FOXBORO — The Patriots just wrapped up their first practice of training camp, a hot and steamy morning session on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. It was a practice that went for two-plus hours, with players in helmets, sweats and shorts. It’ll be a dicey practice report because players were not wearing numbers. In addition, as the newest CBA dictated, there were no pads for the first day of camp. As a result, the workout results need to be taken with a massive grain of salt. But there were a few things that really stood out on the first day.
Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo got a nice hand as they walked on the practice field, with Brady drawing the biggest cheers when he hit the top stop on his way out to the workout. Brady drew big applause throughout the morning, regardless of whether or not he was working in individual throwing drills alongside Garoppolo and firing passes to a ballboy or taking part in 11-on-11 drills. He got an especially big cheer toward the end of practice when he took off on a play and ran for a touchdown in a short-yardage situation.
At least initially, it appeared that Brady was working with the starting offense at the far end of the field, while Garoppolo was with the No. 2 offense. Later in practice, Brady and Garoppolo alternated, moving from one practice field to another. Garoppolo was picked off on one of his pass attempts in a 7-on-7 session, but he bounced back and managed to deliver some nice throws, including a sweet fade on a touchdown pass to an unidentified receiver in the corner of the end zone. (Later in that same drill, Brady hit Gronk on a crossing route over the middle, a really impressive throw.)
In 11-on-11s toward the end of practice, the two quarterbacks traded snaps. In the first series, Brady went 5-for-6, including a really nice pass over the middle to Edelman and a trick play where the quarterback ended up coasting into the end zone for a touchdown. Garoppolo them took over and went 5-for-5 on a sequence that was punctuated by a touchdown pass to Gronkowski where he wrestled the ball away from a defensive back. Brady them jumped back in and went 4-for-6 on a series that ended with a touchdown pass to Edelman. Garoppolo went 3-for5 to wrap things up.
The two quarterbacks were then separated in two-minute work. In the first series, Brady appeared really sharp, going 7-for-7 with a touchdown pass to Gronk. On the other side, Garoppolo went 7-for-8 on a drive that saw an unidentified offensive linemen jump offsides. After a quick break, they came back in the other direction, and Garoppolo was 5-for-6, including a deep ball for Brian Tyms that was overthrown.
However, this is important note: when the real difference-makers in the passing game were assembled in the corner of the field working on red-zone situations, it was Brady and not Garoppolo who was leading a group that included Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. (It was also interesting to see that without Brandon LaFell on the field, Aaron Dobson was with that grouping as well.)
It was difficult to discern just who was out there, but when the No. 1 offense was on the field, the Patriots were rotating different bodies at both guard spots. (It’s important to note that last year’s starting right guard Ryan Wendell opened camp on PUP.)
It was interesting to see that linebacker Dont’a Hightower was on the field. The veteran, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery, was considered by some to be a question mark heading into camp. But he was not placed on PUP this week, and while there were no pads (and no contact) on Thursday, the sight of him on the field with the rest of his teammates is a positive sign in the overall recovery process. Alan Branch, Dominique Easley and Dane Fletcher ‘ who were all placed on PUP earlier in the week ‘ were also spotted on the sidelines with the rest of the defense. Meanwhile, the offensive players who were placed on either the NFI or PUP lists that weren’t spotted included wide receiver Brandon LaFell. (Quarterback Matt Flynn and running back LeGarrette Blount, both of whom were classified as NFI, were spotted on the field working with teammates, but not engaging in drills.)
Owner Robert Kraft appeared roughly halfway through the workout, and got a standing ovation from the fans who were in attendance. Kraft spent roughly 10 minutes talking with Brady during a break in the workout (Garoppolo was working in goal-line action with some of the coaches.) Red Sox pitcher Wade Miley was also spotted on the sidelines.
Fullback James Develin had to run a penalty lap for a perceived infraction early in practice. Edelman also had to run a lap later in practice as well.
Roughly midway through practice, a plane flew overheard trailing a big banner that read ‘CHEATERS LOOK UP,’ with a Twitter handle following after implying that it was from a Jets fan.