FOXBOROUGH — The first full-pads practice of Patriots training camp Saturday brought the return of running back LeGarrette Blount, who had been placed on the non-football injury list earlier in the week after failing the team’s conditioning test.
Blount missed the first two practices, held with players wearing shirts, shorts, and helmets and not hitting or making much contact. But he was on the field for Saturday’s workout, which featured plenty of contact.
The physical tailback looked right at home.
“It feels good to come out here and get with my teammates,” said Blount, who ripped off a number of long runs. “You want to be there, you want to be there, for sure. It’s just a process of getting better, you’ve got to do everything that you have to do to get out there.”
When asked what kept him out of the first two practices and landed him on the NFI list, Blount barely answered verbally, shaking his head and muttering, “I don’t know.”
Pressed about the absence, Blount said, “I was out here the first day of camp, I was out here.”
The Patriots use different criteria for their conditioning test, depending on position. In order for running backs to pass, they must have completed 20 runs of 60 yards each in nine seconds or less. Brief rest is permitted between sprints.
Blount said he didn’t alter his offseason conditioning program.
“Nah. Worked out, tried to do everything I could to make sure I was good to go,” he said. “Football season is basically year-round. We train when we’re off, we’re practicing and playing when we’re here. You’ve just got to stay with it and get better as much as you can.”
The retirement of Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell’s placement on the physically unable to perform list have created opportunities for the team’s interior linemen. Rookies Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson appear to be benefiting the most so far, with both seeing significant time at guard when the first-team offense — or a close approximation of it — is on the field.
Each was taken in the fourth round, and both played at ACC schools — Mason at Georgia Tech and Jackson at Florida State, where he was teammates with second-year center Bryan Stork.
Jackson is getting used to a new coach and new system.
“You just have to believe in your coaching and take to their techniques, because they’re going to do everything to put you in the right position of where you need to be,” Jackson said.
Easley also back
Blount wasn’t the only player back at practice for the first time. Defensive lineman Dominique Easley, the Patriots’ first-round draft pick in 2014, also participated after being removed from the PUP list.
Easley finished his rookie season on injured reserve, dealing with knee issues. He tore the anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees during his college career at Florida, and was limited to 11 games last season.
Unlike the two quarterbacks and two other players (linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive lineman Xzavier Dickson) who wore red, no-contact jerseys, Easley had no such restrictions. He was not made available to the media after practice, instead signing autographs for a number of the spectators in attendance.
Other defensive backs have worn No. 37 for the Patriots (most recently Alfonzo Dennard), but for many fans that number is synonymous with safety Rodney Harrison, who played here from 2003-08.
The current No. 37 is also a safety, and Jordan Richards knows all about the number’s significance to the position he plays.
“I know who wore it. I made sure I looked up my history,” Richards said. “Obviously, that’s a dude that’s played a lot of good football, and that’s earned a lot of respect from this organization and throughout the league. I know the legacy that he set here, and this number.”
Kicking it up a notch
For the first time in league history, extra points will come from roughly 33 yards, since the ball will be placed at the 15-yard line instead of the 3. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who has made 450 of 451 extra-point tries in his career (he missed one as a rookie in 2006), said the extra distance will make it tougher. “I’m excited for the challenge. To be honest, an extra point from the 20 was so easy. You had to really, really screw up or get it blocked to miss,” Gostkowski said. “It’ll be challenging enough to where if you hit a bad kick, you’ll miss. Our job is to go out there and hit good kicks. It’ll really test us at the end of the year in the bad weather or in a really windy game. Elements are my biggest opponent, probably, the wind and the weather.” . . . Julian Edelman, Nate Ebner, Nate Solder, Antonio Johnson, Eric Martin, Devin McCourty, Stork, Jonathan Freeny, and Michael Hoomanawanui were named by the team as offseason award winners. Solder is a three-time winner, and it’s the second straight year McCourty and Edelman have earned the nod, which comes with a season-long, front-row parking space in the players’ lot . . . The Patriots released defensive backs Justin Green and Derek Cox, and linebacker D.J. Lynch.Shalise Manza Young of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.