After not participating in OTAs, QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski returned to Patriots Camp today for the official first day of minicamp. The 2018 AFC Champions and winners of 2 of the last 4 Super Bowls will be contenders once again this season, albeit with an altered starting lineup than in past seasons. The Pats will be without CB Malcolm Butler (who famously picked off Russel Wilson in Super Bowl XLIX to seal the franchise’s 4th championship), OTs Cameron Fleming and Nate Solder, RB Dion Lewis (who had over 1,100 yards of total offense with nine touchdowns in 2017), and wideouts Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks. The Pats also lost backup QBs Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers) midway through 2017, after already losing Jacoby Brissett (Colts) the Winter prior.
Before this year’s draft, the Pats attempted to beef up some positions, particularly on defense, after losing several players via free agency. Belichick signed pro bowl safety Devin McCourty’s brother Jason, a cornerback who spent last season in Cleveland after a 7-year run in Tennessee. New England also got Cleveland DT Danny Shelton to help with a middle of the pack (42.o sacks last year) pass rush. Jeremy Hill, who had 2,700 rushing yards with Cincinnati from 2014-2016, signed with NE this offseason after starting just 7 games last year (37 touches for 116 yards). The Pats also picked up Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn, Cardinals TE Troy Niklas, and Seahawks T Matt Tobin.
The first 3 picks in the draft for the Pats addressed some of their positional needs. With their first pick (23rd overall) the team went with Isaiah Wynn (OT-Georgia), the 6’3″, 313-pound lineman from St. Petersburg, Florida who was knocked by some scouts for his short arms (32 inches). Though he is listed as a tackle, the 2017 2nd team all-American could move to guard to better suit his size. Eight picks later at #31 the Pats stayed with the Bulldogs by going with Sony Michel (RB-Georgia) who played behind Wynn for the past 3 years. Though often overshadowed by fellow UGA RB Nick Chubb (who went to Cleveland in the 2nd round), Michel has an impressive college resume. He rushed for over 3,600 yard (6.1 average) and 39 total touchdowns in 4 years with the Bulldogs. With the 56th overall pick in the 2nd round, the Pats selected 5’11”, 197-pound CB Duke Dawson out of Florida. Dawson played in 48 games over four seasons for the Gators, recording six interceptions (three returned for TDs), 23 pass breakups and 82 tackles. He will look to fill the void of Butler for 2018.
Bill Belichick opened his post-practice press conference by stating the goals for this week of minicamp. “I think we’re making progress. We obviously have a long way to go. We’ll start getting into some situational football and keep moving things ahead, but I feel like we’ve got a decent couple weeks. Hopefully we can just keep stringing some good days together this week and get ready by the end of the process, put ourselves in the best position we can to get to training camp. That’s really what this is about. Just try to keep stringing them together.”
When asked about the controversy over the Philadelphia Eagles no longer being welcomed at the White House by President Donald Trump, Belichick declined to comment and reaffirmed the goals for minicamp. “We’re focused on what we’re doing. Yeah, we’re focused on what we’re doing today. We want to try to have a good day.” The Pats HC also did not answer multiple questions regarding NFL National Anthem policy for the upcoming season.
Tom Brady was not available for official media reporting, but several players including Rob Gronkowski were. “It felt good. It’s awesome to see the guys again, be back out on the field with them just competing. It was good competition today. It was fast,” Gronk told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “Feels good to be back out there, seeing where I’m at, seeing how the body feels and everything. It’s been a little bit. The most enjoyable part of it was just seeing the guys again, the camaraderie around the locker room, out on the field. It’s just good.”
There were rumors throughout this offseason that Gronkowski considered retiring. Despite a great 2017 campaign in which he led TEs in reception yards and tied for 2nd in TD receptions, his agent Drew Rosenhaus repeatedly said that all options were on the table.
“I was just seeing where I was at, at first. I mean obviously after long seasons – they’re hauling seasons, long-hauling seasons – it definitely was in the mind but I had to do what I had to do,” the 4x all-pro said. “I felt where I felt good enough, get my body prepared, get my body right again, see where my body was at, see where my mind was at and I glad to be back out here. I feel like I definitely made the right decision coming back out.”
Julian Edelman is returning to the offense after missing all of last season due to a torn ACL, which occurred during a preseason game against the Detroit Lions on August 25th. Edelman talked about getting back on the field after a 9 month hiatus- “I mean, it’s been good. Anytime you get to go out and see the fellas and play with them and talk with them and be in the huddle and look at guys and participate in drills – I mean, that’s what you play the game for, ultimately. It was tough to watch it all on the sideline last year and to come out here and just to do little things, strap on the helmet, puts in perspective how lucky you are to get to play the game.”
The New England Patriots will open up their regular season on September 9th at Gillette Stadium against the Houston Texans.