The New England Patriots hosted their first practice on Wednesday to prepare for the 2020 NFL season. Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Patriots — like the rest of the NFL — were forced to skip minicamp and offseason team activities. Instead, the Patriots have conducted the entire offseason online, with virtual meetings.
That means that this session was the team’s first time on the field together as a 2020 unit. That also meant the first look at quarterback Cam Newton along with the rookie class and free agent signings. Because the practice was closed, we were left to glean what we could from a video livestream and from the notes of pool reporters.
Here’s what we noticed in our short window.
1. Brian Hoyer took the first snaps from under center
It went Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham, Newton and Brian Lewerke. That’s, of course, not necessarily how the quarterback battle will look when Week 1 rolls around. But it makes sense in a Patriots sort of way. Hoyer has the most experience in New England’s system, so they consider him the top player at the position. Stidham was on the roster last year as Tom Brady’s understudy, so they clearly value that experience. Newton, meanwhile, is on a one-year prove-it deal. And though he’ll probably win the job, the Patriots are probably reminding him and the media that Newton has a long way to go.
2. Tom Brady wasn’t there.
3. The players are just happy to play football
The pandemic has created so much uncertainty and change. Perhaps the return of football — even with the acknowledgement that it could go away again — can provide a level of comfort. Certainly, guard Shaq Mason seemed thrilled to get to work — even during a pandemic.
“It was great,” Mason said Wednesday in a video conference call. “Naturally, nobody’s played football since we last were all together. I think more than anything, it was just great energy. Everybody’s just excited to get back out on the football field to grind. When we haven’t been able to go out there as a unit and do things as a whole, but today, it was good to get all of the guys out there. It was all smiles, high energy. We were all glad to get back.”
4. Lamar Miller wasn’t present — yet. He needs to pass his COVID tests
Miller’s signing with the team is official, per his agent. But because of NFL policy, the veteran running back must have three negative COVID tests before he begins working with the team on-site.
5. Troy Brown is making an impact with his new position groups
The Patriots have shuffled job titles along with a few new hires. After a year of working with the receivers, Brown is now working with running backs and special teams returners, which included safety Kyle Dugger, receiver Gunner Olszewski, receiver Isaiah Zuber and running back l J.J. Taylor.
It sounds like the running backs are enjoying Brown’s perspective.
“Troy’s been great to work with,” running back Rex Burkhead said Wednesday in a video conference call. “Just his understanding of the game. Of course, he played many years here, so he’s familiar with the system, how things are run here. The biggest thing is technique-wise, route-running, certain things maybe you haven’t seen before or looked at that way just because I’ve played running back. He sees it from a wide receiver lens, and so it translates over to some of our routes and how we run them. He’s been great with that, teaching me, James (White) and all of the other backs certain ways to get to positions out there and really how to use our techniques.”