With the Tom Brady suspension hanging over Foxboro like a looming thunder storm, the New England Patriots opened training camp yesterday at Gillette Stadium.
The NFL's ruling on Tuesday that Brady's four-game suspension would be upheld has placed a rare feeling of uncertainty at the beginning of a Patriots camp. Bill Belichick is all about control and not knowing if his Hall of Fame quarterback will be playing the first four games can not have the eternally grumpy head coach in the best of moods.
If Brady does have to sit - the NFL Players Association has filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Brady in an attempt to reduce or eliminate the suspension - then Belichick is likely to hand the ball to second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the team's second round pick in 2014.
According to reports from camp, both Brady and Garoppolo looked good yesterday. The Boston Herald reported that Brady was 27-for-30 during team drills while Garoppolo was 28-for-36 in team drills.
The spotlight will be focused heavily on Garoppolo and his development over the next month and while he said all the right things yesterday, you would have to believe he's going to be feeling the pressure of potentially taking over for Brady in September as the team starts its Super Bowl defense.
When asked about the possibility of taking over the starters job if Brady's court appeal fails, Garoppolo said, "We're not really looking that far ahead." Although the Patriots organization does a better job of any professional sports franchise at focusing on the day-to-day details, I doubt Garoppolo would pass a lie-detector test with that comment.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said both quarterbacks split their reps about 50-50 on the first day but Brady spent all of his time with the first team. As camp progresses, it will be interesting to see how the reps are distributed - and to see if the third quarterback, Matt Flynn, takes many reps - as it will be important to make sure Garoppolo has as many opportunities as possible to prepare with the first team offense.
The team's offense has a chance to be special. All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski makes any attack potent and when you pair him with receivers Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, and Danny Amendola, any quarterback would be blessed to lead that offense.
An addition to this group that could cause nightmares for opposing defenses is Scott Chandler. A 6-7, 260-pound tight end, Chandler will benefit greatly from the attention paid to Gronkowski and will make for a nice Red Zone target for Brady (or Garoppolo).
If third-year receiver Aaron Dobson builds on a strong off-season to bounce back from a poor second season and second-year running back James White can absorb at least part of the role that Shane Vereen - now with the Giants - played in the past, the passing attack will be one of the best in the entire NFL. Travaris Cadet and Dion Lewis are also in the mix to be the primary "third down back" if White is not up to the challenge of replacing Vereen.
The running game will rely on the power game of LeGarrette Blount with White, James Develin, Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray, and Tyler Gaffney competing in camp for a roster spot.
The offensive line had a very young look to it yesterday. Nate Solder at left tackle and the combination of Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon at right tackle did provide a veteran presence but second-year center Bryan Stork and rookies Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason at right and left guard provided the unit with a youthful appearance.
Stork did establish himself as very good center as a rookie and can be projected to develop into a leader of the line even at this point of his career. The focus will be on the development of Jackson and Mason for both their individual ability to establish a passing pocket as well as to open holes for the power running game of Blount.
Veteran Ryan Wendell can play guard and center and will provide depth while Cannon can also slide in to play guard. The development of second-year tackle Cameron Fleming, who helped the power running game as a rookie when he came in as a tight end/third tackle, will dictate Cannon's flexibility to play guard. Both Josh Kline and Jordan Devey will compete for a spot as a reserve.
In a light moment for day one of training camp, a few Jets fans rented a plane to fly over Gillette Stadium in an attempt to troll the Patriots and their fans.
To no one's surprise, Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports came up with a great retort to the Jets fans.
Light moments like this are what make great rivalries like Patriots-Jets great for the game and great for the fans.
The team announced that attendance on day one was 10,108.
Imagine that there was a time when that would have been a good crowd at the old Foxboro Stadium for a regular season game and now they get that many people to watch the team practice in shirts, shorts, and helmets.
If you plan on going to practice, get there early or you will either be stuck in an obstructed viewing spot or will be shut out completely.