Two individual players received huge ovations from the thousands of fans in attendance on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for the opening of Patriots training camp 2014 Thursday morning.
The first came, as is always expected, for quarterback Tom Brady, who acknowledged the applause with a slight wave to his adoring onlookers.
The second -- one that may have actually surpassed Brady's ovation both in terms of length and intensity -- was for a guy who up until Wednesday wasn't considered a lock to be working out to open training camp. But when Rob Gronkowski emerged atop the steps leading to the practice field fans erupted in response to a player whose health and ability to contribute are seen as a key to the Patriots season.
Now, while Brady went on to put in a full workout for the crowd's viewing in a session that took place in helmets, jerseys (with numbers!) and shorts, Gronkowski was limited in his participation. The tight end did some positional work and worked with fellow receivers and the quarterbacks against air in some red zone situations, but he did not take reps in group or team action against defenders.
Still, having Gronkowski active and in attendance for the first day of camp, even on a somewhat limited basis, was a major boon for the Patriots.
While the tight end didn't do a lot in group action, that was certainly not the case for second-year wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. The sophomore stood out among the top performers on the field during the workout that lasted more than two hours. He made a number of nice catches – including a diving reception in the back right corner of the end zone – and took the bulk of his reps in a group that included Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
There will be plenty of focus on the development of the second-year receivers this summer, and on the first day of training camp work Thompkins took a very nice step in the right direction.
Beyond the Gronkowski and Thompkins highlights, here are one man's other various blogservations from the first day of training camp practice:
Check out photos from day one of Patriots Training Camp at Gillette Stadium on Thurday, July 24, 2014.
--The workout included 82 of the 90 players on the Patriots roster. The only eight not taking part in the action were those on PUP or NFI, most of whom were seen on the practice field doing rehab work and conditioning. That group included Dominique Easley (ACL/NFI), Tommy Kelly (ACL/PUP), Matthew Slater (PUP), Alfonzo Dennard (knee, PUP), Aaron Dobson (foot, PUP), Deontae Skinner (NFI) and Jeremy Gallon (PUP). Christ Martin (NFI) was not seen from this vantage point.
Undrafted rookie running back Roy Finch had been placed on NFI on Monday but was on the practice field Thursday meaning that he's been removed from that list. That would seem to indicate that he may have had an issue with the team's conditioning run upon arriving at camp.
Easley's work with the training staff included some pretty intense running while tethered to director of rehabilitation Joe Van Allen.
--Returning injured veterans who were hurt to close out last season who took part fully in the practice included Sebastian Vollmer (leg), Jerod Mayo (pectoral) and Vince Wilfork (Achilles).
--The players sported new-look shorts for the workout. They have the look of the team's game pants with red stripes down the sides. They also somewhat strangely have the word Patriots written on the back of the right leg.
--The practice took place under gray skies and in pretty cool temperatures. It rained for a few minutes at the very end of the session.
--Gronkowski wore a black sleeve that included some brace-like support on his surgically-repaired right knee. He also wore the same large black apparatus on his surgically-repaired left arm that he donned during game action last season.
--There was a lot of time spent on kickoff return both in pre-practice work and during the session. Josh Boyce and Shane Vereen paired up for the first reps, followed by Travis Hawkins/Brandon LaFell and James White/Roy Finch.
--Hawkins stood out a bit in practice not just for his reps as a kickoff returner, but the action he saw on defense against a Brady-led hurry-up offense late in practice. He was in a group that included many returning players and top candidates while the rest of the young/new players were doing the same drill on the opposite field. That immediately makes the undrafted rookie out of Delaware a guy to keep an eye on moving forward this summer. A year ago, Joe Vellano stood out for his reps early in camp and down the road he made the roster.
--Keeping up with our fascination with Stevan Ridley's cleats, he wore his Batman pair for the public opening of camp. A few players actually had pretty flashy footwear with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Bolden sporting fluorescent green kicks and James Anderson/Thompkins in bright red cleats.
--The opening offensive line for most group and team action was the returning starting unit from last season with Nate Solder at left tackle, Logan Mankins at left guard, Ryan Wendell at center, Dan Connolly at right guard and Vollmer at right tackle. Josh Kline broke into that group for reps, seeing action with the rest at both right and left guard.
--LaFell had a nice start to practice catching the ball and a decent day overall, up until he had a couple drops late in the session. He has a reputation for displaying inconsistent hands. After missing the bulk of the spring to an unknown injury it is a good sign that the veteran free agent addition was on the field and a full participant.
--The quarterbacks used a hula hoop for some drill work early. It looked like the toy hoop was used to focus on footwork.
--Speaking of drills and technique, Brady seems to have a slightly changed the end of his throwing motion. He appeared to be focusing on bringing his left arm across his body on his follow through, potentially something he's worked on with his personal throwing coach, Tom House.
--Chad O'Shea broke out his tennis racquet to distract his receivers in position drills, swinging it in front of their face just before the catch.
--Patriots owner Robert Kraft walked onto the field shortly after the practice got rolling. He spent some time interacting with the crowd and later seemed to have acute interest in watching Stephen Gostkowski take a couple field goal attempts while working with the other specialists.
--Gostkowski didn't have the best of days. He missed four early attempts from inside of 40 yards, including two that hit the left upright. He was better later and as he backed up the distance. Gostkowski's field goal attempts came on the new extended uprights that are five feet taller and will be used throughout the league under a rule change in 2014. A close inspection shows the rivets/bolts where the new sections were added on to the top of the structure.
--The team added fluorescent yellow beanies to the usual orange ones used to signify the scout team in special teams segments.
--Brandon Browner and Jerod Mayo each had nice pass defenses during work in the red zone, each slapping the ball away loudly. Mayo's came on a Brady throw in which the quarterback put a lot of mustard on the ball trying to squeeze it through a window and the linebacker made a nice diving deflection.
--PFW grand pooh bah Fred Kirsch observed that he believes that Vince Wilfork looks noticeably slimmer to open camp.
--Rookie second-round quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had an up and down session. He was a little wild and inconsistent early, but came on with better throws later in the session.
--Tavon Wilson got a lot of early reps on defense, including in the hurry-up drill against Brady's group late in practice. The third-year player may be in a battle for a job this summer. Even dating back to spring action he seems to be getting a lot of work in dime situations and in the "money" role which is an extra defensive back near the line of scrimmage in a linebacker-like role. It is certainly an important camp for the former second-round pick who has been primarily a special teams contributor to this point in his young career.
--The running backs, particularly Vereen and White, were an active part of the offense throughout much of the session. There were plenty of screens and short routes for the backs.
--Brady was pretty vociferous in his praise of Amendola's route running throughout the workout as the duo continues to build a rapport in year two together. The duo connected on a nice touchdown, beating Kyle Arrington, late in practice.
--Wendell had an off-target shotgun snap during the hurry-up action late in practice. That's not ideal for a veteran who could be fighting to keep his job this summer with competition, including rookie fourth-round pick Bryan Stork.
--Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, who was a pleasant surprise as a practice squad call-up late last season, took reps next to Wilfork in some team action. Of course that's with Easley and Kelly out of action.
--Having been in Foxborough all week and on the practice field earlier than the rest of the team a number of young or injured players donned pads at the end of practice for some extra work. That included running backs Jonas Gray, White and Stephen Houston and even Gronkowski.
--Those players meeting with the media after practice included Brady, Wilfork and Mayo as well as the team's assistant coaches.
--New England will return to the practice field at 9:15 Friday morning for the second session of camp, which by CBA rules will once again be in shells and not shoulder pads. The session is open to the public.