By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Normally at this point in the year, the bleachers and grassy hills behind Gillette Stadium would be packed with tens of thousands of fans taking in Patriots training camp practices.
Of course, this isn't just some year. It's the infamous 2020. The training camp schedule is completely out of whack, and when the team is on the field, there are no fans or media present. This is the deepest into a year we've gone without some sort of look at the latest edition of the Patriots.
The team threw those of us starving for football a bone on Wednesday, live-streaming the first half hour of practice on their Twitter account.
LIVE from #PatsCamp! https://t.co/6xjpJsHWO9
Perhaps the biggest surprise seeing an NFL practice for the first time in 2020? There were no major surprises. Sure the players were a bit more spread out than usual, and of course there's a different energy without the fans. But overall, things seemed to be business as usual in Foxborough.
There's likely more to that than what appears on the surface. We've heard from people in multiple sports that the best thing teams can do in such a weird time is keep things as normal for the players. Athletes are so focused on routines and rhythms, and the more organizations can do to keep those intact, the better.
It may have just been a brief glimpse today, but from what we saw it appears the Patriots are doing just that. Players speaking after practiced seemed to back that up in their comments as well.
From a football point of view, the biggest news was seeing the Patriots quarterbacks take practice reps for the first time. For the last 19 years, Tom Brady has been at the front of that line, so many wondered what it would look like this year.
Patriots quarterbacks stretching before practice pic.twitter.com/ONAx47yC8y
Instead of presumptive starter Cam Newton, or upstart second year sensation Jarrett Stidham, it was veteran Brian Hoyer getting to go first. He was followed by Stidham, then Newton, and finally Michigan State UDFA Brian Lewerke.
Those who are rooting for a quarterback controversy certainly dug in right away, but there's a seemingly relevant pattern here. The four quarterbacks were throwing in order of seniority.
Hoyer, although he signed as a free agent this spring, is beginning his third stint and sixth season in New England. Then comes Stidham, who is in year two, with Cam Newton having the least amount of time in Patriots uniform between the three rounding out the group.
For the crowd who wants to turn this into a massive quarterback conspiracy theory, go right ahead. But much like most other conspiracy theories, there's a much more simple, logical explanation right in front of you.
One more observation from the 30-minute session that was streamed, and that involves Bill Belichick. There was some speculation that so many Patriots players opted out of the season because they didn't trust Belichick to take COVID precautions seriously in his pursuit of winning football games.
Based on what we saw today, that couldn't be farther from the truth. All of the Patriots coaches appeared to be masked up. That includes Belichick himself, who in the few glimpses we saw of him was standing well away from most of the action.
Bill Belichick, wearing a mask pic.twitter.com/LoNtw87wEJ
Will this mix of normally and precaution hold up when the team enters Phase Three next week? Will Cam Newton move up in the quarterback throwing order? Both good questions to keep in mind as Patriots training camp continues.