As music legend Andy Williams’ iconic holiday classic states, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Anticipation is high and excitement is everywhere. A sea of colors ranging from red to white to silver can be seen at each glance. Everyone seems to be preparing for a celebration. It is the 25th of the month. It’s that time of year; especially here in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Are we talking about the Holiday season?
Not exactly…but you’re close.
For fans of the New England Patriots, this wonderful time of the year takes place in the midst of summer. This year, as fate would have it, the ‘big day’ just happens to fall on the 25th…July 25th, that is. Some might call it ‘Christmas in July.’ However, the ‘Foxborough Faithful’ call it Opening Day of Patriots Training Camp.
On Thursday, the reigning Super Bowl Champions took to the fields behind Gillette Stadium for a two-hour practice session. Despite the practice being devoid of contact or pads, seeing Tom Brady and company back in action is certainly enough to stir the enthusiasm. Although comparing the commencement of training camp to the Christmas holiday may be more than a bit melodramatic, the thousands of Pats fans in attendance would agree that their hometown team provided them with the ultimate gift on this particular 25th of the month.
Without further ado, ‘o’er the fields we go’ for Thursday’s highlights:
- Just days shy of his 42nd birthday, quarterback Tom Brady proved that he is more than capable of conducting the ‘open sleigh’ that is the Patriots offense. After his first attempt was intercepted by Jonathan Jones (intended for wide receiver Braxton Berrios) the New England signal caller looked typically sharp; completing 8 of 11 passes during 11-on-11 drills. Brady connected with running back Rex Burkhead for three and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett for two. Fullback James Develin and receivers N’Keal Harry, Damien Harris each had one. Reserve quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham went 5 of 7 and 3 of 5, respectively.
- Stidham, a 2019 fourth-round choice, has been the topic of much offseason attention. Many have speculated that he might be poised to unseat Brian Hoyer as Brady’s primary backup. While it is still far too early to validate such a prediction, Stidham did show impressive arm strength during his first performance on the practice stage. As the days progress, he will undoubtedly work on his release speed, which seemed a bit slow at times.
- Conspicuous by the color of his jersey, Danny Etling inadvertently set off a mild social-media storm to begin the day. Etling, presumed to be the Pats third-string quarterback, took the field wearing a white jersey, instead of the red non-contact jersey usually donned by quarterbacks. In a move that could only be described as ‘typically Patriots,’ Etling spent the day working with the wide receivers, and in some special teams drills.
- With the departure of offensive tackle Trent Brown this offseason, many a watchful eye will be focused on the man responsible for protecting Tom Brady’s blindside. By consensus, left tackle Isaiah Wynn seems to be the choice. The former first-rounder from Georgia returned to the field after missing most of last year due to a torn Achilles. While Wynn sat out team drills during OTAs and minicamp, he participated in a light workload on Thursday. By all accounts, the young offensive lineman felt great at the conclusion of practice and is expected to continue his ease back into action.
- The expectations surrounding rookie wideout N’Keal Harry are pretty high. Although still quite early, Harry proved that he has the talent to make an immediate impact on this Patriots offense. Harry spent a portion of Thursday’s practice in one-on-one action with Tom Brady, working on fade routes and jump-ball passes. In what garnered the biggest ovation of the day, Harry made a leaping catch of a pass from Brady in the back of the end zone. The chemistry between Brady and Harry looks to be developing quite nicely.
- The competition at cornerback may be among the most intriguing storylines during camp. With his interception of Brady to start the day, Jonathan Jones had a stellar performance working in the slot on Thursday. He will continue to battle with Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen during team drills throughout camp. In coverage, J.C. Jackson was the day’s standout player in coverage. Stephon Gilmore was not targeted during team drills.
- The Patriots always place a premium on building special teams prowess. Brandon Bolden, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Gunner Olszewski and Jonathan Jones all spent time returning kickoffs on Thursday. Rookie punter Jake Bailey continued where he left off during minicamp, working on kickoffs. Neither Bailey, nor incumbent Ryan Allen participated in punting drills.
- Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown was present on Thursday, helping out the Patriots’ coaching staff. As was the case during spring practices, he worked with the wide receivers. Brown was seen working with Danny Etling, in particular, after practice had adjourned for the day.
- Jerod Mayo served as the play caller for the Patriots defense during parts of 11-on-11 drills. It continues to look likely that Mayo will have a prominent role amongst the defensive coaching staff.
- There were some notable absences from practice including OC David Andrews, DE Michael Bennett and OT Yodny Cajuste. It was later reported that Bennett was excused for personal reasons. Cajuste is currently on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list.
- Six players were present, but did not participate: WR Julian Edelman (NFI), WR Demaryius Thomas (PUP), RB Sony Michel (PUP), OT Cole Croston (PUP), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (PUP), CB Ken Webster (PUP), SS Nate Ebner (PUP).
The Patriots return to the practice fields for Day Two of Training Camp at 9:15 am on Friday, July 26.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC