On a cloudy Thursday morning, the New England Patriots began the journey for their fourth Lombardi trophy. The crowd lined up well before the 9:15 A.M. start time, some even telling me they had been there since five in the morning. Fans were ecstatic to have their team back on the field once again.
Today’s practice was a non-padded practice, with the players wearing their jerseys and shorts rather then the usual game-day attire. Most of the drills were individual drills but there was a brief 11-on-11 period before the day ended.
Important to note, this was the first day of camp and guys are coming in somewhat cold and chemistry may not have been built between players. I will continue to update the progress of the players I write about today, but here are some of the things that I noticed.
A loud cheer came from the crowd as players became coming out. One by one players stepped out from behind the stadium and onto the field. Fans in the stands only wanted one player though, “THE GRONK”. Rob Gronkowski is working his way back from a torn ACL that he suffered in week 14 last season on a tackle by T.J. Ward.
While he did not participate in any of the drills with the rest of the offense, he did participate in individual drills while cutting and jumping for the ball. You could tell he did not have the speed he usually displays, but all signs pointed to him being back for vengeance. Gronkowski also worked on the side with Tom Brady briefly to work on a few throws. It will not be a quick transition for Gronkowski as I believe the team will hold him back throughout the preseason, but it was a great sign that he was on the field at this point of camp.
For the first time in years there is a QB controversy in New England. Not for the starting job, but for Tom Brady’s backup. Ryan Mallett has been with the team since 2011,and has been Brady’s primary backup since that time, but New England took Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo in the 2nd round in May’s draft. There has been multiple rumors of a possible trade involving Mallett, but as of now he remains in a battle with Garoppolo.
Much of practice today for the Quarterbacks was full of taking snaps under center, working on screen passes with running backs, and working on timing throws to receivers on the sidelines. One of the main issues that needed to be addressed was the fact that Garoppolo worked mostly in the shotgun formation in college and is now working on becoming a drop back quarterback. As expected, Garroppolo had a tough time with multiple drop backs while working on hand offs with the running backs. At one time he even turned the opposite way then where the back had lined up. There is clearly a long road for him to be comfortable under center.
One positive I did notice however, was that Garoppolo’s footwork while standing in the pocket was much improved. Throughout his college career he had what I like to call “Happy Feet”. He would bounce around while in the pocket and almost never settle down to make the throw. While watching him today, he was much calmer while standing strong in the pocket. Time will tell if this is a result of it being practice, or if he has really improved once people are actually trying to sack him.
One of the biggest take aways of the 2013 preseason for me was Ryan Mallett’s lack of accuracy. Mallett had a tendency of throwing high on receivers and making receivers adjust to the ball he was throwing rather then laying it out for them to create potential yards after the catch. On day one of 2014 training camp, unfortunately I did not notice a change in this trend. Mallett overthrew players in the back of the end zone, and while working on timing plays down the sideline threw short on a few plays. Mallett will need to further work on these things to become a success in the league.
- RB Stevan Ridley dropped a few balls during screen play drills, while Rookie RB James White looked fluid while catching the ball out of the backfield.
- WR Kenbrell Thompkins made a terrific diving catch in the back of the endzone during practice, he is fighting for the 3rd WR job behind Edelman and Amendola.
- WR Brandon LaFell struggled to catch the ball on multiple throws, LaFell had a reputation in Carolina for dropping passes.
- WR Josh Boyce took first team Kick Off reps, he looks to be the early favorite to win the job out of camp.
- TE D.J. Williams looked strong as a member of the 2nd team offense. This could be possible good news for a team that doesn’t have a solid catching TE behind Gronkowski.
- Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner lined up opposite of each other, with Arrington in the slot as expected. Duron Harmon took safety reps next to McCourty also on that defense.
- The training camp field does not feature the new height for the crossbars, so we did not get to see how Stephen Gostkowski adjusts to the change yet.
Part two of my training camp coverage will be up tomorrow as the Patriots will once again practice without pads at 9:15 A.M. on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.