Without question the most significant development of camp thus far has been the presence of Rob Gronkowski. Bill Belichick declared the former All-Pro tight end fit for duty the day before camp opened to the public and the adoring fans got to see Gronkowski in the flesh on each of the first two days of practice.
While Gronkowski is not yet 100 percent and hasn't taken part in any full team drills, the tight end held court with the media after Friday's practice and expressed tremendous enthusiasm as he prepares for the upcoming season.
"For the last six months I've worked my butt off to be out here with my teammates, to be out here for myself, running for the quarterbacks, running routes with the tight ends," Gronkowski said. "It feels great to be out here every single day, cutting on it, making it stronger and improving every single day. I'm ready."
Check out photos from day two of Patriots Training Camp at Gillette Stadium on Friday, July 25, 2014.
Even at less than peak condition, Gronkowski is a force. His strong hands and monstrous frame make him nearly impossible to defend, and while he's still working to get his surgically repaired right knee in shape, that hasn't stopped him for gobbling up countless passes from Tom Brady.
The last couple of seasons have been frustrating ones for Gronkowski. An ankle injury that required surgery limited him greatly in the Super Bowl loss to the Giants in Indy, then a broken left arm and subsequent infections cost him the 2012 postseason and much of the offseason.
This offseason was spent recovering from January surgery to repair the torn ACL, making for months of lonely rehab and hard work that he said he "would not wish upon anybody." Despite the adversity, don't expect any alterations in the rambling tight end's style once he's cleared for contact.
"I'm not changing one bit. I'm going to go full speed when I'm out there and I'm going to keep smashing and dashing everything I do," he said with a chuckle. "Maybe if it's necessary I'll go down but if I can make some plays, make some extra yards and get in the end zone I'm going to do everything I can to do that."
Gronkowski continues to wear the protective brace on his left arm that he used during his seven games last season, and obviously sports a brace on his right knee. With so many injuries and recoveries it would be easy to understand some trepidation on his part but Gronkowski says that's not the case.
"When I start rolling in contact I'm pretty sure I won't have any fear at that moment because that's what we're working here for – getting my knee strengthened, getting my knee right," Gronkowski added. "So when I do hit the field and starting hitting and getting tackled I'm not thinking about it in the back of my head. It's a slow progression, just working every single week to get to that progression and hopefully it comes down to where I'm ready to go and I'm out there for my teammates making some plays for them."
The team will don pads for the first time on Saturday and Gronkowski expects to be in them as well, even if that doesn't mean he'll be participating in much if any contact.
"If I was 100 percent I'd be doing every single thing. I'm not 100 percent but I'm working my way to get to that," he said. "I have to listen to the trainers but I'd say no, I'm not going to be [taking full contact]. It will be nice to have all the gear on and feel comfortable with everything on."
It's no secret that Belichick holds Jerod Mayo in high regard. Virtually from the moment he drafted the linebacker with 10th overall pick in 2008, the coach has lauded his maturity and attention to detail.
But the coach's praise of Mayo Friday morning took it to a higher level. With 40 years of NFL coaching under his belt, Belichick has been around a lot of exceptional characters but described Mayo as being worthy of mention among the best.
"I think he means a lot to our team. I'd say he's really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player," Belichick began. "Not that there aren't other players that are instrumental in that, but I think he touches pretty much everybody, not just the defensive players but all the guys -- not just the older guys, but the younger guys. Even when he was captain in his second year, he had a relationship with the older guys. Now he's more of a veteran player, but still pretty attached to the younger guys, like Jamie Collins and [Dont'a] Hightower and guys like that. He has a great work ethic, a great presence on the football field, and a great personality that in a very good way is professional but also has a good rapport with all the players and coaches.
"I think he's as well respected as any player in the locker room and I'd say one of the best overall team leaders, players and kind of a glue chemistry guy that I've been around."
Butler did it
Rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler stepped in for Darrelle Revis and took some reps with a group that included Brandon Browner, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. Butler did not appear out of place during the reps and displayed tight coverage on a few occasions.
What's the point?
Belichick was asked how he teaches the players to adjust to new rules or points of emphasis and it was a topic that seemed to be one the coach wasn't all that comfortable with.
"The league does this every year -- it doesn't change a rule it just says 'we're going to emphasize it differently.' Well I don't really know what that means because we've tried to play by the rules from the beginning," Belichick said. "So I think you definitely have to get to the preseason or in some cases the regular season to see how that's going to be.
"The ones that are cut and dried, we'll accept them for what they are. The ones that would change the shade of gray from light to dark, or dark to light, I think there's a little of seeing what that is. That being said, that's kind of the way it is the National Football League anyway."
Belichick also mentioned the officials will be in town for their annual training camp visit during the joint practices with the Eagles before the second preseason game.
Buy: The secondary –** The pass defense figures to be one of the most improved areas of the team with the arrival of Darrelle Revis and so far that's been the case. On Friday the group dominated at times, making life difficult for the offense. On one red zone 7-on-7 drill, the defense forced incompletions on the first eight of 10 plays. Wilson Van Hooser was the only receiver who had success, catching the only two touchdowns.
Sell: Jimmy Garoppolo – It's only Day 2 and the rookie's head is no doubt spinning but Friday was not a good day for the second-round pick. He tossed a pair of interceptions (Chris White, Daxton Swanson) and had several other wildly inaccurate passes during the morning. His timing appears off and given his lack of experience that's not a huge surprise.
Play of the day: On a day controlled by the defense we'll go with Kyle Arrington's terrific break up of a Tom Brady pass intended for Danny Amendola. Arrington had solid coverage on the play and knocked the ball out of Amendola's hands as he dived to the ground.
The Patriots added one player to the list of those not taking part in practice: rookie defensive back Jemea Thomas. No word on why the seventh-round pick was not in uniform. Otherwise the players missing remained on their various lists – Dominique Easley (NFI/ACL), Deontae Skinner (NFI), Chris Martin (NFI), Aaron Dobson (PUP/foot), Matthew Slater (PUP), Alfonzo Dennard (PUP/shoulder), Jeremy Gallon (PUP) and Tommy Kelly (PUP/ACL). … Logan Mankins was guilty of a false start and ran a penalty lap, much to the delight of the fans. As he made his way down the sideline the Pro Bowl guard offered a fist pump, which only added to their enthusiasm. … Brandon Bolden and Garoppolo also had to run a lap when they failed to execute a handoff. … Dan Connolly spent much of his time at center as Josh Kline stepped in at right guard. … Kenbrell Thompkins enjoyed a strong day, making a couple of athletic diving catches in the end zone during red zone work. … Amendola worked as a punt returner with rookie Roy Finch and cornerback Justin Green. … Stephen Gostkowski closed practice by making all seven of his field goal attempts with the kicks ranging in distance from roughly 27 to 43 yards. He's now a perfect 14-of-14 closing practice. … Wide receiver Greg Orton was carted off the field after he appeared to suffer a significant leg/knee injury. It was unclear how Orton was injured but there did not seem to be any contact on the play. Several of his fellow wideouts made their way over to him before he was driven away. … Shane Vereen had his struggles on wheel routes at times last year but that wasn't the case on Friday. He caught several, including one while be tightly covered by linebacker James Anderson in the end zone. … The Patriots will be back at it on Saturday beginning at 9:15 a.m. and will don full pads for the first time this summer.