The media got its first chance to check out what will eventually be the 2012 New England Patriots on Thursday afternoon. Working out on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium beneath picturesque sunny skies, the Patriots worked out for roughly 90 minutes with reporters in attendance as part of their first of three sessions of organized team activities.
Bill Belichick will open one practice to the media in each of the sessions and the first came on Thursday. The players did not don their normal practice jerseys and instead wore blue and gray shirts without numbers, making attendance a bit of a chore. Roughly 80 players (of 89 currently on the roster) were spotted with some of the notable absences including offensive linemen Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer and Brian Waters. Mankins is coming off ACL surgery while Vollmer dealt with back issues all of 2011. Waters is reportedly planning on returning after contemplating retirement but hasn't been a staple at OTAs during his long career.
Free agent newcomers Anthony Gonzalez and Daniel Fells also were not seen on the fields, while Rob Gronkowski(ankle surgery), Matthew Slater, Brandon Spikes and rookie Nate Ebner all worked out with trainers in the Dana Farber Fieldhouse and later toward the side of the practice action. Rookie wideout Jeremy Ebert was not in attendance as his class at Northwestern has yet to graduate, which prohibits him from taking part in the workouts.
The session was lively and consisted mostly of work in the passing game since the players were not in pads, which makes working on the running game a bit more challenging. Tom Brady was his vocal self on the field, leading most of the drills as he begins working with a variety of new receivers.
One of the newcomers who stood out on Thursday wasBrandon Lloyd, who showed quick feet and soft hands throughout the morning. Lloyd worked for most of the last three seasons under the watch of Josh McDaniels – first with Denver when McDaniels was the Broncos head coach (2009-10) and last year in St. Louis when he was the Rams offensive coordinator.
When McDaniels returned to replace current Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien as the Patriots offensive coordinator, Lloyd make no secret of his desire to stick with his coach. Since McDaniels implemented the Patriots offensive system in both places, Lloyd felt it would be best if he could remain a part of the attack.
"It helps because I'm familiar with the offense. I'm familiar with the nuances of the offense so that definitely helps with the transition coming to this team," Lloyd said after practice. "I just feel like [the system] was effective. It was effective for the way that I run routes and catch the ball."
On Thursday that involved some impressive work along the sidelines, where the Patriots offense seemed to suffer a year ago with no true outside threat. Lloyd is accustomed to working outside the numbers and could provide Brady with an additional weapon to keep defenses from crowding the middle of the field.
Lloyd is not the fastest receiver but he showed excellent feet and quickness. It is likely those attributed that have allowed him to be productive down the field periodically during his career. His understanding of the route concepts and adjustments necessary to make this system work should bode well for his transition to New England, allowing him to succeed in ways some other veteran receivers could not in the past.
"I guess having a good knowledge of the offense and the philosophy and how the offensive coordinator wants it to be run," Lloyd said when asked what makes a successful receiving corps. "That's what makes it successful. That helps."
"It's everybody, including Wes [Welker] and Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] and the tight ends. Everybody has been communicating and excited. However this pans out, however the lineup falls, it's going to be a talented group of players."
Lloyd has already been impressed with both Belichick's way of doing things and Brady's overall professionalism. Asked about his first impressions of Brady, Lloyd smiled and simply stated, "He's good. He's good from far away and he's good up close."
When asked if he had any preconceived notions of how the Patriots do business, the wideout said he came in with an open mind and has found things to be quite enjoyable.
"None. I think mostly it was there was a particular way things were taken care of," Lloyd said. "Just like I said, from afar you observe those types of characteristics and the way that they handle themselves on the field and off the field.
"The coaching, the way that the message is delivered and the way that the coaches coach and the players all fall in line. It's been a good experience so far."
It's obviously far too early to project how Lloyd might impact the offense but it's not hard to envision an improvement to the overall depth at wideout. His presence on the outside should add some production to the group in an area many hopedChad Ochocinco would contribute a year ago.
But Ochocinco never seemed to fully grasp the offense, and in fact he appeared to line up incorrectly on at least one play on Thursday only to be redirected by Deion Branch. Lloyd won't have those issues because he's already had three years of experience working in the system.
How that translates to his rapport with Brady won't be known until the games arrive, but judging on some admittedly early first sightings, Lloyd appears to be up to the challenge.
"It's just one of those things – only time will tell," Lloyd said when asked how he might fit in. "There are a lot of pass catchers on this team who have been effective, not only on this team but in other parts of their career, so only time will tell.
"Only time will tell. We still have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of practices ahead of us. We still have a lot of work to do before we can start making any predictions like that."