The Patriots put the pads on for the first time on Monday and the increased energy was easy to notice, even from high atop the ramps aside Gillette Stadium.
"I think there's a little bit more energy this year because we've been without football because of everything that's been going on in the world," said Stephon Gilmore on Webex after a lively practice that included a wide variety of work. "We're just excited to be back out with our teammates and with our coaches and we're just trying to enjoy it."
The offensive and defensive lines especially seemed to embrace the chance to battle each other, with extended work on the running game in 11-on-11's.
"I think there was a lot of good energy out there on the field, a lot of excitement," said Chase Winovich. "Just that night before and the buildup from the coaches talking to us. We were definitely fired up to get back out there and test all the preparation we've been working on, different techniques and strategies. You can talk about that sort of stuff but until you actually get out there and do it, it doesn't mean anything."
"Everybody looks forward to days like this," said Adam Butler. "It's fun to just see guys really just come to life in pads. That's where you really see who can do what."
"I was telling the guys in the locker room it feels like we're in Pop Warner again," said Terrence Brooks, "Just getting your pads again."
In the early going the defense has gotten the better of the offense, but that's not a surprise on the first real day of football. It's hard not to notice the secondary, led by Devin McCourty and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, who remains as committed as ever to his craft.
"I have to earn it, you know," said Gilmore. "Whatever my goals are or whatever I want to achieve, I have to earn it. It's not easy, practicing hard and working on my technique and making plays for my teammates, it takes day-to-day preparation, day-to-day execution."
That execution has been noticeable through five on-field sessions. While Gilmore has helped lead the way, second-year cornerback JoeJuan Williams was following what the quiet-spoken vet was preaching and hoping to build on his experiences as a rookie.
"The longer you play it, the game does tend to slow down," said Williams. "For me, it's just day-by-day, just continue to work, continue to put my head down and grinding. That's how I'm going to be for this year."
But what stuck out the most from Monday's session was the clash of helmets and pads.
"Once you get that first hit there definitely is a difference," smiled Chase Winovich, who had an impressive pass rush victory. "Football's a game of consistency, I'm looking to stack up as many good days as possible."
Now that the real football has begun the workload begins to exponentially increase, but it was an important and significant step forward.
"It was a great first day and we're looking to build off of that moving forward," said Winovich.
Check out photos of the Patriots during training camp at Gillette Stadium on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.
Patriots pluck three NFL practice-squadders
With a number of open roster spots, the team made some new additions on Monday. New tight ends Alex Ellis and Paul Butler will round out a young position group. It appeared that both were at Monday's practice session, as third-year Ryan Izzo was no longer surrounded by rookies.
This will be Ellis' sixth team in six years, spent mostly on practice squads with stops including the Chiefs and Eagles. He had three catches in six games for the Jags in 2016. Butler has spent the last two seasons on and off the Raiders practice squad after catching on as an undrafted rookie in 2018. Combined, the Patriots have built some practice depth at a position where they could use some veterans. A role for a blocking tight end could be had if either takes the opportunity.
There was also a new addition along the offensive line at practice, guard Ben Braden, who has spent three of his four seasons on the Jets practice squad. Braden adds some size to a position group with young and unproven depth with four rookie and second-year players.
Webex Quotes of Note
Bill Belichick on how the expanded practice squad sizes aren't a slam dunk:
"Well, it's certainly something that we're aware of. I think it's part of the conversation, but again, those players have to pass through waivers to get to your practice squad. And they're also, even if they're not playing, they still had the opportunity to go somewhere else. So, I think some of that is going to depend on not only who you want on your practice squad but also who you can get on your practice squad. So, whether that's you getting a player from another team or another team getting a player that you have, since the setup is a little bit different this year, we'll have to see how all that works out."
Adam Butler on trying to expand his role on defense:
"Whatever coach Belichick asks me to do I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. Anything we need as a team, I gotta step up to the plate and just fill that spot and it doesn't matter what it is. Even if they asked me to go to offense my answer would be "yes sir" and just go play it the best way I can play it. I came in undrafted, I keep a chip on my shoulder and I never get comfortable. Whatever he asks me to do, I'll do it. I'd love to help out as much as I can."