It’s been a long offseason for everyone in the NFL. Due to COVID-19, no one practiced in May or June. Training camp has been slowly ramping up and on Friday, the Patriots held their first team practice inside Gillette Stadium.

Pads won’t be on until Monday, but players said after practice that it felt good to finally get on the field and compete against their teammates.

“I think the biggest takeaway is we’re a team and we still need to make a lot of improvements and we still need to focus on getting better each and every day we get on the field,” Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty said. “This is when it’s most exciting. You’re excited to go out there and compete with your guys on your side of the ball to compete against the guys on the other side. We’re not in those dog days of camp yet. Right now just fun to get out there and compete.”

The practice on Friday with no pads or contact allowed is often called ‘passing camp’ and it resembles something closer to touch football than actual football. However, it’s in these sessions where you start to notice quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs. These practices will lead the Pats into next week when the pads come on and the competition intensifies.
It’s been a strange offseason, but football is around the corner.

“I think guys are just working hard,” said Patriots linebacker John Simon. “We’ve come along way away in the past week, week in a half. We just have to keep stacking days, putting in good days of work. It was nice to go against the offense for once today. Get a little friendly competition there. Everything starts moving a little faster. It’s a step by step thing… if we keep stacking days hopefully we’ll be there.”

ASK BILL Belichick. He knows the rookies coming into camp for the New England Patriots could use a life vest.

“They’re in deep water, in turbulent water, and it’s going to get rougher,” Belichick said via video call Friday. “Just in terms of the volume and the level of competition and becoming a professional athlete, and the full days and the consecutive days that get strung together with very high demands; both physically and mentally and with rest and recovery and all that.”

The Patriots dove into a full team practice Friday morning, one that will pitted the offense against the defense in full-speed situations for the first time this training camp. Belichick said this session will finally allow the coaching staff to begin evaluating their rookie class, one of the most important in recent franchise history.

Belichick said that period will last seven to 10 days, at which point they’ll have an idea of whether the kids can play.

“I think they’re just trying to keep their head above water and swim or paddle in the right direction, knowing that they’re not really able to keep up, but they’re doing the best they can,” Belichick said. “They’re way, way ahead of where they were a week ago, two weeks ago, a month ago, two months ago.

“A lot of progress there, but a long way to go.”

CAM NEWTON has certainly made an impression on some of his teammates.

“He’s a specimen for sure,” Julian Edelman said. “When you first meet him, just his stature. The dude is large! Put together well and he’s got great energy. He’s got a great energy about himself. I was really impressed with his work ethic and his mindset.”

Added Lawrence Guy: “The dynamic he brings into the locker room and everybody embracing him, it’s the best part, because we have a unique team here. Once he came in, he fit right in.”

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