FOXBOROUGH — Rain and an unseasonably cool morning be damned, nearly 6,400 fans crowded into the bleachers lining the Patriots’ practice fields on Friday morning, thrilled to be on hand for the first day of training camp for the 2013 season.
They weren’t the only ones: before striding onto those fields, Bill Belichick said he was “anxious” to get things started.
Thanks to the weather, it wasn’t the crispest of practices, with dropped passes and defenders slipping. Those mistakes were undoubtedly reviewed, but the general happiness from players getting back to work was evident.
“We got a lot of good work in,” receiver Danny Amendola said. “A little wet at times, but a lot of good work. Everybody seemed really happy to be out here and it’s a good first day.”
Belichick gave no thought to the idea of moving practice inside despite the occasional heavy rains, saying the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse isn’t big enough to accommodate the 90 players on the roster currently.
Michael Jenkins, another of the new receivers Tom Brady is working with this season, spent the first nine years of his career with the Falcons and Vikings, both of whom play their home games indoors.
But he’s learned quickly — Belichick likes having his team deal with adverse conditions.
“It wasn’t bad. Bill loves this kind of weather,” Jenkins said, smiling. “Tough elements, but we have to roll with it. I thought everybody did a good job today, first day out, and we’re just looking to build on today.”
Veteran kickoff returner Leon Washington laughed at the idea that the terrible weather put a damper on the first day of camp.
“Aw man, I came from Seattle the last three years. This doesn’t bother me,” he said.
In true Belichick fashion, “today” was all he was willing to talk about; any question pertaining to Aaron Hernandez was brushed aside, and those pertaining to a week from now or the regular season were refocused to the now.
“There are always a lot of things you have to do at the beginning of camp and this year is no different than any other year,” Belichick said in response to whether he’d talked with the team about Hernandez. “It’s bringing a lot of people together for a long process in camp. We have a lot of work to do. There are always a lot of things to talk about at the beginning of camp just to get organized.”
It was much the same in regard to how the team plans on replacing Hernandez: We’re starting camp today, we’ll evaluate the team, we’ll see how it comes together.
“Right now our goal is really just today: go out there, take what we put in last night, what we talked about this morning, go out there, execute it,” Belichick said. “Start the base, start the process, start laying the foundation brick by brick, come back in this afternoon, make the corrections from what we did this morning and move on, start preparing for tomorrow.
“Our long-term goals right now are, say, within the next 12 hours.”
The offense had a particularly difficult morning, though the rain certainly contributed. There are also new receivers all over the field, and patience will be needed as everyone involved works to familiarize themselves with the offense and Brady, and Brady to them.
“It’s going to be a while,” Amendola said. “We’re going to work out the kinks from here on out until the end of the season and try to improve every day and that’s just the way football goes.”
Amendola and Brady began laying the groundwork of their on-field relationship several months ago, on the fields at the University of Southern California, with Brady inviting the free agent signee to the West Coast not long after he became a Patriot.
It appears they are getting along well, though Amendola is still deferring to Brady and trying to get up to his speed.
“We’re all just trying to get on the same page,’’ Amendola said. “[Brady’s] been here for a long time doing a lot of great things. I’m trying to adapt and trying to learn the best I can to get ready to play for him and for our team.”
Brady was 11-for-14 passing in team drills on Friday, with Amendola, Jenkins, rookie Aaron Dobson, and, a bit surprisingly, Kamar Aiken getting most of the reps with him.
The Patriots are thin at tight end now with Rob Gronkowski rehabbing and Hernandez gone, so Michael Hoomanawanui and Jake Ballard saw the bulk of the first-team time.
Ballard, who was strictly an observer last season as he recovered from a torn ACL, was particularly happy to be back.
“It’s great to be on the practice field with all these guys. I’ve been hanging around with them for about a year and a half now, so it’s fun to actually be out there and playing football with them,” Ballard said.
So as Belichick is fond of saying, the treadmill has started, and the Patriots have jumped on.
“It’s going to be moving fast; we have a lot of ground to cover,” he said. “I’ve already emphasized to the players how important it is that we keep up, not fall behind but keep up.
“We have a lot of work to do here; a short amount of time to get ready for our competitive practices and preseason games that are coming up. Of course, the season is right behind it. I’m anxious to get started.”