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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski looks to rebound from last season

At 33, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski is focused on quality of practice, not quantity.
At 33, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski is focused on quality of practice, not quantity.STEVEN SENNE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

FOXBOROUGH — Patriots fans packed Thursday morning’s training camp session to watch Tom Brady practice on his 40th birthday. But about 40 minutes into practice, the first-team offense and starting secondary escaped to the lower field, isolating themselves for more than an hour.

Instead of watching Brady’s throwing exhibition, fans witnessed kicking practice from Stephen Gostkowski. It may have been an unfortunate consolation, but there is plenty of importance in how Gostkowski rebounds after an uncharacteristically mediocre season in 2016.

Gostkowski practiced kickoffs and field goals in 11-on-11 drills on Thursday. It was the most game-like work the kicker has experienced since camp started.

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Last year, the 11-year veteran had his worst campaign since 2009, connecting on only 84 percent of his field goal attempts and missing three extra points.

“Kicking is like a love-hate relationship,” Gostkowski said Wednesday. “You lose weeks of sleep over a bad game, and a bad game could be one missed kick. So the ones you make, you just try to build on the confidence with it, and the ones you miss, you try to get it out of your head as quickly as possible and try to make the next one. It really is a challenge because you become a perfectionist, and you expect perfection, and it’s kind of tough when you don’t live up to those expectations.”

He was perfect on all seven of his postseason field goals, but he missed an extra point in the Super Bowl after James White’s touchdown reception cut the Patriots’ deficit to 28-9. Gostkowski made up for it late in regulation. With 57 seconds remaining and the score tied, Gostkowski thwacked the ball high and far on a kickoff. The Falcons’s Eric Weems returned the ball only 14 yards, burying Atlanta deep in its own territory, which led to overtime. You know the rest.

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This offseason, Gostkowski has balanced his desire to improve with a keen awareness of how much practice is really sustainable at his age.

Early in Gostkowski’s career, he said he could kick for three hours nonstop with no issues. Now at 33, he focuses on quality over quantity. He has modified his diet, training regimen, and carefully monitored his number of kicks to preserve his body.

“[It’s important] finding that balance of working really hard and doing the little things right so you don’t have to do it 1,000 times to get it right,” Gostkowski said. “It definitely takes time to learn how to do that because you are programmed to just kick and kick and kick and practice and practice and practice, and sometimes that can work against you.”

The kicking unit is usually detached from the rest of practice unless the team is working on special teams drills. Gostkowski’s practice routine is largely self-constructed.

He said he doesn’t assess his practice performance based solely on number of makes and misses. It’s more about feel. He also said results can be misleading, as he occasionally connects better with misses than makes.

Gostkowski, who ranks fourth all time with an 87.1 field goal percentage, is focusing on the basics as he looks to bounce back from one of his worst seasons.

“The older you get, you might think you have it all figured out, but you are never too old to work on fundamentals,” he said. “You can’t take anything for granted in this business. There are plenty of people who play my position who have been on five, six, seven teams by now, and I am thanking my lucky stars I have been able to stick as long with one as I have.”

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Seizing opportunity

In a matter of three months, Harvey Langi morphed from an undrafted free agent to taking first-team reps in camp on the Patriots’ defensive line. On top of all that, Langi is one of the Patriots tasked with filling Rob Ninkovich’s void after he announced his retirement last Sunday.

Langi recorded 123 tackles, 11½ tackles for loss, and 6½ sacks and in his final two seasons at Brigham Young. He mostly played inside linebacker in 2015 and defensive end in 2016, showing the versatility Bill Belichick looks for in his front-seven personnel.

“Just playing anywhere on this defense is pretty fun for me,” Langi said. “I have played on the edge before, and I loved it there. I just love playing the game.”

Fellow rookie Deatrich Wise, a fourth-round pick out of Arkansas, also has consistently taken first-team reps in recent practices. Like Langi, Wise is versatile, with experience at defensive end and tackle.

His herky-jerky running style isn’t the smoothest, but at 6 feet 5 inches and 274 pounds, Wise is a handful.

“[His length] is a big advantage for him, if he can play with good pad level and use his length, not have it used against him, which I’d say he’s been able to do as a football player through his career in college and so forth,” Belichick said Wednesday. “Even in a few days here, we’ve seen examples of that, but we’ll see more of that going forward.”

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Staying fresh

On Wednesday, Rob Gronkowski called the second week of camp the “dog days” of summer. Belichick opened his Thursday morning news conference by saying the team is “grinding through camp.”

The initial massive crowds have dwindled, stripping some of the excitement, and several of the players are banged up. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Matthew Slater were just a few hobbled from Wednesday’s practice.

Relative to previous practices, it seemed Thursday’s session was lighter on hitting and pace.

“It’s definitely harder, especially once you get [out of] that first week of training camp,” said safety Devin McCourty. “Now, the excitement and all of that is kind of gone. The soreness starts to kick in. That’s a part of the NFL. We have to learn how to take care of our body, from rookies all the way up to the oldest guy in here.”

The Jaguars come to town for a joint practice Monday, which will help revitalize the players.

Last year, cornerback Malcolm Butler and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery got into a fight when the Bears practiced in Foxborough. McCourty said joint practices provide a change of pace because of the lack of familiarity with opposing personnel and schemes.

“It’s always fun when we can go out there now, starting next week, to see another team,” he said. “New terminologies, new plays. But I think for us right now, we have to make sure we finish this week off strong.”

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Brad Almquist can be reached at brad.almquist@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bquist13.