Patriots quite happy to get back to work
FOXBOROUGH - They arrived at Gillette Stadium yesterday like it was the first day of school. Members of the Patriots greeted each other with handshakes and man-hugs and walked inside the building for the first time in more than 100 days ready for work on the first day after the end of the lockout.
“Everybody was happy,’’ safety Patrick Chung said. “I feel like I haven’t seen my brothers in a while. It’s hard not to be able communicate with the guys you’re playing with and the guys who are taking care of your body and the guys that are teaching you the playbook. It’s hard not to have that communication. Now it’s back, it’s like we never missed a beat.’’
Players used yesterday to fill out paperwork and to complete physicals in preparation for the first official day of camp today. Many took advantage of the voluntary workday as Tom Brady, receivers Deion Branch and Wes Welker, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and others arrived in Foxborough.
The return to business also meant a return to reality as some players received word they would need to find another job in this condensed period of roster moves. Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain and defensive back Tony Carter were among the first to be told they would be released. It was a reminder that there are positions to be won and lost before the Patriots open Sept. 12 against the Dolphins.
Today, players are expected to complete conditioning tests and have meetings with coaches in preparation for the first two practices tomorrow and Friday, which will be open to the public. With the new collective bargaining agreement, there will be changes to training camp structure.
Teams no longer can hold two padded practices on the same day. Two-a-day sessions were viewed as a way to improve conditioning and give players added reps. But it doesn’t mean players will miss the grueling sessions.
“I don’t think it’s a terrible thing,’’ Welker said. “It depends on where you are at in your career. I feel like I know how to push myself and if I need extra running, I can do that on my own and get the extra stuff that I need to make sure I’m ready to go out there and play on the field.’’
During the lockout, Welker said he flew to Los Angeles to work out with Brady and be productive and avoid some of the lockout coverage.
“It was nice to just get out there, throw the ball around, and kind of get back into a groove a little bit, and kind of get you excited about the year and want to get out there,’’ Welker said. “It’s definitely one of those deals where you knew it was going to happen, but you really didn’t know. And now that it’s here, you’re really excited about it, and you’re happy it’s here and you’re really looking forward to it.’’
Chung said he stayed around New England during the lockout and kept up with workouts. But he couldn’t wait to get back to the stadium.
“I’ve been waiting around for months,’’ Chung said. “I almost put my helmet on and walked around my house the other day. I bet guys are ready to be back. We’re just ready to go, ready to get these games started.’’
Among those seen walking into Gillette Stadium yesterday was Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has been credited by many with being the difference in negotiations between players and owners.
Kraft’s dedication made an impact not only on those outside the organization but with his players.
“It’s always great to have Mr. Kraft in your corner,’’ Welker said. “You know he’s the instrumental part of what got this deal done. I don’t think there’s any question about that. I think all of the owners really looked to Mr. Kraft to make all of those things happen. It’s great to have an owner like that, who has as much passion for the game as you do.’’
Added Chung, “I love him. That’s my guy. He wants to play football. I feel he could care less about this stuff. He wants to play football and get going and show the fans what they want to see. I miss my fans, the fans miss us, so it’s time to go.’’
Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.