FOXBOROUGH, Mass -- Before the New England Patriots held an in-stadium practice on Monday night, quarterback Tom Brady talked about the inevitable ups and downs that come with breaking in such a young receiving corps.
Monday's session turned out to be one of the downs.
After three days of relatively positive momentum, the Patriots' offense took a step back. No cause for major alarm, it's just the fourth practice of camp. But if anything, it was a reminder that with such turnover and youth at receiver, there are going to be days like this.
"I don't want to be a grumpy old guy. I think I understand that there's a learning curve and there's a patience," Brady said before the practice. "I think you try to let them know, though, that there's an urgency about it so it's not like you can afford mistakes."
The Patriots made a lot of them Monday, the practice ending with both quarterbacks throwing interceptions. Brady's pass along the right sideline to rookie free agent Kenbrell Thompkins was picked off by cornerback Aqib Talib and returned for a touchdown. Then No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett overthrew his intended receiver up the left side, resulting in an easy turnover for rookie safety Duron Harmon.
Up to that point, there were several dropped passes and misfires. Not a practice for the offensive highlight reel.
"We all make [mistakes], I make them myself," said Brady, who at one point during the session raised both arms above his head and placed his hands on his helmet in frustration of a missed connection.
"You're patient with certain things. Mental errors, you don't really want to tolerate and I think those things are always preventable. But they're going to happen. The physical ones, when you drop a ball, that's part of playing. I'm going to miss some throws, I'm going to throw interceptions, but I never want to make a wrong read or call a wrong play or snap the ball into a bad look. I think those are the things that the harder you work, typically the better you get at those things."
The Patriots will get back to work Tuesday, with practice scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET. For Brady, each day is critical because the clock is ticking and he's still getting a feel for rookies such as Thompkins, second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson and fourth-rounder Josh Boyce. The need to develop that early chemistry led to Brady reporting to training camp four days early, which provided some extra get-to-know-you time.
"I think it's been steady improvements since they got here. All the young players have been willing to work hard and do what the coaches have asked. I'm just willing to do whatever it takes," said Brady, who has spent more time throwing to rookie receivers the past four days than he had at this point in any of his previous 13 training camps.
"You can't just decide, 'OK, September, this is when it's really important.' You have to start in May, work through June and into July, which we have now. August is important because it builds for September. I think all the guys have put a lot of time in over the course of the spring and summer, and hopefully it pays off. That's why we're out here doing it."
Thompkins, Dobson and Boyce, plus free-agent signee Danny Amendola, were lined up as the top receivers on Monday. That's pretty much the way it's been through the start of training camp.
"I think it's so critical for the younger players to be able to practice every day and come out and make the improvements," Brady said. "Coach talks about that all the time, the only way to get better is practice repetition. So if you come out and miss a week of training camp, that's a big deal.
"There's a lot of installation, there's a lot of learning that goes on. [Sunday] was a 2-hour, 45-minute practice and we ran 130 plays, or something like that. That's how you get better playing football, to actually be able to go out and do it. We've got to string a bunch of those together."
Monday might have been a step back, but like anything else at this point in training camp, perspective is crucial. As Brady himself said, "It's definitely a work in progress." For example, the Patriots have yet to work on the red zone passing game in camp.
So while Monday's practice was a tough one for the offense, it doesn't overshadow that up to this point things had actually been looking pretty sharp. Yes, there will be days like this with such a young receiving corps.
"We have a pretty smart group of guys, so that's been a real positive," Brady said before the practice. "Hopefully we continue to play smart. It's hard to exist in this program if you're not a smart player."
Now we'll find out a bit about their resilience and how they bounce back from Monday's uninspiring practice.