The professional career of the newest New England Patriots officially began Friday, with the first practice of rookie mini-camp in the afternoon.
All 20 draft picks and undrafted free agents arrived Thursday evening for introductory meetings. Friday morning they went through some agility tests before taking the practice field for their first practice session.
"As I told the players last night, starting right now it doesn't matter where they came from, whether it was Division I or Division III," Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "Big school, small school, passing offense or running offense, really at this point nobody cares. It's from here forward what they produce."
One thing the rookies will have to learn quickly is that opportunities at this level are limited. New England already had 70 veterans on the roster before the draft, giving them room for just 20 guys this weekend. A 21st player, defensive lineman Jeff Dyra, is receiving a tryout with the team but does not count on the roster.
"We didn't have many graduation ceremonies," Belichick said. "Basically all the guys who were here last year are back, with a couple exceptions. We've added players from other teams, and they've been working and training for two months. They are pretty far ahead of where the rookies are coming in right now, and I think the rookies need to understand that. They probably don't, but we are going to keep trying to get that point across."
Belichick ran an afternoon practice that focused mostly on individual work. Small groups worked out together, but the only group work came in special teams drills. Last year the team had nearly 30 rookies and a handful of veterans on hand for orientation.
"We only have a total of 21 people here, and that includes some kickers and a snapper in that group," Belichick said. "We really can't even put a full team on the field. This year will focus on an individual basis. There won't be as much teamwork."
Top draft pick Richard Seymour did mostly technique and agility work, but he showed quickness during the punt drills. On one play he slipped under the blocks of safety Hakim Akbar and linebacker T.J Turner and pressured Dan Hadenfeldt into a poor punt.
Kicker Owen Pochman had impressive distance. Despite kicking towards extra-narrow uprights, he made field goals from 30, 43, 48 and 48 yards out. Many of his kicks sailed over the camera crane position behind the end zone.
There were some passing drills that put the wideouts and tight ends against the linebackers and defensive backs. Tight end Jabari Holloway showed decent hands, but average speed. Arther Love moved better, but struggled to hold on to passes.
Undrafted free agent Walter Williams displayed the softest hands of the group, catching several passes out of the backfield and from the slot position. Williams' speed created match-up problems for the linebackers when he lined up as a running back.
The rookies will practice twice Saturday, and the orientation will finish Sunday with some final meetings.