FOXBOROUGH - As the bright sun beat down on Gillette Stadium, the sounds of football could be heard just a few feet away on the Patriots practice field. Five months after the stinging playoff loss to the Broncos, the Patriots took the field for the first time Tuesday morning as they kicked off their veteran mini-camp.
"Today is always an exciting day," Bill Belichick said. "Getting everyone out on the field together. We were able to get a lot of work done this morning. We have a lot of short-term goals we want to accomplish and we'll continue to work on those this afternoon and over the next couple of days."
There were certain players missing from practice due to injury but the big name not in attendance was receiver Deion Branch. One day after missing the team's charity golf outing, Branch's absence from mini-camp didn't come as a surprise.
"I'm not going to comment on any player not here except to say that Deion Branch's absence is unexcused," Belichick said.
Belichick went on to say that he and the other Patriots coaches are always evaluating the players that are here but the purpose of mini-camp is more to teach players than evaluate them.
"Players are evaluated every day they go out on the field," he said. "They either get better or worse but this is a teaching camp, not an evaluation camp. The evaluation part takes place more in training camp."
The Patriots coach also took a minute to talk about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was injured in a motorcycle accident Monday.
"I have great respect for Ben and what he's accomplished," Belichick said. "I hope his injuries aren't serious and that he'll be okay."
Other notes from this morning's mini-camp:
· A number of players did not participate in Tuesday morning's practice. On the offensive side of the ball, Brandon Gorin, Nick Kaczur, Dan Koppen, Jeff Roehl, Deion Branch, Rich Musinski, Zuriel Smith, Earl Charles, Patrick Pass and Daniel Graham weren't on the field.
· As for the defense, Jarvis Green, Randall Gay, Hank Poteat, Antwain Spann, Rodney Harrison, Artrell Hawkins and Raymond Ventrone were not in attendance.
· With Kaczur and Gorin not available, Wesley Britt lined up at right tackle alongside Stephen Neal at right guard, Russ Hochstein at center,Logan Mankins at left guard and Matt Light back at left tackle.
· Besides the four quarterbacks, Chad Scott was the only player wearing a red, non-contact jersey.
· Speaking of quarterbacks, Tom Brady looked rusty in his first official outing of the year. He overthrew a lot of open receivers and at one point was vocal about the offense's lack of execution.
· There appears to be a big drop-off after Brady and backup Matt Cassel. Neither Corey Bramlett nor Todd Mortensen has the arm strength that the top two quarterbacks possess.
· Brady looked Ben Watson's way a lot during passing drills. The big tight end lined up in a lot of different positions and snagged every catchable ball thrown his way. Brady also seems to have developed a nice chemistry with newly acquired receiver Reche Caldwell.
· One of the Patriots most recent acquisitions, Johnathan Sullivan, made his debut today. Sullivan was wearing a knee brace on both his left and right knee. He played defensive tackle when the team went to a 4-3, lining up alongside Vince Wilfork, with Richard Seymour and Ty Warren on the outside. This is taking into account the absence of Jarvis Green. When Sullivan came off the field, Marquise Hill saw a lot of reps on the outside, with Seymour moving inside to tackle.
· Mike Vrabel lined up both at inside and outside linebacker but played a majority of the practice on the outside, with Monty Beisel playing inside.
· James Sanders and Eric Warfield saw a lot of time in the secondary. The duo was on the field for a majority of the morning, along with Ellis Hobbs and Tebucky Jones. Warfield actually played both corner and safety during practice.
· Hobbs appears to be taking on more of a leadership role. The second-year corner was very vocal on the field and wasn't afraid to point out mistakes to his fellow defensive backs.
· Laurence Maroney looked good in passing drills. The rookie running back was quick out of his breaks and caught the ball very well.
· Garrett Mills had a tough morning at tight end. The rookie slipped a number of times coming out of his breaks and appeared to be running the wrong routes a lot.
· Former Patriots Otis Smith and Fred Baxter were on hand to help out at practice. Smith worked with the defensive backs, while Baxter helped out with the tight ends and offensive linemen. Virginia head coach Al Groh was also seen roaming the sidelines. "I have a lot of respect for Al and his opinions," Belichick said at his post-practice press conference.