The stars shown bright even on a sunny morning that turned to light showers in Foxborough as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski joined their teammates on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for the first day of New England's three-day mandatory mini-camp.
Brady and Gronkowski had previously not been taking part in OTAs or the offseason program in New England, but the tight end had said this week that he'd be a "full go" while Patriots owner Robert Kraft indicated last month that he expect Brady in the mini-camp mix.
Seeing Nos. 12 and 87 on the practice field is a beautiful sight – for teammates and fans alike. Brady and Gronkowski returning to work was such big news that NFL Network was live from the shorts-and-jersey mini-camp action.
Julian Edelman, who had his own most active practice of the spring as he works back from a torn ACL, acknowledged that Brady was his usual vocal self while interacting with teammates.
"It's always loud with 12 out there," Edelman said with a coy smile. "He's an intimidating S.O.B."
Gronkowski was one of the last players on the field to open the practice, jogging right into Brady's huddle for some early walk-through work. The first pass, appropriately was a connection between the two.
Brady took his normal first-team reps in nearly every drill and was impressive throwing the ball.
Gronkowski caught the ball extremely well in his first workout, including a number of big plays down the field. He let out some hooting and hollering after a few of the catches and was bouncing all over the field.
He spoke with the media afterwards and one reporter advised him that he appeared to have a "pep in his step."
"Thank you," he said with his trademark smile, though he also dealt with more serious questions regarding his decision to stay away from OTAs this offseason and even the idea that he might have been considering retirement this offseason.
"I was just seeing where I was at, at first. I mean obviously after long seasons – they're hauling seasons, long-hauling seasons – it definitely was in the mind but I had to do what I had to do," Gronkowski said. "I felt where I felt good enough, get my body prepared, get my body right again, see where my body was at, see where my mind was at and I glad to be back out here. I feel like I definitely made the right decision coming back out."
Gronkowski looked like he very much enjoyed being back at work with his teammates and then articulated that feeling.
"It's awesome to see the guys again, be back out on the field with them just competing," Gronkowski said. "It was good competition today. It was fast. Feels good to be back out there, seeing where I'm at, seeing how the body feels and everything. It's been a little bit. The most enjoyable part of it was just seeing the guys again, the camaraderie around the locker room, out on the field. It's just good."
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who would only talk about the players in attendance during previous OTA press conferences, had little to say about his two offensive starts returning to work.
"It's good to have all the players here," Belichick said twice in response to questions about both Brady and Gronkowski.
Both Edelman and Gronkowksi liked what they saw from Brady, who did not speak with the media after practice.
"It was great," Edelman said of Brady's return. "Anytime you get the majority of the team, most of the team, out here, it's nice. So, I always like looking at [No.] 12."
"Tom looked great. That guy, I don't think he's ever going to look bad," Gronkowski added. "I mean he's always looking good. He's never tired. His arm strength is always up there so he's looking good."
While Brady and Gronkowski made their spring debuts on the practice field, a number of Patriots were absent from the workout late Tuesday morning. That list included Malcolm Mitchell, David Jones, Brandon Bolden, Jacob Hollister, Nicholas Grigsby and Joe Thuney.
There was also another group of Patriots that spent time on the lower rehab field during the mini-camp workout, including Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones (ACL), Nate Ebner (ACL), Braxton Berios, Eric Lee, Marcus Cannon, Cody Hollister and Malcom Brown.
There had been reports and speculation that Gronkowski and the Patriots were working on redoing the tight end's contract for the second straight offseason. While nothing has apparently come to fruition in that area at this point, the All-Pro admitted he's looking for a new deal.
"Trying to," he responded when asked if he was looking to re-do his deal.
A year ago incentives added to his deal helped Gronkowski turn an All-Pro season into nearly $11 million, doubling his take-home pay for 2017.
Would he like to get something done with his contract before the 2018 season?
"Who wouldn't?" he responded.
DB double check
Belichick was asked about the unique situation he has this summer with twin brother Jason joining Devin McCourty in the back end of the New England defense. While the cornerback Jason has had a pretty quiet few sessions of OTA and mini-camp work, Belichick praised the brothers' approach and joked about the unique situation.
"It's hard to tell them apart," Belichick said with a smirk. "Got to take a second look. Yeah, they've been great. Devin has been great. Jason has been great. They're both great workers, have a great understanding of football. They're very instinctive. Good team concepts. Good teammates. Enjoy having both of them around. Just have to look a little closer to make sure I'm talking to the right one if they're not in uniform. But we have two sets of twins so it's doubly challenging."
Belichick also needs to be sure of who he is talking to on the offensive side of the ball when he deals with second-year players in tight end Jacob Hollister and his wide receiver brother Cody.
Trump's White House
Devin McCourty, one of the more vocal and active members of the Patriots in regards to the National Anthem protests and social issues over the last year, was asked about President Donald Trump uninviting the Super Bowl Champion Eagles to the White House this week, an issue that came to a head on Tuesday.
"It's hard because I don't know exactly what the situation was. I think I read something that some guys are going, some weren't. So I don't want to comment like not fully knowing it," McCourty said of Trump's decision. "But we're not surprised, are we?"
Beyond Edelman having his most active workout coming back from his ACL, lineman newcomers Trent Brown and top pick Isaiah Wynn both saw reps with a line that had David Andrews at center. Brown worked at left tackle with Wynn at left guard as both come back from shoulder surgery. … Wide receiver Kenny Britt came up lame with an apparent right leg injury late in practice. He remained down on the ground just past the end line and then had a noticeable limp as he walked between the two practice fields before conferring with trainer Jim Whalen. … New England spent time working on kick returns in the special teams segments, with the team adhering to the new rules regarding kickoffs for 2018, including the need to have eight players on the return side within 15 yards of the restraining line. The scout kickoff team also worked the new look of coverage guys beginning within a yard of a kickoff line. .. Members of the Iowa coaching staff were on hand for the practice, including current Hawkeyes offensive coordinator and former Patriots tight ends coach Brian Ferentz. The younger Ferentz, son of Iowa head coach and former Belichick assistant Kirk, had a long conversation with Nick Caserio early in the practice.
Check out our favorite photos from Patriots Mini-Camp at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.