FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Observations from the New England Patriots first practice of training camp:
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.
Thompkins delivers play of the day: Fade routes into the corner of the end zone were a big part of practice, and second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins laid out to make a terrific catch that drew the attention of Brady after practice. “It’s exciting for a quarterback when you see a guy make those types of efforts and lay out and catch the ball like he did,” Brady said. “That’s how you get to be a great offense -- plays that maybe are a bit unexpected, if you make those, it just elevates your whole team.” Brady added that he has a lot of confidence and trust in Thompkins, who seems to be taking advantage of reps at outside receiver with Aaron Dobson not practicing.
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.
Cleaning out the notebook: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo carried off two sets of shoulder pads after practice, a reminder of his rookie status. … Nice end-zone interception by undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler (West Alabama) on a fade route. … A drop by receiver Brandon LaFell caught the eye because we’ve heard reports of inconsistent hands from his time in Carolina. … Running back Brandon Bolden had the football jarred from him during a drill in which defenders swipe at the ball (in this case, it was a coach who dislodged the ball), which led to some ribbing from teammates. … Center Ryan Wendell had a shotgun snap over Brady’s head. … Rookie center Bryan Stork snapped to Brady after practice in the time Brady was working with Gronkowski. … Team owner Robert Kraft was present and drew cheers as he signed autographs. … After a spring camp season in which players didn’t have numbers on their jerseys, the numbers returned for training camp. … Cornerback Darrelle Revis bright yellow footwear is hard to miss on Revis Island. … Brady seemed to be giving a lot of encouragement to Amendola, who had a nice catch on a fade route in the end zone for a touchdown (cornerback Kyle Arrington in coverage). … Tempo was high as the offense often quickened the pace to get to the line of scrimmage. ... Tackle Marcus Cannon, who has played right tackle and right guard in his first three years with the team, continues to get some reps at left tackle to increase his versatility and value. … Quarterback Ryan Mallett, who missed some time in spring camps, wore a brace over his left knee.
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.