- Tight end Rob Gronkowski confirmed the obvious -- while he might have been cleared to play from a medical perspective, he's still not 100 percent and is being managed from a football standpoint. That's why he's only taking part in individual drills at this point, while also putting in some extra time after practice with quarterback Tom Brady. Gronkowski, in his own unique way, also explained how he doesn't plan to change his style of play by saying, "I'm going to keep smashing and dashing everything I do."
- A big part of football is seizing opportunity and second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is doing just that. He's taking repetitions that likely would have been Aaron Dobson's and making plays that catch the eye. For the second day in a row, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Thompkins made a diving touchdown catch and he appears to be practicing with a lot of confidence. He runs precise routes, and most importantly, Brady has developed trust in him. That's not easy to do. They don't give out gold stars after two days of training camp, but Thompkins would be close to the front of the line if they did.
- The Patriots scored 36 touchdowns in 65 red zone trips last season, a 55.4 percent success rate. Compare that to the Broncos, who scored 51 touchdowns in 67 red zone possessions in 2013 for a 76.1 percent success rate. Maybe that is part of the reason why the Patriots have spent a significant portion of their first two training camp practices with red zone work.
- One of the nice parts of the day was witnessing the admiration that owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and Brady retain for former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi. With Bruschi at practice as part of a live ESPN set with Hannah Storm, all three made time to visit the set, and other players stopped by as well. At one point, Belichick and Bruschi watched practice together, the "perfect Patriot" back with his coach again.
- The Patriots announced an official attendance of 11,012. With 7,822 showing up for the first practice Thursday, that's a two-day total of 18,834. Think the locals are excited to have football back? With full-pads practices scheduled for Saturday and Sunday morning, and a promosing Saturday weather forecast, the fields behind Gillette Stadium should once again be overflowing with fans.
The 6-foot-4, 264-pound Byham, a five-year veteran who previously played for the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, participated in the Patriots' first two practices of training camp. Known more for his blocking, he was vying for a backup role behind Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui.
Byham's release should give more repetitions to five-year veteran D.J. Williams and undrafted rookies Justin Jones and Asa Watson. Fullback James Develin is also part of the depth consideration at the position.
Of the group, Williams (6-2, 245) is the leading candidate to seize a potential No. 3 spot on the depth chart. He played in two games for the Patriots last season and is more of a "move" tight end than an on-the-line blocker. The 2010 Mackey Award winner as the best tight end in college football, the Arkansas alum hasn't emerged in the NFL after time with Green Bay and Jacksonville but now has a nice opportunity with the Patriots.
The Patriots now have 89 players on their 90-man roster.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observations from the New England Patriots' second practice of training camp, which was held in light shoulder pads and helmets, and under sunny skies:
Heavy focus on the red zone: One day after working on fade passes in practice, the Patriots continued to focus on the red zone in Friday’s session. This previews Saturday’s practice, which will be the first held in full pads, as the Patriots are expected to spend significant time in the red zone in their initial contact practice. Running back Shane Vereen caught three touchdown passes in Friday's session, and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui made a diving catch in the back right-hand corner of the end zone on a nice Tom Brady pass (Devin McCourty in coverage), receiver Kenbrell Thompkins made his second diving touchdown catch in two days (cornerback Malcolm Butler in coverage), and rookie tight end Justin Jones caught a laser from Ryan Mallett under the goal posts.
Belichick coaches up every player -- from 1 to 90: In his opening news conference, Bill Belichick talked about the specialization of the game and how coaching staffs have expanded. When asked if he missed the old days, Belichick said one of the nice parts of being the head coach is that he could pick and choose how to spend his time. One example of this came Friday when he provided individual instruction to third-year linebacker Darius Fleming in 7-on-7 drills. Fleming, a 2012 fifth-round draft choice of the 49ers out of Notre Dame who missed his first two seasons with ACL injuries, was working along with some lesser-experienced players on the roster. Thought this was a good example of how Belichick is hands-on with pretty much every player.
Penalty lap report: When Patriots players make a mental mistake in practice, they are required to run a lap by Belichick. This led to a somewhat humorous moment early in the session when left guard Logan Mankins was sent on a lap around the field and the crowd roared as he made his way to the bleachers. Garoppolo and running back Bolden later ran a lap together, and left tackle Nate Solder was also a lap-taker. The bleachers and hillside were once again packed, with hundreds lined up before the gates opened at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Punting game in focus: The Patriots worked on punt coverage in the special teams portion of practice. On the first day of training camp, the team focused on kickoff return. In an ode to former Boston Globe NFL writer Greg A. Bedard and former MassLive.com reporter Nick Underhill, who used to bring a stopwatch to practice, we got out ours to chart Allen’s hang time. Allen’s hang time ranged from 4.16 to 4.94. As part of the overall focus on the punting game, there was one individual drill in which kicker Stephen Gostkowski bounced a ball into the air and gunners had to high-point it at the goal-line. At the end of the drill, Gostkowski turned into a soccer player and rainbow kicked the ball. Amendola and running back Roy Finch were the punt returners today.
New absences: Defensive back Jemea Thomas, the sixth-round draft choice from Georgia Tech, was the lone new player not spotted. Thomas caught our eye in Thursday’s practice with his versatility to potentially play in the slot, something he also did in college.
Who else didn’t practice: Receiver Aaron 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) and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee/PUP).
Notable injuries/health-related incidents: First-year receiver Greg Orton was carted off the field about halfway through the session. As Orton remained on the ground, several players came over to him, as did Belichick. Orton was helped into the front seat of the cart and driven off.
Who's talking with the media: Gronkowski and Revis drew the largest crowds. Fleming, Hoomanawanui, Mankins, defensive end Chandler Jones, Arrington, and receivers Edelman and Thompkins also stopped in the media area for interviews.
"If it was 100 percent, I'd be doing every single little thing," Gronkowski said Friday after the team's second training camp practice. "So, no, I'm not 100 percent, I'm working every single day to get to that."
Gronkowski has participated in individual drills over the last two days, while watching from the sideline during team drills. On both days, he worked individually with quarterback Tom Brady after practice.
Gronkowski said he doesn't have a timetable on when he will start taking repetitions in team drills, but he will listen to the trainers to determine when he is ready.
Another step will be absorbing full contact for the first time since he tore his right ACL on Dec. 8 in a game against the Cleveland Browns. The Patriots are holding their first full-pads practice Saturday, and Gronkowski plans to be dressed in full pads so he can run routes and continue to plant and cut while gaining more comfort in full football gear.
"For the last six months, I worked my butt off to be here," Gronkowski said. "Cutting on it, making it stronger, I'm here and I'm ready.
"Running routes, being in the huddle, catching balls from Tom Brady, it's a dream come true again. Feels like it got taken away, and I feel like I got it back."
And now that he's back, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski has no plans to change the way he plays.
"I'm going to go full speed, and I'm going to keep smashing and dashing everything I do," he said.
Much has been made about how long Tom Brady has left as quarterback of the Patriots, and it was a topic two old friends joked about Friday on the set of "SportsCenter" at New England Patriots training camp.
Longtime Patriot and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi said he thought Brady, who turns 37 on Sunday and is signed through 2017 (when he will be 40), can play until he is 41.
Here’s the fun back-and-forth that played out on the air:
Bruschi: “I’m giving him four [more seasons].”
Bruschi: “Four is realistic.”
Brady: “You’re out of your mind.”
Bruschi: “Oh yeah?”
“The most important one is this year, because that’s all we have,” Brady said.
He was asked by host Hannah Storm how he maintains his level of intensity and commitment after all these years in the league.
“A lot of luck,” he said. “And a lot of great education from some really important people in my life that have taught me how to take care of myself, how to prepare myself mentally and physically for what we’re up against. It’s probably not what a lot of people do. It’s probably not the norm for most players. But it’s what’s worked for me.
“I made a commitment to myself because I love the game; I want to play for a long time. There’s nothing else I’d rather do. I make a commitment in the season and the offseason to do that. It’s a fun thing for me. It’s not like working out is a very hard thing, coming out and playing football in the middle of May is a hard thing. I love doing it.
“Hopefully I do it for a long time. Hopefully for longer than the four years over here that my buddy wants me to play.”
A few more highlights from Brady’s "SportsCenter" interview, a clip of which can be seen above.
On seeing Rob Gronkowski back on the field, even if he’s not fully participating yet -- “Last year he didn’t really even have [partial participation]. Just for him to be out here -- making plays in individual drills and routes on air when you can see the kind of dynamic player that he is and that he has always been for this team -- that’s a big boost for our offense. It’s exciting to see him out there.
“It’s exciting to see guys like Julian and Danny out making playing plays. [Kenbrell Thompkins] has made a lot of plays over the last couple days. That’s what it takes to be a good offense, you’re not open by 20 yards on every play. You’ve got to make tough catches in tight areas.”
On the progress of rookie receivers from last year to this year -- “As an offense at this time last year, we really didn’t know where we were at. I think it’s a real benefit to our offense knowing what guys are capable of, knowing the skill set they have to compete at an NFL level.
“That’s the difference between a rookie year and a second year. Guys have done it, proved it, and now you have confidence going into the next season that we’re actually good at some things. And those are the things you want to build on. “
“It’s been awesome, but it’s been kind of weird in a way,” he said Friday. “But I’m a Patriot now and that’s how things go -- you have to roll with it, [fans] accepted me, and I’m happy to be here and play ball.”
The Patriots had 7,822 fans at their opening practice Thursday and appeared to top that number rather comfortably Friday, when Revis was among the players signing autographs after the two-hour workout.
Why so weird for him?
Revis said he “worked his butt off” to get his weight down this offseason (he is listed at 198 pounds), which included spending about a month in Arizona before training camp, where he was joined for a few weeks by new teammates Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Tavon Wilson.
While the training has helped him from a team chemistry perspective, and he is two years removed from his time with the New York Jets (2007-2012), Revis still can’t fully escape the New York spotlight. On Thursday, the New York Post and New York Daily News had reporters at Patriots camp, with the Daily News sticking around a second day and speaking with him one-on-one after practice.
“That’s rivalries,” Revis said when asked about bitterness between the Patriots and Jets. “There are college rivalries, high school rivalries, and there are rivalries in the pros as well. I was on that side, and you’re not supposed to like your rival no matter where you play. Like I said, I’m here now, all that’s in the past, and all I can focus on is what I can do now. Right now I’m a Patriot and I’m excited to be here. It’s great. I’m excited about camp, the whole team is, and we’re looking forward [to the season].”
Part of Revis’ excitement is also tied to his health. He admitted that last season coming off a torn ACL was a struggle for him.
“I finished all 16 games last year but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be physically as a player,” he said. “This is my first offseason where I could really focus on working out. They say it takes a year and a half, or two [to get back to full strength]. I think I’m at a point now, I’m there.
“I’m back to where I can move around a little better. Last year was really tough coming off the injury, I wasn’t where I needed to be. Now I’m a little bit more excited, I feel the butterflies a little bit more, and I’m just ready to play and get ready for the season.”
As for where he falls in the debate on the NFL’s best cornerback, Revis expressed indifference.
“I don’t need to prove nothing to anybody. Ws is what matters -- more wins than losses. That’s what we want to do as a team,” he said. "Everybody is great. Everybody performs well at the professional level. Those are for you guys to rate who’s this and that. It really doesn’t matter to me.”
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick appeared on the "SportsCenter" set this morning in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and spoke with anchor Hannah Storm and analyst Tedy Bruschi about a number of topics.
Does he have to hold Rob Gronkowski back and trust trainers? "We have to follow the rehab instructions and do what's right by every player. Rob's got a lot of energy, loves football. And he really works hard. He works hard on and off the field. He trains hard. He studies, he spends extra time. He's a hard-working kid."
Why it's important for Darrelle Revis to get down the base zone and base man concepts before getting into game-planning specifics. "At this point, we're just kind of in the generic, everybody learn how to do your job within the context of the defense, working with different people, different combinations at safety, cornerback, defensive line, whatever it happens to be, just get everybody working together.
"But it won't be too long before we need to start to get into whatever game-planning we're going to do with our players. How we're going to match them up, where we're going to put them, if that affects another part of the defensive call. It won't be too long before we get into that.
What Revis brings to the table. "Excellent coverage skills. Really has great anticipation and feel. He's a very smart football player. As good as his physical skills are, I just think instinctively that he has a great anticipation of the passing game. Routs and quarterbacks and combinations, those kind of things. A lot of times he kind of runs routs before the receivers run them. He has that kind of anticipation. He's a very sharp football player, a very instinctive player. Probably in the secondary along the lines of Rodney Harrison, he'd probably be a player who instinctively I would compare him to."
On the start of training camp. "You feel reborn. ... It's great to see football back."
On the team's upgraded football facilities. "We've invested over $25 million to try to get our facilities top-notch. In this business, if you aren't always pushing -- whether it's in the area of developing software or getting the right free agents or doing all the little things that can help, hopefully, put you in a good position to try to win. It's so hard, as you know.
"I probably speak for every owner in the league that this time of year we're all excited. We think the sky's the limit. We've made our offseason moves. We've had our draft. It's 0-0 wins and losses. So optimistic."
It's going on 10 years now since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl. Does he get impatient? "Absolutely. Especially as the years start creeping up and you realize how delicate everything is. Look at last year: We thought we had a great team and then Vince [Wilfork] goes down in Week 4 and Tommy Kelly in Week 5 and Jerod Mayo in Week 6. So that solid defense … that's the beauty of this game, no one knows what's going to happen.
"We want it real bad. In the end, like everything in life, it is about execution. You have to make it happen, and you also need good fortune not to have injuries and then have the ball bounce right."
On the importance of the NFL putting a team (or teams) in Los Angeles. "I think we've gone almost a generation, almost 20 years I think, without a team in L.A. … It isn't good for the NFL. We have a generation of young people growing up not really branded or tied to a team. I think that kind of passion only comes when you have a team you can root for. I think it's very important. I'd like to see us get two teams in L.A., personally ... then we have the AFC and the NFC."
Kraft talks more about Los Angeles in the video above, saying he would love to see a team come to the city within the next two to three years.
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.