The early days of training camp were a comparatively unspectacular affair for the New England Patriots. While there were big plays on both sides of the ball, the first five practices did not yet taste like “real” football because one key element was missing — an element that will be added to the equation on Tuesday: full pads.
After going through the first five practices in either shells or no protective gear outside of helmets whatsoever, the Patriots will put on the full outfit for the first time all summer. Needless to say that there is plenty of excitement at Gillette Stadium.
Speaking to reporters after Monday’s session — one held in shells and helmets — players said that they would be looking forward to what lies ahead.
“Just more contact,” said wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. “DBs can put their hands on us more. Linebackers can thud up. O-linemen, D-linemen definitely can hit each other; double-teams and so on. Just more of a feel of football with pads on.”
“For a running back, that’s what we live for. With the pads, that should be fun,” added rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
The other side of the ball is also looking forward to the change as defensive back Jalen Mills pointed out.
“Slow these receivers down a little bit. Get to touch them a little bit,” Mills said when asked to share his thoughts on the outfit change. “We get to actually see what our team has. It’s a little bit more thumping going on between the O-line and D-line, linebackers, running backs, and cornerbacks and receivers.”
When the Patriots opened their camp last Wednesday, they were in helmets and shorts. The outfit stayed the same for the second session the following day, before the team put on shells for the next three practices on Friday, Saturday and Monday. Even with the added protection, no live tackling was allowed under the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement signed last spring.
That all will change on Tuesday, and the players are happy about it despite (or because of?) the added intensity.
“This is what it’s all about. A football player, a linebacker, we feed for contact and I’m ready for tomorrow,” said linebacker Raekwon McMillan on Monday.
“I haven’t hit anybody for a year-and-a-half, so I’m just ready to hit,” added running back Brandon Bolden, who opted out of the 2020 season due to the Coronavirus pandemic. “I’m coming in expecting to get hit, and everybody’s coming in expecting to get hit tomorrow. It will be fun. I truly believe it’s going to be a great day tomorrow.”
The players putting on full pads also means that the Patriots are taking the next step in their preparatory process. More concepts can be implemented while the evaluation process begins in full, especially when the physical positions along the line of scrimmage are concerned.
“It’s hard to evaluate the offensive and defensive lines without any kind of contact, which is essentially the way it’s been,” said head coach Bill Belichick during a media conference call on Monday morning. “So, we’ll see how it goes for all of them when we get contact and blocking and the feet and blocks and pass rushing and pass protection and so forth. We’ll see.”
Belichick also mentioned that this week would present a chance for his team to improve its fundamentals and get a feel for the game again.
“It’s a good opportunity for us this week to really work on our fundamentals and get used to playing in more real football-type conditions,” Belichick said. “A lot of work to do here. We just continue to build every day add a little something new. We need to add, be ready to go here by hopefully the end of the week and then that’ll give us a few days next week to start to prepare for Washington.”
The Patriots will wear full pads on Tuesday and are expected to wear a similar outfit for at least two of the subsequent three sessions as well. Real football is right around the corner, and the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium are now finally proof of that as well.