Some thoughts from Day One of the New England Patriots training camp:
Former University of Maine wide receiver Derrick Johnson had a busy day. In addition to running all the drills with wide receivers, he was running around with the special teams units as well.
He knows it's good to show versatility if he wants to earn one of the 53 roster spots this fall.
"I did a lot of this at Maine,'' said Johnson, of his special teams play. "It's just a lot of learning, a lot of attention to detail, stuff like that.''
Johnson, who caught 60 passes for 608 yards and two touchdowns in his senior year in Orono, admitted that he had a lot of learning to do.
"It’s a lot different from Maine, I can tell you that much,'' he said, meeting with some of the media after practice. "It’s a lot of learning, learning from the vets, just trying to acclimate to everything.
"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can. The game is really fast at this level so I’m just trying to pick up everything I can.''
When Johnson wasn't actually competing in a drill, he was usually standing next to someone (a coach most likely) and asking questions.
Johnson sounded satisfied with his first day of pro camp: "It was all right, wasn’t a bad day. (Got to) keep improving every day so hopefully I can get better tomorrow.''
He had signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent because he felt New England was a good match. The Black Bears also run the spread offense and Johnson liked his prospects.
But he suffered a sprained left knee in a practice and was released on June 9, also told by the Patriots that they would re-sign him when he became healthy. That happened last Friday.
Johnson, 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, possesses the speed to stretch the defense, something the Patriots need.
He said Thursday that he is healthy. "Just took a lot of hard work to get ready for training camp,'' he said.
He feels if he can get the playbook down and show some versatility on special teams that he has a shot at sticking, if not on the active roster then on the practice squad. He knows the Patriots have a history of developing undrafted free agents. In fact, Kenbrell Thompkins, a second-year receiver, made the team that way last year.
"I just want to follow my dream and continue playing football as long as I can,'' he said.
Some other highlights:
- Tight end Rob Gronkowski, recovering from reconstructive surgery on his right knee, participated in many drills, though not the 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s. He seemed to be moving well, especially during passing drills with Tom Brady.
- Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, recovering from Achilles surgery, was also back and participating. Asked if he was limited at all, Wilfork said, "If I had limitations, I wouldn't be practicing.''
Another reporter asked Wilfork is he had to re-prove himself. His answer:
"I just have to prove I can come out and give my team what they need. That’s what I have to prove. Me as a person, I’ve never been a selfish player; I was a team player. If I wanted to be selfish, I could have been a shot putter. I’ve done that. I was a state champion shot putter, but it wasn’t my thing. My thing was to be with teammates, a good group of guys, and we’re all working toward one goal and that’s to be able to win and push one another. That’s why I chose football. For me to prove anything, no; I have to prove to my teammates they can trust me when the time is on the line. They have to do the same thing with me.''
- Kenbrell Thompkins made two magnificent catches on fade passes in the end zone, the type of play that Brady said inspires his teammates.
"It’s exciting for a quarterback when you see a guy make those types of efforts and lay out and catch the ball like he did,'' said Brady. "He’s been doing that since he got here, and he’s another guy who’s put a lot of work in and fought really hard. It’s fun to be out there with him. I have a lot of confidence in him, a lot of trust. He’s a great guy. It’s fun to be out there with him.''
- Brady, meanwhile, attracted not only the loudest cheers from the fans but the largest crowd from the media. He was encircled after practice and had to wait for them to at least part before he could leave.
Asked about beginning his 15th training camp, the soon-to-be 37 Brady said he takes nothing for granted:
"It goes pretty fast, so I just think you appreciate it. There are very few people who have the opportunity that I have, and I’m very appreciative of it. You never know when the last one is going to be, so you just appreciate the moments that you have. Every year, it’s something different. This could be your last training camp; you never know. So you’ve got to make it count, and you can’t take anything for granted in the NFL. I try to do the best I can for this team and hope it leads to a great year.''