The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots kicked off training camp today in front of a massive crowd of fans that showed up to welcome back their beloved team. Quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady was one of the first on the field for the Patriots and was welcomed by a loud uproar of screams and chants from the fans. Fans were also excited to see the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the second half of the regular season and the playoffs after undergoing back surgery during the season.
With the first few days of camp being non-contact the team went through a lot of individual position drills, as well as 7-on-7s, 11-on-11s and special teams drills. The team started off with kickoff and kickoff returns, where Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Cyrus Jones were fielding and receiving kicks. Cyrus Jones picked up the same spot he ended last season, dropping one of his first few attempts catching the kickoff and then fielded everyone cleanly after that. If Jones continues to have issues on special teams his job and roster spot could be in jeopardy.
All three quarterbacks participated in 7-on7 and 11-on-11 drills with Tom Brady primarily working with the first team offense, Jimmy Garoppolo working with all three units and Jacoby Brissett working with the third team offense and some snaps with the second team offense. Brady looked like his normal self; spreading the ball around to his many offensive weapons, connecting with offseason addition Brandin Cooks several times deep down the sideline. During these drills Rob Gronkowski looked like he was completely healthy and happy to be back on the field and was even trying to create contact with defenders and did his famous “Gronk Spike” after catching a pass in the end zone from Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo was inconsistent during these scrimmages, making some good passes including a deep ball to tight end Dwayne Allen. Garoppolo also made some bad passes and decisions, including back to back interceptions in the end zone by Eric Rowe and Jordan Richards. Jacoby Brissett looked good with the third team offense and had a good chemistry with second year receiver Devin Lucien, who made a great catch on a back shoulder fade in the back of the end zone, and undrafted rookie Austin Carr. Brissett showed improvement on the quickness of his decision making and getting rid of the ball, both of which were areas he struggled in last year.
Austin Carr is someone who stood out to me and had a great practice working as a slot receiver with the third team offense and was constantly finding a way to get open. Carr was a Biletnikoff award finalist during his senior season in 2016 and led the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns before going undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft. With the Patriots depth at receiver it will be tough for him to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster and would be a great addition to the teams practice squad and continue to learn from slot receivers like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, if he is not signed by another team.
Defensively the cornerback duo of Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore looked very sharp. Early on in the beginning of drills Butler had played great coverage on Brandin Cooks and had a pass breakup in the end zone on cooks. One area of question this offseason was who is going to be the Patriots slot and nickel corner, and on the first day of camp that went to Jonathan Jones. Jones was a primary special teams player last season who played some slot corner on defense and appears as of now to be the team’s starting slot corner, with Butler and Gilmore on the outside, as well as Eric Rowe who can line up on the outside or on the inside against some tight ends because of his size.
There were several players who did not attend of participate in todays practice including; Dont’a Hightower and Alan Branch who were both placed on the PUP list earlier this week, as well as Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy and Joe Cardona. According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston Cardona’s absence is due to a commitment that Cardona has with the Navy. The absences of Ealy and Ninkovich have yet to be given a reason for. Ninkovich has been a name that has been discussed this offseason as a potential surprise cut or someone who will not make the final 53-man roster and his absence could be related to possible thoughts of retirement as he is set to enter his 12th year in the league.
The Patriots will continue to practice over the weekend with only partial contact before moving to full padded practices next week. Patriots football is back and ready to defend their title and be on the quest for their sixth Super Bowl championship.