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patriots notebook

Holding an actual football practice has Patriots players in a sunny mood

Shaq Mason was one of the Patriots players happy to be getting down to football business again.
Shaq Mason was one of the Patriots players happy to be getting down to football business again.Jim Davis

We’re talking about practice.

The Patriots returned to the practice field for an actual football practice Wednesday instead of the conditioning drills they’ve been used to, signaling the start of Phase 2 of training camp.

Smiles were abundant during the shorts-and-shells session — part of the sun-splashed workout was streamed on the club’s website — with new quarterback Cam Newton flashing one of the biggest.

During one quarterback rollout drill, veteran Brian Hoyer took the first rep, followed by Jarrett Stidham, Newton, and then undrafted rookie Brian Lewerke.

Nothing should be read into the order, as it’s likely it was chosen because Hoyer has the most experience in the Patriots offense, followed by Stidham. Newton’s veteran status would naturally put him ahead of Lewerke.

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The competition to be Tom Brady’s successor will be the biggest story line of this camp, and the intensity will ratchet up Monday when the Patriots are expected to being two weeks of padded practices.

All four QBs looked free and easy during the streamed clip; that’s especially notable for Newton, who is working his way back from a pair of seasons shortened by shoulder and foot surgeries.

Like most of his new teammates, running back Rex Burkhead has been most impressed by Newton’s stature.

“He’s a big guy — just his physical presence,’' Burkhead said in a postpractice video call. “He’s always been a great player — just his versatility. Whether it’s his ability to run the ball or pass as well. He’s been able to do that at a high level for many years. He’s come in right away, head down, and trying to pick it up as quick as possible.”

Burkhead said it was nice to get back into a football groove.

“It really was just [great] to get out there, put the helmets on, move around at a faster tempo,” he said. “We’ve just been doing walk-throughs, and in the spring, we couldn’t do anything.

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“I think everyone’s [been] itching to get out there at a little faster pace. It was nice. It’s really cool to actually see guys out on the field moving around, getting to know them more in person.”

Rex Burkhead, seen here in a 2019 contest, sounds ready to get back to football.
Rex Burkhead, seen here in a 2019 contest, sounds ready to get back to football.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Right guard Shaq Mason said returning to a sense of normalcy led to a positive buzz during the practice.

“Naturally nobody’s played football since we last were all together,” he said. “I think more than anything, it was just great energy. Everybody’s just excited to get back out on the football field to grind.

“We haven’t been able to go out there as a unit and do things as a whole, but today, it was good to get all of the guys out there, it was all smiles, high-energy. We were glad to be back.”

A Byrd in hand

Damiere Byrd was as happy as anyone that Newton signed with the Patriots. The diminutive receiver was hoping for a reunion after the pair played together in Carolina from 2016-18.

“Obviously I was happy,’' Byrd said. “Cam is a great player. He’s going to bring a lot of experience to this team and that [quarterback] room. I know that room is excited to have him. All of those guys are working their tails off to get better every day.”

Damiere Byrd, seen here with Arizona last season, is happy to be with the Patriots.
Damiere Byrd, seen here with Arizona last season, is happy to be with the Patriots.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Without the benefit of a real offseason program, Byrd did his best to build a rapport with all the QBs, working out with Stidham and Hoyer locally and jetting to California to get in some work with Newton.

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“Just being able to work with both those guys was a good opportunity to really kind of help me meet everybody really and learn and get chemistry,” Byrd said. “Being able to have chemistry with everybody in that room, including every receiver, every quarterback [is smart].”

After three seasons in Carolina, where he was used mainly as a returner, Byrd had a career-high 32 catches for 359 yards in 11 games with Arizona in 2019. A flat-out burner, Byrd is hoping to build on those numbers. He credits getting more opportunities with the Cardinals for his breakout season.

“I think just getting the experience,” he said. “Being in a good place at the right time. Just being able to have that opportunity to play and just take what I’ve learned from different people throughout my career and apply it here and soak up as much from the people who have been around this program and organization.”

Andrews appears

David Andrews missed all of last season.
David Andrews missed all of last season.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Among the more notable things at practice was the return of center David Andrews, who missed last season because of blood clots in his lungs. “It’s great having David back in the lineup and healthy,” said Mason. “You know, that’s our guy; it’s always great having him back in the lineup and back able to contribute to our O-line.” … Continuing with recent tradition, the rookies were given unusual numbers, with top pick Kyle Dugger, a safety, donning a No. 50 jersey. Dugger will have ample opportunity to contribute with two of last year’s top safeties, Patrick Chung (opt-out) and Duron Harmon (traded to Detroit), not around … Undrafted rookie Rashod Berry (he wore No. 62) is listed as a tight end but worked with the defensive ends. He played on both sides of the ball at Ohio State and also described himself as an outside linebacker on Twitter shortly after signing with New England. His Twitter bio no longer includes a position … The Patriots officially signed offensive lineman Tyler Gauthier.

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Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.