Check out our favorite photos from the first day of Patriots Training Camp at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, July 26, 2018.
As the saying goes, even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The New England Patriots have many miles to travel in 2018, and they hope their journey takes them back to the Super Bowl, to be held in Atlanta this season.
Today, they took their first step toward that ultimate goal as 2018 training camp opened at the team's practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.
"There's a lot to be done on the first day, a lot of organizational things. It's probably one of the days where we've spent the least amount of time on football," head coach Bill Belichick told reporters at the outset of practice, "and just getting the group organized, making sure everybody knows what to do and how to do it, even though some of us have done it before. It's a new group, it's a new year and it's good to reset it. So, we certainly covered a lot of things on the football end, but we spent a lot of time on other things, too. But, that's the way it always is the first day.
"It's a long day. It's a big day. We have a lot of opportunities today to get better. Hopefully, we can maximize all of them or as many as possible."
By 9 a.m., most players and coaches had made their way onto the field and were greeted by a brief rain shower. The precipitation continued off and on throughout much of the first hour, but later, it ceased entirely. The humidity abated as well, and a refreshing, light breeze actually made for a rather comfortable final hour or so of the first session.
Following the rules put forth in the players' collective bargaining agreement with the league, the first two days of camp cannot be full-pads practices. As a result, the Patriots worked out in helmets, shells (their smaller, lighter shoulder pads), and shorts. But the practice was a crisp one overall.
"We started off well. Came out with good energy," returning safety and co-captain Duron Harmon observed afterward. "We just have to look at the film and see what we can do better tomorrow and continue to build good days on good days."
"We've got a long way to go," remarked running back James White. "This is Day 1. Can't tell where anyone is at right now. Just have to keep stacking the days and making each other better. Hopefully as the days go on, we'll build that team camaraderie and the results will show at the end of the season."
Last season, of course, the Patriots made it to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, but fell one play short of accomplishing another back-to-back title run. While many members of the media wanted to revisit that result with players who took part in that game, the responses they received were somewhat predictable.
"I always look forward to this day, no matter the result [of the Super Bowl]," White continued. "It's an exciting time. Nobody cares what you did last year. It's all about what you're going to do this year. So, you have to come out and put your best foot forward from Day 1. There's a lot to improve on. Guys were flying around today. A lot of excitement out there."
"The hunger's always the same here at this place, but each year is a different year," added Harmon. "We don't look in the past; we try to look at what we can do this year, how we can get better from last year, off a [Super Bowl] loss or a win. Each year is different. The coaching staff is different, players change, so, you have to put last year in the past and try to be the best you can this year."
Another training camp tradition saw thousands of fans descend on Foxborough to take full advantage of the opportunity to see their favorite team up close and free of charge. That element always lends additional energy to what can be long and challenging summertime practices.
"It feels good knowing all the hard work you're doing is appreciated," linebacker and returning co-captain Dont'a Hightower told reporters.
"This is my ninth training camp," said wide receiver Chris Hogan, "but even going back to high school, you always have those [Day 1] nerves. You've got the fans out here, the season's right around the corner, the excitement of being out here working and trying to string together good practices to feel good about going into the season."
"One step at a time, a lot of work to do," concluded Belichick, "but always good to get underway and get started. So, we'll just take it one day at a time."
Hitting the High notes
In 2017, Hightower appeared in just five games during the first half of the season before being shelved for the remainder with a pectoral injury. While he's not dwelling on last year's difficulties, he certainly hinted that he's motivated by them.
"I've got a lot on my plate, a lot I want to accomplish. I want to contribute more than I did last year," Hightower admitted. "I'm just trying to do what I can to keep my [backside] on the field."
He was also asked by reporters for his thoughts on Brian Flores, Hightower's position coach and the man tasked with calling the plays on defense this season. Flores doesn't have the defensive coordinator title, but his on- and off-field responsibilities seem to be similar to those of former DC Matt Patricia, now the head coach in Detroit.
"It's a little different. The coach is definitely different," Hightower responded. "Guys are learning [the defense] a lot better, a lot easier. A lot of young guys are stepping up and able to pick up things from older guys. It definitely works in our favor."
A Rivers runs through it
Technically, Derek Rivers is in his second season as a Patriot, but the defensive end could be excused if he feels somewhat like a rookie again this summer. Last August, during a joint practice session with the Houston Texans, Rivers suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee.
It was a frustrating way to begin his NFL career, but Rivers credited his "great teammates around me, a good support system, faith in God, and awesome coaches" with helping him get through last season.
Today, Rivers also declared that he's "full-go" and has been anxious to get back on the field for training camp.
"Yes, sir. It was definitely an eager feeling as it got closer and closer and closer. I'm definitely excited to be back out here with the d-line.
"I feel good. I feel really good. I've still got a lot of work to do, but that's what we strive for… We're just looking forward."
Buy: Phillip Dorsett – In his second season with the Patriots, Dorsett made a positive impression in his first training camp practice, making almost every catch, including a number of touchdowns during 7-on-7 and team periods.
Sell: Trent Brown – The veteran newcomer to Foxborough, competing to become the team's left tackle replacement for Nate Solder, got off to an admittedly slow start as he continues recovering from a shoulder injury.
Play of the Day: During a team period, QB Tom Brady took a shotgun snap, looked to his left, and saw second-year tight end Jacob Hollister darting to the back corner of the end zone. Brady floated a precise pass over the head of cornerback Jason McCourty and Hollister hauled it in in stride, keeping both feet in bounds for the score.
Quote of the Day: "He told me to do everything he does… I don't know if that's good or bad." ~ Jason McCourty revealing the advice his twin brother and teammate Devin gave him coming into his first camp with New England