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Ten things we learned from Day 1 of Patriots training camp

07.26.12 at 5:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Training camp is underway for the Patriots, as the defending AFC champions began practice Thursday outside Gillette Stadium with a session that ran just over two hours.

Among those to address the media Thursday were Bill Belichick, Wes Welker and first-round pick Chandler Jones. Here’s a breakdown of those with atypical participation in practice.

‘€¢ Matthew Slater and James Ihedigbo both wore red non-contact jerseys, though Ihedigbo saw plenty of contact, especially when he got mixed up with second-year running back Stevan Ridley.

‘€¢ Nate Ebner, Jeremy Ebert and Nick McDonald did not practice, but they could be seen on the ellipticals. Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Mankins and Myron Pryor, all of whom are on the physically unable to perform list, were present in T-shirts and shorts.

‘€¢ Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells and Brian Waters were absent. Brandon Spikes, also on the PUP list, was present but was held out of drills.

Here are nine other things we learned on the first day of training camp.

WES WELKER (SAYS HE) IS FINE WITH HIS CONTRACT SITUATION

The Patriots franchised Welker in the offseason and didn’t sign him to a longterm extension before this month’s deadline, leaving plenty of uncertainty regarding the future of Tom Brady‘s favorite target.

While such a situation has served as a distraction for teams and players in the past, everybody said the right thing Thursday, including Welker. The 31-year-old said that this camp is just like any other one, and that his main focus is football.

“The contract and everything else is out of my mind,” Welker said. “It’s really just go out there and focusing on playing good ball.”

WE LEARNED VERY, VERY LITTLE ABOUT BRIAN WATERS

One of the major storylines to follow this training camp is the status of the veteran guard. The 35-year-old was absent from the team’s minicamp and was once again missing as camp opened on Thursday.

Not surprisingly, Belichick wasn’t exactly overflowing with information on Waters’ situation. Asked about Waters’ status, Belichick replied, “He’s not here.”

The coach called the situation “basically the same it was in minicamp,” and didn’t share whether the former Chief was planning on retiring.

Said Belichick: “That’s for them to talk about, not me.”

THE PRESEASON OF GRONK IS OFF TO A GOOD START

Rob Gronkowski, who famously did ‘€¦ a bunch of stuff this offseason, also recovered from offseason ankle surgery.

By the looks of Gronkowski Thursday, that recovery went well. He took his normal reps with the first-team offense and made a couple of impressive catches, including a nice grab on a seam route.

THE TIGHT END GROUP COULD STILL BE CHANGING

As long as Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are there, the Patriots will have the best 1-2 punch at tight end in the league. The Pats also added Visanthe Shiancoe this week, and have Fells and Tyler Urban on the roster, but Shiancoe wasn’t the only new addition at tight end. Interestingly, Alex Silvestro, who spent last season on the practice squad as a defensive end, wore a tight end jersey.

Though Gronkowski looked like himself out there Thursday, Hernandez failed to bring in a pass over the middle from Brian Hoyer. It went off his hands and into those of Dane Fletcher for an interception.

AFTER JOSEPH ADDAI’S RELEASE, THIS MAY BE IT FOR THE PATRIOTS RUNNING BACKS

A day after releasing former Colts star Joseph Addai, the Patriots opened camp with a group of seven running backs: Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Eric Kettani, Brandon Bolden and fullbacks Tony Flammetta and Spencer Larsen.

Belichick’s only words regarding Addai were, “It didn’t work out,” and the coach expressed his signature reserved confidence in the team’s backs.

One of the biggest questions faced by an otherwise stacked offense is how the Pats will deal with the loss of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who rushed for a total of 1,675 yards over the last two seasons before leaving for Cincinnati as a free agent in the offseason.

“We have seven backs on our roster, so of we add one then we’ll add one,” Belichick said. “If we don’t, we’ll go with what we’ve got.”

Ridley, who had 441 yards last season on 87 carries, appeared to be the de facto No. 1 back as he spent a lot of time with the first team offense.

THE BRADY-TO-GAFFNEY CONNECTION LOOKS LIKE THE OLD DAYS

Of all the offseason additions, it was a familiar face that shined the brightest in the first day of camp.

Jabar Gaffney, who was brought back this offseason after stints in Denver and Washington, gave fans (and his quarterback) a lot to be happy about. Though he dropped an easy pass in passing drills, he made two stellar catches against defenders.

First, Gaffney beat rookie Alfonzo Dennard on a deep ball that took him to the end zone, and he later did a good job of keeping both feet in on a catch made along the sidelines. Both passes were thrown by Brady.

ANOTHER OLD FRIEND MAY BE COMING ALONG A BIT SLOWER

While Gaffney looks like he’s fitting right back in, it may be a different case for fellow former-turned-current Pats receiver Donte’ Stallworth.

During the first hour of the session, receivers went with the quarterbacks for passing drills. Stallworth, however, did not join them and worked with special-teamers.

THE PATRIOTS AREN’T FANS OF THE 16-0 TALK

CBS Sports columnist Pete Prisco put out his season predictions this week, and he wrote that the Patriots will go 16-0 and eventually lose to the Packers in the Super Bowl. That led to some radio chatter as to whether the Pats could once again put together a perfect regular season.

As if they needed to say it, the Patriots aren’t talking about 16-0.

“I don’t pay attention to any of that,” Vince Wilfork said. “I really don’t. Like I said, my goal is to come out here each day and get better, help my teammates, help this organization. Win games, that’s the bottom line.”

SPECIAL TEAMS-WISE, IT’S A RETURN TO NORMAL

No surprises as far as the kick returners went. Fielding balls from Chris Koepplin were Vereen, Woodhead, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater and Jesse Holley.

Gronkowski didn’t look necessarily limited in his participation Thursday. He took regular first-team reps at tight end and made an impressive catch on a seam route.

Last season, Woodhead led the Pats with 20 kickoff returns, followed by Edelman (12), Ridley (7) and Slater (4). Devin McCourty, Gronkowski and Rob Ninkovich each returned one. The Pats did not return a kick for a touchdown, though Edelman scored on a 72-yard punt return against the Chiefs.

CHANDLER JONES ALREADY SOUNDS LIKE A PRO — AND A PATRIOT

The Pats made Jones, the 21st overall pick of April’s draft, available to the media Thursday, even though he’s just a few months into his professional career. He was respectful but didn’t go overboard with sharing information, even going to the “You’d have to ask coach Belichick” line that’s been uttered around these parts so many times over the years.

Jones, the brother of Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones and UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones, said he’s already learned a lot since turning pro, with time management something he’s worked on.

“When I was in school, when I got out of practice, I was doing homework, going and playing video games. [Here], guys are going home to their families. Guys are getting in their playbooks. This is our job. This is how we’re going to support our families and eat food. It’s just a whole different approach.”

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