Five things to watch at Day 1 of Patriots training camp practice


We've been all over the construction of the roster, the hierarchy of the AFC prior to camp, and the spots on the team we'll be watching most closely throughout the course of camp. You've been bombarded with big-picture coverage. 

But what about Thursday's practice? On-the-field work kicks off right around the same time the nine-to-fivers settle into their swivel chairs. After that we're expecting to see a workout that will resemble those we witnessed during OTAs and minicamp: It'll be an extension of passing camp. 

What's that mean? What should we expect? Where should you be looking if you're able to head to the fields yourself and watch? 

Glad you asked. 


Tom Brady doesn't yet have a new contract. He's surrounded by weapons he's never worked with before, weapons he's barely worked with before, and weapons named James White, Rex Burkhead and Phillip Dorsett. Going up against what is widely considered one of the best secondaries in football, it could get ugly. But it probably won't. With everyone running around out there in shorts and T-shirts, Brady will be accurate, he'll be demanding, and he'll make it look good even when throwing to guys whose names you didn't know before the spring.


We plumbed this topic in some detail -- with an assist from the minds at Pro Football Focus -- in our Field Guide to Training Camp series Wednesday. Because Thursday and Friday will be passing-camp days, essentially, we're not going to be paying much attention to the big heavies at the line. Nope. This is about pass-catchers and those defending them. In the slot is where some of the most intriguing battles will be fought on days like Thursday. With Julian Edelman out, who's inside in first-team 11-personnel packages? Is it Braxton Berrios? Is it Maurice Harris? What about undrafted slot options Jakobi Meyers or Ryan Davis? Or does N'Keal Harry's skill set make sense inside? (It does, but if he's in there then who plays outside?) Defensively, does Duke Dawson get any run with the bigger names in the secondary -- as he did last summer before getting injured -- or do all of those reps go to Jonathan Jones? This is a crucial section of the field and . . . we're not really sure how the Patriots will handle it. 


Of course everyone will want to know where Harry aligns, what types of routes he runs, and whether he and Brady can establish any kind of chemistry. What I really want to see, though, is if we can get a little window into his makeup early on in camp. This is going to be hard for him. He knows that. But he's succeeded at every level. He's always been able to physically dominate his opposition -- even in the Pac-12. How does he handle failure? I've spoken to his coaches about it. I spoke to him about it after one spring workout when he was particularly down on himself for not coming down with every pass sent his way. That's going to happen again, you have to assume. And probably more than once. If he gets mad and uses that to spark greater focus and better results, then great. If he is so taken aback by the difficulty of it all and starts to see diminishing returns because he's dwelling on the negative, that's not great. It's certainly not the end of the world, but it might mean conquering his emotions will have to be added to his rookie checklist -- along with conquering the playbook and conquering the layout of the labyrinth that are the facilities Gillette Stadium.


The Patriots are an interesting team in that they're very young in some pockets; they've drafted 19 players the last two seasons. They're getting up there in other pockets. Players like Brady, Edelman (out as he deals with an injured thumb), Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Patrick Chung and Matthew Slater are going into at least their tenth training camp. No one enjoys camp, as Devin McCourty explained Wednesday. It's a necessary evil. But will Bill Belichick maybe dial things back for a group that's coming off of another long season? It's a group that's going to rely on its most important veterans in December and January. It wouldn't surprise me if they got a bit of a breather in the early going. Especially with two sets of joint practices on the road -- in Detroit and Tennessee -- coming up on the calendar. 


We've been over the overwhelming changes made to the Patriots coaching staff this year. Will that impact the efficiency that has characterized Belichick's practices for so long? There is little wasted time, if any, on the Patriots practice fields this time of year. At least traditionally that has been the case. But there are so many new faces on Belichick's staff -- and many of the familiar faces are in new roles and/or very early in their coaching careers -- that I'll be interested to see if we'll be saying, "Same as it ever was," as we watch players and coaches move from one drill to the next as the air horn sounds.

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