Dont'a Hightower is a big, impressive looking LBer, and looked comfortable in his first day both inside and outside (Steve Balestrieri photo)

Football is Back!!! The New England Patriots kicked off training camp in grand style with the largest crowd ever to attend an off-season practice with over 12,000 people jammed into the bleachers and hill area next to the fields.

As one can imagine, expectations are high for this team which came oh-so-close to a fourth Super Bowl win in February. But with the pieces they’ve added in free agency and the NFL Draft. Its New Orleans or bust for the Pats.

Speaking from the perspective of having no contact with the players, it was still entertaining to have football back, while I was spending a preponderance of time watching the rookies, here are some observations in no particular order from Day 1:

Tom Brady-
Brady looked sharp, fit and focused on Thursday, which is no surprise. He always treats practice like a game and the rookies were watching him closely. Nothing like emulating a Hall of Famer, with that in mind….

Hey Guys We Missed You!-
Brady had immediate chemistry with Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth, like they never left. Gaffney had the perhaps the best afternoon of any WR. But any doubts as to whether he or Stallworth couldn’t recapture the chemistry with #12 was put to rest…at least for a day. Much was said, that Stallworth had lost a step in the spring OTAs. That wasn’t visible today, at all.

Brandon Lloyd-
Looks like everything as advertised. He’s got very good size and speed and made some nice catches in traffic. Nice to see a #85 making plays at WR….nuff said.

Don’t’a Hightower-
Hightower is a big dude, bigger than both Mayo and Spikes, the guy has calves like fire hydrants. The team moved him around a bit playing both inside and outside. He looked comfortable and relaxed out there…always a good thing for a rookie on the first day.

Chandler Jones-
Jones looked lean, almost skinny in spring workouts, he didn’t appear that way in pads. He played RDE in sub-packages and looks the part. He, Trevor Scott and Jake Bequette were talking on the sidelines, looks like some good rotation off the edge.

Alfonzo Denard-
Is another stout guy, I read in the spring that he can play corner or safety and seeing him in the flesh, I can believe that. He and Tavon Wilson played some snaps and got their feet wet. Will Allen played strictly as a safety, which I pointed out earlier as maybe his best hope at making the team.

Visanthe Shiancoe-
For being on the team for only a day, he played quite a bit and was active in the passing game at tight end. Defensive end, now tight end Alex Silvestro played some as well.

Rob Gronkowski-
Showed no signs of his off-season surgery, he was moving well and couldn’t put on his helmet or catch a pass without thunderous applause. The Summer of Gronk is not over. However, Aaron Hernandez was perhaps the best TE on the field. He looked sharp and quick and ready to make it rain.

We’ll be back at it on Friday for Day 2, so check back for updates. If you’d like to see more photos, check out my Twitter timeline as I posted many pictures on there from this afternoon’s session.

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