FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the hot-button topics for the New England Patriots since Deflategate began 494 days ago is how the team handles its quarterback repetitions in practice.
So that was a big part of what I watched during Thursday's organized team activities, and they were divided as one would expect, with Tom Brady mostly leading the way, followed by Jimmy Garoppolo and then rookie Jacoby Brissett. Each received an equal amount of work, which I'd sum up this way: When you have three quarterbacks who can rip it, a "passing camp" type of practice (players are in shorts and no pads) usually goes pretty smoothly.
Brady is still Brady, Garoppolo's lightning-quick release remains impressive to watch (this was a notable difference from last year's five-interception day) and Brissett held his own from a pure throwing perspective as maybe the best initial No. 3 the team has had in Bill Belichick's 17-year tenure.
A good snapshot of how the practice unfolded with the quarterbacks came when all three led a different station at the same time -- Brady working in the red zone with tight ends Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor; Garoppolo on the other field working a different red-zone drill on a specific route concept at the goal-line behind a full offensive line (against a live defense); and Brissett on the opposite end of the field with receivers and running backs (against no defense).
Overall, it seemed like a good day for the quarterbacks.
A few other takeaways from practice:
Gronkowski among those not practicing -- Tight end Rob Gronkowski headlined a group of 17 players I didn't spot at practice. So that led to trade acquisition Martellus Bennett getting quite a few reps, and he was busy. He made one very nice touchdown catch with safety Patrick Chung in coverage, using his 6-foot-6, 273-pound frame to shield him off and leap up to come down with the catch. Last year, free-agent signee Scott Chandler was doing some good things in OTAs and that didn't carry over into the regular season, so we'll proceed with caution here, but Bennett showed up multiple times.
Other absences: wide receiver Julian Edelman, cornerback Malcolm Butler, cornerback Logan Ryan, running back LeGarrette Blount, safety Duron Harmon, running back Dion Lewis, safety Nate Ebner, long snapper Joe Cardona, guard Tre' Jackson, guard Josh Kline, guard Shaq Mason, defensive tackle Frank Kearse, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, left tackle Nate Solder, wide receiver Danny Amendola and defensive tackle Alan Branch.
Don't count out Andrews at center -- The second-year player who did an admirable job early last year before being supplanted by the returning Bryan Stork received a lot of quality repetitions in practice by snapping to Brady. One of the things I wrote down in my notebook was not to dismiss Andrews in the pivot, where the team also has third-round pick Joe Thuney and Stork as options. When I think of the things that returning offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia values in his blockers up front (e.g. intelligence, toughness, etc.), Andrews fits the bill in a lot of those areas.
Foster's footwork -- Watch the running backs go through the bags and take note of the smoothness of the final player through -- undrafted rookie D.J. Foster. I'm interested to see if that manifests itself as we get into more practices, as Foster was one of the team's "high priority" rookie free agents, with $30,000 guaranteed in his contract, which reflects how there was a market for him elsewhere.
Eclectic music set list -- Not sure I'll be able to follow through all year, but let's try to have a little fun by relaying the music set list from each practice session. The Patriots play music to stress communication for players, and this is what was heard today: "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses, "Living in America" by James Brown, "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi, "Panda" by Desiigner, "Noise" by Kenny Chesney, "New Level" by A$AP Ferg, and "Beautiful Day" by U2. I might have missed one in there, but special hat tip to Patriots social media intern Mariah Bayless Davis for the music-based assist.
There was plenty more to digest from practice, with updates to come over the next few days.