8 notes and observations from the first day of Patriots training camp

"To come back and see the fans obviously and put the jersey back on, it definitely brings back some good memories."

Tom Brady at Patriots training camp in July, 2019.

FOXBOROUGH — Patriots training camp got underway on Thursday as the defending Super Bowl champions returned to the football field to begin the 2019 season. For yet another year, the future Hall of Fame partnership of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady returns to pursue a championship.

As for the rest of the team, much of the Super Bowl LIII roster has returned, particularly on defense. Of course, there are also plenty of new faces fighting for spots, including a sizable rookie class.

Here’s a glance at Day 1:

Bill Belichick was asked about Nick Caserio and the Texans.

An offseason subplot was the Texans’ attempt to lure Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio to Houston to become the team’s general manager. New England blocked the Texans’ request for an interview with Caserio, eventually filing tampering charges.

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Part of the league’s anti-tampering policy pertains to “high-level employees.” Belichick was asked for clarification on Caserio’s role, which may or may not meet the threshold.

Belichick refused to offer any clarification:

Danny Etling shifts from quarterback to wide receiver.

Drafted a year ago in the seventh round from LSU, Danny Etling was on the team’s roster in the 2018 season as the third string quarterback (his position in college).

Yet on Thursday, Etling showed up wearing a white jersey (instead of the red non-contact jersey that all quarterbacks wear). The mystery over why this was happening soon became apparent: Etling was practicing with the wide receivers.

“Everyone has a lot of different roles on this team,” Etling said afterward. “I’m no exception.”

As recently as minicamp earlier in the 2019 offseason, Etling was still playing quarterback. He ran a 4.76-second 40-yard dash before the draft, and has the physical tools to potentially acclimate, but the learning curve will be steep. He’s also competing against 13 other receivers already on the team’s depth chart.

Patriots linebackers are happy to have Jerod Mayo as a coach.

One of the notable coaching additions in 2019 is former Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo returning to New England in a new role. While he was a leader on the field, Mayo is now the inside linebackers coach.

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He could also help shoulder a larger burden, as he showed at practice on Thursday. Mayo wore the headset and was calling players during the 11-on-11 drills. His intelligence has already impressed some of his former teammates.

“He was a coach on the field, and even more now,” Dont’a Hightower said. “It’s great to have him leading the meetings and being able to talk.”

Ben Watson looks good, and could be an important cog.

In 2004, the Patriots selected tight end Ben Watson with the 32nd overall pick. He’d come into the NFL with an impressive 40-yard dash time (4.52 seconds) and became a playmaking receiver.

Flashing forward, Watson is 38, but still seems to have the speed and agility that once made him a top pick. He briefly retired in the offseason, but returned when New England re-signed him following eight seasons elsewhere.

Watson is suspended for the first four games of the 2019 season, but will likely feature in the offense upon his return, if Thursday was any indication. He worked specifically with Brady for a period of time during practice, and caught several passes in team drills.

“It’s surreal but it’s different,” Watson said of being back in New England. “It’s a different year, it’s a different time in my life, it’s a totally different team, a totally different situation that I’m walking into. But to come back to some form of familiarity, to come back and see the fans obviously and put the jersey back on, it definitely brings back some good memories.”

Other observations

  • N’Keal Harry also worked one-on-one with Brady, and caught the first touchdown in the 11-on-11 drills.
  • Stephon Gilmore wasn’t targeted at all by Patriots quarterbacks.
  • Jonathan Jones made multiple pass break-ups, as well as an interception of Brady on the first 11-on-11.
  • Candidate for play of the day: Undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Ryan Davis made a nice over-the-shoulder catch in the corner of the end zone on a fade route thrown perfectly by Brady. The catch was made more impressive as it was done over 6-foot-4 defensive back Joejuan Williams.