Bright sun, hot temperatures and a large, vocal crowd greeted the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots as they opened up training camp 2015 on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium Thursday morning.
The setting made for classic summer football conditions on the field as Bill Belichick's team put forth a two-plus hour workout with most players in helmets and sweats. By rule the team must practice for two days without pads to open camp before getting into full attire.
As was the case all spring, New England continued to work out without jerseys or numbers of any kind.
Belichick, not surprisingly, was peppered with questions about the quarterback position in his morning press conference prior to the workout and much of the focus on the field was on Tom Brady and second-year backup Jimmy Garoppolo.
Brady arrived at the field to a huge ovation from the crowd and chants of "Bra-dy!" erupted at various times from the crowd of clearly very much supportive Patriots fans.
The reigning Super Bowl MVP then went out and had a solid workout seemingly taking his normal "starter" reps, while Garoppolo took his usual work as well.
Brady did have some fun in the workout, catching the ball twice for would-be touchdowns in the non-contact action.
Garoppolo was up and down in his performance. He threw one interception (looked like second-round rookie Jordan Richards made the pick) when he focused too much on his intended target. He continues to have trouble making quick decisions at times and doesn't always get rid of the ball in a timely fashion, though that doesn't show up as much in practice without pads when the pass rush is a mere formality.
The young quarterback got plenty of reps, though, and time working in side sessions and drills with his various offensive coaches as he prepares for the possibility that he has a big role early in the season.
Beyond the quarterback-watching, here are one man's not-so-precise blogservations of nearly 90 players without jersey numbers spread over two practice fields like ants scrambling from their hill:
Check out our favorite photos from the first day of Patriots Training Camp on Thursday, July 30, 2015.
--The Patriots opened camp with 12 players on either PUP (8) or NFI (4). Some of those guys were on the field in various degrees of work at various points. Alan Branch (NFI, reported failed conditioning run) was doing some work on the usual Revs practice field for a period of the morning. Other players disappeared from the workout, possibly into the indoor practice field. Jerod Mayo was on the field early carrying pads and late, but did not take part fully. The same for Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. Dont'a Hightower was on the field throughout the morning and seems at a pretty high health level to open camp. Ryan Wendell (PUP) was on the field during warmups and stretching.
--A very imprecise count of those wearing gray (defense) and blue (offense) came up with 39 of the former and 34 of the latter, with the two quarterbacks wearing red jerseys. Like a political poll, there is a +- of two players on each side of the ball.
--Brady and Garoppolo wore shoulder pads under their red jerseys throughout the day, giving them a realistic feel for their throwing.
--Robert Kraft was on the field for much of the practice. He got a huge ovation from the crowd in attendance. The New England owner then acknowledged the crowd by clapping himself and point back to the fans. Kraft then spent a portion of time chatting alone with Brady off to the side while a special teams segment was taking place.
--There is some new paintwork on the practice fields. Practice field sponsor Empower retirement had its logo on the field. There are also new functional boxes -- they look like they may be between 3 and 4 yards in size -- painted in between the end zones of the two fields, likely for some drill work.
--Rookie fourth-round guards Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason got a lot of reps on a line that included Bryan Stork at center with Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon at tackle. Jackson seemed to get the bulk of his work at right guard, with Mason on the left side formerly held down by the now-retired Dan Connolly. Sebastian Vollmer does not seem to be participating fully to open camp.
--It goes without saying but is worth saying that Rob Gronkowski was the best player on the field. The tight end had a number of impressive catches in traffic. One was a touchdown on a high ball just under the goal posts in the back of the end zone. The best play of the day came again in the end zone when Garoppolo threw to Gronkowski who was covered by Tavon Wilson. Gronkowski caught the ball over Wilson's head, swatted the overmatched defender out of his way with the other hand and then spiked the ball. It was a man-child toying with an almost non-competitive counterpart.
--During drills ball boys were very physical with the quarterbacks either throwing bags at them in their drops or hitting them with bags just before or after they made the throw.
--Kickoff return was the focus on special teams. Danny Amendola was back deep with a new face next to him in the form of fullback James Develin. The latter served as the clear blocker in the combo.
--A number of defensive players wore shirts that were reminders of last summer with "2014 Training Camp Ironman" on the back.
--A small plane flew over and circled the practice field throughout towing a banner that read – "Cheaters Look Up @JetsFanMedia."
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="343261"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]--Gronkowski donned his usual large, black brace on his left elbow and lower arm that's really the only reminder of his broken arm issues from a couple years back. For whatever it's worth, the tight end did not wear the brace during spring OTA practices or mini-camp.
--Aaron Dobson was notable in his practice reps, mostly for who he was working with. During the spring the third-year receiver seemed to be working mostly with less experienced teammates. Today, Dobson was getting some run along the likes of Julian Edelman and Gronkowski and working with Brady. This will be an interesting summer for No. 17 – who for some reason was the only guy actually wearing shorts with his number on them – as he gets past what was essentially a lost second season in which he played in four games and caught just three passes. For one day, he seemed to flip spots with Brian Tyms, who got more run with the experienced targets during the spring.
--Darrelle Revis has always worn soccer cleats and some of his now-former teammates are doing the same. Duron Harmon appeared to be wearing the low-cut, lighter cleats for the first camp practice.
--There were a handful of Gronkowski No. 48 Arizona t-shirt jerseys in the crowd, paying homage the NFL's best tight end's days on the college field.
--Tight ends coach Brian Daboll always seems to have new drills for his players. Today he had a form of hot potato he was engaged in with Scott Chandler, bouncing two balls back-and-forth with the veteran.
--Julian Edelman had a very good day, as one might expect. The veteran caught seemingly everything thrown his way, and a lot came his way from both Brady and Garoppolo.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="343266"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]--There is a real lack of depth at linebacker with Mayo, Collins, Hightower and Dane Fletcher not ready to practice fully. That took another hit as James Morris limped off midway through practice from a team drill and did not return. He spent time with trainer Jim Whalen. Morris spent his rookie season on IR last fall.
--Despite being two of the most notable standouts on the day, both Gronkowski and Edelman took apparent penalty laps during the practice for unknown infractions.
--Not sure how he'll produce, but Jabaal Sheard certainly has a great look to him as an edge player. He's big, lean and looks like a guy who likes to hit. Time will tell if that actually translates into game success.
--Belichick was not happy with Mason during the field goal segment late in practice. There seemed to be some confusion with the lineup for the field goal team.
--Offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo had the quote of the day when asked what his biggest takeway was from his first season coaching in New England. "A ring."
--Those players meeting with the media after the workout included Malcolm Butler, Gronkowski, Chandler, Sheard, all the team's assistant coaches, Garoppolo and a number of others.
--New England returns to the practice field again Friday morning 9:15 a.m. for another non-padded practice session that will be open to the public.