The one constant of Patriots training camp this summer has been the constant heat and humidity. Tuesday morning's practice was at the head of that list.
The practice took place in oppressive conditions with temperatures well into the 90s and humidity to match. While Tom Brady once again was not a major part of the workout, there was plenty of activity on the fields behind Gillette Stadium.
The heat took its toll at times as several players were visibly affected. Offensive lineman Brian Schwenke left the fields about midway through practice, walking slowly to the steps that lead back to the locker room. It was not apparent why he left but it would not be surprising to learn the conditions were a factor.
Isaiah Wynn and Riley McCarron also showed signs of fatigue but battled through. After practice, that was the message from several of the players.
"It's definitely tough for sure, but you've got to just grind through it," Rob Gronkowski said. "That's what it's all about. It's the dog days of camp. Nice day today for that – I mean, really sweaty in the first one minute you're out here. I think I was dripping sweat everywhere; my gloves were wet. But, you've just got to grind through it, stick to it and just keep on going."
Gronkowski spent some one-on-one time with Brady late in practice and ran several routes for his quarterback. Asked if he had a hard time keeping up with the pace in the heat, the tight end offered an honest assessment.
"For sure. I'm not going to lie," he said with a sheepish smile. "You've just got to stick through it, you've got to keep going, you've got to just keep grinding. That's what makes you better. That's what gets you through a camp.
"I mean, that's what these days are for. The season doesn't start for another month or so. You want to just keep on grinding now, keep on going now so you're ready for the year."
The newest grinder, wide receiver Eric Decker, took part in his second practice and his first reps against the defense. He saw action in seven-on-sevens and full team periods and once again looked quite comfortable. He was drafted back in 2010 by Josh McDaniels when the Patriots offensive coordinator was the head coach in Denver, so there is some familiarity with the system to fall back on.
"You know, there's obviously things that change over time but there's some carry-over that I was able to take and quickly learn," Decker said. "And then there's a lot of new stuff too that, you know, I got to kind of catch up on and get ready to go."
Decker openly lobbied to sign with the Patriots during the offseason when he was a free agent. After New England suffered some injuries at the position, he finally got the call and was thrilled.
"Very excited. You know, this is quite an opportunity," Decker said. "It's a place really all offseason that I would have loved to end up and I'm kind of happy it worked out the way it did. They do it the right way. There's no question why they consistently win, why they're consistently on top. Just the way they work. Every detail, everybody throughout the building does their job to the best. It's quite fascinating to be a part of it and just trying to fit in.
"It's a period of acclimation. I've got so much respect for everyone on this team, everyone in this organization, so getting to know everybody on a personal standpoint. Try to be a good teammate, learn names, know where I'm going around the facilities. The biggest thing is just getting the playbook, studying – I've been doing a lot of that the last couple days and just trying to catch up with everybody."
While some of the players who suffered torn ACLs in 2017 had yet to practice until today (Cyrus Jones, Nate Ebner), Julian Edelman has been a constant on the field every day. The 32-year-old slot receiver has been darting around the secondary with his trademark quickness, but he still doesn't feel he's back to 100 percent.
"It's been a grind," Edelman said. "Honestly just trying to get your legs to – you're compounding day after day after day after day. When you're working in the offseason, you may put three together. So you're always trying to go out and get better and I have to do a lot better.
"I feel like I got to get my legs under me a lot more. I don't have my camp legs, I don't have football legs and it's evident out there. You get tired, you create bad habits, you don't run your routes right and you get yelled at in meetings for it. I'm expecting to do that because I got to pick it up. I wasn't as good as I want to be [on Saturday] and feeling that's because I'm not in the best shape right now."
Earlier in camp Edelman mentioned that he had yet to regain total confidence in his movements. Another week of work has done little to change those feelings.
"You just keep on going out and you grind," he said. "You keep on when you're tired, when you don't feel well. You got to be able to perform when things aren't going great and that's what this does. That's what eight days in a row does and that's what going out in training camp – there's no light at the end of the tunnel right now. You got to go out and embrace it and take advantage of each day.
He added that he's looking forward to training camp when he can test the knee even further.
"When it comes, it comes, but ultimately I'm more anxious to see how I feel tomorrow and what I can do and go from there," Edelman said.
Rex Burkhead has enjoyed a terrific camp. He's shown quick feet, a nice burst through the hole and with rookie Sony Michel on the mend he has clearly established himself as the top candidate to assume lead back duties at the start of the season.
But lately Burkhead has been working on another aspect of his game: punt returns. Burkhead is a versatile player with the ability to get out of the backfield and be used effectively as a receiver, so it came as somewhat of a surprise to learn that he'd never returned punts at the professional level. In his four years with the Bengals he returned six kickoffs and just one last year with the Patriots. He has yet to attempt a punt return in the NFL.
"I've always enjoyed that part of the game," he said after Saturday's practice. "It's something I got accustomed to in Cincinnati a little bit. I've really never done before in the league. I fielded punts and kicks in high school and college. It's an important part of the game. A lot of big plays happen in that phase of the game so it's cool to be a part of."
Buy: Christian Sam – The rookie linebacker has been active in recent days, spending some time working individually with special teams coach Joe Judge on Saturday and showing solid coverage skills Tuesday. He looks like a rangy athlete who might add some depth on defense.
Sell: Brian Schwenke – After coming in late, the veteran offensive lineman has seemingly been at less than 100 percent ever since. He was carted off the field during one practice and didn't make it through Tuesday's workout either. He's shown a penchant for physical play but hasn't been on the field often enough.
Play of the Day: Another low-intensity day in Foxborough but there was one nice connection between Tom Brady and Riley McCarron down the left seam. McCarron did a nice job of splitting Duke Dawson and Devin McCourty and Brady lofted a perfect pass into his hands for a big play.
Bill Belichick was asked about the decision to release Malcolm Mitchell a day after the third-year wideout was let go. Mitchell battled a knee injury throughout his short tenure in Foxborough and was unable to practice on a regular basis this spring and summer. …
"He did everything he could, did everything he could," Belichick said. "It's unfortunate that didn't work out, but I don't know how he could have put any more into it than he did."
There was some good news on the injury front as the three member of the PUP list – Jonathan Jones (Achilles), Cyrus Jones (ACL) and Nate Ebner (ACL) all returned to practice. The trio took part in positional drills and even did some one-on-one work against receivers before retreated to the rehab field for some additional work. Cyrus Jones also fielded a number of punts before leaving. …
Former Patriots defensive coordinator Al Groh was at practice and introduced to the team at the close of the workout. Groh also spent time as head coach of the Jets and at Virginia. … Willie McGinest was also on hand. … The Patriots will practice one more time before Thursday's preseason opener against Washington with Wednesday's workout scheduled to get underway at 1 p.m. in Foxborough. Please check with patriots.com for all the latest schedule updates.