By: Steve Balestrieri
Day 1 about Brady, Kraft and getting back to football
The Patriots opened training camp under hot steamy conditions on Thursday morning in front of a very large crowd at the Gillette Stadium practice fields.
Tom Brady was obviously the star of the day and he received a huge ovation when he took the field. Brady made a rare acknowledgement to the crowd, and quickly got down to business. Robert Kraft spent about an hour at practice as well and likewise received a large ovation which he returned and waved to the corners of the practice fields.
Like mini-camp Bill Belichick continued the maddening practice of having the players in tee shirts, with no jerseys or jersey numbers, and the majority of the players with few exceptions had the numbers removed from the helmets as well. As a result, it was very, very difficult to identify many of them during practice.
But the day was about, as Belichick noted in his press conference, getting to the business of football and that they did. With no pads, it is next to impossible to judge the running game or the battles in the trenches. Rookie guards Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason were on the field, but Mason missed a snap count on a field goal attempt and had to run a lap. But overall, like the spring it was more of a passing game exercise.
Edelman/Gronk Shine: Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski picked up right where they left off in February. Both were outstanding; I didn’t see a ball hit the ground that was thrown to Edelman, be it during team drills or individual ones.
He made a couple of highlight catches, extending up and making a nice snag in the corner of the end zone during WR drills. He also ran a beauty of a fade route in the left corner of the end zone that Brady hit him with perfectly. During team drills, he was Brady’s favorite target with an un-official, 10 grabs by our count.
Gronkowski seems in mid-season form; he ran a route in the back of the end zone where Brady put a pass up high where only he could reach it. The safety (we thought Harmon originally, but later learned it was Tavon Wilson), had great coverage, but couldn’t leap with the big guy who snagged it out of the air and then shoved Wilson to the ground with a thud. He then proceeded to do the Gronk spike, to the delight of the crowd.
Garoppolo looks much improved: Jimmy Garoppolo had an impressive first day of camp. With many eyes watching him and his snap count much more closely due to the looming Brady suspension, Garoppolo was definitely under the microscope.
Early in the day during WR drills, his accuracy was slightly off and threw three times behind receivers, but he started to find his rhythm. He made a mistake where he took too long to diagnose a play and rookie Jordan Richards, reading the play very well, picked him off in the middle of the field.
After that; He was extremely sharp; he seemed to be making much quicker decisions and his accuracy and arm strength were excellent, putting some nice zip on his passes.
Good News, Bad News at Linebacker: The good news for the Patriots linebackers was that Dont’a Hightower was not only present but was an active participant for much of the day. He is looking far ahead of his timetable on his return from his shoulder surgery. Jerod Mayo was on the field for part of the early part of practice but wasn’t seen later….possibly for rehab work.
The bad news was that James Morris pulled up during a drill in the back of the end zone and grabbed his leg. He was attended to by a couple of members of the training staff and left the field. He didn’t return but seemed to be walking pain-free. This is a situation that will bear monitoring in the upcoming days. Morris was injured twice in his rookie season and spent the entire season on IR. With Morris injured, Dane Fletcher on PUP and Mayo and Hightower on the mend, the depth at LB is stretched thin.
Red Zone Work: In a similar move to what transpired in the spring workouts, during special teams work, Brady moved off to the side and was working on some red zone, goal line work. Joining him were tight ends Gronkowski and Scott Chandler as well as WRs Edelman and Aaron Dobson.
Chandler is an intriguing player, at 6’7, he presents a big, big target and the Patriots are looking like they’ll line the two up and run some skinny crosses that will free up one of them in a fade pattern.
Dobson, taking advantage of Brandon LaFell’s absence was working with Edelman basically doing much of the same. Dobson seems healthy and has an effortless looking stride that belies his speed. He and Edelman worked together well.
Play of the Day: This one is a no-brainer…During team drills with the offense inside the red zone, Brady handed the ball off to Brandon Bolden running to the left. Bolden then handed it to Edelman for an end around. But like the Baltimore playoff game, Edelman pulled up and showed his QB skills.
He launched a pass down the right side to Brady who channeling his inner-Randy Moss, plucked the ball out of the air with one hand. Brady then lumbered down the sideline and tucked the ball inside the pylon for a touchdown.
This is a play to remember because if Brady does have to serve his suspension, they could pull this play off with Garoppolo who is much more athletic with ease. File that one away for a rainy day.
We are really anxious once the pads come on, to see how the edge rushers that the team added this spring, Jabaal Sheard, Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers look in the pass rushing drills. But for now, that will probably have to wait until Sunday.
Stay tuned to PatsFans.com for the latest camp updates and check out our daily photo gallery on our Facebook page.
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