The two biggest names on the Patriots roster may not have been in attendance, but the Patriots were back on the practice field on Tuesday in front of the media for the first time in 2018. The roughly two-hour workout was the team's second of the organized team activities (OTAs) session – the so-called phase three portion of the offseason.
While Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski remained away from the team, it was an opportunity for the rest of the Patriots to get to work against each other – a fact that Bill Belichick relished when he talked prior to practice.
"It's always good to get back on the field and be working with everybody in phase three," Belichick said. "We were able to do a little bit in phase two against air and get some teaching instruction in but this is much better. [We're] able to progress faster and just do more with our team starting [Monday] and for the next couple weeks. It's always good to get to that point. We have a lot of new players on the team. Some we got a couple weeks ago and other guys have come to us at different points in time during the offseason but good to kind of get everybody out there and see them working."
When asked about Brady, Belichick said he wouldn't discuss any of the players not in attendance but he did express some excitement about getting started in the next part of the offseason.
"We have guys in different stages of rehab and so forth but it's a good step in the process," Belichick continued. "We've got a long, long way to go, a lot of work to do and so we'll just take it one day at a time and keep moving forward. It's been a good group and have a lot of good leadership, a lot of young guys taking more active roles as well as having some other guys that – Julian [Edelman], [Dont'a] Hightower – guys like that didn't play much last year that are obviously involved in things now. In any case, new team, new year and like I said, we'll just take it one step at a time and keep moving along."
Belichick often stresses the importance of teaching during the spring camps and how the practices are not necessarily for evaluating. With so many new players on the field that makes sense, but the OTAs still offer an opportunity to see many of those players in Patriots colors for the first time, and also to get a look at how far along some of the guys returning from injury have progressed.
Overall it was a rather entertaining debut into the 2018 season, and here are one man's blogservations from Day 1 of the media viewing.
-Attendance was quite challenging as many of the rookies were wearing unconventional numbers which weren't listed on the official roster. The draft picks seemed to go in the order they were selected starting at No. 50, meaning Isaiah Wynn was 50, Sony Michel 51, Duke Dawson 52 and so on. The numbers 56 (Andre Tippett) and 57 (Steve Nelson) were skipped, so tight end Ryan Izzo (the last of the nine picks) donned No. 60. Identifying the undrafted rookies was more challenging, however.
-As for the veterans, there were a handful of players not spotted, although this is highly unofficial. In addition to Brady and Gronkowski, Hightower, Trey Flowers, Malcolm Mitchell, Joe Thuney, Trent Brown, Brandon Bolden, Cody Hollister and Jonathan Jones were not spotted. Mitchell's absence was particularly troubling after he lost his entire 2017 season due to a knee injury. He was on the practice field on Monday but was not seen Tuesday. There was a large group of players working out on the lower rehab field but Mitchell wasn't seen there either. If he is still being managed at this stage that cannot be viewed as a good sign for the wide receiver.
-Speaking of the rehab field, Nate Ebner, Wynn, Cyrus Jones and Malcom Brown were among a group working out with trainers. Jones, who is coming off a torn ACL suffered during the preseason, was not wearing a brace and took part in portions of the practice.
-Julian Edelman was an active participant and moved around in his normal shifty fashion. He also was not wearing a brace and seemed to show his normal quickness as he darted in and out of his breaks and returned punts. He did not take part in any work against a defense but was quite involved in the practice and looked great.
-Tight ends coach Nick Caley and wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea were among the first people on the field. Dante Scarnecchia was busy setting up his area – known as Dante's Inferno – off in the far corner near the conditioning hill.
-The first player to appear on the fields was wide receiver Jordan Matthews. At 6-3, 212 pounds, Matthews is an imposing figure.
-A couple of additions to the practice field area – behind the end zone of the far field there was a weather station affixed to the back fence. There was a new helipad down below on the back side of that field, so it would seem the weather station was situated to help any incoming pilots as they navigate their landing.
-There were several members of college coaching staffs in attendance. Among those spotted were representatives from Iowa, Louisiana, LSU, Miami, Mississippi State and Alabama. Belichick spent several minutes speaking with a member of the Miami contingent prior to conducting his press conference before practice.
-An interesting change to the positional drills saw the quarterbacks involved both catching passes and running with the ball. During the wide receiver drills both Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling took reps catching the ball. The two then joined the running backs and carried the ball through the gauntlet with the rest of the runners.
-Stephen Gostkowski spent some time midway through practice keeping loose riding a stationary bike.
-Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels donned a headset during practice as he presided over things. He was quite vocal throughout the workout.
-Ryan Allen has some competition this year – at least during the spring – as rookie Corey Bojorquez worked alongside the punter. Bojorquez wore No. 71 (white) and showed a big leg. He appeared to get more hang time on his kicks than Allen but at times his seemed to wobble more noticeably. Allen did a better job with his plus-50 kicks, but Bojorquez was impressive.
-With several of the expected starting offensive linemen not available the group consisted of LaAdrian Waddle at left tackle next to James Ferentz at left guard, David Andrews in the middle, Shaq Mason at right guard and Cole Croston at right tackle. Ted Karras took some of Ferentz' reps at left guard as well.
-Defensively the front had Adrian Clayborn and Derek Rivers at end with Vincent Valentine and Danny Shelton at tackles. In full team work, the linebackers were Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers and Kyle Van Noy and the secondary had Stephon Gilmore and Ryan Lewis at corner with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung at safety.
-Lewis was quite active throughout the practice, knocking away a couple of passes while consistently working with groups that included Gilmore on the other side. Last year Jonathan Jones got a lot of reps with front-line players and ultimately carved out of a role as a contributor in the secondary before a foot injury landed him on IR. Perhaps Lewis, a 6-0, 200-pound corner out of Pittsburgh who spent last season on the practice squad, can do the same this year.
-Belichick was up to one of his old tricks as he spent some time squirting water on the football prior to some long snaps for Joe Cardona during a punting drill. Ever the stickler for details, Belichick even turned the ball to make sure he soaked in all around to make life more difficult.
-During a ball security drill, Mike Gillislee fumbled when rookie Ja'Whaun Bentley ripped the ball from his arms. Gillislee did not appear to be as quick or fluid as most of the other backs during positional work. On the flip side, undrafted rookie Ralph Webb (Vanderbilt) showed extremely quick feet during the same drills.
-Adrian Clayborn showed a nice burst, getting the edge against Waddle on a pass attempt. Given reports recently that Clayborn was dealing with a quad injury, his burst was impressive.
-One highlight play during the team work came when rookie corner Keion Crossen got inside James White in the end zone and was able to high point Hoyer's pass for the interception. The pass was headed to the back corner but Crossen had excellent position and was able to come up with the turnover.
-Former Arkansas and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, who has spent most of the offseason working with the Patriots coaching staff, was on the field during the workout.
-Chung and Chris Hogan joined Riley McCarron and rookie Braxton Berrios handling punts later in practice. Edelman joined the latter pair earlier on but did not handle any against coverage. Chung made a nice decision on a short Allen punt that bounced and hit Matthew Slater's head before hitting the ground. Chung alertly grabbed it despite traffic between Slater and Lewis and picked up a few extra yards. Even if Chung had been unable to handle the ball cleanly, since the ball had been illegally touched by the coverage team there was no risk of a turnover. Hogan then muffed the next punt before recovering.
-Brian Flores may or may not be the de facto defensive coordinator but he certainly seemed to be the man in charge. He was vocal throughout and showed some authority when he instructed players to take penalty laps after jumping offside. He was particularly forceful when he sent Clayborn for one.
-Veteran wide receiver Kenny Britt had some nice catches. His size (6-3, 223) is impossible not to notice and he showed soft hands for most of the practice. He did have one catchable ball sail through his hands later in the workout but it was a solid day overall.
-Cordarrelle Patterson (6-2, 220) also stuck out from a size perspective. Although he's known as a speedster, Patterson's size led colleague and PFW alum Mike Reiss to observe that a move to tight end could be a possibility.
-Chung was victimized late in practice when Jacob Hollister got down the seam and easily beat the safety for the touchdown. Hollister worked past Chung with an inside move and easily grabbed Hoyer's pass in the end zone during a 7-on-7 drill.
-The Patriots will practice again on Thursday and then return next week with the media be allowed to watch on May 31. Mandatory mini-camp is set for June 5-7, at which time the Brady Watch will continue in earnest.