FOXBOROUGH — With a simple smile and wave, Tom Brady returned to work Tuesday morning as the Patriots opened their three-day minicamp.
“What’s up guys, gals,’’ the quarterback said to the media as he walked to the practice fields, bodyguarded appropriately enough by fullback James Develin, flanked to his left.
It was the first sighting of Brady in uniform since he led the Patriots to a 13-3 win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII in February, the franchise’s sixth title, all with him at the helm of the offense.
It didn’t take long for Brady to knock the rust off as he showed plenty of zip and strength during early individual drills and adequate accuracy during competitive team drills, where he went (unofficially) 17 of 23, including 12 of 15 in 11-on-11 work.
Brady’s excitement and leadership were evident from the get-go as the 20-year veteran led teammates through several drills and offered encouraging words and helmet taps to rookies N’Keal Harry, Damien Harris, and Jarrett Stidham.
One of the first passes the 41-year-old Brady connected on was a quick strike to tight end Ben Watson, as the pair commenced their reunion tour. Watson, who played for the Patriots from 2004-09, still marvels at Brady’s youthful enthusiasm.
“People talk about money, people talk about fame — he enjoys competing, he enjoys winning,’’ said Watson, himself a 16-year veteran. “And anybody that’s good at their job . . . there has to be something outside of the external that you enjoy doing to keep you going for that long at that level. Even before we got out here, in the locker room, he was like, ‘Yeah, this is going to be a good day, we’re going to do this, that, and the other. He just had an excitement about going out and playing football, going out and competing, doing his craft. For me, watching that, it’s contagious. It’s contagious for all the guys in the locker room to see there’s a guy at his level that still enjoys doing it after all these years.’’
This was the first official workout Brady had with Harry, though the team’s first-round draft choice and the quarterback did have a casual workout recently.
“Just wanted to get some work in,’’ Harry said of the private “hour or two” practice. “It was a weekend, so might as well spend my weekend, spend my off time getting some work in.’’
Brady and the Patriots lost another tight end Tuesday as a league source confirmed the team released Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is taking time off from football for personal reasons.
The six-year veteran, who signed a one-year deal two months ago, said he hopes to return to the game this summer, though it’s unclear if that will be in New England.
The Patriots are retooling the position after the retirement of Rob Gronkowski and the losses of Dwayne Allen in free agency and Jacob Hollister via trade.
With the 38-year-old Watson suspended for the first four games (failed drug test) and Seferian-Jenkins’s return far from certain, Matt LaCosse, a four-year veteran with just 27 catches on his resume, jumps to the top of the projected Week 1 depth chart.
Stephen Anderson, second-year player Ryan Izzo, and rookie free agent Andrew Beck also are in camp vying for snaps.
Michel absent again
Sony Michel headlined a list of seven players who missed the practice. It’s unknown why the second-year back, who has a history of knee problems, was out, but he also missed the May 23 OTA session.
Also not spotted during the two-hour-plus workout were safeties Patrick Chung (arm) and Nate Ebner; rookie offensive lineman Yodny Cajuste (quadriceps); rookie running back Nick Brossette; receiver Demaryius Thomas (Achilles’); and defensive end Deatrich Wise.
Stidham steps up
Stidham seems to have leapfrogged Danny Etling on the quarterback depth chart as the rookie fourth-rounder took reps behind Brady and Brian Hoyer.
Stidham was 9 of 13 during competitive drills, which included 11-on-11s and 7-on-7s.
Etling, who did a lot of special teams work, including taking reps as the punt protector at one point, did take part in one 11-on-11 session, completing 8 of 9 passes.
Play of the day
Receiver/returner Braxton Berrios turned in the play of the day when he dived to haul in a deep sideline pass from Hoyer in the back corner of the end zone. Berrios beat rookie corner Joejuan Williams on the play, before he popped up quickly and gave the ball a celebratory spin.
“It was a great ball that [Hoyer] put with perfect air for me to get to, so, just happy to be playing football again,’’ said Berrios, who spent last season on injured reserve.
■ Rookie free agent receiver/returner Gunner Olszewski was the first player to arrive.
■ Etling, fullback Jakob Johnson, and receiver Dontrell Inman stayed the longest, working on routes well after teammates hit the showers.
■ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, a close friend of Bill Belichick, and his staff took in the practice. Ferentz’s son, James, is a Patriots offensive lineman.
■ Owner Robert Kraft arrived early on in the session and dapped up Brady before watching the team warm up.
■ Joe Thuney again spent the practice at left tackle after manning left guard the past three seasons. Ted Karras was the left guard.
■ Ja’Whaun Bentley had the defensive gem of the day when he intercepted a Hoyer pass that was tipped by Kyle Van Noy at the line of scrimmage.
■ Duke Dawson had a pass breakup that drew a loud, “Way to go Duuuuke!” from a teammate. Best guess is it was one of the McCourty twins.
■ Cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen also had pass deflections.
■ Massive offensive lineman Cedrick Lang (6 feet 7 inches, 300 pounds) had an “accidental pancake” block on Chase Winovich as both players lost their footing and Lang fell on Winovich’s back.
■ Center David Andrews and Stidham ran a penalty lap after a botched snap.
■ One drill had offensive players defending offensive players, giving Brady the rare opportunity to yell, “Sixty-six’s the Mike!”
■ Another drill had Brady and Hoyer tossing balls that were soaking in a tub of water to receivers and backs.
■ Anderson had a nice day, making several solid catches, including one for a touchdown.
■ Under the watchful eye of Josh McDaniels, Brady worked a side session with Harry, Watson, and James White. McDaniels even played a little faux corner during some passes.
■ The foot race is on between punters Ryan Allen and rookie Jake Bailey. Both had solid days, though Bailey caught an earful from a staffer when he dropped one snap.