FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots donned full pads and conducted their first workout in full gear Sunday morning before a crowd of about 7,000 people at the upper fields behind Gillette Stadium.
While physical players such as linebacker Brandon Spikes relished the opportunity to create a little clatter on the field, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the first day of pads was the first look the coaching staff would get at their personnel under game-type speed and conditions.
"Today is the start of where we're able to see the contact,'' Belichick said before the start of Sunday's 9 a.m. practice, which was graced by the presence of actor Robert Duvall, who was escorted onto the field by owner Robert Kraft about an hour into the practice.
"Certainly [it] will help us in our evaluations of some of the bigger linemen and people like that, feel the play and working those positions,'' Belichick said. "We'll see how some of our guys, with their work in the offseason whether it's gain strength and explosion and power and all that, how that all transfers onto the football field in a functional matter or evaluating our younger players to see what their capacity is for that.
"We're at the start of that long evaluation period.''
Though he was excited to be back in full pads for the first time since the end of the 2012 season in the AFC Championship, Spikes said he had a bit of rust to knock off his game.
"I'm a physical player and I just want to get back out and try to get back into it,'' he said. "I think it was a good transition, but we've got a long way to go, though.''
Spikes said he looked forward in one drill in particular on the first day of pads.
"It was just the inside [run], doing 9-0n-7, it was all run and that's one of my strengths,'' Spikes said. "But, personally, I don't think I had a great day today. Got to get better tomorrow, definitely.''
Asked why that was the case, Spikes replied, "It was just a few false steps, a few bad reads, stuff like that. It's just practice. Thank God, it's just practice. I can correct that, the next day.''
On the inside run, the Patriots defense did force a pair of turnovers, both of which were committed by running back Stevan Ridley, who paid the price when he was forced to run the length of the field as pennance for his fumbles.
"We've been getting coached on that, trying to separate the player from the ball,'' Spikes said. "We got a few today, so hopefully we can continue to keep doing that, get turnovers, make plays and get the ball over to Tom [Brady]."
Asked the difference in the intensity level once the team dons the full pads, Spikes said, "Oh, man, it's like night and day to me. The OTAs and guys running around in shorts and t-shirts, you know, that's fun and it's football. But, then again, when you put the pads on, that's when you see the real guys come out and compete.''