Fans hail Tom Brady as Pats open camp amid Deflategate controversy

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At various points during the New England Patriots' first practice of training camp Thursday, the standing-room-only crowd of 10,108 began to chant.

The chant was always the same.

"Bra-dy! Bra-dy! Bra-dy!"

Midway through the practice, when owner Robert Kraft was spotted walking onto the field for the first time, a loud roar was heard. Many rose to their feet to give him a standing ovation, with Kraft clapping his hands in front of him as a show of appreciation.

Kraft signed autographs and, at one point, did so on a "Free Brady" poster. High above, as Patriots players worked in the humid, 90-degree conditions, a plane circled the fields with a message from a Jets fan group. Part of it read, "Cheaters look up!"

There were cheers. There were taunts. There were footballs tossed from end zone to end zone, a credentialed media contingent of nearly 100 watching quarterbacks Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo closely for any signs that might indicate the team is approaching things differently because of the former's four-game suspension from the NFL.

"It's the same as it's always been," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "Today was very close to 50-50, but that's normal. We haven't discussed anything, and there's no changes to our procedure, in terms of how we're going to try and build the football team and improve each player."

While it might have been the same with the quarterbacks, the overall vibe of the Patriots' first practice was unlike any other in recent memory. Yes, the Patriots are turning the page to 2015 as Bill Belichick repeated in a sometimes testy morning news conference when he was pressed by one reporter. But the aftermath of Deflategate lingers for the team's fans, whom Kraft had apologized to Wednesday while acknowledging his regret in accepting the NFL's penalties back in May because he thought it would help exonerate Brady.

Hence the "Bra-dy! Bra-dy! Bra-dy!" chants that erupted at various points, the volume reaching peak levels when the star quarterback released into a pass route during late-practice 11-on-11 drills and made a one-handed catch on a pass from receiver Julian Edelman before transferring the football to his left hand and reaching out over the pylon to score a touchdown.

Players, many of whom said they didn't see the "Cheaters look up!" banner flying over practice, took notice of the support.

"The fans are great," All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski said. "They help you get through camp with all their chants, with all their support, cheering whenever there is a touchdown or big play happening. It was great to see a packed house."

Some of those fans were rewarded after practice when Belichick, surrounded by a heavy security force, stopped to sign autographs. Around the same time, Brady exited on the far end of the field, avoiding the overflowing media contingent, which was the same direction Garoppolo headed before being summoned by team staffers to conduct his post-practice interview.

Garoppolo played it cool with reporters, saying he didn't have a reaction to news of Brady's suspension being upheld, adding that it's too far to look ahead on who might start opening night Sept. 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The focus, he said, is day to day.

That was also the theme of Belichick's morning news conference, as he didn't budge when asked repeatedly about his reaction to the NFL upholding Brady's four-game suspension and its trickle-down effect on the team.

"I think Robert addressed that yesterday," Belichick said, directing his questioner to read Kraft's statement from Wednesday, when he ripped the NFL, apologized to the team's fans, and advised all Patriots staffers to refrain from commenting on it further.

When pressed, an agitated Belichick said, "Right now we're preparing for today. Practice today."

Brady arrived at the practice at 9:22 a.m., jogging onto the field in a numberless red practice jersey and waving to the crowd. One fan yelled, "We love you, Tom!" It wasn't long before he took his first snap, as Brady was consistently the top quarterback throughout drills and then followed by Garoppolo. At one point, they both directed the offense in 11-on-11 drills happening at the same time on adjacent fields.

Still up for debate is whether Brady will take the Patriots' first snap of the regular season.

Around the same time he took the field for practice, and one day after the NFL Players Association filed a lawsuit against the league on behalf of Brady, a Minnesota judge sent the case back to court in New York, where the NFL had gotten the jump on the union by filing motions in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday to ask that commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to uphold the four-game suspension be confirmed.

The move to consolidate the lawsuits involving Brady in New York is seen as an initial victory for the NFL in that the league was successful in choosing the jurisdiction to hear the arguments.

The judge tasked to handle the case, however, has urged the sides to work out their differences and avoid litigation.

One Patriots fan's feelings about that case were summed up in a sign at practice that read "Goodell Hates America." The sign reflected the mix of what turned out to be a most unique day -- as Deflategate still lingers, and Brady's availability remains in question, the Patriots opened training camp in front of 10,108 raucous fans eager to show their support.

"It's great to come out here and see all those fans out here. It makes it so much more fun," Garoppolo said. "Nice day, fans excited [and] cheering, music going -- can't ask for anything better than that."

Information from ESPN.com's Joe McDonald was used in this report.