FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Thousands of fans flocked Thursday to Gillette Stadium, held custom-made signs and screamed for quarterback Tom Brady as the New England Patriots opened their gates for the first day of training camp.

The first day of camp was an introduction course of sorts, with players in shells with no contact and tackling until Saturday. Still, the sun was shining, fans were screaming and the 2019 Patriots were here.

A few surprise absences included Michael Bennett and David Andrews. Others not practicing were already on the physically unable to perform list (Sony Michel, Demaryius Thomas, Deatrich Wise, Nate Ebner, Ken Webster and Cole Croston) or non-football injury list (Julian Edelman and Yodny Cajuste).

Edelman, who reportedly broke his left thumb three weeks ago, was at practice but worked on his conditioning on a lower field. Others, including receiver Phillip Dorsett, are stepping up.

“We all know what we have to do. We all know at the end of the day we have to try and get better no matter who’s out here, no matter who’s up,” Dorsett said. “(Edelman) is our leader. We know that. We told him we’re going to have to step up for him. I’m just trying to go out there, pick each other, trying to get better every day. That’s all we can focus on right now.”

Back for a training camp in New England was linebacker Jamie Collins, a Super Bowl champion in 2014 who found himself banished to pro football’s purgatory two years later when he was traded to the Cleveland Browns as the Patriots marched toward another appearance in the championship game. Collins was released by the Browns in March and re-signed with New England in May.

“I’m very excited,” said Collins, 29. “It’s another day. It’s our job, it’s my job. I have a great opportunity … I’m very happy to be back.”

Collins was the Patriots’ second-round draft choice in 2013 out of Southern Mississippi, the 52nd overall selection, and quickly established himself as an impact player. In 2014 he had a career-high 138 tackles, including 91 solo hits, as the Patriots advanced to a 28-24 victory over Seattle in the Super Bowl.

Collins earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2015, but amid concerns about his undisciplined play and speculation he would leave through free agency, the Patriots traded him to the Browns at the 2016 trade deadline for a third-round draft choice.

“That’s just the league,” Collins said. “That’s the business. You just keep doing what you’re doing, keep working and keep moving forward.”

Meanwhile, Brady was back looking like Brady – sharp in full-team drills against a solid secondary. Brian Hoyer took the top backup reps and Jared Stidham also got work with full-team drills.

With Andrews out, James Ferentz took most of the center snaps with Brady. Isaiah Wynn was the starting left tackle during walkthroughs but didn’t participate in 11-on-11 drills. Joe Thuney swapped over to left tackle during full-team drills with Ted Karras sliding into left guard.

Brady and Hoyer had two side sessions with rookie N’Keal Harry and veteran tight end Ben Watson. Harry made a nice touchdown grab from Brady in 11-on-11s.

Watson said he didn’t sleep well Wednesday night. At 38, he unretired to join the Patriots for his 16th NFL camp, and admitted to tossing and turning.

“I still got a little bit of camp jitters. I’m 38 years old, why do I have camp jitters?” said Watson, who has a sprinkling of gray in his still full head of hair. “You still think about your assignments and the things you want to get right, and the ways you still want to improve.”

Watson began his seventh Patriots training camp but first since 2009 after stints in Cleveland, New Orleans and Baltimore. His daughter, Grace, who was born during his last stint in Foxborough, stood nearby.

“It’s special, it’s surreal but it’s different. It’s a different year. It’s a different time in my life, a totally different team, a totally different situation,” Watson said. “To come back and see the fans definitely brings back some good memories.”

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