--The running backs and linebackers worked on pass protection/pass rush together.
--The defensive backs did pushups as a group after the one-on-ones.
--During the ensuing seven-on-seven segment Stephon Gilmore collided with Jacob Hollister as the young tight end set pick or rub route.
--Dawson had a nice pace defense on a Hoyer throw to Braxton Berrios in the seven-on-seven work. During the drill ball boys with covered tennis racquets served as the defensive line to add another layer of defense for the quarterbacks.
--On the other field the offensive and defensive lines work on some two-man blocks/rushes.
--During the seven-on-seven work rookie linebacker Christian Sam spent time on the other field doing special teams drills with Matthew Slater and Brandon King.
--With Cannon out of practice again, LaAdrian Waddle took the high end reps at right tackle.
--Isaiah Wynn had an interesting day in terms of his reps. He did some work at left guard with a secondary group of linemen. This is the first time the versatile rookie has taken significant reps on the inside. Wynn also took his usual left tackle reps with the group and even mixed in for Trent Brown at left tackle next to Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Waddle.
--Sam also took plenty of reps in pass coverage in 11-on-11 work, most of it out wide covering running backs.
--Though he’s generally a core special teamer, King took some reps at linebacker in a pass coverage drill.
--While it wasn’t a great day for the passing game, Etling did show off some athleticism to make plays with his legs. Though he’s not necessarily a runner he clearly has the ability to pull the ball down and scramble when necessary. He also had at least one rep of what looked like a type of read option play. It will be interesting to see if that’s a part of his game in preseason action.
--A group of players and personnel from the Big3 basketball tournament, including former Celtics Nate Robinson and Marcus Banks, was on hand for the practice in advance of their event Friday night in Boston.
--Rookie punter Corey Bojorquez had an interesting day. While working on the side field with just the other specialists he displayed his massive leg with a number of high, long, booming punts. But when he got into actual 11-on-11 punt action his kicks weren’t nearly as impressive. From afar it looks like he has inconsistent drops at times that lead to inconsistent kicks. His battle with veteran Ryan Allen may be interesting thanks to his strong leg, but if he doesn’t find a way to become more consistent it may not last long.
--Patriots owner Robert Kraft was on the field for a middle portion of the practice. He spent some time chatting with Brady between the two practice fields.
--There were a few drills where the defensive front in 11-on-11 action consisted of Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown and Adrian Clayborn across the defensive front.
--Trey Flowers left the practice field midway through the session and did not return.
--Another day and another couple of examples of Brown leading out wide in front of screen passes. Today he got out on a cornerback on a wide receiver screen to Hogan. Brown is just a huge guy to see out in space and one can only wonder what the defensive backs are thinking when the 6-8, 380-pound mountain of a man is moving toward them.
--Richards’ interception of Hoyer, the second of the backup’s consecutive picks, was actually a nice jumping pick as the safety drifted to the outside front of a sideline thrown.
--Dwayne Allen has caught the ball extremely well all spring and summer, unfortunately Friday wasn’t his best day with a couple ugly drops.
--Etling’s lap for a fumbled exchange with James Ferentz was easily the fastest lap of the summer. Hoyer took his spot with the offense while the rookie ran, but Etling substituted back in as soon as he returned from his high-speed punishment.
--Interior offensive lineman Brian Schwenke, who joined the team after the start of camp, was carted off the field midway through the practice. He did not return.
--The team once again did its version of the Oklahoma drill in the middle of practice. Pro Bowl fullback James Develin was dominant blocking Dont’a Hightower. Overall the offense got the better of the defense with a lot of the runners getting through basically untouched.
--The front line of the first group to run punt return reps included from left to right King, Marquis Flowers, Richards, Grissom, Nicholas Grigsby and Brandon Bolden. JC Jackson and Rowe worked on the outside. Chung, McCarron, Rex Burkhead and Berrios took turns on returns.
--The whole offense took a lap – including Brady – after a fumbled snap. Upon their return the group on the field was addressed by both Dante Scarnecchia and Belichick.
--Phillip Dorsett had another solid day catching the ball.
--It’s worth noting that during 11-on-11 work late in practice Kyle Van Noy was the one calling the defenses in the huddle, not Hightower who was also on the field. It will be interesting to see who has the green dot on defense most often moving toward the season.
--There were a couple competitive goal line plays near the end of practice. One ended on an incomplete pass, another with a Mike Gillislee run on which he may have gotten into the end zone on a second effort, though it was a close call.
--There was a young woman in the crowd wearing a unique Brady jersey. It looked like it may have been a high school jersey.
--When LaAdrian Waddle had to take a penalty lap in team action late in practice veteran Ulrick John took his spot at right tackle.
--King did extra sprints on the side field while the rest of the team focused on 11-on-11 action late.
--David Andrews dropped to a knee and was attended to by trainers at the end of practice as the rest of the team headed to the hill for conditioning work. Andrews was given a cold towel. As he began to walk toward the hill he went to one knee a second time. He eventually got to the hill and did some conditioning work with his teammates but it looked like the hot, humid conditions took their toll on the team captain.
--Slater and Bolden did not do the hill work with the rest of the squad, instead doing what looked like core work with members of the training staff.
--Former ASU coach Todd Graham was on hand at practice for the second straight day. Members of the Harvard football staff also watched the workout.
--Derek Rivers and undrafted rookie Trent Harris spent extra time after practice working on pass rush moves with Joe Kim, a martial arts specialist working with the team.
--Players meeting with the media after practice included Edelman, Hoyer, Berrios, Joe Cardona, Patterson and a number of others.
--The team is scheduled to return to the field 8:50 Saturday morning for the ninth day of training camp practice. Be sure to check Patriots.com for any possible last-minute schedule changes.