The New England Patriots have already held practice in front of fans this summer, but Thursday’s preseason opener will still be different. While a few thousand fans usually show up to practice, there is a chance that Gillette Stadium will be filled close to its capacity against the Washington Football Team.
Sure, we are talking about an exhibition game. After one year of Coronavirus-created disruption, however, football is still finally back in New England. Fans are allowed back into the stadium for the first time since January 2020, and they are not the only ones looking forward to it.
“I really can’t wait,” Patriots defensive back Jalen Mills said earlier this week.
“Of course, it’s a preseason game; I don’t know if it’s going to be filled up or not. I really can’t wait, though, because I know it’s going to be more fans than we had at these last two practices.”
The Patriots held two practices in front of fans inside Gillette Stadium, but those sessions were obviously not meant to recreate a game-day environment. Thursday’s contest against Washington will be different.
For Mills, it will be his first time wearing his full uniform in front of the New England faithful. The 27-year-old arrived in free agency earlier this year, signing a four-year contract with the Patriots.
Mills’ first game as a member of the organization will come against a familiar opponent. He spent the first five years of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, after all, and has a total of six games against the Football Team on his résumé. As he pointed out this week, he helped his new teammates prepare for their first opponent of the season.
“I played those guys for five years,” he said. “They had Coach Rivera; he’s on his second year now, so I played against him. Given a couple guys on defense a couple of pointers — things that when I was in Philly and we were watching film. Different things that they may do, how they might try to scheme us up, or they put certain players in certain places, what plays they might run just from my knowledge of playing those guys.”
Neither team will go all-in on Thursday night, with multiple starters expected to be rested on both sides. Still, football will finally be back at Foxborough — and so will be the fans.