FOXBORO — The Patriots got training camp started in earnest on Thursday, as they ran through a workout in sweltering July heat on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. The session was held in shorts and shells, and ran for just over two hours.

Tom Brady and the Patriots opened camp Thursday. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

Tom Brady and the Patriots opened camp Thursday. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

FOXBORO — The Patriots got training camp started in earnest on Thursday, as they ran through a workout in sweltering July heat on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. The session was held in shorts and shells, and ran for just over two hours.

There were several players in various stages of rehab on the field and not in pads — including wide receiver Julian Edelman, offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer and Tre’ Jackson and defensive lineman Alan Branch. However, the following players were not spotted on the field: Dion Lewis, Nate Ebner and Jamie Collins. (Special teams captain Matthew Slater was wearing Ebner’s No. 43.) Cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon were in red jerseys.

The quarterback reps? To use Thursday as a referendum on what direction the Patriots are headed when it comes to which signal-caller is the priority right now on the calendar would be borderline irresponsible: All three quarterbacks were all over the field throughout the workout, and the pads don’t go on until this weekend. From this viewpoint, it appeared that the reps were divided fairly evenly. The biggest takeaway came just over an hour into there workouts, when Tom Brady, Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski split from the rest of the group and spent time working together on the practice field under the watchful eye of tight ends coach Brian Daboll. (While this was going on, Aaron Dobson, Malcolm Mitchell and Nate Washington were catching passes from rookie Jacoby Brissett.) Brady also appeared to be spending some quality time with new tight end Bear Pascoe.

Shea McClellin and Rob Ninkovich were able to flash some versatility. Ninkovich, who has lined up in multiple spots in the past, spent plenty of time working with the defensive linemen. Meanwhile, McClellin was also shuffled from spot to spot on the field. (Ninkovich was also at inside linebacker in the 7-on-7 work.) While it’s still early, based on Thursday’s action, as well as the spring workouts, it’s clear the Patriots are anticipating using them at multiple spots this fall.

Keshawn Martin, Cyrus Jones and Chris Harper all got work as punt returners.

Brady drew a big cheer in 7-on-7 red-zone work when he connected first with rookie Devin Lucien and then with Gronkowski. He later connected with Bennett in the end zone on multiple occasions, but saw one pass to Gronkowski dropped. Grapple then came on and hit young tight end A.J. Derby on a nice pass play, but a pass for Keshawn Martin was broken up neatly by Justin Coleman. Brady, Garoppolo and Brissett had balls knocked down by a staffer at the line of scrimmage, but Brissett and Lucien showed a nice chemistry, working together on multiple pass plays. The 7-on-7 work concluded with a nifty Garoppolo-to-Gronkowski touchdown pass that drew big cheers from fans.

On the other side of the ball in the 7-on-7s, it was hard not to notice Jones working in the slot alongside the likes of starting defensive backs Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler. It’s early, but he looks very comfortable.

Garoppolo got first crack at the end of practice when 11-on-11 work began, and had a couple of nice pass plays, including one play where Aaron Dobson hauled in a one-handed grab. (While this was going on, Brady was standing and talking with owner Robert Kraft.) Brady took over and found Harper in the back of the end zone. Later in the sequence, Jordan Richards also made a terrific play knocking a pass away from Gronkowski. Brady followed that up with a really impressive hookup with Chris Hogan in the corner of the end zone over Jones, and a touchdown pass to Gronkowski.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Matt Patricia

Matt Patricia

FOXBORO — Sporting a black Patriots cap under the pedestrian bridge in the north end of Gillette Stadium, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia Wednesday sounded like a coach who’s ready to have his unit step up and help Jimmy Garoppolo and the Patriots get off to a fast start this season.

For the last two seasons, it’s been the defense that has led the way in the first quarter of the season as Tom Brady and the offensive line found their form.

In 2014, the team had big issues on the offensive line and it was the defense that held things together as the team struggled to a 2-2 start.

Last year, the team started 4-0 but it was the defense that had big moments against the Steelers on Opening Night, held the Jaguars to 17 points and limited the Cowboys to six points.

This season, the challenge is that much bigger with Garoppolo subbing in for the suspended Tom Brady in the first four games. The expectation from so many observers is that it’s the defense that’s going to have to lead the way. Patricia sounded a cautious tone at first, saying there’s so much work to be done between Thursday’s first day of camp and Sept. 11 when the Patriots take the field in Arizona.

“I think right now the challenge for the defense is to make sure we have good meetings and make sure we get all the information out that I can get out in the time that’s allowed,” Patricia said. “I’m real excited to be out there [Thursday]. So, for us, that’s our focus. It’s very much in the short term. It’s just about trying to put the guys out there together, build on what we did this spring, which was great. Go out there [Thursday] and improve.”

Patricia’s unit has been revamped with names like Terrance Knighton, Cyrus Jones, Shea McClellin and Chris Long joining the likes of Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty. From what Patricia saw in the spring, he’s confident his unit can help Garoppolo feel like he doesn’t have to do it all.

“I think what was great about the spring was the work ethic and the guys really attacking and studying the game and trying to learn the mental part of it and then go out in the field in the spring, which is a big communication thing for us, defensively, and really work on the communication part of what we have to get done,” Patricia said. “Obviously, when we get to training camp, when we get the pads on, that’s the physical time where you can really get to the contact part, the technique part. We laid some groundwork, fundamentally, here in the spring. The big part of it, though, is the communication. What you want to get done in the spring now, with the way everything is laid out, the amount of practices, the way training camp is, the time you’re really committed to, we’re trying to use spring to some stuff installed, to learn the defense so that when we get to training camp, we can go out and just try and execute.”

The best of this time of year for Patricia? Simple. Hearing the clash of helmets and pads for his defensive playmakers.

“When we get out there, we’re in couple days here where we’re still kind of in a learning mode here and we’re working on fundamentals and techniques. But when we get the pads on, obviously that’s why we play the game. It’s the one sport where when you’re done playing, you can’t put the pads back on,” Patricia added. “These guys get the opportunities to put the pads on and improve. It’s a critical time for us and it’s a critical time with how fast everything really goes during the season for us to work on our fundamentals and our individual techniques.

“We’re in pads. We’re out there every day. We’re working on the different pad levels, things like that we’re going to emphasize. It’s a critical time for us to get [work] done. It’s very exciting from the coaching standpoint because you’re really coaching the fundamental techniques, tackling, all the things the defensively, the aggression part of the game that our play for. That’s the big draw. It’s great.”

McCourty was one of those who spoke the significance of this time of year and what it means to be back on the field in pads.

“It becomes football. I think in the spring, and now to start out training camp, it’s really just a heavy passing game and not much contact, but when you start to put on the pads, you really start to see the football team we’re going to be, what different guys can do on the football field, it’s just a different mentality,” McCourty said. “You might be able to out-quicken and run away from some people, but we have guys out there who are just hitters. They want to run through you and run into you. They lose some of that when we don’t have pads on, so we’ll gain all of that back this weekend.

“When you play defensive back, a lot of it is not as much a contact and stuff, just different positions. But for defensive backs, working on your craft, your footwork, your hand placement, you can do all of that with no pads on, so you can see those guys work. I think that’s the best thing about the spring. You see guys working on little things, you see guys working on learning the playbook and being able to be out there and play confident. I think we had a lot of young guys out there who, even some of the rookies towards the end, you could see their confidence building just from learning and studying and staying on top of different things they needed to. It’s an exciting time. We have young guys mixed in with some veterans, you come back to training camp and everybody’s competitive, everybody wants to earn a spot to play. It’s a fun time and I think it’ll be good practices.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Jimmy Garoppolo should see a spike in his preseason reps this summer.</p>
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WEEI
Bill Belichick begins his 42nd season in the NFL this month. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick begins his 42nd season in the NFL this month. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — To give you some perspective as to just how long Bill Belichick has been in the NFL, when the Patriots meet the Dolphins this year, Belichick will square off against a head coach in 38-year-old Adam Gase who wasn’t even born when Belichick took his first job as an assistant in the league.

This week marks the start of Belichick’s 42nd consecutive year in the National Football League, the last 17 of which have come as head coach of the Patriots. The longest-tenured head coach in the league with his current team (the closest is Cincy’s Marvin Lewis, who took over the Bengals in 2003), it’s a remarkable run for any coach in the NFL.

When it comes to stacking his resume against some of the greats of the game, entering the 2016 season, he’s at 223 career wins as a head coach, tops among all active coaches and fourth on the all-time list. This season, he’ll move past Curly Lambeau (at 226, fourth) on the all-time wins list, and will almost certainly pass Tom Landry (third with 250 career victories) before he’s done. While you never say never, it would probably take at least another decade for him to come anywhere near the likes of Don Shula (first, 328 career wins) or George Halas (second with 318 wins).

The 64-year-old Belichick, who first went to training camp as an special assistant with the Baltimore Colts in 1975 at the age of 23, has been working in the league ever since. He said that when it comes to coaching, there’s some carryover in preparation and approach. But in his experience, his approach over the previous 41 seasons has been to take each one as its own animal.

“Fundamentally I think a lot of things are the same; things you have to do in camp in order to prepare for a season,” he said on Wednesday at the dawn of a new season. “But each year is different. Players are different, teams we play are different, things change in the league, there are some rule modifications, or whatever. Things like that. So, every year is different and the chemistry – each team is different. Even with some of the same players there’s still always a little bit of a different mix.”

According to one of his most senior assistants, Belichick’s consistent approach and a willingness to adapt have been key in getting him to this point.

“He’s the same as when we worked together under (Bill) Parcells,” said offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who worked with Belichick as an assistant in the 1990s, as well as the 14 years as the offensive line coach on his staff. “He’s the same guy. Every day is the same. That’s what you have to appreciate about him. You really do.”

That belief stretches to many of his longtime players, including special teams captain Matthew Slater.

“I think the thing that’s remarkable about Bill is his approach. He hasn’t changed at all, and that consistency in his attitude and preparation, the things that he values and the things he tries to stress to his team. It’s really remarkable,” said Slater, who is entering his ninth season under Belichick. “I think it would be easy for him to become complacent. It’s human nature, once you have success you kind of exhale and think you have it figured out. And if anyone has it figured out its Bill Belichick.

“But you wouldn’t know it by the way he prepares, by the urgency with which he coaches us, the hours he puts in. That’s really been impressive to me in my time here. Whether we go out and win a Super Bowl or don’t make the playoffs, he’s always been consistent in that regard.”

Running backs coach Ivan Fears has been a part of Belichick’s coaching staff since 2000. While he also lauded Belichick’s consistency as a coach, he said that Belichick is one of the more “progressive” old-school coaches he’s ever come across.

“I tell you what Bill does best, better than anybody I’ve ever been around; he grows with time,” said Fears. “He is as old-school as anybody there is. But I guarantee you that he is as up-to-date on every new thing out there. Technology, when it comes to the sport. Techniques. Anything that’s going on, he does a great job of keeping up with it.

“For a guy who is as hard-nosed and as old-school of a coach as he is, you’ll find he’s also very progressive in the things he does and the knowledge of the game. Things he wants to implement. How he keeps up with the young guys. I think that’s what makes him elite.”

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Bill Belichick is focused on the 2016 season, nothing else.</p>
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MIKE PETRAGLIA

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Devin McCourty isn't about to tease Tom Brady about Deflategate. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Devin McCourty isn’t about to tease Tom Brady about Deflategate. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — There are things veteran players can do to other veteran players, especially at the beginning of training camp, to keep things loose and break up the monotony of training camp.

Busting Tom Brady about Deflategate is not on the list for Devin McCourty.

The Patriots seven-year veteran safety, sporting a Captain America “Trust Me” t-shirt at the podium, was asked Wednesday, the day before the first practice, if he might joke around with No. 12 about him having to sit out the first four games.

“No, the first day, I don’t think we talk about anything to do with football,” McCourty said. “I think it’s just guys catching up, seeing how families are doing and everything like that. But I doubt there would be much joking about that.”

Indeed, the Patriots were all business on Wednesday, as coaches held positional meetings with players on the eve of the first practice of camp.

The business of getting along without Tom Brady for the first four games was front and center, with players like McCourty and Matthew Slater the first to speak since Brady lost his appeal and decided to not pursue any further litigation.

“I think it’s [an] adjustment. Obviously, you can’t take the field without a guy like that and think you’re just going to go out there and pick up where you left off last year and fall right into stride, but I think we have a lot of good players,” McCourty said. “We have two other quarterbacks that have been very competitive. Jimmy [Garoppolo] has been here a couple of years now, so I think as a team we’ll just come together, go out there and figure out a way to win. That’s what it comes down to; we can’t stick on that subject, just prepare and get ready to play.”

Slater repeated the “adjustment” theme.

“It’s obviously going to be an adjustment,” Slater said. “We’re definitely thankful that he’s around now, and I think he brings so much to the table. There’s so much that we can learn from having him around, and obviously we all want to have a good training camp, it’s the foundation upon which the season is built, so I think he would definitely include himself in that group. Needless to say, there will definitely be an adjustment period for us in dealing with that, but we’re just going to take it one day at a time.”

Is the defense feeling more pressure to start strong, knowing the team will begin the season without Tom Brady leading the offense?

“I think from the outside, everyone will say that, but for us as a defense, even when you play with the greatest quarterback, we don’t go out there saying, ‘We only have to play OK because Tom [Brady] is here.’ We always want to play good football, go out there and really find out who we’ll be as a defense,” McCourty said. “It starts [Thursday] at practice with attitude, toughness, running to the ball, condition. I think for us as a defense, we want to be a dominating defense no matter what the situation is and no matter who is out there on offense. We always kind of take the mentality and attitude that we have to go out there and play defense no matter if the offense is scoring touchdowns, if they’re not scoring touchdowns. I think if we can develop as individual units, that’s what makes us better as a whole.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price discuss how head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Patriots are getting ready for the opening of training camp with Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of the NFL season. Belichick says getting Jimmy Garoppolo ready for the season is the priority.

Blog Author: 
WEEI
Ivan Fears

Ivan Fears

FOXBORO — On Wednesday, Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears responded to an ESPN story that singled out New England as having the least diverse coaching staff in the NFL, saying that in his experience, coach Bill Belichick “has been very good” when it comes to seeing past race.

Fears listed several minority assistant coaches he’s worked with in New England over the last dozen-plus years as examples, including Patrick Graham, Pepper Johnson and Romeo Crennel.

“I don’t think Bill really cares about color,” said Fears, who has worked with Belichick since 2000. “I know how he treats me. I know how he treats the guys on the staff. I think in his mind, really, (if) you do the job, you’re here. You work. That’s what he is. He’s as ‘tunnel vision’ as a guy can be as far as, ‘It’s football.’ He’s not walking around saying, ‘You’re a black guy. I have to have you. You’re a white guy, I have to have you.’

“I don’t care where we are on that list. Guys who left, left on their own. And I think that’s important.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price