The Patriots are back ... well, sort of.
The team was in fact back on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Wednesday as a continuation of their new-look training camp, but still not quite ready to don pads as everyone wore shorts and helmets.
The 90-minute workout was crisp with players quickly moving from drill to drill with surprising precision given the lack of preparation time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The setting was changed slightly with a new shed built behind the left field for extra equipment with an additional athletic training area. The pre-practice warm-up routine was altered slightly with the offense on the right field and the defense on the left side. The players were spread out about 5 yards apart as they went through calisthenics, likely in an effort to socially distance as best as they could.
Otherwise the activities looked similar to those that would take place during any other unpadded practice. Here are some of the observations from our first look at the 2020 New England Patriots.
*In what may have been the best news of the day, David Andrews was back in uniform and took part in practice after missing the 2019 season due to complications with blood clots in his lungs. Obviously with no pads there weren't any opportunities to assess Andrews' play, but his presence alone was encouraging. Andrews is a solid center and his absence hurt the offensive line last season, but his leadership in the locker room as also sorely missed.
"It's huge. David, he's an unbelievable player, not only just player but captain for this team, leader of this team and just what else he brings," running back Rex Burkhead said after practice. "He's a master communicator up front, to get everyone in the right position and moving on the same page. He does it every single day with consistency. He's a great guy to follow for those young guys and that room to go to if they have any questions."
"It's great having David back in the lineup and back healthy," guard Shaq Mason added. "You know that's our guy, it's always great having him back in the lineup and back able to contribute to our o-line."
*Free agent newcomer Adrian Phillips was the first player on the field, making his way up the stairs about 15 minutes before the start of practice. The former Chargers safety figures to have a big role in the secondary after Patrick Chung decided to opt out this season, perhaps elevating him to the starting spot alongside Devin McCourty. Rookie Kyle Dugger, who donned No. 50 by the way, also could factor into the safety situation with Terrence Brooks.
*First impression of Cam Newton in a Patriots uniform? Imposing. He is a large human being and his mobility at that size was even more striking. Again, no pads or really anything to physically evaluate as of yet, but he fills out a uniform.
*As for the rest of the quarterbacks, they spent a lot of time with Jedd Fisch, the new quarterbacks coach, and seemed to do a lot of drills while throwing on the run. Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Lewerke all joined Newton in those drills and each took turns throughout the morning. Fisch spent several minutes talking to Newton at one point as the others spent time handing off to the crew of running backs.
*Second-year wide receiver N'Keal Harry looked a bit trimmer than I last remembered. He's always been a physical specimen at 6-4, 225 pounds, but he appeared a bit leaner Wednesday morning and looked to be moving well during drills.
*The remainder of the receiving crew also was noticeable as they worked on several drills that included route running, blocking and beating press coverage. Julian Edelman was his normal self, bouncing around with tons of energy, but the same could be said of Jakobi Meyers, Mohamed Sanu and newcomer Damiere Byrd. Way too early to draw any conclusions from the workout but it was nice to see the group all healthy and on the field.
*Add rookie kicker Justin Rohrwasser to the group of physically imposing Patriots. OK, so he's a kicker and maybe he's not exactly imposing, but at 6-3, 230 he in no way resembled the normal NFL specialist. In fact, when he first made his way on the field wearing No. 55 there was some confusion between Rohrwasser and John Simon, who also wears 55. Simon is a 6-2, 260-pound edge player so the mere fact that the difference wasn't immediately obvious says something. Unfortunately we didn't get much of a chance to watch the rookie kick as he spent most of his time doing warmup drills with holder Jake Bailey.
*Stidham and Meyers entered the practice field together, enjoying a conversation as they made their way up the stairs and through the fields before joining the rest of their teammates. The scene reminded me of last summer when the tandem seemed to form an immediate bond and worked well together throughout camp and during the preseason. Meyers led the Patriots with 20 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns, with most of those receptions coming from Stidham.
*Troy Brown was part of the coaching staff last season and has added a title to his resume for 2020, serving as assistant running backs/kick returners coach. He spent a lot of time early in practice working with Dugger, Gunner Olszewski, Isaiah Zuber and J.J. Taylor as they handled punts out of the Jugs machine. As the players received the kicks, Brown threw blocking pads in their direction in an effort to create a distraction. All four did a nice job maintaining their concentration and handled the kicks with little problem.
*One other area that isn't necessarily new but feature a different look is the hills where the team does conditioning work at the end of practice. The area was opened up a bit and is much more manicured with lines on two separate inclines adjacent to each other. The players as usual ended things with several runs back and forth before continuing some side work.
*The effects of the coronavirus will certainly continue to play a role throughout the season, and that includes the media. Rather than the customary interviews that generally take place at the top of the stairs as the players depart, Wednesday featured some video calls instead. Burkhead, Byrd and Shaq Mason all took time to chat with the media after practice.
*The Patriots will be back at it on Thursday, again in just helmets, as they continue to ramp up their efforts for the start of contact early next week. All practices will be closed to the public this summer.