Seventh-year linebacker Jerod Mayo should be flattered.
“I think he’s as well respected as any player in the locker room and I’d say one of the best overall team leaders, players and kind of a glue chemistry guy that I’ve been around,” Belichick said of Mayo on Friday morning before the team’s second training camp practice.
“He has a great work ethic, a great presence on the football field, and a great personality that in a very good way is professional but also has a good rapport with all the players and coaches.”
Belichick’s remarks underscore how deeply the Patriots were affected by Mayo’s season-ending torn pectoral injury on Oct. 13.
Asked if Mayo was similar to past Patriots linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, Belichick said: “I’d say more Bruschi, but different. Similar, but different. Tedy had a little bit of a different personality, but a lot of the same characteristics. When you’re playing a position in the middle of the defense, it’s like playing quarterback in the middle of the offense, you have to be the main communicator and the person that everyone runs through. That’s inherent in the position, so some of that comes with the position.”
A few other sound bites and notes from Belichick:
Not a big fan of point of emphasis: With media-based chatter that the NFL is planning to stress a point of emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding, Belichick was asked how he teaches his players with this in mind. The topic of a “point of emphasis” struck a chord with Belichick. "The league does this every year -- it doesn’t change a rule it just says 'we’re going to emphasize it differently,' well I don’t really know what that means because we’ve tried to play by the rules from the beginning. So I think you definitely have to get to the preseason or in some cases the regular season to see how that’s going to be. ... The ones that are cut and dried, we'll accept them for what they are. The ones that would change the shade of gray from light to dark, or dark to light, I think there's a little of seeing what that is. That being said, that's kind of the way it is the National Football League anyway." On a related note, officials are scheduled to be in Patriots training camp the week in which the Eagles are here prior to the second preseason game.
Full pads tomorrow: Belichick said the team’s first practice in full pads will be Saturday, as expected.
Reviewing their work:
Defense the key for Patriots. Judy Battista of NFL.com captures the scene of the first day and focuses on the defense through the lens of the Belichick-Brady era. "If there is to be another Super Bowl title to bookend Brady's career, it will probably not be won via any great offensive leap. Rather, it will be captured because the defense proves able to provide some ballast for a team that, in recent years, had grown too lopsided."
Hard to miss Brady's presence. John Kryk of the Toronto Sun takes us back in time to the last time Brady wasn't at Patriots training camp, and how Brady said Thursday that he never takes anything for granted. On the field Thursday, it was the same old Brady. "It was our first chance to watch Brady operate at any practice, and he clearly is a man in charge -- barking orders or shouting encouragement to his receivers as they ran drill after drill to refine their passing-game precision."
Brady and playing to a high level into his 40s. Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post focuses on Brady and how the Patriots drafted his potential successor, Jimmy Garoppolo, in the late second round (62nd overall). "His arm and football savvy are still strong and Brady doesn’t rely on his feet, so it’s not outrageous to think he could play at a high level into his 40s if New England’s offensive line can keep him upright. Then again, Belichick is famous for his willingness to get rid of any player if he thinks he sees a slip in play coming. Brady no longer a Patriot? It still sounds unthinkable, and the man himself wants to keep it that way."
Revis' presence a nightmare for Jets fans. Gary Myers of the New York Daily News writes on cornerback Darrelle Revis and how his presence in New England could be a bitter pill for Jets' followers to swallow if it leads to a Super Bowl title. "There was Brady taking the snap near the end of practice Thursday in an 11-on-11 drill and looking to his right and seeing Revis in tight coverage on Julian Edelman and then throwing the other way, much like he did in the six years Revis played for the Jets," Myers writes. "It’s fun to watch the chess match, even if it’s only practice and Brady didn’t go Revis’ way during team drills."
8:45 a.m. ET -- Bill Belichick's news conference
9:15 a.m. ET -- Practice (open to the public)
approx. 11:30 p.m. ET -- Player interviews
The forecast calls for sunshine and temperatures eventually reaching into the 80s.
ESPN will have a set from which it broadcasts live, with Hannah Storm and Tedy Bruschi, so expect multiple live updates throughout the day on various ESPN platforms.
Among the storylines we'll be following in a practice that will be held in light shoulder pads:
1. Cornerback Darrelle Revis and his potential impact on the defense.
2. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and his workload on a second consecutive day of practice.
3. Second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins continuing to seize the opportunity with Aaron Dobson sidelined.
- The team's first practice provided a snapshot of how the team plans to manage tight end Rob Gronkowski as he works his way back from surgery on his torn right ACL on Jan. 9. Gronkowski participated in individual drills, but not in any of the 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills. Gronkowski had a brace over the knee, and is still wearing a protective cover over his previously injured left forearm. He didn't seem reluctant running, cutting and planting, and at the end of practice spent some extra time on the field catching passes from quarterback Tom Brady. At the same time, it's clear that this is going to be a gradual process in bringing Gronkowski along.
- Receiver Aaron Dobson, the 2013 second-round draft choice who the Patriots hope can provide a downfield thread and size (6-foot-3) on the perimeter, has opened camp on the active/physically unable to perform list after undergoing surgery March 10 for a stress fracture in his left foot. Dobson spent the practice working with strength coaches Harold Nash and Moses Cabrera, at one point doing some pretty aggressive running. This is supposed to be a big year for Dobson after a full year in the system, yet in his absence, second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins stepped in and made a few notable catches. One of them -- a diving grab in the back right-hand corner of the end zone, had quarterback Tom Brady heaping praise on him after the practice.
- While Dobson is among a small handful of players not yet cleared for practice, it is significant that defensive tackle and captain Vince Wilfork was a full participant as he is coming off a ruptured Achilles on Sept. 29, 2013. Wilfork looks like he might have shed some weight.
- Quarterback Tom Brady, Mayo and Wilfork drew huge media crowds on a day that NFL.com, the New York Daily News, the New York Post and the Toronto Sun were on hand to cover the team from more of a national perspective. One of the more notable comments came from running backs coach Ivan Fears, who touched on how rookie James White (fourth round, 130th overall) has made a strong first impression. "I like his running style," Fears said, via the Boston Herald. "He runs like a big guy for a little guy (5-10, 205). He plays big. He works hard. Right now, he's doing everything right. It's hard not to be in love with him."
- By the time players and coaches arrived on the field for the 9:45 a.m. ET practice, the bleachers surrounding the two practice fields were filled. The team announced an official attendance of 7,822. This was an increase from last year, when 6,390 fans showed up in a heavy rainstorm. The Patriots' single-session record for a training camp practice is 12,163, set in 2012.
"If I had limitations, I wouldn't be practicing. Right now, I'm on the field and I'm healthy," Wilfork said after the two-hour session. "I'm pretty sure there's going to still be some stuff that I may need to do, so 'so far, so good.' I'm not looking back. I'm looking forward."
It's a credit to Wilfork that he's made it to this point. As he pointed out in June, the stats aren't favorable for 325-pound defensive tackles coming off such a serious injury, but the rock in the middle of the Patriots' defense never doubted himself. The next step will be absorbing contact for the first time, as the team's first full-pads practice is scheduled for Saturday.
A few other soundbites from Wilfork:
On if the injury gives him a greater appreciation for the game: "I always appreciate the game, but being out last year, it just made me dwell on the things a little bit more and appreciate them a lot, lot more. You think about things a little differently now going through what I've been through -- my first time being injured. It's one of those things, I had a [bump] in the road and what am I going to do about it? With the teammates I have, with my coaches, with my family -- that's a big supporter of mine, my family -- just having somebody that you can talk to every day, come and work out every day and have guys surrounding you and just being able to comfort you when times get tough. Just having someone to talk to, I think this team does a real good job of that. Everybody just sending you a text or a phone call or just coming to your house to see how you're doing -- it went a long ways for me, and I really appreciate it from everybody."
On what he needs to prove: "I just have to prove I can come out and give my team what they need. Me as a person, I've never been a selfish player; I was a team player. If I wanted to be selfish, I could have been a shot putter. I've done that. I was a state champion shot putter, but it wasn't my thing. My thing was to be with teammates, a good group of guys, and we're all working toward one goal and that's to be able to win and push one another. That's why I chose football. For me to prove anything, no; I have to prove to my teammates they can trust me when the [game] is on the line. They have to do the same thing with me. It starts now. Camp is, that's the platform for everything. If you can [become] a better football team in camp, you'll be pretty decent."
On players competing hard in practice: "I think that's one of the biggest things that's going to help us as a team is when we come out and you see Tom Brady competing and getting pissed off that he threw an incomplete pass and you see Jerod Mayo or Darrelle Revis mad because somebody caught a pass; that's competition. The young guys look at that and say, 'You know what? For me to be successful in this league, I have to practice like that.' We have a bunch of guys that lead by example because they don't say much, they just go out and do it."
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick recently declared that star tight end Rob Gronkowski had been medically cleared following January surgery to repair a torn ACL. It was music to the ears of Patriots fans (and probably quarterback Tom Brady, too), and a nightmarish reality for defensive coordinators on the Patriots' 2014 schedule.
Belichick didn't state that Gronk would play in Week 1, but all signs point in that direction. And while the burly tight end has been limited by injuries in recent seasons, at least right now it appears he will be virtually 100 percent healthy by season's outset.
Of all the developments for the Patriots this offseason -- including signing cornerback Darrelle Revis, extending nose tackle Vince Wilfork's deal and the return of several other key starters from injury -- the Gronk news is the most critical. When healthy, there's no skill player (we're excluding quarterbacks) that creates a bigger mismatch on his own than Gronkowski.
He makes such a difference that if he is on the field for all 16 games this season, the Patriots will challenge the Broncos for the best offense in the NFL. Here's why.
Garoppolo and the quarterback approach. McDaniels said rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has a great mindset and approach to learning the game, and that the trio of Brady, Ryan Mallett and Garoppolo fit well together. “It's exciting to have three guys in the same room that are at different stages of their development in their career, but they all approach learning the same way,” McDaniels said. “[They're asking] 'what can I do better? What did I do that I can fix tomorrow?' And Jimmy is no different.”
Brady still has the glimmer in his eye. Brady began his 15th training camp Thursday and still treats it like he did as the 199th pick out of Michigan in 2000 NFL draft. McDaniels views Brady's attitude as unique and a great influence on the younger players. “The thing that's so impressive to is how he [Brady] comes back every year just like he's a first or second year guy,” he said.“He's got that glimmer in his eye.”
Gronkowski's value on the practice field. Having a healthy Rob Gronkowski changes the Patriots' offense and McDaniels is obviously pleased to have the star tight end on the practice field. “Having every player out here is great and Rob is a part of the process that we are going through,” he said. While Gronkowski did not participate in team drills, he took a lot of repetitions with Brady in individual drills and post-practice. McDaniels said of Gronkowski's participation, “When he is out here in certain periods, he is getting a lot out of them.”
Dobson's progress. Second-year wide receiver Aaron Dobson is expected to make a significant jump from his rookie season to 2014. With Dobson starting camp on the active/physically-unable-to-perform list as he recovers from a foot injury, McDaniels addressed Dobson's practice routine and progress. “You can still learn in the meeting rooms and prepare like you are coming out to practice every day and then you work hard at the things you are doing in order to get back,” he said.
New things to come on the offense. McDaniels elaborated on some of the points head coach Bill Belichick made in his press conference Thursday morning about the specialization of the game. There is a strong focus on fundamentals and technique in camp, though McDaniels is also trying to work some new things into the offense to give the team an advantage. When a reporter asked what new things are coming, McDaniels laughed off the question. “I can't tell you those things.” Looks like we will have to wait and see what unfolds.
1. A strong day for receiver Kenbrell Thompkins.
2. Getting deeper into the linebackers and depth at the position.
3. Shining the spotlight on the offensive line.
4. Receiver Brandon LaFell and where he fits in the receiving corps.
5. Why does tight end Zach Sudfeld's name keep coming up?
6. Checking on sixth-round draft choice Jemea Thomas.
7. Nate Solder's potential market once he hits free agency.
Monitoring Gronk’s participation: When tight end Rob Gronkowski was cleared by doctors to play earlier in the week, it changed his situation from medical to football and how Bill Belichick wants to manage his return to action. Along those lines, we kept a close watch on Gronkowski during practice as he wore a brace over his right knee, and a protective sleeve over his previously injured forearm. He went through individual drills, at one point catching a pass in front of the fans that drew thunderous applause. Another time, Gronkowski held a blocking pad as his fellow tight ends worked on their punch technique and Gronkowski dug in to hold his ground. Gronkowski did not participate in any 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills, before getting in some extra work after practice with quarterback Tom Brady.
Fans pack the stands: Before players arrived on the field, the bleachers and hillside were packed. There was hardly a seat to be found. Gronkowski, Brady and Belichick drew notable applause, with Brady waving his hand to acknowledge the greeting. Receiver Danny Amendola was the first player out at practice, which raised the energy level among the crowd as he caught footballs for about 10 minutes before any other players arrived.
Who didn’t practice: Dobson (foot/PUP), special teams captain Matthew Slater (unknown/PUP), linebacker Deontae Skinner (non-football-injury list), offensive tackle Chris Martin (non-football-injury list), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (non-football-injury list), receiver Jeremy Gallon (unknown/PUP), defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee/PUP). Most of the injured players were present at practice, some working out on the side (e.g. Dobson doing resistance training at one point).
Who’s back to practice: Rookie running back Roy Finch, who opened training camp on the active/non-football injury list, was on the field and took kickoffs and reps at running back.
Who’s talking with the media: All assistant coaches were made available to reporters. Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo, fullback James Develin (TV station from Providence), receiver Derrick Johnson (TV station from Maine), defensive end Rob Ninkovich and Brady also drew crowds.
Brady went to the team’s second practice field with tight end Rob Gronkowski and the two worked on a variety of pass routes. Gronkowski didn’t participate in the team drill portion of the practice, so it was a way for him to reconnect with Brady as he eases back into practice following Jan. 9 surgery to repair his torn right ACL.
“I’m excited to be out here with my teammates and working to get better,” Brady said after the two-hour practice. “It’s a long training camp. It’s going to be a lot of effort and a lot of work. There is no easy way about it. You just have to grind and put the work in and listen to the coaches, try to make the improvements. Hopefully when we start the season, we’ll be a lot better team than we are now.”
Gronkowski’s presence will be a big factor as well and is one of the top storylines at Patriots training camp. Gronkowski wore a brace over his right knee during practice and continues to wear a protective cover over his previously injured left forearm.
While Gronkowski has been cleared to play by doctors, coach Bill Belichick is clearly easing him back into the practice mix, as one would expect.
“When you have great players like that on the field, it helps you a lot. Your margin for error goes up,” Brady said. “But you have to prepare for both. I don’t think the expectations have changed -- you still have to go out and execute the play the best way you know how to and try to do it at a high level on a really consistent basis.”
Brady, who handed his shoulder pads off to rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to carry to the locker room at the end of practice, is treating his 15th training camp like his first. It’s just like the sixth-round-draft-choice chip he still has on his shoulder.
“There are very few people who have the opportunity I have, and I’m very appreciative of it,” he said. “You never know when the last one is going to be. Just appreciate the moments you have, and every year is something different. This could be your last training camp. You never know. You have to make it count. You can’t take anything for granted in the NFL. I just try to do the best I can for this team, and hopefully it leads to a great year.
“Hopefully I can bring really positive leadership and energy to the team. If the quarterback won’t do it, then who else will? That’s how I’ve always looked at it.”
Reflective entering his 15th season. Belichick was reflective in his opening remarks, thinking back to his first year in 2000 when the team trained at Bryant College and played at the old Foxboro Stadium. In doing so, Belichick noted some capital improvements made at Gillette Stadium this offseason to expand the team’s coaching offices, meeting rooms, training facilities and weight room, crediting owner Robert Kraft for his commitment. “Robert has given us a great opportunity to field a competitive team,” he said. “With some of our new facilities in place, it’s kind of the start of a new year here. We’re excited to get going.”
Historical view of training camp and the game. Belichick had detailed remarks on how the game has changed over the years – from X’s and O’s, to the size of rosters and coaching/athletic training staffs. Specialization was also part of the discussion. For the real football junkies, we’ll circle back and link those remarks when they are transcribed.
All players in the house. No surprise, but Belichick confirmed that every player under contract has reported for camp.
Finch on the field. Rookie running back Roy Finch has been removed from the active/non-football injury list, as he was spotted at the start of practice today.