Yesterday, the New England Patriots returned to the practice fields after being away from them for more than a month. Practicing in front of more than 15,000 people on their first day of the training camp, the team was not perfect. However, it already was able to show why it is the clear-cut favorite to repeat as Super Bowl champion.
That being said, here are today's quick-hit thoughts on what happened yesterday and what this means for the team going forward.
The Patriots are quite popular.
As the most successful team in the NFL, the Patriots (who are also playing in one of the NFL's biggest markets) naturally are among the most popular teams. Yesterday's first training camp practice was another example for that: Fans were already lining up more than an hour before entrance, which itself takes place one hour before the start of the actual practice. Overall, 15,349 people visited the session – an impressive number.
New England's passing game weapons could be spectacular...
It was just the first day of training camp but one thing became clear already: The Patriots will feature a plethora of talented players in the passing game. Some of them have already been here in the past, some of them have joined the team this offseason; but no matter their history with the team, it appears as if they have the potential to keep defensive coordinators awake at night once the season starts.
Two players in particular have stood out during yesterday's session. Offseason acquisition Brandin Cooks seems to have already built a good rapport with quarterback Tom Brady, while tight end Rob Gronkowski looks like his old, dominant, non-injured self. Both have been spectacular yesterday and – even though it is still far too early to definitively say – could be part of a group that is tough to stop.
...not only on offense.
New England's weaponry extends beyond the offensive side of the ball, however. As has been on display yesterday, the Patriots also appear to be rather deep in the defensive secondary. Starting cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore have been competitive in coverage against the team's skill position players – and they were not alone.
Last year's number three cornerback Eric Rowe has looked good yesterday while Jonathan Jones saw plenty of quality snaps at slot cornerback. Undrafted rookie Kenny Moore, in the meantime, was one of the standout players of the session. In short: While New England's offensive skill position depth looks very good, the depth in the secondary should not be underestimated either.
The battle for the slot cornerback spot is wide open.
While the secondary depth has did look good yesterday, one of its spots has not yet been settled: The race for the fourth cornerback spot/slot cornerback role behind Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe is still wide open as no player was able to separate himself from the competition. Kenny Moore and Jonathan Jones were the most active players in what appears to become an intriguing battle going forward.
It is far too early to draw definitive conclusions, though.
While it was nice to see the Patriots display some solid chemistry and emotion on both sides of the ball, it is far too early to draw any definitive conclusions. After all, the team did not even wear full pads for yesterday's session. The next step in evaluating the 2017 Patriots does therefore come on Saturday, when the team holds its first practice in full pads.