FOXBOROUGH — Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly seemingly has gone from one extreme to the other. In his first nine seasons in the NFL, all with Oakland, he was never on a team that made the postseason.
Now he’s with the Patriots, who have been in the playoffs nine times over the past 10 seasons.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity,” Kelly said Saturday. “I played nine long years out in Oakland. Enjoyed it. We didn’t win enough, but I still enjoyed my time out there. I’m late in my career, I want to have a chance to play for [a championship], so this was the best opportunity for me.”
Kelly also said he didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to play next to Vince Wilfork. Not only because of the physical presence the veteran defensive lineman provides, but the experience and knowledge of the system he can share.
“He makes it real easy. He’s been in the defense for so long, he knows it like [Jerod] Mayo, or Bill [Belichick], or Matty [Patricia] knows it, so it’s real easy playing next to the guy,” Kelly said, referencing the Patriots’ linebacker, head coach, and defensive coordinator. “Makes me real comfortable.”
Kelly has the reputation of being a durable player (he hasn’t missed a game in five seasons, starting all of them) who can get to the quarterback. He has 34½ career sacks, and had his best two-year total in 2010-11, when he combined for 14½.
Last season, Kelly only had 1½ sacks.
Even before signing with the Patriots, Kelly had an idea of what the team was like, courtesy of former Raiders teammate Richard Seymour, who previously played in New England. It’s helped with the transition.
“There’s really no surprise to it because I talked to big Rich while we were out there and he always told me how it was run,” Kelly said. “So I had a certain expectation level of how they do things up here.”
And how, exactly, is that?
“Either you get the job done, or [Belichick is] going to get rid of you and get somebody else in here to do it,” Kelly said. “I have no problem with how they run their program. It’s strictly business; you know where you stand with them. He laid out what he needed from me when he brought me in.”
Someone spending his first training camp learning a different system with a new team might not feel entirely comfortable. But Kelly appears completely at ease, and seems to know exactly where he can make a difference.
“Just do my job, whatever he asks me to do, whether it’s playing the run or crushing the pocket,” Kelly said. “Just do my job and don’t try to do more than what he asks me to do.”
Jamie Collins, the Patriots’ first draft pick this year, has been thrown right into the mix at linebacker through the first days of training camp, seeing reps with the top unit.
One thing quickly has become clear to the Southern Mississippi product.
“It’s a faster pace. It’s way faster than college,” Collins said. “It’s just something you’ve got to get the routine of and get going.”
Defensive captain Mayo said earlier in the week that Collins “has been doing all the right things” since arriving in Foxborough as the 52d overall pick — and Collins said Mayo is one of the players he’s been relying on.
Collins welcomes the playing time, wherever it comes.
“I came here for a reason, that’s to play, so that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “It’s complicated, but if you get your head in the playbook, it’s not too hard. I’ve got a couple veterans I look up to, guys I look at and follow, like Mayo, [Dont’a] Hightower, [Brandon] Spikes, those guys.”
The 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound Collins entered college as a safety, but moved to linebacker and defensive end.
The intense media spotlight that was trained on the Patriots beginning Wednesday when Belichick addressed the Aaron Hernandez situation began to dim Saturday, as many of the national reporters had moved on to different stories and teams.
Belichick was asked if less attention can help his team focus on football.
“We can’t do anything about how big the crowd is here or anything else,” he said. “Our job is to go out there and prepare and practice and get better individually, get better as a team. That’s what we’re going to concentrate on. All the rest of it is out of our control.
“That’s not anything we can worry about. We can just do what we can do and that’s get better and improve, learn from our mistakes, move on, take on new material, try to take that out to the field and execute it at a good level. That’s not going to change regardless.
“That will be our same goal every day.”
With the rainy weather finally out of the area, Saturday’s practice was crisper than Friday’s.
One of the six rookie receivers in camp is Josh Boyce, a fourth-round draft pick from TCU who missed spring drills because of a broken toe. Healthy now, Boyce has turned some heads the first two days with his speed.
Boyce said he doesn’t feel like he’s at a disadvantage because of the missed time, but he wants to maximize the opportunities when he gets the chance in practice.
“I learned the playbook the same as they did, I just didn’t get the reps in the spring, so it’s my turn to get the reps now,” Boyce said. “It’s exciting, I’m just excited to be part of the team.”
Gronkowski drops in
Injured tight end Rob Gronkowski made an appearance at practice, ambling onto the field over an hour into the session. He watched drills with his teammates . . . Robert Kraft took in the practice as well, and after was given a pink tie with the Patriots logo from a fan . . . The collective bargaining agreement mandates that teams cannot be in full pads for the first couple of training camp practices, so Sunday is the first day the team will be in pads. Practice begins at 9 a.m. and is open to the public.