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Letters from Patriots Camp 2022: Volume 1

--There is a psychological phenomenon referred to as kenopsia. Keno meaning "emptiness" and opsia meaning "seeing." Basically it describes that strong forlorn feeling one experiences while visiting or viewing an abandoned place. Say, a once thriving mall that is going out of business or an empty city block that used to be occupied full time by residents. It's creepy on a deep, visceral level in ways that is hard to put into words. It's why so many ghost-hunting reality shows visit empty old hospitals and so many horror/Sci-Fi shows are set in run down amusement parks. I mention this because today at the first day of Patriots practices, I couldn't help but think back to how eerie and uncanny it was two years ago this week when the public wasn't allowed into NFL practices and even the media was limited to just a couple of dozen at each team's workouts. Because this was the scene first thing in the morning:

--Just a reminder to count your blessings that for most of us, things are back to normal. And also a reminder that after last year's Day 1 of Pats camp, also a Wednesday, the crowd was maybe 2/3 of this one. And the anti-Patriots resistance was referring to the low attendance as "The Brady Effect." When a more accurate description would've been, "Steady Showers in the Forecast All Day." Whereas this camp opened with Chamber of Commerce weather. And people came out in droves. Massive support for this franchise began long before Brady and it'll be here for generations to come. So I'm calling this packed house "The Mac Jones Big D Energy Factor." 

--And to continue with Jones, as we begin the second phase of the 2022 offseason, the impression he gave in the first phase - that his mission-critical Year 2 Bounce looks like a Happy Fun Ball - continues unabated. Including his usual practice of showing up early. To thunderous applause from the stands. 

--This first practice was limited to some red zone drills throwing over assistants at the line of scrimmage holding up Pickleball rackets and a lot of 7-on-7 work. And Jones was connecting on all the short area throws. At the cone. Just inside the boundary. Along the back line. And at this baby's-first-steps stage of camp, one contestant took the early lead in the crucial question I asked a couple of days ago: Who is going to emerge as his primary target?:

--And so far that man is the one I'd hoped it would be, DeVante Parker. For starters, Parker took the field and immediate started whipping the people in the stands and the Groundlings occupying the hill behind the end zone into a frenzy. Seriously, it was like they were a bunch of redneck who were just told Kid Rock would not be performing tonight. (Except all positive, without any of the white trash bottle throwing and zero trashing of the place.) And that eruption was repeated every time Parker hauled in a pass, which was early and often. First when Jones and he connected on back-to-back touchdowns. And continuing when Parker was covered like a kid whose blanket fort collapsed, but still managed to come down with the ball. The only negative on Parker was that he's switched his uniform number to 1. And it will take my brain a good two weeks of work to see that number and not immediately think of N'Keal Harry. (Or Cam Newton, for that matter.) But seeing Parker win these 50/50 battles should speed the process. No brain can watch someone grab a contested catch and think "N'Keal Harry." 

--Another challenge in my annual Battle to Adjust to Uniform Number Changes is Malcolm Butler returning, but switching to 4. But I have a mnemonic device that's working for me. I'll just do what we've all done for 20 years: Mentally associate No. 4 with last second Super Bowl winning plays. Boom. Done. 

--One great moment stood out. It was at the end of 7-on-7s. On the final rep before everyone hit the hill known as Dante's Peak for some running, Jones hit Damien Harris at the front pylon for a score. There must have been something riding on it, because Harris played to the crowd like a WWE headliner (he and Kendrick Bourne give off the most positive, extroverted vibe on this roster, without a doubt), joined by three other offensive players. Then Jones came sprinting out of the pocket a good 30 yards to jump all over his old Alabama teammate. Here's hoping that keeps up over the next six or so weeks. I suspect it will. As Matthew Slater said yesterday:

--Other great hookups for Jones included a nice diving grab by Bourne and a toe-tap TD at the back on the end zone by Nelson Agholor. It's still not 11-on-11s, they won't happen for a week or more. But he was more accurate today even than we was through most of 2021 camp. And that's saying something. 

--Rookie Tyquan Thornton caught three balls that I counted, two where he left his feet and made the grab. This wasn't the kind of full-field practice where we might get to see his top end speed. But he's going to have to show he's reliable in these short-areas and underneath zone parts of the field if he's going to be anything more than Jeff Demps (that tracklete they drafted in the seventh round who just wanted to run Olympic sprints so they traded him for LeGarrette Blount), so so far, so good.

--As far as the set up of the coaching staff, it's hard to tell. With the offense in the huddle, Matt Patricia was on a walkie-talkie. When Jones missed a connection in the end zone with Devin Asiasi, he immediately went over to discuss it with Belichick. And I heard some talk in the media tent that Evan Rothstein, who's been in the organization for 11 years and is officially listed as Offensive Assistant, is the defacto QB coach. We'll continue to provide you updates as the situation develops. 

--Defensively, there wasn't a lot to see. The DBs did a lot of one-on-one goal line drills. Working on forcing the receiver outside in order to use the boundary as another defender, jumping routes and so on. And some where they ran 2-on-2s, defending pick plays. Butler could've been forgiven if he yelled, "Wait! I know this! Pick me!" But if he did, I couldn't hear him over crowd noise. 

--One defensive back to make note of is UDFA Brendan Schooler out of Texas. He's a 6-1 (though he looks bigger), safety with experience on offense and special teams. And until today, I didn't realize he also has a penchant for Richard Simmons shorts.

I've been waiting since the early 90s for that look to come back. Make it happen, kid. 

--As far as members of the Great Name Club, DT Bill Murray is still holding his position on the roster bubble. WR Lil'Jordan Humphrey is here after three seasons in New Orleans. And former Bears offensive lineman Arlington Hambright is here to provide that name that sounds like an exclusive private school for wealthy British kids. I hope they all stick. 

--Sebastian Vollmer is apparently working for Patriots team media now, and was within earshot of me. Only for me to regret for the 50 millionth time that I took three years of German in high school and haven't put it to use once. It would've been really cool to say, "Lass uns viele Bier trinken gehen und beste Freunde werden," ("Lets go drink many beers and become best friends") or something. Instead, I've wasted decades still trying to learn English.

--We can also confirm that, no matter which coach is in charge of what area of the operation, there is still no detail too small for the head guy:

Lastly, if you're going to camp, get there early. Especially on Friday and Saturday. Because I promise you people will get turned away at the gate. We are not just fair weather fans, in any sense of the word.