FOXBORO — It was back to the business of football Tuesday morning at Gillette Stadium, as the Patriots returned to work for the first time since the NFL lockout ended.
Various players trickled into the facility throughout the morning — tight end Rob Gronkowski, linebacker Dane Fletcher, wide receiver Julian Edelman, offensive linemen Dan Connolly, Rich Ohrnberger, Ryan Wendell, quarterback Brian Hoyer and wide receiver Taylor Price were just a few of the players spotted entering or leaving the facility throughout the morning.
According to some of the players who spoke with the media, Tuesday is designated primarily as a “paperwork” day — voluntary reporting, in the eyes of the NFL, for working out, lifting and physicals. (Players can also show up tomorrow as well.) But it will also mark the first time much of the roster has been together since the end of last season.
“Everyone is excited to see each other,” said wide receiver Wes Welker. “Right now it’s a big paperwork day, and a working out day and things like that. Everybody is trying to get everything in line and getting ready for tomorrow and getting ready for a long season.”
“Let’s get ready to go. I’m happy to be back. We’re working now. I miss the fans,” said safety Pat Chung. “I’m glad to be back, man.”
Several players worked out on their own or in groups around the country during the 136-day lockout — the longest work stoppage in NFL history. However, Welker and his teammates said Tuesday they were happy to return.
“At this time of year, money starts running low and everything like that, so it’s nice to start getting paychecks again,” Welker said with a laugh.
“We’re excited — It’s good to have football back,” he added. “I know everybody is excited. The fans are excited, and the players are just as excited. We’re ready to get out there and play. We haven’t had OTAs or anything like that, but there shouldn’t be any excuses about guys not being fresh and ready to go. We should be out there having a good camp and some good games coming up in September.”
The new collective bargaining agreement will change some aspects of the on-field product, including fewer padded practices and a cutdown on two-a-days.
“I like hitting,” Chung said with a laugh, “but it definitely saves your body. You can stay a little [healthier], and it will help you in the long run. If you can go harder in practice just cause there are two padded practices [now] doesn’t mean you can’t go hard in the first one.”
“I don’t think it’s a terrible thing,” Welker said. “I don’t think it’s always the best. It depends on where you are at in your career. I feel like I know how to push myself and if I need extra running, I can do that on my own and get the extra stuff that I need to make sure I’m ready to go out there and play on the field.”
While camp doesn’t official begin until Thursday, the Patriots were busy making personnel moves Tuesday afternoon. They continued to reach agreements with undrafted free agents — nine, as of Tuesday afternoon — and reportedly cut ties with veteran outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain and cornerback Tony Carter. In addition, offensive lineman Logan Mankins has reportedly agreed to sign his franchise tender and report for the start of camp this week.
The real work is set to begin tomorrow with conditioning tests, and the first real of training camp will be Thursday, with the first session kicking off at 9:30 a.m.
“I think we’ll be OK,” Welker said. “I think a lot of guys have been working hard this offseason and getting ready. I think the main thing is getting in the groove of hearing the play calls again. After a certain amount of time, it gets away from you a little bit. So hearing the play calls again and getting back in that groove is going to be good for us.”
The relatively quick turnaround from the offseason right into training camp won’t be a problem for Chung.
“No way — I’ve been waiting around for months,” Chung said with a smile. “I almost put my helmet on and walked around my house the other day. I bet guys are ready to be back. We’re just ready to go, ready to get these games started.
“I feel like I haven’t seen my brothers in a while. It’s hard not to be able communicate with the guys you’re playing with and the guys who are taking care of your body and the guys that are teaching you the playbook. It’s hard not to have that communication, now it’s back, it’s like we never missed a beat.”