By Bob Socci, 98.5 The Sports Hub
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Noting the strips of blue tape on the metal bleachers, each designating a seat for media and intended to keep us a safe distance from one another, I set my backpack down on a bench directly next to a carousel of hand sanitizers.
Unlike year’s past, when I would have entered Gillette Stadium from the East and been subjected to a security screening, today I walked in from the West.
Instead of a bag check, I got a temperature check.
There were no families of players and coaches on the hill to our left. Nor fans filling the sideline stands end zone berm to our right.
Oddest of all — on field, anyway — was the absence of the quarterback who’d grown accustomed for two decades to appearing daily to wild cheers of the thousands of people no longer present at this year’s Patriots training camp.
Welcome to 2020. Tom Brady is a Buccaneer and his old team, like the rest of the NFL, has had to close its quarters to the masses. If not the masked. Of which I was one, fortunate enough to have a seat and enjoy the sight of football again on the team’s first day of padded practices.
Even if my view was unclear at times, as seen through glasses made foggy by the cloth covering my nose and mouth.
Here’s some of what I saw — and heard — on day one in pads.
Loud And Clear
The vacant and silent surroundings made much of what was said on the field audible throughout practice. Per usual, running backs coach Ivan Fears was in full throat, vocalizing his energy and enthusiasm throughout practice.
Also not surprisingly, so was the most notable of newcomers.
Last week veteran defensive tackle Lawrence Guy hailed Cam Newton for the “dynamic he brings into the locker room,” echoing what other Patriots had to say about the “energy” the new quarterback emotes. Monday he brought it to the field.
But Newton wasn’t alone. By a series of 11-on-11 drills conducted at a moderated pace toward the end of practice, the chatter amplified between the defense and offense.
No doubt, the volume will get cranked up as the physical intensity ratchets up in the days ahead.
As much as we anticipate and expect out of new Patriots, whether already established (Newton) or undergoing their NFL baptismal (the rookies), the early days of training camp are a good reminder that experience in the system is a distinct advantage.
Take Brian Hoyer, the most experienced of Pats’ quarterbacks in his third stint in New England.
Similar to the outset of last year’s camp, Hoyer started strong on Monday. He threw with zip in warm ups and delivered the best ball of the day during 11-on-11 reps.
It was a deep rainbow down the right sideline to receiver Devin Ross, who beat Joejuan Williams in coverage. Later, Hoyer hit Ross in the back of the end zone, as Kyle Dugger and Jonathan Jones trailed on the play.
Meanwhile, Newton is trying to play catch-up. Understandably, there was a moment of apparent indecision at the line of scrimmage, followed by a late throw here and a high throw there.
As another example, tight end Ryan Izzo has a head start over rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Izzo modeled good technique in route-running drills and earned praise more than once for his blocking.
At the same time, Asiasi is working extra to improve that latter aspect of his game. During a punt period for special teams, Asiasi joined position coach Nick Caley on an adjacent field for tutelage as a blocker.
Jermaine Eluemunor continues to rep at right tackle this training camp, after appearing briefly at guard in 2019. Eluemunor played tackle in his final season at Texas A&M and fills the position, physically, at 6-foot-4 and 335 pounds, with 33-inch arms.
His bulk and on-field experience as a fourth-year NFL vet, right away give Eluemunor an advantage over 310-pound Yodney Cajuste, who missed all of his rookie season with an injury predating the 2019 draft.
1. Sony Michel and Lamar Miller’s presence on the PUP list will give second-year back Damien Harris ample opportunities to earn a prominent role at a crowded position. Monday was a good start. He quickly hit the hole on handoffs and caught the ball consistently as a pass target. Harris bears watching closely when the Pats get to goal line runs in the coming days.
2. Fullback Jakob Johnson enjoyed a strong sequence blocking in the run-heavy practice. With James Develin retired and Danny Vitale opting out of the season, Johnson looks determined to take over a valuable position in the Pats’ offense.
3. Speaking of an invaluable position, rookie kicker Justin Rohrwasser went 3-for-5 on field goals, hooking one miss left and pushing another right. It’s only day one in pads. Plus, field goals and PAT’s involve an operation — snapper, holder, kicker — that times time to develop. That said, Rohrwasser has a long way to go in a short time (Sept. 13) to prove himself steady enough to succeed Stephen Gostkowski.
4. Considering their substantial personnel losses in the front seven, the Pats are fortunate to have a pair of well-traveled pros who’ve made themselves at home in New England’s defense — Lawrence Guy and John Simon. Their stellar leadership by example was evident throughout Monday’s practice, in both individual and team drills.
You can hear Bob Socci on the call of the game on every game day for the New England Patriots, right here on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can also hear him on his own The Gridiron And Beyond podcast at 985TheSportsHub.com.