The Patriots gathered for the first in-stadium practice of the year Tuesday evening. While the temperature hovered in the mid-90s on the field, pinning down the 11,881 season ticket holders and Foxborough residents in attendance, the atmosphere in Gillette Stadium seemed to do the players well. Of course maybe it helped that quarterback Tom Brady was again in uniform passing game work, back for his second practice of the day, barking out plays like usual after taking a three-practice hiatus. Then again, maybe they were just happy not to be in full pads in the oppressive heat.
After checking out the scars on the South side of the field – leftovers from Bon Jovi's stage – the players stretched and broke into groups, the offense working on screen passes. The intensity didn't pick up right away after the stretch, but gained some steam as seven-on-seven drills progressed.
In a press conference this morning, coach Bill Belichick indicated that the players might look a little sluggish, now that training camp is in full swing, but he doesn't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
"We're just rolling through camp here, two-a-days. Get up. Practice. Eat. Meet. Practice. Meet. Eat. Sleep. And start all over again," said Belichick. "I think it's a good process for our team to go through. We have to build our mental and physical toughness. We have to build our conditioning. It's a long season. Part of the grind is something I think we all need, to prepare for what's ahead."
Though they were probably tired the players didn't take this practice off, save the seven who remain on the PUP, along with tight ends Daniel Graham and Garrett Mills; linebackers Monty Beisel and Tedy Bruschi, cornerback Asante Samuel and defensive linemen Jarvis Green and Marquise Hill, none of whom were on the field.
The Patriots sole punter, Josh Miller, took a few punts as the first unit of return men showcased their skills. Punts were caught by rookie return-specialist Willie Andrews and Hank Poteat. Also, vice men Tebucky Jones and Antwain Spann got some practice picking up would-be tacklers, although the drill was not full contact.
During his press conference, Belichick foreshadowed that tonight's focus would be on the passing game, and so it was.
Tom Brady looked sharp after having some time off – like his batteries were re-charged a bit. He didn't connect with Chad Jackson (who returned this morning) in the early drills. Maybe it will take more than two practices to build chemistry between the two. Brady showed off for the crowd, letting his arm speak for itself on a couple sixty-yard Hail Mary's, neither of which connected. Brady did look in time with wideouts Bam Childress (who returned this morning) and Reche Caldwell.
Quarterback Matt Cassel also got a lot of reps, both in seven-on-seven and when the whole offense was running, later in practice. Cassel connected with the rookie Jackson. He threw one to David Thomas that bounced off the tight end's hands – one of the few passes he's dropped all week.
All in all, the practice went smoothly, and scolding from the coaches seemed to be at a minimum. A two-minute drill wrapped things up, with Brady and the first-team coming up big in the end zone, and Cassel less successful in the muggy Foxborough air.
Who's Hot: Tom Brady – Mr. Super Bowl MVP returned to practice Tuesday morning after three sessions off and looked rather sharp for evening session. Brady was his normal self in a hurry-up segment to close the night practice, leading the first unit offense on an eight-play, 65 yard scoring drive with just 1:30 on the clock. He went 6-of-8 passing on the drive -- his only incompletions a drop by Matt Shelton and a spike to stop the clock – capped off with a score in the front of the end zone to Troy Brown as time expired. Brady then made his way around the entire ring of the field at Gillette after practice signing autographs for fans along the way.
Who's Not: Matt Shelton – Shelton struggled with a few drops during the evening practice, including the above mentioned during the two-minute drill. Getting on the field with the likes of Brady, Brown and Kevin Faulk in that type of segment is good, but being the only guy to drop a pass isn't. Shelton also appears to be battling some sort of lower body injury that has him limping all over the field as he attempts to impress the coaches.
Play of the Practice: Brady found Reche Caldwell deep down the right side and the first-year Patriot fought through the coverage from Chad Scott for the long gain during a seven-on-seven segement.
Otis Smith, working with the coaching staff during training camp, was on the field for the evening workout. … Besides the seven players still on PUP, Teddy Bruschi, Garrett Mills, Daniel Graham, Monty Beisel, Jarvis Green, Marquise Hill and Asante Samuel sat out the practice. … Troy Brown and Kevin Faulk were back deep together receiving punts in pre-practice work. Vernell Brown and Willie Andrews also field Josh Miller's boots. … Tight end Benjamin Watson lined up wide as receiver during a number of three-and four-receiver sets. … New England's punt return unit allowed a long gain on a fake punt by Miller and the scout team punt squad. … Cassel failed to score in his two-minute drive, coming up short on his seven-play effort when a toss for Keron Henry in the back of the end zone deflected off the receiver's hands and fell incomplete.